The narrative surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers’ thus far this season has often centered on how much more frequently they have shared the ball. Head coach Luke Walton still isn’t quite satisfied with how much more, however. On Tuesday morning, Walton told Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times that his goal was for the team to make at least 300 passes per game this season.
The Lakers haven’t quite hit that mark yet, but they are almost there and actually haven’t significantly improved from last season. The Lakers are averaging 284.8 passes per game this year, which is the fifth-lowest mark in the league and only about a three pass per game improvement from last season (when the Lakers were third-to-last in the league in passes per game).
So why do the Lakers’ seem like they are passing so much more frequently this season? For one, the team’s offense has improved from 29th in the league in offensive efficiency (scoring 98.6 points per 100 possessions) to 11th (106.3 points per 100 possessions). More scoring will always make the ball seem to be moving a bit more crisply.
The Lakers’ assist ratio has also jumped slightly (from assisting on 14.1 percent of their possessions, the worst rate in the league, to a 19th ranked 15.9 percent). Combine that with a pace increase from 97.99 possessions per game to 102.09, and the ball all of a sudden looks like it’s flying around out there.
The other reason the Lakers’ ball movement might look better despite not jumping all that much? The types of sets the Lakers are running involve more off-ball movement, so the passes the team is making are more noticeable than the unexciting entry passes to start an ISO they made so often last season.
The Lakers have run a collective average of 17.12 miles per game this season, which ranks 10th in the NBA. Last year, the Lakers’ collective miles ran per game was 16.59, the 6th lowest rate in the league.
Essentially, even when the Lakers’ isolate this year there has been more movement to set up a mismatch, or free a player up for an open look, than there was last season. So while the Lakers may not be passing the ball as much as Walton wants, they have been running a much more effective offense that leaves room for more ball movement to come as players continue to get more comfortable making the extra pass.
All stats per NBA.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.