It has been nearly five months since we have seen the Los Angeles Lakers play in a competitive basketball game. Still, you may recall that they were pretty good at putting the ball in the hoop and preventing the other team from putting the ball in the hoop.
Nevertheless, as is the case for every team, there are areas of improvement as the purple and gold gear up to resume their season. On Tuesday, head coach Frank Vogel gave some insight on what those areas may be for the Lakers, highlighting two in particular:
Vogel said free throw shooting and transition defense are two areas of focus for improvement for the Lakers, though he does think they’ve made progress there.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) July 28, 2020
Free throw shooting has been an issue for the Lakers since last year and it has not improved much. On the season, the Lakers are the third worst shooting team from the charity stripe at 73 percent while attempting the tenth most per game.
In most games, that issue has not mattered. The Lakers have been good enough to not have to win games late at the free throw line. But in the postseason, there are fewer possessions and games are much closer; if you cannot reliably hit free throws, you’re going to severely impact your chances of winning games and series.
The Lakers’ worst high-volume free throw shooters are their two centers. Dwight Howard shoots just 49% from the line on 2.9 attempts per game while JaVale McGee makes a more respectable 65% of his 1.2 attempts per match. Anthony Davis has been the team’s best free throw shooters by a healthy margin followed by reliable options like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Markieff Morris, Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma, all of whom shoot below 80%. Rajon Rondo and Quinn Cook have shot poorly but take too few for that to matter while LeBron James has been inconsistent and is shooting just under 70%.
Ultimately, what will matter is the Lakers making their free throws down the stretch and that will mainly hinge on Davis and James who are sure to be on the floor for every possession during clutch minutes. The remaining role players (unlikely to be Howard or McGee as the Lakers will most often close out with AD as their center) will also need to chip in when asked.
Vogel’s other focus to improve upon in the team’s eight seeding games before the start of the postseason is their transition defense. The Lakers gave up nearly 21 points per game in transition (seventh most in the league) over the course of the regular season but were only tied for 17th most transition points conceded on a per possession basis.
This is not quite as big of an issue for the Lakers but they are prone to having games where they turn the ball over frequently. Additionally, their reliance on offensive rebounds means they can be caught behind a fast paced offense. Traditionally, teams play slower in the postseason but that doesn’t mean minimizing opportunities for opponents to run out and get easy points isn’t crucial, still. The Lakers themselves will hope to take advantage any time an opposing defense is not set against them.
Transition defense is primarily a matter of team discipline and balancing the need for second-chance opportunities versus getting everyone back on defense. The Lakers have some of the best transition defenders in the league (and maybe of all time) between LeBron’s iconic blocks and Green’s quick hands stripping ball handlers routinely at the rim. Minimizing errors on the other end of the floor will likely make this a moot issue.