Lakers/Rockets: Some Offensive Wrinkles Return

Darius Soriano —  March 28, 2010

When you watch an NBA game and already know the outcome, you get to look at what happens in the contest in a bit of a different light. In the case of the Lakers/Rockets game, I already knew that the Lakers had beat the Rockets 109-101 when I hit the play button on my DVR this morning. So when I started to watch the game I wanted to look for some of the little things that went into the win.  I mean, when you watched the game, it was obvious that the Lakers size advantage was too much for the Rockets to handle.  It was also obvious that Kobe, Fisher, Farmar, and Brown were making a good percentage of their jumpshots – an act that makes our offense very difficult to contend with because of the freedom it gives Gasol to operate on the block in single coverage.  What was also clear was that early in the game the Lakers played to the Rockets pace, getting into an up and down game where the Rockets speed – boy is Brooks fast – could keep them in the game.  And it was also evident that when the Lakers started to force the Rockets to go up against a set half court defense that the open jumpers were no longer wide open and they started to fall with less regularity.  That’s how a 34 point first quarter turns into an 11 point second quarter.  These are pieces of big picture analysis.  I was looking for the little things.  And what I saw were some subtle adjustments to the Lakers offensive sets.

In the preview for this game, I mentioned that I’d like to see the Lakers initiate their offensive sets more on the weak side with Kobe in the post.  I thought that by setting up the offense on the weak side with post entries to Kobe, the Lakers could then swing the ball back to the strong side and get Gasol going easier against a rotating defense.  Well, it turns out I got half of what I wanted.  What I mean is the Lakers did set up their offense a lot more on the weak side by going into the post.  However, it was Gasol that was on the block and not Kobe.  This was offensive wrinkle #1.

Weakside 1

weakside 2

weakside 3

The three screen shots above are from early in the game.  It was obvious that Lakers wanted to get Pau the ball, but the wrinkle (as stated above) is that he’s not in the hub of the Triangle.  Instead, Pau gets isolated on the weak side where he has more space to work and can see the double team coming (if it does) more easily.  On these three possessions Pau got the first bucket of the game on a beautiful drop step baseline with a lefty hook finish (#1), another layup finish (this time with the foul) on a drop step baseline (#2), and then executed a nice pass to a flashing Odom underneath (after Kobe set a nice back screen on LO’s man that freed up LO to move down to the box) when all the Rockets defenders got caught watching that resulted in an Ariza foul on LO(#3).  Many times this season, the Lakers have been using Kobe as the trigger man on the weak side post.  Kobe’s quite capable on the block and at the pinch post and putting him in this position gives the Lakers a distinct advantage against most defenses as Kobe can either score or make the right read very easily to make a good pass.  However, putting Pau in this position accomplishes two things.  First is that Pau is also quite capable in these positions as he has a refined low and mid post game from which he can score or set up his teammates quite easily.  But second, is that this gives Pau the “touches” that help this offense run smoothly.  This allows Kobe to work off the ball and occupy defenders and their attention while one of our most efficient scorers works on the ball.  Plus it gives Kobe (and our other guards/wings) a chance to to get his shots more within the flow of the offense.  An adjustment like this, while minor, is a win-win.

The second wrinkle that I saw when watching the game was a return of the multitude of screen actions that are built into the Triangle.  Before this road trip started, it was reported the Phil and the coaches put an extra emphasis into three point shooting in practice.  After watching last night’s game, it looks like the coaches may have also put a greater emphasis on setting screens.

screen 1

This play started with Kobe initiating the offense with a post entry into Pau.  Many times this season when the ball goes into the post, the Lakers wings (in this case Kobe and Fisher) run double clear out cuts in order to allow Pau to isolate on the post.  But, in this example, after passing to Pau, Kobe fakes a scissor cut off Pau’s shoulder and instead pins Fisher’s man as Fish circles up to the extended wing to receive the pass.  On this specific play, Fisher missed the jumper, but I liked that we didn’t run the same old action and instead set a solid screen to get a player a good shot.

screen 2

In the above screen shot, Fisher brought up the ball and then immediately swung the ball to Artest.  Now, look at the screen that Pau is setting for Kobe on the weak side block.  This is the type of screen action that has been missing a lot this season.  The typical action on this play would involve Artest passing into Odom or running a P&R with LO all while Fisher and Pau set a double down screen for Kobe for him to circle back to the top of the key for a pass and jumpshot.  Instead, we get Kobe flashing to the front of the rim on a fantastic hard pick by Gasol.

One of the other wrinkles was a return of the high P&R.  I’ve been a critic of the high P&R because I think the Lakers have used it as a crutch too often this season and that it has not been as successful for them as a standard play.  And in recent weeks, we’ve actually seen the Lakers use this play less in favor of starting out our sets through the sideline Triangle initiation or with Kobe on the weak side pinch post.  But against the Rockets last night, the Lakers went back to the high P&R and it was quite effective.  Especially on plays where the ball handler would draw the second defender and then execute a nice drop pass to the rolling screen man.  Below is a perfect illustration of how the Lakers used this play last night:

P&R 1

P&R 2

P&R 3

P&R 4

Look at the screen that Pau gets on Kobe’s man.  Then see how Kobe is able to turn the corner and get into the teeth of the Rockets defense while Pau rolls to the basket.  As Kobe stops and pivots to shoot his jumper every Rocket defender is frozen and Pau is right at the front of the rim ready to receive a pass for the easy lay up.  The Lakers successfully ran this play several times last night with benefitting with several layups.  But one of the reasons this play worked is because the Lakers didn’t depend on it time after time after time or as a bail out play when they didn’t feel like running their sets.  Does this mean that I want to see the Lakers go back to a steady diet of P&R’s?  No, but I wouldn’t mind them starting to mix it back in – especially at times when so many of our other offense sets are working.

As the Lakers head towards the playoffs, it’s important that they start to execute their offense better.  The best way to do that is to diversify their sets and keep the defense off balance where they can’t key in on Pau in the hub of the Triangle and Kobe isolated on the wing.  The Lakers won’t always be successful with the little wrinkles that they throw out against the opposition, but they sure were last night.  Against the Rockets, the Lakers had an offensive rating of 117.2 on 65.2% true shooting.  Granted, the Rockets are a middle of the road defensive team and were severely overmatched by the size the Lakers could trot out (even Mbenga was easily breaking free for easy shots against that undersized front line).  But by using more options within the offense, especially those that create two man games between Kobe and Pau are a great place to start that get our offense going.

Darius Soriano

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34 responses to Lakers/Rockets: Some Offensive Wrinkles Return

  1. It may by my computer’s fault, but I can’t see the screenshots.

  2. Pat, what are you seeing exactly? Are there pictures at all? I see them on my Mac, but if it’s an issue viewing them on PC’s that info would be helpful. Is anyone else having issues seeing the screen shots?

  3. same here Pat B and Darius. (on explorer/pc if that helps) just has the little red x that pops up in the top left corner like if the page didn’t load correctly (with words next to them). you can delete this when you read it so nobody has to scorll through this snag.

  4. All I’m seeing are boxes with words in them, “weakside 1, 2, & 3″, “screen 1 & 2″, “P&R 1, 2, 3, & 4″. Though apparently they can be downloaded and viewed properly.

  5. I’m going to take the post down and try again. Thanks for the heads up. If your comments go away from this post, sorry about that.

  6. Can you guys let me know if there’s still a problem? Thanks.

  7. Working for me now. Though the first and fourth pictures are the same.

  8. Looks good here! Firefox 3.6.2 in Windows XP Pro

  9. #7. Tim, that should also be fixed now. Technology & Darius – not friends today.

  10. Looks good here too (on a PC).

    And great post! Love to see more of this kind of stuff; I find the games more enjoyable to watch after reading posts like this since I can look for these details and feel smart;)

  11. I can see the pics now as well.

  12. Nice breakdown (especially since I couldn’t see the game). Question – I’m not sure what the Lakers get by posting on the weak side vs. in the standard triangle hub, because with perfect triangle execution, I don’t see the advantage. In theory, if any of the players double team the hub, there is a counter. However, we know the players (particularly Ron and Brown) have been not playing the offense well.

    So do you think the benefit is just that there is less congestion weakside when players screw up the triangle options and releases? Is it that defenses are simply not yet ready for that look? Better psychology since Pau can set up weakside with non-Kobe in a two-man game and won’t feel intense pressure to throw it to Kobe?

  13. Apricot, I don’t want to make it seem like any one way is better than the other, just that diversity and changing things is a good thing.

    As for benefits, operating on the weak side does allow for more space from the outset and for easier entry passes. I mean, when the ball is on the strong side and the Lakers want to make a post entry pass into the hub of the Triangle, the ball handlers man usually sags down to deny post entry and the defender guarding the man on the sideline is doing the same thing. This compression of space, especially when performed by long wing defenders, does a pretty good job of disrupting our main offensive initiation. But on the weak side, denying that post pass is much more difficult. Look at the above frames again and you see that cutting down the passing angle is almost impossible even when it’s a bigger defender (Scola) trying to cut off the angle that Artest is creating. So yes, you are correct that it is a spacing issue.

    Also, I like Kobe and Pau together on the weak side, just as I like LO and Pau on the weak side. Having an that second all around offensive threat on the weak side making the post entry means that every option is alive after the post entry. The post player can pass back out for a jumpshot. The entry passer can cut and take a hand off or cut and then post up after faking like he’s clearing all the way to the weakside. The post passer can call for a sceen and run P&R. Etc, etc. I’m not saying that weak side initiations should become the standard, but we can use them more like we did last night.

  14. Darius if you go back into Laker history you would see similier complaints about Smush Parker. His offensive numbers far surpased those of Fisher’s this year.

    We all want D to play like last night buy we also worry that opposing scouts have figured out our weakness and use it to bring a great team back to the pack in the playoffs.

    There is no easy solution and Phil will never change things at this late time but that dosen’t mean we should shut up and except it.

    This is the best site on the net with the smartest fans you will find and I am sure we all agree it is a privilage not a right to be able to be part of it.

    if we did have a A-one PG life would be boring and we would be forced to complain about the hotdogs or the cheerleaders.

  15. thisisweaksauce March 28, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    So Darius, you mean “wrinkle” in a good way, right?

  16. “wrinkle” as in an additional option or refinement added to an existing situation (i.e. we now see a new wrinkle in our offense).

  17. #15. Yes, I do. I meant it in the way that Craig W. just defined.

  18. Seriously, do NBA cheerleaders go to stripper school for their training camp? There are some things no 5 or 6 year olds should have to see. I blame Dr. Buss.

  19. ReignOnParades March 28, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    The strangest things become hot topics in NBA discussion during March Madness.

    This year: sexism and dance squads/cheer leaders

  20. 18: no, stripper school comes next.

  21. Having been married at one time to a Raiderette Cheerleader I can tell you it goes from cheerleader then wanna be actress then stripper.

    There is a process here and its in the playbook.

  22. Digression, but pole dancing classes are becoming a very popular form of exercise among bougie women in Beirut.

    Carry on with basketball.

  23. >.<

    Yikes!

  24. What is going on here?

    Anyone watch the Spurs put the beatdown on beantown?

    What about Kevin Love’s 20/20 night?

    Anyone see the new Nets owner get interviewed on 60 minutes? That is the one thing I missed that I wanted to see.

  25. Anybody get their picks right in the final four? I didn’t. haha

  26. Very interesting interview Darius. As a billionaire(est 22 billion) he is a guy who will win. If I was a free agent I would sign with this team. He will make them a winner that is for sure.

  27. darius,
    i was also watching the way spurs played against cavs (i was frustrated by our play against OKC)

    their play is amazing, nothing likes when they play against us, especially manu.
    they still cannot shut down lebron’s penetration, but the way they defend his supporting role is good enough to force cavs into missing jumpers.

    again, i think this proves that lakers has the best frontline up in the NBA that no other team had.
    because i think when we play against spurs, that’s the difference maker, other than artest defend.

  28. Hmm.. What is all this stuff i’m reading about players not listening to Phil, and thus him not wanting to come back? concerning?

  29. chewy,

    i thought the report says that he’s considering to return?

    regarding to player ego, i think it has something to do with the kind of exposure all lakers player get from the media.
    lakers player are far more likely to receive media attention than if they play for other team.

    so i guess, it’s inevitable that their head is ‘bigger’ than most NBA players.

    it could also simply show the level of frustration due to the play against OKC. (specifically sasha)

    other instance, like farmar, i would say it’s his personality to be over-confident.

  30. Cavs, Nuggets, Celtics are all showing cracks… It´s going to be one hell of a playoff run. There are more teams in it to win it that your average post season.

    Great break down, Id love to see much much more of that.

  31. I watched about 10 minutes of the Spurs/Celtics game. It was like watching an old timers game. It was like watching Chet “Rocket” Steadmen in Rookie Of The Year, it was like watching Roger Dorn in Major League, it was like watching Jennifer Aniston in the Bounty Hunter… it just made you long for days of yore.

  32. the west playoffs are going to be great this year, every matchup could go to seven games, im really not sure who we would want in round 1. The Thunder obviously pose a problem but are pretty green, the Spurs are playing well and know how to win in the postseason and the blazers are playing well of late and of course have the Rose Garden.

  33. Great wrap-up of the game here, the screen shots are good examples to your explanations, just really good stuff.

  34. Great work Darius.

    I think what we’ve been seeing recently is the Lakers really making an effort to get ready for the Playoffs. The starters are paying more attention to detail. I’m glad Darius helps us understand why. It seems just about every year, no matter our frustrations during the off season, the discipline on offense returns. Especially Kobe’s facilitation. he’s been bringing the ball up more more the past few games and it’s him who initiates the offense.