Last year, LeBron James struggled at times to get to some of the spots he was historically able to get to, largely as a result of the way the Los Angeles Lakers were defended. More often than not, James would be surrounded by multiple players opposing defenses didn’t have to respect, and thus had far too less space to operate in, especially when he wasn’t 100 percent healthy.
Some of that was a result of an ill-fated experiment Magic Johnson wanted to try out, and some of it was the team’s struggles from deep along with a somehow roster-wide and season-long slump from from guys who had success as shooters in the past. Whatever the reason, Rob Pelinka said on Lakers Media Day last Friday that the team had to right those wrongs this summer, and that he feels like they did.
“In terms of the shooting, I think the best way to learn in life is from things that didn’t go right,” Pelinka said. “I think failure is a much better professor than in life than success sometimes.
“And we go right down our roster, if you look at Danny Green, Quinn Cook, KCP and Jared Dudley, Troy Daniels, Avery Bradley, it’s full of multidimensional players that are great shooters. So we’re really confident in that construction,” Pelinka continued. “We do feel like we have the shooting to space the court.”
As per usual, Pelinka’s response doesn’t quite fully answer the question, but it mostly suffices. Yes, there are definitely shooters on the roster, but consistently getting as many of them on the court as possible at the same time is the important thing here, and won’t always be simple.
For example, in a starting lineup where Davis is at power forward and either Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee is at center, that means of the two non-James players left on the court, both will have to be threats from deep. One is taken care of in Green, but it makes it all the more important that the point guard actually spreads the floor.
And no, Rondo does not space the floor, despite how well he shot from three last year. Defenses don’t respect him, as evidenced by the way Alex Caruso (in a training camp scrimmage!) guarded him in this clip:
It's not that Rondo can't make threes but that he doesn't force defenses to make a decision. Teams are always going to play passing/driving lanes and leave him open. pic.twitter.com/liva5GeZ4P— pickuphoop (@pickuphoop) September 29, 2019
That’s Caruso — Rondo’s own teammate — paying zero attention to wherever Rondo might be on the court and sinking all the way to the basket to offer help elsewhere.
The reason for optimism here, then, is that new Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel also seems to understand that the team’s shooting had to improve.
”I think that’s the most exciting thing about how this roster has been built,” Vogel said. “The number of really good players that we’ve added to let us feel good about everybody on the roster. The shooting improvement, I hope it’s dramatic from where we were last year.”
Depending on when Kyle Kuzma comes back, the Lakers will need each of Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso to produce from deep. When Kuzma is healthy, he’ll have to take a significant leap forward from how he shot from behind the arc, too. If those things don’t happen, defenses will be able to suck way in like they did last year, and suffocate the space in which James and Davis hope to operate.
What went unlisted in talking about how the Lakers shooting might improve this year were the additions to the coaching staff that should also pay dividends. Mike Penberthy replaces, um, no one as the Lakers shooting coach this year, and new assistant Phil Handy’s work as a player development coach is about as highly regarded as any such coach in the league. Both those guys’ focus on the details that go into shooting should really help a team that desperately needs to hit consistently from deep.
Pelinka and the rest of the front office deserve credit for recognizing their mistakes from last year and addressing them this summer both on and off the court. Now we just have to hope they found the right combination of shooters who can consistently space the floor for the league’s most talented duo.