The NBA’s Intelligent Design

Kurt —  June 6, 2006

Everywhere from Bristol to blogs, Dallas and Phoenix are being touted as the future model for an NBA roster — multi-talented and athletic big men, strong perimeter teams, and the ability to play at pace. Versatility, match up nightmares, speed. Personally, I think the hype about the “new NBA” is a bit overstated — in a few years everyone will be talking about Greg Oden and GM’s will be looking for the next one. Shaq would be a force in any era regardless of the style of play. Talent wins, and it comes in numerous sizes and shapes.

But due to a couple rule changes, speed and perimeter play are becoming more valuable in the NBA — and pretty soon how to defend that speed will be a big concern of GMs and fans. It’s worthwhile to think about how the Lakers, within the triangle, mesh with these changes.

For the record, those two rule changes are: 1) the much-discussed no hand checking or touches on the perimeter, essentially making good NBA perimeter players hard to guard and great players like Kobe/Wade/Nash/Parker virtually impossible; 2) the current zone defense rule, which has put a premium on versatile big men. (Remember, the NBA had become seemingly all isolation, in part because of the man-only defense rules, which meant you could put a big stiff like Elden Campbell/Greg Ostertag at the three-point line on the other side of the court and his man would have to be within 10 feet of said stiff, too far away to do much as a help defender. Now with the zone rules defenses can sit back more, meaning your big guy has to be a threat outside if he is going to spread the defense.)

The Lakers obviously have one huge advantage in the new system — Kobe. He is now basically unguardable by one person and forces a double team every time he touches the ball. Plus, he is a good defender on the perimeter. I could go on and on here, but the point is obvious — the new rule enforcement has helped Kobe as much as any player in the league.

Then there is Lamar Odom, whose versatility fits well in the new paradigm. Try to cover him with your average power forward and he’ll take him outside and beat him off the dribble or just shoot the jumper. Put a small forward on him and Odom can post him up all night long. By the end of the season and into the playoffs, Odom seemed to be figuring out how to take advantage of those mismatches and get his points within the triangle.

But after those two, it becomes clear the Lakers could use more versatility, particularly in their forwards and centers. The triangle is an offense that can thrive with interchangeable parts, moving guys around to set up mismatches, but you need to have the personnel to do it.

Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm both can be solid inside-presence centers, but neither have the offensive game to step away from the basket, either with a consistent jumper or taking guys off the dribble. That makes it challenging to play both of them together because it means two guys gravitate toward the basket, clogging the lane should Kobe/Odom/Smush try to penetrate. The need for more versatility at the four is a prime reason to look at trades for Mihm (if Kwame proves he can play consistently like he did the second half of last season).

Brian Cook can certainly step outside, but he is a pick and pop guy that struggles when he has to put the ball on the floor (or defend a guy who can). Luke Walton brings some unique passing and court-vision skills, but he is not a fearsome athletic perimeter player. Walton does will within the triangle (and likely in any offense), but he is not a match-up problem for most teams. Devean George provided a little of that, but he is still more outside shooter than off-the-dribble threat. Turiaf will have a growing role on this team, but his game is also near the basket (however, his value goes way up if he can develop a consistent 17-foot jumper).

While it’s easy to point out deficiencies and say “we need a Shawn Marion” the fact is there are only so many of those guys to go around and now everybody is looking for them — every GM wants to find the next Boris Diaw languishing on somebody else’s bench. It may be easier to find these new-breed bigs in the draft, if you think a Shawne Williams or Nick Fazekas or Leon Powe some other guy can grow into that role. What I fear is the Lakers drafting a Kevin Pittsnogle (a less athletic Brian Cook).

The need for versatility is not limited to bigs — look at the success the 6-4 Smush Parker had success posting up Steve Nash in the playoffs. Phil Jackson has always preferred big guards that could be interchanged and I expect that is what he wants in his veteran guard (that and defense).

However, the draft could play a role here too — right now Draft Express has the Lakers taking Mardy Collins, the 6-6 guard from Temple. There are questions about his shot and mixed reports (from what I’ve read) on his defense against quick guards, but his size certainly fits the triangle mold. Daniel Gibson of Texas may be another good fit.

The bottom line is that the Lakers do not need to try to become the Suns, but they can’t ignore the trend toward perimeter play in the NBA. With Kobe they already have a big step in that direction, but they need to keep this trend in mind as they look at free agents and draft picks.

Kurt

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11 responses to The NBA’s Intelligent Design

  1. The reasons you outlined (the necessity of speed and penetrating the lane in today’s NBA) is why Lamar Odom should be as untouchable as they come, perhaps his post defense is a bit lackluster compared to fellow versatilites such as KG or Marion but offensively he can be/is (you choose) an absolute beast..

    I really don’t feel there’s a point to try to hop on this movement and start scouting all these swingmen types since its the “new wave” though, they’ll end up being overpriced and hyped up (cue Hubie Brown clip talking about upupupside and length), hopefully we steal ourselves some traditional power bigs and point guard while everyone looks for 6’8 players who can play every position

  2. great post and sounds a lot like a post I was preparing for my blog – well done

  3. Great minds, Jeff, great minds….

  4. When are you going to write world cup preview Kurt?

  5. On the list of thing’s I’m not qualified to do, writing a Wold Cup preview is right near the top, especially since there are so many readers of this site who are more knowledgable than I. So here’s my idea:

    The FB&G Reader’s World Cup preview

    Just leave a comment here or send me an email with your thoughts, and I’ll turn all of it into a post that will go up the morning of the opening game between Gernany and Costa Rica (the country at the heart of two world wars against a country without a professional army).

    Focus on your team or the tournament in general. Be whimsical or serious. Just have fun with it. (I do reserve the right to edit comments for space/taste/spelling considerations, but the ideal is just to repost the thoughts of those who know this sport.)

  6. notreallyimportant June 7, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    What I like about the world cup is that the early stages really are there for the taking. So often you see giants faltering, and spunky little no bodies rising to take their places. Just the kind of thing that the US sports playoffs are seemingly designed to eliminate.

    Look for countries like Paraguay, Costa Rica, and Iran to make a good showing. As usual Spain will come tantalizingly close to fulfilling their potential and fall promptly on their collective faces.

    I’m really starting to like Germany’s chances. Their organized play, and stellar preperation and authoritarian coaching (A national tendency, that put them at the heart of those two worl wars) always outs them in contention.

    England is a great team but without Rooney’s explosiveness up front (he has been medically cleared, but probably wont be 100%) they could have trouble putting the ball in the back of the net, but Owen could have a huge tournament.

    Isn’t it interesting that Brazil, the Yankee’s of the soccer world are actually well liked? People always seem to root for them, where is the vitriolic hatred towards the people who always win? A nice subplot is that Ronaldo needs just 3 more goals to take sole possesion of the world cup finals scoring record. He is on 12 and the record is 14.

    Apparently the soccaroos have decided to play rugby. It would be shame if some of Brazils stars got busted up in what is really an insignificant game.

    France lost Cisse to a broken leg. Shouldn’t afect them to much. They have a wealth of talent going forward, and he really is overrated, he can’t really create his own opportunities. Trezeguet and Henry should be plenty.

    If you go quickly ESPNs NBA page has a picture of D-Wade looking like he got kicked where the sun don’t shine. It’s an absolute classic.

  7. i thought you were down with chris mihm’s jumpshot? maybe i was hallucinating, but i could’ve sworni you quoted his mid-range shooting stats and they were decent. he seemed to hit a good number of the jumpers he shot.

    turiaf might have a jumper too. i remember a couple times he wowed with his distance.

  8. Chris Mihm shot 36.5% on jump shots this past season and has decent range for a guy playing center (Kwame shot just 30.8% on jumpers). But I think if you’re going to have him play the four or use him in any way to spread the floor it’s a different story, He’s not there yet. He couldn’t take much of anyone off the dribble and he’s just not a versitile threat. He’s good as a 5, I can’t see him doing much else.

  9. Will Mihm fit in as a PF? I think a better fit for that role in the triangle would be Pj Brown or Antonio Davis. They have a consistent 15ft jump shot and can bang inside. What are the chances of the lakers getting either one of them? for the back up SF, what are the chances of landing Tim Thomas, Keith Van Horn, or even a Reggie Evans? For the starting PG, wouldn’t Flip Murray, Marquis Daniels or Bobby Jackson be a good fit? Contract-wise, how can the lakers land these players?They have too many “developing players” to be really successful in the short term. I think they should decide on who to keep and continue to develop, then package some of them thru trades (Bynum, Turiaf, Smush, Sasha, Cook, Walton, Mihm) to make an impact next season

  10. I may link to this again later, but Jeff at Celticblog does a similar post to this one, but focusing on how the Celtics are dealing with it, Interesting stuff worth the read:

    http://celticsblog.net/blog/?p=1835

  11. see NBA trades or free agent moves that turn around the fortunes of teams fast. When you look at recent NBA champs (the Lakers, Spurs, Pistons and Heat) it was a combination of things that built them. The Spurs hit the draft lottery jackpot with Tim Duncan in 1997, while the Lakers and Heat won their titles with Shaq in the middle. Shaq went as a free agent to LA in 1996, then was traded to Miami in 2004.