The Los Angeles Lakers’ offseason has left them with Roy Hibbert, a 7-footer on the decline, and Lou Williams, a shoot-at-all-costs guard. The team traded for Hibbert last week and agreed to terms with Williams, who was an unrestricted free agent. It isn’t what the team had necessarily hoped to surround soon-to-be Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant with in what could be his final professional season. If anything, though, it’s been par for the course the way the franchise has competed recently; it turns out leveraging a championship pedigree in a free agency pitch isn’t quite as potent on the back end of two losing seasons.
Williams, the reigning sixth man of the year, is coming to Los Angeles on a three-year, $21 million deal. The gunner is leaving Toronto after setting a career high in scoring, and his contract is a steal in the current NBA climate. Hibbert has regressed offensively over the past half decade, and Larry Bird saw him as a trade piece the past few seasons, eventually convincing the Lakers to absorb the remaining $15.5 million on his contract.
Here is why these deals aren’t going to work out as the Lakers planned.
Shot selection will continue to be one of the team’s Achilles’ heels
Williams will be the Lakers go-to option on the perimeter, but Coach Byron Scott publicly said last year, “I don’t believe it wins championships,” so it’s unclear if the Lakers will take advantage of their newly acquired asset. Even with the team hurdling toward the bottom of the league’s rankings, Scott’s vision didn’t change: the team attempted 22.7 three-point field goals in the month of December—a season high—but that average dipped to 17.3 in March, illustrating that even when the prospect of a successful season was lost, Scott was still unwilling to try something different and allow his team to shoot from the perimeter.
Shot selection won’t improve, either.
Hoisting a shot with a defender draped around you is ineffective, and last season the Lakers finished in the top 10 in field goals attempted with a defender within 0-2 feet and 2-4 feet—the tightly-contested categories provided by SportVU. According to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, Bryant, Nick Young, and Williams all finished in the top 20 for highest percentage of total jump shots that were contested last season.
Lakers’ transition defense will suffer
Defensively, the Lakers were helpless, finishing as one of the worst scoring defenses in franchise history. Los Angeles gave up 15.1 transition points per game; the fifth most of any team in the NBA, and, according to Team Rankings, their 2.031 opponent fast-break efficiency mark was the third worst in the league.
Hibbert is the quintessential defensive center; he can protect the basket and essentially caused LeBron James to develop a floater in what became known as The Hibbert Effect. Last season, Los Angeles starting center Jordan Hill allowed opponents to make 55.4 percent of their attempts at the rim, while Hibbert allowed opponents to make just 42.6 percent.
Here’s his defensive shot chart from last season:
One of the team’s focal points on defense this season—improving on transition plays—is something that Hibbert can provide littke help in. Centers aren’t often the spriest players on the court, and Hibbert’s athleticism is only useful in the half court. Even with him being a stout defender, regressions last season were evident: Hibbert finished No. 14 in defensive real-plus minus—an estimate of a player’s on-court impact on team defensive performance, quantified in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions—among centers who played in at least 40 games. This is the same player who was in the defensive player of the year discussion two years ago. Williams is a career minus defender, struggles to stay in front of larger guards, is susceptible to getting screened out of entire possessions, and is akin to a castaway wading in quicksand when it comes to transition defense. Among shooting guards who logged at least 60 games last season, Williams finished No. 46 in defensive Real-Plus Minus.
Scott will need to significantly re-distribute possessions and who uses them
Bryant and Young, the incumbent score-first shooting guard off the bench, sop up a ton of possessions. Prior to his season-ending rotator cuff injury, Bryant was being used on 34.9 percent of team possessions. Young led the team in usage rate (26 percent) after Bryant’s injury, and Williams was used on more possessions (27 percent) than all-star point guard Kyle Lowry.
Williams can help the team get to the free throw line with his possessions, though. He was a top 20 player in free throw percentage (86.1), a top 15 player in getting to the line (395 attempts), and save for Bryant prior to his injury, nobody on the Lakers roster got to the line as frequently as Williams last season.
Rumors have circulated that the Lakers are looking to send Young elsewhere, which is a cerebral move. However, until Young has been traded, the Lakers are operating with two ball-dominant, shoot-in-high-volume players that coincidentally play the exact same position. There are only so many possessions per game, and configuring portions can be difficult for a coach. With three guards that are accustomed to having the ball constantly in their hands, how can the team hope to immerse rookie lottery pick D’Angelo Russell into the team’s system, or help second-year point guard Jordan Clarkson progress?
There’s no doubt that Williams and Hibbert can help the Lakers, but with three players projected to use up a high volume of possessions, the development of players like Russell, Clarkson, and Julius Randle could fall to the wayside. Players need to have the ball in their hands, and with Williams on the roster that might be tougher to configure next season. Hibbert can help a stagnant defense, but is no longer a top 10 center on either side of the ball. The Lakers could raise their head and notch a few more wins in 2015, but the additions of Williams and Hibbert are marginal improvements at best.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.