Laker Preview — Offense

Kurt —  October 29, 2005

Note: This is the second of two Laker preview articles, this one focusing on the offense. The defensive preview can be found here.

Meet the new offense, same as the old offense.

The triangle is back in L.A. But this is not your Shaq-daddy’s triangle — there’s more motion, attacks from the wing rather than just the post and other tweaks. It’s a triangle that will look more like the old Bulls version than the old Laker version.

Which is good, but fixing the offense should not be that hard for the Lakers — even when their offense resembled a Keystone Kops movie last season it was pretty good. The Lakers finished the season with an offensive rating of 104.8 (points per 100 possessions), good enough for seventh best in the league. They shot 48.5% (eFG%) from the floor, got to the free throw line on 25% of their possessions (13th best in the league) and grabbed the offensive rebound on 25% of their misses. They shot 35.5% from three-point range on a team record 1,813 attempts.

All the nice numbers aside, Rudy T’s offense rarely looked smooth. Part of that was a basic design flaw — he wanted isolation basketball with plenty of penetration, but that meant at any given time either Kobe or Lamar Odom stood around with his hands in his pockets. Mostly Odom. When Kobe was out with an injury for 14 games Odom attacked and looked like he had the season before in Miami, when he shared the court with Kobe he looked lost without the ball in his hands.

Jackson has remedied that by putting the ball in his hands — Odom will be the “initiator” of the offense, meaning he brings the ball up the court and gets to make key decisions about attacking the opposition. It’s the role Scottie Pippen played in Chicago and Kobe used to play in L.A. (although Kobe’s decisions were largely limited to how to get the ball the Shaq in the low post).

Having Odom at the point/forward position will also help the Lakers’ fast break — in the preseason he is averaging 12.4 rebounds per 48 minutes, second best among those playing regular minutes (Brian Cook is at 15.1, a pleasant surprise). A player who can grab the rebound and lead the break (ala Magic Johnson) is a dangerous threat.

Kobe is still the Lakers main threat and, although at points in this preseason he has pulled back to let others learn the offense, he is showing he can thrive in an attacking role. While it is just preseason, Kobe has averaged 36 points per 48 minutes (up from 32.5 last season), has an eFG% of 51.4 (48.2) and is taking just 3% of his shots from three-point rage (29.2% last season, which is insane).

Maybe the biggest key to the long-term success of the Lakers offense this season is how Kwame Brown develops, particularly over the course of the season as he becomes more comfortable in the offense. It’s too early to tell how this will turn out, and all we have to go on are preseason numbers, but he seems to be doing better than last season — he is scoring 18 points per 48 (up from 15.4 last season), shooting 51% from the field (46%), is pulling down 11 rebounds per 48 (10.9) and giving out 2.9 assists (2.1). That said, Kwame has disappeared for parts of games or even entire games — that was always the knock on him, he was good when he wanted to be but that was not every night. We’ll see if the combination of maturity and Phil Jackson can change that.

Another key will be bench play — the Lakers are not deep but they need a few players to step up.

One that has done that well so far has been Devean George. Back healthy and in an offense he is familiar with, George has the second-highest per-48 minutes scoring average on the team of 25.2 (trailing only Kobe). He’s stepped back inside the arc and is shooting 54.8% from the floor. If he can provide that kind of scoring punch off the bench with some solid defense he’ll be a very valuable Laker indeed.

Two other players have shown signs of putting their entire game together this season. Luke Walton was getting mentioned as a potential starter before a hamstring injury sidelined him. When he returns his passing skills will be a good fit in the triangle (although he needs to step up his defense). Secondly, Brian Cook, who spent last season as “the league’s tallest two guard” (thanks to Steve Kerr for that line) has moved back inside the arc and is grabbing rebounds too.

(By the way, Cook should still be shooting some threes — when broke down the best shooters from specific areas of the court, Cook was the most deadly in the league with the straight-on three, shooting 50.9% from that area last season. Working a way to get him that shot into the offense, or trailing on a break, would be good to see.)

Overall, the Lakers are going to score, although the offense likely will start out a little rough and smooth out as the season wears on. That said, I still expect to see a top-10 offense by the time the playoffs roll around.