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Game Preview: Suns vs. Lakers – 3/9/17

Win-Win: Lakers and Suns Play for Ping-Pong Balls

By: John Lu

 

The Lakers and Suns square off in the final matchup of their season series – with Phoenix holding a 2-1 lead. Since the All-Star break, the Lakers have lost six games in a row (in addition to two other losses right before the break) while the Suns have won three out of seven games. This game will likely have important draft lottery implications, as both teams are among the worst in the league. The Lakers are currently second to last in the standings with a 55.8% chance of securing a top-3 draft pick.

 

In the last meeting between the two teams, the Suns blew out the Lakers by 36 points in a 137-101 affair, shooting an absurd 55.7% from the field while doubling up the Lakers’ assists total (32 to 16). The Lakers have struggled to stop the Suns starting backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker during the previous three matchups. We have previously written a preview article highlighting them – check it out here. In addition to focusing on stopping those two, the Lakers also need to be watching out for the other emerging players on the Suns team.

 

Beware of Marquese

 

Why it Worked: In this play, Devin Booker attacks immediately off of the catch at the three-point line. He drives into the paint and attracts three Pelican defenders onto himself. As the defense collapses, Chriss catches his defender off guard and cuts from the three-point line to right in front of the basket. He does a great job of catching the Booker hook pass and keeping the ball high to avoid the steal attempt from Holiday. Then he finishes with a two-handed slam.

 

How to Adjust: Chriss has dramatically improved his offensive level of play since the All-Star break. In the seven games post-break, he has averaged 11.3 points on 63.2% true shooting. He has a knack for cutting to the rim, as 19.3% of his field goal makes are dunks (64.6% are assisted). Despite his offensive prowess around the rim, he has shot a pedestrian 46.2% from the free-throw line in the past seven games. As a result, it may be beneficial for the defense to foul him and send him to the free-throw line instead of allowing uncontested attempts at the rim.

 

The Suns Bench Mob

 

Why it Worked: In this play, Tyler Ulis catches his defender anticipating the screen to the left and drives in the other direction to move past him. Then he uses a hesitation dribble to penetrate further into the paint and passes around Felicio to the rolling Alan Williams for an easy layup. Since the All Star break, the Suns bench dual of Ulis and Williams are averaging a combined 23.7 points per game while both shooting above 50% from the field.

 

How to Adjust: The Lakers bench rotation has changed significantly with the departure of Lou Williams and the arrival of Corey Brewer and Tyler Ennis. As a result, the new bench unit will need to focus on communication to minimize the offensive effectiveness of Ulis and Williams. The Lakers players must focus on tagging Williams on the roll as 93.8% of his field goal attempts come from within 10 feet of the rim. At the same time, Ulis is converting just 42.9% of his attempts from less than three feet from the rim; hence his perimeter defender should rely on the defense behind him to protect the rim.

 

Notes: The Suns are 13-19 at home while the Lakers are 7-27 on the road this season. The Suns (3rd) and Lakers (6th) are among the fastest pace teams in the league while both having bottom-tier defensive efficacies (Suns 26th and Lakers 29th). In the 6 games since the All-Star break, D’Angelo Russell is averaging 20.8 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.0 rebounds on 55.1% true shooting in 32.8 minutes per game. In the same span, Brandon Ingram is averaging 11.7 points, 2.7 assists, and 4.3 rebounds on 51.4% true shooting in 36.0 minutes per game.

LFR Tweets: Jordan Clarkson Synergy Stats


LFR Tweets: Julius Randle Synergy Stats

LFR Tweets: Brandon Ingram Synergy Stats

LFR Tweets: D’Angelo Russell Synergy Stats

Game Preview: Charlotte Hornets vs. Los Angeles Lakers – 2/28/17

 

Lakers Seek Revenge After Blowing 19-Point Lead in Charlotte

By: John Lu

 

The Lakers underwent a dramatic management overhaul shortly before the trade deadline and introduced Lakers legend Magic Johnson as the new President of Basketball Operations. Emphasizing flexibility and youth development, Johnson traded the team’s leading scorer Lou Williams and backup point guard Marcelo Huertas to the Houston Rockets. With these trades, the team’s playstyle and identity have shifted towards the development of its young core, especially D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle.

 

In the second game of a four-game homestand, the Lakers will face the Charlotte Hornets for the second time this season. During the first meeting back on 12/20/16, the Lakers jumped out to a 19-point lead before unfortunately losing to a comeback effort led by Hornets All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, who contributed a near triple-double with 28 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds. The Hornets offense that game was very efficient – with 30 assists and 11 out of 25 shooting from beyond the arc. The Lakers should look to slow down Kemba while simultaneously focus on developing their own young players.

 

Kemba Scoring in the Pick & Roll

 

 

Why it Worked: In this play, the Hornets start the possession with an early pick-and-roll set between Kemba and Cody Zeller. Russell is caught by the screen while Mozgov is positioned too low on the hedge and does not have his feet set properly. As a result, he is caught backpedaling and Kemba easily accelerates past him for the layup. For the season, Kemba is penetrating to the rim effectively with a career-high 32.7% of his made field goals coming from less than 3 feet from the basket.

 

How to Adjust: Proper defense on pick-and-roll sets is crucial for the Lakers. This has been a frequently stressed point throughout the season. The defending big man needs to communicate the direction of the screen to the guard to minimize contact made and also must hedge high to cut off the drive. Despite his ability to drive into the defense, Kemba is shooting only 36.5% on two-point field goals outside of 3 feet. The Lakers would benefit from forcing him to convert from midrange.

 

Kemba Passing in the Pick & Roll

 

Why it Worked: The Hornets again run the same pick-and-roll set. Zeller makes great contact on the screen to allow Kemba to drive into the defense after the curl. Because Mozgov is on the wrong side of the screen, Nick Young is forced to leave Batum to help on the drive. Kemba makes the correct read and kicks the ball to Batum for the wide open three. In addition to his ability to attack the rim, Kemba has been extremely efficient creating for others in the offense with a 29.2% AST% and 10.2% TOV%.

How to Adjust: The Hornets are in the bottom-third of the league in three-point percentage at 35.0%. On the season, only four players on their team are shooting over 33.0% from long distance (Kemba – 39.9%; Belinelli – 37.6%; Batum 35.2%; and Marvin Williams – 34.6%). It would be imperative for the Lakers to keep the scouting report in mind and recognize which opposing player they should leave to help on a drive versus which players they should stay at home on to protect against the three-point shot.

 

Run the Offense Through D’Angelo Russell

 

Why it Worked: The Lakers run pick-and-roll action with Russell and Randle at the three-point line. Although Randle does not make contact with his screen, Russell catches Kemba off balance with a hesitation move and drives past him. Williams is not in position to help on the drive and Russell penetrates into the paint for the layup finish over Zeller.

 

 

Here Russell is in another one-on-one matchup with Kemba on the wing. Four Hornets players shift their attention towards Russell, in anticipation that he either drives by or posts-up against Kemba. Russell makes a great read and hits the wide open Clarkson in the weak side corner with a bullet pass. Splash.

 

How to Adjust: Although Russell played well in the past meeting against the Hornets (15 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST, 2 BLK, and 2 TO on 54% TS in 26 minutes), Luke Walton decided to sub him out for Lou Williams late in the 4th quarter (3:44 remaining) with a score of 111 to 105 in the favor of the Lakers. The Hornets then proceed to outscore the Lakers 11 to 2 in the final minutes to steal the victory. With the departure of Lou Williams, the Lakers should have Russell on the floor to close out every single game.

 

Notes: The Lakers and Hornets are both in the bottom-third of the league in terms of field goal percentage –- 23rd and 29th, respectively. Both teams have the same three-point percentage at 35.0%. The Hornets are 7th in the league in terms of defensive efficiency while the Lakers are 25th in terms of offensive efficiency. In the two games since the trade deadline, D’Angelo Russell has averaged 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists on 54.2% true shooting in 32.5 minutes per game. 

Jordan Clarkson & the Reality of Regression

By: Michael Taylor
(Video By: Tom Zayas)

Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jr., Brandon Ingram, and Ivica Zubac: this is the order in which Los Angeles has amassed its treasure trove of young talent. For each highlight play, there’s been frustration. For every moment a “Baby Laker” takes a step forward, lumps are taken the next. Development is unique in and of itself, as it brings excitement to those who envision what the future could hold.

The Lakers hold two blue chip prospects in D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram (three if Julius Randle is included). Early on, Zubac looks to be a considerable steal, while high-flyer Larry Nance, Jr. projects a high-end role player, and Tarik Black is banging on the door to be considered as part of the young core.

This year, all the previously mentioned Lakers have made improvements to their game in some form or fashion. Truthfully speaking, I cannot say the same for Jordan Clarkson.

For all the things Jordan Clarkson has going for him (oozes athleticism, height, & length), role stability is not one of them. As a rookie, he entered the league as a point guard, and as a sophomore he was moved to shooting guard, providing solace to Laker fans with his consistent play amid the worst season in Lakers history. 

Whatever passing chops he flashed as a rookie are now being posted on milk cartons around Los Angeles.

Even casual fans can see that Clarkson fails to make the simple read here. As he approaches the basket, Pau Gasol has fully committed to him. Tarik Black is so open that Clarkson can almost hand him the ball, yet his eyes are glued to the rim akin to that of a dog to a bone. However, stats tend to often disagree with the eye test, right? Wrong.

Statistically, his 12.6 AST% is the lowest of his career, and his 12.7 TOV% nearly matches it. This leads to a 1.11 AST/TO ratio, which is only higher than  Robinson, Black, Zubac, and Mozgov. To paint an even darker picture, that ranks 178th in the NBA, among guards. Conversely, his unwillingness to pass can lead to some terrible shot selection, which is another valid criticism of his 2016-2017 season.

The play ends in a contested step-back three which rightfully annoys Luke Walton. What’s concerning here is Clarkson’s lack of awareness, as reversing the ball would lead to an open Lou three.

There’s an underlying reason as to why Jordan Clarkson’s gunner mentality is a glaring issue. 37.0% (5.5 POSS) of his entire offense comes out of Pick and Rolls, even though he’s only generating .77 Points Per Possession on a 42.6% eFG and turning it over 16.0% of the time. For comparison’s sake, Austin Rivers runs Pick and Rolls on 33.6% of his possessions and generates .92 Points Per Possession on a 50.8% eFG while turning it over 15.7% of the time. Austin Rivers isn’t an elite player, but he’s in the 78th percentile, and Jordan Clarkson is in the 41st percentile. This helps explain why most of Clarkson’s shots (30.5%) come off 3-6 dribbles, and he’s shooting only 47.4% eFG on those shots.

All of this is a fancy way of saying that the play type he runs the most is the play type he is the least efficient at.

 

He rejects the screen from Randle and does a nice job of putting Damian Lillard on his hip. There’s a split second where Randle has a window for a pocket pass but Clarkson misses it, causing him to take a runner from a poor angle. This play is emblematic of his struggle’s all season.

Yet it is not all doom and gloom. Hope remains in the form of glimpses.

 

In the limited plays that Clarkson’s had his head up, taking what the defense gives him, he has shown promise. This turnover (credited to Clarkson) is encouraging in that he makes the correct read. As Gobert commits to Clarkson, he gives it up to Mozgov. While the pass could have been more on the numbers, it’s a pass that Mozgov needs to catch. Not only does Clarkson make the correct read, he’s smart enough to reject the lob over Gobert, which Mozgov is calling for.

As for his shooting, his TS% sits at 52.8, while the league average is around 54%. His 3 Point shooting has not improved, and weirdly enough he’s taking more corner threes than ever this season at 20.7% despite shooting a career-low 26.7%. So, as a below average shooter, what else does he bring?

Not much.

His TRB% and AST% sit at a career low (5.7 and 12.6 respectively), while his -2.47 Defensive Real-Plus-Minus sits at 79th among PGs. While his effort is lauded (T-26 in loose balls recovered per game at 1.0), it’s often negated due to defensive mistakes attributed to poor judgment and fundamentals.

This brings us to the main issue. Jordan Clarkson doesn’t do anything other than score, and even then, he usually fails to score efficiently. 

Around mid-December, Luke Walton showed Jordan Clarkson footage of the end of his 1st campaign and was quoted as saying:

“We kind of just want him to be in attack mode, but be ready to make the right play each time. Sometimes that’s a shot. Sometimes that’s a pass.”

 

For all intents and purposes, that has not yet happened, and the level at which he shoots with reckless abandon is becoming indefensible.

If there is any silver lining, it is that playing next to Lou Williams poisoned Jordan Clarkson like a cyanide pill. Pete Zayas, the OG, likens Lou to an invasive species that comes in and wrecks shop, but in doing so alters the rest of the ecosystem. The second unit was built around Lou, and it’s hard to argue its effectiveness, especially when the bench was healthy.

Jordan Clarkson is not nearly as efficient, as Lou is a sizzling 60.1 TS% and in the 94th percentile (!!!) in Pick and Rolls. Lou thrives in early offense with a lot of drag screens that free him up for jumpers. He’s adept at rejecting screens and drawing fouls, making him a highly effective scorer, and the same cannot be said for Jordan Clarkson. He doesn’t have near the natural feel for the game that D’Angelo Russell has, nor the craftiness of a 13-year prep-to-pro vet like Lou Williams. Where a more freelance/read and react offense better suits the Russell and Williams, it does not favor Clarkson’s style of play.

 


 

The Lakers are coming to a crossroads with Clarkson, and I would argue that change is coming sooner rather than later. There’s reason to believe that Jordan Clarkson can perform better with some immediate changes. He’ll start playing as the backup PG after the Lakers traded Lou Williams to Houston. Trading Lou does a few things: it frees up Russell for more minutes, and in JC’s case, liberates him by giving him the ball and removing a ball stopper from common lineups. These final games could give the Lakers a chance to see if Clarkson can rediscover some of the passing ability he flashed as a rookie.

While I’m very skeptical, I believe he can accomplish this return — to an extent. If he cannot, there should be a serious discussion about moving Clarkson to attain as much talent as possible while his stock is still reasonably high, as hard as that is to say.

At 24, there is a higher chance than fans would like to admit that this is what he is. Or rather, he is what he is going to be. You don’t often see players transform in their mid 20’s, and Clarkson is unlikely to break that mold. However, he does not have to transform as much as return to the rookie form that got him named to the 1st Team All-Rookie team. As someone who was watched Clarkson closely throughout the season, the early returns have not been promising.

Over the past twelve games, his numbers have dropped across the board. He’s posting a 50.6 TS%, 6.4 TRB%, 10.1 AST%, and 16.2 TOV%, leading to a 0.95 AST/TO ratio. As a Lakers fan, perhaps it’d be better stand with the optimist’s view of “it’s always darkest before the dawn.”

His contract is team-friendly at 4 years $50 million, which is roughly around 13.3% of the cap this season, 11.2% next season, and will likely stay around that level for the next two seasons. While his development has stagnated, he’s done it once (the end of his rookie season), so surely he could do it again. For young NBA players progress is not, and will never be, linear, but in the case of Clarkson, at 24 in his 3rd season, his time is running up. In a league where assets have never been more valuable, how he performs on the court from now to the end of the season is as important as ever.