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. This 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  the least.

Darius Soriano

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37 responses to The Strategy Session: Two Man Games

  1. Great Breakdown Darius

    The whole season is going tone fun

  2. Great post. Extremely insightful.

  3. Awesome stuff. Super excited/intrigued on what the rotations will look like this year

  4. In the previous thread, Mojo wrote:
    Biggest prize in summer 2014 will be LBJ if he invokes his ETO. How would Laker fans feel about a Howard/James combo until 2020?

    My thoughts: Don’t discount this from happening. The cap will prevent the Heat from truly building around the Big Three – remember that Miami does not have the large local TV contract that the Lakers can look forward to. Also, DWade’s health may limit his effectiveness in the future.

    If the Lakers win the next two championships, Lebron may feel it is easier to join us than to beat us. Additionally, that is the summer that Kobe and Pau’s contracts fall off the books. If they resigned cheaply enough the Lakers could fit Lebron in. How about this team: Howard/Lebron/Kobe/Pau/Nash!

    However, lots of basketball to be played before we cross that bridge.

  5. Thought provoking post Darius. I’m in agreement with your pairings (Nash/Howard – Kobe/Pau) for all of the concrete reasons that you’ve given. Question that I would propose to you (and the entire FB&G Community) is which ‘unit’ would our 2 Small Forwards (MWP & Ebanks) fit into the best? You’re essentially displaying 2 seperate units consisting of Nash, Howard, Jamison & Meeks and the other being Kobe, Pau, Hill & Blake. Would Metta prosper better with the Nash/Howard Unit or the Kobe/Pau Unit? Same question/scenario for Ebanks.

    I feel that Metta would be better suited for the Kobe/Pau unit based mainly off of familiarity, his respect for Kobe (not to say that he doesn’t respect Nash & Howard) and that this would seem to be more of a half-court/slower unit. Also, as you mentioned, Hill would be the so called ‘hustle player’ within this unit.

    Ebanks would blend in perfectly with the Nash/Howard unit because that unit would more then likely play at a faster pace due to Howard being the superior athlete to Pau and because of Nash’s past success playing in an up-tempo Suns offense. Ebanks, judging from his limited playing time, also seems to have a ‘nose’ for the ball. Similar to Hill’s in my opinion.

    I also feel that with Nash, Meeks and Jamison, this unit has the better shooters on the floor. Therefore, Metta, who IMO is a better shooter than Ebanks, would be best served playing with the Kobe, Pau, Blake and Hill combo, where he’ll be a better ‘floor stretcher’ than Ebanks … Would like to here your (and other posters) opinion on the matter.

  6. Darius,

    I don’t know how I’ve missed regularly visiting your site all these years but I just rediscovered it looking for old friend Dave Murphy to invite him to join us at Lakerholics.Net. I love what you’re doing at Forum Blue and Gold and your dedication to create a site for high quality basketball analysis and discussion.

    As a former player and coach, I’ve always believed basketball was basically still a 2 or 3 man game no matter how you packaged it. Your Two Man Games article thus immediately piqued my interest and raised hopes that Mike Brown and his greatly improved coaching staff are thinking along the same lines. Your strategy recommendation that the Lakers keep a combo of either Kobe/Pau and Steve/Dwight in the game all times is the optimum solution upon which Mike Brown should build his core lineup rotations.

    While I do agree that Sessions deteriorating play derailed Mike Brown’s strategy of having a balanced small/big combo on the floor at all times (either Kobe/Drew or Ramon/Pau), I always thought Mike made a mistake by not making the combos Kobe/Pau and Ramon/Drew, which would have taken advantage of Kobe and Pau’s chemistry and entrusted Drew rather than Pau to carry the load when Kobe was out. Hopefully, he will remember that when it comes time for him to set his small/big rotations this year.

    Great article and great site, Darius. Thank you.

    LakerTom

  7. Was waiting for this article! Thank you Darius. Completely agree with keeping one of our bigs on the floor at all times, if possible. (Excluding blow outs of course.) Also like the thought of having Nash/Howard paired and Pau/Kobe.

    Opposing teams have to be having nightmares right now about defending the PnR with this team.

    I know that we are going to see a lot of Kobe cutting to the basket, but I truly wonder what new wrinkle Kobe is working on right now. I just picture the guy working his butt off to become a better spot up shooter.

    Once again, I am just so excited about this season!

  8. I think you mean “where their games can not on(ly) co-exist,”

  9. Great article Darius! I did not really know what to expect when Howard was finally acquired. As a player he seemed like a dream come true – what a competitor. However, his antics this last year while trying to get out of Orlando made me feel very concerned about how good a fit he would be on the Lakers.

    I am pleasantly surprised by how good natured Howard appears to be in his public appearances. I am hoping that this will translate into him being a trusted teammate both on and off the floor. I feel that he will do everything he can to make this work. I am very excited about this coming year.

    Leo: The scenario you outlined is certainly amoung the possible outcomes we could see. However, all of the cards would have to fall in the Lakers favor for me to envision Lebron donning a Laker’s uniform. As you say there is a lot of basketball left to be played over these next two years.

  10. - 5.) Tra

    After reading the article I came to the comments to make the exact same statements you did. I agree with how you have split the line-ups.

    I am interested how Brown is going to split up the minutes there year. I hope he goes soft on the starters, even Howard considering he is coming off a back injury.

  11. @5 – Tra, indeed sounds like 2 separate rotations and I think MWP will fit better on the Kobe/Pau one. However, based on the bigs rotation, we should see very interesting things from a Pau/Jamison duo.

    @6 – LakerTom, it’s being a while indeed. Welcome back.

  12. Tra –

    I don’t think Ebanks will see much playing time. Kobe and metta need to get their minutes 32-35. And Meeks is a great rotation player who should be playing 15-20 minutes a night that only leaves about 5 min for Ebanks. I believe Kobe will get some minutes at the 3 with Meeks at the 2.

    So to answer your question the line ups would be:
    Nash Meeks Kobe Jamison Howard
    Blake Kobe/meeks metta hill Gasol

    These line ups would destroy teams. I’m so excited for this season.

  13. This would be a great way to deal with the regular season, if having two of them on the floor at all times will allow us to compete with our regular season opponents.

    For example, we could start the game with our 5 starters for 5 minutes, then alternate our pairs for the next 40 minutes (20 minutes per pair) and finish the final 3 minutes with all starters again.

    That would only be 28 minutes per starter, and we’d probably need to mix it up with 3 of them on the floor at the same time to build chemistry and prepare for contingencies, but with that basic plan we really shouldn’t be playing any of our starters more than 30~35 minutes.

  14. Love the strategy session Darius. This is just the kind of material I’ve been waiting for, it’s fun to anticipate all the different line-ups & wrinkles we can throw at other teams now. I have a defensive strategy question for you: Do you foresee Dwight ever guarding 4′s and even 3′s (e.g., Lebron, Durant) for stretches next season? Can’t wait for it to start!
    P.S. If that is LakerTom from the old Kam Bros. blog, it’s good to hear from you again!

  15. Just a few months ago, we were discussing the lethal two man game of Sessions and Steve Blake sharing the backcourt. Times have changed.

  16. Mike Brown: We now have the best defensive player in the game, another who makes the all defensive team annually, and a third that is known as a total animal/stopper. I don’t care how weak SN is on D, we have no excuse to not be one of the best defensive teams in the league, considering MB is a defensive genius. I agree with the premise above, that the rotations are the key on offense. Brown should put one of his Lts in charge of minutes and rotations. If we manage the rotations/minutes and Brown delivers the goods on defense, it should be XVII.

  17. I have a feeling Steve Nash’s +/- is going to be like… 500 billion next season.

  18. From what I understand, man-to-man defense is a real weakness for Steve Nash, but he does moderately well in team defense. Perhaps that is because he is such a smart player and knows how to get in the right position to work with his teammates.

  19. @MagicPhil & Laker Kev,

    Yes, it is me. Haven’t been here for a long time. Glad I rediscoverd it. Loved this article by Darius and the site.

    Please stop by and visit us at Lakerholics.Net. I’ve added a link to this site there for our crew.

    Tom

  20. Off topic but I just read the prior string on the new CBA. Man I hate some of those small-market owners who forced through some of that crap that penalizes the teams whose success has been the foundation for the league’s popularity.

    I get their desire to “level the playing field” but they tipped the scales way too far this time.

    Funny thing is, players are still going to prefer L.A. and Florida and Texas, for the weather and/or tax advantages. Chicago and New York will do well because they’re great cities with great fans.

    And no matter how many tax dollars are slapped around, most players will still be reluctant to go to Utah, Minnesota, Memphis, Charlotte or New Orleans. You can’t change the weather and you can’t make a small town big. Cleveland? Yeah, right.

    I shudder to think how valuable the Clippers would be worth with a real owner. Brooklyn will take that step up this year, and Golden State may soon if its new owners can secure a better venue.

  21. Lakers just signed Reeves Nelson and 7’3 Greg Somogyi. We’re at 18 players now (including DJO and Sacre).

  22. Great post. Interesting idea starting Nash and Howard the second quarter. Starters will have trouble stopping that PnR second units should have even less success.

    LT Mitchell: That combo was the worst for the eyes. But I have zero doubts we’ll see Blake/Duhon at least once on the floor together. Brown won’t be able to resist.

  23. I also think 32 mins is too much for Nash, Kobe, Ron, Pau. We saw too many older players breaking down in the end mostly notably players on Lakers and Boston. There will be blood if Brown blows out Kobe’s shins again and refuses to give Pau less minutes. I almost felt sorry for Kobe Brown put him through the wringer with no remorse whatsoever. The Clippers game watching Kobe struggle to get up the court was a pain to watch.

    Robert: A lot of pressure on Brown more than he’s ever had as a coach. More media this year, more scrutiny. No more of the standard rhetoric we fans need detailed answers about the possible struggles.

  24. Glad to see LaketTom here… I’ll visit lakerholic.net and see what you have been up to.

    Great stuff Darius, just great stuff.

    I think, MWP will do better in the Nash/Howard group with his perimeter defense offsetting Nash’s weakness.

  25. LakerTom, I think you should remove the “sign in to comment” on your lakerholics.net website. Many people don’t like it. It’s better if we can just come in and comment with our handle without registration. Just like the old times.

    It’s one reason I like FB&G, and a lot of others too.

    Peace!

  26. Great breakdown, as always.

    On possible issue with this is foul trouble. Howard suffers from foul trouble more than Bynum, probably due to his more aggressive mindset on defense.

    But this could be an issue if Mike Brown installs two offense for different type of players on the field, although Gasol is probably the only big man in the league that can – so this is probably a moot issue anyway.

    Anyway, I am definitely looking forward to this season and I have a very strong feeling that the variety of strategy that Mike Brown can use with this team is enormous.

  27. I’m not buying that there’s a lot more pressure on Brown. He’s coaching a potential super team, one of the best ever assembled from a talent perspective. If it fails, it will probably be due to injury (rr’s motto). True, he will be scrutinized like never before, but the team’s ability to succeed on talent alone will be unparalleled. His margin for failure will be much smaller than in years past.

  28. I like that we have options for our bench going into training camp followed by more options at the trade deadline. We have 18 players signed, so I can see us either trying to swing some trades at the end of September or cutting 4 players to get us down to 14.
    Hopefully Jose Calderon gets bought out by Raptors near trade deadline, then we could pick him up cheaply. I would like him over Steve Blake.

  29. 18 players, but 9 of those guys are chumps.

    Nash, Kobe, MWP, Gasol, Howard, Blake, Meeks, Hill and Jamison are the 9 quality players on this team

    Let’s not pretend Ebanks doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses that he has to prove he has shored up (D, shooting, court awareness). Just because he is a laker, does not mean he is good (let’s not be like Blazer fans)

  30. #28 Jose Calderon would be a perfect backup for Nash. There are several ways he could become a Laker. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

  31. WRT Brown, his job is both much easier and much harder than last year. It is easier because he has the tools to win; it is harder because he will be expected to win and he will be seen as the weak link in a way that Jackson never was.

    I thought the “full training camp” argument was oversold last year, but whether it was or it wasn’t, it’s gone now. Yes, there will be some adjustments needed on the parts of the players, but this is a very veteran team.

    I think it will be important to try not to overreact to regular-season losses, from the FO on down even to the fans. If the Lakers go 55-27 and are seeded 3rd, that will be more or less OK, as long as they are healthy and ready to go at playoff time. Everyone from decision-makers to people who simply root for the team should try to keep that in mind.

  32. rr

    Last years squad was a consistent effort on D and a outside shooter away from being back on top. Replace Session w/Nash, Drew w/Howard, rinse/repeat, shake and stir if you would like. If newly acquired ring chasing players dont spark some type of competitive urgency that seemed to have left this team since 2010, winning tends to do that, a 55-27 record will not cut it. There will be trouble in Lakerwood, complacency is for back2back champs going for their 3rd, not a team of this caliber with hungery veterans. The nights of letting the Wizards, Golden States, Cavs, and Bobcats of the league hang around should be over.

    This team will get plenty of rest without the help of MB rotations if they play focused.The self entitlement that the past two years squad played with cost them alot of energy and games. Nash at 38 still plays like his hair is on fire, Howrds effort on the court cant be questioned. It is going to be all system at go this year and the league better get ready.

  33. Boy, having Nash and Dwight will be such a luxury. Not only will we have a clear go-to set play if our Princeton offense is sputtering, but we also have something not even the Miami Heat has: two sets of players who can play 2-man inside/out game. For Miami, once 2 of their big 3 leave for the bench, defenses can hone in on whomever is left (usually Lebron). OKC doesn’t really have the luxury either. Ibaka isn’t the offensive presence that Howard is, and Westbrook/Durant don’t really play off of eachother as much as they take turns torching other teams in transition or pick n roll.

  34. Last years squad was a consistent effort on D and a outside shooter away from being back on top.

    The Lakers PYTH record was 36-30, and although two of the losses to OKC were close, they were actually fortunate not to get swept by Oklahoma City. The Lakers were somewhere (as Robert reminded us hourly) between the 6th and 10th-best team in the NBA.

    They were four players away, and, remarkably, Buss and Kupchak actually got all four, and still kept Hill and Pau.

    That said, as Kupchak said a couple of days after Howard’s presser: “I wish they were all 22.” Also, the “Here Come the Lakers!” factor will be full force this year
    –no one will phone it in with the Lakers in town.

    This team will be judged on the playoffs, so I do not expect them to keep the pedal on the floor all 82 games, and it is probably not a great idea of they do.

  35. Brilliant stuff, Darius! You really ought to pitch your proposition to Mike Brown. Is that a possibility?

  36. Wonderful insight daruis, true blooded laker fan..what im wondering is how will coach brown react with this….if the scenario will be miami/lakers in the finals.will miami go slow ball jut like against okc?
    i think lakers will field nash/kobe/mwp/pau/howard..against chalmers/wade/allen/james/bosh..hope lakers will the ship