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Lakers’ shot selection lays foundation for poor play

It’s all a vicious cycle, really.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

For a struggling Los Angeles Lakers team, the issue when trying to find the solution is where to begin. Defense leads to offense, but the same can be said about the reverse, right? So, again, where does Luke Walton look to right the ship? It should be what the Lakers are better at anyway: the offensive end.

It all starts with shot selection.

Before we get into stats and specifics, generally speaking, the longer the shot, the lower the percentage and harder/longer the rebound. This, in turn, puts additional stress on transition defense, as the opposing offense gets a running start. Now, this is a pretty sweeping over-generalization, but this is part of what ails the Lakers right from the get-go.

The Lakers give up 15.1 points per game in transition — fourth-worst in the NBA. Not all of that has to do with shot selection (turnovers are also to blame, for example), but bad shots put defenses in bad spots. That’s just how that works.

Now, let’s take a look at the shot selection.

Statistically speaking, the Lakers are tied for the seventh worst field goal percentage on pull-up jumpers (both threes and twos). They rely on such shots for 20.9 points per game, good enough for 10th in the league. This tells me they’re shooting too much of those shots.

The counter-argument might be Toronto’s reliance on pull-up jumpers to score more points per game and shoot a worse percentage, and that’s fair. To such a counterpoint I’d say: Well, they’re winning that way and score almost ten more points per 100 possessions than the Lakers do. It’s working for the Raptors, and not for the Lakers.

You ever notice how rarely the Lakers put together a double-digit run? Doesn’t it always feel like they going on a five-to-seven-point run, the other team will call timeout and before you know it, the run is evened out by one of their opponent’s own? It’s impossible to support this statistically, but it’s a thing.

This lack of consistent, elongated and, more importantly, positive momentum means it takes the Lakers longer to open up leads. Even in cases that they do take a minor lead, they’re more likely to cough it back up than to expand on it to put games out of reach. And for a defense that already struggles as it does, the offense’s tendency to keep games close enough that the defense can blow it is a pretty terrible combination.

Back to the stats. The Lakers shoot just about league average on catch-and-shoot situations (38.8 percent), but score only 22.3 points per game like that, which is third worst in the league. Using the same logic as I did above, they need to shoot more on the catch. There are few more sure ways to cut a run short than a heat check, especially when the Lakers shoot them. And while it’s easy to think this is a discipline/immaturity issue, the top couple guys you’re probably thinking of right now are Lou Williams and Nick Young.

Yes, heat checks are a part of the game and when they go in, they are among the most exciting things you can watch, but for a team as young as the Lakers are, it’s about developing habits. Young and Williams are both who they are, but there’s still plenty of time for the young core to develop the discipline needed to eventually contend for the playoffs.

Pointing out an issue without bringing up a solution is pretty pointless, but I feel like the best was to start on this one is simply taking the first shot when it comes. Next time you watch the Lakers (they play the Utah Jazz Thursday night on TNT), watch how often shooters hesitate on the catch. It’s maddening.

Next, passers need to make better passes. The window for opportunity in the NBA is already minuscule and becomes all the smaller if the pass doesn’t have enough pace on it or misses the shooting pocket. Watch LeBron James fire a cross-court pass. It’s incredible. Then watch anyone from the Lakers. It’s less-than incredible.

All of this isn’t to say improving shot selection will completely turn around the Lakers’ free-falling season, but it is the easiest thing to start with right now. They can then focus on something like defensive rotations without having to match up in transition and continue to build from there.

It’s going to take a ton of work to make the Lakers competitive again, and it has to start somewhere. Understanding what a good shot is and having the discipline to stick with them is as good as place as any.

All stats in this column (written by @AnthonyIrwinLA) were taken from

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