By the end of the first-round, the only thing more battered and bruised than the injury-ravaged Lakers might have been the rims they were shooting on. After the team missed 138 of their 197 3-point attempts in the first round, it wouldn’t be a shock if they had to replace the baskets in Staples Center in addition to a few of their shooters. Or at least hammer out a few dents and paint over a couple chips in the orange metal cylinders.
“We’re not going to sugarcoat it: We shot the ball terribly,” summarized Jared Dudley at the team’s exit interviews.
He’s not wrong. In fact, “terribly” might be understating it. After a season that saw the Lakers finish 21st in 3-point percentage for the second consecutive year — and in the bottom third of the NBA for the sixth straight season — the team dropped off even further in the playoffs. The Lakers made 35.4% of their threes in the regular season, but cratered to a second-worst-in-the-playoffs 29.9% in the postseason. Only the Washington Wizards (28.9%) shot worse on threes in the playoffs, per NBA.com.
Even those numbers may understate the damage the Lakers’ lack of shooting did to their chances in the first round, however. In a 4-2 series loss in which the Lakers took 32.8 threes per game, they made an average of just 9.8 of them. If they had just shot their season average on threes and made 69.7 of their 197 attempts, they would have scored 32.1 more points in a series they lost by just 39 total points. To say their shooting almost literally cost them their playoff lives is not an exaggeration.
The question for the Lakers this offseason, then, is whether or not their shooting was a fluke, or if they need to overhaul the roster to add more snipers. At exit interviews, reserve guard Alex Caruso — who shot 5-17 (29.4%) from deep against the Suns — gave the former explanation.
“I would like to say that I am leaning towards it being more fluky just because of the consistent body of work we had during the regular season. I think we shot the ball well at least decent,” Caruso said. “I don’t feel we weren’t a bad shooting team.
“But it’s unfortunate. We got open threes in the series but just didn’t make them. Back-rim misses, in-and-outs, even at the rim, shots that we normally make, we didn’t convert,” Caruso continued. “I really don’t know what to blame it on, what to point towards, sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in the basket.”
Especially harmful for the Lakers was the ball not doing so on catch-and-shoot threes. Of their 197 attempts from deep, 150 were of the catch-and-shoot variety. The Lakers made just 41 of them for a playoff-worst 27.3% shooting on catch-and-shoot threes, per NBA.com. That points to not a failure in their types of attempts and the shots they were generating, but an inability of their designated shooters to convert. That may be why general manager Rob Pelinka admitted that shooting is something the team will be looking to add this summer, even if he also felt like some of the team’s lack of success had deeper context.
“We can never have enough shooting, so it’s something that’s always at the top of our mind when we’re building and constructing our roster,” Pelinka said. “(But) part of successful shooting is having special players that create the shooting space. For us that comes primarily from LeBron and Anthony.
“When you take someone like Anthony out of some of the games, it changes the spacing and the shooting success. Then everyone knows that LeBron talked about it last night, we knew when he had a high ankle sprain that it would probably not be until the offseason before that (he) got 100%,” Pelinka continued. “I think that the success of our shooting is driven by those guys creating the space, and because the things we faced, with injuries, some of that space was altered.”
The problem is that space being altered can’t be solely blamed for the Lakers’ lack of success. The Suns were daring Los Angeles’ shooters to beat them from distance, giving the Lakers the third-most wide-open shots of any team in the NBA playoffs (17.7 per game). The issue? The Lakers shot the third-worst percentage of any team in the league on those attempts, going 34-106 from deep on wide-open looks (32.1%), per NBA.com. That means that 106 of the Lakers’ 197 threes were taken with a defender more than six feet away. They had space, despite the injuries to their stars. They just couldn’t take advantage of it.
It was a problem all season, and came back to bite them on the biggest stage possible.
“Let’s just be real, shooting was a concern of ours,” Dudley said. “LeBron and AD need shooting and spacing, and IQ. Those are the two concerns we have, and something we’ll address this offseason.”
The Lakers only have five players guaranteed to be under contract next season (James, Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Marc Gasol). With their remaining roster spots, they need to make sure they prioritize adding some snipers.
Because maybe some of their shooting was an aberration, and maybe James and Davis being in the lineup can fix some of it. But while those two stars being healthy can and will fix a lot, it may not solve this specific Achilles heel. That will be on the front office, the coaching staff, and the players who do return alongside whatever new additions the team makes.
And maybe replacing those cursed rims can help a little, too.
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