Each month of the Lakers’ season, Alex Regla will touch on three things in his notebook — fair warning, they’re often niche — that either have caught his eye or reveal something larger about the team. For this week’s inaugural edition, it’s all about the corners.
The effectiveness of emptying the corner
Don’t look now, but the Lakers’ offense is starting to hit their stride. After stumbling out of the gates, results have slowly begun to catch up to what has mostly been a quality process during the implementation stages of Darvin Ham’s new 5-out system.
As of this article, the Lakers rank 15th in offensive rating and 9th(!) in efficiency in the half-court. For context, the last time the team finished in the top ten in half-court offense was during the 2012-13 season. Holy moly.
There are multiple reasons behind how the Lakers have found success on the offensive end despite still finding their outside shooting touch (31.2%). One tactical move that has yielded positive results, however, has been the team’s continued utilization of the empty corner.
Exactly like it sounds, the Lakers have swept players out from the corner to create as much space as possible for their pick-and-roll actions. This has been a staple to the team’s 5-out attack as it naturally creates multiple options given it forces the defense to load up on the weak side of the floor.
As the clips above illustrate, the ball-handler can drive, pull up, or find Anthony Davis rolling depending on how the opposing big engages in the screen action. It’s also worth pointing out the variations the team has implemented within these actions.
For example, having Davis set the initial pick at an angle or closer to the logo (or a snug pick and roll) makes it difficult for the defense to switch, which ultimately limits how much they can take away.
The Lakers have also used an empty corner to exploit mismatches down low. During the team’s recent road win against Phoenix, Los Angeles spammed this action multiple times during the second quarter to leverage James’ size advantage in the paint.
There have been growing pains during the team’s tightrope act between working out of the 5-out and relying on familiar James-Davis classics. However, finding practical wrinkles like emptying a corner that serves both masters can go a long way in creating a steady foundation to build upon.
Cam Reddish, the corner man
It can be argued that the most important moment of Cam Reddish’s season thus far was a miss. The recipient of an incredible pass from James, Reddish found himself in the corner with only seconds left in regulation against Miami. His shot was slightly off, and the Lakers’ roaring comeback came up just short.
“Be ready again because there will be many more opportunities, especially from me,” James told Reddish following the loss.
The moment could have sapped whatever confidence Reddish had remaining after his sluggish start to his Lakers’ career. Fortunately for the 24-year-old and his team, it instead catalyzed his impressive turnaround.
In his last five games, Reddish has made exactly 50% of his attempts from the corners and is now shooting a modest 36% overall from the very spot where his biggest miss to date had originated.
For Reddish, the corners are exponentially more important than nearly any other area of the floor. Primarily, because that is where a large portion of his looks have come from since joining the team.
According to Cleaning the Glass, an incredible 37% of his shot attempts this season have come from the corners. This ranks in the 97th percentile among all wings, and only Quentin Grimes and Matisse Thybulle occupy a higher percentage. In his last five games, that number has jumped to 40%
The frequency — which is easily a career-high and up 20% from last season — is emblematic of his new streamlined role with Los Angeles. The erratic off-the-dribble shots, the reckless drives and the questionable decisions have all been cut out of his new lean diet.
This has simplified Reddish’s job on the floor and made it clear what his duties are and where he needs to be. The latter is especially important given the team’s aforementioned 5-out spacing.
With so much of the Lakers’ offense derived from the pick and roll, and James in particular, the defense often sinks into the middle of the floor to contain the ball. Through this, either James or the short-roll passer has been picked up by the opposing “low-man” which has mainly been Reddish’s man, typically leaving him open in the process.
The only difference now is Reddish is making them pay.
Cam in the corner is dangerous pic.twitter.com/5KppL31eZh— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) November 15, 2023
There’s something to be said about Reddish’s teammates rallying behind him and building up his confidence when it could have been easy to sit back idly. Their decision not to has resulted in Reddish both starting and playing with a smile that has evaded him in each of his last stops.
D’Angelo Russell is turning the corner
There’s a specific tempo to D’Angelo Russell’s game that he prefers not to deviate from. Like a trained jazz musician, he knows his rhythm and his beat. And although it may come off as lackadaisical or slow at times, it’s in reality, a calculated means to hit his notes.
Russell is not an athletic player in the way Ja Morant or even Russell Westbrook are. He can not simply rely on afterburners or leaping ability to get to the rim on a whim. Instead, he has to use craft and deception.
With the departure of Dennis Schröder in the offseason, the Lakers have noticeably lacked a guard with that type of thrust to the rim. While Russell hasn’t filled that void, he has upped his aggression enough to at the very least keep defenses honest.
According to the league’s tracking data, Russell is currently third on the team in drives per game (7.2). While that’s down from his time with the team last season, his attacking is up. Rather than steering away from the rim in his downhill escapades, Russell is averaging more attempts at the rim off of his drives, and his pass percentage on the move is down 12.4%
With most of his drives to the cup coming out of the team’s pick-and-roll game, Russell has shown stellar decision-making in his drive, pass, and shot choices. He is specifically, doing a better job burning opposing bigs for sticking to Davis and not helping on his drive.
Despite still settling for his patented jumper at times, he has also shown more willingness to attack the paint in space, and once there, making the most of his opportunities.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Russell has converted an unreal 74% of his chances at the rim so far. The mark would be a new career-high and puts him in the 90th percentile among point guards.
Russell will never be the type of guard who consistently breaks down a defense with his downhill speed, but if he can just attack enough when the windows are left open, it will add an important dimension to an offense still trying to find its groove.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.