All basketball fans have been heartened over the news over the last 6 months or so that Tex Winter is doing so much better. Since he is doing better and presumeably watching Phil Jackson’s team, we can guess that Phil and Tex have spoken recently about the problems Phoenix’s zone defense has posed to Tex’s beloved triple post offense.
Phil: Tex, I’m returning your call. I presume you want to talk about our execution – or lack thereof against Phoenix’s girly zone defense.
Tex: Phil, actually I think the triangle is being run well. Guys are getting some penetration via post passes, splitting the top of the zone on occasion and the shots we are getting are usually wide-open.
Phil: Yeah, our shots are wide open…
Tex: But the shots we are getting are exactly what Phoenix wants to give us.
Phil: Your triangle teaches the players to take the first open shot available. In fact, we criticize our players when they pass up wide open shots.
Tex: Hey, don’t call it my offense! By now, Mr. Hall of Fame, the offense is as much a part of your legacy as it is mine.
Tex: Anyway, Phoenix isn’t really playing a traditional zone trying to cover all attack zones on the court. I mean, a priority of most zone defenses is to stop the corner 3, the most devastatingly effective shot in the NBA. The girly zone actually is begging for our guys to take the corner 3.
Phil: Not all our guys, just Artest and Odom
Tex: And Farmar, Brown, even Kobe and Fisher. They are desperate not to give up layups to Pau. Yeah, that Phoenix defense is like a siren, a temptress that lets you nuzzle her navel all night long but…
Phil: But won’t let you go any lower… And because in the triangle, we have taught our guys to take the open shot…
Tex: Artest shoots the open 3 whether early in the shot clock or late.
Phil: The other problem Tex, is that we are just not drawing any fouls.
Tex: Yeah, foul shots would slow the game, stop their transition offense, give Kobe a rest, and…
Phil: Instead, the long 3′s are creating long rebounds and fueling their transition game. I’m not sure what to do ….
Tex: You have to disregard the zone.
Phil: What do you mean?
Tex: And forget about the triangle
Phil: What? What are you saying, forget the triangle and forget the zone. Tex, I thought you were feeling better.
Tex: You look at the Phoenix’s zone and see a 2-3 zone with defenders at each attack zone.
Phil: Yeah, that is a zone… I don’t know what you are getting at.
Tex: Instead, just look at the tape.
Tex: After the first triangle set-up pass and the ball is in Fisher’s hands on the right wing, what do you see?
Phil: (Stops the tape). I see the zone setting up…
Tex: No , what do you SEE?
Phil: What do you mean?
Tex: WHO do you see
Phil: I see Nash…
Tex: Stop, who is behind Nash.
Tex: Who is in front of Nash?… Forget this. I’m faxing over a diagram for you to look at…. Did you get it?
Phil: Kobe… aha…. I get it.
Tex: It is obvious isn’t it?
Tex: In a situation with 10 equal players, the triangle gives the offense the advantage.
Phil: (a delighted glee escapes from his lips)
Tex: But you don’t have 10 equal players. Swing the ball quickly to Kobe. Now you have Kobe Bryant, the best one-on-one player in the world against the worst one-on-one defender in the league. Kobe will get past Nash easily or draw a foul. After he gets past Nash…
Phil: Amare has to cover..
Tex: The most defensively challenged PF in the game…Kobe scores or draws a foul.
Phil: If Lopez comes over to help..
Tex: Dunk for Pau.
Phil: You know if they were playing man and put Nash on Kobe, I’d go to him every single possession and why am I not exploiting this match up just because they are playing zone.
Tex: This strategy also solves your other problem.
Phil: What is that?
Tex: Other than Kobe and Pau, your players are dumb
Phil: Hey, they are your players too.
Tex: Maybe I’m not being kind. What I mean is, instead of trying to be smart, run the triangle and take open shots…
Phil: As you taught them to…
Tex: All the players that can drive to the basket, Odom and Artest, should just drive on Nash and Stoudemire. or Dragic, Barbosa… with aggression. And not try to over think how the triangle functions against the zone.
Phil: They will get some charging calls against them, Nash is a world-class flopper.
Tex: So what, a few charging calls. But at least you’ll be initiating the contact and knocking Nash over a few times will wear him out and will help your defense by the 4th quarter. Tell your guys…
Phil: Attack Nash
Tex: Or Dragic or Barbosa
Phil: And Stoudemire to get penetration. Which will result in layups, dunks or fouls.
Tex: And if, and only if, all else fails take the open 3 late in the shot clock. And never early in the shot clock because that open corner 3 will always be there.
Phil: I knew I should have adopted the Princeton offense…
Tex: (Hangs up)
* Bill “Tonya” Simmons recently mused that he’d like to see the Lakers suffer an injury to help the cause of his beloved Celtics on his Podcast of 12/8. Kobe’s knees were specifically mentioned by Tonya “Harding” Simmons. Given that his fans must also be obsessed with Teen Wolf, Karate Kid, Real World, and Survivor, how much encourage do they need to snap? I mean Barack Obama might wish that Kim “Dear Leader” Jong-il die from pancreatic cancer, but he would never say that on his Podcast, would he?
*Tonya revelled in his God like powers as he willed an injury on Kobe Bryant – and a few short days later it actually came true! Unfortunately, it wasn’t a devastating knee injury as he hoped but a fractured finger. Still, a fracture of the index finger of the shooting hand isn’t something to laugh at. Tonya noted that even renowned NBA tough guy Kenyon Martin was out of action for two games for a minor dislocation of his left pinkie of his non-shooting-hand. The injury was so painful for Kmart that he was seen huddled on the bench with his left pinkie pressed against his neck to make his ouchie feel better. Then surely a fracture of the index finger of his shooting hand must put Kobe out of action for a month or so – at least long enough for Tonya’s beloved Celtics to build an insurmountable lead for best record and home court advantage for the Championship finals. So it was with more than a little chagrin that Tonya’s smile as Kobe walked off to the locker room quickly turned to bewilderment as Kobe came back with an ugly splint on the finger – and then proceeded to sink both left and right handed shots. Tonya is certainly used to histrionics of players being wheeled off in a wheel chair and then returning, heroically, moments later. This he understands. However, Tonya thought that the Heroic Return Device is only used when the injury is actually being feigned and not real.
* Although he failed to will permanent damage to Kobe, Tonya must have been pleased to see Greg Oden hobbled once again with a KNEE injury – the better to gloat about the object of his man love – KD. The other 99.999% of us are extremely saddened, not least because Oden seems like such a good, humble guy. We are sad for him and for us as we were looking forward to seeing Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden mature, develop into great centers and carry on the tradition of “Battles in the Pivot” in the same vein as Wilt vs. Russell, and Walton vs. Kareem. Joy for Tonya is a tragedy for the rest of us.
*After a string of gutless performances culminating in a 146 – 115 drubbing by the Hawks, did Reggie Evans do the “Kaman” on all of his team mates? If, so what did he find? Apparently he remarked, groping for words, “I thought that only Chris Bosh was the RuPaul of the NBA, but I found that all of my team mates are also RuPauls”. To avoid more “Kamans”, the Raps promptly won the next 3 games before reverting to more comfortable ways with back to back 22 point losses to Milwaukee and Atlanta.
*Blazer fans must be hoping that Rudy Fernandez is doing a Benjamin Button. Last season he was “Rookie Manu”, a sixth man full of athleticism, energy, and potential. This season he is “Old-man Manu”, a creaky invalid with a bad back. What happened to all of the years of “All-star Manu”? Must check Rudy’s hair when he returns.
*For all of the talk of replacing Fish. His line in the win Wednesday vs. Utah was 0 points, 0 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 3 fouls. Oh and the Lakers won by 24 in a dominating performance. I submit that this is exactly what you want from your 5th player (plus maybe a couple of defensive rebounds in the 1st half). Play steady, play defense, move the ball, don’t force your own game, don’t be afraid to take the clutch shot if the moment comes. Who else is better than Fish? The Lakers options are 1. Kobe, 2 Pau, 3 Andy (switch this order up depending on opponent and match ups). Artest gets a few kick outs, post ups (ouch), and drives. The point guard gets the scraps. This pecking order is as it should be. The last thing you want is a Jamaal Crawford in that role taking 15 shots.
*No, we will not talk of Tiger. This is forum about basketball and not of Golf and other lurid pursuits.
*But we can make a stock tip. We would recommend Sanofi-aventis, stock symbol (SNY), the makers of Ambien.
Since the days of Show Time (and even from the West/Baylor/Chamberlain era), the Lakers have been known as an offensive team. Despite the mantras of “Defensive wins championships” and “No rebounds, no rings”, most fans and all of the press basically ignored these aphorisms as it applies to the Lakers. No, the Laker s are about scoring, and scoring in spectacular ways.
Well if the 2009/2010 Lakers continue at current pace, they are about to shatter this perception. With basically the same personnel*, they have transformed from an outstanding offensive team that played very good defense to a mediocre offensive team that plays outstanding defense.
In 08/09, LAL was ranked 3rd at offensive efficiency at 112.8 and 6th at defensive efficiency at 104.7. The league average was 108.3. This year the Lakers are 19th on offense at 105.5 and 3rd on defense at 100. The league average is 106.0. Had the bench been able to maintain large 4th quarter leads, undoubtedly both the offensive and defensive ratings would be better. However, this marginal increase might have pushed the Lakers to 15 – 17th on offense whereas on defense the Lakers would be 1st.
Even with the spotty bench play, the Lakers would be #1 on defense if they had a higher Defensive Rebounding Rate because of their excellent defensive EFG% . And lthough recently improved, the Lakers’ Defensive rebounding rate is .712 which is 24th in the league. Offensive rebounds create shots at the rim or shots while the defense is in scramble mode (remember Tim Thomas’s back breaking 3 in game 6 when the Lakers couldn’t handle the defensive rebound?) and increases the defensive team’s Ortg.
So the questions that come to mind are:
- Why is the defense so good
- Why are they so poor at defensive rebounding
- Why is the offense so mediocre
The answers to all three points are related. It is no secret that the Lakers have thrived in the paint this year. Using the NBA hotspots designations, last year the 42% of the Lakers’ FGA was at the rim (for a FG% of 58%). This year whilst shooting a slightly lower FG% of 55%(no doubt due to Kobe’s dominance and Pau’s absence), 44% of their shots are at the rim. Both the rate and FG% should increases with Pau’s return.
Shots in the paint act to reduce the opponent’s offensive efficiency. Short shots do not create long rebounds. Long rebounds fuels fast breaks. Transition offense is the easiest and most efficient offense. Reducing this improves defensive efficiency. A made baskets is the best catalyst of good defense as the offense begins by taking the ball out of the rim and the defense can get set. This is where EFG% is misleading. I’d much rather have a team shoot 60% from 2 exclusively than 40% from 3 even though the EFG% is the same because there are 20% less missed shots that could possibly create transition offense for the opposition.
So shots in the paint improves the Lakers’ ability to get back and get their defense set. Bynum, especially has been hustling back – for the first time in his career. In addition, the team seems to have a strategy on defending the screenroll. They do not stick to one scheme. Sometimes the defender goes under the screen, other times he fights over. When he fights over, the big consistently shows aggressively and gets back to his man. The Lakers have been very good this year at reducing penetration. Reducing penetration and the resulting kick out for a wide-open 3, shows in their defensive 3FG% of .297, best in the league. Their overall FG% defensive isn’t too shabby either at .421, second in the league. Fisher’s perimeter defense has been outstanding – not coincidentally aided by Bynum’s improvement on the show and recovery phases of screenroll defense. Farmar has been surprisingly good also, especially at fighting over screens – a skill I thought he would never ever get.
So nearly 71% of the opponent’s 3 point shots result in misses. Missed 3 point shots create long rebounds. Long rebounds’ trajectories are more volatile than short shots and harder to gage. Remember your high school physics? E = ½ mv^2. A long shot by definition has higher kinetic energy and the bounce is both longer and more erratic. Long erratic bounces create more opportunities for the offensive team to rebound the ball. Also, when teammates expect a miss they crash the boards more. Whereas when every shot is going in teammates begin to jog back on defense. Of course, here Bynum’s eagerness the run down on offense to establish the “seal” on offense does not help him in working harder for a tough rebound. He has improved markedly in this arena though in the last few games and this has helped as has the guards’ recent aggressiveness in rebounding long misses (in the Knicks game, Fisher collected 5 defensive rebounds which must be a season high). So as long as the Laker’s deter post offense, reduce dribble penetration, and rotate out to shooter, opponent’s 3FG% will be low. Pau’s return, better guard rebounding, and more focus from Bynum will help, but the Lakers will not lead the league in Defensive Rebounding Rate.
What about on offense. Surprisingly this year’s Lakers have a higher pace than last year’s, 96 versus 94.3 for 6th fastest in the league. So why is the Lakers’ offense so much worse this year than last. Some possible reasons:
1. Pau’s absense. An obvious factor as he is such an excellent facilitator.
2. Abysmal shooting by the bench. (As well as the selfish play, turnovers etc. etc. let’s not go on …)
3. LO has not been posting up. He is very effective posting up on the right block but can’t remember more than a few instances when the Lakers used him in this way. It is as if he expected the spate of 3 point shooting in the finals to carry over. It hasn’t and LO has reverted back to the mean. And it hurts.
Now that he is in the second unit, LO should be the go to guy in the post. This will increase his FG%, creat better floor balance, and generate open perimeter looks. LO will pass out of double teams whereas Bynum has trouble doing so. I look for PJ to set up LO down low more often with the second unit. This will dramatically improve the offense rather than having him floating around on the perimeter taking jump shots. Improved offense, especially low post offense, means better defense. This will help to improve point #2.
4. The lack of free throws. The Lakers have been poor at drawing fouls and going to the line. They are 28th in the league averaging .185 FT attempts per FGA. Free throws are the best quality shots, of course. Free throws also help the defense, for reasons already mentioned. What is odd is that given that the Lakers are the most low-post oriented team and get the most points in the paint in the League, you would think that it would also draw a lot more free throws. Indeed the other teams with low FT/FGA ratios are all perimeter teams; the Knicks, Bucks, Wolves, and Bulls. This is hard to understand. Perhaps the fact that post play is officiated as a wrestling match whereas the perimeter is a dance hall hurts the Lakers. Pau, Bynum, and Kobe can be pounded inside without a call whereas the slightest incidental contact to Chris Paul draws a whistle. Other factors include that the Lakers do not have a single player who aggressively drive to the rim and finish with the exception of Kobe. And even Kobe drives less than he did before. Contrast the Lakers with Denver. Anthony, Billups, Lawson, and even Smith will aggressively drive to the hole and look for contact. When the Lakers drive, they seem to shy away from contact (other than Kobe – and Fish but then he never gets any calls). The Lakers were poor last year too, ranking 21st in the league. However, this year’s disparity with the highest foul-drawing teams is ridiculous. The difference of the FT/FGA rate of the best team (Denver at .29) to LA was .06 (.29 -.23) in 08/09. This means that last year, for every 100 FGA, Denver shot 6 more free throws than the Lakers. A significant disparity but not overly so. This year that difference is .144 (.329 – .185). That means that for 100FGA, Denver (yes it is Denver again) shoots 14.4 more free throws than the Lakers. This difference is outrageous and I think explains more than any other of the reasons above why the offensive efficiency is so low.
*I could write an entire post detailing how good Artest has been on defense but anyone who watched him shut down Joe Johnson and Kevin Durant can’t wonder whether the Artest/Ariza trade was an upgrade or not – at least on defense. On offense he is finishing 50% at the rim which is a worry but not surprising and has not been a over-dribbling ball-hog at all this year as many feared.
Most pundits have been surprised by the Sun’s success this year. These are the same pundits that picked the Lakers to finish 8th or out of the playoffs in 07/08. Of course the Lakers made it to the NBA finals. I’ve watched most of the Suns games this year and their success is not a shock to me. This is the best Suns team since Nash has been in Phoenix.
Last year, they had the wrong or new personnel playing in the wrong system for the wrong coach. Yet, they barely missed the playoffs. This year the wrong personnel (Shaq) is gone, the new are now familiar, and the right coach who is Mike D’Antoni 2 , except this one also coaches defense.
The most successful Suns team is the 06/07 team that made it to the WCSF and lost to the Spurs. The team won 61 games in the regular season and started Nash, Bell, Diaw, Marion, and Stoudemire. The bench consisted of Kurt Thomas and Barbosa. No other player got any meaningful minutes.
This team is an upgrade at every position except perhaps PF. New Amare is better (especially on defense) than the old Amare. Hill looks like the one that played in Detroit and is significant upgrade to Diaw. Nash is still Nash – except this one seems to have a healthier back. Jason Richardson is playing like Andrew Toney. Marion is better than Fry. But Fry might be a better fit.
It is the bench that is the most drastic difference. Whereas D’Antoni didn’t trust his bench and played 7 deep the entire season. Gentry’s bench is deep and productive. Barbosa might now be the 7th or 8th man behind Amundson and Dudley (one of my new “Favourite Players not on the Lakers”). Dragic is the best Slovenian PG in the NBA and Robin Lopez has yet to play who brings their only size off the bench. Amundson is like David Lee who plays Defense. Barbosa might have lost something but is still very dangerous.
On offense this team has versatility missing on previous teams. Not a single player on the old team had a reliable post game. (Diaw was the closest; but whereas he had the skills, he lacked the will). That team was exclusively based on high screen-roll. Stoudemire picks for Nash, rolls to the hoop or pops. Nash passes to Stoudemire, or dribbles closer either for his own shot or a kick out to a shooter. Deadly efficient at the pace they played but still predictable; and in a playoff series, ultimately stoppable.
Now, this team runs a variant of the triangle/Princeton sets and posts up Richardson (and less frequently Hill) on the left block. They are good enough from the post to draw doubles and are very good at kicking it out for open 3’s.
There is some truth to the statement that some of the Sun’s success is due to the unfamiliarity of most teams to playing against a team with such pace. But of course, if pace alone were the determining factor, the Warriors would also be successful.
Let’s examine the few things the Suns do extremely well.
They shoot the 3 at 48%. Unheard of. Such efficiency is a product of good shooters getting open looks from their favourite spots in rhythm. Disrupt any of these factors and the percentage drops. These open looks in rhythm come in 3 primary ways.
1. Nash penetration. Usually to his left. Swing out with his left hand to the right corner 3. Or a further swing from the corner to the key and wing for open 3’s
2. Kick out from left block by Richardson or Hill after a double. Usually to the right wing to Frye/other shooter for open 3
3. PUJIT – no need to say more
Unlike most right handed players, Nash tends to penetrate going left. This is function of two factors,
- Amare tends to pick to Nash’s left – this naturally leads to his rolling from the right side or popping for a shot on the right and Amare is a strong right-handed player.
- Nash has a deadly jumpshot off the dribble to the right. He is not nearly as comfortable shooting over his right shoulder.
So force Nash to the right to discourage penetration and live with the jump shots.
Do not double the post player. Force Richardson and Hill to make the turnaround J. They can make this shot but perhaps not as well against Kobe and Artest. A contested turn around from the block has a much lower EFG% than an open 3 (76% for the Suns – crazy!), and much easier to rebound.
The Lakers can minimize the PUJIT by being disciplined on offense; limiting turnovers and trying to have the Suns begin their break by taking the ball out of bounds each and every possession.
The Suns also are very good at swarming the post causing turnovers. Bynum and Kobe will have to be mindful of this when they get the ball. As a side note, in Jared Dudley the Suns have possibly the best or second best post defender at the guard position. Kobe will have to work harder to establish position and get the ball. Dudley is extremely good at fronting his player and denying the pass. The huge advantage Kobe has with other teams who have guards that treat the paint like alien territory is not there against Phoenix.
The Nash/Amare screen roll is probably the most devastating single play in the NBA. You have to try to get Amare to pick to Nash’s right than left. Much like Denver tried to disrupt the Kobe/Gasol screen roll by severely shading to Kobe’s right forcing Gasol to pick to Kobe’s left, the Lakers have to do the opposite. Shade Nash severely to the left to force Amare to pick to Nash’s right. This impedes Nash’s penetration, and forces Amare to begin rolling or shoot from a less comfortable position of the left side of the lane. If Frye is screening, I’d go under the screen so that Frye’s man can stay with him. Frye doesn’t roll and will drift to the three point line looking for the drop off from Nash. Of course you leave an open 3 to Nash – but you always give up something to take away something.
What a terrific game so early in the season. This game will test the Laker’s weaknesses this year. They will have to control the defensive boards (the Lakers are the worst in the league), not turn the ball over, make the proper rotations to cover the weak side three point shooter, and run a disciplined offense to control the tempo. All doable but challenging.