(Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)
Will L.A. Make a 3-point Jump?
For last season's Lakers, hitting shots from the perimeter was a big struggle relative to the rest of the league, as they finished 29th out of 30 teams in percentage (34.5%), making the 20th most triples (10.0 per game).
However, the shooting got considerably better as the season wore on - we'll get to that in a moment - and L.A. then added the biggest offensive difference maker possible in free agency, LeBron James. One of his primary strengths is drawing the attention of the defense, exploiting any mistakes and finding teammates for open looks.
It's certainly true that LeBron's teams have benefited from putting elite, known shooters around him in the past, guys like Mike Miller, Ray Allen and Kyle Korver. But for this season, being careful to maintain cap space for the 2019 free agency class, the Lakers signed different types of complementary free agents to 1-year deals. Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley may not fit that shooting/spacing model (even with Beasley hitting nearly 40 percent from three last season at a low volume) but they're versatile, they're switchable, and they can run.
”To try to play the Warriors at their own game is a trap,” said GM Rob Pelinka after the signings. “No one's gonna beat them at their own game."
That's not to say that Pelinka and President of Basketball Ops Magic Johnson won't acquire a dead-eye shooter during the season or next summer, of course, and they'll have the cap flexibility to do so. Regardless, there's more shooting on the current roster than some might think.
Here are some reasons for optimism for LAL's 3-point shooting in 2018-19:
Nonetheless, the Lakers don’t have that one shooter who strikes immediate fear into opponents, at least to start the season. I asked Rondo after he signed with the Lakers how he felt about the seemingly increasing importance of perimeter shooting in the NBA.
“It’s kinda crazy if you think you’re going to out shoot Golden State,” he replied. “They proved it three or four years straight that no team can really shoot with them. There’s other ways you have to try and beat those guys. I think we’re going to try and crack that code."
Rondo, of course, doesn’t shoot the three well relative to most NBA point guards, weighing in at 30.9 percent for his career. Lonzo Ball, meanwhile, hit just 30.5 percent of his triples.
Lakers assistant Jesse Mermuys explained how that impacts the way coaches go about their game planning.
“Offensively, what you’re trying to coach for all those guys doesn’t have to do with position or player or shooting ability,” he said. “It’s more shot selection. What is a great shot for our team? What’s an OK shot to a bad shot? When you do it that way, (head coach) Luke (Walton) especially – and I think our staff as a whole – aren’t into limiting guys’ potential and what they can and cannot do. We want to show belief and support and confidence in our players.”
That, in short, means encouraging all players, including Ball and Rondo, to shoot when they’re open. And Lonzo actually had some good stretches shooting threes as a rookie, and the coaches were pleased with his continued confidence to put the ball up even through cold stretches.
We remember how he struggled from distance to start the season, hitting just 24.3 percent in November through what seemed like a big magnifying glass on his form. But from Dec. 12-23, he hit at least two triples in six straight games, converting 18 of 40 (45.0%) before injuring his shoulder and missing the next six games.
Immediately upon his return, Ball hit 11 threes in his next four games, including four triples in a win against San Antonio highlighted by his repeated 3-point makes late in the fourth quarter. And then, Ball hurt his knee in the next game at Dallas on Jan. 13, and played in only 16 more games for the rest of the season.
In other words, just as Ball was starting to get comfortable within the offense and with his shot, he found himself on the bench, injured. Continuity of play is important not just for individual players, but for the team, and that may have shown itself with L.A.’s early season shooting struggles.
“What I’d attribute that to is the beginning of the season is a learning process, and it has a lot of ups and downs, because everyone is trying to figure out where they can help the team the best and fit in within the framework,” said Mermuys. “Especially teams that don’t have continuity, where you’re putting a bunch of new pieces in like we’re doing (and did last year). There’s no miracle cure for that. But once guys settle into their role and figure out where they fit in, there’s better chemistry, and guys are more comfortable. That comfortability creates more confidence, which creates more made shots. That’s just a time thing, and as long as everyone is trying to do their best to get to that point, I think we have guys that will knock down shots.”
Applying that to the coming season, there will likely be an adjustment time as last year’s remaining starters – Ball, Ingram and KCP – get used to at least two new starters, LeBron and whoever replaces Brook Lopez. On one hand, continuity and cohesion are there with Kuzma and Hart, who promise to get a lot of minutes, as does Rondo.
One the other, we’ll see how the minutes sort out between newcomers Mykhailiuk, Wagner, Beasley and Lance Stephenson (just 28.9% from three last season).
How quickly things mesh won’t just impact how much L.A. are able to improve upon last season’s 29th place spot in the three-point rankings, but also how many games the Lakers can win.
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