To say the Lakers have had difficulty scoring during the seeding games would be an understatement.
During the NBA restart, the team has the worst offensive rating of any team in the bubble, scoring a pitiful 95.7 points per 100 possessions. That is nearly 10 points below the next worst team that is actually trying (apologies to the Wizards), as the Raptors clock in with an offensive rating of 105.2. For context, the Lakers’ pre-hiatus offensive rating was 112.6, so they have taken quite the dive in Orlando.
The primary culprit for the team’s struggles has been their hellacious 3-point shooting. Now hellacious might be a strong word, so let’s check in on just how bad it’s gotten.
The Lakers are 37-158 (23.4%) from 3 since the restart. That's the worst 3P% by any team in a 5-game span in NBA history (minimum 150 attempts).— Preston Johnson (@SportsCheetah) August 7, 2020
Despite this historically awful stretch the Lakers find themselves in, capped off by a 2-of-19 showing against Houston, the team is confident that this is a mere blip, something that the players can correct before the games become meaningful again.
“You’ve just to keep letting them fly, you can’t read the press clippings, you can’t look at the negative things that are on Twitter. You have to just continue to put the work in,” Kyle Kuzma said postgame Thursday. “That’s what our guys do, and especially for guys like DG, KCP, especially KCP shooting really high this season. We know DG is going to come and hit his shots when he needs to. It’s all about just getting that rhythm and confidence. Just letting it fly without no conscience. Obviously it is a situation for us where we’re not shooting the ball well, but we also know we have proven commodities at that (skill).”
Although Kuzma makes a good point about continuing to put the work in and trusting that it will eventually manifest on the court, it’s a lot easier for Kuzma to be confident than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, or even Danny Green. Kuzma came into the bubble as a 29.7% shooter from distance, but has shot 18-of-38 (47.4%) on threes through the scrimmages and seeding games. While Kuzma has curiously avoided whatever affliction has plagued the rest of the Lakers, Caldwell-Pope is shooting 4-of-18 on 3-pointers, Green is at 7-of-29, and each is slowly losing the gravity that comes from being a feared marksman.
Maybe Kuzma’s performance is a sign of hope for the rest of the team, that if someone who has been such a poor shooter all season can reverse his fortunes, the other Lakers can do the same.
Green says that the team is doing its best to stay confident, trusting that who they were before the shutdown is more indicative of their capability as shooters, and that Frank Vogel has been instrumental in keeping spirits high.
“[Vogel’s] been very positive and super encouraging to every single one of us, to continue to shoot our shots,” Green said after the Houston game. “We haven’t got a chance to see the ball go in for us consistently, or much at all. But once we get one or two, we’re due for a good game, a hot game, and hopefully we get that streak. But even if we’re not shooting it well, we still have the confidence because of him and our coaching staff behind us telling us to shoot it regardless, to be locked and loaded. We feel like the next one is going in because of that confidence, that positivity and that encouragement.”
Vogel’s mindset seems to stem from the fact that this is a small sample size. Five bad outings do not erase a 63-game body of work when the Lakers were a more than capable offensive team.
“One thing I know is that I do believe in percentages, and I do believe in guys and trust the work that they’ve put in,” Vogel said Thursday. “There’s always a reversion to the mean. The law of averages plays out, and I’m okay with getting all these misses out of the way right now.”
One reason to side with Vogel’s optimism is that the Lakers are still creating good shots. The majority of the threes they are taking are wide-open. Take a look at Green, for example. He has shot 2-of-11 on wide-open threes in the seeding games, which account for more than half of Green’s 3-pointers during that stretch. There’s no reason to believe that Green has lost the ability to make open shots, so once that figure trends closer to his pre-hiatus number of 36.6%, his overall clip will improve. Similarly, KCP shot 41.3% on wide-open threes during the regular season, but has made just 2-of-9 in the seeding games. Those are the kinds of shots they can expect to convert at a higher frequency once the players settle down.
That’s why Vogel firmly believes that this moment will pass, and the Lakers will revert to who they were earlier in the season. They’re never going to be lights-out shooters, but they won’t be historical oddities either.
“We’ve got good players, we trust our work,” Vogel said postgame. “So guys are going to remain confident, the shot quality is going to continue to be emphasized and worked on, and the percentages will come around. I’ve been doing this a long time, I’ve never seen them not come around. So we’re very confident in that, and our guys will remain confident.”
The Lakers just need that attitude to translate into results. They still have three more games to work out the kinks.