While there were many things wrong with the Lakers last season, one of the most preventable issues the team had was it’s shot profile. It wasn’t outright bad or outdated, but it wasn’t what one would expect from most modern NBA teams. And considering the ultra-thin margin for error the Lakers had last year, not maximizing every small detail like your shot profile led to the outright failure the season turned out to be.
The hiring of Darvin Ham brought with it optimism for change in that regard coming from a Milwaukee franchise that was about as modern as it came with its offensive system. And while the sample size still remains small, the Lakers have adopted something that closer to the Bucks than last year’s version.
One of the biggest traits of a modern offense is putting pressure on the rim. With Anthony Davis and LeBron James, the Lakers have never had a problem doing that throughout the years and that remains the same this season. But the difference is the amount they’re getting to the rim.
Last season, they ranked second in the league with 38.2% of their shots coming at the rim, according to Cleaning The Glass. This season, they rank first as their rim frequency is up to 43%. Interestingly, in general, teams are getting to the rim more this season, something that could potentially be a trend or simply a result of small sample size as the Lakers 38.2% rim frequency from last year would actually rank eighth this year.
The area where the Lakers have struggled when it’s come to shot profiles has been the mid-range, another byproduct of having LeBron and AD on the roster. Last year, they ranked 30th in short mid-range jumper (shots from four to 14 feet) frequency but took the eighth most long mid-range jumpers (14 feet to the 3-point line).
It’s the long mid-range jumpers that were particularly hurtful for the Lakers. Already a largely inefficient shot, the Lakers rostered three of the most prolific shooters in that area last season in AD (98th percentile attempts), LeBron (95th percentile) and Carmelo Anthony (91st percentile). Add in Russ, who ranked in the 76th percentile, and you had four players ranking in the top quarter of the league in the most inefficient shot.
None of the quartet were particularly efficient in the area, either, and certainly not efficient enough to warrant the number of attempts. Melo was the best of the bunch, shooting 47%. LeBron shot 40%, ranking in the 67th percentile. Both AD and Russ shot 38%, a rather putrid output for their frequency.
This season, the Lakers have effectively eliminated that shot from their profile early on, even from LeBron and AD. The latter leads the team in frequency but still just ranks in the 78th percentile in the league in attempts, the lowest mark of his career since his second season in the league. LeBron ranks in the 71st percentile, the lowest mark of his Lakers career.
One of the other biggest changes to the team’s overall shot profile, though, has been the increase in corner 3-pointers. Under Frank Vogel, the team ranked 16th in frequency despite that being statistically the easiest of the long-range shots. Ham specifically emphasized those shots during training camp and the result has been them ranking seventh in frequency this season so far.
If you gather together all those stats and figures I just regurgitated to you and put them into one concise number, it would be this: the Lakers rank second in the league in location effective field goal percentage. Cleaning The Glass defines that statistic as what a team’s effective field goal percentage would be if they simply shot league average on the shots they are currently taking.
That number isn’t necessarily a direct indicator of success. Bad players can still take good shots and miss them, perhaps a deliberate decision by defenses at times. There is no 1-to-1 correlation between good location effective field goal percentage and good teams. Houston, Indiana and Detroit all ranked in the top six last season.
But it is an indicator of good process. It also could be an indicator that the Lakers are on the right track. The Lakers still have to actually hit the shots their offense is producing, but it’s another reason for long-term optimism as the Lakers continue to look to turn things around from their slow start.