On paper, the Lakers built a team with plenty of similarities to the 2019-20 Lakers that captured the NBA title. That championship roster lived at the rim during the regular season, mostly thanks to a front court consisting of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. This season, the Lakers roster the first three of those names, swapped out McGee for DeAndre Jordan and added Russell Westbrook, another player who excels at getting to the rim.
Through the opening three games of the season, however, the Lakers haven’t played on the court like their counterparts from a little more than a year ago. Prior to the Lakers game against the Suns — and following a game when Davis and James had strong nights shooting the ball against Golden State — head coach Frank Vogel noted the need for his team to get to the rim more.
“They’re (LeBron and AD) shooting the ball extremely well over the top,” Vogel said. “Teams are going to attempt to load up their defense in the paint on us, so we have to shoot over the top with this year’s squad. But obviously we want to get more rim touches, 17 attempts at the rim, that’s not enough. But we had 62 paint touches, so we are getting there. But we’re playing extra pass basketball, and a lot of times that results in a perimeter shot.
“I was more concerned with the taking too many of the early contested ones, those are the ones I am disappointed in. But those guys have the green light, with their fadeaways, they’re so elite in those shots, so they have the green light there of course.”
Even since Vogel’s comment, the trend has continued for the Lakers. Through the opening three games, 34.3% of the Lakers’ shot attempts are coming at the rim, ranking them 11th in the league per Cleaning the Glass. In the 2019-20 season, 39.8% of their attempts came at the rim, ranking them second in the league.
Going along with the strong shooting performances from James and Davis, 15.4% of the Lakers attempts have been long mid-range jumpers, second-most in the league, although that number was only slightly less (12.4%) for the Lakers in 2019-20.
The worse news is that when the Lakers have gotten to the rim, they haven’t converted. The team currently ranks 22nd in the league, shooting 59% at the rim, a far cry from the league-best 68.8% they shot in 2019-20. The encouraging news is that — based simply on a positive regression to the mean — that number will improve drastically this season.
In other positives, the Lakers are second in the league in 3-point shooting, and first in non-corner 3-pointers, also per Cleaning the Glass. In 2019-20, the team ranked 22nd and 29th in those categories, respectively.
Again, all this comes with the caveat that there have only been three games played in the opening week of the season. But if the Lakers can turn some of their long twos into attempts at the rim and ride the positive regression to an improved percentage in that area, all while maintaining strong 3-point shooting numbers, it could lead to a Lakers offense that could quickly become a strength for the team, something that certainly has not always been the case over the last few years. If that happens, then these comments from Vogel will be a concern of the past, but for now, at least they tell us what the team wants to work on.
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