Taking a look at the offensive vulnerabilities of the LA Clippers and how the Los Angeles Lakers can take advantage of these weaknesses.
The LA Clippers have been positioned as one of the most significant threats to the Los Angeles Lakers‘ championship aspirations this season. A Western Conference executive told Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report that the inability to guard Kawhi Leonard would make it hard for the Lakers to win a playoff series.
Fortunately, Los Angeles can slow down Leonard and, by extension, the Clippers’ offense if head coach Frank Vogel designs a game plan that forces them to take more spot-up field goal attempts. The Clippers are ninth in spot-up field goal percentage shooting 39.7 percent on 20 attempts per game. LA’s field goal percentage has allowed them to be 18th in spot-up points averaging 23.2 per game.
The Clippers were more efficient last season as they were third in spot-up field goal percentage shooting 41.3 percent on 17.5 attempts per game. LA’s field goal percentage allowed them to be 22nd in spot-up points averaging 21 per game.
LA’s decline in spot-up efficiency is related to personnel changes the organization made last season.
Leonard’s demands led to the team to trade Danilo Gallinari, who was the catalyst behind their success in the spot-up department during the 2018-19 season. Gallinari led the team shooting 45.0 percent from the field on 3.5 spot-up attempts per game. The field goal percentage helped him generate 4.3 points per game, 20.5 percent of LA’s spot-up production during the 2018-19 season.
Paul George hasn’t been able to match or surpass Gallinari’s production because of confidence issues with surgically repaired shoulders. George went under the knife in May of last year to repair a partially torn tendon in his right rotator cuff.
A month later, doctors repaired a torn labrum in George’s left shoulder. The double shoulder surgery prevented him from participating in any basketball-related workouts until early September.
Upon returning, George shied away from any contact because he was unsure how his shoulders would feel after getting hit. The lack of confidence has contributed to George shooting an uncharacteristically low 38.8 percent on spot-ups over 2.6 field goal attempts per game. The field goal percentage helped him generate 2.8 points per game, 12.1 percent of LA’s spot-up production this season.
The team’s offense has also become more stagnant as facilitating isn’t Leonard’s strong suit. Leonard has averaged 32.6 passes per game over the past two seasons. Leonard’s passes per game are far less than other superstars in the game as Butler and James Harden have averaged 41.9 and 49.2 passes per game during this span.
Leonard’s unwillingness to pass the basketball has contributed to LA’s decreased ball movement as they are averaging 271.4 passes per game this season. It is a 10.5 percent decrease from last season where they averaged 303.2 passes per game.
The Clippers have replaced some of their ball movement with an increase in spot-up possessions as they are currently averaging 21.9 per game. It is a 14.7 percent increase from last season when they averaged 19.1 per game.
A prime example of this can be found early in the first quarter of a road game against the Houston Rockets. When George, Marcus Morris and Patrick Beverley stood behind the arc in the role of spot-up shooters as Leonard had the basketball on the right-wing. Leonard proceeded to go over an Ivica Zubac screen to hit a mid-range jumper over James Harden.
The offensive stagnation is hurting some members of the Clippers’ roster. Morris was having his best statistical season before arriving in LA as he got to touch the ball 48.2 times per game. The 48.2 touches allowed Morris to create his offense as he averaged 3.7 pick-and-roll possessions per game. He shot 47.1 percent from the field on 3.2 shot attempts per game. Morris’ field goal percentage helped him amass 3.9 points per game out of the pick-and-roll.
Morris was also averaging a career-high 2.3 pull up three’s per game, converting 40 percent of them to generate 2.7 points per game. The pull up threes and pick and rolls accounted for 33.7 percent of his scoring output as he averaged a career-high 19.6 points per game with the New York Knicks.
Upon arriving in LA, Morris’s touches decreased by 37.3 percent as he has averaged 30.2 per game in his first 12 games. Consequently, his pull up threes and pick and roll possessions have been cut by 43.5 and 62.2 percent, respectively.
He has spent the majority of his minutes as a Clipper in the role of a floor spacer. Unfortunately, Morris is struggling in the role, shooting 30.0 percent on 3.3 spot up field goal attempts. The combination of these factors have decreased his scoring output by 48.5 percent as he is averaging 9.5 points per game.
Therefore, the Lakers should leave Morris open and use his defender to double team Leonard when he has the basketball. A double team would aim to encourage Leonard to pass the basketball to the free man, Morris.
If Leonard compiles with the Lakers’ strategy, it may result in a turnover as he isn’t comfortable passing the basketball. Furthermore, if Leonard successfully passes the ball to him, Morris struggles with the Clippers indicates it would be a low percentage shot.
However, if Leonard chooses to keep the basketball, he risks being stripped or having to take a heavily contested shot. Either scenario would be a step in the right direction towards accomplishing the Lakers’ goal of winning a playoff series against the Clippers.
The Lakers should also try to get physical with George before getting to his spot on the floor. It would take Paul George mentally out of the game for a couple of possessions, as he will be preoccupied with the possibility of feeling pain in his shoulders.
The Lakers can take advantage of George and Leonard’s vulnerabilities to slow down the Clippers offense, which would hopefully result in an NBA championship