Searching For An Identity?

Darius Soriano —  January 3, 2011

What type of team is the Lakers?

An offensive one?

A defensive one?

At this point in the season you’d think this would be clearly established but over the past few weeks, it’s tough to actually tell.

When the season got started, this team was clearly geared towards offense.  After the team’s first 10 games they had an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 116.7 which was good for 1st in the NBA by a large margin.  (Really, that’s a staggering number.)  If it would have held up, this team would have easily been considered one of the best offensive teams ever and could have continued to cruise through games and racked up wins playing only mediocre defense as they had to that point (through that same period, they were 16th in defensive efficiency with a rating of 107.5).

But as of today, it’s easy to see that the ranking has not held up as the Lakers have started to sputter on offense.  After last night’s effort against the Grizzlies, the Lakers now rank 4th in offensive efficiency with a rating of 110.9 and have fallen behind the Spurs, Heat, and Suns.  I’m no mathematics genius, but by my calculations the Lakers’ efficiency on that side of the ball has dropped by 5.8 points per 100 possessions in its past 24 games.  Even when accounting for the fact that keeping its early season pace would be nearly impossible, that’s still a hefty decline on offense.

With the return of Andrew Bynum, then, this team must be moving more towards a defensive model, right?  I mean, last year when Bynum started the season healthy the Lakers came out of the gates as one of the best defensive teams in the league.  For the first moth or so, they actually ranked either 1st or 2nd in defensive efficiency and ended the season in the top 5.

And while this team has made some strides since Bynum has returned, the steps towards positive improvement haven’t fully taken hold yet.  Don’t get me wrong, Bynum has been altering shots at the rim and has been as good as I could have imagined in defending the P&R, stepping out to contest jumpers, and helping to close out defensive posssesions by securing the rebound.  But as a team, this group is still giving up too much dribble penetration and players whose initials aren’t AB haven’t been protecting the rim with the sort of consistency needed.

So again, I ask, what type of team is this?

From past years, we know that the Lakers can win with either style being their identity.  Last year, when they won their second consecutive title, the Lakers finished the year with the 4th best defense and the 11th best offense.  The year before that when they beat the Magic in the Finals, the team had the 3rd best offense and the 6th ranked defense.  Obviously these rankings show that defense is what’s mattered a bit more (a composite 5th ranked D vs a 7th best O is sloppy calculating, but shows they performed consistently better on that side of the ball over that stretch), but the Lakers have an offensive philosphy that has dominated the league since the early 1990’s so you know that it’s also a major force in their team identity.

Here at FB&G, though, we’ve always said that this team will go as far as their defense takes them.  They’ll need to get the necessary stops and hold teams down when their offense isn’t clicking.  There was no better example of that than game 7 of last year’s Finals where Boston put a strangle hold on the Lakers offense (though offensive rebounding by LA was huge to counter that) but the Lakers kept pace in the game by stopping the C’s just as effectively on the other end.  When the Lakers trailed big in the 2nd half, they turned up the defensive intensity even further, forced turnovers and misses, and secured rebounds.   This year’s team needs to take a page from that notebook and try to get back to that level of defense.

(On a sidenote, this conversation about defense can’t be had without mentioning that the Lakers defense is invariably linked to their offensive success.  The Triangle is predicated on ball and player movement but the underlying theme to it all is floor spacing and floor balance.  Those characteristics allow the team to transition from offense to defense without being overly hurt by leak outs and semi transition baskets.  So even by saying the Lakers need to improve their defense and their approach on that side of the ball can’t be completely separated from saying that they also need to execute better on offense. End note.)

So, it’s now time to step up on defense – figuratively and literally.  Last night, a play that sticks out in my mind was when the ball was rotated to the corner to Rudy Gay and Fisher closed out well to force Rudy to put the ball on the ground.  Fisher then took away the middle drive and guided Rudy baseline where his help waited.  But rather than stepping up quickly to close down any scoring chance, Gasol hung back by the basket and Rudy elevated for a floater from 6 feet out.  Those two points weren’t the difference in the game, but it showed me that the defense isn’t close to where it needs to be.  Those are the types of plays that the Lakers need to make consistently in order to get back to where they want to go.  There’s time to make it happen, but it needs to start now.

Darius Soriano

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37 responses to Searching For An Identity?

  1. The Lakers’ play has been highly offensive of late, for sure.

    Reminds me of an old story about the Tampa Bay Bucs. Their first couple years in the league they were predictably terrible. A journalist asked the coach about the teams’s execution, and his reply was, it sounded like a pretty good idea!

    The Buss family and other owners must be fit to be tied. They have – I believe – the highest payroll in the league and paid pretty well in the off season to position the team for another title run. I have to say the results are underwhelming and the clock is ticking.

    On a brighter note, I’m impressed with how young ‘drew has analyzed and articulated the situation.

  2. You know, we can talk about, oh the defense needs to improve, oh this is the problem, blah blah blah….

    Normally when a team gets blown out 4 out of their last 6 games (3 at home, and 2 to bad teams) it means that there is something they did not do very right. And with the Lakers, it aint just offense or defense, its both. If there is an area the Lakers need to focus on though, it is their offense for crying out loud. This team is having such a hard time scoring 90 points these days, when that used to be automatic in previous years. Lakers never were or never will be a team that just goes out and plays great defense unless its game 7 of the NBA finals like we all saw. This is a team that can play good defense when they are scoring and can constantly get set. It all starts with them excecuting their offense, which is where the next problem comes in…..

    This team if you ask me, never executed the so called “triangle” to perfection. Someone in this forum actually said it, “they have players who are talented within the triangle.” That used to be enough, but it won’t this year. The West is way too good and some of the other teams, while maybe not quite as talented, have caught up to us because they can consistently play mean team defense and have great team chemistry, something which we lack both of.

  3. What type of team is the Lakers?

    big
    skilled
    old
    deep
    slow

    They were outscored 28-5 in transition and had 20 turnovers to Memphis’ 9. From HoopData:

    MOST FORCED TURNOVERS PER 100 POSSESSIONS
    Memphis 16.19
    Portland 15.55
    Boston 15.44
    Milwaukee 15.27
    Washington 15.19
    Golden State 14.87
    Chicago 14.77

    This may partly explain why they have lost twice to Memphis–turnovers, when they occur, really hurt the Lakers due to lack of team speed.

    They need to get more out of the 3 (Artest/Barnes) and the 1 (Fisher/Blake)offensively, they need more from Gasol, and they need to avoid TOs and make the other team play half-court.

  4. @3. That is a very telling statistic.

  5. The blood is in the water now – there is no reason for any “bottom dwelling” team in the NBA to doubt themselves when they face the Lakers. As if it weren’t enough for a team to “get up” when facing the champs, these teams now have precedent in their favor when it comes to pulling off the (blowout) upset.

    I felt that one of the components (although a small one) for the success we had early in the season was based on the mystique of the camp. Other teams expected to lose. And they did. That’s all gone now and it is very difficult to get something like that back during the middle of the season. I hate to say it, but baring serious attitude changes, I expect a grind the rest of the way. Maybe this piece of humble pie is the best thing.

  6. Artest is not producing at all. It might sound drastic, but I think Matt Barnes in starting lineup to shake things up might do the trick. Barnes plays great defense, and at this point, will be more accurate from the perimeter and provide more energy / speed. Odom and Artest with second unit. Thoughts?

  7. @Sedale
    So you’re saying that if no one on the team steps up and provides the necessary spark that was discussed in previous comment threads, we’ll just have to hope that losing to enough bottom feeding teams will get the job done?

    That’s original, but it may well work.

    Personally, I’m just hoping for good basketball and enjoyable games to watch again. I do not mind losing to a better team. I do mind losing the way we have been losing lately.

  8. I think we won’t know what type of team the Lakers are until April-May-June.

    You can pull out all the stats you want, the missed assignments, turnovers, etc… The don’t mean anything or tell you what this team is all about, because right now, they are quite simply… disinterested. We can’t use any of the games or opponents as measuring sticks because we haven’t been showing up for them.

    They are NOT OLD (with the exception of Fish — Theo & Smith aren’t part of the rotation enough). Boston is OLD.
    They do not lack team speed. Kareem past his prime was slow to get back. They do not lack atheticism, not with Kobe, Brown, and Barnes. They do not lack smarts, with Odom and Pau. When the Lakers do not take care of the ball (which is a lot lately), their positioning on the court (close to baseline) many times have allowed the opponent to get out in transition and run as they already have a decided advantage. They won’t start taking care of the ball until they have better focus, and they won’t have better focus until they dedicate themselves to winning again, night in and night out.

    The problem this team has is all mental. It’s with desire, fire, and hunger. Three trips to the finals, the Olympics, and Worlds have left this team bored and lacking hunger. Being outrebounded and having their passes picked off is a clear telltale. This is a product of their own success.

    Not only is this team bored, but they are distracted. I mean, it appears that Artest is more dedicated to some of his work off the court (which is all good by the way), and D-Fish is definitely busy with his Player’s Association duties.

    It is a bad recipe. I hope we’ll see what this team is really about come April-May-June. Hopefully they are not so bored, that even a championship bid disinterests them. Hopefully they shake the noise and distractions in their world so that they can dedicate to the team winning games and keeping the banner here, where it belongs. The last thing any of us want to see, is Boston hanging up #18 in the Garden.

  9. Ruminating late last night I posited that things went south when Sasha was dealt away and of course it’s a ridiculous notion. http://tinyurl.com/2cuckkf
    There comes a point however, when a team’s play isn’t just about offense, defense, X’s & O’s or any other well-laid plans. It might be time to go to the end of the bench and work backwards. Either that or hope for a Scola/Fish wakeup moment.

  10. Can’t wait for Phil’s next book, in which he explains everything about whatever the heck is going on right now.

  11. Igor @ 10 – haha, yes, me too!

  12. Raymeister is dead on. But the really disconcerting thing about these losses of late is regardless of the players’ collective ennui, these games count and their regular season win total is critical to home court advantage in the playoffs.

    Just ask the Celtics. There isn’t a person in that organization or fanbase who hasn’t wondered how the Finals would have turned out had Boston not played .500 basketball over the last two-thirds of last season.

    It was the Celtics’ paltry 50 wins that meant L.A. got to host Games 6 and 7. That — more than any mythical injuries to KG or Allen or the actual loss of Perkins — helped tip the Lakers over the edge on their way to a title last summer. If the Lakers aren’t careful and able to fix things soon, they too could be looking at a deciding road game in Oklahoma City, Boston or a city in Texas or Florida next spring/summer.

  13. It has been mentioned before, but bears repeating: After three trips to the finals the mental part of playing the season becomes the most difficult part of the game. The closest team to our record is the Spurs – and they couldn’t get back to the finals two years in a row.

    We may not be able to repeat because of too much success the past three years.

  14. Lakers are slow and unatheletic. Besides Fisher, Kobe has a lot of mileage and is playing (defense) like he is 36. Artest has quick hands but looks like his feet are in cement. Bynum is naturally slow due to his size, and Pau looks tired. The team overall is just too slow and lacks activity. The lack of speed is most glaring on transition defense, rotation to shooters, and the guards constantly getting beat off the dribble.
    Some of this can be compensated for by better effort. But you cannot creat speed with effort, definitely not when you are over 32.
    At first I thought this was an effort problem but the more I watch the Lakers, the more I have realized that this looks like a GENETIC problem and requires the infusion of new genes at the small forward and the PG position.
    The more I watch them this year, the more I feel that last year’s title came as a result of a series of breaks, the most important of which was Lakers having home court in the finals due to the elemination of the Cavs and the Magic, and the Knee injury to Perkins that caused the lopsided rebounding advantage in Game 7.

    Don’t expect the same breaks this year. The 91 million dollar (101 if you include the luxury tax) salary gamble looks like a bust and we are stuck with it for a while.

  15. Craig, now that you explained the situation for free, PJ won’t be able to sell copies of his upcoming book. Why should he even bother to write it?

    Actually, maybe he will simply phone it in – like the Lakers are this season.

    Seriously though, I do think you are on to something.

  16. I think we won’t get anything going until all star break. The guys are very, very aware of their bodies, overly so that they are not producing the kind of hustle plays that are required to be ranked in the top in either offense or defense.

    I don’t blame them. Kobe had a finger injury again, Pau has trouble with his base and must obviously be thinking about things that happened to Yao, and Artest probably is suffering from the extremely ill-planned workouts he punished himself with to lose weight.

    Add to that the just-returned-from-injury Bynum, and Walton who is really not sure about his back, we don’t have many players who can play with abandon. Not a coincidence that Barnes is the most active player out there, and really no surprise that the Ariza-Shannon-Barnes type of young (relatively) athletes can pad their stats in our system.

    This will slowly go away as the post season approaches and when our players can dig out the high school/college basketball mentality of ‘play until your body breaks.’ Our players are dedicated enough for that, just not now.

    Right now, they’re willing to accept losses to save their bodies, even if none of them realize that’s what they’re doing.

  17. “When a game starts getting out of hand — and rightly so — Kobe will crank it up, not screw it up,” Jackson said. “I used that term ‘screw it up’ but not in terms of it being an error or a mistake, but ‘crank it up.’ He’ll go to another notch to try to get us back in the ballgame. That’s something we do in the fourth quarter, that’s our fourth quarter action, that’s how we win ballgames. To have to crank it up and do that in the third quarter, we didn’t have much left in the gas tank after that.”

    Bryant admitted Jackson’s assessment was not off base, but said it is his role on the team to bear the brunt of the scoring load from time to time.

    “[Jackson] was right, I totally broke the offense, but I did it intentionally because I felt like we needed to get something started because what we were doing just wasn’t working,” Bryant said. “So, I tried to kick start it and sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t but that’s my responsibility. When it works out? Great. When it doesn’t? I’ll take the criticism for it, but I have thick enough skin to be able to do that. … You just have to take the good with the bad. That’s part of my job in the seat that I sit.

    “I was trying to win the damn game. We were playing like [expletive], we all were, so I was just trying to get something going, trying to pump a little energy to us and it just didn’t work out. But Phil doesn’t really care how many shots I take, he just wants me to take them inside of the offense. [Sunday] was one of those days where I was like, ‘[Expletive] the triangle, I need to get myself going and try to save this damn game,’ and it just didn’t work out.”

    From ESPN

  18. Wow, that article really reinforces what I posted about the team being bored and distracted…!

    These Lakers will be back. Hopefully in time.

  19. What happened to the team that opened the season, getting easy baskets, running when the moment presented itself, The Killer B’s running wild? Holy moly, this is a trainwreck right now. Do they have to walk it up every posession?

  20. Reign on Parades January 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    I made this point a few topics ago, about how our offense is free falling faster than our defense is improving

    And I think 08 demonstrates what happens when we’re top tier on offense and middling on defense

    People who underestimate Bynumite’s importance to this team just don’t have a clue

    People take for granted how the Lakers can do without him because the best five (OFFENSIVELY) is usually Kobe-Gasol-Odom and two floor stretchers

    People take him for granted because we won two championships with Andrew Bynum hobbling around like his middle name was Oden

    People take Drew for granted because… because I don’t know. I don’t even know who I’m referring to as “people”

    I just want Drew to be healthy and for this team to establish itself (to jump on your “identity” idea) already. So that we can see what we’ve got with the best roster we’ve had in a long long time, and build on that and watch progress instead regress or flux.

  21. Regarding Drew. He was a monster on D against the Grizz. He was active, contesting shots, blocking shots… We would have lost that game by 30 if he wasn’t playing.

    Also…. the All-Star Break. At first I was thinking the All-Star Break is going to be a good time for the Lakers to turn the corner. Lately, I am thinking it is going to be an additional distraction.

    It will be an up and down ride until these guys COMMIT. Right now, they definitely have not committed to winning. Maybe Magic Johnson has to show up and talk some winnin’ time into these guys.

  22. I heard that trading season is officially open :D

  23. Time to trade Pau and Kobe! Just joking….haha

  24. @23, Hi Warren, I was just talking about you a few threads back, how have you been. Yeah, I would expect a quote like that from you for sure.

  25. Surprisingly, the experts at ESPN actually have some insights (likely because they brought the K Bros, Markazi, and McMenamin into the roundtable, who are all great bball analysts) – http://sports.espn.go.com/los-angeles/news/story?id=5984788

    Disturbing stat I wasn’t aware of: we haven’t won a playoff series as the road team in 7 years.

    Even if this team pulls it together somewhat, it takes a special veteran group to win multiple series on the road. We haven’t seen anything so far to suggest this group has it in them.

  26. Whatever happened to ole Javaris Crittenton, did some team pick him up this year. Just say’n, hell even ole Smush could get to the rim and get out running on the break( things neither Blake nor Fish seem to do well without tripping over their own feet.) Got to find that energizer if the team continues to spin its wheels in the future.

  27. I know I might be a little weird…. Okay… A lot weird. But I almost enjoy the lakers more when they are strugling. That is when I get to see Kobe seperate himself from everyone beside Michael Jordan. The way he plays every minute in a blowout like it’s the playoffs, diving for loose balls… Growling like it’s finals week? I was smiling the whole second half. I enjoyed it more than a lackluster victory against the 76ers. Call me crazy.

  28. For a soothing refreshing take on different matters especially Kobe this Kobe that conundrum always take a peek at David Friedman’s blogspot.Very recommendable..

  29. The link for David Friedman’s blogspot is http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/

  30. You would think that by now Kobe would be aware that the best way to crank it up during a lackluster game is to crank it up on defense, which leads to stops and steals and easy buckets in transition.

    I would much rather see the Kobe from the Olympics, expending all of his energy on defense than going into hero mode on offense. In the long run, I would be happier with the losses if they seemed to be the byproduct of working through the process of getting things right by doing the right thing on both offense and defense. But Kobe going into hero mode in search of a win during the doldrums of this point in the season seems counterproductive.

    We don’t need wins, we need to get in reps making the right rotation, cut, pass, etc. as a group.

  31. Friedman said it best here – “It seems like Gasol goes through stretches when he wants to play without having to deal with a lot of physical contact but when Gasol does what he is supposed to do Bryant delivers him the ball on time and on target; I have seen many instances when Bryant encouraged Gasol to cut harder or take an open shot but I have never seen Bryant criticize Gasol for shooting too much.”

    I wish Friedman would go into the why regarding Gasol. But it doesn’t seem to be a mental issue for Gasol. Or Kobe. Or Fish.

  32. 31) “We don’t need wins, we need to get in reps making the right rotation, cut, pass, etc. as a group.”

    Yes. This is a radically different roster than last spring – between the additions and subtractions, the players who have come back from injuries, the players who are currently dealing with injuries, the players who are playing better, and the players who are playing worse. And no time with the full rotation in training camp because of the Bynum and Bryant surgeries.

    They are still figuring things out – which is why it is especially important to stay within the systems.

  33. Craig and nimbkle,
    Thanks both of you for the link to Friedman’s blog. That was a very enjoyable and thought provoking read. It’s always nice to see someone who hasn’t only put a lot of thought into what they’re writing, but seems to actually understand what they’re writing about.

  34. This is the second season in a row that we’ve had a discussion about the Lakers identity. I thought the consensus was that this team would rely on their defense. The Lakers added Blake, Barnes, Artest and Ratliff to bolster their defense over the past two seasons, but somehow remain uncertain of wear strengths. Let me rephrase that, they know what their strengths are, but have a hard time taking advantage of them. There are many reasons for that I know. The most obvious are Gasol’s and Artest’s disappearing acts.

    But Phil really needs to consider benching Artest for Barnes. Artest, and the Lakers, will benefit if he plays with the second unit because he adds a scoring threat, he plays better with the ball in his hands and teams have to respect him when he has the ball. The first unit will benefit with Barnes because he will add much needed foot speed and hustle that will improve the lakers transition defense, defensive rebounding and ability to get to loose balls. On the offensive end, Barnes will help because he’s a better slasher and finisher. The starting line-up right now is just big and slow. Derek Fisher is the one hustle guy that is willing to dive on the floor and get dirty, but he’s the slowest of them all. Artest is the other dirty work player but he’s the least athletic. Phil should really consider this option. I really think it’ll get Artest more in the flow of the game.

  35. Snoopy2006 — That stat doesn’t bother me in the least because it’s totally circumstantial.

    Since knocking off the No. 1-seeded Timberwolves (damn that sounds strange today) in 2004, how many series have the Lakers even played as a road seed in the playoffs?

    Just three — and they gave the Suns all they could handle in 2006; had no business thinking they could beat the Suns in 2007; and lost to the team with the league’s best record (Boston) in 2008.

    Every other series in the past seven years the Lakers have held home court advantage.

  36. #36 and #26. That stat doesn’t really concern me either because of the success that the Lakers have actually had in playing road playoff games. Sure, they may have had home court advantage, but last year they beat the Thunder (game 6), Jazz (game 4), and Suns (game 6) all on the road en route to the championship. The year before that, they defeated Denver (game 6 WCF) and Orlando (game 5, Finals) on the road to win the championship. In the end, that stat is a throw away stat that people can use to try and make a point without really having to defend its implications (that the Lakers need HCA). I understand that the argument against that is game 7 against Boston but I’ll take my chances in saying that if the Lakers play their best ball they can win anywhere (with a sidenote being that if they don’t play well they can lose anywhere too – even at home).

    Related to statistical talk, but not to this subject, that argument reminds me of the Kobe FGA in wins vs losses topic that comes up nearly every game. Those that follow the Lakers and have an understanding of Kobe know that Kobe often goes into his hyper aggressive mode when the rest of the team is flailing. And when that’s the case, the team is normally behind. Thus it makes sense that when the Lakers are behind they lose games and in those same games Kobe is often trying to bring the team back by taking a lot of shots. I follow the NFL and a lot of times when a team loses they say that they lacked balance in their offense; that they passed too much and thus that’s why they lost (YOU NEED TO RUN THE BALL TO WIN IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE!). However, that point often completely ignores the fact that passing is usually the quickest way to score and when you trail in the game the point is to score to come back (pardon the pun). So, again, of course the team that often loses lacks balance as they’re trying to pass their way back into the contest.