What’s wrong with the Los Angeles Lakers’ offense?: Inside the numbers

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers /

2. The Los Angeles Lakers’ decline in production at the rim

This second facet of the team’s offensive failings is undoubtedly related to the first, as an increase in transition opportunities would assuredly produce an uptick in shot attempts and efficiency at the rim. But, a 6.5-point decline in fast-break points is not entirely to blame for the Lakers’ newfound issues getting to the hoop.

With their abundance of size and strength inside, the Los Angeles Lakers have been, and frankly should be, one of the league’s most dominant teams getting to the rim.

And, prior to the league’s restart, they lived up to that billing. On the season, they ranked fifth in the league with 34.0 attempts within 5 feet of the hoop and second with 26.5 paint touches.

It was clear all season long that coach Frank Vogel and his staff emphasized an interior presence. I mean, we’re talking about the team that insists on pairing the LeBron-Davis duo with one of Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee. And, to Vogel’s credit, those above numbers appear to legitimize that insistence on supersizing the Lakers.

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But in the Orlando games, paint volume has declined ever so slightly, even as the Lakers consistently field one of the tallest lineups in basketball.

In the 8 seeding games, paint touches dropped to 25.4, and attempts within 5 feet fell to 33.0, both per NBA Advanced Stats.

Again, these volume declinations appear innocuous, but they importantly demonstrate that Los Angeles has neglected to double down on the one major advantage the front office created in its roster construction.

But more alarmingly than the team’s volume reduction in the paint is the Lakers’ declining efficiency inside.

During the regular season, Los Angeles shot a blistering 70.1% on their 26.5 paint touches per game, a mark that led the league and served as an enormous advantage for the Lakers throughout the year.

However, since the return to play, the Lakers have shot just 62.9% in those same situations, an exceedingly average figure and not one indicative of their three Hall of Famers down low.

In the same vein, on attempts with 5 feet, the team’s collective field goal percentage dropped from a league-best 67.0% to just 64.4%, as everyone, from LeBron to Davis, has struggled to assert themselves on drives to the basket.

In their one playoff game thus far, those trends again reared their ugly heads, as the Lakers shot an abysmal 45.5% on paint touches and a disappointing, if not equally putrid, 55.8% on attempts within 5 feet.

Hassan Whiteside proved particularly stingy down low, blocking LeBron on multiple occasions and stymying Davis’s drives alongside Jusuf Nurkić. Too many times, Davis’s dives to the rim resulted in a short floater or awkward push shot instead of a layup or a dunk. And against James, Portland’s bigs did a solid job contesting at the rim without fouling, especially in the game’s opening quarter.

To remedy this downward trend at the rim, the Lakers’ stars will have to be better. Davis must focus on establishing a deeper position to begin possessions and avoiding settling for off-balance mid-paint looks.

In LeBron’s case, he’d be best served attacking Portland’s interior early and often in order to get the Trail Blazers’ bigs in foul trouble. By doing so, he’d face less resistance on his drives later in the game.

But, perhaps the most impactful factor contributing to the Lakers’ struggles in the paint has little to do with their two stars and more to do with the bevy of underperforming role players operating far from the rim.