One of the greatest strengths of the Lakers’ 2019-20 team that won a title inside the bubble was how lethal they were in transition and on fast breaks. The team ranked sixth in the league in points per possession in transition, per Synergy, that season. Their efficiency only improved in the playoffs as they turned defensive stops into quick points on the other end.
Boiled down, it’s not a complex concept. Give LeBron James the ball in space going downhill with shooters around him and defenses will suffer. As was the case with seemingly everything about last season, injuries prevented the Lakers from replicating that formula last season, particularly in the postseason.
Russell Westbrook, who was officially introduced as a Laker on Tuesday, represents a fit in a lot of directions for the Lakers. However, perhaps most notably, he moves the Lakers a notch closer to the lethal transition team they were two seasons ago.
During Westbrook’s introductory presser, head coach Frank Vogel spoke about how Westbrook will fit alongside James and Anthony Davis, what sacrifices might need to come from the trio and how the Lakers offense could look this season.
“I think anytime you have three great players like this, there is an element of sacrifice required,” he said. “And you know, we’ve all talked about that, and are all in on that. But these three guys can do it all. What I love about our group - Bron AD and Russ - is they’re all ‘make the right play’ players. It’s not just about scoring or being a one-dimensional player. They can all do it all.
“I’m most excited about seeing what the three of them on the court at the same time looks like. I think we’re going to be an extremely dynamic fast breaking team, and one that can play off of all three guys, in many different ways. I think with the speed, athleticism of those guys plus the complementary parts we put together, the shooters and the defenders, I think we got a real chance this year to do something special. It’s on us now to put in the work and you get these type of talented guys to buy in and put in the work, hopefully, we can achieve something special.”
Even in taking a step back last season, the Lakers still ranked 10th in points per possession in transition, per Synergy. On sheer volume, Westbrook ranked second in the league in individual transition possessions behind Giannis Antetokounmpo. His efficiency wasn’t high, ranking in the 20th percentile, but that doesn’t make his volume any less meaningful, especially when translating it to the Lakers.
James ranked 24th in the league in transition possessions last season despite his injury. In 2019-20, Westbrook ranked second and James fifth in transition possession in the league. With a volume as high as James and Westbrook create, hyper-efficiency is not necessary.
The rebounding prowess of both James and Westbrook will continually create transition opportunities. If James and Westbrook are staggered with one of them on the court most of the game, if not the entirety of it, then the Lakers will be a transition threat for 48 minutes a night.
That type of constant pressure wears teams down, particularly throughout a playoff series. And while no one thing will guarantee the Lakers success similar to their performance in the bubble, adding Westbrook to James and allowing both to run the floor should spell success in at least one aspect of the game.