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.