Triangle? Trapezoid? What Is That?

Kurt —  November 15, 2005

After two poor offensive outings, I decided to do some offensive charting for the Memphis game to get a detailed look at what the Lakers were doing and why it wasn’t working. Picked a great game to go through every step of — didn’t miss a minute of that beauty.

The first three games of the season, Kobe was getting good looks for midrange shots because teams let him get the ball in attack positions (and were concerned about the penetration more than the jumper). Because he was getting good looks (and hitting shots even when they were contested), the Lakers went to him a lot — so far this season he has taken 33.5% of the shots when he is on the floor, even a higher percentage than last season (30%). It didn’t matter at first because the looks were so good that Kobe was shooting at a high percentage.

Teams are not letting Kobe get those open looks any more. Now teams, like Memphis, are looking to deny Kobe the ball, or at least deny it to him in the wing and other good positions he was getting fed the first few games. To counter that, against Memphis Kobe went inside in the first quarter with penetration — he took eight first quarter shots, six from inside eight feet (he made three). In the second quarter he returned to the midrange, taking seven midrange jumpers, but in a sign his finger is bothering him, he hit only three (he sprained a finger on his right hand during a dunk against Atlanta). A real sign he’s off is that he had four open midrange looks in the game and hit just one.

Trying to take the ball out of the hands of the primary attacker in the triangle is nothing new, teams used to do that to the old Bulls all the time — keep the ball away from Jordan. The problem was the Jordanairs would beat you. Pippen would get his and then some. Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, even Bill Cartwright would step up when teams focused on Jordan and make you pay. (Eventually the conventional wisdom became let Jordan get his and stop the others.)

With the Lakers, no one has stepped up the last three games. The biggest offender against Memphis was Kwame Brown. I had him taking 12 shots from within eight feet that were contested, and he hit only one (and I was pretty generous about what constituted contested). Even when he uses the first step to get by defenders he doesn’t finish well. By the way, I also had Brown for two open shots, one inside and one midrange, and he hit both.

Much of that came in the second half, particularly the third quarter, when the Lakers made a clear adjustment to get the ball inside more. Mihm faired better (3 of 6 on contested shots inside, 1 of 3 from midrange, 2 of those open), but it was Kwame who was getting the opportunities.

Odom took just 8 shots (hit three: a contested shot inside in the first quarter, an open midrange in the first and an open look at a three), but he wants to pass first. Without Kobe creating opportunities and Memphis doing a good job slowing the transition game, Smush is not getting as many good looks (both of his baskets came from beyond the arc, one open look and one on a contested fade away that he probably shouldn’t have taken).

For the triangle to work, the starting five are going to have to get in sync (according to the OC Register, the Laker subs beat the starters in an end-of-practice game Sunday). Kobe is still the engine that will drive the bus, but until some pressure is taken off him being the only consistent scorer — until teams have to start defending other options — the team will continue to struggle to score.