Some Laker fans who thought he would be the next Pat Riley are now calling him the next Randy Pfund. As the season has worn on and the Lakers have remained inconsistent at both ends of the floor, more and more fans are turning their frustration toward the guy pacing the sidelines â€” Rudy T.
And he has opened himself up for criticism. The thing is most of what we getting with Rudy T. should not come as a surprise â€” including the volume of three pointers. His rotations, affinity for players who havenâ€™t necessarily earned it and game management may have us yelling at our televisions or at Rudy himself in Staples Center (although, from the seats I usually have, it disturbs the people around me more than the coach). The thing is, all of it fits with his offensive philosophy and what we have seen in the past.
The rain of three pointers this season is a perfect example and should not come as a surprise â€” all of Rudy T.â€™s teams have been that way. His basic offense is built to have the three as a key weapon. From 1992-93 (his first full season as head coach of the Rockets) to 2000-2001, the Rockets were never lower than fourth in the NBA in the number of three pointers attempted. Four of those years, they led the league in attempts â€” including both championship seasons. (Those numbers dropped his last couple of years in Houston, particularly when Yao Ming came to the team.)
Those Rocket championship teams had the best center of that time (Hakeem Olajuwon) who forced teams to collapse their double teams in the paint, then with a kick-out and a quick pass guys like Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith, Mario Elie and Robert Horry got good looks. When Clyde Drexler came on board, that gave the Rockets a slashing guard who could get inside defense and break them down, providing even more open looks on kick-outs.
Sound familiar? While the players have changed and the system now relies on isolation plays such as Kobeâ€™s penetration, the concept of getting a double team or mismatch inside then kicking out for a three remains the same. So far this season the Lakers are averaging 22.9 three point attempts per game, second in the league.
I have a hard time blaming people for being what they are â€” blaming Randy Moss for being Randy Moss is a pointless exercise. Same goes for Rudy T.
Thatâ€™s not to say Iâ€™m not frustrated with Rudy T.â€™s penchant for sticking with a rotation or players, even if itâ€™s not working. Phil Jackson used to leave a struggling Laker squad out to figure things out for themselves â€” he had the luxury. Philâ€™s teams were going to the playoffs and he could afford an early-season loss to teach a lesson. Rudy T. has no such cushion, yet he sticks with what heâ€™s got rather than changing things up.
Lets use the last game against Utah as an example. Without Kobe, Rudy T. understands that the Lakers perimeter defense is suspect, so he plays more zone and has some early success. But, as NBA teams do, Utah adjusted and Raja Bell starts shooting over the top and killing the zone in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Chris Mihm sits on the bench. Rather than going with an Atkins-Butler-Odom-Grant-Mihm lineup (the best defensive unit the Lakers can put out, despite its weaknesses) he leaves in Brian Cook, who gets burned defensively far more than the couple good plays he makes, and leaves in Tierre Brown. The Lakers stay in the zone. And lose.
Rudy T. loves Cook â€” he can hit the three â€” and Brown â€” the Lakers second best guard at dribble penetration â€” because they fit his philosophy better than Mihm or someone like Luke Walton.
Weâ€™re not even halfway through the first season, itâ€™s really too early to have a complete grade on Rudy T. And things certainly are not all bad â€” the bottom line is the Lakers are 20-16 and the sixth seed in the West, a good spot. But I have concerns as to whether Rudy T.’s offensive philosophy is the best fit with the Lakers current â€” and likely future â€” makeup. I know his offense is not the â€œreturn to Showtimeâ€ Buss and Laker fans envisioned.
But with his big contract, I guess weâ€™ve got a few years to find out how it all meshes.