The Lakers need to start making open three-pointers soon

Lakers
DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 03: Danny Green #14 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts up a shot over Mason Plumlee #24 of the Denver Nuggets in the second quarter at Pepsi Center on December 03, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Saturday night, the Los Angeles Lakers lost 107-92 to the defending champion Toronto Raptors. The score doesn’t reflect the full flow of the game, as the Lakers were in it up until the final three minutes. They even had a lead at half. That didn’t matter as the Raptors’ stifling defense eventually helped secured their second win this season over the Lakers. 

The Raptors held the Lakers to 35.4% from the field (their worst shooting game of the season) and 25.0% from the three-point line (tied for fourth-worst of the season). The threes were especially concerning as the percentage was heavily influenced by some of the Lakers’ best shooters including Danny Green (0-for-7), Markieff Morris (0-for-5), and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1-for-4). The Lakers have been one of the more middling teams this year in regards to 3P%, currently 19th on the season as a whole. Still, just as long as they make their open threes, they have enough size on the offensive end with Anthony Davis and LeBron James that they can score in many other ways.

Although these seeding games have little-to-no impact on the Lakers as the first seed is almost theirs in the West, the Lakers still have a short amount of time to ramp up from their long absence to the playoffs. It’s no secret that the Larry O’Brien trophy has been attained behind great three-point shooting in the past few years, highlighted by the Golden State Warriors. Even though the Lakers have made it to this point with a below-average 3P%, it would probably be in their best interests to improve their three-point shooting. This is now a trend in the Orlando bubble, albeit in only two games. The Lakers also shot poorly in their win against the Clippers on Thursday, shooting 30.6% from three.

To give themselves some credit, Frank Vogel and LeBron James both attributed the Raptors loss to their three-point shooting while also pointing out that they were able to get good looks for most of the game. LeBron’s full quote is below (courtesy of Harrison Faigen and Silver Screen & Roll):

“I don’t think there is anything you can do better…We went 10-40 from the 3-point line…We just have to step up and knock them down. I thought offensively we got some very, very good looks but they just didn’t go down.”

The video above seems to lend credibility to Vogel and LeBron’s theories, as the Lakers were able to get most of the open looks in the video from the natural flow of their offense. There are eight three-pointers attempted in the video, and you could argue that all of them could be considered “open” threes.

The Lakers are still getting their legs underneath them after the long absence, so hopefully those types of threes will start to fall once the Lakers get more conditioning in the bubble. The thing is, it’s not like the Lakers have been efficient with wide-open three-pointers throughout the season. According to NBA.com, the Lakers are 16th in the NBA in 3P% on “wide-open” three-pointers (6+ feet between defender and shooter). They’re 12th in wide-open three-point attempts.

That slightly above-average ranking of wide-open three-point attempts is probably attributed to transition threes created by having LeBron James on the squad. Either way, they’re not converting a high percentage of those threes compared to the rest of the league, and their statistics on “open” threes (4-6 feet between defender and shooter) are much worse. The Lakers are 26th in open three-point attempts (between the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs) and are 21st in 3P% on open attempts (right behind the Phoenix Suns).

If the Lakers are to compete for a championship, these three-point statistics have to improve. Looking at the 2018-19 season, the eventual champion Raptors had below-average stats on “open” threes. However, they were elite with “wide open” threes, ranking sixth in total attempts and third in 3P% for those wide-open threes. Of course, the Golden State Warriors’ three championship teams ranked high in all the categories I’ve discussed so far, but what about the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers led by LeBron James? Those Cavs were around the top 10 in open three attempts and 3P%, but were just as elite as the 2018-19 Raptors in wide-open three-pointers. The Cavs ranked third in wide-open three-point attempts and fourth in wide-open 3P%.

It’s hard not to give the benefit of the doubt to Frank Vogel, the rest of the coaching staff, and the players, as they’ve been good enough without elite three-point shooting to (essentially) get the first seed in the Western Conference. In fact, the Lakers actually won the three other games in this season where they shot exactly 25% from three, like Saturday’s loss against the Raptors. They shot below 32% in all three of their previous wins against the Clippers (twice) and Bucks. You’re able to do so with the elite defense and length that the Lakers have led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Let’s just hope the Lakers can win a championship this year without exhibiting the same mold as the last few champions the NBA has had. If that doesn’t happen, then that means the Lakers will have improved in three-point shooting across the board. We’ll take that too.

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