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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to An Examination of the Lakers’ Offense

  1. It’s a very interesting analysis, unfortunately it has little to do with reality unless something happens to Kobe, besides at this point it appears Scott’s only function is to lose enough games to keep pick, and next year he’ll be gone, the rebuild will finally start with lots of money along with enough young talent that even trades become an option, who knows maybe we can snare another ex Bulls coach to bring back the glory, it’s Tibbs time


  2. TempleOfJamesWorthy November 24, 2015 at 11:30 am

    I think an addition problem with the Lakers offense is Kobe is not the only “old-school” isolation-oriented player.

    Lou Williams, SwaggyP, Brandon Bass, Hibbert, and even MWP are all players whose offensive games are predicated on getting the ball in an isolation mismatch and exploiting the mismatch.

    Throw in a lack of players who can break down defenses and create shots for others (Kobe can do it a little bit, Clarkson is more of shoot-first PG, DAR isn’t up to NBA speed yet, Huertas is too old/slow) and it’s not surprising the Lakers’ offense too often bogs down into isolation plays.

    More and more I am convinced this was a planned disaster. Unless the front office is truly dramatically incompetent, they HAD to know that having 3-5 isolation-style players on the floor at the same time wouldn’t work.

    But really nothing was going to work give Kobe’s continued dominance of the team dynamic. So the front office loaded up on players who were relatively cheap, were competent professionals who wouldn’t cause locker room issues, and who MIGHT have value as trade pieces to contending teams. As an added bonus, the team collapses because of the poor fit, Bryon is given pressure/permission to play the youngsters because the team isn’t winning anyway, and the chances the Lakers get to keep their 1st round pick next year go up.

    Of course, this being the Lakers, they can never admit (Kupchack: “We’ll content for a playoff spot”) to such a stealth tanking. But at some point we need to come to terms with the obvious.


  3. Great analysis, Renato!

    The question then remains, is BS this incompetent or is there a method to this madness, or both? Whichever it is, it sucks to be BS. Who’s gonna wanna hire him after this?


  4. Renato:

    Excellent analysis. With the personnel the Lakers have at their disposal, what would be a good offense for them to run?


  5. Summary:
    Point 1- The Princeton is too slow.
    Point 2- The Lakers under Scott don’t even run the Princeton well.
    Point 3- If Kobe is in the line-up the offensive scheme doesn’t matter anyway.


  6. Thanks, Renato, your analysis was pertinent to that game, this team, and this coach.


  7. Thank you, Renato. I always wonder why some other teams are able to move the ball so effortlessly compared to our team and this explains why.


  8. Renato,

    Well done. A very good analysis. Thank you.


  9. Thank you guys.


    With this roster it will be very hard to find a suitable system when most of the perimeter players like to play isolation basketball. The coach’s first job is to force them to buy into a system. Any system at all. With this specific roster and ball dominant guards I would actually use set plays (you can create them) that maximize having the ball in the point guard’s hands, if Russell really is the future. Think of something in the mold of the 2008 Celtics, with Russell playing Rondo’s part but creating more space due to his shooting ability. Such offense could:

    a) run Kobe off some screens to allow him to receive the ball in the low post when Hibbert would be at the FT line.
    b) increase the triangle usage and run the weakside pick and roll with Clarkson and Randle.
    c) have a variation of the Mark Jackson’s elevator door with Russell playing Curry and setting our best shooter on the corner.
    d) Use a double screen or a stagger off the strong side to allow Clarkson a curl to the basket with Hibbert/Black setting the closer to the basket screen.
    e) Set up some picks that would allow backdoor cuts to the likes of Bass, Black or Nance, since their defenders would be more prone to overcommit when providing help defense.

    You get the point. There are plenty of options out there.


  10. Excellent breakdown. Question: Who do you think would be a good coach that can maximize the talents of the players?


  11. Brad Stevens, but he’s not available. Luke Walton could become an option but he hasn’t proved anything yet (it’s not his system, it’s Kerr’s). And I don’t watch nearly enough NCAA to judge younger coaches there. Anyway, the point is: go young and smart.


  12. Byron scott was quoted as saying “kobe has earned the right to take those shots”


  13. Temple good point you forgot to include randle as an isolation player, that would make 7 iso players mixed in with 2 team oriented players in nance and russell, im beginning to believe russell is now our best player I’ve already said if he can get more of his shots to fall he’s gonna be great, he has the best shot selection on the team maybe he could teach kobe on shot selection


  14. Kobe Bryant has always been my favorite players, but I think it is time for him to retire.. I really like Clarkson, he has a very bright future, Russell and Randle need time to develop,, Young and Williams coming off the bench is strong. I also like Nance Jr, I believe he could be a strong bench player.. Our front-court needs some work though, we need a legitimate big guy. Randle, Russell, and Clarkson is our future though.


  15. Great analysis, I couldn’t agree more with the statement in regards to The Princeton not being suitable for the NBA. I would love to see what this team could do within some of the sets the Spurs run, particularly when they run either Manu or Parker through a set of staggered baseline screens and Manu/Parker just have to make reads on who to pass to. I read somewhere that the Spurs ran that play about 41 percent of the time two seasons ago, pretty damn effective.

    I wouldnt mind if Tom Thibs were to be hired either, the lack of defensive strategy is bile inducing.