Following an unexpectedly hot start, the Los Angeles Lakers have not been a good 3-point shooting team this season. Their 35.8% from deep ranks 19th in the entire NBA on the heels of a 26.7% 3-point shooting performance in their Thursday night, 109-98 loss to the Nets, but their struggles began long before Brooklyn came to town.
Over their last 14 games, the Lakers have shot below 37% (league average) from three 11 times. Over their first 15 games, they only shot that poorly in six. They dropped from third in the NBA in 3-point shooting (40%) in the latter stretch to dead last (30.2%) over the more recent one.
It’s a trend head coach Frank Vogel and his coaching staff are aware of, even if they don’t have much of a theory on the reason for it beyond some brutal regression to the mean.
“We’ve dove into this pretty deeply. We’re still getting basically the same amount of open threes that we were getting to start the season,” Vogel said.
Vogel is mostly right, even if there has actually been a slight dip. During the Lakers’ first 15 games, they were getting 12.6 open threes per game (10th-fewest in the league), and shooting 38.1% on those looks. Since then, they’ve been getting less (9.4 per game, the third-fewest of any team in the NBA) and shooting worse on them (28%). So even if they’re getting less, their bigger issue is that they’re shooting way worse on them.
That trend held against the Nets, when the Lakers shot nine less threes (30) than the Nets did (39), and took 14 open looks from there to the Nets’ 19. The difference was, the Lakers only made four of their open threes, while the Nets hit nine, per NBA.com. That’s 15 extra points on just open threes alone, which is more than the 11 points the Lakers lost by.
“We’ve got to get our 3-point shooting going. We’re just not shooting the ball well,” Vogel said. “This is similar to the Denver game where we got outscored by 39 at the 3-point line, and tonight we got outscored by 30. We’ve got to generate better quality looks, continue to honor our work and continue to give our guys the green light and encouragement.
“We were really shooting the ball well out of the gates to start the season and it’s just fallen off.”
The good news is that there are likely some things that will help the Lakers get back on track. For one thing, Friday will be just the team’s ninth practice of the season, and another chance for everyone to continue to get on the same page. Additionally, with Anthony Davis in and out of the lineup — and clearly playing at half speed while he’s out there — it’s hard to generate as much gravity to get open looks. And, perhaps most importantly, on some level this is just math.
While the Lakers have seen a particularly violent regression to the mean, they also had Alex Caruso (55.6%) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (53.7%) start the season shooting over 50% from deep for their first 15 games. That was never going to last, no matter how nice it was in the moment, and both have fallen off over the last 14, shooting 26.1% and 23.9% from deep, respectively. They’re better than they’ve been, but they’re probably worse than they started.
The team is confident they can find the middle ground between who they were and who they are right now.
“We’re not worried about the shooting. That can come around. We’ve got too many guys who can fill it up from the 3-point line,” stopgap starter and career 38.1% 3-point shooter Wesley Matthews told reporters after going 0-2 from deep in the loss to the Nets, and his coach echoed the sentiment.
“We were shooting a little bit better than our expected average, and of late we’re shooting a lot lower than our expected average,” Vogel said. “We’ll continue to emphasize working for shot quality and having guys honor their work, and water will find its level.”
The Lakers will have to hope he’s right, because their current drought has left them too often dying of thirst from deep.