Lakers Lead

What Happened to the Lakers?

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Bryan Oringher spent the past 7 years working in the NBA. The following attempts to divide up the blame for the Lakers’ failed season, ending each section with a somewhat logical, relatively arbitrary % that eventually adds up to 100. Most importantly, this piece coincides with a THREE-part film study, detailing in-depth what exactly went wrong. 

How do we Explain the Lakers?

Roster Construction/Supporting Cast/Injuries

Before the season, I questioned what exactly the plan was at center. JaVale McGee was basically the only real center with any experience on the roster. Surely the Lakers would find an upgrade? We all know LeBron doesn’t want to play the center position defensively, and would take too much of a beating from opposing bigs doing that all game.

Except–they never really did.

JaVale is a nice guy. I was fortunate enough to be around him for about a season in DC. He went from the frequent laugh of the NBA, the Shaqtin’ poster boy, to a two-time champion with the Golden State Warriors.

His two years with the Warriors saw him play a career-low 9.5 minutes per game. He played 77 games the 1st year and 65 the next, garnering 27 total starts in the process.

He was a shiny cool toy for the Warriors. The ultimate lob guy, someone they could throw out there to set screens for guys like Steph who are routinely trapped. Roll hard to the rim, catch the ball 13 feet in the air and dunk. Easy money.

He was not, and never has been, a reliable starting center.

This year, he’s played 58 games for the Lakers (45 starts). He’s averaging 21 MPG, which is the most since before he was traded for Nene in 2011-12. Cursory fans will look at the box score (11 PPG, 6.6 REB) and think he’s been acceptable. They’d be wrong.

McGee is 12th on the team in +/- at -1.7. He is not a starting center in the league, plain and simple. They get pummeled on the defensive glass with him in, ranking just outside the bottom 10 on the season in DREB%. They’re about the same with him on/off the court in DREB% — which is pretty shocking considering the lack of true C’s besides him on the roster. In opponent FGA at the rim, similar story: the Lakers are bottom three in the league with or without McGee in the game. His frail body just gets abused in the post and on the glass.

LeBron has always had success in his career surrounded by shooters. So what shooting did the Lakers give him? A group that ranks 2nd worst in the league in 3PT%. They take the 19th most – the 3’s are there, they just don’t have the guys who can make them. Brandon Ingram (0.6 3PM/gm), Rajon Rondo (1.1) and Lance Stephenson (1.1) are all guys who defenses absolutely live with shooting. They had the best stretch 5 in the game in Brook Lopez, and replaced him with a guy who has made one three this year in McGee.

They got the incredibly erratic KCP, who takes turns alternating each season between being an elite shooter and chucking airballs. As Kyle Kuzma has had to play up a position and basically become a small 4, his 3PT% has unfortunately cratered from last year.

The two shooters they got at the deadline have hardly been able to learn any of the Lakers’ system. All of this has culminated in a team that currently ranks 22nd in ORTG. They get the 2nd most % of their points in the league from 2’s (58%).

I understood wanting Rondo, to be honest. He is a very solid vet, and a good guy to teach some of the tricks of the trade to Lonzo Ball. I even understood wanting Lance Stephenson. A pest of a defender who knew how to get under LeBron’s skin? A good guy to have on your roster come playoff time so he CAN’T be getting under LeBron’s skin for someone else.

But Michael Beasley? Another iso-guy who can’t shoot on a team where LeBron was going to dominate the ball and already have a tough enough time fitting in a mid-post guy like Ingram, or even Kuzma. McGee? As mentioned, their handling of the center position was a disaster. The failed trade? Certainly didn’t help team morale. One of the trades they did make? It sacrificed probably the best true center on the roster for a stretch 4 who hasn’t been healthy. That doesn’t reflect well on Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. 

Quite comically, the only two guys on the roster who are above 50th percentile in 3PT accuracy? Stephenson and Rondo, two guards who historically have been known as non-shooters. Both players also see their 3PT% drop in catch-and-shoot situations, a rare example of guys who are better with “groove dribbles” into their 3’s than shooting off the catch.

GAMES MISSED DUE TO INJURY

Ball: 28

Ingram: 15

Kuzma: 4

LeBron: 18

McGee: 7

Rondo: 34

Hart: 3

Part of this lack of fit has also coincided with injuries. Beyond those listed, Stephenson, Tyson Chandler, and others have had nagging injuries as well. As Tom Haberstroh and many others have noted, Rajon Rondo is a dreadful fit with LeBron James.

As a backup PG and theoretical mentor to Lonzo, he made some sense. Forced into a starting role and having to play tons alongside LeBron and other ball-dominant guys who can’t shoot? Disaster. From the beginning of the season until December 1st, Lonzo had nearly the team’s worst +/- at 2.4 while Rondo had one of the best at +2.2. Now? Rondo ranks 18th out of 19 at -3.8.

Of course, if LeBron hadn’t gotten hurt on Christmas and missed 18 of the next 19 games, things could’ve turned out very different. They went 6-12 without James. Before that, they were 4th in the West at 20-14. They also seemed to really be building an identity and in a good place as a team before that. Per Ramona Shelburne: Thru Christmas, the Lakers had a DRTG of 104.5 with James on the floor. Since then, they have a DRTG of 111.9 with him.

The Lakers were built to be a pretty decent team with LeBron and if the roster stayed mostly healthy. When they lost LeBron, instead of staying afloat, they cratered. When they got him back, they then lost their starting PG, and essentially the two things that would most crater their roster deficiencies reared their ugly heads. Of course, losing a lot of very winnable games against very beatable teams didn’t help.

Verdict: 57%

Coaching

I generally hate bashing coaches. I am proud to be Twitter’s preeminent Jim Boylen defender. I’m the guy who dared to defend Jason Kidd posthumously against an angry mob of #BucksTwitter. But there are certainly some fair questions about the job Walton has done.

The Lakers rank 4th in the league in pace. But should they? They give up the 3rd most opponent points off TO’s/gm (18.3) and the 5th most opponent fastbreak points (15.4). It’s hard to spot much of a system. LeBron clearly is hobbled and aging, and has preferred slower styles in the ‘latter’ stage of his career.

When I watch the Lakers lately, it’s hard not to agree with Bobby’s sentiment. I see a team that plays way too aggressive on PNR’s. Instead of icing side PNR’s like almost all of the league now, or at least switching to keep a body on a body, the Lakers are essentially playing the defense that was Jason Kidd’s undoing in Milwaukee. They frequently trap, hedge, etc. when they let side PNR’s go middle. This type of defense nearly got Dwane Casey fired years before he did in Toronto until he brought in Andy Greer, a Thibodeau-disciple, to revamp it and switch to an icing system.

It’s one thing to give up a ton of 3’s, but it’s another to ALSO give up a ton of looks in the paint. You have to make up your mind what you’re taking away. Instead, they also give up the 7th most PITP (51.1/gm). Part of this is on McGee and the general lack of toughness on the roster. But a large part is also on the mass confusion existing in their bizarre defensive schemes. The numbers back this up. Since Jan. 1st, the Lakers are 29th in opponent 3PM, in front of only the Bulls. On the season? They rank bottom 10 in giving up 3’s, at 33.1/gm.

Is the coaching staff a joke? Absolutely not. Were they the right fit for this group at this time? Maybe not.

Verdict: 29%

LeBron??!

In 17/18, LeBron’s +/- was 1.3, his lowest since 04/05. The Cavs team as a whole? Slightly worse without him, at 0.9. This year, his +/- is 1.4, similar to last year. The team? -1.8.

Has Bron been perfect? No. Bottom line? He’s putting up 27/8.6/8 on 51.2/34.9/66% shooting.

The “LeBron is a bad teammate” narrative? Absurd. Why do you think that? No seriously, why? Because of the few clickbait clips cycling around the internet of him not playing defense? Are you even sure they’re accurate?

Because he wanted to trade for Anthony Davis? This is a business. LeBron has been around for a long time. He’s humble enough to know that he can’t do this alone (and no, MJ didn’t do it remotely alone either. No one has.). He needed Wade and Bosh and a great supporting cast in MIA. He needed Kyrie and a trade for a star in Kevin Love and a great supporting cast in CLE. He needs another star in LA. Who wouldn’t want AD? He didn’t “try and trade the entire team.” He knew he needed a superstar like AD, and did what all the smart superstars basically in the league do today–recruit. It wasn’t personal with anyone on the roster.

Because of clips of him walking off the court after losses? What would you like him to do? Sit around and sing Kumbaya? Maybe he doesn’t like to lose. The clips of him “leaving early” went viral, but how many saw this one?

Because he threw his teammates under the bus? How, exactly? Once again, consider what % of the WHOLE discussion you really digest. That is, do you listen to his full press conference? For all games? And keep track of what he says at all times? Or do you see ClutchPoints tweet a clip of LeBron saying something vaguely about “young guys” not getting it and conclude he’s publicly throwing guys under the bus?

LeBron has said things like that it’s unfair for the Lakers to ask so much of their young players, seemingly acknowledging that they’ve been put in an impossible position. After some losses does he turn ornery and occasionally say things about young guys not exactly knowing what it takes to win? Sure. Part of leadership is holding guys accountable. LeBron unquestionably knows what it takes to win. We can’t seriously be having a discussion about his desire at this point. I don’t care how many side projects he’s doing – if you think he doesn’t have a maniacal focus on his body and the game of basketball and winning every game, you don’t have a clue.

As long as he didn’t call anyone out by name, I don’t consider any of that throwing anyone on the bus. I consider it pushing buttons to try and continue to inspire young players to be the best they can be.

Bron’s not perfect. He’s had some lapses in hustle.

But overall? Respect greatness.

Verdict: 14%

 

The author would like to thank Mackenzie Rivers for his help with the analytics in this piece. 

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About Bryan Oringher

Bryan Oringher spent the past 7 years working in the NBA. From 2013-17 he was the Head Video Coordinator with the Washington Wizards, and in 17-18 he did Regional Advance Scouting for the Raptors and Hawks. This year, he’s doing NBA analysis on Twitter @ScoutWithBryan and his YouTube channel. You can find all his content to date here.

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