The Whiteboard: Why the Lakers can't create good shots

Today on The Whiteboard, the Lakers offense is struggling and some simple drive-and-kick actions may be the obvious solution. 
Nov 15, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (1) dribbles
Nov 15, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (1) dribbles / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The invested a lot of resources into keeping a strong offensive support system around LeBron James this season, re-signing Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and D'Angelo Russell and adding Gabe Vincent and Taurean Prince as additional creators and spot-up threats. However, it hasn't worked out as expected — the Lakers are 20th in offensive efficiency.

And despite it seeming like an obvious point of emphasis in their offseason moves, their 3-point shooting has been a mess — they rank 29th in 3-point attempts per game and 23rd in 3-point efficiency.

Wednesday night's 125-110 loss to the Kings was actually a relative bright spot — it was just the seventh time this season the Lakers have taken 29 or more 3-pointers in and just the second time they've attempted that many and made at least 35 percent of them — but it also showed some of their problems.

The Lakers don't have a Kevin Durant, Steph Curry or Damian Lillard, someone who can manufacture good 3-point looks simply by stepping behind a screen. And right now, they don't have a healthy structure for creating open spot-up looks with motion and gravity.

Have the Lakers given up on the drive-and-kick?

Against the Kings, the Lakers made the most of their open looks for the most part. The problem was that they missed a lot of opportunities for open looks.

On this play, Russell drives baseline which sets up a difficult passing angle but both Taurean Prince and Austin Reaves are open above the break. Russell keeps it for a reverse layup instead.

Here, Russell takes it into the paint and opts for a floater just below the free-throw line when LeBron is open beyond the arc on the wing and Prince is open in the corner.

Russell has been making a lot of these kinds of decisions, but he's far from the only one. Here is LeBron looking off Russell and Reaves for a contested off-balance floater over Sabonis.

In a vacuum, none of these individual plays is all that problematic. Players have to make split-second decisions on every possession and none of these were no-brainer kick-out opportunities. The problem is that they're representative of a larger pattern.

As a team, the Lakers are passing on just 30.4 percent of their drives this season, the second-lowest mark in the league and down from 40.8 percent last season. LeBron and Russell, individually, are both passing on less than a third of their drives ranking them 55th and 54th in pass-percentage among the 85 players averaging at least seven drives per game.

Compared to previous seasons, it's only a slight drop for LeBron but an enormous one for Russell who passed on 47.8 percent of his drives with the Lakers last season. Austin Reaves, the only other real complementary perimeter creator with Gabe Vincent out, is passing on roughly 40 percent of his drives, similar to last season, but his general shooting struggles are simply making him less effective.

The upshot of all this is that the Lakers just aren't generating open perimeter looks with drive and kick actions. On paper, they increased the quality and quantity of shooters on their roster this season but they rank 25th in catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game and 29th in wide-open 3-point attempts per game. They have better shooters but they're not getting them open shots.

The Lakers' offense is facing a number of challenges but this feels like it may be the most significant. The balance between post and perimeter touches for Anthony Davis is something they've been working on for a half-decade and they don't need to solve it perfectly for the offense to work. Reaves, Gabe Vincent and Taurean Prince aren't going to shoot this poorly all season long. But right now, the Lakers haven't figured out how to get the most out of their talent, how to use the threat of LeBron, Davis and Russell to warp the defense and make things easier for their upgraded supporting cast.

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