Experimenting With The Offense

Kurt —  November 17, 2008

Nomuskles called it a “lopsided polygon,” but whatever term you want to use what the Lakers have been running on offense of late is not the triangle. The off the ball movement is minimal (particularly with the starers) and the passing that made this team a joy to watch late last year has been replaced with more isolation and relying on talent rather than the offense.

Bill Bridges, one of the smartest members of the family around here, broke it down in the comments, and his thoughts deserved a broader audience and discussion:

If the first half of the season can be devoted to experimentation such as determining the rotation and the best fit combos, we are now a fifth of the way through this stage. I would strongly urge that Phil devote the second fifth toward a different set of lineups and rotations.

If we discount the 3 games against the Clippers and Mavs and the first game against Portland (where they were obviously affected by first game jitters and the loss of Oden). The Lakers are 3 – 1. During many of these games and even against Dallas and the Clippers the starting unit put the Lakers in a hole to climb out of.

The first unit is just not working as well as the rest of the rotations. I would contend that the balance is wrong. The notion the Vlad’s 3 point shooting “opens” up the court for Pau and Bynum just has not worked out. What would really open up the court is a few possessions that the Lakers actually run the triangle to the 2nd or 3rd options possibly resulting in a corner three for … Pau! (who apparently beats Sasha regularly in 3 point shooting in practice). Or running the triangle’s corner sequence resulting in a pass in from the corner to Bynum who’s sealed his man for the dunk (remember Fox to Shaq?)

A quick examination of players’ tendencies may shed some light.

1. Kobe does not play well without the ball. His best position in the triangle is the mid post (right block). He has rarely been seen in this position this year.

2. Fisher. Does not play well without ball except to rotate for open 3’s. He shoots 40% lifetime on layups but insists on disproving Einstein’s observation about insanity. When hot is a good catch n shooter but also likes to dribble and shoot. Will keep shooting , hot or not.

3. Bynum’s a low post player. Best initiation point is low left block.

4. Pau’s best initiation point is low left block. but also right high post.

5. Vlad … Not good without the ball except like Fisher sliding on the perimeter for open 3’s . Very unreliable finisher at the rim.

The starting 5 then has 3 players who like playing with the ball in Kobe, Pau, and Fish. Nobody who really plays well off-the ball. And no slasher other than Kobe. As Kobe has basically decided not to slash this year, there is no slasher in the starting 5. (In the 1st quarter, Kobe is playing “facilitator”, and in the 4th, he seems to be relying almost exclusively on jump shots – blame it on the long season, or his age… but that he is taking it to the hole less is obvious)

This composition creates a few problems. The triangle requires players to catch, read, pass, and move. All 5 players rotate around until one has a good shot. Both Pau and Kobe’s natural inclination is to catch and hold the ball and look for cutters. Fisher and Vlad are drifting on the perimeter (and if they were to cut , you wouldn’t want to pass it them). Bynum has not been establishing deep low post position to be a position to receive the ball.

The result, stagnation, short shot clock, shots out of rhythm.

Time to change the mix.

1. Ariza for Vlad. You get excellent movement off the ball. A slashing finisher to receive Pau and Kobe and as good a 3 pointer as Vlad – at least from the corner.

2. Sasha for Vlad. Kobe moves over to 3. This is the line up I believe to be the best against Boston. Sasha runs around covering Ray, Kobe plays Pierce. Sasha is much more aggressive than Vlad and much more consistent. Kobe initiates much more from an attacking position.

3. Luke for Vlad. Can’t be any worse . Remember the start of the 3rd against NOH? Vlad had a sequence of ignomy – turnover on first possession, foul, missed 3 etc…
At least Luke would keep the ball moving in the triangle.

4. LO for Vlad. LO became quite proficient at slashing to the rim and receiving passes from Pau.

I would also replace Fish, but Jackson would never do this. In vlad and fish we have two inconsistent perimeter shooters who are not good finishers and only average at best moving with out the ball. In Pau and Kobe we have two play makers looking to find non-existing cutting teammates.

Time for the second phase of the experiment….

to Experimenting With The Offense

  1. Phil will experiment with his substitutions, but he is much more cautious with changing his starting unit. I don’t see him making two changes (Fish and Vlade). I think Fish stays and plays fewer minutes as he gets burned on defense and slows down our offense, but Vlade may be changed out and I really can’t see anyone but Trevor replacing him. That gives Phil the ability to switch Kobe and Trevor in certain situations. The second unit would be manned by Luke and Vlade could fall all the way to 11th man and possible trade bait (shorter contract) if we have no injuries.

    Only if we are still having trouble against some teams come February would I see any possibility of Fish losing his starting position. The key is that the second unit really needs Farmar IMO and we would need someone quick and penetrating to push the 2nd unit or we lose a lot of our advantage there. That’s where I see a trade of Vlade for Crit or other quick, big PG.


  2. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2008-2009 whipping boy: Vladimir Radmanovic!

    Not that I disagree with the diagnosis, but I think it’s a little bit early to start making drastic changes. Radman and Fisher could find their game and let the triangle work. That outside shot needs to be there and Fish and Radman are the best at it.

    I am impressed by the buckets in transition where there has been a big trailer (bynum or gasol) and they’ve converted the dunk/layup. That to me speaks a lot to the hustle that the big men are putting in to the game.

    Did Bridges consider LO for Bynum in the starting lineup? what would that do to the starting lineup and the second unit?


  3. ..lets hold off on the changes.

    While his shot is off two thing Vlad has been doing that have impressed me greatly (and I was done with him after the finals) are his passing, particularly to Bynum and Gasol and his improved commitment to defense, he is actually trying (regardless of the result). His shot will come back and lets not forget he earned the starting spot.

    I love fisher as much as the next guy but I really think his new “green light” is the problem with the offense. I don’t think he needs to be replaced in the starting line up by any stretch, just reigned in a little.


  4. Hear, Hear!

    Great thoughts, Bill. And I agree whole heartedly with continuing to explore our minute allocation and roles of the players (be it starter or bench player). I would also add though, that even if no lineup shifts occur, we would do well with a reset of our offensive mentality. Too often the first good look is the shot that’s taken. Fisher takes a PUJIT…why?…because it’s an open shot and *technically* it’s a good look for him. Radman comes off a double down screen and curls to the extended wing and he shoots…why?…(see same reasoning as Fisher). This is happening night in and night out with Fisher, RadMan, Farmar, and Sasha. Let’s face it, all these players are gunners (in one shape or form) and likely will never change completely. But they can play on a shorter leash and be coached to look to move the ball more.

    On a side note does anyone know what RadMan is shooting through 8 games? (35% overall with 39% on threes…ugh, he’s made only 5 of 18 non 3pt attempts this season). How about Fisher? (almost identical to RadMan – 35% overall with 40% on threes, making only 17 of the 54 non 3pt attempts this season).

    On a second side note, Fisher has a PER of 11.99 (ranking 39th in the NBA for PG’s in 28 min/game) and Radman has a PER of 9.07 (ranking 47th in the league for SF’s in almost 22 min/game). Compare this to Farmar’s 21st rank for PG’s @ 15.44 and Ariza’s 2nd(!) rank for SF’s at 22.03 and you see why our 2nd unit is killing other teams 2nd unit. We’re starting two players that are playing well below the league average. This isn’t to dump on Vlad or Fish, but so far they have not played up to standard.


  5. I’m sure Fish and Vlad have been told to take certain open and uncontested shots by the staff because they will be keeping defenses honest. The fact they both are shooting badly is not out of them forcing shots as much as it is about them just plain missing. (Just like the Pistons making most of theirs on Friday). These are the two guys other teams will be sagging off of on defense and up to this point they have not made defenses pay…


  6. Fisher is probably coming back down to earth. I think that his shooting last season was an aberration.

    Nomuskles – if I remember right, Bynum worked pretty well with the second unit last season, when Kwame was still starting.


  7. So in summary…take Vlad out of the starting 5.


  8. 6-Fish had a career year last year, and he may not shoot that well for an entire season again (signs of this were evident as the playoffs wore on last season), but I fully expect his game to come around. His shot will start to drop more often, and his effort will not decrease. He deserves and has earned 24-28 minutes a game. However, when those minutes come may switch, as Farmar contiues his growth


  9. Why not put in LO in at PF with Pau moving to center and replace Trevor for Vlad and Drew coming off the bench and see if that works. That would be a stronger line-up to start the games and then the bench with the Machine, Jordan, and Drew can come in and contribute like they are capable of.


  10. the other Stephen November 17, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    what do you guys think are the chances of phil changing something up so as to utilize odom better?


  11. why would we do any of this stuff?!?!?!?!

    we are 7-1.


  12. Kas,

    I think most of the posters here are concerned about the lack of ball movement against Detroit. I am not necessarily pointing fingers at anyone, but often times the ball would stop in the low post leaving Pau and Bynum against physical defenders in the post. This lead to frustration and putting the weight of scoring on 24’s shoulders. Pau and Drew can pass the ball well and I did not see much slashing from the other players on the floor.

    Subbing Odom, Walton, Ariza, or Farmar gives the Lakers other slashing and driving options. No way can Sheed stick with Odom when he is on his A-game. Walton played with great effectiveness against the Pistons in 2004.

    I also want to attribute the loss against good outside shooting. Trapping didn’t work because the Pistons moved the ball well, the refs were quick to the whistle, and the Pistons proved they could hit from the outside at the onset of the game. It’s just one of those no-win situations on defense.


  13. All this talk of talent and depth have gotten into everyone’s heads, it seems, and they’ve been generally playing Nuggets basketball.

    I don’t think it’s the starting lineup, I think it’s the starting mindset that’s the problem, as I find Vlad and Fish to be generally adequate at what they do provided they play their roles within the offense instead of hoisting shots as if they’re trying to show that Kobe is no longer ball-hogging.


  14. Again – Phil doesn’t usually play with his starting lineup, once set. He prefers a stable group of starters who then have to adjust to different situations; rather than changing the starting group, depending on the situation. He expects players to adjust, rather than to have a bunch of specialists out there who can only do one thing well. We fans treat this game like a chess match and feel the pieces (sorry, I meant players) should just do what is defined and not complain when a knight is asked to move like a bishop.

    If we continue to have problems with cutters in our starting offense then Phil will eventually go to Trevor, but Trevor also has to be able to handle other games where cutters may not be so valuable.

    The second unit can be more specialized, but the starting group has to handle all opponent’s starting 5.


  15. Good post, you are oh so right about the first team’s half-court offense. Some adjustments are probably in order. I’d rather watch the bench crew extend leads, not dig the team out of holes.

    On offense the main problem, like you said, is movement away from the ball and moving the ball itself. There has to be more cutting, slashing, and looking for passes. If this team moves the ball like they’re capable of, even if a player who thinks he has a good shot (or what Machine thinks is a good shot), he might be able to make that extra pass to someone with an even better look.
    What I think the key points on our team are: (sorry if they’re a little redundant)

    -Kobe, Fish, Farmar just really like having the ball in their hands. Odom loves having it on the break especially. Gasol too, if he’s playing the high post
    – Gasol is a good low-post scorer, but that spot is reserved for Bynum when he’s on the court.
    – Bynum’s low post scoring has pretty much been limited to lobs or passes from the high post when Gasol draws a double. He has the skill to do a lot better and make baskets in one-on-one, back to the basket situations. He needs to establish better position first of all. This would be a really help if the 3balls aren’t staying down.
    -Radman and Machine are both pretty streaky shooters, you can’t really rely on them for sustained performance, even if they get open shots. Also, some of their shot selection needs……looking at.
    -Fish and Farmar are decent from outside, but not elite. Also, they are always going to be a step too far behind faster PGs to stop them from getting into the lane.
    – Luke has plenty of court sense and is just great at finding open guys and co-ordinating the offense. Which just leaves slashing, shooting and defense to work on.
    -Ariza and Farmar play their best when they’re on the court together.
    – The Lakers are probably the most deep and versatile team in the League now. We have a 9-deep rotation, and all the players are have enough skills that you’re not losing out when they’re on the court. In my eyes, Kobe is the only player that can’t be put on the bench to start games.

    So tinkering with the line-up is a great idea, and should help the half-court offense. Main bench candidates Radman and Fisher need to know that they’re gonna have to start staying at the gym late if they want to keep starting games.
    At this point of time though, I don’t see Phil making any drastic changes. He’s probably gonna change Radman for Ariza, which can be good, but I don’t really like. It really takes away from the second team. Farmar needs Ariza to help create TOs and run the break with him. The second team needs its best defender.
    I think changing Radman for Odom again would be the best move. It didn’t work too well in the pre-season, but it woudn’t hurt to try again and see what happens.

    With all that being said, I want to point out that Phil has probably been concentrating a lot more on defense this year than on offense, which is actually pretty necessary. Like Kurt said, the Lakers are probably going as far as the defense takes them this year.


  16. Bill Bridges, I could tell in the previous post that was your comment that I was reading before I got to the name. I like what you are saying and the analysis on not what happened in just one game but the whole season so far. I hope the Laker staff reads this post on FB&G…

    Change is always certain but not always good, where change does not come voluntarily from the top, it will come involuntarily from the bottom.

    Bring on the Bulls…

    Oh, Kurt, one of your sponsor ad’s is fun to play.


  17. I felt that the problem against Detroit was more of a matchup difficulty than anything else. Detroit played their game and hit shots. They took us out of ours and forced our posts and the guards away from the basket, making us a jump shooting team. Had we hit a decent percentage (we shot 4-19 from 3pt range), no one would be talking about this problem. Hitting open shots stretches out the floor, which leaves more room for the post players to operate.

    Until this becomes a trend, I don’t think the starting lineup needs to be addressed. This slow-fast attack from our first and second unit seems to be working in the overall and shouldn’t be tampered with just yet.


  18. I love Lakers Fans. We’ve been to the Finals 14 of the last 28 seasons. Be patient with the squad and happy that you have a team that is a consistent winner.


  19. I respect the opinions of Bill Bridges and appreciate the obvious time and thought that went into this post, but I’m not sure that I agree with the basic premise, which is that we should “discount the 3 games against the Clippers and Mavs and the first game against Portland,” making our record 3-1.

    Guess what: we aren’t 3-1. We are 7-1. I reject the notion that only the games against other elite teams should count (and even then, a 3-1 record against the best the NBA has to throw at us is very far from shabby; it’s practically gaudy).

    This line of thinking takes back almost a decade to when I vividly remember reading a criticism of the 1998/99 Lakers squad (that was the strike-shortened year, when an over-the-hill Dennis Rodman was briefly a teammate of Shaq and Kobe). The angle was that the Lakers had dramatically underachieved because if you took away their mid-season 10 game winning steak their record was “only” 21-19. Um, why would one do that exactly?

    And why are we cherry-picking all of the worst stats to try and take the luster off what’s been a fantastic start to this young season?


  20. Joel,

    His point is that those games weren’t good tests of what this team is capable of and aren’t good reference points for the strengths and weaknesses of this team.


  21. Thanks, exhelodrvr … my question was essentially rhetorical: I get what Bill Bridges was saying, I just don’t happen to agree. I think blowing out inferior competition is a useful way to measure what makes a quality team.


  22. I love all of the analyses being presented, but I don’t see any compelling argument for any change in the lineup. That just feels very premature to me.

    Phil can, and does, stagger the substitution of the bench squad to accomplish most of Bill’s objectives already. For example, Trevor clearly owns the 3 position without being a starter. Lamar can substitute in at the 4, with Pau moving to the 5. Bynum can substitute in to the bench squad and get some special passes from Farmar.

    I believe that many of the problems facing the starting five will disappear as the team finds ways to get Bynum the ball inside more consistently in the right place. As long as the defense can keep their focus, the Lakers will be OK. 7-1 was no fluke.

    Let’s watch Andrew continue to develop his game inside.


  23. Guys, I took a night off to do something important (watch the new season of Top Chef, for one) so I was a little late to the party, but now I have deleted the trade comment (as well as a couple direct responses to said comment, which were fine but lost all context without the first post). We do not have trade speculation on this site, sorry.


  24. By the way, new post up from Gatinho on the passing of Pete Newell.


  25. Honestly I think trade comments should only be allowed (if ever) during the off-season. It diminishes the love for your team if you keep wishing for players from other teams. You gotta have joy in watching players grow and seeing that magical moment where they defy statistics and get involved in a key play.


  26. Bill,

    The two-man game on the weak side of the Triangle is actually the 2nd option of the triangle, when they are set like that (1st one being getting the ball to the guy who comes from the corner and curls for an open middle range jumper). What the Lakers are indeed lacking is having the guy at top of the key (hmmm, let’s call it Kobe) get the ball from the high post player and actually making a dribble backwards and waiting for the cuts from the other side. This offsets the entire defense as they tend to start doing more lateral movement…

    So, although Vald’s length is important for defensive purposes , having Luke in the starting lineup and playing the top of the guy, could give us the ball rotation we need.

    Still, I like winning the games with defense and having the 2nd unit really carve the difference… it’s more reliable. I want to see how we behave against Cleveland and Boston before hitting the “uh-oh, something’s not right” button.


  27. I agree with most of the assesments on Fish and Radman, but I also think Pau and Bynum are holding the ball too long trying to establish posistion. Especially when they haven’t established “good” postition. The other players have been stuck watching instead of cutting, mostly when Bynum is getting doubled. That’s a perfect opportunity to pass to a cutter, and Bynum is forcing it a bit. He needs to get deeper and not settle for what the defender allows him, stop relying on length, and be more aware when he does have the ball. He seems to be rushing. I know it’s early, and he starts slow, but once quick decisions are made, then he will get the ball in much better situations once the ball is reposted or swung around and defensive rotations allow for an easy pass to him or Pau. The inside out game has to be improved for the offense to work right.

    That being said, I don’t think it’s time to worry. They all had a bad game, and that’s the only way they should lose this year. Great games from the opposing team, (like those awesome shots Prince and Wallace) and our guys playing like crap. It won’t happen too much.


  28. POSITION. Misspelled it twice. haha


  29. nice triangle offense