Taking a look at the defensive vulnerabilities of the LA Clippers and how the Los Angeles Lakers can take advantage of these weaknesses.
The LA Clippers have been portrayed as the biggest obstacle in the Los Angeles Lakers’ quest to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy this season. An Eastern Conference executive told Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report in February that the Lakers couldn’t beat the Clippers because they had a weaker roster.
Fortunately, the Lakers can mitigate the perceived roster issues if head coach Frank Vogel decides to design a game plan featuring a heavy dose of pick and roll.
Given their makeup, the Clippers are currently vulnerable against both facets of the pick roll. They currently have the thirteenth-highest field goal percentage against a pick and roll ball handler as they are allowing ball handlers to shoot 43.1 percent from the field on 18.0 shot attempts per game. The opponents’ field goal percentage has helped opposing pick and roll ball handlers produce the seventh-highest scoring output at 20.9 points a game.
The Lakers are facing a similar problem against roll men as they have the tenth-highest field goal percentage, allowing them to shoot 54.4 percent from the field on 5.7 shot attempts per game. Field goal percentage has led to roll men producing the twelfth-highest scoring output as they average 8.1 points across 7.0 possessions a night.
The problem defending the pick and roll is associated with a lack of defensive awareness from the center position. Ivica Zubac has a habit of strictly paying attention to the pick and roll ball handler. Consequently, the roll man is free to attack the basket at any point.
A prime example of this can be found midway through the first quarter of a home game against the Houston Rockets when Clint Capela set a screen for James Harden to initiate a pick and roll. Consequently, Zubac immediately went to defend Harden, allowing Capela to have an open runway to attack the basket, ending in a dunk.
Montrezl Harrell has displayed a lack of defensive output, as he often chooses to stand on one side of the floor and barely moves. Harrell is currently running just 0.89 miles per game on defense at an average speed of 3.5 miles per hour.
His lack of effort was showcased midway through the second quarter of a road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Harrell stood in between the free throw and the restricted area as Nerlens Noel set a screen for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at the top of the key. The decision contributed to Gilgeous-Alexander going over the pick to shoot a mid-range floater.
The Lakers should be able to exploit this vulnerability as they have several players on their roster who can execute a pick and roll centric game plan. LeBron James has thrived as a pick and roll ball handler over the past four-plus seasons averaging 6.1 possessions while shooting 47.3 percent from the field on 4.6 shot attempts per game. James’ field goal percentage helped him amass 5.9 points per game, 22.3 percent of his total scoring output.
James also has a good pick and roll partner in Anthony Davis, who has excelled as a roll man throughout his career. Davis has rolled to the basket 4.4 times per game over the past four-plus seasons. Davis is shooting 52.4 percent from the field when rolling to the basket on 3.7 attempts per game, allowing him to score 4.9 points a game. It has accounted for 18.3 percent of his scoring average.
The game plan shouldn’t fall apart when Davis or James go to the bench. Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard have a track record of success as a pick and roll ball handler and roll man, respectively.
Rondo has averaged 4.7 pick and rolls per game over the past four seasons while shooting 44.5 percent from the field on 3.5 shot attempts per game. His field goal percentage has allowed him to generate 3.5 points per game, which is 38.9 percent of his scoring output.
Howard rolled to the basket 1.4 times per game over the past four seasons, shooting 62.4 percent from the field on 1.1 shot attempts. Howard’s field goal percentage led to him averaging 1.6 points per game, 12.1 percent of his total scoring output.
Unfortunately, Davis can prevent the team from executing this game plan properly as he has expressed reservations about playing center because of the physicality of the position. Consequently, Vogel has started another big alongside AD for the entire season.
A second big man is detrimental to a pick and roll game plan as the team doesn’t have a 3-point shooting center on the roster.
Therefore, the Clippers can put a second defender near the basket to cover up for the lack of awareness from their center position. An extra defender decreases the likelihood of the Lakers having a clear path to the basket.
Consequently, the team will have to take more contested shot attempts or pass the basketball out to the perimeter to reset the offense. With the pros and cons lied out, it’ll be Davis’ decision on whether to play center or not should determine if the team can exploit the Clippers’ defense.