Getting Back To Playing Winning Basketball

Darius Soriano —  April 5, 2010

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It feels strange to talk about needing to play winning basketball when referencing the Lakers.  I mean, this team has won a lot of games this season and is poised to take the Pacific Division and earn the #1 seed in the Western Conference for the third straight season.  These guys aren’t slouches when it comes to racking up the “W’s”.  But at this point in the season and when looking at how the Lakers are playing, this is where we’re at because the inconsistency has gotten to the point where no game is guaranteed and the Lakers are (essentially) losing as many games as their winning by going 6-4 in their last ten games.  There was a time, during this season, where mistakes could be written off or explained away but we are too late in the 2010 campaign for those types of thoughts.  The Lakers are not playing well, it’s been that way for a while now, and there is precious little time to correct it for the playoffs.  So, below are some things that I’ve noticed when watching this team that I hope they can improve when going into the playoffs.  To me, these are all things that, if executed better, can get the Lakers back to playing winning basketball.

The first improvement can come on the defensive side of the ball.  And yes, getting Bynum back will help in achieving better defense.  Because, even though Bynum has his faults as a defender, he’s a big body that is an imposing figure in the paint that contests, deters, and blocks shots.  But just getting ‘Drew back will not be enough.  So, one specific improvement that I’d like to see is that the Lakers use a more consistent strategy on the P&R.  Yesterday, and in many games before it, we’ve seen the Lakers use different philosophies on the P&R and that inconsistency, I think, is really causing our defense some issues.  The one technique that seems to work the best is to have the big man hedge and stay with the ball handler until the guard can recover back.  Most recently though, what we’ve seen is a token “show” by the big man that does little to disrupt the ball handler.  What I mean is that the big man will step out, put his arm out as if he’s one of those electronic barriers at a parking garage, and then in an effort to recover to his own man he then scurries away with little to no recognition as to what the ball handler is actually doing.  I’d like to see this stop.  Instead, what I’d like to see is the big man show hard and then recover back to the paint only when the player that got screened is back into position to defend.  Sure, this will expose our big men more and it will put the onus on them to contain penetration for a second or two longer as the screened guard/wing recovers to the ball handler, but what we’re seeing now is not working.  The big man half way showing and then attempting to recover is not slowing down the ball handler nor is it stopping the screen man from either rolling to the hoop or spotting up for a jumpshot.  In the P&R, the Lakers need to start taking something away and I think it should start with the ball handler.  And since this isn’t really an adjustment to what the Lakers have been doing all season (it’s just putting a grearter emphasis on dealing with the ball handler), I hope they can start to guard this play better as they’ll need that better execution against every team in the western conference playoffs.

The second thing I’d like to see the Lakers do better is to get out and push the pace more on offense.  The other day, during the Jazz game, Phil Jackson commented that the Lakers were playing too much at the Jazz pace and that we weren’t operating well playing at that speed; that our execution was suffering due to how fast we were playing.  I saw the same thing and agreed whole heartedly.  However, the Lakers are one of the more athletic teams in the league, especially in the front court.  Gasol, Odom, and Bynum can all change ends relatively quickly and can create mismatches in transition.  And I think this team can take advantage of this fact more than they currently are.  This season, the Lakers have dropped to 13th in the league in the pace that they play.  Last season they were 5th.  The season before that they were 6th.  At a time when our offense is struggling, I think getting more easy buckets in transition and earlier in the clock can help relieve some of those offensive struggles.  Get the ball up court faster and be more decisive in where the ball is going.  Make the defense scramble early in the clock and easier shots will come.  Now, I understand that one of the reasons that the pace at which the Lakers play has slowed is due to the insertion of Artest for Ariza.  However, that is only a one player difference and everyone else on this team is exactly the same and it’s not like Artest can’t get out and run the floor.  Get out and push the ball and see what we get.  Based off how some of our half court sets have looked lately, trying to get some easier baskets in transition can’t hurt (even if our guards can sometimes display questionable decision making).

The third thing I’d like to see - and this plays into playing at a faster pace – is a return to trapping the ball more on defense.  Last season, the Lakers ranked 6th in opposition turnover rate.  This season they rank 16th.  Even though the Lakers are a stronger defensive team in one on one situations in this season compared to last, they’re not forcing the turnovers that they were last season.  And the main difference between last year’s defense and this years is how often the defense is executing traps on the ball handler.  When was the last time we saw a good, hard trap on the ball?  Whether it’s on the P&R or on a dribbler on the wing, the Lakers need to be more active on defense and get players out of their comfort zones.  I understand that one of the reasons why the Lakers trapped so frequently last season was because of the strong side zone scheme that was employed on defense.  That scheme put the second defender much closer to the ball handler and it enabled that second man to move into a trapping position much more easily.  That said, the Lakers can still go back to aggressive traps in certain situations and I think it would be beneficial in forcing turnovers and throwing the opposing offense off guard.  The length and quickness the Lakers possess on defense (even with the Artest/Ariza swap) has not gone down significantly.  And with Artest’s defensive instincts and ability to get deflections the Lakers have probably improved in their ability to effectively trap opposing guards and wings using their dribble.  So, get back to pressuring the ball with traps to get the opposition on their heels.  Force some bad passes and take them the other way for easier baskets. 

Obviously, getting back to playing winning basketball will depend on more than these three items.  The problems that we’ve cited all season will also need to be improved (even if only slightly) for this Lakers team to get the 16 post season wins it’s searching for.  And getting a healthy Andrew Bynum back into the line up will help a great deal too.  But, these are things that I’ve seen in many of the Lakers’ recent games that just aren’t up to par and, if improved upon, can help this team get some key stops and get some easy baskets.  To get back to the point where every game isn’t the uphill battle that we’ve witnessed recently.  It should be said that I’m not in the coaches meetings, in the film room, or attending the practices.  I have no clue if these are points of emphasis or not.  And I’m not implying that I’m smarter than the guys that coach this team (far, far from it).  But, I sure would like to see the return of some (if not all) of these acts because I think they lead to winning basketball for this particular group of Lakers.  But what do you think?

Darius Soriano

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37 responses to Getting Back To Playing Winning Basketball

  1. How about just making shots? 3pt shooting has been terrible in the recent losses.. execute all you want but if you don’t take those open chances you don’t win games.

    Lakers were looking shakey going into playoffs last year.. then all of a sudden odom and ariza started raining 3s.. yes no?

  2. I said before the season that the Lakers would miss Ariza in transition. This is not to say that Artest has not done fine; he has. But I think the numbers above are connected to the switch.

    OTOH, Artest was acquired for postseason matchups with big 3s. So, we will see.

    Also, I think Kobe is not jumping the passing lanes as much, due to the finger. His steals numbers have not dropped much, but combining these things, the Lakers rarely get easy baskets off of TOs, which is part of the reason the ORTG has cratered.

    Still, 3P shooting and the bench remain the issues.

    @1

    Yes–Odom and Ariza were both well over their career %s on 3s in the postseason. I think part of that was incerased focus on Gasol and Bryant by the opposition with the money on the table. Part of it was skill, and part of it was luck.

    The 2009 playoffs turned when Odom’s back seemed to finally loosen up.

  3. Shanon Brown has somehow regressed since all-star break. He take bad shots time and again and cannot make anything. Jordan Farmar should be shameful. Did Ben Howland not teach you a thing or two about defense? Look at Darren Collison, Russel Westbrook, and Arron Afflalo. Jordan Farmar surely is the worst among them.

  4. One of the problem’s right now is that Kobe’s shot is broken, sure he has had good shooting games now and then but not since his 2nd or 3rd year has his shooting been so inconsistent. Right now the offense should be going through Pau Gasol pretty much every time, but it won’t happen with Kobe on the court and apprently, painfully, won’t happen with Farmar or Brown on the court either.

  5. 2. Was Farmar the only one that left after one year at UCLA?

    While lakers p&r defense is the brunt of their defensive problems, it definitely is not all. They ball watch way too much, like Shannon did on that Ginobili three in the 4th quarter, and lose their man. They all do it, including Kobe and Fisher. The collapse in the paint to often against opposing teams bigs and leave shooters open. They did it regularly against Atlanta. They even do it against bigs that aren’t scoring threats. And rotations. Their rotations are either slow, and when they aren’t slow they don’t communicate and two players end up going with the same player. That happened quite a few times against the spurs. To be honest the lakers just aren’t fundamentally sound defensively as a team. Outside of Artest, Kobe and Bynum when they want to be, they just aren’t that good defensively. Odom, Gasol, Brown rely on their length or athleticism to make defensive plays, but they are few and far in between. Fisher just doesn’t have it anymore and Farmar never had it. When the lakers play defense with energy and smarts, they play like a lock down defensive team. But they don’t play like that with any ounce of consistency. Thats simply the story of the lakers this season. We know what they are capable of, but we just don’t know if they are going to do it.

    I keep saying I’m less worried about the offense then the defense. Offensively, the lakers need to start hitting shots. They all need to put in extra time with Hodges. But another thing is Odom reluctance to play inside. Whenever Lamar has an advantage speed wise he just plays on the perimeter and takes long range shots. Okay Matt Boner cannot guard lamar on the perimeter, but he can’t guard Lamar in the post either. Lamar takes half of his shots from inside and half from outside. Lamar’s shooting percentage from the inside is 57% outside is 43%. He shoots 58% from close range not including dunks or tip ins. 58%. Yet he normally just floats around the perimeter most games.

    Shannon Brown, he needs to be a catch and shoot player. Brown just doesn’t score when he creates his own shot. Farmar hasn’t really been taking bad shots, he’s just not making any. Fisher’s shot selection has dramatically improved but his shooting percentage hasn’t. Artest has to start making those wide open jumpers. I do agree that the lakers should play at a faster pace and look for early opportunities, but it won’t matter if they can’t make shots.

  6. Any word on Bynum’s MRI?

  7. 5) No, Kevin Love was also a “1 and done” freshman at UCLA.

    Of course, Love and Farmar are worlds apart in talent and in work ethic.

  8. That’s all good and all but the main issue in my opinion is there offense is out of wack. Yes Pau needs to get morr touches. And Kobe needs to realize when he is not having a great shooting night he needs to play PG and set his teammates up for easy shots since he draws double teams all the time. Also Ron Ron needs to make his shots. He stays open too often and gets easy looks and cannot knock them down…here is where we miss Trevor Ariza who actually knocked those shots down. Also Lamar Odom has got to play consistently which he does not. Had a Monster game against Utah and had a snoozer against the Spurs. For the Hell Buss had to go through to resign him he needs to earn his keep and contract. And lastly the bench….they’re not even a bench DLeaguer’s could walk on to the team and score more than 4 points. This is what the bench had against the Spurs. This is damn ridiculous. Look as a fan I wanna see some major adjustments made during the offseason which includes finding a New backup PG and finding Farmar, Vujacic, and Morrison a new home!

  9. Obviously, the Lakers will have to work on their defense foremost only because they have a better chance at putting the ball through the hoop than it is from stopping the other team from doing the same.

    I just don’t like their defensive strategy of funneling perimeter players to their shot blockers because that is just unnecessarily putting more pressure on their big men when they should have been challenging their perimeter defenders to man up instead of acting like wranglers.

    That is also teaching the perimeter defenders to rely too much on the post defenders to do their job.
    Maybe the very reason why guys like Farmar, Brown, and Vujacic play matador defense because they’ve been taught to do it.

    Having the coaching staff use different drills and actually practice numerous situations that each opponent can throw at them in games during practice should have also been a common agenda.

    Plus, I don’t think they really emphasize to the younger players the importance of working on their shots at their own time.

    Then again, maybe most of the players have been challenged enough but can’t deal with the pressures of playing to defend the title.

  10. Good comments…

    As regards P&R defense, I would like to see PJ put Lamar on the primary screener. LO seems to commit more to the hedge and he is long, athletic, & quick enough to disrupt the ball handler while closing down the passing lane to the rolling big…He can defend most 4s & 5s. Pau seems a little lost on P&R defense, and Bynum is the least quick/athletic of the three bigs…

    I can’t quantify this, but it seems that the team takes its cues from Kobe for good & for bad. Just because Kobe creates shots for himself (sometimes stubbornly) does not give the automatic green light to Shannon, Farmar, Fisher, to take similar shots…And it seems to be that way on D…Kobe has long floated around, seeking passing lanes while losing his man…I notice more of our perimeter players doing that now…

  11. lakersfansincemagic April 5, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    They’re having too much fun partying when they’re not playing ball..

  12. Funky Chicken April 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    What about just running the offense? The triangle was not designed for one guy to put his head down and force his way to the basket (and into a turnover), nor was it designed to have two completely motionless players (point guard and small forward) stand around and play no role besides shooting from behind the arc.

    When this team runs the offense it is a beautiful thing to watch (much more so than the offense during the Shaq/Kobe championship teams, to me). However, when they do as they’ve been doing much of this season, it is incredibly ugly.

    Run the offense, and play hard for four quarters. If they did that, they’d win the title easily. And that is the real shame. A veteran team ought to be able to do those two things….

  13. Couldn’t agree more with Darius. When you have a long, athletic, talented team you want to play at a fast tempo. The most obvious reason is if you have the most talent it is more likely to win out over more possessions (larger sample size). At the start of the year when we were dominating we were playing at a faster tempo.

  14. MICHAEL ZARABI aka ZERB April 5, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    on Bynum: no tear … no timetable set for his return … anyone have a tissue i can use?

  15. Run the offense. (That also means to “run” when the opportunities present themselves.) That attitude of running the offense needs to start with Kobe. Same with the defense. And same with complaining to the refs about a call while the ball is still in play.

  16. Darius,
    I don’t think you are going to get much in the way of fast break basketball with the current starters, regardless the situation.

    Fish seemingly can’t run, Artest has trouble handling the ball – never mind doing it quickly, and Kobe’s finger and habits mean he is just going to saunter up the court when he has the ball – too many years playing with Shaq, apparently.

    Last year it was Trevor, Farmar, and Brown who initiated most of the fast breaks – with or without the ball. Now it is Lamar and Pau.

    I agree with you that this is one fundamental problem with this club; I just don’t see any way to change Kobe or Fish’s habits.

  17. I think there is enough athleticism on the Lakers for more fast break points but we need a dedication to the defensive end for steals.

    But that change probably won’t happen. What I know is our defense can be damn good, and I wish they would figure that out.

    Do we have to wait til Thursday? for the next game?? seems too long to talk about one crappy loss.

  18. It would be interesting to see how far we go this season, since it reminds me somewhat of our season with four hall of famers – making the finals but with broken bones all over the place, finally hitting a wall that experience and grit alone could not overcome.

    We have everything on paper, and to be honest, they’re actually pretty good on court as well, but we are broken everywhere. It starts with Kobe’s finger, odom’s shoulder, Bynum’s heel, Artest’s foot, Fisher’s age, Sasha’s arm, and on it goes.

    Plus Kobe, Odom and Pau each had to increase their minutes due to other players’ injuries, and that takes a toll.

    Now, playoffs are a bit easier for us since it gives us more time to prepare and rest, and if we can blitz through the first, and maybe the second, we should be fine. But if we can’t put away the first two teams inn 5 games or less… we’re not looking at a happy ending at the end of the season.

  19. There is a difference between “fast breaking” and speeding up the tempo

  20. Jackson fined 35K for referee critique: I hate this rule! What other proffession in America is protected from someone’s public opion as much as the NBA referee’s? You can criticize the President, our government, your boss, and just about any individual in our country unless you are an NBA associate speaking about an official. Especially after the ref. scandal a couple of years ago; why shouldn’t you be able to question the refs? David Stern’s ego is out of his mind if he thinks he’s running a flawless system 82 games a season for all the teams plus playoffs.

  21. this season is shaping up to be just an incredible disappointment. the joy I felt winning the championship, then getting artest, then resigning LO, even signing bynum…

    i was sure we were going to be the prohibitive favorites for the next five years.

    shows you what a dummy I am….

  22. 19,
    I see your point but this is a private business. And Stern doesn’t think the refs are perfect. The league privately fines referees for bad officiating and the ones who aren’t throwing games to get a little money in their pocket feel that fine a lot more than the millionaire NBA head coaches. The League doesn’t want the negative attention drawn to officiating crews that a Phil Jackson can and will spotlight. It also is a way to bring in more revenue (that they to give to charity). It is a win/win for them. The NBA media is easily manipulated and doesn’t tend to think for themselves. When was the last time “they” brought up bad officiating if a coach or player didn’t go on a tirade? To me this proves the NBA’s adopted policy is affective. Because I am pretty sure if Stern wasn’t throwing out fines after every game there would be at least 5 minutes of players and coaches criticizing officials.

    21,
    Keep your head out of the oven for now. The Lakers still have the most talent when healthy (the most important factor in winning a championship) and still have the 2nd best record in the NBA and the best record in the superior western conference. There are better days ahead.

  23. Speeding up the tempo is definitely something I’d like to see, depending on the personnel we have on the floor. Fish and Artest give me nightmares in that scenario, but I think one way to break Shannon out of his funk is to unleash him as a finisher in the open court. In the half-court sets he just seems lost.

    The flipside to that – guys like Farmar don’t understand “intelligent” up-tempo game. I’m not sure they know how to read the D and pull back at the right times, instead of forcing the issue. But it’s something I definitely want to see more of, especially when Lamar is in the game.

  24. Darius,

    It’s chemistry.

    Although your tactical suggestions make perfect sense, the Lakers are already capable of correctly running the triangle offense and a lock down defense with enthusiasm–that extends across the whole team–at the right pace–blowing the opposition away–and it has happened this season–especially when Kobe wasn’t playing. That is strange.

    The Lakers have played perfect quarters of team basketball, often carrying out excellent coaching plans, only to lose cohesion and disintegrate the next quarter for no obvious reason–but not even that happens with consistency.

    I think it’s because the team as a whole rarely feels the spirit behind the tactics. That’s lack of chemistry.

    If the Lakers find this mysterious chemistry, they’ll be almost impossible to stop. The way things stand without that magic right now, things do not look very good.

  25. Great post Darius.

    I remember back at the trade deadline people writing that the Lakers should have gone after Nate Robinson, that they needed a spark plug like him off the bench. Defense and not fitting with the offense be damned, he could score and we needed that. Well, even the thin Celtics have bumped him from the rotation. As in not playing. The answers are almost never simple.

  26. OMG Kurt has returned from the dead.

  27. For the commenter regarding Farmar above: the only UCLA guys to leave Howland’s team after only one season were Ariza, Love, and Holiday. Farmar and Russell Westbrook were there for two seasons, Mbah a Moute and Arron Afflalo were there for three, Darren Collison and Ryan Hollins for all four.

  28. Someone wake Jackson up from his season long coma and tell him to earn his pay by……….dare I say it……..COACHING!

  29. Kobe needs to read Kelly Dwyers article about him.

    Is Bynum going to comeback? Not running or jumping a week before the playoffs doesn’t sound promising.

  30. In case you missed it, Kurt agrees with me: http://probasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2010/04/darko-milicic-teaching-al-jefferson-how-to-play-the-game.php

    I’m looking forward having Darko the next year, in a minimum-pay salary-wise that is, because he proves he can be a good player within the triangle.

    Plus, we have an insurance when Bynum gets injured (knocks on wood), Odom will not get back to the starting 5, and the bench play will not be affected.
    To me having Odom start, makes a great impact on how the bench plays, if they would have a LEGIT backup center in Darko, then the starting lineup would be no problem, plus in case you don’t know, Darko is a poor man’s Gasol (can pass, shoot, rebound, and block), ain’t bad to dream, but I would kill this guy, given Bynum’s track record.

  31. BTW, I’m not looking for a return Showtime. But what I am looking for is a return of getting the ball up court quickly and getting into our sets faster. More post lane sprints for our big men. Or, maybe we run more drag P&R’s early in the clock or on the secondary break. Maybe there should be less deferring to Kobe after securing the defensive rebound where we seek him out so he can be the ball handler. There are many ways to get the ball up court faster and identify your advantage and attack the defense.

    Also, I agree with drrayeye (#24). You can call it chemistry, uncertainty, or whatever else. Remember, the Triangle is a read and react offense where every player needs to see the same thing when reading the defense. This group understanding sets up the movements of the players within the offense. If the players don’t see the same thing and act at the same time, there will be issues and it comes off looking dysfunctional.

  32. “You can call it chemistry, uncertainty, or whatever else”

    They all need to buy in to the system, both on offense and defense, and play it consistently. That hasn’t happened. That is more important than “talent level” or Bynum coming back.

  33. 32,
    It’s amazing how much players “buy into the system” on both offense and defense when you have your only Center in the lineup and a star forward coming off the bench.

  34. 33) Aaron,
    Actually, they have never fully bought into the system. That has been the biggest factor keeping this team from reaching its potential. Doesn’t mean they won’t win the title, but it will keep them out of the “all time great” discussion.

  35. Darius, I just wanted to say that this was a very enjoyable post! Keep up the good work.

  36. #36. Thanks, I really appreciate the support. Come by anytime and issue compliments. ;) On a more serious note, it’s really the commenters and the community that makes this site what it is.