5 Statistics That Have Defined Los Angeles Lakers' 2016-17 NBA Season
For the fourth year in a row, the Los Angels Lakers are one of the worst all-around teams in the NBA. Their offense fizzes in a depressing stew of selfishness. Their klutzy defense sleeps through rotations, misses simple box outs and trots back in transition.
The expensive free-agent acquisitions never meshed with L.A.'s youth movement, which failed to take a definitive step in the right direction. But, to be fair, this is the fifth-youngest roster in the league, with a 37-year-old head coach in his first season on the job.
Growing pains were always the expectation, but progress from a depressing recent past isn't easily identifiable. That makes the 2016-17 season yet another hopeless affair for an organization that's so used to wearing the crown.
Here are five statistics from the year—ranked in no particular order—that encapsulate where this franchise is, and, quite possibly, where it's headed.
Luol Deng’s 46.9 True Shooting Percentage
In early July, the Lakers signed 31-year-old Luol Deng to a four-year, $72 million contract. Before his introductory press conference, it was one of the least team-friendly deals in the NBA, a nonsensical agreement that will hamper L.A.’s cap sheet for the foreseeable future.
Deng wasn’t bad when the Lakers overpaid for his service, but he was already on rapid decline, better suited to play power forward than on the wing—a position already occupied by Julius Randle.
The fit was just as bad as the financial commitment, and Deng responded with the worst season of his career. Coming off a postseason run with the Miami Heat in which he drilled 42.1 percent of his threes in 14 games, Deng’s outside shot deserted him all year. He shot 31.1 percent beyond the arc and a career-low 38.6 percent overall.
All this leads us to that dreadful true shooting percentage. The only player who’s logged at least 1,400 minutes with a lower aggregated clip from the floor, three-point line and charity stripe is Rajon Rondo (who’s been on fire of late and could pass Deng sometime next week).
Deng looked like an NBA player in December but otherwise wasn’t deserving of any playing time. In short, L.A.’s biggest free-agent signing in years was arguably the worst shooter in the league in the first season of his massive contract. There’s a decent chance he’s even worse in year two.
Brandon Ingram’s -2.85 Real Plus-Minus Wins
Ingram is one of the youngest players in the league, and he's flashed some of the rare, versatile quirks that forced Los Angeles to pick him second overall in last year's draft. But this is still a bummer. The 19-year-old is statistically the least helpful contributor in the league.
Despite his lanky frame and smooth outside stroke, comparisons to Kevin Durant were always unfair. Ingram isn't destined to win multiple scoring titles or be a perennial MVP contender. But the degree to which he's struggled is still jarring.
After he shot 41 percent from beyond the arc as a Duke freshman, Ingram has only made 29.7 percent of his threes as an NBA rookie. Over a quarter of all his field-goal attempts are open threes, when no defender is within four feet, and it doesn't matter.
He's made just 28.5 percent of them—an atrocious number. There's still hope for Ingram to someday become a productive option, and his length on the other end will create problems once he bulks up a bit. But it's so hard to come back from such a disappointing rookie campaign, in which he had multiple opportunities in several different roles, and shine like the franchise-lifting tentpole so many thought he'd be.
D’Angelo Russell’s 28.5 Minutes Per Game
This number is skewed a bit by a minutes restriction L.A. clamped on Russell after he hurt his knee in December (and last month’s benching), but it’s still worrisome. Whether he’s a point guard, combo guard or better suited to play off the ball, a priority for this Lakers season should’ve been to get Russell as much action and experience as they possibly could.
The transcendent vision and promising quick release that carried him to Los Angeles as the second overall pick in last year’s draft isn’t gone, but it’s fading from relevance in a hyper-critical world where progress and results are in constant demand, and we sometimes forget that Russell just turned 21.
In the past 10 years, here’s how many minutes fellow lottery pick point guards averaged in their second seasons: Tyreke Evans (37.0), Deron Williams (36.9), Chris Paul (36.8) Damian Lillard (35.8), Victor Oladipo (35.7), Devin Booker (35.0), Kemba Walker (34.9), Steph Curry (33.6), and the list goes on.
Between Byron Scott’s short leash and antiquated technique and Kobe Bryant's marring Russell’s development with a self-important retirement tour, this was supposed to be a fresh start. Instead, for the most part, Russell plateaued.
L.A.'s Top 5-Man Unit Posted a +7.1 Net Rating
This is easily the most shocking statistic associated with the 2016-17 Los Angeles Lakers. The number hardly defines their season, but it’s sheer mystique makes it worth including.
Russell, Nick Young, Deng, Timofey Mozgov and Randle shared the floor for 403 minutes this season. In that time, they outscored opponents by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, with an offense that sizzled and shared the ball and a defense that consistently stifled the opposition.
To show just how impressive this point differential is, Cleveland's normal starting lineup (Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson) has only outscored opponent by 3.1 points per 100 possessions in 434 minutes.
With Deng, Mozgov and Young all healthy but shut down for the rest of the season—and Young potentially entering free agency this summer if he exercises his player option—this unit creates some hope for next year, when the key young pieces continue to evolve and the veterans grow more familiar with Luke Walton's system.
There are no guarantees, but—particularly on the defensive end—this group has the potential to sustain its stellar play into the future.
47 Percent of Los Angeles' Baskets Are Unassisted
In his two seasons with the Golden State Warriors, Luke Walton coached a team that finished second and first in assist rate. Unprecedented outside shooting by Steph Curry and Klay Thompson helped turn Golden State's attack into a juggernaut, but the trust that was baked in from years growing up together (mixed with Steve Kerr's free-flowing principles) helped lift that offense to an unguardable level.
This selfless system will eventually trickle downstate, but things take time. For now, ball movement doesn't appear to be a staple of the Lakers offense. This season, 47 percent of their baskets are unassisted, which ties the Detroit Pistons for third in the league.
This isn't Walton's fault. Lou Williams, an iso-specialist, was his primary source of individual offense before he was traded, and every other contributor is just a sprout. L.A. only manages 40.9 potential assists per game, which ranks 27th. The Lakers' 4.5 secondary assists per game are less than half what the Warriors produce.
Again, these things take time. The ball will eventually hop around on mutually beneficial terms. (In Curry's fourth year, the Warriors ranked 20th in assist rate.)
It's too harsh to describe L.A.'s low assist totals as worrisome—their average seconds per touch was an NBA low last year and now ranks 13th in the league—but it's also a little surprising to see the Lakers barely rise from the previous season, when they seemingly went out of their way to adopt an antiquated style of play.
In the years ahead, this stat—above all others—is a good indicator of whether Walton's message is heard.