This is part one of a three-part series analyzing criticisms of Rob Pelinka’s offseason moves for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Most everyone believes that Rob Pelinka did an outstanding job of filling out the Los Angeles Lakers roster, especially considering how little cap space he had. But there are some who still say, “Yes, he did a good job, but the Lakers still need to sign an elite shooter”. Let’s take a closer look to determine whether this is true.
Three-point shooting was not particularly a Laker strength this past season. They shot 34.9% on three-point attempts, ranking 21st out of 30 teams in the NBA. The league average was 35.8%.
In the playoffs, the Lakers shot a bit better behind the arc, 35.4%, but only ranked 12th of 16 teams. They still fell slightly below the league postseason average of 36.3%. But of course, they won the title anyway.
Once the season ended, the team lost four players through free agency or trade who were three-point shooting threats. The three key ones were Avery Bradley, Danny Green and Rajon Rondo. The fourth, Quinn Cook, played in only 6 postseason games for a total of 24 minutes and took only four long-distance shots, so we can discount his loss.
Bradley shot 36.4% from beyond the arc in the regular season, Green 36.7% and Rondo 32.8%. Bradley opted not to participate in any games in the Orlando bubble, including the playoffs, citing his son’s health. In the postseason Green started all 21 games and shot just 33.9% while Rondo hit 40% of his tries in the 16 games he played.
Regardless of how any of them might have fared had they returned to the Lakers this coming season, Pelinka clearly needed to find replacements who could hit the home-run ball. How well did he accomplish that?
First and foremost, he acquired three players who are three-point threats: Dennis Schroder, Wes Matthews Jr and Marc Gasol.
Schroder shot a career-high 38.5% from deep this past season. It could have been one freaky season and he will revert to being a below-average shooter this season. But more likely it was part of the natural development of a young player just entering his prime. His stroke seems pure and confident. Lakers management believes he will continue to connect at an above-average rate.
Matthews has always been a consistent, accurate shooter with a lifetime three-point percentage of 38.1%. He has shot between 36% and 41% in every one of his 11 NBA seasons. Last season, while starting every game, as he done throughout most of his career, he hit 36.4% for Milwaukee in the regular season and 39.5% in 10 playoff games.
Gasol is admittedly no longer as offensively potent as he was in his prime. But during the past four years, he has become a good three-point shooter, hitting at a 36.6% clip. Last year he hit 38.5% of his long-distance tries for Toronto. He fell off dramatically in the playoffs, shooting only 19% on 27 attempts, but the previous year in the postseason he made 38% of his 89 shots.
The bottom line is that Pelinka replaced Bradley, Green and Rondo with three players who shot better beyond the arc last season, all in the 38% range. Plus he also re-signed the Lakers leading three-point shooter, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who shot 38.5% in the regular season and 37.8% in the postseason. And in those playoffs, Anthony Davis shot 38.3% and LeBron James 37%.
But that doesn’t resolve the fans’ complaint that the Lakers needed to add a real sharpshooter to the lineup. However, as demonstrated in an earlier article, an elite shooter only gives a team a small advantage over an average shooter.
Here’s an example. Last season only three NBA players shot 40% or better on their three-point tries. So let’s compare Player A, an elite 40% shooter, with Player B, who connects at 35%, which is just below the 35.8% league average. And let’s assume that each takes five shots behind the arc per game.
Player A converts 40 shots per 100 attempts while Player B makes 35, obviously a difference of 5 baskets. Since the players take five shots per game, it will take each of them 20 games to reach 100 attempts.
That means that Player A makes five more three-pointers than Player B does every 20 games, 40 to 35. Using simple math, that also means that A averages one extra made three-pointer every four games.
Now that additional basket is certainly worth something. And occasionally it could even make a difference in the outcome of a game. But it’s easy to see that a single made hoop every four games won’t produce a dramatic change in a team’s fortunes.
Many fans tend to over-emphasize the value of an elite shooter. It’s not as if he’s going to swish every shot he takes while an average shooter clangs all or most of his attempts. A sharpshooter will make an extra shot every so often. But he won’t do it often enough to make signing a pure shooter too much of a priority.
Understand that accuracy behind the arc does not guarantee a team’s success. This past season, San Antonio, New Orleans, Washington, Detroit, Sacramento, Phoenix, Charlotte and Cleveland all ranked ahead of the Lakers in three-point shooting. None of them even qualified for the playoffs.
The Lakers still have a roster spot open and it’s possible that they’ll fill it with a shooter. LeBron stated on television that he thought they might re-sign Cook. Although he was seldom-used, he was an excellent teammate last season.
But the idea that Pelinka fell short because he didn’t sign an elite shooter has little merit. The Lakers are well-stocked with at least four above-average three-point shooters, Matthews, Schroder, KCP and Gasol, plus AD and James. And that’s good enough to put them into position to defend their title.
Parts two and three of this series will deal with other criticisms of the Lakers roster as presently constituted.
All statistics courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com