Fine Tuning the Lakers’ Offense

Darius Soriano —  March 1, 2010

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Over the past several weeks (really, since the start of the season) I’ve had some pretty strong opinions on the Lakers offense.  Essentially, I’ve thought that they are underperforming on that side of the ball.  For pretty much the entire season, the Lakers have hovered around 10th in offensive efficiency, which is a step back from the past two seasons – not so coincidentally since the Lakers aquired Gasol – where the Lakers ranked 3rd both seasons.  Earlier in the year, their were mitigating factors that contributed to the Lakers not playing to their full capabilities on offense – Pau was injured, Ron Artest was a new acquisition that was not yet familiar with the nuance of the Triangle, Bynum was a much more polished offensive player whose ability to score was becoming a featured part of our sets, Kobe was in the post a lot more, etc, etc.  However, as we approach the last 20 games of the regular season, most of these factors should no longer be an issue but the Lakers have not shown any really improvement (from an efficiency standpoint).  Essentially, the Lakers are what they are on offense.  All that said, I think there are a couple of ways that the Lakers can improve on offense coming down the home stretch of the season an building towards the playoffs.

The first way I think the offense can be improved is by going back to the basics and simplifying our sets.  If you haven’t done so already, go check out the post that the K Bros and Kevin Arnovitz have put together over at Land O’ Lakers.  Their video breakdown of Kobe on the weakside block is a perfect example of what I mean by “simplifying” the Lakers sets.  This set is a based on a Triangle action (as you see in the video, Kobe is often either initiating the offense himself or directing traffic from his position at the pinch post), but it is not a complex initiation to our sets.  Kobe referenced that this is a “playoff” style set and I whole heartedly agree with that statement.  This offensive set was a staple of what the Lakers ran against Denver in games 5 & 6 in the WCF and against Orlando in the Finals.  A key to this set is that it generates the proper spacing that the Triangle thrives on and it puts the ball in the hands of a very dangerous offensive player (in this case, Kobe).  This set also works quite well with Pau at the weakside elbow as he is also quite adept at getting a good shot from that position of the floor.  And while this set doesn’t inherently involve a lot of cutting or screening, it does put players in position to do just that as the overload on the opposite side of the court allows for those other players to see angles to cut to the rim and do so on defenders that are often ball watching due to the strength of the offensive player that possesses the rock and their help responsibilities on that player.

However, even though this is a good offensive formation for the Lakers, there are repercussions to this set.  First is personnel.  As you saw in the video that Kevin put together, this set works best when Odom is in the game.  That means that either Bynum (likely) or Pau sits.  Some may say that this isn’t a bad thing because our best lineups all season have featured Odom at PF.  However, with one of our bigs out it puts a greater burden on our Center to be a physical rebounder AND an active defender in both the P&R and dribble penetration scenarios and that is a lot of responsibility.  One of the benefits of having both Pau and ‘Drew in the line up together is that these guys can be interchangeable on the block on both offense and defense and cover for each other a bit better on the glass and as shot blockers.  And while they may not have the best chemsitry on offense, when they share the court they are beasts on the offensive glass and can play the volleyball game on the boards better than any duo in the league.  Overall, I think the Lakers lose something when one of these guys sits.  That said, I think the team also gains a whole bunch when LO is in the game and playing with an aggression and focus like we saw in the 4th quarter against Denver and for the games that Kobe missed with his bum ankle.  By no means am I saying that Bynum should no longer start (though, Bynum does have pros and cons that should be looked at hard in relation to what is best for the team) but I do think there is a net positive to having Odom in the game when we go to this offensive formation due his uncanny ability to find open space and be both a finsher in the lane and a passer if the opening is not there for him to shoot.

The second way I think the Lakers could fine tune their offense is to run less high P&R throughout the course of the game (by high P&R, I mean the play where Kobe is on the extended wing – usually on the left side – and he calls the big man over to set a screen for him; this is very similar to what every team in the league runs i.e. the Spurs, Cavs, etc, etc).  Mind you, I am not saying the Lakers should not run this play.  The high P&R can be a devastating weapon for this team (especially the Pau/Kobe P&R) and the Lakers have hurt many a team with this play over the past few seasons.  However, I think the Lakers should choose their spots with this play and not become so reliant on this set.  And I say this for two reasons.  First is because the high P&R turns the rest of the Lakers into spectators.  Kobe and the big man play this two man game and everyone else becomes stagnant.  They watch Kobe go to work, watch our big man either roll to the cup or pop to the FT line and they all basically just stand around like fans that get paid to be on the court.  The second reason is because Kobe is not getting the separation on this play and is not freeing himself to get good looks or to create the angles to get off good passes.  The P&R should be used to free the ballhandler to get to a spot on the court where he can get an easy shot or make the defense over commit so a teammate gets that easy shot.  Instead, Kobe is coming off the screen and he’s getting trapped.  And due to his reduced ballhandling capability because of his busted finger, he’s committing more turnovers and our sets lose integrity.  Also understand that every team in the league has a plan against this play because every team runs it.  This simplifies defensive game plans and puts the opposition in a familiar position to defend.  Defenses no longer have to worry about our read and react offensive system; they only have to worry about defending this play that they see every other night 35-50 times.  I’d rather the Lakers be less predictable.

What I’d like to see instead of the traditional high P&R is more system based P&R that caters to our strengths as a team.  Look at this diagrammed P&R.  Granted, this occurred while Kobe was out injured, but this is a set that we run all the time to isolate Pau at the elbow where he can do damage against pretty much every big in the league.  I’d also like to see more elbow P&R that gets set up by the ball going to the big man flashing to the high post on a pressure release and then executing the hand off to the circling top side guard.  Off of that action, the guard can either continue his dribble hard as he turns the corner or hold up his dribble and play two man game with the big man that just handed him the ball.  Out of that two man game, the Lakers guards can run the P&R where they are starting much closer to the basket (which compromises the defense) and do it from a dangerous area of the court (right around the 18 ft mark of the elbow extended).  There are a myriad of options out of this version of the P&R, including the guard pentrating hard into the lane off the screen (if the defensive guard chases) or stepping behind the screener to shoot a wide open 20 foot jumpshot.  After looking at some of the Lakers’ recent games, Farmar has used this set to great success, but has not gone to it enough, in my opinion (instead settling for the same high P&R that I’d like to see Kobe run less of).

These are just a couple of ways that I think the Lakers offense could show some general improvement.  These things I’d like to see do not speak to some other long term issues that we’ve seen like our relatively poor three point shooting or stickiness of the ball when several players (Farmar, Shannon, Kobe, Bynum) receive the ball.  Those are real concerns for me as well.  However, by running less high P&R and also going more to the sets with Kobe on the weakside block and Odom as the primary cutter I think we get more bang for our buck and play to our strengths as a team a bit more.  And with possessions being more and more valuable the deeper we get into the season, I think the team should be trying to do more of what they know works in order to generate success (which can then feed into the other aspects of this offense also improving).  Will these subtle tweaks make the Lakers a top three team again on offense?  I think it’s doubtful that at this point in the season we’ll see that type of jump.  But I do think we’ll see a more effective offense and going into the playoffs, that’s all I can hope for.

Darius Soriano

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to Fine Tuning the Lakers’ Offense

  1. Nice write up Darius. I have to say that I agree with your analysis and if i may add my opinion , which by the way, was also stated by Pau in his postgame interview, the Lakers simply know(not always show) that they are the best team when they play their best ball and they are not playing to prove something as they did last year. It’s been called many ways, complacancy,overconfidence and so on. This team knows very well that they will be more focused come playoff time and is simply cruising through the regular season.We have seen it before and I am confident that we will see it again soon.
    As far as Of.Ef. we are merely 3 points off of last years numbers (nr.3) which this year would put us at nr.2. Given the fact as you stated that our 3 point % is not as good as last years it is just a matter of one more 3 point attempt per game falling. The question here is will it fall and when?


  2. This is why I come to this site. Standing O from me.

    I think what bothers me most about the high P&R is how often Kobe gets trapped coming around the screen. Wade is explosive around the pick and Paul is methodical, but his handle is superior to Kobe’s (especially after the finger). Against mobile bigs like Nene, Varejao, etc., Kobe’s getting trapped and coughing up the ball more times than I like. There’s more efficient ways of using our talent.


  3. are Finley or Mike James possible pickup for lakers? we need a PG and we also need a SG/SF for injured Luke and Sasha.


  4. I think the key to fine-tuning the offense has less to do with tactics(plays, sets) and more to do with strategy.

    In the 2nd half, the Lakers figured out what would provoke a double-team, and then figured out the plays that’d succeed against that strategy.

    So, I think it would be better if the Lakers had probed and tested the defense earlier in the game, in order to identify what the Nuggets were willing and unwilling to give up, which defenders they thought needed help, etc.


  5. Snoopy,

    I come to this site for the negativity. But in all seriousness, this is the type of analysis that this site is all about. Why I come here daily to read this type of analysis.

    The best part about Kobe is that he is so deadly, and people know about it so much, that even if he doesn’t shoot the ball, the Nuggets would double team him anyway. I could honestly see him taking 5 shots, getting 10 points and 15 assists every game with him in the post. They still would double him.

    It is a good problem that we Laker fans to be the best in the West and still not playing to our fullest.


  6. Great analysis Darius, fine job indeed.

    My belief is that LA has been too confident in their offense to keep them in games this year, thats why you see all the carelessness when on offense. In years past LA could turn the ball over and shot early in the shot clock because the highlight offense would make up for the points. This year being 10th in the league in offense efficiency, the carelessness with the shots and ball has to stop in order for us to play at our highest level.

    Defense has to be the calling card of this team if they want to be standing at the end of the year. LA is already the #1 defensive team in the league, and our size on the defensive end is more effective, than on the offensive end this year.

    Take what LA is doing best, which is defense, and turn the game into a grind it out, valued possesion game. It might not looked good on tv for you offense heads, but it will allow the team to compete with anybody in the league.


  7. What is so frustrating is the passing turnovers and continually stepping back to the 3pt line. It’s not that the team needs to bring playoff energy to every game – they won’t – just play smart. The Lakers seem to need to make length of the court passes (i.e. Lamar and Kobe), or unnecessary passes into traffic.
    1) Look for the easy pass when you are not at playoff intensity level – the other players won’t be moving at the speed necessary to complete those passes anyway.
    2) Since we are not a particularly good 3pt shooting team this year, why do we back up to take the 3pt shot? Why don’t we step into a 2pt shot and increase our shooting percentage. I even saw Kobe back up to shoot and the shot clock ran out – really dumb.

    I thought we were a relatively smart team. These are not smart team actions.


  8. Nice work Darius.


    It seems that Kobe gets in trouble in those traps because he’s holding the ball too long. Too often he’s trying to dribble out of it instead of passing it right away. He tries to draw them out too far sometimes.


  9. j.d. Hastings March 1, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    I want to know why the turnovers seem to be spiking now, this late into the season. Usually we see them at the beginning of the year. Hopefully its a phase.

    I’d like the see the lakers give Pau and Andrew the ball in the backcourt more often so they can dribble up and take their own PUJITs while Fisher posts up. See if anybody sees that one coming.


  10. wondah – Absolutely 100% agree. I’ve seen that so many times. He’s trying to be methodical and wait for his options, but when the big shows hard, he ends up dribbling way out beyond the 3-point line. I’m sure Kobe knows what he’s doing, but I’d be interested to see how quicker decisions (immediate pass or drive) change the effectiveness of that play.

    I’ll be very honest. I’m shocked by how much Karl doubles Kobe. Afflalo has repeatedly done as good a job on Kobe as anyone in the league. There’s no Kobe-stopper, but Afflalo is extremely impressive. Karl has seen how effectively we pick apart the D when he doubles Kobe on the post, and I’m puzzled as to why he doesn’t change strategy.


  11. 9 – Excellent!

    It would be a high risk/high reward move, like NO’s on side kick to start the second half of the Super Bowl.


  12. Chownoir (was J) March 1, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Great write up Darius. Love this kind of analysis and the cogent follow up comments. This is the kind of post and comments that make this site great.


  13. Snoopy,

    Everyone is giving Afflalo tremendous credit, some of which he deserves, but they’re ignoring the obvious fact: Kobe was hard doubled every time he touched the ball. Not only that, early in the game, he missed several shots that “the Mamba” makes with regularity. The guy’s hurt and missing some wrinkles to his game. Fortunately the opposition has to respect him either way, enabling Lakers brand psychological warfare!


  14. craig w,

    What you are recommending is a horrible mistake: “Since we are not a particularly good 3pt shooting team this year, why do we back up to take the 3pt shot? Why don’t we step into a 2pt shot and increase our shooting percentage.”

    A long 2pt shot is the WORST shot in the game of basketball. Would taking a step or two inside the 3pt line increase our FG%? Of course it would, but it would still cost us in efficiency. Shooting 40% from 2pt land is NOT the same as shooting 40% from 3pt land. In fact, shooting 40% from 3pt land is like shooting 60% from 2pt land! It is a 50% increase. So why take a step in and shoot 40% from 2pt land when you can shoot 37% from 3pt land? Surely a step or two cannot be more than 1-3% increase in FG%.


  15. nice, Darius; but I’ll bet there’s a bunch of folks out there thinking ‘how boring, let’s discuss personnel inadequacies and waiver pickups.’ 😀


  16. 14. Agreed, one of the worst things to ever happen to Dirk was Avery getting the idea in his head that big men shouldn’t take too many 3s

    Dirk’s adjustment was to shotfake a 3 and then step in to take a 2. Awful.

    The most frustrating thing about this offense are our guards puling up for long 2s and odd times (really any time that’s not a bail out situation or something close to it is an odd time to me) and our bigs either not getting the ball enough, fumbling passes, or finishing soft.

    I think I just summarized every casual fan’s complaint with the offense other than our inability to hit 3s. So let us not speak of these things again and instead focus on the wonderful Xs and Os provided in the original post and the like.


  17. Not sure if Kobe is missing wrinkles or knuckles or fingers, but yeah, his declining health and increasing age combine to make him less efficient. Just hoping that he makes up for it with plays/passes that leads to assists.

    Off topic, but thoughts on LeBron number change? Am I looking into it too much if I see it as a sign that he’ll sign with the Cavaliers?

    Kobe did the jersey switch before, I think mostly in part to up jersey sales (since he’s been with the same team for so long, everyone had his jersey), and I think LeBron is doing the same thing.

    If LeBron’s motivation was solely to up his jersey sales, his switch only makes sense if he’s sure he’s signing with the Cavs again, since otherwise his jersey will be selling since the team name changes.

    Or is it the other way around, him being thoughtful and making sure that people don’t buy two jerseys in quick succession – make the number switch with the team switch.


  18. Great piece Darius. Love your bit on the p&r. The high pick and roll has been noticeably less effective this year but in my humble opinion it is mainly due to kobe forcing passes when the defense now plays him to pass in those situations. He is turning the ball over a lot. They have learned over the past couple years that when Kobe calls for a p&r he does so in an attempt to make a play for Pau or a teammate instead of himself.


  19. They are bored and going through the motions and PJ isn’t really forcing them to show up unless he considers it a big game. He coached against Denver by sitting Lamar after the bad 3 point shot.

    In most games, the passes are lazy, the spacing is bad, the effort to retrieve errant passes is half-hearted. They don’t care because all they want to do is get to the playoffs. I think they feel like no one will be able to beat them from the West and that remaining healthy is the key. It may drive the fans crazy but this is what we are going to see for the rest of the season.


  20. Howdy folks.

    Thanks for the great post Darius.

    The truth is that the Lakers haven’t really run the triangle to any degree other than perhaps the last game against Utah. I noted after that game that the Lakers had more layups off the pinch-post hand off in that one game than the entire season combined.

    Of course, (since it was so effective) the Lakers haven’t really executed that sequence since.

    While we all saw that against Denver, the Kobe post-up was perhaps the only strategy to win that particular day, that exact strategy was highly ineffective against Cleveland.

    In the fourth quarter, Cleveland switched up the defense against Kobe in the post by bringing Ilgauskas as the man doubling Kobe. Simultaneously, they packed the paint, reducing lanes for Odom or Gasol to dive to the hoop. Kobe couldn’t find cutters and his ability to find shooters cross-court was hampered due to Z’s 7’3″ height.

    The result was several poor possessions with Kobe forcing up shots against the double and hurried 3’s off weak passes from the post.

    The difference was that Denver didn’t double Kobe with height (Martin not Z) and didn’t pack the paint. Kobe found his cutters AND his shooters and won the game.

    Re: The Laker’s Kobe/Pau Screen/Roll

    Possibly the most efficient play in the book in 2008/2009 and strangely ineffective this year. Why? last year the sequence called for Kobe to flip the ball back to Pau after collecting the double team. Pau hits Odom flashing to the free throw line (this creates all sort of havoc on the defense who is now scrambling to adjust) and receives a pass back from Odom for the dunk or Odom finishes on his own.

    This year, Kobe is trying to beat the double and penetrate with very little success. And when he tries to make a play, it seems like he does this after a lot of aimless dribbling away from the double… Why? who knows, maybe because the kobe/pau/odom sequence is so effective, why use it? The Lakers seem not to like to repeat success.

    Some of the malaise is regular-seasonitis. Maybe you don’t make your cuts as hard during the season, not buoyed by playoff enthusiasm. In the triangle, if you don’t make a strong cut, you don’t get open. If you don’t get open, the passer adjusts and executes the outlet.

    In a regular offense, you make the cut because there doesn’t exist a plethora of options for the offense. If you don’t make the cut and execute, the offense is dead and you are now left to freelance.

    If the Lakers are less than motivated because they no longer need to prove themselves, this is a poor attitude to have going into the playoffs as when they go to turn the switch on, they might find that the battery is dead.


  21. Hey guys,

    I have a somewhat off-topic question. Looking on ESPN, I see that Larry Hughes is a free agent. Do you think that the Lakers would go after him? I know he is a few years older than his DPOY-contending self if Washington, but won’t he provide that shooting and defense we need from the Point guard position?


  22. Warren Wee Lim March 2, 2010 at 6:06 am

    Spacing Spacing Spacing.

    I think this is the very essence of the post… whether its Kobe over-dribbling or Bynum forcing inside action, or plain and simply Fish sucking from outside, its clear that the offense has to figure itself out or else, like Bill said, we might be running on low battery before we know it.


  23. ESPN did a great interview with Bruce Bowen on the daily dime. He talks about Ron Artest’s defense, he has some good insight I think he would be a good commentator.


  24. Kaveh,
    Yes, on a normal basis the long 2pt shot isn’t as good as a 3ptr. However, we are not normal and we are backing up to the 3pt line. Moving forward we get a better shooting motion and we also are very poor at the 3pt shot. I suspect there would be no difference in points and our defense would be better if more shots were going into the basket.


  25. Great post, as always. Part of the reason for the Lakers’ inefficiency might be regular-seasonitis, as others have noted, but I wonder how much of it is a strategy not to show too much regular season, at least so close to the middle.

    I get the sense that they don’t want to peak too early. Like how they make adjustments from one half of a game to the next, they seem to be conserving energy until when they need it most; the end of games, and the end of the season. It’s just another edge that they want to have over other teams to keep them off balance. Sure, other teams have seen their playoff-style mode, so it’s not some huge secret, but knowing about it and playing against it are two different things.


  26. Darius, this was a great post and now you are able to write full blown articles here (all of the time), you know, not just an extended comment about whatever it is you want to talk about at the time, but an in depth view/position that can be commented on by others. The only Laker weakness that I see is their 3 point shooting, but we are winning games as it is, so fine I guess. I want to see Kobe not take like 30 attempts a game anymore, I like the facilitator Kobe now, 10 dimes a game would be nice, huh?.


  27. Another point that didn’t make the post is that the Lakers high P&R seems to be so much less effective when both Bynum and Pau are in the game. Those guys just don’t provide the spacing that Odom at PF can/does. LO may not be a good shooter, but he is capable of hanging out at the 3 point line and that leaves the paint open for easier penetration by the ball handler or for the roll man. When it’s Pau/’Drew in there together, one of them is always near the paint and that means that Kobe will not have a clean lane to penetrate and will see a lot of resistance at the basket should he try to finish at the rim.

    Another point is that one of the main reasons the P&R is such a popular play is all of the options that come off of it. There is the opportunity created for the ball handler and the screen man, but it’s also a great way to get outside shooters shots. Well, our shooters that aren’t making shots and they aren’t keeping defenders honest. So, that just leads to even more crowding of the paint as wing defenders sag and our shooters not making teams pay for playing us that way. I’d rather just stick to the sets that have the highest success rates and go from there.


  28. Last season, i was happy to see Gasol and Kobe played pick-and roll together against Orlando, i believe if Lakers play pick-and-roll and screen-and-roll, mix with trial angle offense, Lakers is very dangerous team because it’s hard to stop the offense.Kobe and Gasol are smart players. A great shooter like Kobe, he only needs 1, 2 seconds to have a good look and shoot the ball, look at Ray Allen in Boston Celtics offense.


  29. Kobe and Gasol are great players and they complete each other. I am glad to see them every week.