Lakers Begin 5-Game Road Trip Against the Wizards

By: John Lu

The Lakers will kick off their annual Grammy trip this Thursday against the Wizards in Washington D.C. Despite starting their season with an underwhelming 7-12 record, the Wizards have increased their level of play and will come into the contest boasting a record of 28-10 after winning 9 out of their last 10 games.

The Wizards offense is headlined by 2017 All-Star John Wall and fellow backcourt mate Bradley Beal, a dynamic duo averaging a combined 44.7 points, 13.9 assists, and 7.4 rebounds per game this season. Wall is having an excellent year, averaging career highs in points, assists, steals, and true shooting percentage, while Beal is gradually establishing himself as one of the best shooting guards in the league.

Another key player in Washington’s offense is starting center Marcin Gortat. He has made a living in the NBA playing as John Wall’s pick and roll partner and using his 6’11” frame to set hard screens and crash the offensive glass. The Lakers’ best chance of winning comes from slowing down the Wall-Beal-Gortat trio on offense.

 

Wall’s Passing in the Pick and Roll

 

 

Why it Worked: Gortat does a spectacular job of blocking out T.J. McConnell with a stepup screen (i.e. setting the screen with his back facing the baseline, instead of the side of the defender in the case of a traditional screen) and then runs directly to the basket ready to catch a pass. Noel has to contain Wall on the drive and does a nice job of also staying close to Gortat to prevent a direct pass. However, Wall is able to find the opening by lobbing the ball ahead of Gortat and away from Noel to set up the alley-oop.

 

How to adjust: Communication between Gortat’s defender and the perimeter defender being screened is paramount. In this case, Noel should have made the direction of the incoming screen clear to McConnell so that he could adjust and minimize his contact with the screener. However, there was no communication here and McConnell is completely taken out of the play by the screen. If Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (#20 on the 76ers) decides to help and tag Gortat on the roll, then his man — Bradley Beal –would be left open.

 

Beal Moving Without the Ball

 

 

Why it Worked:  Beal curls around a Gortat screen to free himself up for an open three-point shot. Gortat does a terrific job making contact on the screen to create separation between Beal and the defender. Wall then delivers the ball with an on-target pass so that Beal can get into his shooting motion immediately after the catch. Wall setting up the play far out behind the three-point line also provides additional spacing by making his defender hesitant to help on Beal’s curl.

How to Adjust: Beal’s defender must commit to fully trailing him on screens and applying back pressure in order to run him off the three-point line. As of late, the Lakers big men have been hanging back in the paint in these situations to protect the rim against penetration after the curls. As a result, Beal will likely have many midrange opportunities; however, despite his above average midrange efficiency, his shots from that range are yielding only 0.92 points per possession, below the league overall average of 1.03 points per possession.

 

Gortat’s Offensive Rebounding & Wall’s Ability to Collapse the Defense

 

Why it Worked: Gortat is averaging a career best 3.1 offensive rebounds per game (12th best in the league) and is also 19th in the league for offensive rebounding percentage. Wall drives into the lane and draws a secondary defender to contest his shot, which opens up Gortat to establish great rebounding position right underneath the rim. Not surprisingly, he is able to put the ball back in for an easy score. 

How to Adjust: The Lakers are one of the worst (25th) defensive rebounding teams in the league at 32.4 per game. The Lakers big men need to make a conscious effort to box out Gortat on defense. He’s also highly adept at swatting offensive rebounds out to the perimeter players, which enables him to rebound effectively even when he’s boxed out. It’s on the Laker guards to be aware of this and put a body on the Wizards’ perimeter players to limit offensive rebound opportunities. Ivica Zubac has shown promise as a defensive rebounder after recent playing time, so it may be helpful to play him extended minutes against Gortat.

Notes: The Wizards are 9th in the league in true shooting percentage at 56.1% and 9th in offensive rating at 107.4, while the Lakers are 30th in defensive efficiency at 110.3. John Wall has drastically decreased his bad pass turnovers this year, as he only has 26 through 48 games. He’s averaged 148.16 bad pass turnovers per year in his first 6 seasons. Otto Porter has made significant strides in his 4th season, shooting an impressive 46.2% from 3 while boasting a staggering 129 offensive rating (and a respectable 106 defensive rating).