The Los Angeles Lakers have a usage rate problem, and it’s more than just Kobe Bryant. At this point, you have to question whether Mitch Kupchak actually knows what he is doing anymore, or if basketball has passed him by. Although old people hate analytics, the teams that are utilizing the numbers are currently doing quite well. The Warriors were one of the early adopters of analytics, something former coach, Mark Jackson, was not too thrilled about. While the Warriors were a playoff team with Jackson, they are much better without him. At one point the Warriors’ analytics team was suggesting Stephen Curry should be taking at least 20 3’s a game. While that sounds ridiculous, Curry is up to 11.1 3-point attempts this season. Kupchak has since said that the new Lakers’ analytics team can “measure up to anybody in the league.” Hopefully they hired these guys after signing Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams in the off-season.
Take a look at the current top players on the Lakers’ roster:
Kobe Bryant usage rate: 30.5%
Lou Williams usage rate: 23.4%
Jordan Clarkson usage rate: 21.9%
Julius Randle usage rate: 21%
D’Angelo Russell usage rate: 20%
Nick Young usage rate: 20%
I think the average basketball fan can see the problem with these numbers. The Lakers top 6 players all need the ball in their hands to be successful. The Lakers will continue to have bad team chemistry because their top 6 think the best offense is through them. Since these guys are all high usage, none know how to play off the ball effectively. I don’t know any era of basketball where having 6 guys who don’t pass the ball, are seen as being effective, but maybe the Lakers’ shiny new analytics team knows something I don’t.
Salvaging the season:
While the Lakers are caught in a tough spot deciding between developing their future, and sending off their legendary superstar on a farewell tour, there are a few things the Lakers could do to get some balance. For starters, they should:
Trade Lou Williams: Lou Williams actually has some value. There are a number of teams that could use his scoring off the bench in hopes of a deep playoff push. Hell, the Clippers could sure use a replacement for Jamal Crawford. The Lakers are not going to compete for at least the next two seasons and holding on to Williams makes zero sense. With Williams’ minutes now up for grabs, that leads to the next move the Lakers should, but will never do:
Move Kobe to the bench: It’s quite clear that Kobe no longer has the ability to play quality basketball for a full 4 quarters. Bringing Kobe off the bench would allow for him to get a HUGE ovation as he enters the game. This will also allow the fans to see Kobe be Kobe, without affecting the young development of Julius Randle, and D’Angelo Russell (I don’t think the back court of Russell and Clarkson is sustainable). At the end of the day, the Lakers don’t really want to win these games anyway. After letting Randle, Russell, Clarkson and perhaps Larry Nance Jr. log minutes together in the starting lineup, let Kobe come in and bomb away. While the Lakers won’t win any games this way, they get the best of both worlds, in that they still develop some chemistry with their young squad, and give Kobe and the fans what they want.
If the Lakers are going to continue to let the current way of things take place for the rest of the season, they are seriously alienating themselves from yet another free agency period. No serious player, who actually cares about winning, is going to sign up to play for a team with absolutely no identity what-so-ever. These two moves would give the Lakers and prospective free agents a look into what the future holds, while keeping them in contention for Ben Simmons.