If you buy what Byron Scott tried to sell after the now 2-9 Los Angeles Lakers were shredded by the Phoenix Suns on Monday night, then you believe effort, energy and toughness were the real reasons they failed to stay competitive through another 48-minute basketball game.
Lakers coach Byron Scott again said his players need to "man up" after another blowout loss.— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) November 17, 2015
Scott: "I keep hearing about this ‘back-to-back.’ That to me is a bunch of crap. It really is. It’s basketball. You come ready to play."— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) November 17, 2015
A sliver of this can be considered fair. The Lakers are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, don’t hustle back on defense and play with a general passivity often spotted in people who wish they were doing something else. But it’s not the first time Scott has reached into the bag of banal coach speak to rationalize his team’s atrocious play, and it won’t be the last.
Blasting players through the media on multiple occasions before Thanksgiving isn’t the key to success. It particularly rings hollow when questionable effort is hardly the primary reason Los Angeles keeps getting demolished.
So aside from an eye roll or shoulder shrug, how should all this be received? Utter disregard is an option, but unfortunately, Scott’s obsolete truisms extend to the court, where Los Angeles is once again struggling to balance modern strategy with antiquated ideology.
Here’s a closer look at just how damaging Scott’s imprint has been on this young Lakers team and how outside factors may have seeped their way into their nightly game plan.
The mandatory disclaimer: Not everything bad in Laker Land is Scott’s fault. The roster lacks talent and balance, and a hazy long-term outlook creates unfair expectations that no coach could overcome.
But that doesn’t mean Scott is cooking a passable meal with the ingredients he’s been given. Let’s start with the offense, where sprinkles of optimism are mostly a mirage.
Several ancillary factors help gauge the success of any contemporary NBA offense. Pace and three-point shooting are two. Launch (and make) a bunch of threes and there’s a good chance you’re efficient. Relentlessly attack a retreating defense and opportunities will materialize.
The Lakers are currently 28th in offensive rating. They also rank eighth in three-point attempts per 100 possessions. But what seems to be a philosophical step in the right direction is anything but. A league-high 11.0 percent of L.A.’s threes are contested, per SportVU. That’s ugly and partly explains why the team is so far below average with its accuracy.
Scott notoriously ignored the three-point line in Year 1 of his regime, and outside pressure heading into this season may have played a part in the fruitless uptick. Instead of implementing an offense that suits his personnel, Scott’s knee-jerk reaction to critics has hurt the team’s ability to score.
They’re 14th in corner threes per game and attribute the same percentage of their points to mid-range jumpers as the primitive Memphis Grizzlies. No teams make worse use of the paint. But hey, at least they're firing up all those threes!
Despite being eighth in pace, these Lakers don’t play with tempo. According to SportVU, the Lakers are tied for 17th in the frequency of their shots launched “very early” in the shot clock (between 18-22 seconds) and 13th in “early” (15-18 seconds).
They don’t initiate rapidity. Instead, their high pace is the small-sample-size-induced byproduct of opponents attacking L.A. as quickly as they can. And no team turns it over more frequently when they attack in transition than the Lakers, per Synergy Sports.
Once the action boils down to half-court sets, only the Houston Rockets isolate more often, particularly worrisome considering Los Angeles ranks 24th in points per possession on such plays, per Synergy Sports. Those plays only account for about 10 percent of L.A.’s offense, though. Eliminate them entirely and it’s still unclear how much productive ball movement would take place.
The Lakers assist on 54.9 percent of their baskets with Kobe Bryant on the court and 53.5 percent when he sits. That’s not much of an increase, and overall they rank 24th in assist percentage and 28th in assist ratio (which measures how many assists a team averages per 100 possessions).
Here’s an example (one of roughly two million) from Monday night’s loss to the Suns. Look how long it takes L.A. to get into its first set of the game. One pass is made before Julius Randle sets off on a running hook to nowhere:
Offense is an issue, but defense is an all-but-uncorrectable catastrophe. The Lakers lack communication and lateral quickness, and their rotations are statuesque. All symptoms began in the preseason and have only gotten worse through the present day.
One particularly disturbing development as a sign of Scott trying to keep up with the times: The Lakers might lead the league in needless switches on and away from ball screens. Everyone wants to be the Golden State Warriors, but Scott’s players lack the necessary length, speed and basketball IQ to make it work. In two contests against the Dallas Mavericks, they religiously switched a small onto Dirk Nowitzki, who torched them over and over again.
Beyond strategy, Scott’s short-sighted rotations are another drawback. Bryant’s extreme minutes (30.4 minutes per game) have rightfully been called into question, as has D'Angelo Russell’s unpredictable playing time in the fourth quarter.
It’s not hard to figure out why the Lakers aren't winning. Relatively speaking, their bottom-line talent is lower than almost every team in the league. But all in all, to blanket their constant setbacks with bombastic rhetoric isn’t helping anybody involved.
It’s already falling on deaf ears, and an introspective look into Los Angeles’ schematic shortcomings might be a better use of Scott’s time.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com and are current through games played on Monday, Nov. 16.