The Los Angeles Lakers have a fatal flaw that may be too late to fix

Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports) /

Will better shooting fix the Los Angeles Lakers? 

With a 102-101 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers with just over 30 seconds left in the game, Russell Westbrook dribbled the ball up the floor. With Jusuf Nurkic sagging off him, Westbrook rose up and shot an uncontested mid-range jumper with 18 seconds left on the shot clock.

The ball clanged off the side of the rim, like most of Westbrook’s shots have this season.

Over the Los Angeles Lakers’ past two games, Westbrook has shot 4-26, tying his own record from January 2022 for the worst field goal percentage over any two-game span by a Laker in the last 50 years (minimum of 25 field goals), per ESPN Stats and Info.

If you look closely, you can see both LeBron James’ and Anthony Davis’ frustration with Westbrook’s decision to take the jumper. Once it was evident Westbrook missed, Lakers broadcaster Bill Macdonald had the perfect call: “NO RUSS NO!”

Lakers Head Coach Darvin Ham benched Westbrook for the final three possessions of the game, but the damage had already been done.

After the missed Westbrook jumper, the Blazers scored on their next two possessions including a big-time step-back three by Damian Lillard en route to a 106-104 Portland victory.

The Lakers have now started the season 0-4. They are one of three teams who remain winless in the NBA. In ESPN’s most recent power rankings the Lakers are 25th which might be too high.

The Los Angeles Lakers have a fatal flaw, and it’s the lack of shooting

According to ESPN Stats and Info, a team has attempted at least 100 3-pointers in a three-game span more than 6,100 times in NBA history. The Lakers’ 21.2% (25-118) showing from deep is the second worst out of all those instances, besting only the 2018 Atlanta Hawks’ 21.0%. They are shooting 23% on all jump shots and 40.7% overall.

Over the past two games (prior to Wednesday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets), the Lakers have shot 22 uncontested 3-pointers. Only four of those have gone in. That’s 18.2%, by far the worst percentage among the 105 instances of a team attempting 20 uncontested 3s over a two-game span in the player tracking era (since 2013-2014).

The Lakers are yielding 97 points per 100 possessions. No other current team is below 103 per 100. Their 23% shooting on jumpers would be the worst, by far, over the past 25 seasons, according to Kirk Goldsberry of ESPN.

The team can’t shoot.

Yes, it’s early. We’re only three games into an 82-game season. However, the Lakers’ shooting issues were evident before the season started.

Over the past five-plus seasons, exactly 200 players have attempted at least 1,000 jump shots. Among the enormous group, Davis ranks 198th with an effective field goal percentage of 40.9%. One of two players who ranks worse? Westbrook, who is 40.4%, per Kirk Goldsberry.

Adding LeBron James to that formula, one of the best playmakers in basketball history who needs the ball in his hands to be most effective, means Davis and Westbrook are playing off the ball a lot. The numbers prove that isn’t scaring anyone.

Among the 167 NBA players who have attempted at least 10 3’s in the young season, Westbrook and Davis are enjoying the most shooting space.

It goes beyond Westbrook and Davis though. Their entire roster doesn’t contain a single legitimate catch-and-shoot threat that opposing teams have to respect.

Throughout his illustrious career, the most successful LeBron-led teams have been equipped with shooting talent. From Kyle Korver to Ray Allen. From Mike Miller to JR Smith. From Shane Battier to Kevin Love. James has played with a lot of sharpshooters. In fact, there have been 48 players in NBA history who’ve shot at least 40% from 3-point range in their careers, and LeBron has been teammates with nearly a quarter of them.

Unsurprisingly, none of those players are on this Lakers team.

While the NBA has placed greater importance on the 3-point shot, trying to fill their roster with as much shooting as possible, the Lakers have gone in the opposite direction. Early returns suggest Rob Pelinka’s team-building strategy was a catastrophe.

It’s fair to expect the Lakers to improve somewhat (they can’t possibly shoot this poorly the entire season) their current roster construction puts a ceiling on their offense.

LeBron and AD are going to put up numbers regardless, but beyond those two there is nobody on this Lakers team that scares anyone in the NBA. Their “depth” is laughable. Everyone looks miserable. Simply put, they are not a good basketball team

Next. NBA Trade Rumors: 5 trade ideas that could help fix the Miami Heat. dark

Rob Pelinka will need to make drastic moves before the trade deadline or else the Lakers are destined to miss the playoffs and send another lottery pick to the New Orleans Pelicans.

(*all stats noted are prior to Wednesday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets)