Our First Clues Into Mike Brown’s Offense

Darius Soriano —  June 2, 2011

I may not care about winning a press conference, but I must admit that I came away impressed with Mike Brown after his introduction to the media on Tuesday afternoon. The new Laker head coach came off as intelligent and very much in his element when dealing with the press. He deflected the questions he needed to deflect, stood up for himself when appropriate, and seemed to have a clear vision for this team and its current core of players. After the presser was over, it’s now pretty clear how he could have wowed the Laker braintrust in an interview to become the team’s 22nd head coach in its rich history.

What interested me most, though, wasn’t his demeanor or even his ability to effectively get the media to on his side with his enthusiasm and comforting style. What interested me the most were the little details that he shared about his approach to the game and how that may translate to this particular group of players. Especially on offense.

In his presser, Brown shared that he has three “principles” that he focuses on when teaching offense:

  1. He wants to “attack the clock” and get the ball up court quickly in order to avoid having possessions deteriorate to the point where shots get forced up with the shot clock winding down.
  2. He wants the ball to move from side to side via ball reversals with an emphasis on the ball moving in and out of the paint.
  3. He wants the floor spaced.

After giving us these bits of insight, Brown also mentioned that he will incorporate “bits and pieces” of the Triangle offense while also falling back on his time with the Spurs to find ways to incorporate the big man talent he’ll have at his disposal with this Laker team. Brown also spoke about getting Kobe the ball in “his spots” in order to maximize Kobe’s talents as a scorer and shot maker.

Based on all this information, we can now start to speculate a bit more on what a Mike Brown offense will look like.

First and foremost, it’s obvious that the Lakers will play a bit faster than they did this past season. Expect to see the Lakers guards pushing the ball up court far more frequently than they did this past season, looking for their teammates to run with them whenever possible. This will mean more post lane sprints by the Laker bigs (Brown actually mentioned this in his presser) and for the Lakers wings to get out in the open court much more looking for easier baskets in transition.

Second, look for the Lakers to enter the ball into the post much earlier in offensive possessions in order to collapse the defense and take advantage of the strength of their post up threats. On the 2002-03 Spurs team, Tim Duncan often got the ball early in offensive possessions to let him set up shop in his comfort spots to attack the defense. On this Lakers team, Gasol, Kobe, and Bynum can all offer post up threats to mirror what Duncan provided that team. If the Lakers can effectively rebound the ball at the defensive end, I expect to see the ball up court quickly with one big man running to rim, the other running to one of the other low blocks, and the ball handler (be it the PG or Kobe) looking to either get the ball into one of them quickly or calling for a quick P&R to set up an action where the ball can get into the paint to compromise the defense.

Third, look for ball and player movement to be a big part of what the Lakers look to do. Mike Brown acknowledged the need to get Kobe the ball in “his spots” and for his big men to still get the touches they need to be effective. The only way this can happen is for the ball to move and for the players to move into those positions. We all know that Kobe’s best spots on the floor are at the elbow, the extended wing (or the “shoulder” of the court where the three point line arc meets the sideline), and at the mid post on either side of the floor. These are the spots on the floor where Kobe operated out of the Triangle for most of his career and where he’s shown the most comfort creating shots for himself or his teammates. We also know that Gasol’s spots are at the elbow and the mid-block on either side of the floor while Bynum operates best from the deep post on either block and at the front of the rim on lobs and duck in actions.

This is where Brown saying he’ll run “bits and pieces” of the Triangle come into play. Brown, a notorious film junkie, surely understands that there are several actions in any offense to best get players into these positions. All variety of cross and down screens, cuts and flashes, and classic post ups can get his players into these positions. It will be on Brown to diagram these actions but this actually shouldn’t be that hard considering nearly every offense uses these actions today in order to get their key players the ball. The Triangle used them, P&R heavy teams use them, and you can find these same actions in the Maverick and Heat sets during the Finals. Understand that just because the Lakers won’t have Phil Jackson (or Brian Shaw) running the triple post offense doesn’t mean some of the basic actions it used can’t be integrated into a different O to get the same type of results.

But there will be change too. We’ll see how Derek Fisher and Steve Blake fit into the philosophy of pushing the ball more. We’ll see where Ron Artest and Lamar Odom find their shots and if some of the versatility they offer can also be built into these same actions. We’ll see how an emphasis on attacking the paint off the dribble affects players like Barnes and Ebanks who seem to do best as slashers rather than ball handlers. Depending on the answers to these questions – or how player evaluation goes into determining whether or not these guys are suited to perform in these roles – we may see roster change over that gets different pieces to execute these sets.

In the end, however, I do think the Lakers will be just fine on the offensive side of the ball when incorporating Coach Brown’s ideas into their sets. There’s just too much talent – and diverse talent at that – for this team not to adapt. After all, this is still basketball and the Lakers have some of the best players in the world at their disposal. Just because it will look different, doesn’t mean the results can’t be similar. And after Mike Brown gave us some clues to how he’ll use these guys, we may find that things look pretty similar anyway.

Darius Soriano

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28 responses to Our First Clues Into Mike Brown’s Offense

  1. Wow, fabulous analysis. I’m very curious (in a good way) to see how this team will be different. I give props to the tri, but I’m glad we are moving on.

  2. Floor-spacing is going to be a huge issue with this team, as currently constructed. Who knows how many minutes Fisher will actually play (hopefully zero?), and he was by far our best 3 point shooter last year at 39.6% in the regular season. Odom was second with 38.2%, which could be considered an anomaly since he hasn’t shot above 33% since his rookie year with the Clippers. After Odom comes Blake, then Artest, then Shannon, with 37.8%, 35.6%, and 34.9% respectively. Each of these guys attempt around 2-3 threes per game, so their shots were fairly evenly spread out. The huge problem, however, comes with the next two players: Kobe, then Matt Barnes. Kobe shot an abysmal 32.3% while taking 4.3 threes per game! Barnes was worse at 31.8%, but with only 2 attempts per game. As a team, the Lakers shot 35.2% from three, which was 0.6% below the league average, tied with the Atlanta Hawks for 18th in the league.

    If the Lakers are going to be relying on floor spacing and ball reversals with an inside-out game, they’re going to have to hit three pointers to balance the floor. Maybe our guys will improve. Steve Blake was a tremendous three point shooter during his Portland years, always above 40%, and Shannon Brown was on-fire, NBA Jam-style at the beginning of the season. I’m also curious to see the NBA HotSpots for ’10-’11, because I’m sure it’ll show Artest shooting much better from the wings than from the corners. Hopefully Mike Brown will see this and utilize it.

    I like the ideas of playing faster, going inside first, and reversing the ball while spacing the floor, but none of that works if the Lakers don’t make outside shots. And as we saw during the playoffs, the Lakers are more than capable of going ice-cold, to the tune of 28.9% for the ’11 Playoffs.

  3. Zephid addressed my skepticism over the team’s ability to spread the floor. This may be more of a personnel issue than coaching issue.

    As for the faster pace, I’m just not sure that will happen either. In the last three years with the Cavs, Brown’s team was 25th, 25th, and 25th in the league in terms of pace. Relative to the league, the Lakers have slowed down significantly from Gasol’s first season to the team’s pace this past season post all-star break. Even still, the Lakers have never played as slow as those Cavs teams.

    Maybe Mike Fratello wouldn’t emphasize on getting into the front court early, and maybe D’Antoni wouldn’t talk about playing through the post in his first press conference, but wouldn’t any coach say those three principles are good ideas? I don’t doubt Brown believes in those three offensive principles; it’s just that I wonder whether this is standard coach talk.

  4. Mike Brown deserves a chance to lose at least 1 game before we judge his coaching style. And, if its the 1st game of the season, let’s not go into hyper panic mode! I think that Brown will do just as he said with this team:
    a) Give each player respect.
    b) That respect will gain trust from the players.
    c) Each player is family.

    These 3 simplistic steps are the foundation for a successful team on both sides of the ball. A climate of family will breed a sense of each player doing all that is necessary for the team to win. So, if that means diving on the floor to get the ball for an extra possession, then so be it. If it means that a big has to guard Chris Paul out in the open court, he will do so, and not scream for help. If a guard has to guard Chris Bosh or Kevin Garnett on the block because of a cross screen, the guard will give 100%. Why? Because they’ll know that the other guys on the team will do the same! Simple!

    Let the Mike Brown era begin!

  5. the implications of mike brown’s philosophy, i think, will be changes to both minutes and roster depth. i don’t think that the lakers can sustain an up-tempo offense + increased defensive intensity for 48 minutes a game and 82+ games per year without making these kinds of changes.

    i expect at least a 10 man rotation. i wouldn’t be surprised if our starters avg. about 8 fewer minutes or thereabouts, because fresh legs and adequate rest are critical for this style of play.

    looking ahead to the draft, i’m going to get on the soap box again for justin harper and andrew goudelock. both players have nba 3pt range and complement each member of our frontline.

  6. “We’ll see how Derek Fisher and Steve Blake fit into the philosophy of pushing the ball more” basically says it all.

    Blake, I believe, can play that role. Fisher cannot unless his minutes are severely cut, almost to backup status. (This should happen anyway.) But ideally, there’s another guard in the mix, someone with younger legs than those two.

    Spacing requires outside shooting. That’s another glaring issue with this roster, one hopefully Mitch can address. (Sasha at a marked-down discount?)

    Getting Kobe to play more off-ball would be a plus, as well. His ball handling has gone down significantly since the finger and knee issues arose. It would be nice to see him use his smarts and footwork to get to a spot, then be fed there, rather than trying to dribble to space on his own.

    The same approach would benefit Gasol and Bynum; why they haven’t set more backscreens for one another has long puzzled me. Doing so would get one of them open more often; force the defense to pick which 7-footer it hopes to stop.

    All signs point to a point guard upgrade. Not sure who, not sure how. But that’s Summer Priority One in my opinion.

  7. Darius,
    “We all know that Kobe’s best spots on the floor are at the elbow, the extended wing (or the “shoulder” of the court where the three point line arc meets the sideline), and at the mid post on either side of the floor.”

    I think more than getting him the ball in those positions is getting him the ball when he is already on the move. The majority of the time that means that the defense is already in a reactive mode, is more likely to require a switch/help, and it also gives more opportunity for him to use his shot-creating and passing skills.

  8. 3, pace is difficult to measure, because you can move the ball quickly up the court and “attack the clock” as Brown would say, but still not attempt a shot for a very long time. So while Cleveland did play slowly in terms of statistical pace, I don’t think it’s because they walked the ball up the court every time down. Probably a lot more of it has to do with Lebron holding the ball and pounding it while attempting to find an opening.

  9. Now that the triangle is gone, perhaps MB could employ an old offensive moves that made Reggie Miller famous screen and pop. It will make Blake a natural 2 than a hurried attempt just to beat the clock. For Kobe, set up a double screen & pop while the two bigs down low are ready for follow ups. Lakers also need fast breaks coming from a good defense, we missed those exciting tempo in the Jackson triangle.

  10. Since Kobe’s handle is not as good as it used to be, due to numerous and various hand injuries, make him a spot up shooter. Although, he is one of the few Lakers that can make their own move to shake the defender. He would probably be draining treys all game long, if he did not have to do his patented turnaround fade away jumper, with a hand in his face. Now that would be spacing the floor.

  11. Everything I’m reading underscores the need for more depth at the point. As for Derek – his future might well be in continuity management. It’s easy to see him inheriting the Brian Shaw slot, a bridge from old to new, perhaps a player/coach type this year. If he helps swing a new CBA agreement, his stock for future management.coaching, will be very high.

    We’ve got four draft picks in the second round at #11, #16, #26 and #28. Here’s a few PG’s to keep an eye on: Darius Morris, 6-4, Michigan; Shelvin Mack, 6-2, Butle; Norris Cole, 6-2, Cleveland St.; Ben Hansbrough, 6-3, Notre Dame (shooter); Diante Garrett, 6-4, Iowa State and little Isaiah Thomas, 5-10, Washington.

  12. phil is slapping his forehead going “doh, why didn’t i think of that!” . all of this team’s problems begin and end with the roster, which hasn’t changed afaik. oh, and the fact that the owner’s idiot son is now calling the shots…

  13. off topic, but I’m seriously rooting HARD for the Mavs to win the title.

    Dirk is about to become my favorite non-Laker too.

  14. The Lakers should definitely use one of those picks on Isaiah Thomas, Jr. not sure how he’d do in the NBA, but if anyone has a chance to make a roster its this kid. His father can definitely give him pointers on how to play in the NBA undersized! I’ve seen him play a couple of times, but I can’t remember if he digs in on defense.

  15. I’m not as negative on MB as I was when he was initially hired although he’s still not my first choice.

    Zephid, it’s a bit unfair to say that Kobe is a poor 3 point shooter based on his % as he jacks up last second 3s when the offense fails, and he has nowhere else to go. If he becomes more of an open spot up shooter like Jason Kidd has become, Kobe’s % would easily be above 40%.

    Fisher is really a 2, not a 1, and if all he had to do was shoot spot up 3s, he’d be more useful for the Lakers. However, he did miss some wide open 3s during the Dallas series. If you’re THE shooter on the team, you need to essentially make 100% of open 3s.

    Hopefully Blake will turn his game around under MBs system.

    Gasol and Bynum are not go-to guys down the stretch. Kobe used to be, but he’s lost a lot of explosiveness and I doubt he has more than a year or two left. Unless the Lakers acquire a CP3, Dirk, Wade, Melo, Durant type player, there will be no 17th banner.

    Bynum is not reliable. If Lakers trade Gasol for CP3, and Bynum goes down, the starting line up would be, CP3, Kobe, Artest, Odom, and no back up.

    It’s going to be a very long rebuild.

  16. To the Lakers:
    I hope you were watching. That is what “not quitting” looks like.

  17. @exhelodrvr: totally agree with getting Kobe the ball on the move. The question will probably be, will Kobe willingly play off the ball more than he’s used to? Nobody’s suggesting he become Ray Allen or Kyle Korver, but breaking down a set defense is not a high-percentage option anymore.

    @Chearn: came upon the dates for draftee workouts recently and Isiah Thomas Jr. has one scheduled with the Lakers in the next week or so. But he’s also working out for most of the other top teams picking late. From the article, Thomas did very well in shooting drills and impressed athletically while also being measured a bit taller than the advertised 5-10. No clue how big the chances are that he falls far enough, though.

    @harold: Nowitzki has done stuff like that for our German national team before. But I’m so glad he finally shows it on the big NBA stage as well. He’s been on a very high level every year, but this time around he’s stepped it up even more. Only downside: when the Mavs were down 15 late, it was 5:17am in Germany and a lot of my friends finally gave up and went to bed. I’m glad I stayed awake.

    Loved this cartoon about Nowitzki’s training methods:

    http://www.bouncex3.com/2011/05/work-harder-work-smarter-work-weirder.html

  18. @14. There’s no relation, but I’m pretty sure that the University of Washington kid was named after the Detroit Piston because the kid’s father lost a bet.

  19. 17) What would he have gotten for winning? I hope it was something pretty amazing.

  20. 15, I’m going to respond to the portion of your comment that I can actually take seriously, the first part.

    Yes, I agree that Kobe’s 3P% is hindered by him shooting some threes as the clock winds down. But how many of those are self-imposed? We’ve all seen Kobe hold the ball, make 500 different fakes, then have to jack up a terrible shot because there was only 10 seconds left on the shot-clock when he got the ball. How many of those are contested threes that he took early in the clock when he wanted to go for the dagger instead of going for an easier score? Kobe’s go to move in the clutch was a ball screen into an off-the-dribble three this past season, and it didn’t work all that effectively (except in Sacramento).

    So yes, some of Kobe’s shots are horrible end of the clock threes that his team has forced on him. But he’s a career 33.9% 3P shooter, and he’s shot below 33% the past two years. He didn’t even shoot this bad when he was jacking up every shot he could find between 04-05 and 06-07. Plus, the eye test shows us that this year, even on completely wide-open threes, Kobe was hesitant to take them, causing him to clank a lot of them off the rim.

    The rest of your comment, I feel needs a little more thought and exposition.

  21. I too am cheering for Dirk in the Finals. I’d hate to see him go down as another one of those guys who was a great player but never got a championship. Plus a Mavs team with a 1 star + role players model going against a 3 star, no others model? That would be the absolute death-knell in any talent vs. teamwork argument.

  22. The three superstars blew it with premature celebration opening their mouths like apes in a zoo. Well, the ending was so refreshing after putting back into their respective cages of the crying apes.

    With regards to Kobe, let’s put the 2011 with an * (asterisk) two mangled fingers, bad back, recuperating surgical knees, ankle injuries during the playoff still playing like super enegized battery, that alone qualifies him to Hall of Fame among the player greats wo played injured. He complied with his obligation as the go-to-man and still the best Laker during the season. However, because of his image some fans want him to be immortal and immune to injuries.

  23. @#21 Zephid, yeah I’d love to see the Mavs model do well too since it speaks more for a team concept.

    That said, I do respect Haslem’s game a lot on Mia. I think he makes enough of a difference in their boards and help D so it isn’t completely a 3 stars and no other model. I truly believe Mia doesn’t win against Chi if Haslem doesn’t play. He gave Mia enough energy and boards to prevent Chi from dominating on the boards which would have helped their offense a lot.

  24. kehntangibles June 3, 2011 at 11:34 am

    In addition to being a lifelong Laker fan, I’m also happen to be a Michigan man. Here’s my off-the-cuff take on Darius Morris – I watched a few Michigan games this year and Morris was hands down the most dangerous player on a Michigan team that took a lot of people by surprise. He’s a fearless attacking PG who’ll have a size and strength advantage over most opposing 1’s. He’s terrific at finishing in transition and has great court vision – read somewhere that his points and assists acounted for 53% of our offense last year. Many of you are from L.A., so you may know that Marris is a local.

    That said, he’s not a solid 3 pt shooter and not a lockdown defender. I’m not 100% sure he’s ready, and he certainly could’ve used another season at college to develop. Keep in mind that no one expects much from this draft in part b/c of the impending lockout and Morris is likely only declaring this year because the dearth of talent means he sneaks into the first round as opposed to the mid-second round – which would certainly have been the case in a normal draft year.

  25. 18) The Dude… that’s the story I heard as well. His dad’s name is James.

    24) Kehn – I also caught some Michigan games – Morris looks good. Given that we have 4 picks, I’m in favor of taking a least a couple of guards. PG’s and shooters, that’s what we need. If they can do both, so much the better.

  26. i want Nolan smith pleeease !!!

  27. How about Lamar at the point – his ball handling skills are very good, he was a natural point guard in his youth and had a growth spurt from 6-2 to 6-9
    What i think is sad is Phil should have used lamar at the point running the triange – ala ron harper/scottie as the initiator and the lakers team would have been devastating.
    Brings an interesting question that I always wanted someone to ask phil – if he had magic johnson in his prime 6-9 and all would he still run the triangle. I think phil ruined the 2004 team by marginalizing gary payton – people forget the “dream team” in 2004 was 19-1 as the team didn’t run the triangle then too bad
    I for one am glad phil is gone….

  28. Zephid,

    Kobe’s low 3 point % has always been used by haters to put Kobe down, but Lebron, Melo, and Wade all have lower career 3 point % than Kobe, Durant is only slightly better. This was a complaint that Jason Kidd’s haters always used, but when he finally went to a good team, his 3 point % shot up to over 40% as I said before. So did he all of a sudden become a great 3 point shooter? No, he was getting tons of wide open looks.

    It’s true that Kobe does take many contested 3s, some that are probably not great decisions, but if you compared that to someone who is considered a great 3 point shooter like Korver, to find out who’s truly a better 3 point shooter, if Kover was guarded 1-1, often with the best defender on the other team, I don’t think he would make 5% of his shots. Of course he wouldn’t even attempt it, because he’s not that type of player. He either shoots off screens or when his defender goes to double. Kobe makes almost 30% of these 3 pointers as he rarely is left as open as he is either dominating the ball or he’s the one that is being double teamed leaving someone else open. And the Lakers offense doesn’t really have Kobe running off screens without the ball, like the Celtics do for Ray Allen to get open shots. Yeah, Korver may make more open 3 pointers than Kobe, but that’s not a fair comparison.

    So all your analysis about how many terrible shots Kobe takes just reinforces my argument. My argument is just that, that his 3 point percentage is slow low because he takes so many bad shots. Put Kobe on a team where he is taking as many open looks and I guarantee that his 3 point percentage will be above 40%.

    So next time, take a second to read what I’m saying before you reply.

    Also you said, “Plus, the eye test shows us that this year, even on completely wide-open threes, Kobe was hesitant to take them, causing him to clank a lot of them off the rim.” Huh?? Can you give me examples of when he did this? Can you quantify this? I’ve watched every single game, both regular season and playoffs, for the last 4 years, and most games for the last 30 years including almost every game Kobe has played. Can you give me some examples including specific games?