Hardhats In Hollywood

Darius Soriano —  January 17, 2012

There are several storied franchises in the NBA; orgnanizations whose history runs deep with success and the type of glory that others envy. The Lakers are one. So are the Celtics. Even the Knicks carry a cache from their 70’s triumphs and their status as contenders in the mid-80’s and into the 90’s.

But there’s really only one glamour franchise: the Lakers (sorry New York).

It’s a combination of that history of elite success, geography, and star status that make this so. Jack sits courtside while Kobe scores in bunches. Before that the Diesel stalked the court and demolished foes with brute force while charming the masses with catchy one liners and a fun loving personality. Go back further and it was Showtime, the Logo, Elgin, and the Big Dipper. The Lakers have been a franchise that not only won, but did so with style and charisma all while celebrities sat court side. This has been the Laker way.

Fast forward to this season and that’s changed. Not the celebrities part, but the style and charisma part. Oh, Kobe is still scoring in bunches and with Gasol and Bynum flanking him, the team also possess some players with style and substance in their games. But gone is the glitz.

In it’s place is grit. The Lakers no longer play that entertaining style that has fans jumping out of their seats as waves of fast breaks capsize their opponents. They no longer put up boatloads of points with fans cheering for that rub-it-in-basket that the teams of only 2-3 years ago would bury. The team has moved away from an offensive dominant team to a defensive one. They win ugly.

More specifically, they win with defense. Some defensive numbers for you to chew on:

  • The Lakers rank 5th in the NBA in defensive efficiency with a mark of 97.6.
  • They’re also 5th in points per game allowed.
  • They’re 3rd in defensive field goal percentage allowed and 5th in three point field goal percentage allowed.
  • According to Hoopdata, the Lakers allow the 3rd fewest shot attempts at the rim and are 11th in the number of 3 point field goals allowed (the two most efficient shot types in the league). Meanwhile they force the 7th most long two’s (shots from 16-23 feet) in the league.
  • And when shots are put up, they clean their defensive backboards by sporting the 5th best defensive rebound rate in the league.

Ultimately, this team is starting to suffocate teams on defense and it’s leading to the wins we all enjoy. And while it’s not a style that’s particularly pleasant to watch, the results are what matter right?

And this is where Mike Brown deserves credit. He’s refocused this team on getting stops on every possession. He has plus defenders at several positions (Bynum, Gasol, Kobe, Barnes, and Artest) but he’s not just relying on those guys to carry the load. He’s making sure all players rotate to shooters in order to contest shots. He’s holding players accountable by calling timeouts after defensive breakdowns and pulling guys that make multiple mistakes on that side of the floor. He may not have the best athletes doing the chasing, but he’s getting them to bust their humps to force shooters to put the ball on the ground and then getting the rest of the team to rotate behind them to get their backs.

Sometimes the physical limitations of his guys means it doesn’t work. Murphy may not be able to get across the lane quick enough to contest the shot at the rim after a weak side wing gets beat off the dribble. Fisher can’t always effectively challenge the jumpshooter after digging down in the paint to help the post. Gasol or Bynum can’t always get to that big man stretching the floor in the weak side corner. But, even if they don’t get there, you see them trying. The hustle is there even if the results always aren’t.

Early in camp the quotes coming from practices were that the scrimmages were “spirited” and that there was an emphasis on being a body on body defensive team. That’s carried over to the season and so far results speak for themselves. Yes, the offense needs to improve and I’m hopeful they’ll find a formula that works on that side of the ball before this season is up but, for now, Mike Brown has brought a hardhat mentality to Hollywood and it’s paying dividends.

Around these parts we’ve always said that the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them. That saying was a reflection of the belief that while the Lakers would always have a good enough offense, simply trying to outscore your opponents isn’t a philosophy that’s produced a lot of success. In order to win at the highest level, the Lakers would need to get stops. This year, the Lakers are proving capable of getting those stops (and they’ve needed them considering their offense is only middle of the pack). If they can keep it up throughout the year, they may end up being good enough to get where they want to get. Even if it’s not the path they’d normally take to get there.

Darius Soriano

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  1. Is Mike Brown a good defensive coach? Of course. But the Lakers under Phil Jackson were ranked 6th in defensive efficiency last season. If the Lakers finish the season somewhere in the top two than I think the disjointed Lakers offense was worth Mike Brown’s stout defense.


  2. Mike Brown is building the Duncan/Robinson spurs offense. Just compare the line ups of those Spurs teams and compare to this Lakers starting line up.

    Duncan = Bynum
    Robinson = Gasol
    Bowen = Barnes
    Avery/Parker = Fisher/???
    Finley/Steve Smith = Kobe

    That’s what Mike Brown is building.
    We just need a Tony Parker and then I would say that The Lakers 5 is better than the Spurs 5.

    The coaching staff needs to show Pau video of where David Robinson got his shots in the offense.


  3. The funny part of all of this is that Jim Buss reportedly wanted to build the next Showtime Lakers because the Triangle was boring.

    This team is almost the complete antithesis of the Showtime Lakers on offense.


  4. I’m always glad when the Lakers are winning, but I just don’t buy that they are a good defensive team. Against Portland they were annihilated by the break. Against the Clippers, CP3 went wherever he wanted. Even against Utah (the 2nd time) Paul Milsap went bananas on our bigs.

    Typically good defense is predicated on made shots (so that the D can get back). And this team struggles mightily to make shots if Kobe is having a bad shooting game.

    While I give them credit for the good D they played on the Mavs yesterday, this season the Mavs are a middling offensive team as well, and their shooters were open all night (kid missed like 8 wide open shots).

    The only difference that I do see between the defense now and the defense last year is that the Lakers typically get back on D a little faster on a miss. But, if they didn’t, they’d be blown out of the building every night cuz its so hard to score for them.


  5. Matt – so, so true. We haven’t heard much about Jim B. lately. Which I think, is a good thing.


  6. I am glad that Jim Buss as not panicked.
    Stay cool like his pops and then swope in and steal the pot.


  7. i feel like this laker team has realized about half of its potential because of its excellent defense. they are at the stage of being a team that controls tempo, but have yet to reach a level where they dictate it.

    i mean, the lakers absolutely slow the game down, but they can’t speed it up by regularly converting stops into transition baskets.


  8. Ups to Darius for introducing advanced team-based stats into the discussion, but as Aaron points out, the Lakers were 6th in DRTG last year. They were also 6th in ORTG. They are at this moment 18th in that category, scoring 102 points per 100 possessions, down from 111 last year

    The Lakers’ Pace Factor is exactly the same as it was last year. They are 21st in the NBA with a 90.7; last year it was 90.3. Things look uglier out there because they are using Triangle personnel in a non-Triangle O.


  9. Does anyone else think Phil Jackson had to “medicate” himself after watching Gasol play Dirk with such defensive energy and intensity?

    We sure could’ve used that effort from Gasol on Dirk last year.


  10. Cdog,
    I think as long as this team is limiting shots in the paint, running teams off the 3 point line relatively well, forcing teams to take mid and long two point jumpers, and cleaning the glass there’s literally no reason to believe they can’t continue to be a top defensive team.

    They will continue to have issues with fast guards that push the tempo but that’s not a fatal flaw. Especially not when the playoffs come and the pace inevitably slows some.

    Also, I it’s faulty logic to say good defense is based off making shots. Good defense is based off effort and scheme execution. Shot making is relevant in terms of transition D but so is floor balance and having players effectively slow the ball enough to get the half court D set up. As a testament to this, last season Boston was 2nd in defensive efficiency but 18th in offensive efficiency. The Bulls were 1st in defense and 11th in offense. In the C’s title year, they were 1st in Defense and 10th in offense.

    The Lakers will need to play better on offense to be sure, but what they’re doing now isn’t a mirage simply because they’re not scoring well.


  11. Darius: The hard hat mentality is mandatory with our roster and I agree with the MB approach. At 10-5 (and I expect % this to go down slightly), we are getting a good perf.

    PG vs DH: The reason I have been pounding the table on DH, is that if he comes, the odds of a respectable PG wanting to come here go way up. If we make the PG move first, we potentially take ourselves out of the DH race. It might be a moot point as we may have been put in a box whose four corners are Stern, Sterling, Gilbert, and of course Cuban.


  12. CDog,

    The Lakers are a pretty good defensive team, IMO, but as you note, they did get torched by POR and LAC, allowing OPP ORTGs of over 118 in each game.

    Looking at the numbers, it seems that having Bynum out there all the time has definitely helped the interior D, while the loss of Odom (McRoberts is a finisher, not a creator/initiator and Bynum as discussed is not much of a passer) and the fact that the new system is based more on traditional modes of attack that the team lacks the personnel to execute have lead to the issues on O.


  13. Talent and hard work are the keys. The Lakers have a legitimate big three of their own in Bryant, Bynum and Gasol.

    Despite losing Lamar, bringing in a new coach with completely new offensive and defensive schemes and a non-existent training camp, the Lakers, behind workaholics Mike Brown and Kobe Bryant have put in the work necessary to give them a chance to contend this season.

    When we were hearing the word “spirited” during camp that was simply code for “hard work.” Early in the season we are seeing that hard work pay off, and it looks likes guys are bringing their hard hats to work every night.

    Consistently working hard on the defensive side of the ball is one of the more difficult things to do night in and night out on the basketball court. So far this season, the Lakers have shown that as a group they are willing to put in that work.

    In time, especially when they start to get a little practice time (remember the Lakers are getting two straight days without a game for the first time this season this week), the offense will begin to catch up to the defense.

    As I mentioned in my game-by-game predictions for the Lakers (http://randomnbafan.com/12/21/2011/los-angeles-lakers-2011-2012-game-by-game-predictions/), Mike Brown, Kobe Bryant and their work ethic will find a way to lead the Lakers to regular-season success. The Lakers might even flirt with a 50-win season.

    But it is early in the season and the Lakers still have a lot of work to do. Besides the Lakers don’t really play for regular-season success. The Lakers have one single goal, and the only way they will get there is to continue to put in the requisite hard work.


  14. The Lakers are winning ugly right now, as was sometimes the case with Mike Brown’s former team in Cleveland.

    I’m personally not happy with this team until a properly executed offense is displayed. With the Lakers becoming more defense-oriented, it’s going to take some time still for the team to properly adjust, as we all should know. We can hope that the Lakers do get to that point soon.

    I do think that what Mike Brown is trying to do on offense is a step in the right direction. The idea of it just hasn’t been executed properly. A Gasol/Bynum tandem, with Kobe at the core of offensive production is what this team must, and is, aiming for. It’s up to MB and his staff to get that out of their players.

    Patience is key.


  15. Darius,
    A couple of things that added to the glamour:

    Chick Hearn
    The arenas they have played in.


  16. Personally, I think that if we could just start hitting all those open shots, our offensive problems would be over. But maybe that’s just me. :p


  17. Darius,
    I agree running people off the 3 pt line, cleaning up the glass, and forcing contested 2 point shots are the basis of good foundational defense. And I’m not saying that the Lakers aren’t showing good effort in those basics – where effort on defense is important.


    Having issues with fast guards that push the tempo is absolutely a fatal flaw. In the conference alone Denver, LAC, OKC have deadly fast guards that tear the lakers apart (granted that they are pretty successful against everyone). And Portland has a deadly fast 3/4 combo (Wallace) that is historically a bad matchup for this squad.

    Even if they managed to get out of the conference and into the finals, they are dealing with likely Chicago (probably the fastest PG in the league) or Miami – a team of super athletes. Last year, while Dirk was incredible against us (all the credit in the world to that guy), JJ Barea tore us up as well with open threes and uncontested layups.

    I don’t think its faulty logic to say that good defense is based off of made shots. One of the reasons the Celtics were such a good defensive team is that they all but essentially abandoned offensive rebounds and ran back on the shot. (Thats a staple of Thibs D – the stop next stop was more important) The Lakers can’t give up going after those Off Rebounds – that would hamper our offense even more.


  18. “The arenas they have played in”: Yes adds to the historic glamour, but doesn’t match the hard hats. The arena is a key missing ingredient, unless you make everyone in the 100 section trade in their tickets or promise to stand, cheer, and stop looking at their BlackBerries for 30 seconds. MSG with a chant of “defense, defense” we will never be. Perhaps there is a reason for the Showtime approach.


  19. 15, I agree Mimsy. I think a lot of our statistical weakness offensively is coming from all the open threes we’re missing. Just 1 more made 3 per game would put us in the top 6 of offensive efficiency. While it is still a concern that the Lakers appear to be a legitimately horrible 3p% team, I think things will even out as the season goes along.


  20. I think we, as a fan base, fall prey to that oldest of sports fans’ fantasies – the next new thing. Our big three has been around for 4 years now and there are shinnier and newer toys out there. As time went on Lamar became less of a part and Andrew became more of a part, but we still have that ability.

    It is just that we are in an entirely new setting – ala Mike Brown and his offense. I think that is a good thing, because – IMO – the team was a bit stale in Phil’s last year.

    Now we just need a few more “two days off” occasions to get our offense more in sync. If that happens I expect our 3pt shooting will improve a little bit.


  21. Question: are Kobe’s minutes per game a function of a coach’s first season with the team? I’m not trying to take a shot at MB at all, the hardhat energy is recognized, and welcome. But, having a guy like that as your primary weapon, and knowing his all-consuming appetite to play, must be a challenge. I can understand the desire to get the win but 38 mpg is really high.


  22. Craig – You nailed it.

    If there is something that I hate about our highlight-driven-5-second-attention-span society is that tendency to label everything the “next” or “new” [insert name of historically awesome sports team]. It’s almost as lame (and frustrating) as the inevitable “could this be the best [insert league] championship team ever?” question at the end of a season. Good grief.


  23. #21. Dave M,
    I think it’s more a function of not having a viable back up on the roster, plus not having a play maker at either PG or SF that can be a shot creator or offensive initiator for the 2nd unit besides Blake (who’s currently hurt).


  24. Kobe’s USG being at 40 is also in part a function of the weaknesses on the roster–and USG is of course tied to MPG.


  25. Regardless of options, and regardless of how beyond-human we sometimes think Kobe is, it’s a lot of minutes for a guy who’s playing injured. How far are you willing to push a motor?


  26. Robinred,
    Yes, the roster imbalance is tied to Kobe’s usage rate. However, I’m not sure how you’re making the connection between usage and minutes per game since usage is a measure of possessions used while on the floor. It’s not a rate based stat in the way that per minute (points per 36 minutes, for example) stats are.


  27. While I do see the difference on defense I also can’t ignore the elephant in the room, bench!

    Last in the NBA. 30th in tbe league in scoring.

    Last night 36 to 12.

    No team can expect to compete with the worst bench in the league. No team in the history of tbe NBA ever finished last in bench scoring and played in the finals.

    Paying Metta and Walton $12 million is a sin and management who put this bench together while dumping LO and Brown for zip need to be help responsible. The Lakers can not win this year with 4 players. This is a formula for burnout and injury. That much I am sure of!


  28. That is a fair point about USG, but while Kobe has always taken a lot of shots late, he is also taking more early and using more possessions early in the game, while sometimes playing entire 1st quarters.

    Also, people have been complaining about his raw shot numbers–which would be fewer if he played fewer minutes.

    Here is the formula:

    100 * ((FGA + 0.44 * FTA + TOV) * (Tm MP / 5)) / (MP * (Tm FGA + 0.44 * Tm FTA + Tm TOV)). Usage percentage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor.


  29. Robinred,
    Usage essentially measures the percentage of possessions that end in a shot, FT’s, or a turnover by that player while he is on the floor. The only relationship I could see to minutes played is that he’s playing more with the 2nd unit because his minutes are stretched longer so he’s depended on more to score or be a creator for others. However, based off the way the roster’s constructed, that’s true even with the starters so I still don’t see the sort of correlation you’re saying there is.


  30. Uh-oh, Miami is on one, LBJ is well, LBJ. Mike Miller came back the first game and shot 6-6 all 3-pointers.

    Yikes! That’s better than the entire Laker team has shot all season.


  31. Darius,

    I see your point, but it doesn’t really matter that much to what I am saying. You may be right. This does, matter, though.

    Here’s Zach Lowe on Kobe:

    “He is attempting more shots per minute than at any point in his career, and he has used 40 percent of the Lakers’ possessions while on the floor via a shot, turnover or drawn foul. No player has ever finished a season with a usage rate so high.”

    Thsi is not meant as a knock; the Lakers ORTG is MUCH higher with Kobe on the floor than off it.

    Lowe also makes this point about the Lakers’ team O:

    “Only three teams (the Kings, Knicks and Clippers) have finished a greater share of their possessions via isolation plays, per Synergy. No team has devoted a larger share to post-up chances. No team has finished fewer possessions via a shot from either participant in the pick-and-roll, or from spot-up chances, which often emerge when a pick-and-roll player enters the lane, draws the defense and kicks the ball to a shooter.”

    I would like to see some video breakdowns of how clean the Lakers looks on 3s have been compared to those of other teams.



  32. If pressed, which of these issues would you want to address?

    1. PG Defense/Offense

    2. C Defense/health

    3. 3 point shooting

    I don’t know about you, but I think it was two years ago when I started lamenting about our lack of 3 point shooting. If we can only space the floor, we have so many options in the block/paint that we would feast like gluttons every day.

    We even have potential (on paper) to have in-house growth in 3 point shooting. Blake, Kapono, Fisher, Luke… all of these guys have been there, been 40% or near 40% shooters from the three but why can’t they get back to that level?

    I just wish somebody figures out what it is that’s ailing them. A point guard who can deliver the pass in rhythm? A center who can assist to open outside shooters? Maybe it’s all part of the same problem…


  33. #30 should be deleted. Didn’t know it was going up.


  34. our defense has been spectacular all season. we have continuosly made it hard for teams to get goos looks in the half court. we all knew mike brown was a defensive specialist but I didn’t think he could turn our defense around this fast. kudos to mike brown

    our only problem is offense I been saying it. we already work hard enough to score when kobe’s on the court. when he leaves it’s that much more difficult. if lakers could get one more elite scorer so that we know if we have to we could score 100 plus pts. because right now we can’t score 100 points.

    great post


  35. 21) dave m,
    “are Kobe’s minutes per game a function of a coach’s first season with the team? I’m not trying to take a shot at MB at all, the hardhat energy is recognized, and welcome.”

    One of the K-Bros said yesterday, in reference to shot attempts, that Kobe will naturally/automatically step in to fill a vacuum. I think the same applies to playing time. Overall play at the guard position, other than Kobe, has been pretty weak, so he is certainly going to try and fill in. And the natural tendency of the coach will be to let him.


  36. It really is a changing of the guard year. Jason Kidd and Nowitzki look like they are free falling, Steve Nash’s suns are dead in the water, and of course, the Celtics are finally getting comfy in their wheelchairs.

    Most people were thinking Kobe would join them for coffee and cupcakes, but he seems to be refusing.

    I even see the Suns-fans wishing the organisation would trade Steve Nash out of respect for what he has done for them… sad days for them.


  37. Can we trade that LO trade exception for Paul Pierce? Then amnesty Metta and look for a PG.


  38. 32. Paul. Pierce makes about $15mil, and LO’s trade exception is around $9 mil. Not even close.

    I think the team will hold onto the amnesty until close to the 2013 season, because if anything ever happened to Kobe (God forbid), his $30 mil contract would be a salary cap killer (and even someone like Pau). Remember, Brandon Roy retired from the NBA but I believe his salary had to be amnestied despite his being medically retired. for purposes of insurance, I think the insurance plan covered some of Roy’s salary, but had no effect on his salary cap hit.

    So while MWP is stinking it up, it would behoove the Lakers to keep the amnesty chip (and the other stretch amnesty provision) for down the road, especially with the punitive luxury tax hits coming in 2 years.


  39. These stats are a bit confusing because some are pace-adjusted and some aren’t. I don’t think the “per game” stats are very useful. A team shouldn’t look better on offense just because they walk the ball up the court instead of running it, but that’s what a lot of the traditional stats reflect.

    Also, I’m a little confused as to whether the Lakers are putting in a San Antonio-based offense (because of Mike Brown) or a Euro-based offense (because of Ettore Messina). I know limited practice time means they aren’t really doing either yet, but I’m not sure what the goal is.


  40. Paul: I was talking about the Celtics with another B&Ger and they are definitely going to blow themselves up; as will Dallas, as might the Suns. There will be players available both before the TD and after the season.

    TPE: Perhaps Darius (because people listen to him : ) needs to explain this again. You do not trade TPE’s (usually) – u use them. The LO debacle not withstanding. To put this in perspective, this is what we would have to do to get Pierce. We would need to offer Boston something for Pierce (we have nothing to offer really – but this would be a stack of young players and draft picks who would make approx $8 million). We would then use the TPE to make up the $8 million diff. Boston, will not give Pierce away just for a TPE. Nobody does that except when you are pulling a blatant salary dump with a player who is pouting : )


  41. Robert,
    The Lakers can’t combine their TPE with any other assets to make a trade work under the salary cap so your scenario would not be legal (RE Pierce).

    A TPE can only be used to trade for a player that makes a salary up to the value of the exception. The Odom TPE is valued at 8.9 million so the Lakers could use it to acquire a player that makes up to that amount, but not a penny more.

    As an aside, this is why people say that a TPE is traded while others say used. It’s basically both because you’re essentially trading that exception to another team but only in the value of the contract you acquire. The triangle of moves that led to LA getting the TPE illustrates this perfectly:

    Dallas traded Chandler to a team under the cap and recieved no players back in return. This created their TPE in the value of Chandler’s contract with the Knicks (12 or 13 mil).

    Dallas then acquired Odom using that TPE and sent nothing back to the Lakers but a draft pick. This created the Lakers’ TPE in the value of Odom’s contract (8.9 mil).


  42. 35,

    Ex & Dave – Well on 710 Brian K was opposed to Kobe’s aggression, he favors more of making him a decoy to attract double teaming. That’s what he did in Mavs. game. I also noticed that if Kobe will position himself near the side of the post, it’s hard to defend his turn around jump shots compared to the top of the perimeter where he can be immediately covered. Secondly, when he’s on the side, the threat of passing it to Bynum or a moving Gasol becomes a better play than when he brings the ball from back court.

    Clippers are not ready yet to fill in the title of LA’s glamour team, once they’re out of their home comforts, they’re an atrocious team. They lost yesterday to Utah Jazz miserably as if they’re not in contention as a playoff team. of course w/o Paul and other but they still have Butler, Griffin, DeJordan and Billups. DH included Clippers in his wish list which IMO another ploy to distract the attention of Orlando away from the Lakers. Unfortunately, nobody really believes him that he’s willing to work with Don Sterling throughout his career. BTW, DH is engaged to an Angeleno native.