The Lakers’ Shooting is Suspect, but so is their Playmaking

Last night, the Lakers dropped Game 1 to the Portland Trailblazers 100-93, after another woeful shooting performance form three. The Lakers finished the game 5 of 32 from three. The Lakers have had shooting concerns all year, culminating in the 21st ranked 3-point shooting accuracy among NBA offenses. However, since the restart in Orlando, the Lakers have been abysmal, shooting 31.1% from deep, unsurprisingly the worst mark in the league.

While they’re shooting almost exactly league average on corner three’s since the restart (40.3% compared to 40.4% since July 30th), the Lakers’ outside shooting has died above the break. They’re hitting at a 26.9% clip; bricking may be more appropriate to use here.

As has become increasingly evident since the restart, this is a looming factor that the Lakers are finally confronting out of necessity. Will this be the Lakers death knell? Or will the basketball gods summon the clouds of prosperity, and let the heavens rain down Spalding?

Danny Green

While a great shooter, Danny Green regularly slumps at points during the season & playoffs (he went through a 6/32 stretch across 8 games in the playoffs),the slump he’s gone through in Orlando has been brutal.

In 8 bubble games, Green is shooting 25% from deep, 9/36. The way he’s missing is what’s most problematic.

Corner threes have been Green’s secret sauce for the past decade; since the 2011 lockout season, Green has shot 42.2% from the corners on roughly 1,200 attempts per Cleaning the Glass.

Danny Green finished 1/6 from the corners in Game 1

Green is unequivocally the best shooter on an extremely poor shooting Lakers team, if they’re going to reach their pinnacle, it won’t be with him shooting like this.

Shooting woes, shooting woes everywhere

While Green is most noteworthy, it takes two to….shoot above league average from three? Tango just didn’t seem right there.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had a career year from distance (38.5%) has hit 28% of his threes since Orlando play started.

Alex Caruso, although not normally a great shooter (33% on the year), has made Russell Westbrook seem like Jason Kapono, shooting a dismal 15.4% from beyond the arc.

Anthony Davis hasn’t hit a three in over two weeks when the Lakers played Utah on August third.

LeBron has been largely the same as a 3-point shooter excluding yesterday’s game and somehow Kyle Kuzma, the worst shooter in the rotation that takes threes, is bombing away, shooting over 40% on 5 threes a game.

Playmaking

Much has been made of LeBron James’ historic season as a passer. It’s a double-edged sword. Of course LeBron is simply one of the best passers of all-time with unparalleled court-vision, but there is no form of secondary initiation and playmaking on this team. I’ve been concerned about LA’s shooting all season, but much more so about the lack of a secondary creator.

As we’ve seen by the on/offs of this team when LeBron isn’t on the court, there is no viable mode of offense when he sits.

The Blazers can comfortably drop Nurkic, as KCP is no threat off the bounce. Forcing the Lakers into a contested Kuzma 18 footer is money in the bank.

Per nba.com/stats, the Lakers were 3/13 from the field with just as many turnovers as assists. Granted, LeBron only sat a shade under 7 minutes, but those minutes are vital in playoff scenarios, and the Lakers decisively lost them.

I don’t want to underplay the importance of rebounding, but can we just take a second to appreciate how poor this spacing is? It’s not neccesarily a product of the players themselves, but the lineup as a whole. Notice how far in the Blazers defense can sink in and shrink the floor; that was the case most of last night.

Portland has a ton of length and size in the frontcourt, and with threes not falling for the Lakers, they can hang back and make it extremely difficult to score at the rim.

Side note: Wenyen Gabriel had a nice game! First playoff game ever and his second career start (His first start came against….the Lakers as well!). He struggled with fouls, but that’s going to happen against Anthony Davis. Gabriel played some quality minutes and used his length well on both ends providing steady energy and versatility for Terry Stotts. I’m excited to see how he develops and what kind of run he gets over the course of the series.

Anthony Davis

There have been rumblings and gripes from every corner of the Twittersphere calling for Anthony Davis to play the five and condemning him for a perceived lack of toughness. First, I’ve mentioned this many times on the Premium Hoops Podcast, but Davis is a tweener. He CAN play the five for stretches, but to ask him to play it for entire games or series is a big ask. He’s somewhere between 6’9 and 6’10, and while he’s built out his frame, he’s still undersized against more traditional centers.

Hassan Whiteside and Jusuf Nurkic are both legit 7-Footers that outweigh Davis and and are significantly stronger than he is. That’s not a knock on AD, it’s just physics. Playing three minutes at center to close a game is one thing; jostling for position, fighting for rebounds, and all-around physicality with players larger than you takes a toll. Especially considering the past injury history of Davis, I just don’t see him playing the five that much.

Alas, there are other reasons as well!

  1. When Davis plays the four, it allows him to operate more efficiently and effectively with the ball in his hands. He’s mostly an average to slightly above average post player. But, when he gets the opportunity to face-up and drive on smaller opponents who can’t contend with him on the block, he dominates. This isn’t to say he can’t do this against centers, but it’s with less effectiveness (3% drop in Effective field goal % per Cleaning the Glass; 55.1% at the four to 52.1% at the five.)
  2. JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard play double digit minutes for the Lakers. If AD is largely playing the five, one of Dwight or JaVale are on the outside of the rotation. Who fills in those minutes? This roster is lacking in depth and both bigs have provided meaningful play for LA. I’m not opposed to a rotation shift, but I would just be weary.

Am I Worried?

Yes and No.

Talent wins games. The Lakers have two of the three best players in this series and there’s a decent gap before we get to CJ McCollum (No disrespect meant, but there’s a significant gap between AD and CJ.) Yes, I did just put Dame over AD, it’s warranted at this point. I say with some confidence that the Lakers will iron out this series.

That being said, if they aren’t able to flip the narrative on their shooting, they’re going to struggle to make the Conference Finals. I’m banking on the law of averages finally kicking in. The Lakers are missing wide-open shots that they regularly made throughout the season. If they can even get back to pre-hiatus efficiency from three, I’m not too worried about them in the next round or two. However, if they’re going to win a title, they’ll need some incredibly hot or at least steady shooting from deep.

I look for Frank Vogel to give Dion Waiters some run. While he didn’t shoot well from deep in the seeding games, he was the only Laker outside LeBron who could get going to the rim. The Lakers need more secondary playmaking and shot making and Dion could actually provide some of that.

But, for all I know, the Blazers could win in five and I’ll look back at this article in a week and laugh. It’s the NBA Playoffs; crazy and amazing things happen! I’m all here for it and loving it!

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