Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Does the Offense Need an Adjustment?

The Lakers game versus the Clippers was another ugly game by the Lakers, at least through the first 3 quarters. However, just like in Denver, their superior defense and rebounding made up for any deficiencies on the offensive side of the ball. Then the fourth quarter came, and the Lakers went on a 22-0 run to seal the victory. This win once again shows the greatness of this Lakers team: they played poorly in the first 3 quarters, yet they still blew out the Clippers. There is, however, one major issue that really stood out on the offensive end, which is the way the Lakers ran their half court offense with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the game together.

The Lakers did not look good here, and though they had a long layoff it did not appear that the problem was because of that. The offense was just not running smoothly, which can be attributed to the lack of touches that Gasol had in the game. In order for the starters to work smoothly, Gasol needs to be much more involved, and not just as a low block back to the basket player, which is what he turned into in the second half when he was trying to get more involved. Gasol needs to play a very versatile game, mixing high post play with low post play and some pick and roll with Kobe, as well as work on his man on the wing and look for catch and shoot opportunities on the baseline. Only then will he keep the defense off balance and complement the game of Andrew Bynum. However, that cannot happen by itself. In order for Gasol to maximize his work in the triangle, the players around him are going to have to help him achieve that. The problem is, neither Derek Fisher nor Vladamir Radmanovic have the skills to do so. The only player out of the starters that can work in unison with Gasol is Kobe Bryant.

Therefore, in order to make that happen it might be a good idea to use Bryant as a point forward and Gasol as a wing for stretches in the game. This would put the ball in Kobe's hands in a position to playmake and run the offense and put Gasol in good position to score, as well as take the ball away from Derek Fisher and make him more of a spot up shooter. Bryant as a point forward would help Gasol to get more oppourtunities to make an impact, as well as get some additional easy buckets for Andrew Bynum just because of the attention Bryant would draw at the top of the key as well as the attention that Gasol would have to be given at the wing. All this, and Kobe of course would still have the ability to score the ball at anytime because of his skills at every position on the court. And when the time warrants it, such as during the fourth quarter or any other stretch in the game, Kobe can still go back to the wing spot and put the dagger in the opponents.

Yet Bryant is the most prolific scorer in the game today, so taking him away from his position of greatest strength might seem to some as being ludicrous. However, that doing so during the beginning of the first and third quarters, when Bynum and Gasol are playing together, would not take much away from Bryant's scoring since he usually spends these times trying to get his teammates involved anyways, in addition to the fact that he will always find a way to get his points. But instead of Bryant trying to get his teammates involved from the wing position, it might be more effective for both him and Gasol and therefore the team if he does it from the point forward position where it's easier to conduct the offense.

Of course, this is simply a thought, and there are probably many who would think that this is an overreaction over one sloppy game for a team that has yet to lose a game. Yet, based on what I have seen in the first four games this season, there are some things that I cannot forsee changing. That is, Fisher and Radmanovic being effective in creating and running the offense for others, particularily Gasol. With Bryant as a scorer, Bynum as muscle down low, and Fisher and Radmanovic as shooters first and passers second, I simply do not see a way for Gasol to get his with everyone else getting theirs at the same time. Instead, I see the starting five optimizing their offensive potential as a unit with Bryant playing as point forward and Gasol as wing.

Please feel free to post your own thoughts on this subject in the comments section.

Monday, November 3, 2008

News Around the NBA

  • The Painted Area discusses Cleveland's new offensive approach for this season: Utilizing Lebron James in more motion oriented sets
  • Henry Abbott of True Hoop discusses the Detroit Pistons and their possibilities for the future in light of their acquisition of Allen Iverson for Chauncy Billups and Antonio McDyess
  • Johnny Ludden of Yahoo Sports discusses the transformation of the Phoenix Suns and its effect on their players - especially Steve Nash
  • Eric Musselman discusses James Posey's impact on the New Orleans Hornets thus far. This read should shed some light on the importance of Derek Fisher as a LA Laker
  • Musselman also writes about the traits that good teams looks for in players and how having good character can be more important than having skill. These exerpts should make Laker fans really appreciate the players on their team, from Kobe Bryant to Luke Walton.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Lakers Post Game: Lakers 104, Dennver 97

Thoughts on the Nuggets:
  • Being that it was his first game of the season I expected a big time performance from Carmelo Anthony. I thought he would come in wanting to make a statement for himself but instead he was a no show.
  • This may be the season that Allen Iverson starts showing his age. He didn't seem to have the same motor that he did in the past tonight, plus he got blocked by Fisher and had trouble getting by Farmar off the dribble all in the first quarter. He's still a terrific player, but perhaps his days of averaging 30 ppg are over.
  • Anthony Carter was guarding Kobe Bryant for the majority of the game. Is there a team that has a worse defender to guard the opponents star perimeter player?
  • George Karl before the season started stated he wanted Melo and AI shoot less, yet I didn't see much offensive scheming to get his players good shots. Don't let the first half assissts fool you: this is still an offense that relys on too much one on one play, expect it's less potent now given that they've taken the ball away from the guys who can actually work a defense.
Thoughts on the Lakers:
  • The offense struggled tonight. Guys missed some shots they could have made and their ball and player movement were not in sync. That being said, it is important for the Lakers to keep up their defensive energy at all times regardless of their offense. Granted, they had a lot of people in foul trouble but in the first half they lacked energy getting back in transition and in their rotations which lead to a lot of easy baskets. It was good to see the Lakers make adjustments in the second half though, to control the tempo and avoid the fouls.
  • Lamar came into the game ready to play. His first play of the game he got a rebound and dribbled it all the way down the court for a layup and he was aggressively posting up his man on the block throughout the game. He was probably too amped as he picked up 3 fouls in less than half a quarter. Nonetheless, hopefully he continues to bring the same type of high energy play off the bench for the rest of the season.
  • In the first half of the game you really could see everything that Gasol brings to the Lakers on offense. He's has such terrific skills for a big man that he really makes the offense run smoothly: He can play midrange and close to the basket, he can play one on one and finish plays from others, he's a very good offensive rebounder, and his IQ and passing abilities leads to easy buckets for his teammates. He's just a fantastic player.
  • It will be interesting to see how the Lakers bench plays on the road this season. They struggled last season so hopefully they can maintain a more consistent level of play this time around. A lot of this will depend on Jordan Farmar who is the motor that runs the bench mob.
  • It was interesting to see Lamar Odom sub in for Andrew Bynum during crunch time. I believed Lamar would play during the final minutes, but I assumed he would come in for Radmanovic rather than Bynum. Radmanovic must be really winning over Jackson with his defense to be playing over both Bynum and Vujacic. Lets see how this plays out as the season goes along. Update: Phil Jackson stated in his post game interview that he took Bynum out late in the fourth because he had five fouls and wanted save him in case he was needed later on. Assuming that in the next close game Phil does use Bynum in the final minutes, lets look to see who is used to fill out the fifth position on the floor.
  • I don't think I've ever seen Phil Jackson pump his first before, let alone for the 3rd game of the season. Goes to show how much he wants home court advantage this year.
Ironically, this poor showing against the Nuggets shows how good the Lakers really are. The team struggled to get a rhythem throughout the game and nothing seemed to go their way ie the officiating. Yet, a win really was never in doubt and in the end they won quite handily. There are not going to be many teams that challenge the Lakers this season and I do believe that they will end up with the best record in the NBA.

Please feel free to leave your impressions on the game in the comments section

Friday, October 31, 2008

New and Improved: The Los Angeles Lakers Defense

During the first two games of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers have showed off a new and improved defensive scheme that has shut their opponents down to less than 80 points per game and less than 40% shooting. So what is the secret behind the Lakers defense this year?

The basic principle behind their defense is helping one another and disrupting the offensive player with the ball to force him to make bad plays. Nobody should ever be guarding someone without help, which is achieved by schemes that swarm/clog the offensive player with the ball.

A lot of the schemes are similar to the Amoeba defense that was developed and used by UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, which is a gambling defense that maximizes steals and forces fast breaks. The Amoeba defense looks to trap players near the sidelines and at the high post while playing the passing lanes that the trapped player will likely throw to under pressure. A more detailed explanation can be found here:

More simply, the Lakers basically run a man to man/loose 1-2-2 defense when the ball is at the top and overload the strong side as the ball swings to the side. Once this happens, hard doubles and funneling towards the baseline occurs. A lot of scrambling results from all the help defense and switching against pick and rolls, but the negative effects are largely negated by the length of the Lakers who take up space and block shots.

As with every defense, however, there are weak spots that an offense can attack. Against the Lakers defense, if opponents can rotate the ball fast enough, they can get an open three pointer on the weakside of the floor. It is up to the Lakers to perfect their defensive rotations to minimize the time the weakside three point shooter has for an open shot.

Please feel free to discuss the topic in the comments section.