The Whiteboard: Are the Lakers the unluckiest defense in the NBA?

Anthony Davis says "everybody shoots well" against the Lakers. Today on The Whiteboard, we're measuring how true that is.

Jan 7, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) defends Los
Jan 7, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) defends Los / Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers dropped another one Thursday night, 127-109 to the Phoenix Suns, bringing their record to 5-10 in their last 15 games. Over that stretch they've surrendered an average of 117.8 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would rank 24th in the league if stretched across the entire season and a pretty surprising drop-off from the 111.1 they allowed during their first 24 games when they were a top-10 defense.

After last night's loss, Davis answered a question by The Athletic's Jovan Buha and seemed to attribute at least some of their defensive struggles to bad luck.

Davis is right that luck is a strong component in an opponent's 3-point percentage. If an opposing shooter is wide-open the defense has essentially no control over whether the shot goes in or not. There is some impact on a contested shooter but there may not be an enormous difference between the impact of a contest by two different players who are a similar distance from a shooter.

Essentially, a team's defense can have a significant impact on how many 3-point shots an opponent attempts and how many of those attempts are open or contested but once the player decides to shoot, the make-of-miss comes down the skill of the shooter and luck.

Has the Lakers' defense been unlucky?

If we compare the Lakers' opponent shooting percentage on both categories of 3-pointers we do see that their defense is suffering from some much hotter shooting on the part of the competition.




First 24 games



Last 15 games



In terms of the things the Lakers do have control over, they've mostly been consistent with their performance at the beginning of the season. They're allowing about 0.6 fewer 3-point attempts per game over this stretch and a similar percentage of those have been open or wide-open — 91.2 percent to 89.9 percent. (The vast majority of 3-point attempts league-wide are open or wide open, shooters don't usually shoot when they're well covered).

The league average this season on open and contested 3-pointers (37.4 and 30.0 percent respectively) is much more in line with what the Lakers defense was seeing at the beginning of the year and it's clear that Davis has a point. With a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation, we can estimate that the Lakers are giving up just over four extra points per game because of this variance in opponent 3-point shooting and a little less than half of the drop in defensive efficiency can be attributed to it.

To be clear, these are all rough calulcations. I'm not accounting for other offensive changes or the difference in level of competition over the past 15 games and the quality of the 3-point shooters they've played against. Still, while Davis may be leaning into hyperbole with his comments, he's right that the Lakers have had some bad defensive luck lately.

Subscribe to The Whiteboard, FanSided's daily email newsletter on everything basketball. If you like The Whiteboard, share it with someone you love! If you don't like The Whiteboard, share it with someone you loathe!

Recommended Reading:

1. The Bulls' future materialized out of thin air: "So, in regards to the future, White fits in whatever path the Bulls take. If they decide to keep competing this season, he's shown he can be the difference maker in their success, and arguably their third most important player (behind Vucevic and DeRozan, in that order). On the other hand, if they commit to the rebuild by looking to ship free-agent-to-be DeRozan, find a trade partner for LaVine and selling Caruso to the highest bidder, White can at least be their stop gap while they find the lead guard of the future, and be able to play alongside or start with stars in other positions. He's just 23 years old and is on a team-friendly deal for two more seasons." Coby White is the biggest key in the Chicago Bulls 2023-24 turnaround

2. But wait, we were wrong. James Harden was the answer all along: "This was the promise of the Harden trade: His playmaking genius can project itself onto a talented but disorganized offense, allowing him to strategize—to run the clock and let the game dwindle down, in this case—without overburdening him with the pressure to create, on a night when he was just 5-of-13 from the field." How the Los Angeles Clippers Saved Their Season

3. Jalen Green, off-balance: "But Green has major shot-selection issues, and an even bigger issue with keeping his balance when he decides to shoot off the dribble. Green has been fading away or to one side or the other on an incredible one-third of his pull-up jumpers, according to Second Spectrum tracking data, and has an effective field-goal percentage of just 31.4% on those attempts. That’s compared with 40.4% when he doesn’t fade. That figure still isn’t good, but it’s nothing like what happens when he’s off-kilter." The Young Rockets Finally Have a Suitable Environment for Evaluation

The Whiteboard, FanSided's daily NBA email newsletter. dark. Subscribe. The Whiteboard Subscribe CTA