It has been almost exactly one year since Magic Johnson, then President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers, publicly divulged on a national broadcast what exactly went into his thought process when constructing last season’s polarizing roster.
While some of the comments given during the Summer League telecast did follow some level of rationale, it was his response to the team’s expected lack of perimeter shooting around newly acquired LeBron James that raised eyebrows.
“Everybody’s talking about the Lakers don’t have shooting. Oh, we have shooting. But we saw all the teams in the playoffs that had shooting; they got beat.”
Anyone who followed the Lakers last season — or simply the NBA in general in recent years — knows this statement has not aged well. Johnson’s assessment of the importance of the long ball came off as antiquated, and the team’s supplemental perimeter threats chosen to surround the walking defender-magnet that is James proved faulty.
The Lakers would go on to finish the year 24th in offensive rating, 29th in 3-point percentage and dead last in their attempts from behind the arc that tracking data classified as “wide-open.”
However, the team’s negligence when it comes to perimeter shooting was not solely a Johnson or specifically last season problem, but rather a multi-year trend of clanks for the franchise.
Since the 2013-14 season, the Lakers have only finished better than 18th in the league in 3-point shooting efficiency once.
Historically a pillar of excellence and a franchise that has prided themselves for setting benchmarks, the organization has continuously failed in keeping up with one of the most important trends of modern basketball: The ability to effectively space the floor.
But with Johnson now gone and James expressing an exuberant “fart noise” in response to a question about last season’s roster makeup, the newly empowered general manager Rob Pelinka has seemingly learned from previous errors, as evidenced by the types of players the Lakers have targeted this summer.
Of the six new names recently signed by Los Angeles (excluding those who were on the team last season) five have career shooting numbers of at least 36 percent from behind the arc. The only exception among the bunch is DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins however, has closely followed the recent trend seen among bigs in the modern game, as he has actively begun to step out of the paint much more frequently since 2015 (since averaging less than half a 3-point attempt per contest through the 2010-2014 seasons, Cousins has averaged more than three attempts per game since). He has also converted his looks from three at a 35 percent clip or higher in four of his last six campaigns.
The bruising center would theoretically help fill the front court spacing hole the team has lacked since Brook Lopez’s departure, and disastrously attempted to address with Mike Muscala at the trade deadline.
From an on-paper and numbers perspective, the Lakers look bound to finally take advantage of the spatial gravity James creates whenever his Nikes step onto the floor.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the team made their attempts from three at only a 33.4 percent clip with James on the floor last season. That will drastically need to improve, and with this roster, likely will.
Besides simply targeting “good” shooters this summer, the Lakers did a solid job in finding players who specifically are effective converting their open opportunities, an area the team was literally the worst in the league at.
Once again, all of the new signees not named Cousins had higher conversion rates on their “wide-open” (six or more feet of space from their nearest defender) 3-point attempts than what was the most recent Lakers team average. Danny Green in particular shot a bonkers 51.3 percent on these chances.
The importance of being able to knock down open shots will not only be important from a momentum aspect, as many times the team would noticeably deflate after missing yet another open look, but also from a strategic one.
Prior to the offseason, the team’s new head coach Frank Vogel discussed his coaching philosophies, and laid out his vision for the team’s more modern and analytically inclined offense this upcoming year.
”I really believe in the value of the 3-point shot, and really what the analytics people would say the priority should be in your offensive approach. Meaning that the value of the free throw is higher than the rim two, which is higher than the corner three, which is higher than the arc three, which is higher than the mid-range shot.
“But within all of that the open shot takes precedent. We’re going to have a system in which we minimize the amount of guarded shots that we take, and I think there is going to be a big value in enhancing the perimeter shooting that we put around arguably the greatest drive-and-kick player that has ever played the game.
Vogel, and his team, are now better equipped to accomplish this vision after July’s signings and not only will potentially reap the benefits of a refreshed James and his ability to lure defenders (a year removed from leading the league in 3-point assists; 344) but also now employ yet another gigantic spatial mover in Anthony Davis.
While it’s still unknown how quickly or how effective the pairing of two of the league’s best players will mesh, the amount of pressure that will be thrust upon defenses when James and Davis run a pick and roll feels ungodly.
Although not near the unreal degree of James’ playmaking prowess, Davis himself proved to be a capable 3-point hub for this team, dishing out 75 assists on his teammate’s makes from deep in the 2017-18 season, according to play-by-play stats.
The duo of James and Davis will likely create seismic mismatches, cause defenses to scramble and will almost undoubtedly generate open looks when they walk onto the floor together for the first time in October. And for the first time in literal years, the Lakers may finally be able to take advantage, and catch up with the rest of the league in the process.
All stats and video per NBA.com unless otherwise noted. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.