In part one of my series on how LeBron James changes the Lakers I took a look at his devastating work in transition, while part two focused on his increasing aptitude in post-up situations. In part three, I take a look at the astounding versatility of his pick and roll game.
The Lakers haven’t had a dual scoring and passing threat on ball screens since Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon on that fateful night in 2013. Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson could get theirs at an efficient clip but were hardly distributors. D’Angelo Russell showed flashes of ability in both areas but was too young to put the pieces together. Isaiah Thomas came closest but only played 17 games in a disjointed, injury-riddled season.
James changes that, providing the team with the most situationally adaptable pick and roll player in the league. Let’s take a closer look at how his proficiency on ball screens gives the Lakers a weapon that they haven’t had in years.
James is the only player in the NBA who can score or pass out of every conceivable ball screen scenario at a high-level, regardless of whether he’s the ball-handler or screen-setter. His Synergy numbers illustrate the breadth of his efficiency.
Pick and Roll Ball Handler (Scorer Only) - 1.02 PPP, 91st percentile
Pick and Rolls Including Passes - 1.06 PPP, 88th percentile
Post Ups off of Pick and Roll Switches - 1.49 PPP, 97th percentile
Isos off of Pick and Roll Switches - 1.01 PPP, 71st percentile
Defender Over the Pick - 1.06 PPP, 82nd percentile
Defender Under the Pick - 1.19 PPP, 82nd percentile
Defender Into the Pick - 1.31 PPP, 93rd percentile
Goes Away From Pick - 1.43 PPP, 98th percentile
Pick and Roll Screen-Setter - 1.23 PPP, 80th percentile
LeBron sought to be surrounded by more high-IQ playmakers, and the Lakers’ front office obliged, meaning that he will likely be in fewer ball screen situations compared to the 842 possessions of pick and roll-derived offense that he used last season. Such a change might just mean a marked increase in how often James gets to be the roll man, which should cause less wear and tear on his body and allow him to operate without being the primary focus of the defense’s attention.
But make no mistake, LeBron will still be asked to create for himself and others on the pick and roll, especially down the stretch of close games, and he’s still one of the best in the business when called upon.
It’s been a while since the Lakers could claim one of those guys as their own.