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LeBron and AD are healthy and awesome: So why is the Los Angeles Lakers' offense ... this bad?

LeBron and AD are healthy and awesome: So why is the Los Angeles Lakers' offense ... this bad?



Just over a week ago it looked as if the Los Angeles Lakers might have hit rock bottom -- because of their inability to hit anything at all.


In just over a minute and a half of game time in the first quarter against the Miami Heat at home, the Lakers turned the ball over five times in a downright brutal six-possession span. They'd have 17 more. More troubling, still: The Lakers were terribly off the mark, even more than they normally are. Of the 30 three-point attempts they launched that night, they made just four, or 13.3%.


The sputtering 110-96 defeat was so frustrating that LeBron James, who had shot 6-for-18 overall and 0-for-6 from 3, left without speaking to the media.


In James' defense, what was there to say, really? The Lakers were suddenly under .500, and had lost nine of their last 12 games. It was a precipitous drop for a team that not only began the season 14-9, but also one that thought it had found something after overhauling the roster last season to punch a trip to the conference finals. The Lakers were in great spirits even last month after making what seemed like a resounding statement in Las Vegas by winning the league's in-season tournament.


LeBron James leads the Lakers in assists (7.5) and steals (1.5) while Anthony Davis leads the team in points (25.7), rebounds (12.2) and blocks (2.6). (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

Perhaps most confusing about it all: Unlike in recent years, when much of the team's losing could be chalked up to either James, Anthony Davis or both being out with injuries, the superstar duo has played together in all but five of their 39 games (87%) -- on pace to be by far the most they've played together in their five-year Lakers tenure. If that holds, it would best the 72.8% mark the duo played in together back in 2019-20, the lone season the pair won an NBA title. In their other three campaigns together -- 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 -- James and Davis played in 37.5%, 26.8% and 43.9% of their games together, respectively.


Yet Los Angeles ranks a dismal 23rd in offense, logging just 112.1 points per 100 possessions -- only a touch better than the 6-31 Washington Wizards.



All of which raises a question: Why, exactly, are the Lakers, with James and Davis healthy and playing at an All-NBA level, this bad on offense?


Just three teams -- the Portland Trail Blazers, the San Antonio Spurs and the largely Ja Morant-less Memphis Grizzlies -- are scoring less in the halfcourt than the Lakers.


It isn't rocket science to figure out where this offense comes up short: It's the shooting. Only the Detroit Pistons -- yes, the team that just tied the NBA record for infamy with 28 consecutive defeats -- are making fewer three-pointers per game (10.5) than the Lakers(10.8). Even with the additions of forwards Taurean Prince and Christian Wood, the Lakers generate the NBA's second fewest wide-open attempts from deep each game.


No lasers -- still.


And even when they do get open looks, they rarely convert them. The Lakers are connecting on just 27% of their uncontested 3s this season, a mark that would go down as the NBA's worst in the past decade, according to Second Spectrum data.


Making matters worse: The club ranks seventh in the percentage of its shots that qualify as long twos. That combination -- a 7.9% long-two attempt rate, and too few open 3s -- compares them to the Bulls. It's also noteworthy that the Lakers are poor offensive rebounders (third-worst mark in the NBA, at 24.7%) and turn the ball over at the league's second-highest rate in transition opportunities (14.4%).


This isn't to say that everything ailing the Lakers stems from X's and O's. Though the club ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of how many games its players have missed due to injuries, the ones who've missed the most time -- guard Gabe Vincent (33 games), Jarred Vanderbilt (20 games) and key reserve Rui Hachimura (15 games) -- all would bring something meaningful to the team's offensive attack.


Which makes the sustained success of the James-Davis pairing more tantalizing -- and maddening. Consider: James assisted Davis eight times Tuesday alone in the Lakers' one-point victory over Toronto. Of those eight, four of them led to dunks for Davis. And beyond just Tuesday, Davis has shot the ball better than ever before off James' passes this season, logging a 65.1% effective field goal rate off those looks, according to data from Second Spectrum. His previous high off passes from James is the 55.3% mark he posted last season.



With that in mind, coach Darvin Ham desperately needs to figure out which pieces to put around those two (and ball handler Austin Reaves). James has always thrived most when he has an array of three-point marksmen to dish the ball to as he drives toward the basket. It wouldn't be surprising to see Wood, a stretch big, get more opportunities alongside James and Davis in the near future. The Lakers have scored a blistering 130 points per 100 possessions in almost 100 minutes with that trio to this point.


Perhaps the most important question, though, aside from the noise about rotations? Whether this offensive burden is too much for their 39-year-old superstar. James is second in the Western Conference so far this season in fourth-quarter minutes played with 303.


The Lakers have had an atypically lucky run with their two superstars. If they don't take advantage, and soon, the conversation won't be about whether they can repeat last year's magical run. It'll be about whether they make a run -- at all.

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