Playing Big for Mike Brown versus Phil Jackson

J.M. Poulard —  December 17, 2011 — 46 Comments

After winning a record 11 NBA titles as a head coach and leading legends like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, it’s awfully easy to take Phil Jackson’s success for granted and simply attribute it to the famous triangle offense and the stars that ran it. Mind you, part of what made Jackson a wonderful coach was his ability to understand his roster and his players better than most teams understood theirs.

For instance, Stanislav (Slava) Medvedenko and Mark Madsen enjoyed great success in a Lakers uniform and then were never heard from again once Phil Jackson stopped being their head coach. In that sense, the former Lakers coach had a knack for getting the most out of his players; especially his big men because he understood their strengths as well as their limitations.

On his early Chicago Bulls teams, Jackson asked Bill Cartwright to defend the post like a gladiator and used Horace Grant in pick and roll traps as well as in the full court press given his unusual quickness for his size.

In the mid-90s, the Bulls were an older team with less athleticism. Thus, the Hall of Fame coach relied more on his big men to play within the confines of their limits with respect to helping on defense and switching on screens. Thus, a player like Rodman could switch but it was preferable that he does not given that his teammate might be at a disadvantage guarding a bigger and stronger player (especially if that teammate was Toni Kukoc).

After leaving the Bulls, Phil joined a Lakers team in the late 90s that employed Shaquille O’Neal, Robert Horry and A.C. Green in the frontcourt. For the first time in Jackson’s professional coaching career, he had a center that could intimidate opponents with his size, athleticism, shot-blocking and rebounding. Consequently, the Lakers very rarely double-teamed opposing big men; instead opting to play single coverage and clean up on the glass and limit the outside shooting of their opponents.

Players like Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber and Tim Duncan would get their numbers; but the Lakers would protect the paint and even have O’Neal guard them late in ball games to limit their effectiveness.

Phil Jackson eventually left the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004 but then returned in 2005. When he returned, he had to make due with Chris Mihm, Kwame Brown, Lamar Odom and a very young Andrew Bynum. That combination never truly was a success in Los Angeles and it led to Brown being traded (depending on whom you ask he was either deported, released, extradited or simply given away as the result of a lost wager) for Pau Gasol.

One could easily make the argument that notwithstanding the Mailman and the Diesel, the combination of Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum is the most talented group of big men that Jackson has ever coached during his career; and their output certainly seemed to confirm that. These three Lakers were not only productive statistically, but they complemented each other beautifully. When one got beat, the next one would step in to help out and cover up mistakes.

Odom’s versatility allowed him to defend small forwards, power forwards and centers while Gasol easily alternated between guarding 4s and 5s. Bynum was the prototypical center, cleaning up the glass and protecting the paint and occasionally inflicting punishment on players who drove the lane (Michael Beasley’s tailbone agrees).

Although the three big men rarely shared the court together (according to 82games, they have played a total of 77 minutes together in the last three seasons), their defense helped the Lakers make three straight Finals appearances and win back-to-back titles. Indeed, with these trees planted at the basket, the Lakers never doubled on the low block and thus were able to shut down perimeter shooters on opposing teams.

If there is one thing that Odom, Bynum and Gasol could have done better under Jackson though; it was rebound. For the most part they were very good on the boards; but one would have expected them to be outstanding in this facet of the game. Most will remember that the Lakers were victorious in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals because they dominated the boards, but the Lakers had actually done an average job on that front in the first five games of the Finals, holding a mere 192 to 186 rebounding edge. They eventually rallied in Games 6 and 7 and outrebounded Boston by a total of 26 rebounds to win the title.

Last season, the Lakers surrendered 11.7 offensive rebounds per game, which was 26th in the league. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that more often than not they were lazy as far as getting rebounding position because they typically towered over most teams. Thus, they relied on their size to gather rebounds as opposed to focusing on proper technique.

This is where Mike Brown comes in.

During his stint in Cleveland, the Cavaliers were routinely amongst the best rebounding teams in the league. Their defense as well as their rebounding allowed them to shorten games by taking away possessions away from the opposing team and then riding their star late to win low scoring games.

During his years with the Cavs, here is the list of big men that played 20 minutes per game or more for head coach Mike Brown:

  • Drew Gooden
  • J. J. Hickson
  • Zydrunas Ilgauskas
  • Antawn Jamison
  • Donyell Marshall
  • Shaquille O’Neal
  • Joe Smith
  • Anderson Varejao
  • Ben Wallace

Under Brown, the Cavaliers did not necessarily have quality big men with multiple skills; but they utilized their size to terrorize teams in the rebounding department. Have a look at how they faired in their rebound rate (the percentage of missed shots that a team rebounds):


Rebound rate

NBA Rank
















For the sake of comparison, let’s have a look at the Lakers rebound rate during the same time span:


Rebound rate

NBA Rank
















Using rebound rate is a good way of seeing just how good a team is at securing rebounds whereas rebounds per game can be somewhat skewed given the pace of the game and the amount of misses available to actually rebound.

As we can see, save for the 2006-07 season, the Lakers were in the top 10 in rebounding but one would expect that size and length to land the purple and gold in the top five at least every season. The Cavaliers on the other hand managed to clean up the boards under Brown’s watch, finishing no lower than fourth during his tenure.

So when the 2011-12 regular season finally gets underway, I expect the Lakers to switch up their defenses by trapping, hedging, switching and going underneath screens in pick and roll situations to confuse opponents; but more than anything I see this Lakers team crashing the boards like never before and then shortening the games with their half court offense.

With Lamar Odom gone, the Lakers will probably rarely get out in transition, much like last season when they averaged a rather anemic 11.3 fast break points per game (25th in the NBA). The games may get ugly and finish with scores in the 90s, but with the Gasol and Bynum on board to score and control the paint and Kobe to close out games; this may just be the recipe for success for this new Lakers team.

Will Mike Brown get his bigs to play bigger this year?

If he does, he may in fact be the perfect successor to Phil Jackson…

J.M. Poulard


46 responses to Playing Big for Mike Brown versus Phil Jackson

  1. Great post! I don’t think anyone really understands how talentless those Cavs were after Lebron yet they went deep into the playoffs year after year thanks to Brown & his schemes (ok, the east was weaker but still) I am excited to see what he can do with 3 all stars. Teams use to focus on stopping Lebron & couldn’t do it, how are they going to stop Kobe, Pau & Bynum?

  2. Great perspective on the coaching differentiation’s and what Laker fans can expect going forward. Nice read.

  3. Playing big is great, but they need another big…almost anyone, please.

  4. laziness had nothing to do with the lakers mediocre rebounding; it had everything to do with age and wing penetration.

    first of all, artest and fisher don’t have the athleticism to beat their assignments to long rebounds/loose balls. our interior defenders did a very good job of forcing opponents to take long jumpers. tragically, the lakers were not equipped with the perimeter speed to consistently hold opponents to 1 fg attempt in this type of scenario.

    second of all, teams used their speed advantage to carve the defense up and create driving lanes. weakside defenders were forced to rotate, leaving their assignments unaccounted for and free to crash the glass.

    i think a three guard lineup–kobe flanked by barnes and ebanks–is what the lakers need out there to smother teams like dallas and okc.

    remember when phil had ariza defend tony parker?

  5. 4)
    I’m not used to reading smart in depth basketball breakdowns here. I’m impressed. And you are very much correct.

  6. 5/aaron, thanks.

    also, lakers sign troy murphy to a 1yr deal, per y!/awoj. so is that 15 guys under contract now? no baron davis?

  7. I think Murphy is a good pick up but I would still like to see one more true center on the roster.

  8. 6)
    If the Lakers sign a legitimate NBA player like Baron they would then cut a guy like Gerald Green… Don’t let the Troy Murphy signing kill your hopes for a real NBA starting PG. Although Davis is passed his prime he is still a bad NBA starting PG. That automatically puts him ahead of Fisher and Blake.

  9. One more true center?? We need a point guard who isn’t old, white or a rookie. Common baron come back to LA

  10. @4 I agree completely with the analysis but in a lineup with kobe, barnes and ebanks (along with 2 bigs) there is no playmaking or ballhandling on the floor besides Kobe. That kind of lineup really exposes our need for a big that can handle like Odom, oh wait…

  11. 10)
    The point is we don’t have a PG on the roster who brings that anyways as of now. So it’s better to out someone out there who can at least do something else like play defense etc.

  12. Interesting … I also count 15 players now under contract with the Lakers. Can we still pursue Baron Davis or did we take ourselves out of the mix?

    If not, they’re taking a huge leap of faith on Steve Blake.

    Our TPE may come in handy when Aaron Brooks and Wilson Chandler return from China. TPEs can be used in a S&T, right?

  13. With old players and the short schedule, depth is clearly important. I suspect, however, that Brown will have issues settling on his rotation, and I expect some odd and irregular minutes patterns. Flexibility is good; confusion is not, and it can be a fine line.One thing to watch: will either Fisher or Blake be on the floor the whole game? Guessing:

    1 Fisher 20 Blake 28
    2 Bryant 34 Ebanks/Kapono 14
    3 Barnes 24 MWP 20/Ebanks 4
    4 Gasol 22 McRoberts 12 Murphy 6
    5 Bynum 34 Gasol 14

    I also expect that you will see smallball lineups sometimes:

    1 Blake
    2 Bryant
    3 Ebanks
    4 MWP
    5 Gasol

  14. If he wants McRoberts out there more, then McRoberts may have to play some 5.

  15. The Murphy signing would bring the Lakers roster to 15. However, Ebanks and Caracter’s contracts aren’t guaranteed. I’ve long felt – and this comes from some subtle hints by Mitch – that Caracter may not make this team. With him now injured, that may really be the case. We’ll see.

  16. The Lakers must be satisfied that whatever problems Murphy had last year are over. Since Baron can`t play for at least 4 wks,don`t see him being added. I hope they let Morris and Goudelock play extended minutes against Paul and Billups next week,let`s see how they stack up against two veterans.

  17. Baron Davis doesn’t defend and isn’t that great of a shooter. We need a PG who can defend and shoot. Simply put, our main weakness is that we don’t have that.

  18. 10/Paul L: that is a concern, for sure. at the same time, coaches can simulate pressure on the practice court, and help that lineup deal with or even exploit it. they could thrown morris in the mix and hide him on defense.

    12/Snoopy: i wonder if roster spots open up if the youngsters on the team are assigned to the d-league. maybe create a roster spot by moving somebody to the injured reserve list?

    there might be something to that. the nuggets have wilson chandler and jr smith and kenyon martin in china, and there’s kind of a logjam at guard and sf and pf.

    going to have to read the new rules, i guess.

    i don’t believe baron can accelerate like he used to, but his size, wingspan, and defensive instincts are still there. check out his steal and remarkable block totals. he’s capable of playing suffocating defense. offensively, he’s strong enough to overpower certain guards(like your aaron brooks types).

    murphy and gasol both have the green light for 3s, i’d venture to guess.

  19. Goudelock can shoot, but after seeing him yesterday some at PG, still don`t know if he can defend, penetrate,and make good decisions with the ball.

  20. The Knicks, currently using discarded Laker draft pick Toney Douglas at the 1, are supposedly Davis’ #1 choice.

    Back problems are a killer. Still, having him able to go 15-20 a game later on would help the Lakers. They should consider it.

  21. any reports on what kind of shape caracter was in when he showed up for camp?

  22. Not sure the Lakers would go for this, but Nate Robinson hasn’t been at OKC camp and there are rumors that they may be working on a buyout for him. I doubt we have money for him, but that begs the question why didn’t we use the Sasha Trade Exception to possibly get him? I believe he makes 4.5 million. I’m sure OKC would have done that trade in a heartbeat.

    Bottom line, we need a point guard who can keep up with all the quick point guards in the league, and I don’t think we can wait 8-10 weeks for Baron to get healthy.

  23. 13 – Morris stands a great chance to break the rotation and share time with DFish and Blake at PG.

    For example: DFish 20/ Blake 20/ Morris 8

    Depth is crucial this season. IF DFish remains the starter, playing 20 MPG in a compressed schedule at 37 sounds about right. He’s averaged 21 minutes during his career, so he might stand to play a few minutes less.

  24. just read about terrico white being cut by hornets. if not baron, then this guy.

    notice how the lakers have invested in something like 12 coaches? they have the resources to transform athletically gifted players like white into inexpensive role-players/assets.

    in the new economic reality of the nba, this will be a trend-setting practice.

  25. 17)
    Beggars can’t be choosers. We currently do not have a legitimate NBA PG on the roster. And Baron is still a better defender than Fisher and Blake combined. Is the the perfect option? Of course not… But we can’t let perfect get in the way of the necessary. Bringing in Davis (if he picks the Lakers over the Heat and Knicks) would not stop the Lakers from trying to bring in a better PG. The Baron is cheap and low risk.

  26. Goudelock and Thomas sent to DLeague today as per SI

  27. I also question how much Baron can help us in terms of shooting, but it’s always nice to have another player that can create. It’s not my money, but at the vets minimum, I don’t see a whole lot of downside with taking a flyer and then waiving a player if it doesn’t work out.

  28. Please, God, not Nate Robinson. There isn’t a guy in the league I hate more than that guy. I’d rather see Fisher play 48 a night than see Nate in purple and gold.

  29. No thanks to Baron Davis.
    A PG that is old, fat, and has an injured back is not what the Lakers need.

  30. I know he’s crazy, and a shell of his former self… but thy the hell aren’t we taking a flier on Gil? Maybe a 1 year with a team option for a 2nd… He’s only 29, can still score and would be worth using 20 minutes a night. Plus he’s still making $20M a year from Orlando and probably wants a shot to win and rebuild his rep. He would be on his best behavior…

  31. I personally would MUCH prefer Gil to Baron. More upside even if he’s only HALF what he was when he put up 28 PPG

  32. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I prefer Blake and Fisher over Baron and Gil. Yeah, read that again.

    Those guys aren’t just old and injured, they’re also guys that will hurt chemistry and add more trouble on and off the court. Remember that we already have MWP and Barnes who are also semi-head cases.

  33. I get not wanting Davis or Arenas, but I would add this: Phil and The Triangle are gone. It is obvious now that the plan was to have Blake succeed Fisher as the caretaker/spot-up PG over the life of the Kobe/Pau era. With Kobe and Pau in their primes, and Odom and Bynum around, that was defensible. It isn’t now.

    Jim Buss has changed gears. Fisher and Blake are not only bad, they are old. The NBA is in a PG era–as Laker fans just found out the hard way in the Paul saga. The clock is ticking on Kobe’s window, and there needs to be a change ASAP.

    And a final reminder: Counting the player options, Fisher and Blake are under contract for two and three more years respectively. I don’t know if Baron Davis can help, but the Lakers need to do something about the 1.

  34. I DETEST BARON DAVIS for ruining a Kobe level talent over 15 years. Nonetheless, I would REJOICE if the Laker’s signed him. The Lakers point guards were not only the worst point guards in the league last year, but underperformed relative to the other 29 teams point guard so badly that only the New Jersey Nets small forwards did worse; this means the Lakers points performed 149th out of 150 positions. This comes from Hollinger’s PER stats which don’t even factor in defense, which would even further damn the Laker’s point guards. Consequently, even a jump to the league average would have a dramatic impact on the team. Frankly, a jump to Baron at the point would more than make up for the loss of Odom. Baron, for all of his slovenly, half-interested and jacking threes off the dribble ways, still remains a premier athlete who can rough up all kinds of opposing points on D, can drive with power, and dishes amongst the best in the league. This improvement would put the Lakers far and away on top of the West for the season. Admittedly, I am still hoping for Dwight, but a minimum level Baron signing ? You gotta be nuts to not want this.

  35. If healthy (big caveat), I take Baron over Arenas. Baron’s problem is interest level and staying in shape. Arenas is just plain bad at this point in his career. He looked rank-awful last year in Orlando. And the worst part is he still has a gunner’s mentality, one that would not fit on this team. Baron still has much more playmaking ability.

    Either one is a reach, at this point. I’m not enamored with either one. I’d much rather pick up Aaron Brooks when he returns from China (but isn’t he a RFA?) – that change of pace could really bring our 2nd unit together.

  36. I agree that adding Baron Davis/Gilbert Arenas is a risk, but at this point, maybe it’s necessary to take some risks.

  37. Definitely on board with Baron or GIl but certainly not both. Also are we forgetting Gerald Green in these minutes allotments?

  38. E,

    Isn’t Gerald Green just a training camp filler? or is he already signed with us for the rest of the season?

  39. Itr is interesting that both Baron Davis and Chris Paul were developed as Hornets under Byron Scott–not always on the best terms. Here are Scott’s Dec. 15th comments describing Baron Davis’s contributions to the Cavs during the latter half of last season at Cleveland:

  40. Troy Murphy seems to be capable of playing spot minutes at the center. Between the 4 and 5 position, if Gasol + Bynum can get 66 min, Troy + McBob can get 30 min, that should be a good balance. I dont know why people are so down on Troy –he used to be a 15-10 guy with over 40% in 3 pt shooting. Brown has experience working with 3-point shooting centers (big Z), so he shouldn’t have a problem integrating troy murphy to the offense.

  41. Gilbert Arenus is done. His knees are gone. He can barley walk. He put up some of the worst stats in the modern era last season.

  42. Ilgauskas wasn’t a 3-point shooter at all. Great midrange game, but his range wasn’t close to that far out.

    I feel like to play a small-ball lineup effectively you really need that fast point guard that can push the pace and get the shooters open looks in transition (the way Rondo does for Allen, the way Farmar did for Vujacic in the year the Bench Mob actually worked). That’s why I’m intrigued by the idea of chasing Aaron Brooks if possible. A fast PG can bring together a whole bunch of mismatched bench parts.

  43. Whether it’s Gil or Baron or Brooks later on, the point is we need a defensive PG who will guide this team in the playoffs. We need to shore up our aging PG’s or the fresh rookie PG. Lakers can’t be choosy in absence of a Superstar, they only need a PG who could facilitate and distribute the ball to shooters and defend the line against a run-away PG from opposition.

    Troy Murphy, Jason Kapono, Gerald Green, they are all great shooters and known to be double digit producers. What the Lakers will be asking from them now, can they help in defense and rebounding? This is the importance of our old guys like Peace and Fisher, I hope they can teach and work as platoon substitution in this campaign. We don’t need an all around guy like Odom who could not master one job. Fisher could transfer his technique in using his body as a stopper, Peace could help in sharing his technique in the use of the hands in warding those changeovers and fast dribblers, perhaps Walton could also share his eye contact techniques in finding the open man. As such, everyone has a role on this on-the-job training with the Lakers.

  44. I’m pretty sure Arenas is washed up and would only be another distraction in Lala land.

    Davis may be able to provide something – if his back isn’t as bad as reports suggests and he is motivated to get into shape. But signing a 32 year old PG doesn’t exactly make this team any younger or vibrant.

    Brook’s would be a good pickup – though we couldn’t get him till march. Similarly, he wasn’t a particularly good shooter – as I recall the Lakers dared him to shoot – and was a terrible defender – against us he just had to defend D-Fish. So signing him certainly might create the same type of liabilities that we had with farmar.

    Though, Farmar was better than the pupu platter we have now.

  45. Laker fans will rue the day we signed either Arenas or Davis (if we do). Those guys are both done physically, and they were never known for defense. Steve Blake, in a more traditional system, will be more productive than those guys.

    Love the Murphy signing. He and McBobs should do well as our bench bigs. Caracter should be waived, he has no defensive instincts or desire to rebound. That’s a bad combo for an undersized PF in this league.

    I’m hoping for a Ramon Sessions deal. C’mon coach Scott, remember your purple and gold roots and help us out.

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