Have LA Lakers Surrounded LeBron James, Anthony Davis with Enough Shooting?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2019

EL SEGUNDO, CA - JULY 13 :  Lebron James #23 and Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a press conference on July 13, 2019 at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images

Last year's Los Angeles Lakers graduated with a doctorate in How Not to Build Around LeBron James. This season's team is, by all appearances, determined to avoid the same fate.

Lessons learned have no doubt played a role in the Lakers' thinking. They know last year's team missed the mark. The stakes are also higher. They're no longer dealing with one superstar. Anthony Davis both raises their ceiling and heightens the urgency to get it right.

Have they?

It reads like a ridiculous question on its face. This season's roster is a much better fit for James (and Davis) than the 2017-18 squad was.

Then-team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka opted for the model unexplored. They eschewed the tried-and-true approach of stocking the roster with shooters, opting instead for ball-dominant playmakers in what was a bizarre attempt to limit James' time on the ball.

The experiment seemed like a bad idea from the onset, and it didn't disappointment in practice.

Maybe the Lakers would have made the playoffs had James never suffered a groin injury. They held the Western Conference's fourth-best record at the time. But the roster was ill-fit to do more than crack the postseason. Los Angeles never profiled as a title contender.

Youth had something to do with it. Failed Davis trade talks in mind, the Lakers ended up keeping kids who were at mission-critical points in their development. Letting a generational gap between James and a fair share of his supporting cast make it to the start of the regular season was a risk in and of itself, but it wasn't unforgivable. 

Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac were there first, and impact prospects should never be moved on a whim—even if that whim is LeBron James' arrival. (Los Angeles ended up moving Zubac on a whim anyway.) The rest of the roster was harder to reconcile. 

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the one post-LeBron free-agent signing that made sense. Michael Beasley, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson had their own separate uses but were awkward and half-baked as concurrent additions.

Failing to retain Brook Lopez and Julius Randle, two functional fits, made the optics even worse. The end results didn't help matters.

Last year's Lakers were hardly a billboard for good floor balance.
Last year's Lakers were hardly a billboard for good floor balance.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Los Angeles finished 18th in three-point-attempt rate and 29th in efficiency from beyond the arc. Not since the 2011-12 Miami Heat has a LeBron team placed as low in treys jacked per 100 possessions (23rd), and they at least employed another star playmaker with Dwyane Wade and ranked 10th in outside success rate during a #lockoutugly year. 

James' last squad to finish outside of the top 15 in three-point efficiency was the 2006-07 Cleveland Cavaliers (18th). Last year's Lakers were the first of his teams to place in the bottom half of both long-range accuracy and volume since the 2004-05 Cavs.

Digging deeper doesn't make Los Angeles look any better.

The league average on wide-open threes was just over 38 percent. The Lakers hit 34.8 percent of their uncontested triples, dead last in the NBA. Caldwell-Pope, Ingram and James were the only players who appeared in more than 25 games for them and matched or exceeded the league average on those looks.

Meanwhile, only three teams averaged fewer points per spot-up possession, and only three Lakers reached the 60th percentile of efficiency on those plays. One of them, Mike Muscala, didn't even have 20 appearances in a purple and gold uniform.

Improving upon last year's collective shooting won't be hard. It almost can't get any worse. But the Lakers also placed an obvious emphasis on shooting while waiting forand after striking out onKawhi Leonard.

Rondo and McGee are back, and joining them this time are Avery Bradley, Quinn Cook, DeMarcus Cousins, Troy Daniels, Jared Dudley and Danny Green, all of whom have operable range behind the rainbow. Alex Caruso returns as well, and he put down 48.0 percent of his three-balls last season (24-of-50) in a 25-game sample size.

That cast offers a level of comfort. Even if the Lakers aren't built to be the most efficient team from long distance, they seem assembled to boost their volume from beyond the arc...right?

Among the new hires, only CookDaniels and Green averaged more than five three-point attempts per 36 minutes last season. Of those three, only Green maintained his volume in a bigger-time role. Cook logged under 1,200 total minutes, and Daniels didn't even break 800.

Still, all of the newcomers have previously turned in higher-volume seasons from downtown. More than that, none of them are floor-spacing liabilities. The same couldn't be said for many of last year's free-agent signings and incumbent players.

That is bound to help. The Lakers are more dangerous from the perimeter. However, that's also different than being elite—or even above average.

The Lakers have shooting around LeBron and AD, but is it enough?
The Lakers have shooting around LeBron and AD, but is it enough?Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Question marks still abound up and down the roster. Bradley's career efficiency from deep is inflated by a few outlier seasons. He has otherwise been unremarkable or, by some measures, worse than that.

Cousins' three-point volume is an asset for his position, but he's knocked down 35 percent of his attempts only twice. After returning from his Achilles injury last season, he converted only 27.4 percent of his triples, including 26.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot looks and 29.2 percent of his wide-open opportunities.

Dudley's three-point clip has declined in each of the past three years. Caldwell-Pope is a career 34.5 percent shooter from deep and has eclipsed 35 percent only once.

Kuzma is no stranger to outside volume, but he went from canning 36.6 percent of his treys as a rookie to just 30.3 percent as a sophomore. Guaranteeing a noticeable uptick is tough. He's almost 24, and his offensive profile is difficult to interpret:

Rondo has shot a respectable 35.8 percent from distance over the last four years, but he is still more wild card than not. Was Caruso's 48.0 percent splash-fest last season an anomaly? Can he sustain it in a bigger role? Will Daniels see enough court time to make an impact?

Davis himself is part of the calculus, too. He spends a great deal of his time off the ball and prefers to play the 4. He's shooting 33.8 percent on catch-and-fire threebies since 2015-16, when he first took his game beyond the arc on a regular basis. That isn't a net plus if he's working beside another big. (He did nail 37.7 percent of his spot-up triples last year in 56 appearances.)

Playing next to both Davis and James will amount to lighter workloads and easier looks for their running mates. Role simplification can be detrimental to some, but L.A. has not overburdened itself with talent unaccustomed to working off the ball.

Zeroing in on the Lakers' overall catch-and-shoot efficiency allays some of the uncertainty. Check out where next year's rotation players finished last season:

Looking at how most of these players fared on wide-open threes helps as well—particularly when weighed against the efficiency of those who left:

Generating these uncontested looks shouldn't be as hard next season. LeBron-led offenses typically don't bake in a ton of off-ball movement, and the Lakers were an unimpressive 16th in percentage of threes taken that were wide-open, but the talent upgrades they've made will tilt their shot quality.

Davis is an attention-grabber with the ball both inside and out. Ditto for Cousins, albeit to a lesser extent for now. Green is more of a threat than any shooter the Lakers deployed last season. Defenses will have to track him. A healthy and available James is likewise a default boon.

Other teams will make and take more threes. To some extent, ceding that ground was the price the Lakers paid for waiting out Leonard. They missed the boat for even better-fitting complements like Patrick Beverley, DeMarre Carroll, Seth Curry, George Hill, JJ Redick, Terrence Ross, Tomas Satoransky and more. Throw Reggie Bullock in there as well, although he's out indefinitely after undergoing neck surgery.

The Lakers even could have given chase to more dependable floor-spacers at the 5 if the plan was always to use Davis as a full-time power forward. Dewayne Dedmon, JaMychal Green, Maxi Kleber and Brook Lopez all fit that bill.

Spending big bucks earlier wouldn't have changed everything. Beverley re-signed with the Clippers before Leonard made his power play. The Lakers would've been outbid for other targets. 

Dedmon secured a three-year, $40 million bag ($26.7 million guaranteed) from the Sacramento Kings. Ross got four years and $54 million from the Orlando Magic ($50 million guaranteed). Kleber was a restricted free agent who couldn't earn more than the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception in 2019-20.

Do not expect the Lakers to be among the best three-point-shooting teams next year.
Do not expect the Lakers to be among the best three-point-shooting teams next year.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Hindsight is not an adequate method of criticism in this case. If you have a one-in-three shot at landing a top-five player, you take it. The Lakers did nothing wrong by waiting for Leonard's free agency to play out. And relative to who was left on the board, they rebounded nicely. 

That isn't an excuse for sugarcoating what they have. Many of their shooting upgrades are TBDs.

Cousins has to be better. Bradley and Kuzma have to be more consistent. KCP is a year-to-year study. Dudley is 34. Rondo is Rondo. At least one of Caruso, Cook and Daniels must hold up in a more prominent role. 

In the aggregate, though, the Lakers look like they've cobbled together enough shooting around Davis and James.

Not the most, not the steadiest, but enough. 

       

Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders and RealGM.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.

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