Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  January 28, 2013

With Friday’s win over the Jazz and Sunday’s over the Thunder, the sense is that the Lakers have found something to build on. The teamwork and attention to detail on both ends speak to good habits being formed. On the other hand, the fact that the games were played at home and under circumstances (at least for OKC, who were at the end of road trip and playing a mid-day game) favored the Lakers speak to variables that must also be accounted for. So, while I’m cautiously optimistic they’ve found a foundation for success, we need to let more games pass where a similar approach leads to victories before we can really say for sure whether the Lakers have turned a corner. Hard to deny they are showing some promise, though.

On to some thoughts on the OKC game and the Lakers’ new approach on offense…

  • If you click around the web, articles on Kobe’s role as a facilitator are quite popular this morning. Fourteen assists in back to back games will do that, I suppose. However, what must also understand that Kobe’s willingness to pass is not new, even though the high assist totals might be. Think back to all the long playoff runs and this is what we’ve seen from Kobe. I know the highlight jumpers and jaw juts live on in the highlight reels, but more important were the skip passes to open shooters who then knocked down the shots. Ask the 2009 Nuggets if you don’t believe me.
  • Kobe’s assist totals have people talking about him as the “point guard”, but I’m much more focused on a different position. Namely, the right mid-post where Kobe’s been doing most of his damage from as a distributor. I look at the picture below and see a man at home; a man who has done so much work from that exact spot on the floor for so many years he understands exactly how to manipulate a defense into allowing a good shot for his team.

kobepostup

  • Yes, that’s a screen cap of the Lakers’ first possession of the game. What followed was Nash setting a screen on Dwight’s man and then Dwight setting a pick on Kobe’s man. With Dwight rolling the rim and Nash popping back out to the top of the key, Kobe penetrated middle, drew help and hit Ron with a pass who then knocked down a 3 pointer. Very nice set play to start the game for the Lakers.
  • One of the reasons Kobe is so good from this spot on the floor is that every option is open to him. He can power dribble into a post up. He can shoot a turnaround jumper over either shoulder. He can make every pass out from that spot, including the most difficult skip passes to teammates on the weak side. And, maybe most importantly, he can consistently beat his man baseline and make something positive happen. In the NBA, the old saying is that “baseline is death” due to the boundary acting as another defender and the ability of NBA help defenders to cover up the rim so quickly. But Kobe’s lived on the baseline for 17 years and continues to find ways to make plays — for himself and his teammates — getting to that side.
  • In reviewing the tape, Sunday’s game reminded me of those close contests that the Lakers’ lost to OKC in last year’s playoffs, except for the very important variable of replacing Ramon Sessions/Steve Blake with Steve Nash (and losses with a win). Last May, the perimeter ball handling errors and shoddy offensive execution allowed OKC to erase late deficits and win games the Lakers could have claimed had they shown more poise. Sunday, the Lakers turned a 4 point lead with 3 minutes left into a 9 point win. Nash’s only statistical contributions in those final minutes were a defensive rebound and his two made FT’s to end the game, but if you watch some of those last possessions again you’ll see the veteran PG, cool as a cucumber, initiate the Lakers’ O and get them going to where the needed to.
  • Whether Kobe the facilitator is the long term solution to what’s ailed the Lakers isn’t yet clear. But I do think it’s a strategy that can continue to work as long as it’s deployed in the manner it is. Kobe’s ability to score or pass from a post up position from that spot on the floor make it difficult to effectively single or double cover him without surrendering a somewhat quality shot on most possessions. The Lakers’ last three possessions were a Kobe lay-in off a post up, a Pau lay-in off a Kobe baseline drive, and a Kobe long jumper. And while the long jumper isn’t necessarily ideal, like it did against the Thunder, even that shot will fall sometimes.
  • This style also has a dramatic affect on the tempo of the game. These possessions are more deliberate and force the defense into guarding for longer stretches. If you go back to the screen shot above, every single defender is looking right at the ball. This was a recurring them all night and several times Nash and Ron broke free for open looks simply by adjusting their positioning slightly while their defender peeked for one second too long, only to find they’d moved as Kobe was passing the ball.
  • This style also promotes better floor balance while still emphasizing the spacing that D’Antoni really wants in his offense. The latter can’t be overvalued, but the former is just as important due to how it promotes better transition defense.

Ultimately, I think Mike D’Antoni deserves a lot of credit for this shift in the Laker attack. Since he’s been hired all we’ve heard from his critics is how his system doesn’t work for the Lakers, how he’s stubborn and inflexible, and countless other jabs at his coaching style (which could just as easily be interpreted as sour grapes). And while there’s some truth to some of those claims, what’s also true is he’s consistently tried to shift lineups and tweak his sets to help produce optimal results. It’s to the point now that these wing post ups for Kobe have become a primary set up, when they were only a footnote action when he coached in Phoenix and in NY.

It’s sometimes easier to dismiss the searching when nothing is working, but when something does start to work, I also think it’s important make sure it does go recognized.

Darius Soriano

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36 responses to Fast Break Thoughts

  1. Sure, I can give D’Antoni props for allowing the changes in offensive philosophy to take place….but by all accounts, these adjustments were decided and made by the players, not the coach. Slowing the pace down, playing through the post, becoming an inside out team, initiating the offense through Kobe…..were all decisions made by the players. These changes go against everything that D’Antoni stands for. Perhaps he had some input along with the players, but I don’t haven’t found any evidence of it.

    As far as reducing Kobe’s minutes, calling timeouts and substitutions, D’Antoni has been doing a fine job the last couple games, but as far as I can tell, the adjustments we have seen in the past couple games were made by the players, not D’Antoni.

  2. D’Antoni gets credit? For abandoning his “offense”? They’re almost running the triangle. I’d like to see Pau get some of those touches with Kobe in place of Nash/Howard too, depending on who has the matchup in the post.

  3. Jesse,( from last post) I could not have said it better myself… When Kobe drives the lane make yourself available, either cut to the hoop or move to an open area…. So many time this season I’ve seen Kobe drive only to see the other 4 players spectating. BB 101. I wish Barnes was still here as he was an excellent slasher.

  4. Earl Clark deserves some credit for his cuts. Kobe found him a couple of times for key baskets.

  5. Darius! I hope you have recovered nicely from the flu. Nice write up too.

  6. Wait a minute. You mean there was more to this game than Kobe suddenly deciding to stop hurting the team with his arrogance and selfishness after 17 years of dragging the Lakers down? Whoa.

    The last two games were fun, but long-term–we’ll see.

  7. D’Antoni does deserve props for being flexible enough to drop his offense and let the players determine the offense best for the team.

    After all, Kobe is now the point guard and Steve Nash is the shooting guard. On this team, this is what suits these players the best.

    Dwight and Pau have played together for extended periods of time – like in the fourth quarter. This works because the right point guard is Kobe not Nash. Kobe also kocks Howrd off the post since he is a weak post player and instead has Dwight doing what he does the best – running the pick and roll.

    And the players are communicating with one another and playing better defense, no thanks to D’Antoni.

  8. Nothing will give MDA credit even if he goes to win all of the remaining games. Same goes for poor ol’ Jim. So whats the point?

  9. Finally, the Lakers have changed from standing around behind the 3 point line and are instead running a real offense! I do not care who is responsible, I am just glad to see it. The slower pace seemed to frustrate OKC since they could never get into their rhythm. They got fewer shots than they are used to and it helped take almost all of the OKC bench out of the game.

    The killer for me was Kobe’s last 3 with Sefalosha desperately trying to cover him. Durant took the ball out of the basket and almost slammed it in frustration. The deal is that if Kobe had gone iso all game long that shot would never have been there. He would have at least been doubled on the play and would have had to force the shot over one of the defenders. Instead, OKC was too worried about guarding the rest of the Lakers and tried to single cover one of the best shot makers ever. Who else could have nailed that 3?

  10. So what is D’Antoni’s value here then? He’s showing not much impact on the team now.

  11. Do you really need a coach with this team?

    As long as he misdirects fans’ anger and frustration away from the players, especially Pau and Dwight who are fragile, he is doing his job.

    And I am not kidding.

  12. I dont know if changing course in the face of mutiny warrants credit

    I think its more proof that your a bad coach when you dont put a player with a 17 year resume in a position that suits his talent the first day on the job.

  13. two nice wins, but still under .500. Let’s see 7-10 in a row before getting too excited. love what I see with KB24 as facilitator, offense seems to flow and it carries over to the defensive end. hope Pau can continue to be aggressive, and D12 concentrates on defense. Earl is making some $ for himself.

  14. The key here is to continue on this path, the path that was set against the Jazz and continued onto the game on Sunday. Actually feels like we’ve finally found an identity, how we need to play day and day out.

    Basketball is a team game, play to your strength and you’ll get good results. I absolutely love seeing a couple of guys in double figures and not just one going off. 5 Against the Jazz and 6 against OKC. Share the wealth on this team and look what happens.

  15. Lakers will probably have to switch up who gets the post ups so teams don’t key in on Kobe. Eventually teams will start to double team Kobe the way he’s picking them apart and Lakers will have to adjust. Pau and Dwight can see over the defense and could also thrive if put in the same position that Kobe’s been in last 2 games if their given the same off ball movement and screens (for Pau) by teammates. It’s amazing Brooks just let Kobe do that same set all game for the most part. Hopefully when teams adjust Lakers are ready for it.

  16. Man, don’t get too excited with winning streaks. You’ll get disappointed if we a loss will happen. Take it one game at a time and WIN.

  17. The first quality win of the season for the Lakers. They finally look like a team, if they can keep this up the sky is the limit!

  18. Baylor fan

    Bad reception on your TV? That was a 2 as for The first time this year Kobe had NO 3 point attempts. One of the reasons they won by the way.

  19. Remember Luke Walton, Sasha…I could go on and on, but what’s the point – as Warren said – the really disappointing thing about a number of Laker fans is how they form a snap opinion, then nothing on earth will serve to change that opinion. If you don’t like Mike D. then now is the time to keep your yap shut and wait for a downturn to open the spigot. Spouting crap now only confirms your prejudice.

  20. That 4th quarter drive and dish to Pau from Kobe was very similar to a play that the two of them pulled off in the ’09 Finals. Kobe’s always been a great passer. He just likes to shoot more. :-)

  21. I think that MD’A had to sanction the changes in the offense. To suggest that the players mutinied against his offense and are now running the asylum does him a disservice. Mike has a lot at stake here. We can pick at his shortcomings, but I have no doubt that the man is trying hard to win.

  22. Agree Kenny. Guessing Kobe and Steve come up with the idea and Mike jumped at it. A 2nd failure after NY would spell doom for his NBA coaching future. Mike is a survivor.

    Let’s hope scouts don’t catch up.

  23. Here is the thing I still don’t get. When they signed Nash and Dwight, one of the main ideas was that you have just signed the best PNR guard in the history of the NBA AND a guy who was supposed to be a top notch PNR finisher, creating the most dynamite PNR ever, to go along side, Pau and Kobe. Then you do a controversial move to get Dantoni to replace a guy who wasn’t working out too well, but also went out of his way to point out that who cares about the suns offence, because they never won anything anyway. (and I get how that kind of plays well to this fan base), to further solidify this set play. Now presumably going in to this DH knows this….Seems likely.

    Now clearly Dwight is no Amare, who possesses a great 15 point jumper for the pick and pop and is a great foul shooter not to mention his abilities as a finisher. But Nash also made an all star out of Marcin Gortat as well, the guy who Orlando traded because he couldn’t get off the bench behind Dwight. Then you put the two together and in 10-15 games together they have completed successfully maybe 10 PNR’s and probably created a dozen buckets for others off their PNR. And this is what is going on, even after Pau has been taken off the floor, to open space in the key. So what happened?

    To my eye ball 1) With Nash injured and all the hue and cry, Dantoni does not ask Duhon or Darius to even bother and the team gets used to not initiating with the high pick. This leaves Kobe and Pau, and Dwight to run small pieces of the Dantoni offence but also to just improvise with a fair number of post ups and Iso’s and other formations drawn from the princeton, the triangle and using the two horns. Dantoni, says wait for Nash, all will become clear.

    2) Nash comes back, but seemingly Dwight still is not very comfortable running a high pick, and rarely comes out to set it, and with the team already used to kind of improvising, and with all the heat and frustration building just kind of gives up on it. So why how did that happen? Is Dwight so limited offensively or because of his injury, that he is uncomfortable running it, and just demands more post ups as he is the “future”? Or is it that this formation also requires Kobe to be more static as a spot up shooter pasted to the 3 point line, which seems neither a successful or very interesting strategy for Kobe? And of course, Pau has no role in that formation, though theoretically he could run this very effectively with Nash, but the problem there being that you can’t do that as you have already dedicated a lot of Nash’s limited PT to playing with Dwight? Or is it that other teams knowing this (and given that most recently there were a lot of games against very top notch defences) and not really needing to respect the three point shooters, and with Dwight so challenged in setting the high pick, just use a lot of focus and energy to disrupt the high pick? Probably its a bit of all of this, but would like to hear people’s thoughts, as conceivably this formation is another thing that could be resurrected when/if some of the current offence becomes predictable/well defended.

    Because what seems to be missed by most, is that Dantoni’s so called offence was more about creating this PNR, and floor spacing than the supposed run and gun SSOL, which only really worked when there was Barbosa and Marion (and to a lesser extent Amare, Jrich and JJ and some of the other young athletic twos who ran the floor) who were so effective on the run out.

  24. I noticed during last game that Lakers players were playing with some sort of “fire” and anger/aggression that I haven’t seen for years. When Gasol was posting up and backing into the defenders, he almost crushed the guy. And Clark and Jamison cut to the basket like hungry tigers. I was thinking that a team played like that would win most of the time. A team mashed together have more fire (e.g. 2012-13 Warriors) than a team alienated from each other, a younger player has more fire (e.g. Gasol at 25) than his older version (Gasol at 32). Lakers is an older team, the only way to set them on fire is to somehow mash them into a close unit. This is why Kobe and Howard both called their close-door meeting last week as the “Jesus moment” that rejuvenised the team. If they can keep the fire in them, they can be the turnaround story of this year.

  25. Just watching the game again. The Lakers missed a lot of high percentage shots in the firs period. The two 3-pointers Nash took were wide open, Dwight missed two gi’mmes and Kobe missed a floater 3 feet from the basket.

    These are all +60% shots, while OKC did not have the same open looks. I must say the Lakers really do look like they are in control from the get go.

  26. Look, people asking for Pau and Howard need to get a hold of themselves. Pau is weak in the post, Howard has 2nd most post touches and shots a low percentage from post up. The numbers say Kobe is the by far the best Post up player in the NBA. Why would you take him out to create post opportunities for less effective players??

  27. Kobe Alert: KB once again had a huge all around game. He went by Magic Johnson for 68th on the defensive rebounds list and is now just 1 behind Grant Hill and 10 behind Wes Unseld. He also moved past MJ for 36th in dimes. Kobe loves putting MJ in the rear view in any category. He is now 16 helpers behind Kareem (35th) and 51 behind Larry Bird (34th). Kobe needs 16 more FG’s to catch Hakeem for 7th. He needs 8 FT’s to reach Oscar in third place and 10 FTA’s to get Oscar again for 6th. Just 662 to go until Wilt.

  28. Great update Robert. Always appreciated.

  29. Those are two solid wins, for sure. But caution is in order. OKC was playing the last game of a long road trip, and Utah followed up the Laker game with a FORTY FIVE point loss at home to Houston. The Lakers deserve credit for two nice games, but it still seems early to say they have turned the corner.

    On a different note, there was a lot of preseason talk about how the Lakers traded Andrew Bynum for the league’s best pick and roll big man. Not having been a consistent viewer of Orlando Magic games, I took this comment at face value but hadn’t seen any real evidence of this. For those who did watch Dwight before this season, did he actually SET picks in Orlando? I feel like the next solid pick that DH sets will be his first as a Laker….

  30. it’s way too early to give d’antoni any type of credit. Can we at least get to .500 before rushing to his defense? Can we at least some kind of stability amongst the players and their production? How about some consistent defense? How about watching d’antoni make some good coaching decisions in the clutch?

    He did not inherit a bad basketball team. He had to make some tough decisions – like putting Pau on the bench – but he avoided some others.

    Do you really think you can credit MDA for Kobe’s improved defense? Did MDA get on Kobe when he wasn’t playing defense?

    Do you really think he’s building a relationship with DH? The guy is coming off major back surgery and he’s got a damaged reputation. What’s MDA doing to help him?

    Even Nash. I don’t see a real plan for Nash. I don’t think the last 2 games are indicative of the assists he will average, but it’s clear that either Nash has lost a step or is still not completely back yet. What’s the plan MDA?

    Give credit to D’Antoni for playing Earl Clark. He gave him a shot (whether he meant to or not) and he’s gotten better.

    But I guess it’s easier for some to ignore the challenges and get upset when people dare to bring up valid, blatantly obvious facts.

    I guess we should start looking for spots to put up the statues of junior and mda….

  31. I think Dwight slips the screen because he wants to get a head start on his defender. The problem is that he never rolls to the basket hard so theres no point in slipping the screen. Also, he insists on posting up even though he has little to no post moves. Dwight should just stick to what hes good at and forget about trying to get on the low block.

  32. Don’t know what took place over the last two games. But somehow a clock went off and Kobe realized a modification of his offensive game was needed. And so far it’s working. I know there is a segment of Laker, no I mean Kobe fans that would prefer he score 30+ points a night (as does opponents who don’t care as long as no one else is scoring), but this change is long overdue.

    And sorry Darius, I don’t agree with you that Kobe is a “willing passer”. Not when:
    - Shaq, Bynum, Gasol, & D-12 have all complaint about Kobe taking off balanced iso shots too often.
    - @ Robert & Darius, it took Kobe 133 more games or 3,074 more minutes to finally catch & pass Michael Jordan on the NBA career assist list (5644 to 5633). Apparently as much as he “cloned” M J’s game, one part he wasn’t interested in was the passing. And let’s remember, M J never had a finisher like Shaq. Or even had an offensive “5″ as good productively as Bynum or Gasol. Also both Bryant & M J played in the same system, the triangle & under the same coach (Phil J) for a huge part of their careers. So when I hear the description “willing passer” Kobe has not come to mind.

    Hopefully this “newest look” Laker offense continues. So far they are 2-0. Why not COMMIT to it for the next 15 – 20 games, after all they wasted 1/2 a season trying to do it “the old fashion way”.

    After all, what do they have to lose?

  33. Looking forward to see how Steve Blake plays tonight. There’s sure to be some rust, but if he can take away some minutes from Kobe and Nash, it’ll be a good thing. Blake can play both guard positions, so that gives MD’A some flexibility going forward.

  34. @ Harvey M…..

  35. I tried to edit my comment to Harvey but somehow it didn’t post.

    I wanted to say that Steve and Dwight simply haven’t had enough time to bond due to the injuries and that I agree with him that Amare’s and Gortat ability to shoot up to 18 feet out made them ideal for the pick and pop.

  36. @ Big City Sid:

    Your Kobe-hatred has reached Henry-Abbot-Like heights—and monotony. We get it–you think Kobe is a ball-hog, all evidence to the contrary. What evidence you ask? How many years during his career has Kobe been in the top 3 among shooting guards in dimes? Don’t know? Go look it up, then come back, read your post, and decide if you aren’t ashamed you can’t delete it now.