The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the fastest-playing teams in the NBA, but head coach Luke Walton wants them to play even faster. What does that mean, and how can a team that’s averaging 105.9 possessions per 48 minutes crank their speed up even further?
Walton spoke with media following practice on Monday, coming away impressed how “crisp” his team looked after taking a day off from team activities. One of his biggest talking points was not just that he wants the Lakers playing with more pace, but he was kind enough to go into fairly good detail into what he means by that.
“We want to push the ball every time down court. That's it. I don't know how much faster that makes us. We don't want to take faster shots, but we don't ever want to walk the ball up court,” Walton said.
“There's enough possessions in a game right now that that's what we're doing. That we're going to keep bringing it up and working on it in practice.”
The engine that’s pushing the Lakers’ offense, Lonzo Ball, agreed with that assessment and put the responsibility on his shoulders.
“I feel like we're kind of walking the ball up too much, and that's obviously my fault because I'm the point guard. Just gotta push the pace a little bit better,” Ball said.
There have been plenty of possessions where the Lakers storm up the court after inbounding the ball. Ball being in motion as the inbounder tosses the ball in is a common sight, and one of the things Walton wants to see more consistently.
That, paired with the bigs getting up the court, are areas of improvement for the Lakers to find some footing on offense. The Lakers are ranked 29th in offensive efficiency (94.6 points per 100 possessions), severely diminishing the effect of having the 11th ranked defense (100.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) to start the season.
Ball initiating the offense’s first action with a screen from one of the bigs hustling up the floor is certainly one of the ways they can create easy baskets. Lonzo can spoon feed his bigs, like he does for Julius Randle here... :
... it’s a matter of the recipient hustling to the other end. That also applies to wings, who should be running ahead of the pack and setting up shop. Considering the Lakers have been woeful from deep, getting easy opportunities in transition is a way to create quality shots. Lonzo can, and will, set the table once you take a seat:
“That starts with [Lonzo] pushing the ball up court, throwing it ahead to wings, and that's not all on him,” Walton said of where the team’s tempo comes from. “How quick does the big get it out of bounds? Are the wings out running, and are they looking back over their shoulder for those throw-ahead passes? The trail big who takes it out, is he sprinting down to give him a drag option?”
That trailer big is often Brook Lopez, who should be the pillar that Lonzo builds his pick-and-roll game around as a rookie. Having a big who can stretch the floor setting early screens opens up everything in the Lakers’ offense, including making space for Lonzo to get his own shot off:
And, of course, Brook draining threes after setting a pick to start a possession is something we’ll be seeing plenty of all season:
Coach Luke elaborated that it’s not about wanting his team to put up fast shots, it’s about constant kinetic energy in their offense. His view of pace and tempo is beyond possessions per 48, but how the Lakers execute within their sets.
“I don't want people holding the ball. If you're open shoot it, if you're not, swing it to someone, go set a screen, penetrate the paint, kick it to somebody else... but I want to play fast in the halfcourt motion of what we're trying to do. I think we have way too many possessions where we catch and hold it, and we lose our momentum that we've built up so far,” Walton said.
The Lakers are already playing at one of the fastest paces in the entire league, but there’s more nuance to it than running up the court to clunk an early attempt off the rim. Walton wants the Lakers moving with purpose.
The offense is letting the defense down right now, but Coach Luke’s message to his team about how to play to their strengths is clear. We’ll see if the team puts a little more zip to their game going forward.
*All stats via NBA.com/stats