How the Lakers can fix their biggest Achilles’ heel 

The Los Angeles Lakers look destined for a play-in spot, but one small change to address their Achilles’ heel could unlock a new level. 

Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns
Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers’ 113-123 loss to the Phoenix Suns spotlighted why they’ve been condemned to mediocrity all season. In the aftermath of the contest, LeBron James and Darvin Ham complained about a lack of calls, but the Lakers frankly lost because they were bullied on the glass by Jusuf Nurkic. 

In 37 minutes of action, Nurkic collected 22 rebounds, with seven coming on the offensive glass, while the Lakers only managed three offensive rebounds all game. Even if the Lakers had hit their season-average advantage from the free throw line of plus-3.6 points, they still would have lost comfortably because Nurkic ate their breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert on the glass. 

The Suns winning the offensive rebounding battle 14-to-3 wasn’t a one-off like the free throw disparity either. The Lakers have been out offensive rebounded in 41 of their 59 games this season. For a team with aspirations of grandeur, the Lakers’ inability to gain an edge on the offensive glass will render such aspirations a mere delusion. 

Offensive rebounding is the Lakers’ Achilles’ heel 

The Los Angeles Lakers simply should not be the 18th-ranked offense at 115.0 points per 100 possessions. They’re eighth in true shooting percentage (.594), tenth in effective field goal percentage (.560), ninth in free throw to field goal attempt ratio (FT/FGA, .214), and while they’re 20th in turnover percentage (12.2 percent), it is only 0.1 percent worse than the league average of 12.1 percent. Of all the teams in the top 10 in true shooting and effective field goal percentage, the Lakers have the worst offensive rating, and it’s all because they are the worst offensive rebounding team in the league. 

At 19.6 percent, the Lakers’ offensive rebounding rate is the only sub-20 percent figure in the league and is costing their offense dearly. The league average points per second chance opportunity is 1.31 points, which is significantly more efficient than even the best offenses muster on average, and it’s also a chance to turn a possession worth exactly zero points into far more. 

The New York Knicks are a fantastic example of the power of offensive rebounding. The Knicks have the seventh-best offensive efficiency at 118.7 points per 100 possessions, but they are 17th in effective field goal percentage (.540), 12th in turnover rate (11.8 percent), and 14th in FT/FGA ratio. Their saving grace is a league-best 29.6 percent offensive rebounding percentage, and it’s why they score 3.7 more points per 100 possessions than the Lakers despite being a significantly worse shooting team. 

It should be noted that forgoing offensive rebounds isn’t necessarily an offensive death sentence. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Milwaukee Bucks are third and fifth in offensive rating despite being 27th and 28th in offensive rebounding rate. However, the Bucks and Thunder are third and second in effective field goal percentage, seventh and eighth in turnover rate, and fourth and 12th in FT/FGA ratio. 

If you’re an elite shooting team and take care of the ball, you don’t need to juice your offense with offensive rebounds because you’re winning the possession and efficiency battle by other means. Unfortunately, the Lakers don’t have that luxury.

How the Lakers can address their offensive rebounding 

The solution to the Lakers’ offensive rebounding woes isn’t as simple as saying, “Hey, crash the glass.” The first concern is that there is a small correlation between offensive rebounding and giving up fast break points. If you throw an extra man at the glass and they come up empty-handed, the opposition will have a numerical advantage to attack in transition. However, the correlation isn’t so significant that it is a one-for-one trade, and the Lakers already allow the fifth most fast break points per game. With the Lakers’ offense currently flirting with the bottom third, it’s worth it to see if the gains on the glass outweigh the losses. 

The next problem isn’t necessarily addressable. Offensive rebounding is a skill. A coach can scheme it up so a player gets more out of their abilities, but there is inevitably a hard cap on what they can accomplish. Players usually play to their strengths, and the Lakers’ offensive rebounding issues are, in part, a reflection of their roster. 

Anthony Davis ranks 18th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage at 9.9 percent and is far and away the Lakers’ leader in the metric. However, a 9.9 offensive rebounding percentage isn’t transformative on its own, and due to his offensive usage, it’d be impossible for him to ramp it up any higher without sacrificing other crucial contributions. He’s one of four players with a usage rate above 20 percent and an offensive rebound rate greater than 9.5 percent. If the Lakers want to improve their offensive rebounding, it’s going to have to come from everyone outside of Davis, who is already doing a tremendous job. 

The loss of Jarred Vanderbilt is likely the single greatest contributor to the Lakers’ poor offensive rebounding. In 29 games, Vanderbilt has an 8.2 percent offensive-rebounding percentage, which would rank 30th if he had played enough to qualify. While Vanderbilt is expected to be reevaluated for his foot sprain in the coming weeks, the Lakers desperately need someone else to step in his stead. 

LeBron James would be the obvious candidate to help out on the offensive glass, but he’s in his 21st NBA season and is 39. Asking him to expend even more energy is a non-starter, and the juice probably wouldn’t be worth the squeeze if it detracts from the rest of his offensive game. Then there is Jaxson Hayes. He is an excellent offensive rebounder (8.4 percent), but the Lakers would have to move Davis to power forward, and chances are the gains on the boards would be wiped away by the losses in floor spacing. 

The key to solving the Lakers’ offensive rebounding problem lies in getting Rui Hachimura to understand that he is allowed to crash the offensive glass. Hachimura’s offensive rebounding percentage of 3.7 percent is 26th among qualified power forwards and well below some small forwards and even a few guards. At 6-foot-8, Hachimura has the size to be a positive on the boards, but he has never made it a focal point of his game. Coaxing more aggression on the boards out of Hachimura could help pull the Lakers from the bottom of the league and start pushing their offense toward the top third. 

If and when Jarred Vanderbilt returns, the Lakers should see some level of improvement on the offensive glass. However, they’ve been so poor this season that he alone isn’t going to vault them to the middle. The Lakers need to make a concerted effort to ramp up their aggression on the offensive glass. This is an offense that has the potential for significant growth by addressing one glaring flaw. If the Lakers address their Achilles’ heel or Vanderbilt’s foot, they’ll actually become the dangerous team they keep saying they are. 

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