The Strategy Session: Two Man Games

Darius Soriano —  September 5, 2012

Welcome to the Strategy Session. In this space we’ll explore different aspects of the game from a strategy standpoint. It may mean looking at a coaching decision — like determining a rotation. Or a specific offensive play that we think will work. Or it could be an examination of a defensive scheme. Sometimes we’ll use video others we’ll just blab away for a while on the topic of the day. Hope you enjoy it.

At the beginning of last season, the Lakers looked to be (at least) one player short from elite status. Sure, their top three players were as good as any other trio in the league, but outside of them they had a mash-up group of guys that would need to provide their best case scenario nightly in order for the Lakers to get that extra boost.

At the trade deadline, however, reinforcements arrived, mainly in the form of Ramon Sessions. Sessions flashed game changing speed and an attack mentality that helped boost the Lakers’ offense whenever he was on the floor. However, over time — especially after a shoulder injury curtailed his aggressiveness, the tighter defenses of the playoffs took hold, and the Lakers adjusted their offensive approach — Sessions’ aggressiveness waned and the Lakers again struggled to produce offensively at a consistently dangerous level. Thus, Ramon Sessions is no longer a Laker.

When Sessions was at his Laker peak, though, Mike Brown made the strategic decision of always having either him or Kobe on the floor at all times. The reasoning behind this was simple: for the Lakers to be at their best offensively they’d need a balance between the post and the perimeter. The only way to achieve that balance would be to have at least one offensive threat who called those places home on the court at the same time.

Brown’s strategy, then, was to not only have at least one of Kobe/Sessions on the floor at all times but to also do the same for Gasol/Bynum.┬áThis upcoming year, Brown would be wise to do the same with his new perimeter and post-up dynamic duos of Kobe/Nash and Gasol/Howard.

I understand that the hope is for all four of these players mesh seamlessly when they share the floor. The only way the Lakers are going to achieve at the levels they want to this season (aka win the championship), these guys will all need to blend together and find a comfort level where their games can not only co-exist, but collaborate to make each other better.

All that said, the Lakers are in the unique position of having two duos whose games not only compliment one another’s, but can be the foundation for an elite offense.

In Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Lakers have acquired one of the best pick and roll guards and the best pick and roll finisher in the league. They are, essentially, a symbiotic match in how their skills are best deployed. Mike Brown would do well to find line-up combinations that feature these two players as often as possible. Pair them up, flank them with shooters (Meeks and Jamison) and let them run a lot of one/five pick and rolls like they’ve both done their entire careers.

Ideally, I’d like to see Mike Brown use a substitution pattern that subs Nash out around the six minute mark, Dwight at the 8 to 10 minute mark of the 1st quarter, and then send them both out at the start of the 2nd quarter (or near the end of the 1st quarter). This would match them up with a lot of team’s 2nd units and let them wreak havoc against teams’ reserves by pounding them with P&R’s with the Lakers’ best shooters supporting them.

Opposite of Nash/Howard, Mike Brown could then use alternative lineup combinations around the duo of Kobe/Gasol. Remember, these two were the foundation for three Finals and back to back championship teams. Last season their chemistry suffered some, but I think it’s fair to say that both men will be rejuvenated this upcoming season. And, if both can be played together frequently — while being used as the key scoring options for their unit — I think we’d see a return to the chemistry of season’s past.

Plus, the games of Pau/Kobe would seem to be good matches for the other role players not playing with Nash/Howard. In Steve Blake the Lakers have a PG who is more adept at sharing ball handling duties and spacing the floor next to a more dominant perimeter creator. And Jordan Hill’s defensive ruggedness, penchant for attacking the glass on both ends, and offensive game that’s built off cuts and put-backs is nice match for Gasol. This unit could play together for stretches in the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd periods with Brown then using his starters as the primary closers every night (if they’re even needed to close).

Ultimately, we’ll see what Mike Brown actually chooses to do. But, with the way the Lakers’ roster is built they’re in a unique position of having two sets of wing/big-man duos that can not only compliment each other well but do so within the context of what the Lakers want to do on offense. In Nash and Howard, Brown can direct his troops to free lance a bit more by leaning on the pick and roll prowess the two newcomers bring to the table. With Pau and Kobe anchoring the O, the team can shift to the Princeton’s more formal structure and return to the read and react roots that those two have thrived under in their time together.

Basketball can be a complex game. All five players on the floor must be in synch for the best results to be produced. However, basketball can also be quite simple where the two man game — a style we’ve all played since we were kids — can be the foundation for a unit’s success. It will come down to personnel groupings and rotations, but the Lakers have the pieces to produce two of the best two man games in the league. I’m excited, to say ┬áthe least.


Darius Soriano

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