Pau Is Finding His Way In the New Offense

Phillip Barnett —  December 30, 2011

A few days ago, J.M. wrote about how Kobe’s role has been different this season with different personnel and a new coaching staff. Today, we’re going to take a look at the subtle differences in the way Pau has been used so far this season. I think it’s important to note that the changes really have been subtle. I went into Synergy and took a look at how often Pau has been put into various offensive situations, and compared it to last season, and what I found was that Mike Brown has Pau in P&R situations a bit more than Pau was in last season. Conversely, although they’re still the bulk of his work, Pau has been isolated a bit less. If you take a look at the two charts below, you’ll notice that everything else is relatively the same save for a few tenths of percentage points here and there.

What has been interesting to watch with Pau is how Mike Brown has made a few changes to do some of the same things Phil Jackson tried to accomplish with Pau in seasons past (which he was successful with for the most part), and how those subtle changes have affected the other four players on the court with him. In this post, I’m going to be paying special attention to how Brown has found ways to isolate Pau on the block or pinch post and how he’s used him in P&R situations.

With Phil running the Triangle, one of the ways that he freed up Pau on isolation sets was to run the center opposite and have the guard throwing the entry pass clear out by cutting along the baseline. For the most part, this clear out didn’t accomplish much except for creating more space for Pau to operate and to give him the comfort knowing that the double team can only come from one direction, as there were no longer any defenders on the side of the court that he caught the ball. What Mike Brown has done is found a way to create the same kind of isolation, but to give the offense a bit more flexibility. Take a look at this set from early in last night’s game against the Knicks.

I’ll let Darius take it from here: It’s easy to see why he’s scoring more efficiently in the post Lakers are doing a good job of getting Pau into position both by allowing him to move into the empty post on his own when he has a foot speed advantage and can beat his man to the spot and by setting cross screens for him so he can get a step on his man when moving to the post. The Knicks game offered a great example of this on a play where Pau got his first of 5 assists. The Lakers set up with Fisher brining the ball up and Kobe on the left wing. Kobe came up to receive a pass but was denied and Fisher waved him off and Kobe back cut and set a cross screen on Gasol. Fisher continued to the wing, made an on time entry pass to Pau, and then cut off his shoulder to the baseline side. Pau dropped the ball off to Fisher and it was an easy lay up. 

What makes the cross screen so much more effective than just the center opposite sets from the past is two-fold: 1) Pau doesn’t have to fight as hard through defenders to get to his spot as a screen is being set on Pau’s main defender (Tyson Chandler in this case) and 2) with Kobe setting the cross screen and popping out, more eyes are going to be focusing on what Bean is doing on the perimeter in stead of taking away the baseline. The primary help defender, Carmelo Anthony, is looking at Kobe as Derek Fisher starts to make his cut, by the time Fish receives the ball, it’s much too late for Melo to do anything about it. Through these first four games, we’ve seen that cross screen a few times, which has really put Pau in a position to succeed. When isolated, especially on the left block, Pau has the ability to use his full offensive arsenal, and as we highlighted above, can pass very well from that position, too.

This next clip shows how far away Brown has gone from the Triangle, but shows how easy it is to get Pau isolated by using Kobe’s presence on the floor. I’m currently coaching a 4th/5th basketball team, and we run this basic motion set exactly (it just isn’t executed nearly as well, as you can imagine). What we’re going to see is down screens from each wing to its respective block. On the right side of the floor, you have Pau setting a down screen for Kobe, who pops out and receives the pass from Fisher. After Fish makes the pass, he clears to the opposite corner, which clears away the right side of the floor for a two-man game between the Lakers’ two best offensive options.

As soon as Kobe pops out from the screen, Pau is immediately battling for position with his defender (Enes Kanter in this situation). As soon as Pau catches the ball, the weak side wing defender (C.J. Miles) immediately comes to help, which gives Devin Ebanks a clear slashing lane should Pau want to get rid of the ball, and suck in Fisher’s defender, allowing for a wide-open three. In this case, Pau knows where the help is coming from, gives him a pump fake and finishes over Kanter for the easy bucket.

What I’ve noticed in these first few games is that Brown likes tons of movement in his offense. Save for a few possessions where Kobe has held the ball for much too long, he’s had guys, and the ball, in constant movement for the most part. Evidence of this is his utilization of Pau in P&R sets.

In this clip, Pau is trailing Fish as he brings the ball up the court and catches the ball at the top. Fish sets a down screen for Kobe, who takes the ball from Pau and initiates the offense. Pau moves to clear out, but comes back to catch a pass just a bit outside of his range. Instead of Kobe standing and calling for the ball, he sets up his defender going to the left and receives a hand off from Pau, which doubles as a screen back at the top of the perimeter. After the hand off, Pau immediately cuts to the basket as his defender helps on Kobe while the primary defender recovers. The result is a wide-open Pau who finishes in the lane.

These types of plays don’t just get the Lakers easy buckets, but also set the defense up for situations in which they can alternative easy buckets later in the game. As J.M. points out,

Pau’s been a bit more active in the last two games and has showed more confidence in his game and also a willingness to go down on the block to post up and attack his defender.

The end result is that he’s a much more willing and aggressive participant in the P&R now. As opposed to just going pick and pop, he now seems more intent on catching the ball on the move instead of merely being static and waiting for the ball for a jump shot.

His aggressiveness has meant that defenses have titled their weak side help a little more towards him, thus leaving a player on the back end uncovered. This will help create open shots (Pau is good at finding open players on the catch and has no problem deferring to them).

We saw an illustration of this last night as Kobe ran the P&R a few times early in the game (results were a kick-out made three-pointer and a missed dunk). In the third quarter, Pau came up to set another screen for Kobe, but slipped the screen instead of setting the pick, which resulted in the easiest basket of Gasol’s night.

Tomorrow night, the Lakers are going to face a very good Nuggets team, and Pau’s play is going to be a key factor in how well the Lakers fare. What I’ll be keeping an eye on is how much these things change with Andrew Bynum seeing his first game time of this regular season. It’ll certainly clear Pau up for a few more offensive rebounding opportunities, and might give him the opportunity to work a bit more from the pinch post, which I feel is the second most comfortable spot on the floor for Gasol outside of the left block. However Brown intends to incorporate Bynum, I think it’s important for Pau to continue to receive similar touches as the season progresses. The cross screens and the basic motion offense haven’t just worked well for Pau (more in the last two games than the first two), but a lot of the role players have responded well to the constant player and ball movement.

Phillip Barnett

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18 responses to Pau Is Finding His Way In the New Offense

  1. solid work, guys.

    off-topic: it was not until the 4th quarter when the game was already well in hand when the lakers looked to crash the offensive glass.

    throughout most of the game, they sacrificed 2nd chance opportunties to get back, set up the defense, and prevent new york from scoring many baskets in transition.

    they have to do a much better job of defending without fouling, but look for this strategy to reappear in the next two games, forcing the nuggets to have to grind out a game and depend on half-court execution.

    anyway, this kind of planning is another pleasant development w/r/t the coaching staff.

  2. The high screen-and-roll has been a nice addition to the Lakers’ repertoire this season. Kobe’s a great passer, and in the few games we’ve seen there have already been multiple plays in which a big sets a screen at the top of the circle, then dives straight to the hoop to receive a crisp pass from Kobe. A dunk or layup came next.

    It’s worked with Pau a lot (and should have worked even more; he dropped a couple of catchable balls vs. New York). More importantly, Bynum got some good looks with this play in the exhibition games, and even McRoberts has shown this play makes him a threat to score.

    I never want to agree with Plaschke, but Mike Brown has been impressive. Props to Kupchak and Jim Buss for making what seems to be a good hire, even though they knew there would be an initial outcry over Brown’s quote-unquote failure to win in Cleveland. His playoff disappointments in Ohio don’t have the same stigma anymore, especially after the world saw LBJ pulling his annual disappearing-when-it-matters-most job again last June. No coach can fix that.

  3. I really like the pick-and-slip move b/w Kobe and McRoberts/Gasol. I hope Gasol can finish more of these moves, which place a lot of stress on opposing defenses. I love how McRoberts constantly runs the baseline, opening another target from Gasol to McRoberts. In Brown’s offense, I like the movement from the bigs.

    I wonder how Bynum will be utilized once he’s back in the lineup. But as for defense, it’s going to be killer with Pau and Bynum clogging up the lane with their length. Whose playing time gets cut the most? I think it’s going to be Murphy, who’ll play spot minutes in the range of less than 10 minutes.

  4. While some of Pau’s changes are subtle, I think the look and energy on whole is markedly different. From screens galore to an uptick on energy/hustle, this team and MB’s approach to accountability, are a refreshing switch (and I say this as a PJ fan).

  5. Couldn’t agree more with Dave M., always a fan of Phil, but Mike Brown is a refreshing change. Positive energy can never be a bad thing…

    BTW,how come TJ Ford was never on the Lakers radar? You want some speed, he’s got it..Spurs signed him in December.

  6. Great analysis. What has been fun to see is how willing everybody is to pass, in the case of Murphy sometimes even to a fault since he has also over-passed quite a bit. Bynum will surely have the green light to look to score in the low post but hopefully he will also play with the same mind set the rest of the bigs have shown.

    It’ll be interesting to find out how the rotation with Gasol, Bynum, McRoberts and Murphy will shake out. Intuitively, it would make sense – other than the start of the game and crunch time when both Gasol and Bynum will most certainly be playing – to try to alway have either Gasol or Bynum on the floor as a scoring threat with either McRoberts or Murphy as one “hustle guy” next to the scorer.

    Not taking into account matching up with specific opponents’ PF/C combos, the more natural pairings as far as complementary games go seem to be Bynum/Murphy and Gasol/McRoberts. Bynum could profit from the space a stretch 4 like Murphy would provide for him while Gasol probably won’t mind to have McRoberts body up the more active of the opposing bigs.

    But even with Bynum back, I could see situations where Murphy/McRoberts could still be used together for a stretch, for example to claw back into a game where the focus doesn’t seem to be all there. In the games I’ve seen, they have always provided good energy and rebounding while looking not too out of place on offense when paired with the Lakers’ bigger scoring threats at the other spots.

    Denver has given the most minutes to Nene and Mozgov as their starters with Harrington and Andersen off the bench. I’d probably put Bynum to defend on Nene and Pau on Mozgov to start, while Denver will probably match up the other way around to try to have Nene push around Gasol and hope that Mozgov’s size will help against Bynum. I like McRoberts chasing Harrington off the 3-point line the best from our roster, and Murphy’s outside shooting could make it a little harder for the Birdman to cheat off him to be a shot blocker from the weak side. In any case, I couldn’t have imagined to feel that confident about our frontcourt a week ago after losing Odom for nothing.

  7. 3/DY, in transition, i expect rim runs. in the half-court, alongside pau, he’s going to be situated more often than not at the top of the circle, setting picks, surveying the floor, and readying himself to transition to the defensive end of the floor.

    my guess is if bynum has the more favorable match-up, he’ll reverse roles with pau.

    against teams that aren’t going to challenge us in transition, it makes sense for bynum to be more of a focal point on offense.

    if bynum is good enough to command double teams and create open, high percentage shots for teammates, i think he’ll become more of a focal point.

  8. - The Cavs defense under Brown was solid. The knock against Brown was his lack of creativity and perceived inability to make adjustments on offense. The main offensive adjustment Brown made in his final year with the Cavs was his attempt to play inside out basketball with an aging Shaq, which in hindsight, was a strategical error. I think Ettore Messina, who by all accounts, is an offensive mastermind, will help Brown in this regard.

    - Bynum will obviously strengthen the defense, but I am a bit concerned that the transition and pick & roll defense, which has been solid, will suffer.

  9. Pau is and always has been more comfortable and more effective in the high post facing up then in the low post with his back to the basket. He was criticized constantly in Memphis where they wanted him to be a back to the basket scorer and he just wasn’t willing or very effective. That is a big reason why Gasol is more effective going one on one with Bynum in the game. He returns to his natural and most effective spot on the floor.

  10. And educational posts like these are why I enjoy this blog. :)

    I like how Pau is playing so far, but think he will play even better when Bynum comes back in rotation and Pau no longer has to go up against centers on a regular basis. He’s not quite built for that.

  11. Great work. Can’t wait to see what the offense looks like tom’w with big Drew back. Posts like this are exactly what separates this site from its rivals (‘compatriots’, if you prefer). Fantastic.

  12. I think the one of the differences between Brown on Cleveland and Brown on LA is that they have different core of players. Cavs had James (only) and this Lakers have Kobe, Pau and Bynum. I think during playoffs they can still adjust Kobe wont let them lose.

  13. MB coach of the year

  14. I rarely post here but this is one of the blogs I check several times a day. I agree with some of the comments here, this is the type of articles that make this site so good. I learned a few things today about effective strategies. Great job.

  15. It feels like the season will really start with with the 2 game Denver series, and Bynum back. Agree with Gasol/McRoberts and Bynum/Murphy. Nobody was satisfied with the Bynum/Gasol set with PJ. Brown has indicated that he has his own thoughts on how to use the duo to max effect. When Pau`s 15-18ft shot is on, the Lakers are tough to defend. Mc Roberts doesn`t have this shot yet,so the D sags way off him. On D,Bynum will have to show he has the quickness and motor that Brown`s system demands

  16. Welcome Seely_Iggy, another compatriot from the LAT defunct.

    Perhaps, MBrown found new ways in using Pau, can’t expect him to become a power & brute player but he is the graceful kind of an athlete who could hurt you with his soft touch. Athletes are like leaders, some can be developed and others are gifted with inborn intelligence in their game. That’s Pau Gasol, don’t put the onus on the blame on him but just find a way he will incorporate his creative in the system. He may not be effective on one-on-one D but could help with JMac in sealing the post with Pau’s long hands and frame while JMac has the energy to exert more muscles in preventing a penetration. Because of the combination of the two, there is a result of three which means synergy. On offense, Pau is more a finesse player who would rather treat the ball like an egg being laid on down on Mama’s nest, the result is the same with two and less stress on the body.

    On the contrary, if Dwight becomes available and Orlando prefers Pau, I think Pau will again could help the Lakers win Championship in another way. He would not be an angry professional like Odom who thought that he’s indispensable but Pau would be a man of wisdom who could rationalize basketball decisions, team’s preference while life goes on. Someday, all of these things will come to past.

  17. Pau has fallen down 4-5 times in the first half. The guy acts like the proverbial “weakling” … even at his height. We need some strength and he isn’t the answer. In fact, look at the tapes from a year ago and now. The Spaniard has regressed so much so it is embarasing. Good minutes from Bynum.