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Laker Film Room: Why the Lakers offense failed, Part One — Spacing Principles

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The Lakers had an oddly constructed roster, but Luke the spacing principles in the offense Luke Walton ran didn’t help matters.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The first six (now deleted) videos I ever made were a “Luke to the Lakers” series after the Lakers hired him in April 2016. The hope was that Walton would modernize the Lakers’ offense after two regressive years under Byron Scott, applying the spacing principles that he learned during his time as an assistant for the Golden State Warriors.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

The Lakers ranked 23rd in Offensive Rating during Walton’s first two seasons with the team, added LeBron James, and somehow managed to drop to 25th in his third. Injuries, trade rumors, and peculiar roster construction all contributed to this disastrous season, but the offense was problematic even when this team was at its best.

Walton made significant changes to his offense in 2018-19, presumably to maximize James on a roster with questionable outside shooting. Those alterations were well-intentioned but ill-conceived and exacerbated the team’s spacing instead of helping it.

The Lakers frequently cleared out one side of the court to give James, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma room to operate in isolation or in the post while cramming the weak-side with four Lakers. That brand of offense is more suited for 1999 than 2019, and defenses were happy to let the Lakers wallow in such offensive stagnancy.

Walton was one of Phil Jackson’s favorite players, in large part because of his ability to grease the wheels of an offense by making the correct reads while being in the right place at the right time. Perhaps that quality is innate for Walton - the son of an NBA Hall of Famer - and that may be why he hasn’t been able to teach it particularly well. Lakers players frequently fail to execute simple pass, cut and replace principles that lead to a congested lane and more difficult scoring opportunities all around.

Signs point to the last seven games of this season as being the final days of Walton’s tenure as head coach of the Lakers. If so, I’ll remember them as a promise unfulfilled, where a young coach who arose from the NBA’s pre-eminent offensive system was unable to translate those concepts to the Lakers.

In part two of this series on why the Lakers’ offense failed, we’ll take a closer look at their ineffectual play design. Check back next week, or subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll YouTube Channel to get it as soon as it publishes.

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