As the stretch of basketball without Lebron continues the young Lakers are constantly trying to find quality offense to allow them to capitalize on their incredible defense.
Without Lebron, the Lakers are dead last in the league in EFG% on WIDE OPEN shots and are the 3rd worst in the league in EFG% on OPEN shots.
With the shooting woes for many of the players on roster, the young Lakers are opting to attack the rim in different ways to get higher percentage looks. Unfortunately the personnel on the court is affecting their ability to be successful in these endeavors.
Teams have noticed the Lakers shooting struggles and have adjusted their defensive schemes accordingly.
Compared to last year, the young core of Ingram, Lonzo, Kuzma, and Hart are driving to the rim with more frequency especially with Lebron and Rondo out but are having greater difficulty in making their attempts.
When looking at the misses on their driving layups, the common trend seems to be the help defender often playing off of the big man.
We can see the increase in the amount of drives in 2018 compared to the stretch without Lebron in 2019 below:
Lonzo doesn’t drive nearly enough to warrant this to affect him but there are games where he tries to be aggressive and go to the rim.
On this play when Lonzo gets a high screen from Javale, he gets enough of a step on George but because Adams already knows Javale is too far away to have any impact he helps George out on Lonzo’s drive.
Hart’s catch and shoot ability unlocks driving lanes for him and even when he isn’t making them, defenders tend to close out harder than average on him. He does a great job of pump faking defenders out of position but more often than not is always met by a help defender
On the play below, Hart gets a weak screen from Beasley but since Teague is overplaying his closeout Hart gets a good driving lane. With Javale near the painted area, it becomes easy for Towns to contest Hart’s layup.
In this play Hart pump fakes the defender who is worried about his catch and shoot ability and he gets a wide open driving lane to the rim. Because Zubac is next to the rim, it makes it easy for Cauley-Stein to rotate over and contest Hart’s layup.
Despite Kuzma’s crafty scoring abilities in the painted area, even he has difficulty getting quality looks as big men help “zone” some of his playable areas. Kuzma has great touch around the rim but defenses are trying to limit his playable areas in order to make him take more difficult shots
On this play, Lonzo places a great pass to Kuzma in the heart of the defense and normally Kuzma could just attack with his right hand for a layup but because Thompson is right in the painted area guarding Javale, he is able to help on Kuzma’s drive and Kyle is forced to take a tougher shot.
On this next play against Detroit, we see the same issue Lonzo encounters. Kuzma uses Zubac’s screen but because Gortat knows that Zubac isn’t a shooting threat he stays committed to Kyle and gets the block
No one has been affected more by the lack of floor spacing than Ingram. As the coaching staff constantly puts him in screen and roll situations, teams are absolutely committed to preventing him from getting layups and it is causing fans to misguidedly blame him.
Ingram has shown the ability to navigate through traffic and find his teammates in half court sets, but the lack of shooting, and teams helping off of the rolling big man have limited his options on drives.
On the play below, Ingram takes a weak screen from Javale and tries to “freeze” his defender. Javale never rolls to the rim and makes it easy for Thompson and Burks to double up on Ingram. With no one to pass to, Ingram takes a contested shot.
On this next play the Lakers go into their offense early in the shot clock to catch the Jazz off guard. Ingram gets a good screen from Javale and Gobert immediately comes to get Ingram. Pope wrongly leaves his corner position and Javale never rolls after the screen. Ingram has no one to pass out to and is forced to take a contested shot over Gobert.
On this next sequence, the point of this play is for Ingram to take the double screen from Javale and Lonzo and lob it to McGee. McGee never makes a hard run to the rim so Ingram is forced to take a contested layup against Drummond.
While there is no single solution to the half court issues for the Lakers, one of the elements that would make their lives easier is opening better driving lanes for the young core. The way to do so with current roster personnel involves making some coaching adjustments
The easiest adjustment for the typical “drop” coverage that teams are using against the Lakers screen and roll drives is to play personnel that forces the big man to not be able to drop back. That means that Luke Walton needs to be willing to play Moritz Wagner when defenses start really packing the paint.
Though the sample size is small with Wagner, he shows confidence in his ability to screen and pop out for his jump shots even with a big man closing out on him. Luke should absolutely be willing to allow Wagner to play spot minutes akin to Kerr’s use of David West to help open up the floor for Golden State in similar situations.
On this first play, Moe gives a weak screen and goes immediately to his shooting spot. Both defenders chase Svi and he turns the play around and gets Moe a wide open quality look from three.
On the next play, Moe screens for Lebron and Lebron recognizes Davis not rotating to Moe. Lebron drags Carroll with him and Moe is ready to catch and shoot off of Lebron’s behind the back pass.
This last play, Moe is part of a more complex set. Svi misses the cut by KCP but Moe goes right to his shooting spot as Hernangomez stays camped in the paint. Svi gives it up to Moe and he gets yet another quality shot.
The Lakers half court offensive struggles aren’t something that will be fixed immediately upon Lebron’s return. As teams fixate on preventing easy layups for the Lakers and reducing transition opportunities, there are things the coaching staff can try out now to build greater confidence in later in the season
Part of that involves the coaching staff trusting in Moritz Wagner and his shooting ability. If he can provide enough defense and rebounding, his floor spacing ability and shooting would allow the Lakers to improve on the offensive end both in the short and long term.