The Los Angeles Lakers are bad for a variety of reasons. They're giving up the second-most points in the NBA at 108.8 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com, while scoring the second-least points (96.8). Both are serious issues, though it's the offensive system that most recently came under fire from D'Angelo Russell. A 40-point loss causes boiling frustration, and the locker room showed a glimpse of it after being called "scared."
But what are the Lakers doing on offense? The eye test doesn't show any particular system that keeps the team in rhythm, instead looking more like a muddled mix of draining isolation attempts, ineffective pick-and-roll sets and wasteful elbow touches that lead to contested shots. It's more than just Kobe Bryant chucking; they're a team that consistently struggles to generate easy scoring opportunities.
To begin painting the picture of what the Lakers' offense is, we'll start with looking at play type frequency, via NBA.com:
The Lakers lead the NBA in possessions used by pick-and-roll ball-handlers (21.8 percent of their offense), but are in the bottom-five in those same plays ending with the roll man. That's been a glaring issue watching them play, with their guards having a brutal time trying to feed their frontcourt partners once they take their screens. More often, the screening big man doesn't roll to the basket, instead lingering on the perimeter. The Lakers' inability to properly integrate a versatile pick-and-roll game has everything to do with personnel and strategy.
Defenders can easily help over the top to contest shots when the roll man isn't a factor:
The Lakers also lead the league in isolation possessions, tallying a total of 264 field-goal attempts in that category. Kobe Bryant (78) and Julius Randle (72) are the biggest culprits, and they're both struggling to convert on those attempts. Another strange bit is that, despite running the Princeton Offense which should rely on cutters, they're last in the league in attempts that fall into that category.
Making that detail even more of a glaring problem is the fact that they're most effective on offense when cutting to the basket (1.17 points per possession). Here's a full breakdown of their points per possession by play type:
The Lakers' (far and away) most used play type -- pick-and-roll ball-handler -- is one of their least effective sequences on offense. It's not just a matter of running pick-and-rolls, but designing ways to create space out of those sets. They lack rolling bigs to complement the ball-handlers, which is like trying to drive a car without gas. The offense is on fumes, and Byron Scott's sitting in the driver seat while the rest of the team tries to push that jalopy uphill.
Worse, the Lakers average .7 points per possession out of isolation, the lowest mark in the league. They're the absolute worst isolation team in the NBA, and while the eye test is a pretty good confirmation of said information, the numbers create the kind of transparency that can't be denied:
The Lakers are alone on their own island, jacking up isolation attempts at the highest rate in the league. The next-closest team in sheer volume is the New York Knicks, but they've been delivering at a very high rate. The Wizards lead the NBA in points per possession in isolation while also taking the lowest amount of attempts, the complete opposite of the Lakers.
Los Angeles also scores the second-least amount of points in the paint, putting in just 36.5 points per game in close while opponents score 45.1 in that area (third-worst). Here's how the Lakers' shot performance and distribution charts look through 27 games:
There's nothing good happening in the Lakers' offense. They're competent when cutting to the basket but never cut to the basket. They run pick-and-roll sets into the ground seemingly for the sake of running pick-and-rolls into the ground. They sit back and let isolation possessions clunk off the rim. The Lakers are bad because of personnel, inexperience and coaching. It's the basketball operations team's job to identify and address these issues as the season moves forward, and what they're heading into is a 12-win season and new franchise low.
How they proceed, and what they change, will be incredibly important in developing their young talent and creating a basketball environment free agents will be interested in being a part of. There's plenty of basketball to be played, but there's little reason to believe the Lakers are going to turn this embarrassing offense around any time soon.
The numbers provide all of the evidence needed to say, confidently, the Lakers are horrible on offense. The proof is in this terribly flavored pudding.
*All stats via NBA.com