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Why do players shoot worse when they join the Lakers?

The Lakers may have a pseudo homecourt disadvantage at Staples Center.

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NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday night’s unbelievable performance by Stephen Curry may not have shown it, but normally the two-time MVP shoots horrendously from behind the arc against the Lakers at Staples Center.

Curry, arguably the greatest shooter of all-time and a player who has shot 43.3% from three in his career, was shooting 31.7% for his career from three when playing against the Lakers in Staples Center heading into the play-in game between the two teams this week. He’s had games where he’s shot so poorly in Los Angeles that it allowed Marcelo Huertas to hand the Warriors one of nine losses during their 73-win season, and prompted outside investigations into whether or not L.A. nightlife could have caused Curry’s shooting woes.

And while some of the credit for Curry’s career-long struggles in Los Angeles has to go to how the Lakers have defended him, there may be another factor in this as well.

As many Lakers fans have noticed, it has felt for years like Staples Center is a graveyard for shooting percentages, and mostly for players on the Lakers, not just historic greats like Curry during their visits. And after doing some research to see if there was any correlation between joining the Lakers and a players’ shot falling off a cliff, it turns out that it’s not just in our heads.

The Lakers are really where shooters go to die.

Shooters Before and After Joining the Lakers

Categories Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Quinn Cook Danny Green Lou Williams Wayne Ellington Nick Young Jodie Meeks
Categories Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Quinn Cook Danny Green Lou Williams Wayne Ellington Nick Young Jodie Meeks
Year before joining the Lakers 35.00% 40.50% 45.50% 34.00% 42.40% 35.70% 36.50%
First year with the Lakers 38.30% 36.50% 36.70% 34.50% 37.00% 38.60% 35.70%
Home games 34.00% 32.00% 37.30% 30.50% 31.00% 39.8%, 2nd year was 33.3% 33.70%
Away games 41.90% 42.90% 36.10% 38.60% 43.60% 37.4%, 2nd year was 39.7% 37.40%

Clearly, there seems to be some level of correlation here, across multiple players, teams, coaching staffs and years. The shocking shooting percentages don’t end there, however.

When looking at the Lakers’ high-volume 3-point shooters from this season to see what their home vs. away numbers are in an attempt to dig in to the team’s apparent home-court disadvantage even more, it stands out that nearly every single one of them shoots worse at home than they do on the road.

Lakers Shooters Home vs. Away

Categories Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Marc Gasol Alex Caruso Ben McLemore LeBron James Kyle Kuzma Dennis Schröder Talen Horton-Tucker Anthony Davis Wesley Matthews Markieff Morris
Categories Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Marc Gasol Alex Caruso Ben McLemore LeBron James Kyle Kuzma Dennis Schröder Talen Horton-Tucker Anthony Davis Wesley Matthews Markieff Morris
Home games 38.00% 42.40% 36.00% 36.60% 33.30% 38.30% 27.80% 24.20% 22.90% 31.70% 34.00%
Away games 43.60% 39.30% 45.20% 37.00% 40.70% 33.50% 38.30% 32.30% 27.70% 35.50% 28.60%

So, why does every player seem to shoot worse in Staples Center? Our first theory was that it may be due to the arena’s unique lighting during Lakers home games. At the start of the 2006-07 season, the team released a statement that they wanted to direct the focus in the arena back to the basketball on the floor, dimming the lights everywhere but the court for a theatrical lighting effect they dubbed the “Lights Out” campaign. The Lakers are the only team in the NBA to have their lighting set up quite like this.

For context, here’s some comparisons on the differences between the Lakers’ lighting and that of other teams.

The Los Angeles Clippers’ lighting of fans in Staples Center vs. the Lakers’

Minnesota Timberwolves v LA Clippers
Lights on.
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Golden State Warriors 103-100 during a NBA basketball Western Conference Play-In game. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

The Orlando Magic’s lighting of fans compared to the Lakers’

Magic fans in the crowd (see how bright it is?)
Getty Images
lakers celtics staples center nba fans
Lakers fans in the much darker stands at Staples Center.
Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

You can imagine how those differences could mess with some of the players’ depth perception or other aspects of their vision when shooting in the arena. Think about shooting at a park during the daytime, or at night with the lights on. It’s easier to shoot better when you can see everything.

Unless you are LeBron, and can shoot better with one eye, obviously.

Still, it may not be fair to attribute these struggles solely to the lighting, because from 1999-2006 (pre-Lights Out) to 2006-2021 (post-Lights Out), the numbers don’t change a ton.

From 1999-2006, the Lakers averaged a ranking of 20.2 in the league for 3-point percentage in home games. From 2006-2021, the Lakers averaged a ranking of 19.7, so compared to league-wide trends, they actually got a minuscule amount better overall since the lighting changed, although there are obviously other factors like roster construction that go into those numbers.

Still, this partial dead end led us to a different theory: What if the Lakers’ recent home shooting woes at Staples are a curse from the basketball gods.

How (and why) would that have happened? Well, it all started in 2014, when then new head coach Byron Scott made a statement that would live in infamy:

Since Scott said that, the Lakers have shot worse on threes at home than on the road in seven of the last eight seasons. They’ve ranked 14.8th in the league in away games and 24.3 in home games. In a league that was starting to trend towards more threes per game, the basketball gods may have decided to curse the Lakers to a cacophony of clanks in front of their fans at home as penance for Scott so thoroughly disrespecting the direction of the game.

It’s also entirely possible that there is some other reason for the Lakers’ lack of success at home, and shooters getting worse when they join this team. But whatever is going on, it’s clear that both in recent times and this season, the venue does seem to have disadvantaged the Lakers, who rank 29th in the league in 3-point percentage during home games during the current campaign. In away games this season, the Lakers rank 11th in the league in 3-point percentage.

Some of that is surely randomness, and maybe some of it is the lack of fans this season, but the Lakers have shot worse at home than on the road in eight of the last 11 seasons. There is a trend here, even if we can’t be certain that the lighting or Byron Scott caused it.

But even if we can’t pinpoint the exact cause, it all does lead to a possible silver lining: That while a team not having their own fans in the arena to cheer them on is always going to be a negative in the postseason, if the Lakers top 3-point shooters continue to have results like this in home and away games during the 2020 postseason, then they may somehow actually benefit from not having homecourt advantage in a single round of the playoffs. Because if they can’t stop the curse or figure out the reason for it, they may as well avoid it altogether.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Ali on Twitter at @ali_behpoornia.

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