It’s been a summer of change for the Lakers. In all, they’ve added 6 new players to the roster and that’s not even counting the two draft picks chosen in June. Beyond adding talent that will have an impact through playing, however, the Lakers are also looking to bolster their coaching talent. Kevin Ding has the scoop:
It hasn’t exactly been a secret around the NBA that Lakers head coach Mike Brown has been courting Eddie Jordan to join his staff as an assistant coach. The official hiring of Jordan, who played for the Lakers in 1980-83 and ’84, is expected to occur in the coming days — and Brown will be hiring longtime NBA sage Bernie Bickerstaff, too. The Lakers are also adding Steve Clifford to their staff. Clifford has been an Orlando Magic assistant — with Dwight Howard — since 2007. Before that, Clifford was with the Rockets and Knicks.
Adding coaches of this caliber certainly makes the Lakers a better team. All of these men have a great deal of experience, have won (or helped win) their fair share of games, and will give Brown more teachers to help mold the team into one that can reach the goals they set.
In Jordan, specifically, they’ve locked down the man that will surely have a big hand in shaping the Lakers’ offense next season. Jordan is a Princeton Offense disciple, learning at at the foot of the great Pete Carril while serving as an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings. Since, he’s helped develop the offense with the Nets, Wizards, and 76ers as an assistant and head man to varying levels of success. He’ll now be asked to bring that offensive expertise to the Lakers.
The offense, in general, has a lot of good principles that should aid in the success of this Lakers’ group.
First and foremost, the offense brings back a read and react system that will enable the Lakers to better diversify their offensive attack. The Lakers should be better able to counter what the defense is trying to take away and thus produce good scoring chances even if a first option is taken away. This was something the Lakers struggled with a great deal last season, especially when defenses crowded the paint to take away their post options.
Second, the offense should provide the team with a bit more balance. Too often last year, the Lakers sets were run for one of two options: either to create a shot for Kobe or to create a shot for one of the Lakers big men. While this approach can’t really be argued with — after all, you want your offense to be built around your best players — the Lakers over reliance on shots to be created by these players left the team struggling to generate quality looks when a set break down. If Kobe was denied his initial pass and pushed out beyond the three point line, if Bynum was fronted, or if Pau couldn’t make a clean catch at the elbow the Lakers went into scramble mode and their sets got disjointed quickly.
Third, there are simple strategic measures an offense like this one brings that will help immensely. By bringing back a two guard front the team should achieve much better floor balance, aiding in their transition defense. The two guard front also aids in floor spacing, naturally allowing more room to operate. Spacing and floor balance also aid in player positioning in general, translating to good offensive rebounding chances, better passing angles, a stronger ability to read the floor and where defenses are trying to help from, and countless other facets of offensive basketball that can be the difference between getting a good shot or not on any given possession.
Of course, there’s still a question of how the players the Lakers have on their current roster fit into this offense.
Kobe and Pau are natural fits for this offense. Gasol especially so with his ability to play in the high or low post, his innate feel for passing, and how he instinctively reads a defense and can move into the proper positions to counter. Kobe, with his history in the Triangle, also has strong foundation for success in this O. He reads defenses well, makes smart cuts off the ball, and his all court game translates to being able to play in a two guard front, on the wing, or even shift to the high or low post depending on need.
Pau and Kobe aren’t the only key players on`the Lakers, however. Steve Nash and Dwight Howard must also fit into these sets. To be honest, though, I’m not that concerned. Nash can fit into any offense you put him in. He can be a shooter and floor spacer regardless of what offense the Lakers run and his ability to work in isolation from the top of the floor will still have value in this O. As for Howard, he too can play in the high or low post based off the strength of his ability to turn, face, and then beat his man off a quick drive to the rim. Plus, Howard is a good passer out of the post due to all the double teams he’s faced over his career. Both players have enough skill and variety in their offensive games to fit in just fine and their ability to finish plays playing off the ball will be of great value.
All that said, it should also be noted that the Princeton offense has enough flexibility to allow these players to freelance as well. In watching tape on the Kings teams that gave the Lakers such fits a decade ago and the Nets teams that went to back to back Finals in that same era, there were countless possessions where those teams went to pick and roll sets, wing isolations, and straight post ups in order to generate good shots. The Lakers did the same thing under Phil Jackson when running the Triangle offense. If you want a more current example, look at the Minnesota Timberwolves in how they run their offense.
Rick Adelman’s “corner offense” has many of the same principles of the Princeton O (remember it was Adelman who both Jordan and Carril coached under in Sacramento). With the Wolves, Adelman runs countless pick and roll actions with Ricky Rubio at point guard, utilizing his ability to break down the D off the dribble and create shots for himself or his teammates. Rick has cleverly integrated principles of his offense into more classic sets that optimize the talents players like Rubio and Love bring to the floor. Jordan and Mike Brown can do the same with the talent they have at their disposal next year.
And, in the end, this is what I expect from the Lakers in the coming season. The beauty of having an offensive system rather than simply running sets or plays is that a team has a foundation to lean in trying times. However, with the talent the Lakers have at their disposal, it’d be silly to think they won’t take advantage of individual mismatches in order to score points. Some nights that may mean featuring Gasol in the post. Other nights it will certainly mean a pick and roll heavy attack between Nash and Howard. Other times it will mean going to Kobe on the wing and letting him create in single coverage.
The Lakers are blessed to have several players that are difference makers on their own or in tandem. However, with the hiring of Eddie Jordan, the Lakers look to also be bringing in a system that they can rely on to help them be efficient on offense without having to rely on that talent to produce. This will help the starters, but also the bench players score when needed. It will give all the players a foundation they can build on throughout the season to be the offensive machine they hope to be.
There will definitely be an adjustment period. Not only from the standpoint of implementing the new system but in meshing the players that will need to run it effectively. But in moving towards this system the Lakers look to be getting back to a style of play that has led to multiple championships. And it starts with the addition of some very good coaches to work in tandem with the great players they’ve already brought in.