Lakers need to unleash Lonzo!
How the Lakers’ new starting lineup can stretch defenses and give Lonzo Ball the space to unleash his game
The Lakers are working hard to execute coach Luke Walton’s pace-and-space offense. While they’ve made progress playing at a faster pace, they haven’t enjoyed the same success creating space due to their struggles shooting 3's.
Besides losing the 3-point battle every night, the Lakers’ inability to create space has made it easier for opposing defenses to sag off shooters, clog the paint, and protect the rim. The net result has been a Lakers’ offense that’s become reliant on scoring in transition and playing isolation in half court. Asked last week about his team’s 3-point shooting woes, coach Luke Walton even went so far as to say shooting threes is “not what we’re trying to do.”
Of course, Luke knows that was a stupid thing to say. He knows you can’t win in this league unless you shoot the three. He also knows making statements like that is not how you instill confidence in your shooters to let it fly when they’re open from 3. What he should have said was it’s early in the year and our focus so far has been on the defensive end. We’ve got players who can shoot and make the 3 and we’re confident we’ll prove that going forward.
Last night, the Lakers shot 9 of 21 or 42% from deep in their 124–112 win over the Nets, including 6 threes from center Brook Lopez, many coming off drive-and-dishes from Lonzo Ball, who took advantage of the space created by Lopez drawing the opposing team’s center out of the paint. There’s no reason we can’t continue to lead the league in points in the paint while also becoming an elite 3-point shooting team. They both feed off each other.
Fortuitously, the unfortunate injury to starting power forward Larry Nance, Jr. may have provided Luke Walton and the Lakers with the solution to their inability to create spacing. By starting rookie Kyle Kuzma at power forward, the Lakers have essentially stacked their starting lineup with what should be their five best 3-point shooters: Lonzo, KCP, Ingram, Kuzma, and Lopez. Luke Walton needs to tweak the Lakers’ offense to take better advantage of this.
While there will always be games like last night’s where they’ll want to play inside-out, the Lakers need to start experimenting with Five-Out sets where they have all five players spread out behind the 3-point line to create space so Lonzo Ball can easily get into the paint and force opposing defenses to react. With their five best 3-point shooters on the floor, Five-out sets would spread the floor, stretch the defense, and give Lonzo the space to unleash his game.
Here’s a couple of screenshots of the great spacing we had in the win against the Suns early in the year when Lonzo had his best game as a professional. Notice how much space there was for Lonzo to get into the paint and create havoc. This is what we lost when our 3-point shooting let us down. It’s also what we need to recover to unleash Lonzo Ball and get him back to playing like he did in the Suns game. It’s about giving Lonzo the space to create.
One of the most frustrating things about the Lakers’ offense this season has been how Luke has almost refused to spread the floor and let Lonzo run high pick-and-rolls so he could get going downhill into the paint to create havoc. Instead, soon as our 3-point shooting failed, we seemed to revert to passing the ball around the perimeter before giving it to Lopez or Ingram to go 1-on-1 as the clock wound down. Hopefully, last night signaled a change coming.
While our defense has been surprisingly resilient and young players growing and developing quickly, the key to a great season is still Lonzo Ball, who has suddenly fallen into a rookie sinkhole where his nightly stat line is 10/5/5 rather than the 15/10/10 it should be. The problem is Lonzo needs space to attack the paint and options in rollers, cutters, and shooters to feed as he collapses the defense. And 3-point shooting is how you create that space.
The addition of Kyle Kuzma as starting power forward gives the Lakers the 3-point shooting firepower they’ve needed to spread the floor, stretch the defense, and create maximum space for Lonzo Ball to play his game. Now Luke needs to tweak his offense by playing more Five-Out sets with all the players stationed behind the 3-point line to clear out the paint and open up lanes for Lonzo and teammates to attack the rim with multiple options.
So far, the Lakers are giving up 10 points per game more from the 3-point line than they are generating. Running Five-Out sets with Kyle Kuzma as our stretch-4 should help the Lakers shoot better from deep and cut that deficit.
Five-Out sets are also the key to unleashing Lonzo Ball to play his game.