The Calculated Slowness Behind The Lakers Devastating Transition Attack
Although sparse when it comes to young legs, the Lakers proved to be one of the best transition teams in the NBA this year despite while also being one of the slowest.
Welcome to issue #8 of Throwdowns.
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Without further ado, onto this one. A basketball reimagining if you will of a childhood favorite. Let’s Throwdown.
“The race is not always to the swift.”
This reminder of course, is one of — if not the definitive moral — behind Aesop’s timeless fable: The Tortoise and the Hare. It also suits as a potentially fitting mantra for the 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers.
Over the summer, the team saw a drastic reconstruction on everything from its ethos to its physical bulk. The group was not concocted to outrun, lap or even keep pace with its young counterparts, but rather exert their sheer size and experience onto them over the course of the year.
Coming into the season, the average age of the Lakers’ roster was 29.07, second oldest among all teams according the league’s publicly released survey back in October.
This becomes even more notable in comparison to just a season prior, where the average age of the Baby Lakers plus LeBron James, was a spritely 25.23. Sixth youngest in the NBA.
The club would go onto cash in the majority of their young chips and assets to give their King in the deck the running mate he desired. A 6’10” Ace in the form of Anthony Davis.
Before the stoppage of play, the formula behind the roster was clicking. The team had the best record in the Western Conference, was fresh off victories over both the Bucks and Clippers and looked to be kicking into that long coveted “extra gear” needed for the postseason.
Many assumed the star tandem would gel given their symbiotic roles, which they did. But what many did not expect was that the suddenly veteran heavy team would actually be able to run and run effectively. That is, at their own pace.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Last season’s squad continued to see the benefits of Lonzo Ball’s breakneck wizardry despite concerns over how James’ arrival and subsequent methodical approach would impact the team’s plan of “playing fast.”
According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers posted a transition frequency (the percent of possessions that began with a transition possession) of 18.9% and Pace (seconds per possession) of 13.7 seconds. Third and Sixth best respectively.
In terms of their efficiency (how many points a team scores on 100 transition plays) on those chances however, the team experienced major speed wobbles ranking just 23rd overall.
When Ball and company were exported to New Orleans, the natural expected result to the Lakers’ offense would be a more calculated and half-court heavy attack given their personnel and history of James’ teams in the past. Which is mostly what happened.
Los Angeles posted a Pace of 14.24 seconds per possession, which ranked 11th in the league this year. The Pelicans in comparison, were third. When glancing at the actual speed and distance the team covered per game, the influence of the tortoise opposed to the hare, becomes even more apparent:
Distance (Feet): 29th*
Distance (Miles): 29th*
Distance (Miles) Offense: 29th*
Average Speed: 28th*
Average Speed (Offense): 28th*
Simply looking at the numbers, ages and names on the roster, it becomes easy to chalk up this season’s Lakers as “slow.” In reality however, a more apt descriptor is they picked their spots. And when they did, it worked in spades.
Although playing at a more leisurely tempo, the team hummed when they decided to run. Mainly because of James himself.
In what became one of the more calculated transition teams in recent memory, the Lakers roared past lapse defenses in a manner of seconds thanks to James’ ability to quarterback an array of Nerf-esque bullets to his teammates via in-bounds passes, misses and dead balls.
According to friend, and former editor Harrison Faigen’s piece on James’ passing prowess, the King was leading the league in terms of passes from a player’s own backcourt to the opposition’s paint. A skill that helped turn any possession into a transition chance in the blink of an eye.
“The more you can get attacks on the other team’s basket before your defense is set, the better your offense is going to be,” head coach Frank Vogel relayed in the article. Although not the most groundbreaking assessment, the claim proved accurate.
Despite the dip in their travel data, the Lakers were still in the top five in terms of transition frequency due to James’ masterful full court dishes. More notable however, was the squad’s ability to dramatically flip the script in terms of their efficiency woes a season ago.
Transition Efficiency: 2nd
1.14 Points Per Transition Possession: 5th
Live Rebounds Pts+/100 Poss (points added via live rebounds in transition): 1st
Live Rebound Transition Efficiency: 3rd
True Shooting % On Shots Coming Within 22-18 Seconds of Shot Clock: 1st
Although they were not directly built to do so, this season’s Lakers proved to be one of the most potent transition teams in the league. And behind James’ ability to ignite a fast-break while stationary, they were also able to preserve their legs while doing so.
An especially helpful and calculated boon for the older squad. One that before the world got flipped upside down, were potentially en route to winning the race they were in the middle of. All thanks to the poised, tortoise-sized steps they took along the way.
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