Ettore Messina And The Lakers’ Offense

Darius Soriano —  June 6, 2011

While the Lakers have not yet confirmed the report, it looks as if the highly regarded Ettore Messina will leave Europe to join Mike Brown’s staff with the Lakers. His role is yet to be fully defined, but initial reports have him as a “behind the bench” assistant coach that will serve in more of the advisor type role that Tex Winter served for Phil Jackson’s teams over the years. And while it’s difficult for anyone to actually be like Tex Winter (the man is a hall of famer and on of a kind, after all), every staff needs smart coaches that can teach the game and by all accounts Messina is exactly that. Needless to say, this is a great get for Mike Brown and the Lakers.

With this addition, we move even closer towards envisioning what the Lakers offense could look like next year. We’ve already been looking at this topic, but we now have another key piece to expand our view. Over at Land O’ Lakers, there’s a great interview with Os Davis from BallinEurope on some of Messina’s philosophies as a coach (go over and read it), and one piece of insight caught my eye in particular:

Messina’s teams tend to play quite a slow tempo relative to that of most European leagues, particularly in Spain’s ACB, where Messina was for the past two seasons with Real Madrid and where the floor is wide open. Of course, there are exceptions to this. His 2005-06 CSKA Moscow squad could go into fourth gear early and run the court for the entire match. (Of note, too, is that this team was the ultimate fruit of Mikhail Prokhorov’s business labor, that CSKA dominated defensively in both the Euroleague and Russian Super League, and that Messina was named Euroleague coach of the year.) But the general rule on a Messina team is a slow tempo, half-court game on both sides of the ball.

This is interesting because it seems to fall into conflict with principle number one of Mike Brown’s offensive philosophy: attack the clock. If Mike Brown is saying he wants his team to play faster but one of his key assistant coaches – especially the one that is most renowned for his offensive approach – is used to his team playing a slow down game, it doesn’t seem as if these approaches line up.

However, when looking bigger picturer, these points of view aren’t necessarily diametrically opposed.

Understand that “attacking the clock” isn’t the same as running a fast-break offense (ala the SSOL Suns). I do expect the Lakers to push the ball up court.  But advancing the ball quickly doesn’t have to lead to a quick shot and for the Lakers I don’t really expect it to. What I do expect is for the Lakers to get into their offensive sets quicker and not burn as much of the precious 24 seconds at their disposal each possession on bringing the ball up court. This would be a departure from last year and would fall more in line with the way that the Lakers played in their championship seasons of 2009 and 2010 where they got into their sets faster and relied less on the walk-it-up attacked the employed this season.

Obviously this is all speculation. And until Brown and Messina are actually working with the team and we get to see the approach implemented and performed on the court we won’t know how the team will play or how different (or similar) they’ll look to this year’s team. However, with every new nugget of information we get, the puzzle is becoming more complete and we get a better idea as to what this team could play like next year.

So far, based off what we’ve learned, that team looks to be one that will focus on post play (from both the bigs and, I’d imagine, Kobe) while also looking for opportunities early in the clock that, if they don’t materialize, would transfer into the early initiation of the offensive sets. The benefits to this type of attack are multiple but best explained by the simplicity of it all: shots from the post are higher percentage than those further away; shots against a defense that isn’t as set are often easier than those against a defense that’s dug in and fully positioned. If the Lakers can effectively get shots closer to the hoop or ones against a defense that’s not yet in position to defend effectively, they’ll be more efficient (while also being less reliant on end of the clock, isolation shots that the Lakers have settled for too often frequently).

One of the great things about the team next year will be the fact that they’ll still have the talent to be a great team on offense but will go about it a different way than in years past. Needless to say, I’m excited and intrigued about the possibilities.

Darius Soriano

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