During training camp and the early part of the season, Darvin Ham has made it a point to emphasize competitive turnovers. No team is going to be perfect with ball control, but the Lakers don’t mind giveaways if they come within the flow of the offense and the offending players are competing hard in the process.
That wasn’t really the case against Denver Wednesday. The Lakers had 14 turnovers, a respectable number, but eight of them came from LeBron James, who by his own admission, wasn’t playing with the requisite aggression.
LeBron was the lone healthy primary ball handler for the Lakers against the Nuggets, so his usage was naturally going to be higher with neither Russell Westbrook nor Dennis Schröder available. But there was a certain lethargy in LeBron’s game Wednesday, and that manifested itself in excessive giveaways.
Just look at how LeBron was turning the ball over. These are telegraphed passes.
In theory, LeBron attacking the rim instead of settling for jumpers is a sign that he is taking the game seriously. But he wasn’t really making any reads; he had tunnel vision on getting the ball to Anthony Davis (or Damian Jones) on pick-and-rolls, and Denver knew that. That led to some lazy passes that the Nuggets were easily able to intercept.
“I wasn’t aggressive enough on a lot of my turnovers,” LeBron said postgame. “I was coming off a lot of screens looking to pass to get guys involved. And I wasn’t aggressive enough, and that was some careless turnovers on my part.”
It’s hard to entirely blame LeBron for how those turnovers transpired. On the one hand, he’s right that he wasn’t aggressive, and he was letting smaller defenders stop him at the rim. He needs to be a smarter playmaker and consider other options out of the screen instead of forcing the ball to his big. On the other hand, why would LeBron have faith in skipping the ball out to his shooters when those players are making about a quarter of their shots?
The Nuggets had zero interest in defending the Lakers on the perimeter. Every eye is on the paint, and even a shooter of Kendrick Nunn’s historical caliber (check him out on the wing) isn’t pulling defenders away from the main action.
“When (LeBron) and Anthony are in the pick and roll, the whole defense is going to be paying attention to that,” Darvin Ham said after the loss. “We just got to do a better job of, you know, creating separation, making our offensive plays more clearly defined through pace and energy on that side of the ball. Just like we want multiple efforts and guys to be in their right spot and on time versus a drive...we have to have that same mentality offensively, not just walking into screens, but sprinting up, getting the hit, coming off the screen with force downhill.”
In a way, the turnovers aren’t an additional offensive problem for the Lakers to deal with, they’re a side effect of the shooting struggles. When the paint is so congested, it’s harder to connect passes between the bigs, which further puts the team in trouble in transition. What’s unfortunate is that the Lakers have mostly done a good job of taking care of the ball; LeBron just didn’t do his job Wednesday.