Lakers: LeBron and Dennis Schröder must trust teammates vs Memphis

LeBron James and Dennis Schröder must trust their Lakers teammates on offense

LeBron James, Dennis Schröder, and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers were not at their best but still beat the Memphis Grizzlies in their first meeting. The rematch is scheduled for January 5th at 5 p.m. PST.

To recap the first game: the Lakers dominated Memphis at first, as we thought they would. Then they let them off the hook as if they were inside the Bass Pro Shop at the iconic Pyramid Arena instead of being at the FedEx Forum. But towards the end, LeBron James and Anthony Davis reeled in the victory for the defending champions.

But the Lakers cannot rely on LeBron or AD to win them every single game. At some point, they will have to rely on other players to share the burden on offense. I feel as if this game would be the time to start shifting the offense in that direction.

Head Coach Frank Vogel is wise to emphasize ball movement so the offense is not too reliant on LeBron or AD. Here is what Coach Vogel said in yesterday’s post-practice press conference.

Now Vogel can preach ball movement all he wants, but LeBron and Schröder must implement his vision as the team’s primary ball-handlers. So far, the results are mixed: some games, the ball movement is beautiful; other games, the offense stagnates.

Looking at the box score to find any statistical correlations is not the answer. So far this season, LeBron and Schröder’s regular-season assist totals are around their career averages. Conventional wisdom suggests they need to increase their assist totals in order to best implement Vogel’s pass-happy offense.

Wrong! They need to have fewer assists per game. Stats almost never tell the whole story. Here is why their assist numbers do not add up to the sum of the Lakers’ parts on offense.

Explaining how LeBron James and Dennis Schröder’s assist totals affect the Lakers offense: 

In the last game against Memphis, LeBron James and Dennis Schröder combined for 13 assists; the rest of the Lakers team dished out 11. When assist totals are this skewed, it means the offense was fairly stagnant throughout the game.

Last game, too many offensive plays began and ended with LeBron or Schröder pounding the ball until they either got someone or themselves open. Even Kyle Kuzma’s made a three-pointer on this possession was not what Vogel intended.

Vogel wants more ball movement, which is not what we saw on that play. Notice there was only one pass on that possession. Notice only Kuzma moved without the ball. The Lakers often had a one-pass, one-shot type of offense to begin the game.

That is not good. Although the Lakers started out hot, Memphis came back when those shots began to rattle out midway through the first quarter. To start the game this time around, LeBron and Schröder must focus on passing and cutting to the basket, which sets the tone for the rest of the game by giving other Lakers’ opportunities to make plays.

How the Lakers offense improves when other players are making plays:

The second Spurs game was a good example. Look at just how beautiful this offensive possession turned out. Marc Gasol hit Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on a nice backdoor cut after the Spurs snuffed out the initial action between LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

More plays like this, please!

This is the kind of offense Coach Vogel envisions. Gasol was credited for the assist here yet Schröder’s off-ball movement confused San Antonio’s defense long enough to set up KCP’s backdoor cut. Neither LeBron nor Schröder got credited for any kind of stat but the offense was run perfectly on that play.

It was not just that one play out of many. Notice how many easy layups Gasol got LeBron and Schröder simply because they knew they would get the ball back.

That is team basketball. This is why the Lakers must learn to trust one another. Granted, Gasol’s passing montage was mostly against Minnesota’s virtually nonexistent defense. Minnesota could have played defense via Zoom and nobody would have noticed.

Smarter defenses will shift their help defender from the weak side to cut off the passing lane to the cutter. When this happens, the ball must be swung around the perimeter in order to generate an open look. The opposite-side corner shooter will always be open under this scenario, which happened in the first Memphis game.

Give Talen Horton-Tucker credit for finding the open man on this possession. It would have been much more tempting to fire up a semi-contested three-pointer. Instead, he turned down a good shot for a great one.

Even if the passing was not perfect, the ball still went through the hoop. Memphis still could not keep up although the Lakers’ offense was inconsistent throughout the first game. Imagine if the Lakers can stay consistent moving the ball throughout the game. Memphis would be barbecued like a slab of ribs from BB King’s Blues Club on Beale St.

The Lakers should not just focus on the results but they should also trust in the process that the coaching staff is implementing. Except unlike with the mid-2010’s version of the Philadelphia 76ers, trusting the process is going to lead to wins.

Moving the ball and thereby trusting each player to make the right decision will be key for the Lakers to win this game tonight. And it all starts with LeBron James and Dennis Schröder.

For those unfamiliar, Kevin’s Keys is the most comprehensive pregame analysis written for the Los Angeles Lakers fanbase today. 

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