The Lakers’ Harvey Dent Approach to Offense

Darius Soriano —  December 18, 2013

As we’ve discussed plenty, Kobe Bryant’s return has meant a noticeable shift in how the Lakers play when he’s on the floor.

As it’s been for almost his entire career, Kobe is the center of the Lakers’ universe and with that comes a hyper-focus on him and a tilting towards what works for the team when he is on the floor. As Kobe’s game has evolved, that has meant the team has evolved with him. When he was younger and more of an open court player, so was the team. As he’s aged and become more of a post up player who is at his best working at the elbows and the shallow wing, the team has slowed down to accommodate him. Through all that change, the team has been successful so as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke…

What the Lakers face now, however, is a team that was built to play a certain way with Kobe’s presence an uncertainty. Through training camp and the preseason, the conversation about how the team would play in relation to Kobe always came back to the simple fact that there wasn’t a firm idea of when Kobe would be back to influence such things. In other words, the team would play a style that fit its personnel and it would cross the Kobe bridge when he was on the floor and part of the game plan. Well, that time is now. And, it seems the answer is that this team will have two identities. From Ramona Shelburne:

One thing that won’t change though, is the difference in the way the starting unit will play compared to the reserves.

D’Antoni said he expects Bryant and Pau Gasol to play a two-man game when they’re on the court together because each are so good at creating their own shots.

The second-unit needs to create shots “collectively.”

“Yeah, just naturally,” D’Antoni said of how the starting unit will function differently with Gasol and Bryant. “They have to. Kobe’s a hell of a shot creator and so is Pau. So they’ll play one way. And then that other group is going to have to do it collectively. Hopefully we can get that started a bit more.

“They’re going to play distinctly a little bit different until we get guys back and completely legs under us and get poing guards back in there to even it out a little bit.”

Even before Kobe’s return, the team dealt with some of these same issues. At the start of the season, Mike D’Antoni played a lot of “big” units with Chris Kaman and Pau Gasol together with Steve Blake running the point. These units relied heavily on their HORNS sets, played a lot of high-low between the bigs, and really tried to work the ball inside out. The pace was slower and the actions were more methodical. When the second unit came in, the identity shifted towards a more frantic style with Jordan Farmar captaining a group I dubbed the “chaos unit”. Farmar teamed with a combination of Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Nick Young, and Jordan Hill to form lineups that pushed the pace, either played in isolation or ran multiple pick and rolls in the half court, and generally got after teams defensively by pressuring ball handlers (even picking up full court at times) and jumping passing lanes.

But as that second unit found success, the contrasting styles between the two units disappeared. Kaman found his way out of the lineup, Jordan Hill became a starter, and Steve Blake started to play more aggressively by running more P&R’s and looking to attack the paint off the dribble. What used to be two styles became one and the team started to win more games.

Now, however, Kobe is back and the team is back to playing those two distinct styles. Whether Jordan Farmar’s return — he is, reportedly, roughly a week away from coming back from his torn hamstring — can serve as a bridge between the two units remains to be seen, but at some point the Lakers will need to forge more of a single identity rather than having two distinct ones. Whether that means Kobe and Pau find a way to play faster (think of how Pau ran the floor in the game against the Grizzlies while Kobe looked to pass ahead more often) or the return of the point guards means a more controlled second unit, something will need to give.

The ideal, I think, would be somewhere in the middle: a more balanced attack overall where the guys with the younger legs continue to provide a level of energy that the older players try to match for their minutes on the floor with the flip side to that coin being when it’s time to grind out possessions at the end of close games, the veterans could then take center stage and provide the support that the younger players can lean on. When the Lakers were last winning championships, this was actually more of the model they used with Farmar and Lamar Odom anchoring a bench unit that was a little bit more reckless but still willing to conform to the structure of the Triangle when needed.

If this group could do the same, they may just find some of that early season magic again.

Darius Soriano

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to The Lakers’ Harvey Dent Approach to Offense

  1. I recall back when Pau first came to the team, Phil Jackson essentially let the team run at two different speeds. One under the starters, with their bloody grind it out triangular destruction of the opposition, and then the second unit would come in (under Farmar) with a much more frenetic run and gun pace with the Bench Mob.

    Phil had some success with that and seemed happy with the resulting changes of pace, but by the next season he was trying to rein in Farmar and unify the styles as you say (with Farmer ultimately leaving because he felt out of place).

    In this case, it’s not clear to me that the bench can be as good if they slow down, while there is zero chance that the starters will speed up.

    It’s clearly a puzzle moving forward, but I think that the lack of point guards is a an order of magnitude greater issue right now, which is making the changes in pace appear to be a greater problem than it probably is.

    If we get both of our point guards back (I don’t expect to see Nash again) I think this issue will end up being relatively minor, and we’ll just see the team shift back into run and gun mode when Kobe and Pau are sitting.


  2. I know things are not done in a vacuum, but if people dub me weird anyway, I would dare run a very different style of play. While the point of this post is basically to integrate everyone into a cohesive single-minded unit, the idea I propose is quite wild for the conventionalist.

    Start: JFarm, Jodie, Wes, Shawne and Hill
    Sub: Kobe, Pau, Xavier, Nick and Sacre.

    I wonder how teams would react to seeing Kobe and Pau from the bench. I’m partly kidding but it kinda makes sense.


  3. A team of hitched horses can only run as fast as the slowest horse.


  4. @ThomasF

    That was the reason they’ve won back to back champs that years because the opponent can’t predict what style of pace they will play. Remember, Lamar can run both the triangle and run and gun pace with Jordan, Sasha, Shannon back then.


  5. Tempo: During most NBA games, the announcers usually make comments about how the game has shifted to one team or the other’s pace. One team wants fast and one slow. And usually with good reason. Yes – everyone will take easy breaks when they are available but the question is, at what general tempo are you playing? With our roster, I do not envision too many opponents for which, after watching the first 5 minutes of the game, I would say, yea – the Lakers really need to pick up tempo and run this team off the court. I am more likely to be saying – we need to call time out before that happens to us. The fact that we have an slow roster and we debate tempo is just odd. This is not on anyone here, we are forced to debate it, because the oil and the water have been put in the same container. Kobe and MD will figure this out and they will make it work, but neither will be in their element entirely.

    rr: You referred to the second unit as D’Antoni’s Devils. Darius calls them the Chaos Unit. I think we should go with his name. It will be able to be retained in case – you know – changes are made at the end of the year.

    MannyP: OK – Angus Young it is. I have seen them multiple times in concert as well. I am just hoping that the Lakers are not on a “Highway to ____”


  6. Back then Kobe and Pau were several years younger. The differences between the first and second units weren’t so glaring.
    For all that’s said about Kobe’s basketball IQ and ‘leadership’ it mystifies me that he is such an erratic and normally unwilling passer.
    As the anomaly of his recent 13-assist game fades from memory, and me-first Kobe reveals himself again, I find myself more interested in watching Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry play. Farmar, too, has always brought tons of energy and excitement.
    I look forward to the ‘return of the point guards’ and I truly hope Kobe will embrace a reduced ball-handling role.


  7. That was the reason they’ve won back to back champs that years because the opponent can’t predict what style of pace they will play

    I think it was more because Kobe, Pau, Lamar and in a different way, Bynum, were all in their primes.

    I have said this before, but at his exit presser back in 2011, Phil was asked what the key to his success had been. The first words out of his mouth were: “Talent. I have coached some of the greatest talent to ever play this game.”


  8. “Kobe, Pau, Lamar and in a different way, Bynum, were all in their primes. ”
    Indeed – yet we ran a slower tempo. Now Pau and Kobe (and Nash if he ever comes back) are not in their primes – yet we somehow want them to play faster and go up tempo? : )


  9. It’s hard for me to say Pau or even Kobe are good at creating their own shots this season. Here is the latest article shattering the myth that Gasol is still good at creating his own offense in the post….


  10. Every slow way to play isn’t Phil (or the Triangle) and every fast way to play isn’t MDA (or SSOL).

    MDA coaches a faster brand of basketball that emphasizes spacing and passing. Phil coached a slower brand of basketball that emphasizes spacing and passing. I’m not sure we should be getting our underware all balled up over this.

    We are in rebuild mode and need to play entertaining basketball (this is LA, after all). Mr Jerry Buss made it clear his preference would be to play a faster brand of basketball. The NBA and CBA rules all favor an offensive form of basketball with smaller, faster players. If you are big and athletic, all the better. Banging is allowed down low, but there is no hand-checking on the perimeter. All this contributed to the Lakers hiring MDA.

    If we don’t like all this, that’s ok. It is just that none of us are going to change the environment in which our game is played. We need talent. We have one of the more desirable destinations in the league. We have a competent front office – IMO. Lastly, our ability to move to a new star and a more talented team isn’t going to happen over night.

    Enjoy the ride. Go Lakers!


  11. Craig W.,

    True, but I was enjoying the ride during the first 20 games… Now, not so much (see my comment in the previous post).


  12. Kobe out 6 plus weeks. Like I said he should not have come back until 100% . Kobe , Nash this is the sad reality.

    Oh well not a playoff team anyway .


  13. That is why you don ‘t play older guys too soon.


  14. “That is why you don ‘t play older guys too soon.”

    Ken, this is also why they should have waited on that extension.


  15. The Extension will cripple the team.
    Silver lining:
    Lottery, here we come!


  16. Rogers he was trying to validate the contract by being superman.

    Worst ownership ever.


  17. Yes Ken. The ownership fractured Kobe’s knee. You are so right.


  18. Didn’t say that. I feel he should have been held out and other PGs should have been acquired Kobe is so much the warrior that sometimes he should be held back for his own good. No one has come back from that injury that fast and what would it have changed this year?.


  19. Kobe out 6 weeks?!? NOOOOOOOO…..lets just tank …good grief…these past couple seasons …