It’s way too early to draw any real conclusions from data, but let’s check the pulse of this Lakers team through two games. It’ll be valuable to see if what we’re seeing matches up with reality.
Here are 20 stats that stand out to me about the performance and tendencies of the team in their games against Portland and Houston.
16.7% – I’ll get to what this number means in a little. But first, Brandon Ingram’s closest half court style comparisons last season were mostly guards:
Dennis Smith Jr.
Those comps were derived from taking his Synergy play type frequencies for each play type (Post Up, Isolation, Spot Up, etc.) and comparing that with the rest of the NBA with similarity scores. This is purely a look at offensive style in half court situations, not efficiency or talent or potential.
This season, we’ve seen a stark change so far in Ingram’s deployment. Through 2 games, he has 1 pick and roll ball handler scoring possession, 1 hand off possession, and 2 isolation possessions, each an area he didn’t reach average efficiency in last season. And with this new Laker roster, it’s unlikely he’ll need to step into those roles often this year.
This year he’s being used quite differently, with post ups, spot ups, and off screen possessions leading the way. Here are his closest 2017-18 comps by using his offensive frequency data so far from this season.
I don’t expect this exact usage to continue. 5 post ups in 2 games is quite a jump from 37 total post ups last season. That’s a jump from 3.6% of his possessions to 16.7% (the number from above). The chances of this continuing will likely depend on Ingram’s willingness to mix it up down low on mismatches after switches. I don’t anticipate it’ll be his most frequent half court play type moving forward, but 3rd or 4th makes sense.
46% – This is the increase in transition possession frequency the Lakers have this season compared to last year (28.5% vs 19.5%), both years ranked 1st in the league in frequency. This mark would shatter the existing record (going back to the beginning of the Synergy era in 2004-05) of 20% frequency by the Warriors in 2006-07. It’s unlikely they can sustain a 28.5% mark, but anything in the 25% range or above would be gigantic for this offense due to the expected value of those possessions.
19 – This is the Laker rank in transition efficiency (up from 23rd last season). While LA is getting out in transition often, they’re not converting well. LeBron has been lights out, but the efficiency of guys like Hart and Kuzma has dragged down the team’s scoring efficiency in those opportunities. But even the worst transition offense last season would have been the 3rd best half court offense in points per possession, so we can live with below average efficiency in lieu of what the Lakers are able to do in half court situations.
8 – This is the Lakers’ rank in isolation frequency so far this season. They rank 26th in isolation efficiency. No team runs more isolation at a less efficient rate than the Lakers.
Last season’s talent grades reveal that LA has several players who grade out as above average One on One players compared to peers in their position (1,500 minute minimum): Brandon Ingram (C+), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (B-), Kyle Kuzma (A-), and LeBron James (A). Expect this efficiency to improve. The Lakers are also far behind other teams in terms of the offensive sets they have installed, leading to high isolation frequency. They have also only been logged as having 4 total isolation possessions against mismatches.
25% – LeBron has shot 3 of 12 as the pick and roll ball handler so far this season. Teammates shooting off of his pick and roll pass outs have shot 1 of 4. Not a great start, but we can expect it to improve over time as the team’s offensive cohesion improves and he gains a better sense of where his teammates will be. But LeBron’s 91st percentile pick and roll ball handler scoring from last season will be hard to replicate with worse spacing and screening on this Laker team compared to the Cavs last season.
41% – This is the percent of their half court shots the Lakers have gotten at the rim on non-post ups, the 2nd highest frequency of any team (Denver). They’ve had the 5th highest efficiency on those shots.
17.2 – In two games, the Lakers have scored 17.2 points less vs expectation on 3-pointers when accounting for the openness of the 3s and which Laker players were taking them.
0.519 – The Lakers haven’t run many set plays; But when they have, a disproportionate number of them has been after timeouts (ATO), when Luke has a chance to draw a play up for the team. The Lakers have shot 6 of 21 in those situations with 4 turnovers, yielding 0.519 points per possession, the worst ATO efficiency of any team.
11 – This is the number of points allowed in the post by Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, the Laker leaders in post possessions defended. Opponents are a combined 4 of 5 shooting vs those two defenders (2 of 2 vs Lonzo, 2 of 3 vs Hart).
0 – This is Kyle Kuzma’s shooting percentage on jump shots in half court situations this season so far. Yowza. 77.8% is Kyle Kuzma’s shooting percentage (7 of 9) on shots at the rim that aren’t post ups, which is much better.
3rd – Josh Hart ranks 3rd in the league in transition possessions (16 possessions). His scoring efficiency on those opportunities has been better than only 35% of the NBA so far. He’s going to get plenty of opportunities this year. It’ll behoove Hart to start finishing better at the rim and as a wing and trailer on 3s.
6th – This is the Lakers’ team rank in frequency of attacking mismatches in the post or isolation, which is still somehow less than half of the 1st place Rockets. LA is 2nd in post mismatch frequency and 10th when it comes to isolation mismatch possessions.
1st – Rajon Rondo’s total pick and roll offensive efficiency ranks 1st, with him shooting 5/8 and teammates shooting 5/5 on his pass outs. LeBron and Lonzo haven’t been nearly as effective, but Rondo has his pick and roll game clicking early.
1 of 22 – This is the combined shooting on catch and shoot jumpers between Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, LeBron James, KCP, and Lance Stephenson so far in the half court. Only Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball have made more than 1 catch and shoot jumper.
21 – This is the number of points LeBron has scored alone in transition through 2 games, at a blistering 1.615 PPP rate. He has 7 made shots, 4 trips to the free throw line, 1 missed shot, and 1 turnover. LeBron has functioned well as a break starter, playmaker, and finisher. His ability with the first of those three will help the Lakers get into transition more than last season. The last two will be key for the Lakers to improve the efficiency component of their transition opportunities.
1.429 – This is the points per possession efficiency Kyle Kuzma has conceded as the primary defender on plays, an efficiency mark worse than 97% of the NBA. Kuz has been roasted so far this year.
25% – This is the percentage of Kyle Kuzma’s defensive possessions that were in isolation after a switch. He’s also conceded 25% of his points in those situations. He’s being hunted. Kuzma is the weak link in the Laker switching scheme, and teams are going at him so far this year. This 25% mark is the highest of any player in the NBA with a minimum of 10 possessions. When you add in post mismatches, he drops to second only to James Harden (35%). Not every team has Harden, CP3, Dame, and McCollum, but the guards in the West are strong in general.
90% – This is the percentage of shots from spot up possessions the Lakers had that were either at the rim or from 3. It’s good to see the team living at the rim and taking 3s, rather than being stopped and taking lower value mid-range jumpers.
0 of 13 – The Lakers are 0 of 13 shooting so far on corner 3s. The volume is a nice increase over last season’s per-game average, but LA will need to start converting to win games.
These stats line up with what we’ve seen so far on the court: Some great results, some decent processes, and a lot of concerns. We’re only two games into the year, but we already see some team focuses manifesting (transition) and new players bringing what we thought they would (LeBron’s efficiency, Rondo pick and roll).
We also see the dearth of shooting so far and defensive concerns the team has. Ingram’s transformation has taken no time at all to become apparent, nor has Kuzma’s weakness defending the perimeter.
Tiny sample sizes, but this data has value if you take it as it is and marry that with observations from watching games. And it’s important to interpret these numbers correctly. These strengths are real. The weaknesses are real. Not necessarily 0% corner 3-point shooting, but that weakness in general. Ingram likely won’t play like DeMarcus Cousins the rest of the year, but the style change is real and the trend is real.
These strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies will likely continue throughout the season, starting on Monday against San Antonio for game three.