Archives For Breakdown

Last week we broke down a nice pick and roll set the Lakers ran against the Spurs. The set started out of a Princeton formation with a two-guard front, but incorporate a dribble hand-off and flowed right into a pick and roll. The action set up a rhythm 15-footer for Lou Williams which he knocked down.

It should be noted Williams’ attempt is not the most analytically friendly shot. Mid-range jumpers are the ones defenses want to surrender and that’s exactly what this action produced. However, it is also worth noting that is a spot on the floor Williams has hit two-thirds of the shots he’s taken this season (he’s 4-6) so you can live with that every once and a while.

In any event, as I mentioned in the post, the Lakers did not run that action again against the Spurs. They did, however, run it against the Bucks on Tuesday night. And this time they ran it for Russell (rather than having him trigger it) and it produced a much more favorable shot:

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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:

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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?

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There has been a lot of handwringing over the Lakers’ offense. I know, I have been doing it myself. And while I stand by my criticisms of how the team’s worst tendencies have been too present to start the season, we are beginning to see a slight shift in how the team attacks.

Since the Nuggets game, the Lakers have been running more quick hitting actions, getting into their sets faster, and using more integrated pick and rolls throughout any given set. This has all led to a more fluid looking attack. Granted, the team has played two very poor defenses, but I’ll take any progress I can get.

But even when the team has been running some of the actions they have been running all season, the execution and attention to detail has been better than what we saw in the preseason or the team’s first few games. An example of this was a Triangle action from the Brooklyn game on Friday night:

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There has not been much to cheer for in the Lakers 0-4 start, but one player who has proven to be a bright spot is Jordan Clarkson. After a strong second half to his rookie campaign, Clarkson has shown that the hard work during the off-season and strong play from the summer and preseason were not a mirage.

Clarkson is leading the Lakers in minutes played (31 minutes a night), scoring (18.3 points per game), and is second on the team among rotation players (behind Nick Young!) in PER (20.6). Not bad for a guy taken 46th in the draft a summer ago.

While some of Clarkson’s early season success could easily be small sample sized theater — I do not expect him to make 46.7% of his three pointers on almost 4 attempts per game all year — his continued growth in certain parts of his game is clear and, in my opinion, very real.

Nowhere is this more true than his work in the pick and roll. Consider the following stats, per NBA.com/stats through Synergy (10 possession minimum):

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Earlier this week we covered the type of offensive set which has too often been representative of what the Lakers do on that side of the ball. The slow developing, non-attacking, late clock, long jumper producing set is symbolic of all that can be wrong with how the Lakers operate offensively. The hope, of course, is we see less and less of that as the season goes on.

The flip-side of that type of action is a quick hitting, full-on attacking action which forces the defense to react, putting them in bad positions in the process. We mostly see this when the Lakers are in transition, but not as often in the half court.

Friday night’s Lakers’ loss to the Kings did not offer many highlights, but one play they did run epitomized the latter type of play I would like to see more of.

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Any critique leveled against any team on the second day of the season has many caveats attached to it. For the Lakers, this is especially true. Not only is the “it’s only been one game!” caveat important, so are the ones tied to the team’s youth, the high amount of roster turnover, and the resulting lack of familiarity and continuity which comes with it.

Simply put, any real criticisms should be held off on for now. We really are too early in the season to come to any lasting conclusions. Let’s see what things look like after 15-20 games to get an idea if what we are seeing are actual trends or not.

However, some of the issues we saw in Wednesday’s loss to the Timberwolves aren’t new. This is especially true on offense where the Lakers looked very much like the team they were last season in many ways. And not good ways, either.

In reviewing the game, one play stood out to me that captured many of the team’s issues and encapsulated why they can sometimes struggle in the half-court.

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http://youtu.be/cCCLLi-BVO4

Whenever a team loses, the gut instinct is to try and establish who messed up so you can assign blame. When a team loses on a last second play the way the Lakers did against the Bulls, that instinct is even stronger.

As Pau Gasol said after the contest, “You don’t lose a game on a single play, but to lose a game like that on a layup still hurts.”

Yes. Yes, it does.

After the game, Mike D’Antoni spoke about the play in question and, per Mark Medina, defended his decision to have Manny Harris in the game and tried to explain what the plan on defense was:

D’Antoni said Harris was just following instructions, which entailed defending the inbounds pass so he could rotate to the perimeter wherever needed. “He played on the backside,” D’Antoni said. “He thought he was going to pop a guy out and he didn’t do that, We didn’t slide over to cover for him.”

In the clip above, you actually see Harris start the play standing between Taj Gibson and the basket only to get a signal from the bench to move into a position behind the Bulls’ Forward. When the play started, Harris found himself woefully out of position to defend the simplest cut in the game, a dive right to the front of the rim. Harris got pinned on Gibson’s back and Pau couldn’t recover in time to bother the shot enough to force a miss.

Hindsight is 20/20, but I see multiple errors with the Lakers’ defensive strategy that must come back to the coaches.

In the article quoted above, D’Antoni notes that Harris is a good defensive player who was a better option than some of the Lakers who were on the bench at the time. Harris is a good defender, so I’m not questioning that. However, having Harris defend Gibson specifically is a tactical mistake. Gibson was bullying the Lakers all night, pushing around everyone not named Jordan Hill on the offensive glass and in the post. Having Harris — who is a shooting guard — defend the Bulls’ power forward is a mistake.

Second, I don’t really see the value in having Pau defend the inbounder. Yes Pau is long and has the ability to disrupt an entry pass. However, without a second big man in the game to help guard the rim, the Lakers found themselves out of position to guard the type of shot that could beat them easiest. Granted Pau wasn’t as active defending the passer as he needed to be, but with only wings and Ryan Kelly in the game, the team wasn’t in a position personnel wise to guard the paint should a pass find its way in there.

Overall, it just seems like the Lakers’ coaches outthought themselves on this final play. Playing Harris isn’t a bad choice, but playing him over Johnson or Hill or even Meeks — players who have more experience — was probably a miscalculation. Having Pau defend the inbound in a hope he disrupts the pass rather than zoning up the paint to contest any lob pass or quick shot at the front of the rim also comes off as over-thinking things. And having Harris change his position from playing between the ball and his man to playing on the top side so he could be in better position to close out on a jump shooter on the perimeter is also getting too cute defensively when what was really required was playing a hard-nosed final second of defense.

Of course, if the Lakers get a stop on that final possession and the decisions the coaches made played a key part in making that happen, no one says anything. But that’s not what happened. In fact, it was the opposite.

Pau is right, of course, you don’t lose a game on a single possession, but the decisions the Lakers’ coaches made on the final play certainly tests that theory.