Princeton, Princeton, Princeton. That seems to be the focal point of all Lakers talk right now as we push through this NBA drought. It has been detailed, debated, dissected, and discussed. For all of the success it may bring the Lakers, there is one huge chrome wrench that can stop the fluid machine it's meant to be. Three point shooting.
Last season the Lakers finished 25th out of 30 teams in three point percentage. Yes, only five teams (Grizzlies, Jazz, Wizards, Kings, and Bobcats) finished lower than the Los Angeles Lakers, and it was obvious while watching them play through the season. The cringe worthy three point shooting will need to change for the Princeton offense to be utilized properly. In tandem with that, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash have always been surrounded with shooters, and to bring the best out of their talents the Lakers will need to find the players and spots on the perimeter to become a deadly offensive team. The front office has done well adding pieces to the roster that can help correct this issue, but will it be enough? It should be. More on the three ball, and some fancy shot charts, after the jump.
Perimeter shooting and the Lakers were like a couple on the brink of a divorce last season. Every now and then they'd kiss and make up, but everyone knew it wouldn't - no, couldn't - last. Troy Murphy would send off one of his patented super-flat shots and it would somehow make it through the hoop instead of ricocheting off the back of the rim. Steve Blake would show up to make his guest appearance for a quarter, shoot the lights out, then revert back to the Steve Blake we've come to know. Metta World Peace went through such pathetic shooting stretches that even as a completely open man without a defender in a 10 foot radius it was difficult to watch him hoist the ball up. Then, when he finally sank one, it was like a Christmas miracle (and yes, I rolled around the carpet and made snow angels). Kobe took 287 three point attempts while his success rate was only at 30%, that is NOT a winning stat. To put that into perspective World Peace took the second highest amount of three point field goal attempts at 189 - almost 100 less than Kobe. And lets not forget the Pau Gasol three point shooting power forward experiment. You know, the one that had him shooting 7 for 27, a 25% success rate. Yes, that would be considered yielding unwelcome results. It wasn't just Pau though, it was the team as a whole putting together this abomination.
As you can see, not much more needs to be said about just how bad the three point shooting was last season. But a new season is upon us, and the Lakers' roster is locked in as it marches into training camp next month. We all know it's going to be a whole new brand of purple and gold basketball. But just how different? Let's take a look at a few shot charts spanning the 2011-2012 season.
By now most are familiar with this phenomenal shot chart, but it's just too beautiful to pass the opportunity to look at it again. Adding Steve Nash is the largest upgrade to the shooting woes of the Lakers and it isn't even close. The two man game he will develop with Dwight Howard is going to be a nightmare for opposing defenses as Nash is a 42% career shooter from three point territory. Instantly Nash becomes the best shooter wearing a Lakers uniform this season, and having the talent he will around him, he should put together at least another 40% from deep season under his belt. Looking at his shot chart, you can see the majority of his three point attempts last season came from around the top of the arc, specifically the right curve. Nash shot well from the corners, but only on limited attempts. His corner attempts will definitely go up as he will be the recipient of kick outs from Dwight Howard, which is welcome, as shooting 42% from the corners combined is a very efficient clip. With his effectiveness along the perimeter, he should be able to get defenders out of position with shot fakes and step into mid-range territory where he is a complete monster. Having Steve Nash as a shooting weapon will be just as important as having Steve Nash the facilitator. Lights. Out.
Jodie Meeks is a three point shooter by reputation, but has yet to put his outside shooting talent to great use. Last season he struggled to reach the peak of his career, the 39% he shot the prior year, ending the year at 36%. By the percentages, he will go into the season as the second most efficient Laker that we know will see significant time on the floor from beyond the arc. Meeks has the potential to be a key in the Lakers' success next season as he will play solid minutes behind Kobe Bryant. If he can play well it will give Mike Brown more incentive to cut down on Kobe's minutes, which is a key in preserving Kobe for the full 82 game season along with a deep run into the playoffs. Meeks is similar to Nash in that he also favors the curves of the arc, but he shoots equally lethal from either side. However, his corner shooting is dismal, unable to break 30% from either corner. With the Princeton behind him, a structured offense, and a clear cut role as the three point shooting specialist off the bench, he has all of the prerequisites of a breakout shooting season in front of him. If he can bring his percentages near the 40% mark he will not only become a fan favorite, but a serious factor off the bench. Something the Lakers haven't had since Lamar Odom.
With the Princeton's need to have shooters at all five positions, the lineup featuring the usual starters and a Pau Gasol - Antawn Jamison front court may be the most fluent for the scheme. After a year of watching Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy, the upgrade that Jamison will be providing for the Lakers on a veteran's minimum contract is a value that simply could not be passed up by the front office. And, for all intents and purposes, he fits the mold well for what the Lakers will need for a productive offense. Jamison can shoot the mid-range well enough, and with a decrease in his responsibility, he should be able to pick his spots and drive his efficiency upwards. That's what the Princeton is designed to do after-all. However, the fact that he can pull his defender out to the three point line is going to be a key in his role on a nightly basis. He isn't a sharpshooter by any stretch, but his three point shooting will need to be accounted for. His 34% last year from deep may not be breathtaking, but his function in the offense and familiarity with Eddie Jordan's Princeton already should make his inclusion with the Lakers a seamless transition.
Steve Blake was supposed to be that guy. The guy who would come off the bench and drain from long range with no remorse. The guy who would drive opposing fans crazy when he killed their momentum with a timely three. After putting up multiple 40% plus years (and he was shooting 43% in his stint with the Clippers before jumping ship to the other Los Angeles locker room), Steve Blake's time with the Lakers has been far from a success. Last season, he put up the second lowest three point percentage of his career, 33%. His defense at times was just as atrocious. Yeah, he's scrappy, and he'll make a play or two when it's a full moon, but his play has been anything but consistent since putting on the Lakers' colors. Looking at his shot chart it's nigh impossible to see a 40% shooter covered in that muck. The only zone where he was shooting effectively was from the right corner. Which leads me to this.
Chris Duhon has a serious chance at being the backup point guard next season.
Before you chuck tomatoes at me, hear me out. I know, I know, Chris Duhon was just a throw-in to make things work in the Dwight Howard trade. Some salary for the Orlando Magic to shed. But Duhon put up more than respectable shooting numbers from outside last season, clocking a 42% on the year. Looking at his shot chart, he's an excellent shooter from the corners, and a solid shooter along the arc overall. Considering what Blake has failed to accomplish as the Lakers' backup point guard in his time here, it wouldn't hurt to give Chris Duhon a crack at it. Also, keep in mind that Duhon is on the books for the next two years for $400,000 less total. If the Lakers are paying him, why not give him a run? It's hard to argue with those shot charts. Let me know what you think in the comments afterwards.
And let's consider this.
Last season Steve Nash played his lowest minutes per game average since becoming a starter in the league, logging 31.6 mpg. This is through the shorter, but more consolidated, season. He isn't getting any younger, and the Lakers will need the starting lineup to be in the best condition possible to make a serious run through the playoffs. The Lakers' backup point guard is going to see the floor plenty, and working within the Princeton they will do much less with the ball than a traditional offense. Also, away from Princeton sets, Dwight Howard's feel for the game when passing out of the post is an asset for setting shooters up around the perimeter. It's what he's been doing in Orlando with Stan Van Gundy for years, and why having shooters ready to take advantage of this is all the more important.
And our last stop in our shot chart breakdown is with Andrew Goudelock. There was a magical stretch of games in January for Andrew Goudelock while he was filling in for Steve Blake at the backup point guard position. He was nailing threes, reaching double digit point tallies, and floating the orange high in the skies with the always enjoyable tear drop (or, as many called it, the Glock Drop). It was fun while it lasted, because despite the flow he had found himself in, back to the bench he went when Sheriff Steve Blake was back in town. Mike Brown was quick to cast the rookie aside after trying to fit him in as an undersized backup shooting guard while riding out Steve Blake as the reserve point man. Now, going into training camp, Andrew Goudelock's non-guaranteed contract may leave him ousted from the roster unless he can prove his worth. With Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon on board, his chance of remaining on the team seems slim as his role on the team has been outsourced. But, statistically, he was the best three point shooter this side of Troy Murphy on the team last season (who was with the team from the tip of the season. What could have been, Ramon), compiling a 37% mark from three. As a rookie, in an offense that wasn't particularly designed to give him open looks, this isn't a terrible percentage. Again, the Lakers are going to need all the three point shooting they can get as Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and the Princeton are all accustomed to it. Keeping Goudelock around is a cheap option for a team that is tied up financially for the next two years. While it was only a small sample size, he was money from the corners, and average along the arc aside from his hike in the right curve (everyone see the tendency shooters seem to have yet?). It may be a stretch, but if he can play well through training camp and survive final roster cuts, he could definitely kick that 37% up to a 40%.
As the Lakers ship sails the waters of the Princeton offense, personnel changes were clearly necessary. The Lakers needed shooters going into this off-season, and badly. The role playing three point shooter has become a premium for contenders and the Lakers did a fantastic job accounting for this despite limited resources. Overall, looking at these shot charts, it would be absolutely stunning if the Lakers didn't at least finish in the top half of three point shooting efficiency this season. It's just a matter of who's going to get the job done.
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Statistical Data taken from Basketball-Reference.com
Shot Charts taken from Vorped.com