Little Help Here

Kurt —  September 16, 2005

If there is one thing I hope and expect to see more of from the Lakers this season — and one thing that will be a good test for how well they are adjusting to each other and the triangle offense — it is passing and assists.

The triangle is an offense largely about spacing and passing, getting a few open and easy shots rather than expecting players just to create them one-on-one. The Lakers could use that after last season, when 57.8% of the Lakers baskets came with assists. That was 20th overall in the NBA and was below the Western Conference average of 60.3%. Just so you know, leading the way in the NBA were the Clippers at 65% — the Lakers actually were ahead of Phoenix at 57.5%. (BasketballIQ had posted this data recently and that sparked my thinking that led to this post.)

Creating your own shot is a key in the NBA — most players/teams can play some defense so a guy like Kobe or Lamar that can break a team down or demand a double team are key. But let’s face it, crisp, smart passing can create open and easier shots, and the more of those the better.

The triangle did that for the Lakers in the past. In 03-04 (the Malone/Payton season), the Lakers had assists on 64% of their shots. The triangle is really only part of the story there — you had a point guard who could pass the ball (if not defend) and both main options in the post, Shaq and Karl, were good passers out of it.

But the Lakers in Phil Jackson’s first tenure had already developed more of a passing culture. In 02-03 (lost in the Western Conference semifinals), 62% of the Lakers shots came off of assists. In the three championship years the Lakers averaged 61.2% in 2000, 60.7% in 2001, and 59.7% in 2002.

Last year, in came Rudy T. with his “penetrate and kick” offense that led less to assists and to Kobe going to the free throw line more. And far fewer easy baskets. Laker fans need to hope that changes this season.

A key part of that will be what kind of passer Kwame is out of the post. Part of making the triangle work is having an anchor on that triangle that can ideally draw a double-team (ala Shaq) and certainly make good decisions on getting the ball to teammates. Kobe is certainly going to be making a lot of those decisions, but Kwame is going to get his fair share of chances too. One thing I’m really interested to see is where they start trying to get Kwame the ball — in a low post or high post spot. He’s good close to the basket and quick, but prefers to face up. If he gets the ball at a high-post spot, say closer to the free throw line 12-15 feet out, the book on him is to step back and let him have that shot (he hit just 32.8% of his jump shots last year).

If he can both make good passes out of that position and hit enough of those 12 foot shots to keep the defense honest, the Laker offense (at least with the starting five in the game) could really hum this season.

to Little Help Here

  1. Passing is of paramount importance in the game of basketball and Phil is going to stress it this year. Mihm isn’t great at passing and setting up shots for teammates so kwame’s role and efficiency will be decisive for the triangle offense to work properly. Vlade is one of the greatest centers ever as far as passing and reading defenses… well i’d better say… was one of the best… since he’s 99% retiring. But passing isn’t the only area of concern. Shooting might be the real issue… especially with a not-so-great-shooting front court composed of Lamar, Kwame and Chris… The big lineup might prove to be a big step forward defensively, in “hustle plays”, and creating mismatches and the possibility for Lamar to post up versus his defender but can he hit long range jumpers like 20 footers or 28 footers? Can Kwame and Chris exchange roles nailing consistently some 12 (kwame) or 16 (Chris) footers? This might be something to really look at, hoping that it doesn’t result in opponents staying in the face of the few shooters (Aaron, Sasha, Kobe… even if he can drive whenever he wants…) complicating those easier looks the triangle is supposed to yield. This roster has different weapons though and Phil can put on the floor a very flexible unit playing smaller with Devean at the four… or getting better spacing thanks to Slava and Brian Cook shooting ability. The overall basketball IQ and passing ability of the team would also be drastically improved if Phil put in Luke. We’ll soon find out… if we have enough flexibility to respond to the different challenges we’ll find night in and night out.


  2. Just a correction I owe to Lamar… I don’t expect him to hit 28 footers!!! that number was 18… I would be really happy to see you develop a consistent long range jump shot LAMAR! And hey… if you’re reading… I know you can even hit some 3s! Hope to see you get some!


  3. What peaked my interest with Kwame was the fact that at the end of the ’04 season he had a few breakout games, and everyone was sure that things had started to click with him. The question I had was how did he score his points in those games. One was a 30 pts. 19 rebound night against Sac, and 30pts. 9 rebounds against Atlanta. Granted those aren’t two powerhouse defensive teams, but it does show some promise. I’m guessing they were mostly low post.
    Then he was injured and subsequently buried on the bench. We all remember him being suspended for the rest of the playoffs by the Wizards, but in one of three post season games he played in, he scored 19 pts. All he needs is to be enough of a presence in the post to keep defenses honest. This can free up Mihm to be more of the “energy” player that he is.

    Mihm showed once he came back from injury last season that he does have a mid range jumper that he can hit pretty consistently. McKie should up their assist total by simply moving the ball in an astute manner. The pass leading to the assist will be the most important part of the offense…

    On D they are young (except McKie), so they have no excuse for not being active. But as the Wizard of Westwood would say, “Don’t mistake activity for ACHIEVEMENT.” Ah, If only they could keep the starting 5 on the floor for 48 minutes.


  4. i’m starting to think gambling on spree isn’t the craziest thing in the world to do. especially after whoever made the point about how kobe, odom, and mckie have a little bit of a regular season attendance problem.

    he’d be a good insurance policy.

    and hey, kwame’s been a basket case too, right?