Like two ships passing in the night, the Lakers and their perimeter shooting have yet to fully embrace and establish anything close to something consistent. This has been a seesaw relationship that has spanned years now, and after the team’s slew of 3-point misses in the preseason, it only continues to loom large over the franchise as they head into their season opener on Tuesday.
The question marks surrounding the squad’s shooting quickly formed after the roster took shape this offseason, as many voiced skepticism of their long-term prospects given the lack of marksmen who could space the floor effectively enough for the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis to operate in the half court.
This is an area of weakness that Rob Pelinka, the team’s vice president of basketball operations and general manager, himself admitted during the club’s media day, stating: “I think in terms of shooting, we know that’s a needed skill.”
After our first glimpses of the team in action, the Lakers have done little to dispel those concerns. Instead, the club has only amplified the volume of their detractors by finishing their preseason with a 3-point shooting percentage of 28.6% that ranked 26th amongst all 30 NBA teams.
As with any development that transpires during what is essentially only exhibition play, there should be a grain of salt taken before forming any definite conclusions.
However, when zooming in on the shots, and misses, there are clues — both positive and negative — that should help toward answering the question of whether fans should already begin to worry about the Lakers’ long ball.
Reasons for concern
In terms of quantifiable results, the Lakers attempted and missed a lot of their 3-point attempts this preseason. And while the latter will be the crux of the story, the former is arguably just as staggering and distressing.
Whether by design or not, a whopping 40.2% of the Lakers’ shot diet in their exhibition games came from behind the arc according to Cleaning the Glass — this was the 7th highest of any team. For reference, only 35.3% of their looks came from deep last season.
And even with the caveat that they played in a few more games than the rest of the league, no other squad hoisted up more threes than the Lakers did (231) in their six games.
As seen in these numbers and when considering the context of who did, and did not play, the team failed to get much traction towards the rim (only 26.8% of their shots), resulting in the surge of long-ball attempts.
The opposition also had a hand in this, however, as no other team faced as many zone possessions as the Lakers (15) according to Synergy. This is not necessarily a new occurrence for the team, as they also faced the seventh-highest percentage of zone looks last season as defenses loaded up the paint daring the team to beat them from the outside.
The opposition already throwing zone looks and cheating off of their men speaks volumes to the level of respect they have for the Lakers’ new crop of shooters. This will also likely continue to be an element to the opposition’s strategy as long as the team proves unable to capitalize from the perimeter — which was exactly the case in the preseason as their final tally displayed.
To compound matters on their overall poor efficiency from the perimeter, and why their offense lacked much punch, the Lakers also failed to execute on their easy looks, yielding a mere 0.96 points per possession on their un-guarded catch and shoot chances (sixth-worst) per Synergy.
As long as the team’s shooters continue to remain cold from the outside, defenses will gladly keep packing the paint and live with the results. It is a story the fanbase has heard and seen before since the dawn of the James/Davis partnership. And if the team can't crack the right balance of volume and efficiency, it will likely be a similar tale and ending this year.
Reasons for optimism
It is sometimes difficult to care about the process when the results simply haven't been there. This is especially the case for a basketball team on the heels of a year that featured little to no positives.
However, like any fulfilling workout plan that doesn't immediately grant the user with six-pack caliber abs, patience is the key. This is a virtue the Lakers are likely following when it comes to their 3-ball, and perhaps for good reason.
For as poor as the Lakers’ shooting numbers were during preseason, when taking into account the solid shot quality and sound play design that preceded the ball leaving the players’ hands, the system seems to be working.
Darvin Ham’s offense offered glimpses of improved spacing, ball movement and scheme that more often than not, resulted in prime scoring chances, as seen in their league-leading 108 unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts.
While the end result may have not sprung points, there should be a level of confidence that a sheer regression to the mean over a larger sample should yield passable marks.
It is also worth pointing out who actually was on the floor and shot the ball when attempting to give credence to the team’s final shooting tally. The likes of James and Davis sparsely playing should always raise questions about the validity of an individual number for example.
Also, the fact that the likes of Cole Swider, Matt Ryan and Scotty Pippen Jr. were amongst the team’s top seven players in 3-point attempts is also a good reminder of general preseason funkiness.
It is likely a safe assumption to believe none of the trio will be a consistent part of the rotation once games begin to count. With that said, there should also be a level of optimism that the likes of Swider and Ryan, especially, were readily put in a position to let it fly given their ability. The right shooters taking the shot is usually a good first step to success.
Another facet worth noting is when the team’s actual core rotation players had quality looks, they mostly converted fine compared to those who will likely be seated toward the end of the bench.
As stated by resident human-computer Cranjis McBasketball, the projected rotation players converted their unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts at a 36% clip. Suddenly the numbers slowly begin to look more respectable than what the aggregate initially suggested, and hopefully is a positive sign of adequacy come the regular season.
Russ, Bev, Nunn, Reaves, Walker, LeBron, JTA, AD, Jones, & Bryant scored a combined 1.07 points per shot on unguarded catch & shoot attempts. That'd equate to 36% shooting on 3s.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 15, 2022
The rest shot 0.84 (Ryan, Swider, Pippen, Harrison, Christie, Gabriel, Huff, & Schröder) = 28% on 3s https://t.co/8Hefd11t0C
If you’re choosing to be optimistic about the Lakers’ perimeter shooting this season, your reward will likely rest on the team being passable enough in the area to allow their strengths to shine.
The final numbers may not have been pretty in the preseason, but it’s the long game that will ultimately be the deciding factor of their long ball.
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