Time to Mix it Up

Bill Bridges —  December 15, 2008

NBA 2008 - Lakers Beat Timberwolves 98-86
Every Laker fan is also a Laker critic. It is a divine right of the Laker fan to complain if the team does not meet lofty expectations and blow out each opponent. Much has been said and written about the new Lakers defense. But the switch in performance and the magnified switch in fan sentiment regarding the Laker’s defense is probably unparalleled. At the beginning of the season, the new “strong-side zone” defense masterminded by the new Defensive Coordinator Kurt Rambis had lifted the team to #1 in total defense prompting national media attention and admiration. Recently, the same SSZ defense is prompting ridicule from the likes of perennial all-defensive-team stalwart, Mark Jackson: “The Lakers are a bad defensive team…”

It is as if the ’74 Steel Curtain transformed into the ’08 Detroit lions in the span of 4 games. So it is time to strip away the rhetoric and opinions and try to examine this defense objectively and render a fair critique. In so doing, there are at least 3 separate components.

1. The strategy. The over-all structure of the defense. What is the scheme? What is the objective? 

2. Execution. Are the players executing the strategy with effort?

3. The personnel. Do the players have the skills to execute the strategy?

The Strategy.  The goal is to take advantage of the new zone defence rules to create a hybrid defense. The strong-side players actually play man-to-man. Ball placement in the wing area draws the weak-side post player to the strong-side mid post who zones off that region, preventing penetration and help either to the high or low post. As Frank Hamblen recently said, each player is playing his man and ½ of another by being ready to provide help for his team-mates. In the beginning of the season, the help was more judiciously applied such as when the opponent had picked up his dribble, or in the corners. This is a trap. The offensive player is put under pressure resulting in sub-optimal results such as errant passes. More recently the help has been coming at all times. This is doubling – not trapping. Doubling John Salmons when he is still has his dribble is not smart. This help is easy to beat with a quick pass out to the top, resulting in defensive scramble, and invariably, an open shot. 

The result of this constant helping? Reduced steals, open looks and wide open lanes for dribble penetration. If the strategy is of the defense is to pick and choose trap opportunities, the team has not been executing it.

On high screen and rolls, the strategy seems to be, with no regard for the opposition, a hard show by the bigs with the man covering the ball (usually Fisher or Farmar) NOT fighting through or going under the screens but covering the zone between Bynum/Pau and their men until the bigs begin their retreat back to the basket at which time, Fisher/Farmar re-engage with their men.  Because they have constant “show” help, Fisher/Farmar are playing their men very tight, trying to disrupt the offense.  

There are two issues problems with this strategy. Any move played without variation, whether in chess, or baseball pitches, will be beaten. The bigs should sometimes NOT show, just to change the rhythm. Second, the tight play by Fisher/Farmar (not the quickest of guards anyway – more later) only make them easier to beat off the dribble even without the aid of a pick.

My observation is that if you had to pick one strategic move causing the Lakers the most problems is their tight-coverage/constant-show on the screen and roll. This strategy is the wrong one for this team and because of it the entire defense breaks down due to the resulting dribble penetration. Dribble penetration exposes the bigs who have to help, bring their man toward the hoop and whether the outcome is a layup, foul, open 3, or offensive rebound, the chances are that the results are not good.

Execution. I don’t believe that the execution has really changed much throughout the year. Defensive execution is about coaching and basketball IQ. By the time a player has made the NBA and he still has not learned to keep between his man and the hoop while keeping an eye on the ball, it is probably too late for him to learn. There are several Lakers who apparently have not learned this simple skill. One of the reasons for the benching of the stronger, quicker, taller Vlade for Luke is that Luke has these fundamental skills while Vlade does not. Farmar never had these skills and Lamar seems to have lost his. 

As far as effort, I actually think the players are trying harder than they were at the beginning of the season. But to quote the Wizard, “don’t mistake activity for achievement”. Constant doubling demands a lot of hard work. Unfortunately such indiscriminate activity puts the defense in easy-to-exploit scramble mode. More lazy, but discriminate trapping would be far more effective.

Personnel. No matter the validity of the strategy and degree of execution. These two factors have to fit the characteristics of the personnel. For the most part, an aggressive trapping defense fits well. In Kobe, Ariza, and Odom, the Lakers have disruptive wing players who can both provide trap pressure and intercept errant passes.  Although even here recently (perhaps spurred on by the wager made by several players on highest steals totals) too many steals attempts are being made on passes to the middle rather than cross court. A missed steal on a cross court pass gives team mates a chance to rotate over. A missed steal to a pass to the free throw line to the top of the key creates a wide open lane.

Where the strategy does not fit with the personnel is the idea that the wing players should constantly funnel their man baseline to the bigs and the aforementioned hard show on the screen and roll. Funnelling the man to the hoop requires having a big that can change the shot without fouling. A Zo, Wallace, even Chandler.

Against the Kings recently, Bynum showed he has simply has not learned how to defend a small attacking the basket without fouling. Bynum’s best defense is against other bigs (Amare, Bogut, Jefferson), not help defence against smalls. He has to decide whether he is going to block the shot, make a hard foul, or get out of the way. Doing none of the three results in feeble denial attempts that results in an and-more often than any 7’ 285 pound center who can dunk without jumping should ever give up. Kwame has shown (and Roy Hibbert of all players has echoed) that merely standing straight up with arms straight in the air is an incredible deterrent. Bynum has to be coached to play help defence with intent and purpose. Surely he must be tired to making a half-hearted attempt to block a small’s layup a step too slow only to be charged for a foul. I know that I am. As I am tired of his inevitable whining about the unjust call.  Maybe the wing player should just play good defense, move their feet and draw a charge (heaven forbid) instead of letting their man go base line.

Also, whether it is due to lack of quickness or desire, Bynum simply is unable to show hard and get back to his man. 

If you are watching the defense intently, the sheer lack of defensive skills and instincts of Farmar is quite shocking. I wrote in the Kings game thread that the defense would be better without Farmar at all and the Lakers playing  4 on 5 as at least then his man might be tempted to shoot the open jumper instead of abusing Farmar at will and driving to the hoop. It is as if his coach had not taught him to watch his man’s belly instead of his eyes or the ball. Every twitch of the ball handler had Farmar jumping until his man decided to take him out of his misery and blow by him. Farmar might be that rare athlete who is fast when running straight with the ball to the hoop while being slow moving laterally, and explosive  and strong when rising for a dunk but not when fighting through a pick. 

Both point guard’s inability to keep their men in front of them and the scramble that the hard show creates should result in the Defensive Coordinator adjusting and changing the strategy.

My suggestions on what this change could be are:

1. The default defense for screen roll should be for the bigs not to show and the guard to go under the screen. I would much rather have Udrih taking long jump shots or trying to initiate the offense from the three point line than having a straight line to the basket. Show occasionally to mix it up.

2. If you show, rarely do it with Bynum. And never do it if a Bynum/Farmar combo is the defense.

3. Do show with Lamar. He is the best show help defender on the team. His screen and roll defense against Tony Parker 2 seasons ago was a revelation. When Lamar is on the floor, put him against the big that usually sets the high screen and roll. 

4. Whatever you do. Change is up. 

5. Consider putting Ariza on the point. Much like San Antonio, make the point guard shoot over a taller quicker player who can play off him as a result of his size. Considering the dearth of wings who can play from the post, if Parker isn’t exposed on defense neither will be Fisher.

6. Play straight man defense sometimes. Again, change it up. The current defense is akin to an all out blitz. This works for a while but then the offense will screen pass you to death and eventually figures out a blocking scheme to kill you over the top. The triangle is fluid, changing and morphing to adapt to the defense. Why can’t the defense adapt to the offense?

Despite the “sky is falling” laments from the fan base I think we should take heart in the performance so far. Think of the first 23 games as practice for a new kind of hybrid defense. Constant practice has made them better at it but constant use has made them vulnerable to the opposition. Now it is time to use it as just one of their many options in a multi-dimensional, adaptive defense that leverages the strengths of their personnel whilst hiding the players’ natural weaknesses.

—Bill Bridges

Bill Bridges

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66 responses to Time to Mix it Up

  1. thanks Bill, very insightful. gives me things to watch when we have those D breakdowns resulting in a lay up.
    question, is ‘defense/defence’ kind of like ‘humour/humor’, or ‘colour/color’?
    one is british, the other american english.

  2. So basically, we have a long ways to go to being a dominant defensive team, not because the schemes suck, but because we have guys in major positions (1-3-5ish) who cannot defend a guy on their own for more than a few seconds.

  3. This is a great post that coherently describes all of the stuff i incoherently shout at the tv during the games. great stuff.

    one point i particularly agree with is conceding the opponent’s PG a semi-contested long jumper (the worst percentage shot in the game) but taking away penetration. I remember reading an article after last week’s Kings debacle that discussed how the Lakers coaches game-planned to funnel Udrih into the paint. Couldn’t understand why you would want to let anyone into the paint, much less a point guard who thrives on driving and dishing and hasn’t reliably demonstrated any ability whatsoever to set the nets on fire with his jumper.

  4. Good insight Bill. I was listening to Rick Fox after the game and he said that part of the defensive problem is that our two bigs are not acting like “twin towers.” He also said that having both Bynum and Gasol on the floor creates issues for Kobe as the guys defending Gasol and Bynum are always near the basket and can easily collapse on KB when he drives in for a dunk.

    His suggestion: Take Gasol or Bynum out of the starting line up. Although my initial reaction was to say “you crazy!”, after reading your article I think I understand his point. As good as Bynum is, the kid still has a lot to learn defensively. Also, while he is only 21 years old, he is getting outhustled by other bigs in terms of getting his butt back to defend the basket on misses. Benching him during the 4th doesnt seem to get the point accross. Perhaps benching him in favor of returning Lamar to the line up may work better.

    The only issue with that is that a backup unit of Farmar and Bynum leaves a lot to be desired of defensively. HOwever, if we insert Powell into the backup roster then it may be worth a shot.

  5. Aside from not being able to duplicate the Celtics’ defensive schemes, due to their better defensive personnel….

    What can we do to better emulate what the Cavaliers do? It’s not like they have great defenders.

  6. Hey Bill, now I start to get it. In 2001 Finals, Ty Lue gave AI fits. Ty was quick and always in the Answer’s pants (figuratively). Is there anyone out there, who could come in for the rest of the season, just to slow down the Pauls, D-Wills, Parkers and if we get that far, the Rondos of the world? Wouldn’t that be better than Farmar not having enough pride to take it seriously? Is this a coaching problem? Could you comment why Boston does this so much better? Are we basically screwed?

  7. Great analysis. It’s terrific to read a blog with such well-informed contributors (quite unlike a certain other lakers blog that shall remain nameless).

    Having said that, I do feel that you have overstated your criticisms of Bynum and Farmar.

    Drew is committing 3.05 fpg while providing 1.91 bpg in 29.4 mpg. While not the greatest numbers, this is certainly not all that bad considering the fact that he is being asked to both show and protect the rim. I do agree that this a bit more responsibility than he is ready for and that he could use a more protection at this point.

    Farmar is struggling on defense, no doubt. But the assertion that we would be better of playing 4 on 5 than with Farmar is both ludicrous and incredibly insulting. His opponent PER of 18.4, while below average for a PG is below average, is hardly among the worst in the the league. It is not even the worst on our team (see DFish, 19.6). As for his lack of defensive instincts, he did just fine when playing within a sound defensive scheme under a great defensive coach in Ben Howland. The bottom line is that he is still a very young player who has shown the capability of making plays defensively but is struggling with consistency, is being asked to play in an aggressive system that will expose him at times, and has to play in league that has placed enormous restrictions on PG defense in an attempt to bump scoring.

  8. I think there is one other factor that is missed here…Determination/Caring

    I would have put Determination (caring to play good defense under Excution but Bill paints that differently. It seems to me that there is no urgency to play great defense in these last few games until its scramble mode and then its usually to late. Like Shaq plays pick and Roll defense…makes a step towards where he is supposed to go but dosent commit to it becasue he just dosent really care to. It seems the same with our current squad in these last few games. As a team they have lost the fire for it.

  9. 7) Sean P,
    “As for his lack of defensive instincts, he did just fine when playing within a sound defensive scheme under a great defensive coach in Ben Howland.”

    Apples and oranges. Good players at the college level in an excellent scheme tend to look better than they really are, and get exposed when they get to the next level.

    Farmar needs to learn to adjust his game to his physical limitations (i.e. not try and cover players so tightly).

  10. Farmar’s poor D is a conundrum. He was a very good defensive player in college, and he is an excellent athlete in terms of speed/agility/explosiveness. I don’t necessarily buy exhelodrvr’s comment about good college players in an excellent scheme getting exposed once they get to the League. UCLA plays an aggressive man-to-man, and Farmar had to man up from half-court on. It’s not like they hide players in a zone (a la Syracuse). There’s really no excuse for why he isn’t a better defender.

  11. Sean P. – You bring up a great point – stats seem to disagree with Bill’s comments. However, stats don’t always tell the whole story. I watch the games, and I agree that Bynum is not hustling as much as one would expect a 21 year old who wants to be an all star to hustle. However, his blocked shots and rebounds appear to indicate otherwise. On the other hand, if he was hustling, his rebounds, points and blocked shots would be far superior to what they are today. As far as Farmar, I wonder how much of his PER is due to the fact that he plays a lot of time with Ariza and Odom. Also, just because these “kids” are “young” doesn’t mean we have to take it easy on them. After all, they gets paid millions of dollars to play a game – and criticism is part of the game.

    In my opinion, the fact that Bynum and Farmar are “young” calls out the need for veteran leadership ahead of them in the starting lineup or competition for minutes. For Farmar, Fish provides leadership but he has no one to compete with for playing time. With Bynum, he has no leader and no one else to compete for his minutes. I think this creates a situation where if the situation where different Phil would bench either one (or both) to get the point accross that they need to hustle more defensively. However, knowing fully well that every game counts, he can’t take that luxury with players that, although may not be playing to their full potential, are not trouble makers and are by all accounts really nice guys. So, this creates a situation where Phil is not able to effectively get his points accross. For example, remember when Bynum complained about not getting playing time in the 4th quarter of a recent game? Rather than understanding that his mind-blowing 4 rebounds in 3 quarters did not merit playing time in the 4th, he said “he could have gotten more rebounds – but we’ll never know.” That tells me that this kid did not understand the point Phil was making.

    Personally, I think young players need to be reminded from time to time that they need to earn their playing time and not take it for granted. For Bynum, I think relegating him to the second unit for games where we face small centers should get the point accross. For Farmar, I don’t have a solution other than reducing his minutes by having Sasha run the point more often.

  12. @#7:
    Sean P, I don’t think that Bill meant any particular disrespect to your client, but if you could please just let him know he has a lot of work to do on the defensive end, statistics be damned….and remember, about the PER, Farmar is giving that up to the second unit’s PG, so there’s really no comparison with DFish, who of course isn’t a great defender and is quite a bit older than Farmar.

  13. Thanks Bill, you made me think a lot about the larger picture. But, then again, you usually do that.

    If there are two keys they seem to be Farmar and Bynum. Both are young and Bynum is also less experienced than most 21yr olds. Both have been asked to sell out for an aggressive defensive scheme and do it all the time. This is like asking a young and inexperienced driver to go very fast in getting from point A to point B. There is so much thinking going on that some major observations are missed and an accident becomes much more likely.

    I think this is much more apparent with Bynum and his inability to differentiate between how to play bigs and how to play smalls is the result.

    With Farmar I think his size has something to do with his attempts at overcompensation. He is the one that needs to really be leaned on. He has been working on his speed and aggressiveness and has been rewarded with our growing respect. Perhaps we need to now reward him for slowing down a bit and not forcing things.

  14. exactly the type of post that makes me love this site.

    in my humble opinion the lakers haven’t done much of anything to adjust their scheme, and other teams are scouting the system and finding ways to exploit it. i’m not really surprised – a system as radical as this one will require adjustments and time to get right, because it is probably unlike anything the guys have played in before. and time is something that comes at a premium during the 82 game grind.

    the fact that we’re 20-3 and are still this amped about how bad our defense is is kind of cool.

  15. 9.
    see 10.

    11.
    I think that Bynum could & should probably play harder than he does at times. However, I believe that this has more to do with a lack of certainty (about his defensive role, about how to ration his energy on the court, etc.) than a lack of will on his part. Having said that I think that we should in mind that his stoic demeanor combined with his smooth physical motion can give the appearance of less activity than is being offered (Kareem was the same way and dealt with quite a bit of criticism about his work effort during much of his career).

    I disagree with Bynum not having competition for playing time. Phil very clearly has the option of benching Bynum and starting Pau at the 5 if he so desires.

    12.
    He said that the Lakers would be better off playing 4 on 5 than playing Farmar. You don’t think that’s disrespect? Being called a worse basketball player than air?

    As far as Farmar being my client- just for the record, he is not. Believe it or not, I am not even a sports agent. I just happen to be a leaning optimistic, fervently unapologetic Lakers homer who will always stand up for one of our players when I feel he is being impugned unfairly. I know, I know. You may say that I am a dreamer, but, trust me, I am not the only one. I hope someday that you will join us and that Laker fandom will live as one.

  16. Brian,
    “good college players in an excellent scheme getting exposed once they get to the League. UCLA plays an aggressive man-to-man, and Farmar had to man up from half-court on”

    IMO, relatively speaking (to the other NBA PGs), Farmar is not quick enough for his size. Playing on a college team with a great defensive scheme, with teammates and coaches that concentrated on defense, inherent defensive weaknesses of individuals can be compensated for (i.e. hidden). That is much harder to do on the NBA level.

  17. It’s very discouraging to see the Lakers struggle to defend the pick-and-roll again. This has been an ongoing problem for the past 9 years.

    Bynum is more than capable of defending the pick-and-roll properly. He’s very agile for a player of his size. If Kendrick Perkins can show, and hedge-and-recover, so can Bynum.

    I think it’s a matter of intensity with Bynum and Farmar. They have the tools, but they’re not putting forth the effort.

  18. Ex – I get what you’re saying, I just don’t necessarily agree with you. Farmar, by nearly all measurables, is an elite athlete. At the 2006 draft combine, he was the 12th best overall athlete tested (with the highest max vertical – 42″), despite the fact that his bench press score probably dragged him down more than a few notches. His speed and agility measurables match up very well against just about every elite PG/combo guard to enter the league in the last 4 drafts.

    Here’s Farmar’s combine test results compared to some notable others from the 2005 and later drafts, in no particular order (I was scribbling all over a notepad). The first number is the lane agility test, the second is the 3/4 court sprint, lower is better:

    Jordan Farmar – 11.07, 3.17
    Chris Paul – 11.09, 3.22
    Deron Williams – 10.83, 3.25
    Brandon Roy – 11.15, 3.27
    DJ Augustin – 11.27, 3.07
    Jeryd Bayless – 11.26, 3.07
    Eric Gordon – 10.81, 3.01
    OJ Mayo – 11.04, 3.14
    Rodney Stuckey – 11.34, 3.11
    Mike Conley, Jr – 11.63, 3.09
    Ramon Sessions – 11.65, 3.09
    Derrick Rose – 11.69, 3.05
    Russell Westbrook – 10.98, 3.08
    Bobby Brown – 11.03, 3.28

    Just about every one of those players was drafted higher than Farmar was, and the majority were lottery picks. Whatever his defensive issues/problems are, they’re not due to his athleticism.

    I’m no Farmar apologist – I’m as irritated with his defense as everyone else is. I’m just mystified as to why. He is well-schooled in sound defensive principles having played for one of the best defensive coaches in college basketball, and he’s certainly an elite athlete.

  19. Brian,
    “Just about every one of those players was drafted higher than Farmar was, and the majority were lottery picks.”

    I don’t see Farmar being an “elite athlete” relative to other NBA guards, and the stats you posted bear that out, as he falls in the middle of them. Add in the fact that he is on the small side, and I think we have the underlying reason for his defensive issues. Leaping ability, relatively speaking, isn’t a significant advantage for a PG.

    I think that Farmar’s has a ceiling of an above-average backup, or a mediocre starter.

  20. Farmar gets skewered while Fisher gets a pass? I don’t get it, since I see PGs breaking down the Lakers defense regardless of which one of those two guys is on the floor.

    I also don’t believe the issue with the high screen and roll is primarily the fault of Bynum. He’s the Lakers best shot blocker/intimidator, and the best defensive rebounder. Other teams have taken away those strengths by putting his man near the free throw line as a picker setting, which causes all sorts of problems for the Lakers when the guards don’t fight below the screen.

    If the ball handler can go around his screener with a clear path to the lane, the 5 (Bynum) must show, often coming away from the rim to be slow the ball. This opens up the backside for a player to dive, which typically brings the strongside wing (Kobe) down toward the paint to keep the backdoor closed. And when this happens, the spot-up shooter in the corner is left wide open for a three.

    The Lakers need to find a scheme that keeps Bynum away from that high screen and roll — be it a semi-zone or some other method. There’s no reason to have a 7-foot shot blocker playing his man 15-feet from the rim when that man is most-often going to be setting screens for a point guard. Let someone else get caught in the high screen-and-roll and allow Bynum to stay down near the rim.

    If they can swing that, these little guards would be running into Bynum at the rim rather than running around him at the free-throw line, wrecking the Lakers defense in the process.

    And asking Bynum to guard a Parker or Paul off the dribble away from the hoop is crazy. That’s not what centers are meant to do.

  21. great work on the stats brian……leaping ability in itself may not be a direct advantage for a pg, but it is a direct testament to explosiveness from a standing start…..clearly farmar has this explosiveness and needs to apply it to the defensive end. imo he’s spent his last two offseasons working on the “o”. offseason before last, his shot and this past offseason adding a formidable dribble drive to offset the outside shot. he has demonstrated a penchant for improvement in the offseason, maybe next one will be work on the defensive side of the ball. if so, it will be interesting to see how he will improve in that department……..

  22. 17 – I’ve exactly the same for years. 8 to 9 years of not being able to guard pick and roll. Pretty much all of that is with the same coaching staff. Shaq is LONG gone. The blame has to placed where it belongs, so a real solution can be found.

    20 – Strongly agree about Fish. 1st I love Fish, he’s the unsung hero from the 2001 playoff run, but the defensive dropoff this year has been staggering! Fish is killing us on screen/roll. He’s equally bad as Farmer and it’s plain disastrous against quick guards and guards that can shoot. Farmer goes weakly over screens, Fish always goes under.

    And Bynum has been effective in the past at defending the paint and will be again in time. He needs to stay in the paint area on D. The work, conditioning, and playing time has to be there. If Lakers fans think rings are coming without a great performance from Bynum, they’re dreaming.

  23. Ex –

    Although I’m reluctant to punish this dead horse any further, I think you kind of missed the point when you said “I don’t see Farmar being an ‘elite athlete’ relative to other NBA guards, and the stats you posted bear that out, as he falls in the middle of them.” I specifally pulled out the stats for those PGs/combo guards who are either currently considered elite players, or because of their draft slot or demonstrated potential look to have the upside to be elite players. 10 of the other 13 guards on that list were lottery picks in the last 4 drafts. 2 of them – Stuckey and Sessions – were lower picks but have played well enough thus far in their short careers that they look like they could be stars one day. Brown made the list because he was near unguardable in two recent games against us.

    In other words, I cherry-picked the best of the lot. So when you say those numbers peg Farmar as being middle of the road – so to speak – realize that you are talking about middle of the road in terms of the elite athletes at that position.

  24. Bill, your analysis is right on. The one omission is Kobe. Kobe seems to poach and collapse weakside before he needs to, which causes his man to have a open shot on the quick counter rotational passes, or creates a two man responsible zone in 3 zone areas. Expecting a big to close on a perimeter shot is asking too much. Similarly if the low zone, which is usually Andrew or Pau when they are on the weakside allows the dribble penetration or pass off to a diving strongside rotation forward on the offensive team.

  25. Just a great post and even better comments! It makes for a nice “home” to go to find intelligent talk and leave the nonsense of other blogs behind.

  26. First off, great thoughts (as per usual) from Bill Bridges.

    However, I’d also like to single out Chris J (#20) for a fist bump. His breakdown finally explained to me exactly why I’ve noticed us giving up some many uncontested spot-up three-pointers from the left corner. I’d also love to see his suggestion implemented so that ‘Drew can actually stay home and protect the rim instead of tracking opposing bigs 10-15 feet from the hoop.

    Food for thought, all around.

  27. Good post Bill. One of my biggest concerns lately with the defense is the transition defense we have been playing, especially when Drew and Pau are in together. We have really been beat back up the court on quick missed shots and even off made baskets. I think most teams are thinking, score quick, before the Laker D is set. I think the only way to improve on transition defense is sheer effort, get back on D.

  28. Brian,
    You have 14 players listed; and that list is from the past 4 years; it doesn’t include players who have been in the league 5 or more years.

    Assuming that the top 14 players from pre-2005 players have approximately the same scores, that would put Farmar at 11th in agility, and 19th in the sprints. That’s not “elite”, that’s in the “mediocre-to-good” range.

    Combine that with his size (9 of the other 13 players you listed are bigger than him by some amount) and you have a combination of physical attributes that will likely limit Farmar to the mediocre level of defensive ability. Throw in his inexperience and it is easy to see why he has defensive problems.

  29. #17, beat me to it. If Kendrick Perkins can show hard on a screen and recover in time, so can Bynum. It’s a matter of effort and intensity is all.

    #20, I noticed that this happens even when the ball handler is contained. Too often I see Radmanovic, Kobe, or Ariza hedge over towards the ball on a screen and roll, only to leave their man wide-open for a corner three, even if the PG isn’t beaten.

    I disagree with Jordan Farmar being a poor defender. Although he is getting beaten off the dribble from time to time, that’s because he’s playing too close to his man. I think the Lakers system is wrong, because they’re attempting to funnel opposing PG’s into the paint, but the bigs aren’t closing fast enough to cut off passing lanes. This leads to dunks and wide open threes. If Bynum, Gasol, or Odom acted earlier or quicker, they could shut off the passing lanes, leaving the opposing ball handler surrounded by a guard swiping from behind and a 7-foot tower in front of him.

    However, my main issue is the defense of the screen and roll. In my mind, you have 2 options if a pick comes (switching isn’t one of them, because switching is terrible IMO):

    1.) the guard fights over the screen and the big shows weakly to prevent a drive towards the paint while maintaining control of the passing lane into the paint. (Cleveland does this)

    2.) the guard goes under the screen and the big shows hard, sometimes completely perpendicular to the basket. (Boston does this)

    The problem is when you mix and match these two. A lot of times, I see Fisher fight over a screen and Pau shows hard, only to have the guard dribble right in between them right toward the basket. On the flip side, I also see Farmar go underneath a screen and Bynum show weakly, giving the ball handler space to create or take an uncontested jump shot.

    The key to defending the pick and roll is to control the ball handler long enough to allow the big to recover back to the picker. If you watch Boston, you’ll see Garnett show hard and Rondo go under, then go into a mini-trap for about a second, then have Garnett quickly recover back to his man. This limits the space the ball handler has to work with, which prevents a myriad of bad things (dribble drives, passing lanes, jump shots) from occurring.

    Again, there’s nothing special that Boston does, it’s simply the fundamentals and intensity. I love the SSZ and I think it can work as a viable shut-down defense, our bigs just have to show more effort in closing off passing lanes, while our remaining players have to play better zone on the weak side to cut off passes.

  30. Look, forget the numbers, when the Lakers tested Jordan Farmar themselves before drafting him Tex Winter said he was about the best athlete they’d ever seen. I’ll trust Tex.

    But, it doesn’t matter how athletic he is if he isn’t doing the job.

  31. 28. Kwame a.

    I was going to save this for tomorrow, but you started this idea of teams scoring quickly so I’ll follow up. One of the Minny beat reporters last night asked Kevin McHale why the team seemed to push the pace a little more last night and he said they had to. Because of the Lakers trapping defense, he said it takes longer to run your halfcourt set. McHale said if you just walk the ball up you’ll be pushing the shot clock, so he told them to run, and to try to get into the offense with at least 15 seconds on the clock.

  32. Just because I apparently would rather do anything than actual work today, I just went back and looked at combine measurements through 2000 (as far back as they’ve run these drills), and pulled out the results for the best PG/combo guards in those drafts.

    Couple of thoughts before I list the numbers: 1) I’m a little sketchy about the reliability of some of the numbers reported (check out TJ Ford, for instance), and 2) There were a serious lack of even decent guards in some of those drafts (in some cases, the “best” players were those that were just still in the league).

    Nate Robinson – 10.75, 2.96
    Devin Harris – 11.03, 3.19
    Ben Gordon – 11.28, 3.19
    Dwayne Wade – 10.56, 3.08
    Kirk Hinrich – 10.98, 3.10
    TJ Ford – 11.45, 3.20
    Jennero Pargo – 11.11, 3.20
    Flip Murray – 11.13, 3.16
    Fred Jones – 11.12, 3.13
    Gilbert Arenas – N/A, 3.24
    Jamaal Tinsley – 11.96, 3.20
    Earl Watson – 10.97, 3.19
    Speedy Claxton – 10.48, 3.06
    Eddie House – 11.12, 3.27

  33. Great post. Almost as if I am learning the proper words to put my thoughts into work. Things that were sort of swimming through my head without sense or order suddenly took form with added insight.

    Just a random thought from seeing our games:

    Defense – I liked the part about ‘deterring’ somebody mentioned about Kwame. That’s what we’re lacking. We should play with stats not go all-or-nothing. It consumes too much energy to deny every possession; translates to not much energy on offense (players standing around) and psychological damage when the opposing team does indeed score (or worse come up empty handed on offense and having to defend again).

    And we’re just going for the ball too much, while showboating too much on the other end and not taking care of the gambled ball.

  34. Just realized; what happened to your box, Kurt? Do you only get it if you are the poster of the post?

  35. Kurt- It does seem to be teams strategy. Indy was successful many times, after the Lakers scored, in quickly advancing the ball and scoring. Sacramento (along with the Detroit plan of taking our bigs away from the hoop) also scored lots of quick baskets. I feel teams would rather take their chances with 1) a quick shot or 2) spreading the defense out and running hi-screen and rolls. These seem to be the most effective ways to score on the Lakers. Both seem preventable, provided we scheme right and play harder

  36. I agree with the idea that the SSZ should be applied judiciously – it seems like it would be good for a surprise effect, but teams will and have adjusted to it.

    The biggest problem I see have been the transition D, especially when both Bynum and Gasol are in. How many open dunks have the opposition gotten from a simple outlet pass? Maybe the Lakers could sacrifice a guard to get back and defend the cross-court pass?

  37. Harold, that is correct. This is Bill’s post, so he would get the box.

  38. Comparing the Rockets-who were/are a very good defensive team-and the Lakers a few things stand out.

    Nobody on the Lakers takes a charge-as Bill noted. Last yr Scola,Battier and Hayes constantly tried to stop penetration by drawing a charge.(Scola actually drew more offensive fouls than Battier,explaining how he could stay on the court w/his limited athletic ability.)
    Whether the Lakers don’t teach it,Phil disdain of flopping has colored the team’s attitudes,whatever the reason one of today’s best tactic for stopping penetration is rarely used by the Lakers.

    Everybody tries to pack the lane. But good defensive teams also close out hard on 3pt shooters. The Lakers-other than Fish-are all too often content to make a couple half-hearted steps and watch the player shoot.

    JVG had Yao and Motumbo showing hard on pick/rolls. Adelman stopped Yao from showing as much because he didn’y want Yao picking up fouls on the perimeter. Showing is a coaching decision-not a reflection of a player’s ability. Phil has long worried most about defending the paint.

    Good defense requires mental toughness. You have to stay focused throughout each possesion all game long. The Lakers are sorely lacking in this regard. They are very good at stopping an opponents initial option,but fall asleep when the other team goes thru the play’s progressions.

    Good team defense requires committment. Not just from the players but the coaching staff as well. The coaches have to dedicate scarce practice time to running the D over and over. They have to sit players who refuse to buy into the team concept. Less talented players who play D must get minutes. The team’s lockerroom leaders must hold their teammates accountable.

    I just don’t see the Lakers as being a great defensive team. A good one yes,but I don’t watch them and see the stretches where it looks like the other team is lucky to score.
    The Lakers will have some deceptively good D stats because their offensive prowess will cause bad teams to press and force quick,bad shots.
    But there’s a looong way to go before the Playoffs roll around.

    One minor point about Bynum’s going for the block vs standing still and raising his arms. The vertical arms from a stationary position are supposed to be a legal defensive tactic. What is happening on the court is unless the defender is still as a statue the offensive player will crash into him and usually get a foul called on the defender.(Yao is getting killed on these type of calls. For whatever reason the refs will allow smaller defenders to be moving and still draw offensive fouls while big men who raise their arms will almost automatically get called for the foul.)

  39. Paul Pierce just went down… Carried into the locker room.

  40. Where the strategy does not fit with the personnel is the idea that the wing players should constantly funnel their man baseline

    The reason that they always funnel their man baseline is to cut the court in half. The overload on the strong side seems to necessitate this. If the ball and ball handler were to get to the weak-side the defense would be especially vulnerable.

    Regarding Bynum’s & Farmar’s defensive prowess.
    Bynum’s counterpart PER: 13.1 ( league average is 15)
    Farmar’s counterpart PER: 18.4
    So individually Bynum ranks as a good man defender and Farmar ranks as a poor defender.
    Looking at the team defensive stats when they’re on the floor confirms this.
    Defensive Rating w/ Bynum: 98.75
    Defensive Rating w/o Bynum: 101.99
    Net change: -3.24 (less points surrendered when Bynum is on the floor)
    Defensive Rating w/ Farmar: 101.26
    Defensive Rating w/o Farmar: 99.03
    Net change: 2.23 (more points surrendered when Farmar is on the floor).

    PER numbers from 82games.com
    http://www.82games.com/0809/0809LAL.HTM

    Defensive Ratings from Basketball Value
    http://basketballvalue.com/teamplayers.php?year=2008-2009&team=LAL

  41. Re Farmar:

    Kid is still young and relies on his athleticism. Let him mature a little. I think PJs scheme does not work to our advantage for the PGs. Neither has elite lateral speed. One is a cunning, savvy veteran, and the other is an athletic kid.

    Why PJ refuses to change schemes to fit his players always bothers me. Did we do anything different in 2004 against Detroit? Nope. We kept doing the same crap and lost the series.

    Obviously, the PGs got shut down last game. How? It’s the same thing I’ve been preaching since the start of this year. Let the opposing PG have the semi-contested 20+ footer. If he makes, it so what. If he misses, long rebound start the transition.

    Other philosophies on defense: Trap at the baseline on the dribble drive and force a cross court pass. Have the DISCIPLINED wings (SG & SF) close out on the 3 point line. The PG would need to recover back to his man or jump the passing lane to the nearest open man on the perimeter (does no good to have them stay around the key, Fish and Farmar both guilty here, especially the latter).

    It’s simple, it really is. You don’t have to be athletic on defense, if you force your opponent to play your game and make low percentage shots and passes. The Lakers have stepped away from dictating the defensive tempo.

    PJ, please change your D.

  42. Lets look at what positions the opponents production is coming from.

    http://www.82games.com/0809/0809LAL5.HTM
    Summarized Below:

    Position Opponent PER
    PG 17.9
    SG 13.6
    SF 14.8
    PF 14.2
    C 14.0

    League average for PER is set to 15. So at all positions except for point guard the Lakers hold their opposition to below league average production.
    My recollection is that defense at the 1 was a deficiency last year too, but watching Vlade get smoked by Paul Pierce occupied everyone’s attention so much that it didn’t really get mentioned.

  43. Will PP come back on a wheelchair and play again for Xmas?

    Sorry, i had to get that one out. Hope him the best.

  44. Thanks for a unbiased take. I’m not a Lakers fan but a couple of my friends are. It’s nice to hear someone break it down without being a homer.

  45. 20-3 is not by accident. Yet Bill makes some great analyses of Laker defensive breakdown tendencies. Problem is, the Lakers have never been specifically a “defensive” team–they’ve been a strategic point differential team. They almost always shade their defense to particular players or particular tendencies. That means certain of the possibilities will expose certain players to apparent breakdowns. Udrih may sail by for an uncontested layup because the Lakers are shading their defense to stop Martin or Salmons. Later in the game, Udrih may find that layup opportunity has disappeared and he is out of position in transition.

    These strategic moves by Phil make it difficult to determine whether or not a particular player truly messed up his assignment. Yes, Bynum is being brought along and his responsibilities will continue to change as the season progresses. Yes, Farmar looks bewildered at times with his role in the pick and roll–but the staff and Phil may be more concerned about team rotations or defensive transitions. I’ve never been worried about his athleticism–or his defensive intelligence.

    Some believe that VladRad was benched in favor of Luke Walton because defensive lapses put him in the doghouse. There is both a simpler and more complex alternative. The simple one involves the reality that Luke was still not 100% when the season began. He is being given some chances to start to get up to speed–at VladRad’s expense.

    The more complex alternative involves Laker dissatisfaction with all the players capable of playing the 3.

    Don’t tell Warren about that one!

  46. On reflection, I was probably overly harsh about Farmar. To his family and friends, I apologise. Just know that the post was written just after the Kings game – you know that one that had Farmar fouling Bobby Jackson with 1 second to go at half court.

    Also, the frustration comes from knowing that he can do better but doesn’t.

    Farmar is a positively correlated player. When his shot is on, all other aspects of his game improves. A few players had games that were negatively correlated. When Frazier’s shot was off, he would work doubly hard to lock down his opponent on defense. MJ’s defense had no correlation at all to his offense.

    Most players are positively correlated. Vlad, Bynum, and others are too. it is just that with Farmar, the correlation factor is 1.

    This problem has to be mental. If I were the Lakers I’d seriously think about hiring a motivational coach for Farmar.

    Just to note that against Minni, the Lakers changed their screen and roll defense slightly. The guard went under the screen and while the big still showed, it was a soft show. Just enough to allow Fisher to get back to his man but not enough to hinder getting back to protect the hoop. The result, more jump shots and less penetration.

  47. Bill Bridges, Great post with lot’s of stats in the comments to ponder at the perfect time of this year. I am glad to see Luke doing fine now with the role he is playing at the moment for the team.

  48. drrayeye,
    Don’t you think Phil’s change to Luke has as much to do with the PG and SG failures to move the ball as with Vlade’s performance?

  49. Great analysis Bill.

    I think the SSZ can work, but it needs to be applied judiciously in particular the trapping on the base line. I think the problem with the Lakers not adjusting their defensive scheme to account for teams being able to adjust for is lack of time practice time. I think its easier and takes less time for other teams to practice offensive sets to counter what the Lakers are doing defensively then it is for the lakers to adjust their defense to counter for the offensive counters.

    I too think the Lakers need to switch up what they are doing defensively, particularly on the pick and roll. I think the aggressive defense is not suited for Fisher and Farmer guarding PG. Fisher in particular is not quick enough laterally (he was never that quick to begin with and now he seems to have lost a step making it even more obvious). I think this makes Kobe think that he needs to help more in preventing the PGs from getting into the lane which leaves his man open and causes the Defense to scramble. Putting Kobe, or Ariza, possibly Sasha on the PG and having play off a little bit might help. Make PGs take a jumper over a taller defender.

    I think playing off of the 3 pt line and packing in the paint a little might help with preventing penetration all together. Boston does a great job of this (but they also rotate and recover exceptionally well which helps out a lot and Rondo KG and Perkins are all great defenders which also helps).

    Last year just about 1 1/2 months b4 he got injured, Bynum was doing a great job of just using his length to make players change their shots. He was not actively going for blocks, but instead just holding his ground and making players shoot over him. SO far this year (and in particular the last couple weeks) he seems to be more actively going for blocks. Maybe he is trying to increase his stats. But the guy is huge and really long, all he has to do (and I know he is capable of it because he was doing it last year) is use his length to contest shots. Most of the time he doesn’t even need to jump. Dikembe Mutombo (sp?) was a master of doing this. Over half his blocks came when he wasn’t even jumping.

  50. Bill, I saw that with the screen-and-roll with Minni and I’m curious what happens tonight and the next few games. I fear that was a one-time thing because the Wolves are such a bad jump shooting team.

  51. Kurt,

    I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Lakes go back to that defense. You will rarely win games where you let your opponent take 20+ ft jump shots. If you can live with losses like against Detroit this year (they shot well from the outside), I say continue to play this style.

    Another thing worries me too. PJ needs to talk to Kobe. As Kobe goes, so does the team. When he lacks discipline to stick to his man on the perimeter, so does Vlad, Farmar, Odom, etc (Farmar the worst cause he’ll hover around the key instead of guarding a body).

  52. Ladies and Gentlemen,
    Could you imagine this team with a real defensive stopper of a PG? If Fish and Farmar aren’t up to the job, who is? Are Sasha or Ariza an option to slow an opponents PG in short stretches? Nobody considered my suggestion (nr.6) of looking on the outside for help at this position. Bring back TyLue?

  53. On other news, Marburry will be attending tonight’s game as a “fan” of the Lakers. I think this is his way of telling the Lakers that he is interested in playing for us in the event he is released. Personally, if I were a BB GM, I would never buy out a healthy player only to have him resign for a better team. I think its just ridiculous. I don’t personally like Marburry that much, but I hate to think what would happen if he were to sign with the Celtics.

  54. 54.

    Having a good game against Allen Iverson eight years ago does not make one a stopper.

  55. Marbury, interesting. If Boston picks him up, he’ll probably destroy their team chemistry. And piss off Rondo. I’m all for it…

  56. Thats the same thing people said about Sam Cassel last year…. Also, as much as Marbury is a “cancer”, he also knows he needs to play nice so that he can bamboozle another team in giving him a long term lucrative deal.

    My point was that we are going to have our hands full with just Rondo, if they add Marbury, then we are really in trouble because Farmar can’t guard a light post.

  57. I’d love for Marbury to go to the Celtics. I mean come on the guy has a tattoo on his head.

  58. Sean P. is right, Lue over his career is a far worse defender than anyone we have on the roster now. Lakers fans saw his one good defensive series.

    And this goes back to an oft-made point — NOBODY can stop Nash/CP3/Rondo by themselves. With the no-touch rules on the perimeter now, you need team defense to make that work. There is no player who is a magic bullet.

    And, count me in the group that would hope the Celtics would take on Marbury. He would chaff having to play behind Rondo. It would all come apart in the playoffs.

  59. Fan Dango,

    Tyronn Lue? Huh? He was overrated. He had what, a quarter’s worth of good defense against AI, and then people thought he was good. Some fool of a GM then paid him too much. Why stop there?

    I’m gonna puke now.

  60. What’s up with Phil swapping out Vlad and Luke. He did it right after game 20, so did he decide before the season to give Vlad the 1st 20, and Luke the next 20? How do you go from starting then nothing, and vice versa? This had to have been planned.

  61. Knicks preview up.

  62. hey Darius, with tonights Knicks game being on NBA TV, does that mean it will be blacked out on the NBA broadband, what do you think?
    if it is, then I guess I’ll just have to tune in to justin tv, they always seem to have a link.

  63. KG and Marbury reunited? I don’t see that working too well. And even if everyone could be one happy family, there are still issues with the disruption of current roles for House, Tony Allen, et al.

    As for our defense…I’m with Bill Bridges in that it’d be nice if we could mix it up some, but I doubt that we’ll actually try it. Reason being is that I think the coaches see us as a non-instinctive defensive team. And since that’s the case, I think the staff has instituted an *aggressive/dictating to the offense* style defense that is also very simple for the players to execute on a possesion to possesion basis. I liken it to the defensive version of “paint by numbers”. When you paint by numbers, you may not get a masterpiece, but you will get something that could concievably hang on your wall and call art. So in that regard, our defense may never be the phalynx of the Celtics, but it’s not designed to be *that*. It’s designed to put our players in position to be successful and give them defined assignments that they can rely on for every possesion.

    As for the debate about Farmar and Fisher, and the defense of our wing players…we must do better. In the early part of our season we saw Radman execute the role of what our wings are supposed to do superbly. The problem is that now, our guys are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. When executed properly, we must shade the ball handler to contain them and force them to postions on the court where the help is established and where we can eventually trap the ball handler. Right now all of our wing defenders (Kobe included) are gambling a little too much when defending the ball, and rather than shade the ball handler are trying (unsuccessfuly) to stay in front of him. It’s not working. Farmar and Fisher (and Kobe and even Ariza at times) are getting beat off the dribble completely and leaving our rotating big to play a small player one on one. Guess what?…that doesn’t work. First of all our bigs are not going to effectively defend ball handling wings 10 ft. away from the basket, nor are they going to deter shots at the rim effectively when they are foul conscious and the ball handler can attack full speed.

    So, while I think we could switch it up, I also think that we’re still in the top 5 of defensive efficiency. Now you could say that we’re only in the top 5 because of our strong execution in the first couple weeks of the season. To that, I say: Then start executing the plan like you did in the first part of the season. Is it that simple….no, but we can do better, so lets get to it.

  64. 54 – There really isn’t such a thing as a defensive stopper PG in today’s NBA. The lack of hand-checking makes it very difficult to slow a talented PG. Until the rules are changed again, it’s a guard’s league.

    We won’t see a 90s Knicks/80s Pistons style of defensive play again anytime soon since the whole roster would have three fouls halfway through the first quarter should anyone even attempt that style again.

    I wish the league would find some middle ground — maybe by actually calling the carrying violations for what they are — in order to take some of the advantages away from the PG position.