With only 16 games left in the Lakers’ season, it essentially is safe harbor to make certain claims about what has occurred, and what went wrong.
Based on the latest five-thirty-eight projection, the team will likely not make the playoffs. A once unfathomable proposition after inking LeBron James, has turned into an undeniable fate due to a variety of reasons.
The front office’s vision of a roster that could topple the Warriors through the combination of playmakers and overwhelming “grit,” has utterly failed. The team’s coaching staff has had its share of questionable moments. And the locker-room’s chemistry seemingly has been fractured due to both internal and external factors.
In what is an expected correlation, the team has also not been very good. Specifically on offense, an area that James’ led teams have historically thrived. The Lakers’ current 107.5 offRTG is the lowest team rank for James since the 2011-12 season. The biggest culprit for this has undeniably been the team’s disastrous 3-point shooting.
When one closes their eyes and envisions a James’ possession on offense, it often involves him barreling through defenders and detonating the rim, or kicking it out to an open shooter. Both of which have felt far less occurrent, and effective, this year than in season’s past.
James however, is actually averaging more drives per game (12) and has a higher pass percentage off his moves to the paint (31.3 percent) than he did with Cleveland last year. Unfortunately, this has not equated to perimeter success.
The Lakers are currently 29th in the league in 3-point percentage (33.5%) which is completely new territory for James. In his most recent stint with the Cavaliers, Cleveland ranked in the top seven of the league in 3-point accuracy in each of the four seasons James was on the team.
In terms of shot quality, Los Angeles has actually been on par, if not gotten easier looks than what James and Cleveland were able to consistently generate last season. The Lakers are averaging 15.9 “wide-open” threes a game, which is good for 16th in the league. Last season, the Cavaliers averaged only 15.1 per contest.
Contextually, this likely has a lot to do with defenses actually welcoming the Lakers’ shooters in taking these looks. Which when taking a look at the roster, and the percentages, is not all that bad of an idea.
Missing the Mark
As those Rajon Rondo misses and earlier numbers indicate, the Lakers are both a bad, and an unusual shooting team. As of this article, the team is shooting 35 percent on their 3-point attempts with six or more feet of space from the nearest defender, which is the worst rate in the league. For comparison sake,16 clubs are converting these quality looks at a 38 percent clip or better on the season.
Arguably the most jarring, and telling number on the Lakers’ shooting woes on the season though has to be their catch and shoot percentages.
At a dismal 33.2 percent conversion rate, once again last in the league, the team is somehow actually shooting better on their pull-ups this season (33.5 percent). They are the only team in the NBA that possesses this bizarre accolade. Which is basketball’s very own version of: “Actually I am not even mad, that’s amazing.”
The likely biggest reason for the Lakers’ inability to can their catch and shoot attempts may simply come down to an across the board drop-off. Primarily among their most relied upon shooters. Which when considering catch and shoot attempts account for 21.8 of the team’s 30.4 threes per game, is doubly troublesome.
As the chart above indicates, the players who are heaving up the most threes this season for the team have taken noticeable steps back in terms of their efficiency. So much so in fact, that not one of James, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Josh Hart are shooting league average on catch and shoot threes. Which is yikes.
Yes, roster construction, injuries and offensive scheme have each played a role in the team’s shooting struggles this season. But, they also have done themselves absolutely no favors when it comes to making the “easy” ones. And because of this, fans have seen one of the most congested Lakers’ teams in recent memory.
In many regards, the team continues to adamantly combat modern basketball and falling on their faces in the process. Shooting is not the only area they ultimately will need to address going forward in an attempt to right the ship (acquiring Reggie Bullock helps) but it is a necessary one.
A lesson they had to learn the hard, and frustrating way.
*Stats and Video courtesy of NBA.com. Featured Graphic via: Aidan Lising. You can follow Alex on Twitter (@AlexmRegla).