Finding the Right Personnel Groupings

Darius Soriano —  April 23, 2013

The loss of Kobe Bryant for the season has created a myriad of issues for the Lakers to sort out.

As their top scorer and chief creator of offense, the team has struggled to generate sustained offense since his absence. Spacing has been mucked up and opposing teams are treating every perimeter player as a non-threat from the wing — even Steve Nash, though his injury has something to do with that for sure. And, while Kobe has had his issues defensively this season, as one of the few guards with good size, his unavailability has left the Lakers scrambling to find good match ups defensively, often cross-matching to try to create a workable scheme.

The biggest issue, however, may simply be that Kobe was a high minute player who found himself in nearly every one of the most used lineup the Lakers have deployed this season. Of the Lakers’ 12 most frequently used groupings, Kobe appeared in 11 of them as either the shooting guard, small forward, or pseudo point guard. Missing that versatility is one thing, but missing his presence — regardless of position played — is the most damning thing of all. It sounds simple and is obvious to say that out loud, but it’s really the most true thing that could be said about his injury.

Because whether Kobe was playing brilliantly or struggling, he was on the floor. Now that he’s not, the Lakers are in search mode to fill the minutes gap as much as they are trying to fill the void in production.

How the Lakers go about mixing and matching their personnel against the Spurs is one of the key story lines that needs to be figured out as the series advances. There are some obvious and not so obvious things to consider when figuring out who should play and how much. A few observations after game one:

  • Steve Blake is the best defensive option against Tony Parker. Blake has solid lateral quickness and recovery speed, good length, and understands the team’s scheme. Blake has done a good job of funneling Parker into the spots on the floor the Lakers want him to operate from and then challenging shots even if playing from a trail position. Being able to accomplish this with relative consistency is a big part of making Parker’s life harder and Blake (not just in game one, but in the final meeting of the regular season) does this better than any other defender the Lakers have to throw at Parker.
  • Steve Nash can do an effective job of guarding Danny Green. Green isn’t a primary weapon for the Spurs and does most of his damage as a shooter in spot up situations or when coming off screens. Nash isn’t strong in isolation, but he can recover well after helping and is good at chasing players around picks. Where Nash can do better is in finding Green in transition, but the Lakers weren’t hurt too much by that.
  • The Lakers don’t have a very good option to put on Manu Ginobili, but Ron is probably the best of the bunch. Even though Ron has diminished foot speed, he’s a better option than Jamison (who has very poor lateral movement on the wing) or Earl Clark (who has struggled with wings of Ginobili’s herky-jerky style and all-court skill set). Darius Morris is another option, but Ginobili’s savvy will give the young Morris issues.
  • The Lakers are best served by Dwight Howard guarding Tiago Splitter, but the Spurs caught on to that in game one and paired Bonner and Duncan for several minutes and made the Lakers choose between putting Pau or Dwight on Bonner. Mike D’Antoni stuck with Pau on Duncan (which I agree with), but that left Dwight walking a fine line of when he should help and when he should stick closer to Bonner (who is often floating around the arc).
  • Earl Clark didn’t see much time in the first game, but that can likely be explained by the fact that he’s not the outside shooter Ron or Jamison are, nor is there a good option for him to defend consistently outside of Kawhi Leonard (or Bonner). Clark’s main utility is as a stretch PF who does a lot of damage as a cutter, but with the Spurs packing the paint to discourage the team’s post-ups, there are no cutting lanes to take advantage of. Understanding all this, Clark may either be relegated to more of a bench role or will need to come into the game sooner in place of Ron to match up with Leonard for as many minutes as he can. This moves Clark to more of a SF role, but with the Lakers needing to maximize Pau and Dwight together, there aren’t a lot of PF minutes left to claim once Jamison gets his burn.

It seems, then, that the Lakers are in a bit of pickle when it comes to who should play and when. Both team’s starters actually match up quite well and are built rather similarly. But when the bench players come in — especially Ginobili and to a lesser extent Bonner — the Lakers have trouble matching up with the players who would be the preferable options to guard those guys while still being able to attack them on the other side of the floor.

My recommendation would be to have Blake, Dwight, and Ron’s minutes mirror those of Parker, Splitter, and Ginobili as much as possible. Those are the Lakers’ best defensive match ups on those players and allow the team to operate within an effective scheme. I’d try to sneak some minutes with Clark on Leonard and also try to match up Jamison on Bonner as much as I could. Nash can effectively be paired with Blake whenever Green is in the game and can play as the lone PG on the floor if Cory Joseph or Gary Neal is running the point for the Spurs while Parker sits. I also could see trying to play Goudelock (over Morris and maybe even Meeks) if there’s every any stretch where neither Parker or Green is in the game.

None of this is that simple, however, and it can get further complicated by variables like foul trouble, who is/is not playing well, and the general flow of the game. As a head coach, you also don’t want to always be reactive to a situation, but instead want to try and force the hand of the opponent with your own substitution patterns and lineup choices.

That said, the Lakers are missing one of their most important players in Kobe. And, down the stretch of the season, he was playing over 40 minutes a night in helping the Lakers win games. Now that he’s out, those 40+ minutes need to be absorbed by other players. Some of them will naturally go to Nash, Blake, and Meeks. But the remaining will have to go to other players and making the right choices while finding the right personnel combinations will be hard to do.

But, it will also be necessary if the Lakers are to find a foothold in this series.

Darius Soriano

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22 responses to Finding the Right Personnel Groupings

  1. Thanks again Darius,
    Your posts always tweak our minds and remind us that – as fans – we are normally reactive and limited by the past. The coaches, however, cannot fall into this trap, but must plan with a more diverse viewpoint.

  2. darius: agreed. so far from game one’s result, ginobelli presents the greatest match up problem for the lakers and from it you can see that his presence and in particular his execution creates a defensive void for the lakers that currently cannot be underestimated.

    to win, the key of course is to make a few more baskets. the objective being to take as many open shots as there are available but without the make all stratagies go out with yesterday’s wash water. i kind like your suggestion to insert mini-mamba goudelock when parker and green are not in the game. somebody in the laker organization likes him enough to bring him back at this point in time (desperation time notwithstanding). let’s see what he’s got should be the notion here and just as important, let’s see what match up problem he presents for the spurs. and if/when he does, let’s exploit it. what other exploitations are there out there?

    note to steve nash: grow your hair. we need a little crazy right about now and thru out the playoffs.

    can’t wait for game 2 to begin. much to stratagize, analyze and from our perch, improvise.

    Go Lakers

  3. The Lakers have no chance in the series if the Spurs continue to get healthy. Blake is a horrible defender who is only having success against Parker cos Tony is injured. If Tony Parker is healed up just a little then its over cos he hears the senseless comments that Blake is shutting him down.

  4. rr: From a couple threads ago (sorry I have been away) “1. Keep Howard 2. Hope and pray and wish that Kobe can come back, 3. Make the right decision on Pau 4. Make the right decision on D’Antoni 5. Add youth and D on the perimeter”

    I agree with 1,2, and 5. I will await your answers on 3 + 4 : ) I am already pretty much decided on Pau, and that is we should keep him, unless Mitch can fleece someone which is unlikely. With regard to MD, the jury is still out pending final results, however I seem to remember a post of yours recently, where you started to state an opinion on this – something about pluses and minuses : )

  5. As John Ireland said on the radio today, there are no specific decisions that we (Lakers) can make at this time. The entire off-season is a process.
    1) Can we sign Dwight and what will/if he demand of the organization, coaching wise. 2) Based on #1, do we make a coaching change? 3) Who might any new coach be? 4) Do we trade Pau?

    Independent of this we have to wait to see if MWP opts out. If not, then do we amnesty him? Oh yes, what is the physical condition of Kobe come July? We need to know this to make a decision about what we do with him for next year – most probably just keep him and shut up.

    This entire situation is a process and we can talk now about all the steps, but until the first step is taken we won’t know what the next step will be or how we should address it.

  6. Darius not to be picky but you say Metta is a better outside shooter then Clark. He us 4% better from the field then Metta is about the same from three. Did I miss something?

  7. G-lock, morris, meeks, duhon and sacre…whew…

    The bobcats dont even have that many bad players

  8. Dwight is no LeBron therefore he shouldn’t be holding any franchise hostage. Especially if the Lakers fail to win a game this series. Fans have already enough to worry about with his on court game. I don’t see how mwp is back at that price.

    As for coaching Phil is a pipe dream he only coaches rosters that are title contenders without a 100% Kobe the team is no title contender. Plus how long will PJ saty? 1, 2 years max. Lakers will be going through this same process again. It’s time for stability so go young. I don’t know much about B. Scott’s style or offense but I’d pass. The only valuable replacement who could connect with fans and players would probably be B. Shaw. Then he could run the triangle, Lakers keep two 7 footers and sign shooters. But the back court will remain a problem if Nash is back next year. If Shaw isn’t available D’Antoni should remain coach. There’s not many options that have a great outlook for the future out there.

  9. Did I miss something?

    Sample size and career performance.

  10. Lakers do have way too many d league players on the team. Looking at how kenyon martin is playing on the Knicks and spurs picking up t-mac, I think Lakers should have taken a look at these guys. They can’t have done worse than meeks and earl clark.

  11. Rusty Shackleford April 23, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    I live in the East Bay and had to deal with countless Warriors fans cry about injuries derailing their chances this postseason……..Needless to say they didn’t receive much sympathy from me; especially after the, “Kobe is so old he breaks down just trying to go to the rim.” BS they fed me last week. KARMA. Why have the Heat had such a sweet season?

    I’m all for the Lakers defying some odds and advancing past the 1st round but in all reality the start of their future begins after they bow out of this postseason.

  12. @rusty

    right back at you, I’m in New England and I am so glad I don’t have to hear how “great” the Celtics are at 7th place and how they’re surviving all their injuries. It is interesting that both teams who were at the top a couple of years ago are both on the downside, I wonder how their prospects compare over the next couple of years (salary / free agency). Either way – GO LAKERS!

  13. “Dwight is no LeBron”
    No he is not, but nobody else is either. The NBA is tough if you don’t have one of the top 2-3 players in the league. In the 80′s the rings went to Magic, Moses, Larry, and if you didn’t have one of those guys you better be the Pistons. In the 90′s you need a guy named Michael or Hakeem or you better be the Pistons. In the 2000′s, you better have guys named Kobe, Shaq, or Tim, or well – you better be the Pistons. So the path is clear. Get LBJ or Durant, or put together a Pistons type roster, or you will not get a ring : )

  14. Darius,
    I’m curious with Mike Brown signing on with the Cavs, how does it affect his contract situation with the Lakers?

  15. Robert-

    Welcome back.

    Another poster, Jane, more or less asked me that, and my answer was “I don’t know.” 1, 2 and 5 are Captain Obvious territory. 3 and 4…it depends.

  16. Robert,

    80s/90s Pistons had Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars who were upper echelon players plus a young worm, Adrian Dantley then Mark Aguirre. The 2004 Pistons were flukes of a perfect storm by getting Rasheed Wallace gift wrapped to them by Atlanta via Portland. Larry Brown was the beneficiary of Rick Carlisle getting on the player’s nerves the prior year.

    -

    Man, I like Golden State. It’s cool to see a bottom feeder finally get it together… well, not the zombie Sonics.

  17. The problem with the Lakers the last few years has been under performance/achievement. I felt, already during Phils last year Jerry Sloan or Rick Adelman would be great hires. I know Rick Adelman is tied up but Im quite sure Jerry Sloan was available at the beginning of this year (actually, Im pretty sure he was available even at the time Mike Brown was hired, but not 100%).

    These two guys – if nothing else, make their teams achieve more than the sum of their parts. And you have to admit, the Lakers STILL have a lot of good parts.

    Frankly, Jerry Sloan was fantastic with Stockton Malone and then Deron Williams after him. With Nash (even not the 2 time MVP Nash), Im sure he would be able to squeeze out more (at a slower pace since Nash at his age cannot go full tilt any more), running the show and Pau, Dwight and Kobe the weapons at his disposal ……

    Plus Jerrys teams always played defense.

    The way I see it, you would have got everything with Sloan, Offense (whether P&R or structured sets – Sloan capable on both fronts), Defense, gravitas (no one can touch Phil J when it comes to that but Sloan is not someone who takes crap either) – you have it. I wonder if Jerry Sloan was considered, whether he does want to coach (I think, with a little bit of motivation he would be more than willing to take the Lakers reigns and depart into the sunset with a championship instead of the way he was dumped by Utah).

    I think the way it played out was – Sloan was considered but ultimately dropped since Jerry Buss really wanted to see Showtime return. Jim and Mitch brought D’Antoni since he seemed the only one capable of having that come to fruition. For once, it was a decision made by the Lakers using their hearts / emotions rather than cool calculated logic. And its come back to bite them. Now that Jerry Buss is gone (R.I.P great one), maybe its time to do what was right all along.

    Of course, I can understand the ramifications of having THREE coaches on your payroll. So, if Mike Brown signs with Cleveland and the Lakers get a reprieve on his salary (Dont know if thats how it works ) – then it opens up the possibility of getting Jerry Sloan. If not, then there really doesnt seem to be a choice but to keep D’Antoni.

    Thoughts ?

  18. yeah anyone have any information on how much the lakers should save from Browns contract since he has been hired?

  19. Nefariousgnome April 24, 2013 at 9:13 am

    for everyone asking about whether Mike Brown’s hiring does help us financially, it does, though I haven’t seen how much it’ll help us.

    http://www.dailynews.com/sports/ci_23094059/lakers-notebook-cash-flow-better-brown-coaching-again

  20. shaun: The Lakers have been informed they would get “some” relief from the $6.5 million-$7 million they owe Brown over the next two years. It was unclear how much it would be, but it was not expected to the full amount.

    http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-nba-notes-20130424,0,5703696.story

  21. WOW, Potato Head got rehired! Nice, now we might not have to pay that bum as much.

  22. Why not play Eubanks. He has size & can play defense. Go from starting to never playing again. Md will have to leave if Dwight stays. He only started letting Dwight get ball because Kobe is not in the game