The answer was as deafening as a shotgun blast. James, a basketball genius on and off the court, knew the impact his choice of words — and brevity — would have. Outside of being a wake-up call that hopefully sets a fire under his team, James’ comment was also accurate. A lot does need to change for the Lakers if they hope to jettison themselves out of limbo.
In the grand scheme of things, Monday’s loss shouldn’t mean as much as the final boxscore suggests. The margin of defeat was staggering, but realistically, contests like these simply are bound to happen over the course of an 82-game season. Especially when taking into account important contexts like the team playing their fourth game in seven nights and navigating a deluge of injuries.
What should be the important takeaway, however, is not the final result but how the Lakers lost as it was the encapsulation of what continues to hamstring them from hitting their next gear.
Whatever your opinion on analytics may be, there is no denying the Lakers are losing the math element of the game at the moment. And in a few specific areas, they’re getting downright slaughtered.
Heading into the season, there was optimism that the combination of continuity, the team’s external signings, and a new 5-out system would finally help unlock the Lakers’ offense after years of mediocrity. Instead, Los Angeles is once again looking around for answers.
As of this article, the Lakers are 23rd in offensive rating. While that number is the summation of their struggles from a macro sense, it’s what’s happening under the hood that is causing them to stall.
One of the biggest discrepancies the team has suffered on a nightly basis has come in the 3-point department. Although they possess more shooting talent on paper than they’ve had in recent years, the results — and volume — simply have not shown it.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers are last in the league in corner 3-point percentage, 26th in overall 3-point percentage, and 27th in 3-point frequency percentage. The last of those would be the lowest rate for the franchise since the 2017-18 season.
Even with playing more traditional shooters around their stars and the deployment of a 5-out alignment, the team’s shot diet still feels antiquated compared to their counterparts.
They’ve been able to compensate for this by dominating the paint and getting to the line. A safer route given their shooting variance. However, there is a threshold they’re still well below that tests the premise of how much a two can keep up with a three.
In their loss on Monday, the Sixers not only made 15 more threes than the Lakers did, but they also out-attempted them by 18. That’s a +45 advantage from beyond the arc alone.
Like other elements on the night, this statistical disparity was not a blip. On the season, the Lakers are compounding their shooting limitations by also giving up the seventh-highest percentage of 3-point attempts in the NBA.
Some of this is intentional as Darvin Ham’s gameplan often entails sagging off weaker shooters to seal off the paint. Ham also has been aggressive in his on-ball coverages, either sending two defenders to the level or toward an opposing star in the half court.
Against Philadelphia, the Lakers teetered between outright doubling Joel Embiid in the post or “stunting” his dribble, which made the first pass away available on nearly every trip down. Part of the strategy or not, the result was a lot of open looks.
Outside of losing the battle from deep, the Lakers have also lost the battle on the glass. One of the biggest and most frequent complaints regarding the team’s play has been their inability to keep the opposition off the boards.
While it feels like the Lakers are constantly giving up second chances, they aren’t as bad as it seems compared to the rest of the league. Los Angeles currently has given up the ninth highest offREB% in the half-court. Although that number isn’t ideal, what’s arguably more worrisome is what has happened after their opponent crashes.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers are dead last in the league in defending putbacks as the opposition has scored an incredible 129.4 points per 100 putbacks this season. For context in how bad this is, that number is 7.1 points more than the next worst team.
There are a few tactical reasons why this has happened. With Anthony Davis as the sole big on the floor, opposing teams have continuously pulled him away from the paint by:
1) calling the player Davis is defending into their screen action
2) attacking the Lakers’ guards in the post to lure Davis over
When this has happened, it has left the team’s backline undermanned from a height and physicality perspective to keep the opposition off the glass and from scoring on their second chances.
Like their 3-point inequality, this is another area where the team has performed at a massive disadvantage.
On their end, the Lakers have been one of the worst offensive-rebounding teams in the league. Not only do they rank 29th in offREB% (23.5% — their lowest rate in a decade) but are also dead last when it comes to their putback chances. A bizarre, and almost unheard-of double whammy.
In terms of why they’ve been so poor in creating second-chance opportunities, there are two potential reasons. After getting burned by teams getting out in transition after ill-timed offensive-rebound attempts, the Lakers have been noticeably more tepid in their crashing attempts.
Another factor could be the role their floor-positioning plays. By operating in 5-out spacing, the Lakers’ players are all naturally further away from the rim when the initial shot goes up compared to the defense, making it nearly impossible to swoop in and steal the board.
For example, notice below how many Sixers are in the paint when the miss occurs:
Beyond the math deficits they’ve endured around the margins like shooting and rebounding, perhaps the most harmful numbers issue currently hindering the team are the holes they’ve dug themselves in at the start of every game.
As of this article, the Lakers are averaging the fourth fewest points, third worst true-shooting percentage, second worst rebounding percentage, and worst netRTG (-19.7) in the first quarters this season.
Unlike their other aforementioned struggles, it’s difficult to identify singular culprits when they’ve been so poor across the board. The startling lineup has changed twice already and likely will be altered again once players get healthy. Perhaps that helps stabilize things.
Nevertheless, the Lakers’ ongoing first-quarter shortcomings only further illustrate the types of uphill hurdles they’ve had to overcome 18 games into the season. Despite a few comfortable wins, the team’s victories this season have been far from easy. They’ve had to scrap due to these statistical handicaps that feel shackled to their ankles before every tip-off.
At 10-8, the team has done an impressive job overcoming these impediments given how rough they’ve been in several facets.
That’s why it is imperative that the Lakers simply don’t chalk up what happened in Philadelphia as “just one of those nights.” Because in reality, it was just the latest of many nights that featured factors that have made it more difficult than it needed to be.
There’s an obvious degree of fight in this team, but it’s time they realize they can’t simply punch the numbers in their favor when the other team is holding the calculator.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.