During the Lakers opening night game, Darius and I noticed the Houston Rockets using the Lakers’ perimeter aggressiveness to their advantage. Guys like Ron Artest, Matt Barnes and Kobe Bryant, who are very aggressive defenders, become susceptible to back door cuts. There were a few occasions where one of the Lakers’ wing defenders were over playing on the perimeter and the offensive player was able to cut backdoor for an easy bucket. Giving up easy buckets isn’t ever good, but the Artest-Barnes-Bryant trio playing aggressively on the perimeter is going to pay dividends for this team as the season progresses. In this post, we’re interested in how the Lakers were able to make slight adjustments to their defensive philosophy to stop Houston’s Princeton offense — something that I think this team is going to be able to do throughout the season against all teams. Phil Jackson has the right personnel to make in game adjustments and see those adjustments applied on the floor. Before I get into how the Lakers were able to adjust, I’ll let Darius break down how Houston ran their offense:
In the diagrams below, you can see exactly what Houston is trying to do in order to set up their standard screen/cut sequence that is a staple of their Princeton sets. What the Rockets want to accomplish is to get the Lakers’ defense moving from side to side in order to loosen up the defense to make their (eventual) entry pass into the high post easier. They accomplish this by running a dribble hand off sequence. Brooks starts out going to his right off a Scola screen and then handing off to Battier. Battier then circles towards the top of the key again using a Scola pick. After coming off that pick, Battier initiates the set by passing the ball to Brad Miller at the FT line extended. Miller then holds then waits for Kevin Martin to make his read where Martin either comes to the wing to receive a pass or cut back door if the Laker defender overplays the cut to the top. In this instance, Kobe gets caught cheating to the topside and gets beat on Martin’s back cut.
Here is the sequence in real time:
In this next play, the Rockets again look to initiate their offense through Miller at the high post. After Brooks brings the ball across half court, he passes to Miller and then proceeds to set a down screen for Chase Budinger who waits on the wing. In this sequence there are a couple of different options, but much like the Triangle offense, the Princeton offense requires the players to make reads in the moment and play off what the defenders are doing. In this case, rather than come off Brooks’ screen to receive the pass from Miller, Budinger notices that Barnes starts to cheat topside to fight over the screen and quickly cuts back door. Miller then executes a beautiful drop pass to Chase and the 2nd year wing flushes the ball on a late challenging Barnes. Again, the Lakers over aggressiveness is beat with a back cut.
Here is the play in real time:
One of the reasons both of those plays looked so good was because of their ability to execute. They were able to accomplish exactly what was diagramed. When teams execute that well, one of two things are happening: 1) The offense is completely dominating the defense, no matter what the defense throws at them or 2) The defense isn’t doing anything to disrupt execution. If you go back and watch those clips, there isn’t anything disrupting the Rockets’ offense. Both of the above clips began with getting the ball to Brad Miller at the pinch post; there was no disruption in getting him the ball, and when he had the ball, there was no ball pressure on his passes to the cutting man. Now look at the way the Lakers defended these same sets in these next two clips.
When watching this first clip, there are a few things you should pay attention to. One of them is the fact that the Lakers were switching on screens. Instead of allowing either Aaron Brooks or Kevin Martin to penetrate, the Lakers either switched, or “showed” very well on all screens. This keeps the whole defense between the ball and the basket, as more defenders between ball and basket allows for more help if an offensive player cuts backdoor.
This second picture shows, again, the Lakers switching on screens. If LO doesn’t slide over and help Kobe, Brooks turns the corner and gets an easy bucket. The Lakers don’t get enough credit for their ability to work as a unified group. When they’re committed to stopping a team, they communicate well and move well together. This stopped penetration and Brooks was eventually forced to pick up his dribble.
In this last picture, it shows that the Lakers are starting to pick up on what the Rockets are trying to accomplish. Look at Brad Miller at the top of the key. He’s being watched by two Lakers as Brooks looks to get it to him. Chase Budinger was in the corner waiting for Miller to receive the ball to cut back door. Because Shannon Brown and Theo Ratliff had the presence of mind to step in front of Miller, the possession ended with Budinger forcing up a three pointer with the shot clock running down.
This final clip is a great example of disrupting execution. When a team is getting what they want against your defense, your defense has to become annoying to a degree. On this play, Lakers’ defenders entered the Rockets personal space. Again, it’s about changing angles on passing lanes and disrupting the offense to a point where execution becomes difficult. We’re talking about simple ideologies, but it’s the simple and little things that make good teams great. Here, the Lakers do the little things and end up forcing a turnover.
This first picture shows Derek Fisher with his hand up, trying to disrupt the entry pass to Brad Miller. Not only was he trying to make the entry pass harder, but it was a text book closeout. In some of the earliest levels of basketball, they teach you to close out with your left hand up on right hand shooters. Brooks isn’t shooting the ball, but since he’s right handed, Fisher’s left hand is the closest to where the ball is being released from. Granted, Fish is a lefty, so that may have something to do with it, but it’s as fundamental as you can get in getting in the way of an entry pass. What is harder to see here is Pau Gasol defending Miller. Instead of simply allowing the pass to come in, Gasol was draped over Miller, trying to get around or go through him to get to the pass. Miller gets the ball, but it wasn’t an easy entry pass by any means, and definitely much harder than either of the two from the first two clips.
In this final picture, we see Shane Battier cutting and appears to be open. However, Gasol still hasn’t given up on the play, getting his hand in the passing lane, making Miller’s pass as tough as possible. Instead of getting the pass to Battier when he wants to, Gasol is able to delay him long enough to give Kobe time to recover and time for Lamar Odom to slide over to the help side. The Lakers force the turnover which leads to a Kobe jumper on the other end.
In the Preview and Chat for the Warriors game, commenter Andres expressed some concern about the Lakers defense. As I said during those comments, the Lakers are going to be just fine. This is a veteran group of guys being led by the greatest coach in NBA history. This Lakers team is an intelligent bunch who can make adjustments as needed. We may not always like how long it takes them to figure out the offense or their effort, but this is a team that can stop anyone when they’re doing the little things that make them so good.