The Los Angeles Lakers were not a good shooting team last season. Considering they shot just 35.4% from deep (21st in the league) this is not exactly breaking news to anyone who watched them, or even just looked at the NBA’s stats website for more than 30ish seconds.
What was astonishing, however, was just how bad of a shooting team the Lakers were. And not just bad, but seemingly scared. Visualize a scene for a moment: A hesitant Laker, alone behind the arc, wanting to do anything with the ball but shoot it, visibly shaken by the season-long evaporation of their jumper. They eventually fire the ball, but it clanks off the rim.
If it sounds familiar, it should. Of the 2,248 threes the Lakers took last season, 125 took them longer than six seconds to shoot, according to NBA.com. That’s approximately 5.6% of their total triples, equaling out to about 1.7 per game. The extra time didn’t result in increased composure and a sunk shot, either, as the team actually shot worse (32%) when they took longer to shoot than their already-bad season average.
Shooting is an area the team made a concerted effort to address this offseason, with general manager Rob Pelinka saying it was one the organization’s top-three priorities this summer. But finding players who wouldn’t be afraid to fire away off of passes from their stars was a specific area that the team wanted to improve, and Pelinka thinks that the addition of Carmelo Anthony will really help them in that regard.
“One of the ingredients that we felt like we really missed last year was just guys that were lasers that could space the floor and make catch-and-shoot (shots),” Pelinka said. “If you look at AD, when he gets double-teamed, or when teams collapse the paint against LeBron and Russell Westbrook, to me having one of the greatest catch-and-shoot guys that have played in recent times (makes sense).”
Pelinka doesn’t think it’s just Anthony’s past success (39.9% shooting from behind the arc the last two seasons) that makes him valuable in that area. It’s that he has prior experience rising and confidently firing off of passes from some of the biggest stars to ever play the game.
“I think if you go back to the Olympics when Melo played such an incredible role on that team with just his ability to make open shots, I think there are some players that when you play with people like LeBron or Russell (Westbrook), maybe when that open ball is kicked to you it’s a little bit heavier,” Pelinka said. “But Melo, I don’t think he’s paying attention to who’s throwing him the ball. He’s just getting it, and then he’s locked in to convert.”
To Pelinka’s point, Anthony shot nearly as well (9-24, 37.5%) when he took longer than six seconds to shoot as he did when he shot within two seconds of catching it (28-66, 40.5%). He also shot nearly exactly the same percentage against tight coverage (41.8%) as he did on wide-open threes (41.9%).
Obviously that first number is a really small sample size, but that also sort of proves Pelinka’s point: Anthony isn’t going to sit around waiting for permission to shoot. He’s not going to take time to think about his last shot, and whether it went in or not.
When he gets the ball, he’s going to do something with it.
“And then he has other dimensions to his game too. I’m not trying to minimize him into just a catch-and-shoot player, but that’s an elite, elite skill he has,” Pelinka said. “I think the other underrated parts of his game are that he’s still just so physically strong and imposing, just when he puts his body on players in the post he can continue to have his way and continue to be a rebounder with his size. So those ingredients, together, I think are going to make him a really good fit.”
The shooting part especially. So whether Melo starts or comes off the bench, the Lakers will need guys who aren’t afraid to fire off of passes from stars. There are other questions about his fit and role in the rotation, but if he consistently rewards the Lakers’ centerpieces for finding him with decisive sniping, the rest of it may not matter.