With the importance of being able to run an effective pick and roll, what combinations give the Lakers the best chance to score?
Even when Jock Stockton and Karl Malone were wreaking having on the league with their pick and roll dominance, isolation was the preferred method for teams to get a bucket. Which makes sense, if you need a basket late, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon or even Charles Barkley were great people to rely on for that.
As the NBA progressed, the rules started to change, leaning more towards offensive freedom for players. Implementation of the hand checking rule and zone defense in 2004 forced the game away from isolation, and more towards ball movement. Now defenders could set up a zone to contain isolations but were not allowed to “Use their hands to impede an offensive player’s progress.”
All these things, combined with the increased emphasis put on the three-point shot led to teams spreading the floor while using pick and rolls to create mismatches. This has also lead to the rise in organizations requiring athletic big men who can at least hold their own on a switch. Otherwise, they would be exploited time after time.
Lebron James is one of the best in the NBA at running the pick and roll, with his size and athleticism, he is able to see over the defense while simultaneously being a threat to attack. Rajon Rondo, Lonzo Ball, and even Brandon Ingram are all solid pick and roll players. But what is the Lakers best combination of players to use when executing this play?
5. Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma
Rajon Rondo has always been known as an elite passer, dating back to his Boston Celtics ” Big Three” days, where he was in charge of setting the table for three future Hall of Famers. Rondo has nice size for a point guard at 6″3 and has one of the highest basketball IQ in the NBA.
Kyle Kuzma works well with Rondo because of his size and ability to spread the floor with his shooting. While struggling with his long ball shooting at 28 percent, he was right around league average last season with 36 percent of them going in, so expect him to raise those percentages as the season progresses.
Occasionally Kyle can rush the screens that he sets but can be a very effective screen setter when focused. Patience while setting screens comes with patience, so Kuzma can improve this skill over time,
Kuzma also has a refined post game for a second-year player, so if the defense decides to switch he can take smaller guards into the post. With a slew of fadeaways and hook-shots at his disposal, Kuzma is a nightmare for those smaller than him.
While Rondo has never been a real three-point threat, career 31 percent shooter, he has a very quick first step. This allows him to get past bigger defenders with ease, creating more opportunities for himself and teammates.
With both players expected to come off the bench, we could be seeing this combination quite a bit this season.
4. Lebron James and Lonzo Ball
Any pick and roll involving Lebron James are sure to be somewhat effective, no matter who he is paired with. The Lonzo Ball pairing is a great option because they are both such excellent passers.
Lonzo has the height advantage over most point guards with his 6″6 size, but still has the quickness to blow by bigger defenders. The advantage of using Lebron here is that if the defense switches, that would put a point guard on Lebron. Much like the Cleveland Cavaliers would do, force a switch to get Steph Curry on Lebron, then exploit the mismatch.
While Lonzo’s shot has shown solid improvement so far this season, he would need to keep up the pace over a longer stretchbefore being considered a better shooter than Rondo. The Lebron/Rondo combo is slightly more deadly because Rondo is a better finisher than Ball now. If the pick and roll is switched, Rondo has slightly better odds of scoring on a blow by compared to Lonzo.
Lebron is a very good screen setter when he wants, and Lonzo is as well when he is able to get in position. With both players committed to the fundamentals, this combination could become a favorite for the Lakers to run.
Lonzo has above average ball handling skills but could work to improve them some more as the season progresses. Rondo gets the slight edge in handles, who has exceptional ball handling capabilities, the time he played against the Miami Heat with one arm dislocated is one example.
As the season progress, Lonzo and Lebron might become more and more deadly, but for now, it’s slightly behind the Rondo/Lebron combo.
3. Lebron James and Josh Hart
This combination will be advantageous because of the improvements Josh Hart has made to his game over the offseason. Hart is currently shooting just under 43 percent from downtown and shot a respectable 39 percent in his rookie season.
While Josh Hart’s assist numbers have not improved yet since last season, about 1.3 per game now, he looks more confident when attacking the basket. His unwillingness to use his midrange arsenal gives this combination a weakness, with Josh Hart being 1-7 on any shot that isn’t at the rim or behind the arc.
Hart is one of those players though that does all the little things correctly, meaning he is a very good screen setter. So if the Lakers decide to run this with Hart screening for Lebron, it is almost guaranteed Josh will give Lebron an excellent screen, making his life a little easier as the ballhandler.
Josh needs to improve his ball handling more, but the fact that he is the most consistent shooter Lakers have now makes this pick and roll a must have option. Lebron as the ball handler will get him switches on to shooting guards, who he can also bully into the paint. As Josh Hart continues to improve his ball handling and off the dribble shooting, this combination will become deadly.
2. Lebron James and Rajon Rondo
Nobody would have expected this duo from eight years ago would become a reality today. After several battles, while a member of the Cavaliers, Lebron, and Rondo had many more when the ” Heatles “ became a thing during the 2010 offseason.
Now that the two former adversaries are on the same side, they have a lot of experience to work with when running a pick and roll. Throughout their careers, Lebron and Rondo have probably watched several hours of scouting report film on one another, and both have very high basketball IQ’s to match,
While undoubtedly the two know each other’s tendencies quite well, it will take time to build that chemistry where both of them can begin to anticipate the other’s movement. While Rondo’s career 30 percent three-point shooting is a bit of a concern, his passing and finishing are good enough to mask those flaws most of the time.
This pick and roll should get plenty of action on both players basketball IQ’s alone because Coach Luke Walton knows each player will be able to consistently make the right play.
1. Lebron James and Kyle Kuzma
These two in a pick and roll is probably the Lakers biggest threat now, and it has a lot to do with the versatility Kuzma has as a scorer. This combination will work exceptionally well when the Lakers use Kuzma at center, a switch in this scenario would end with a center trying to cover Lebron.
To start the year Kyle’s three-point shooting has been way down compared to last year, currently shooting 28 percent from downtown, as opposed to his 36 percent clip from last season. Kuzma is, however, a great finisher at the rim, getting a basket 68 percent of the time he attempts one at the rim this season.
With Kuzma being an average passer at best, this duo works best with Lebron as the primary ball handler. As the roll man, Kyle has excellent hands around the basket and will have little issue adapting to the thread the needle type passes Lebron can make.
As mentioned before, if Kuzma can maintain discipline while setting screens, it will give Lebron more room to operate. The pick and pop option is something the Lakers could get good mileage out of, with Kuzma screening for Lebron and popping out for three.
Combination of Lebron’s threat to score and vision and Kyle Kuzma’s diverse offensive arsenal make this pick and roll very hard for defenses to cover. Lebron can get the best out of all his teammates, so as he and Kuzma build chemistry, this threat should become more and more deadly.