If you feel like the the Los Angeles Lakers have been missing a disproportionate percentage of their open three-pointers this season, you aren’t alone. Or wrong.
Blaming any woes the team has solely on just bad luck manifesting itself as missed open looks might seem like peak fan blog #content, but the numbers actually back up what the eye test makes obvious.
The Lakers have been less accurate than a drunk stormtrooper on their open looks this season, shooting an NBA worst 29 percent on threes with defenders 10 or more feet away.
Being unable to knock down relatively uncontested threes is an issue for more reasons than just the obvious “making shots helps you win basketball games.” 11.5 percent of the Lakers’ three-pointers have been attempted with defenders 10 or more feet away, which is the 19th-highest rate in the NBA.
19th may not sound like a lot, but it is significant when the Lakers are missing those types of shots at the highest rate in the league.
The good news is, the problem is probably fixable. The Lakers aren’t the Golden State Warriors, but they also aren’t the Orlando Magic. They aren’t playing a ton of horrific shooters. If the Lakers continue to generate open looks the way they have so far this season, there’s reason to believe they can fix this.
The other good news is that the Lakers still rank 11th in the league in offensive efficiency, scoring 106.3 points per 100 possessions despite their struggles. If the team is this good while their clanking their open looks, they could grow even further once they start hitting them.
Luke Walton has spoken numerous times this year about victories papering over some of the team’s flaws, and clanking threes that should be easy is just one example of the ways the team has shot themselves in the foot at times and may not be quite as good as their record.
The Lakers have turned the ball over on 16.9 percent of their possessions this season, the fifth worst rank in the NBA. Of the four teams to turn the ball over at a higher rate, two have a winning record (the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks), while the other two (the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers) appear lottery bound.
For a team that already struggles to defend at times, fueling an opponent’s transition attacks is a less than optimal strategy. The Lakers’ ball security issues have 14.7 percent of their opponents’ offense coming in transition, the seventh highest rate in the league. Those teams are scoring 1.12 points per play on those transition opportunities, the 10th highest scoring rate in the NBA.
In some ways that 10th highest rate on the seventh most attempts is good news, meaning that the Lakers are at least getting back in transition sometimes to slow teams down when they do give up the ball. However, the team would unquestionably be better off if they could hold on to the ball a bit more.
Some of the Lakers’ turnover issues can be chalked up to being young. Others come down to “the creativity tax” of having a creative point guard like D’Angelo Russell (3.1 turnovers per game) try and create shots for his teammates.
The Lakers also feature three players not naturally known as playmakers (Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Lou Williams) being asked to create a fair amount. The whole team also may be adapting to head coach Luke Walton’s new, more ball movement heavy system at an impressive pace, but there are still going to be issues as they continue to adjust.
From shooting to turnovers, the growing pains of a young team have been on full display during the Lakers’ start to the season. The team was done in by both during their loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, where they went 33.3 percent from behind the arc while turning the ball over 17 times.
The Lakers’ record so far has obscured some of these concerns, but we’ll have a better idea how long the team can avoid being bit by them more frequently as their schedule gets stronger again over the next few weeks.