An Examination of the Lakers’ Offense

Darius Soriano —  November 24, 2015

Renato Afonso is a long time reader, commenter, and friend of FB&G. He is based in Portugal, played semi-pro hoops, and after that coached his alma mater for two years. He now passes his time in a veteran’s league and raising his first born. This is his latest for FB&G. You can find him on twitter here.

With this post we’re trying to analyze the Lakers current offense and maybe understand the reason behind the team’s offensive woes. While it apparently seems the Lakers are also as bad on the defensive side, the fact is solving the problems on defense seems far easier than solving our offensive issues. Also, this is an X’s and O’s analysis and not a discussion about shot effectiveness, or putting it another way, what is the offense designed to do and which are its shortcomings.

For this analysis we’re considering only the recent string of games without Kobe. The reason for it is quite simple: Byron Scott enables Kobe, the players on court defer to him and we end up with a pump fake, pump fake, jab step, contested fade away three point shot that doesn’t find the net.  So, what kind of plays are they running?

The first option seems to be a simple play where the C and the PF move up to the elbows and the wings switch sides while the PG holds the ball in the middle of the court. He then passes to one side while the bigs drop along the painted area and the PG sets the screen for the big on the opposite side of the ball. The big, in this case Hibbert, gets the ball at the foul line while a screen is set for the PG in order for him to move to the three point line. Hibbert holds the ball and Russell (from the side where nothing was happening) receives the handoff and nails the pull up jump shot.

While the two points were converted, the fact is that once you look at that play the only shooting options were in order: Hibbert from above the foul line, then Clarkson moving away from the basket to the three point line (or the Steph Curry shot as I like to call it) and finally the handoff in which, luckily, Whiteside stayed well below the pick. If Whiteside would be closer to Russell he would have no options and it would most likely result in a highly contested shot or a turnover. There are no read options nor off the ball screens resulting in open looks.

There’s also the pick and roll from the middle that Russell runs with Hibbert a lot. Notice how this play starts with Randle bringing the ball up, even though we’re not in a fastbreak nor does he have any sort of advantage against a slower defender. Metta asks for the ball and gives it to Russell who promptly sets everyone aside except for Hibbert who goes up to set a pick. On this pick and roll from the middle you can see that both Metta and Randle are too close together, that Clarkson just gives up on the play once he sees he’s not getting the ball and that our first option on offense is to start a pick and roll on the second worst spot on the floor – with the worst obviously being a corner. Not only that but the pick and roll is run on the direction of the strong side, the pass to Hibbert is too early and when the ball finally reaches Clarkson, he’s so frustrated that he doesn’t even realize that a give and go with Hibbert would be the best choice once the ball reached him.

Nobody apart from the ball carrier and the screen setter moved at all. There are no baseline cuts, no adjustments to properly facilitate a passing lane (Clarkson should’ve started to move and Metta could’ve made a baseline cut if he wasn’t ordering Randle around) and this would never generate a good shot. Russell, even if he’s a rookie, should’ve been able to read what was happening and decide accordingly. So, because this play happens often and usually doesn’t lead to easy baskets, I can only guess that coach wants this play to be run and has not made an adjustment on it since the season started. Also, if this play results in a steal, Hibbert would be the last man trying to run back and prevent a layup.

Up to this point, apart from the handoffs there’s no resemblance to the Princeton offense apart from the bigs getting the ball above the key. The routes are not a threat to the defense, the off the ball screens are not made to allow cuts to the basket, and during the course of the play the players are not generating multiple looks at the basket. Look, the Princeton offense is not suitable to the NBA because it just takes too long – with a 24 seconds shot clock teams can incorporate some elements, but beyond that the clock becomes a factor. The Lakers are barely grazing the Princeton in those sets.

Then we have some options I simply cannot understand. Please take a good look at what happens in this play. This is called lack of coaching and lack of offensive system. They had time to call and run a proper play…

They also have some other options that work to some extent. We have a basic triangle option that is generating good looks but apparently they don’t have the personnel to run it nor do the coaches maximize its potential.

When you’re supposed to have a ball dominant, floor general PG you shouldn’t be running the triangle as it negates the best of that player but even then you can generate easy looks. There have been successful variations of this play in this young season, but here’s a basic triangle set that was botched due to on court decisions.

The first mistake is having Randle and Hibbert on the same side, since none of them can shoot from three point range. The problem is solved by having Randle switch sides after a Hibbert screen, having Randle and the ball on the weak side. But the problems start here. Clarkson should’ve dribbled towards the middle in order to force Randle’s defender not to overplay him. If Clarkson is in the middle with the ball he can still make the entry pass to Randle over the defender, since the ball would be lobbed to an area with no help defense.

Without forcing an adjustment, there were no options for Clarkson except Russell coming off the screen. This screen was also botched, however. Hibbert and Metta are in the right place for the stagger but Russell never moved from the corner. Had he moved towards the painted area and placed his opponent on Hibbert’s screen then he would probably have an open lane to the basket by curling after Metta’s screen. If the lane wasn’t there then Miami must’ve switched either on Hibbert or Metta and one of them should immediately receive the ball in the low post to bully whoever switched with them. No separation was created and this is a common occurrence in our “sets”. Randle managed to convert the shot but shooting was the only available option to him due to the lack of spacing on the strong side and an expiring shot clock…

As long as the Lakers’ offense is not forcing the opposition to scramble and work on defense, the Lakers will have to work harder on defense. Fastbreaks will ensue. The team will be forced to excel on halfcourt defense when no perimeter player can stay in front of his man. And fixing the offense is the coaching staff’s obligation. While some say that once the team is turned around a better coach can be found, I say that having a good coach is essential to start turning things around. Someone the players believe in but someone that can adjust his team accordingly. Player development must happen in four main areas: skill, physical, tactics and emotion control. I’m sure we can develop the first two. Can our coaching staff develop the other two? Can our veterans provide the help the coaching staff needs?

Darius Soriano

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