The Lakers remain one of the lesser offensive teams in the league. A high producing unit or a scoring flurry from one of their several quality offensive players just doesn’t equate to a stable, high performing team. On the whole, the team still ranks 29th in offensive efficiency and while I think, over time, they might be able to climb from that mark, they are what they are offensively.
However, just because the team’s output remains low, it does not mean we cannot get some inspired play. Recently the team has gone away from the Princeton offense more than earlier in the campaign, mixing in more straight P&R sets and even incorporating some Triangle actions into their scheme. The results aren’t always great, but changing things up is a good sign, not just because it helps mix in some variety which can help the team overcome defenses which seem to know what’s coming, but because it shows some flexibility in the coaches — something that hasn’t been too present this season.
But even when the Lakers aren’t diverging from the Princeton entirely, they are showing some more creativity in finding different actions to run out of the general formation of the offense. The below play, from the Spurs game on Friday, is a perfect example of this:
The Lakers start this set in the same two guard front their other Princeton initiations begin with. However, rather than a direct entry to Hibbert to start their “elbow” series or a guard to guard pass from Russell to Williams to start the “chin” series, Russell initiates with a hard dribble to Williams’ side of the floor and executes a dribble hand-off.
This exchange accomplishes two things right away. First is that it gets the top of the Spurs defense moving in ways that aren’t as predictable as the aforementioned “elbow” and “chin” series which lead to a direct pass and then simply cut or screen away actions. Second is that when Russell dribble pitches to Williams, both he and his defender effectively get a partial screen on Danny Green who is defending Williams.
This little bit of space allows Williams a clean catch and some open space to dribble hard to his left with the threat of turning the corner. The beauty of this action, however, comes with Hibbert’s positioning — as Part of the Princeton, the C does a lot of hanging out at the elbow as either a screener out of “chin” or as an initiator out of “elbow” — and the rub screen he’s able to get on Green after Williams goes into his hard dribble. That slight pick gives Williams the space he needs to get off a rhythm jumper, which he knocks down.
As we’ve discussed before with some of the other offensive tweaks the Lakers have flashed during the season, none of this is groundbreaking. Every team in the league uses dribble pitches/hand-offs and then sets up quick P&R’s off of them. Watch the Warriors play and this is a consistent action they incorporate off sideline guard to guard entries that follow with the same side big stepping up to either serve as an option for a ball reversal or to come over and set a pick.
The Lakers, though, have not shown much creativity in their half court sets to this point in the year. Some of this could be the fact they have a lot of young players who have not yet grasped all the nuances and actions which can come out of the Princeton. Some of it may just be the coaches wanting to keep the scheme simple in order to get the ball to their preferred scorers (Kobe, Clarkson, Williams) as often as possible via pin downs and direct P&Rs. This, though, hasn’t worked, as evidenced by the team’s poor offensive rankings.
Moving forward, I hope to see more of the type of action above. Some of this is on Russell (and Huertas — with Clarkson out). Some of it is on the coaches, who should probably emphasize switching things up more than they have to this point in the year. However it happens, though, isn’t as important as long as it does and we start to see it become more of a staple of the team’s sets.