The Lakers suffered their second blowout loss to the Grizzlies in three days on Friday, a 112-95 defeat that left much to be desired on both ends of the floor. The team had a defensive rating of 118.4, which is 9 points per 100 possessions worse than their already last in the league level for the season. On offense they were nearly as bad, only posting a 102.0 offensive rating.
Their work offensively was especially poor, though, considering they had actually been playing well on that side of the ball this month. In February the Lakers have posted an offensive rating of 109.8, a mark that would rank 2nd in the league if it took place over the full season. A dip on that end of the floor shouldn’t surprise, the team is 29th in offensive rating for the season so a regression to the mean is coming. But were there other reasons for the drop off?
The answer to that question may lie in the fact that after returning from their three game road trip, head coach Byron Scott decided he wanted to implement a new offense. Bill Oram of the OC Register has the details:
The Lakers allowed Memphis to score a season-high 128 points Wednesday at FedEx Forum, and when travel-weary players arrived for practice in El Segundo the next morning they were greeted with a plan from Scott to overhaul the Lakers’ offensive scheme.
“We had a whole new offense thrown at us yesterday,” rookie guard D’Angelo Russell said….
The Lakers had essentially one day, with Thursday’s practice and Friday’s morning shootaround, to digest new information and implement it. Center Roy Hibbert said the schemes borrow heavily from Gregg Popovich’s much-admired system in San Antonio.
But the Lakers fumbled with the changes early in the game and struggled not to revert to old habits as they fell further behind.
“Coach was demanding to run it,” Russell said. “It was kind of tough because we didn’t really get to run it against a defense. We just talked about it, threw it in and played with it.”
Russell said the offense was “thrown at us late,” and 22 games left in the season might seem odd timing.
As Oram notes, the timing is strange, but not just because it is late in the season. After all, the Lakers are bad on offense. Tweaking things or, in this case, trying to overhaul their sets in a more substantial way has some merit in order to try and kickstart flailing production. My bigger concern with the timing is that the coach tried to do this on their lone off-day after a road trip that saw them traveling back to LA from Memphis. As Russell stated, it seems the team mostly walked through or did 5-on-0 work — indicative of them not having a lot of time to really drill what was wanted from the staff.
Later in his story, however, Oram makes a very good point that the team does have time to practice their new scheme in the coming days. The Lakers do not play again until Tuesday, leaving them Saturday (normally a day off after a Friday night game, but Scott has called a practice), Sunday, and Monday to teach and refine their offense. And while that’s true, I would argue the team just had several days of practice without playing a game when coming out of the All-Star break. Coming out of that weekend, the Lakers had, like they will coming up, three days of practice. Plus, most players were coming off a vacation and were refreshed mentally and physically.
Wouldn’t it have made more sense to start to put this offense in place at that time and use the practice time since, and coming up, to further refine, tweak, and determine the ways the new approach works and doesn’t for this specific group of players? Hibbert says the offense Scott is implementing is influenced by what the Spurs do, but that style of play is predicated on timing, feel, and awareness of what teammates and the defense is doing in order to make the correct reads. This takes time — time the team does have some of in the coming days, but would have had more of just two weeks ago with the added bonus of also having this stretch ahead to continue to build on the new principles.
There’s no way of knowing why Scott didn’t make this type of change earlier, but if it’s because the idea just came to him on the plane ride home from Memphis it is another data point for those who believe he lacks foresight and/or does not seem to have a genuine plan for how to move his team forward. One of my chief concerns of Scott’s tenure has been that changes he implements seem more reactionary than part of a bigger plan; that his decision making feels impacted as much, or more, by recent events than a progression of a vision he has for how he wants his team to play and his ultimate goals for the season.
I do credit Scott for trying something, however. As Hibbert noted later in Oram’s piece, Scott isn’t just sitting on his ass but is looking for ways to improve his team. There is a logic that better ball movement and a refined offensive approach will help the team score better which, in turn, can have a positive impact on the defense. If Scott can get his team to play better on both ends in the last 20+ games, then good on him.
A part of me just wishes this type of change would have happened sooner and that it actually felt like a part of a larger plan and vision the coach has had all along. Instead, it sort of feels like he’s grasping at straws down the stretch of a lost season. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it is far from ideal.