I will forever be fascinated by team building and the construction of rosters contrasted against the direction of the league. How players are grouped and assembled to form a team + the defining style of play of winning basketball will almost always go hand in hand as general managers and coaches look to steal ideas (and players who fit into specific archetypes) from each other in a race to the top.
After the Lakers won their second title in as many years in 2010, you saw this first hand as some of the western conference teams (most notably the Thunder in their acquisition of Kendrick Perkins) added size and physicality to their front line to match up against the Gasol/Bynum/Odom trio the Lakers hammered teams with up front. By the end of 2011, however, things started to shift again.
Those playoffs, in their quest for a three-peat, the Lakers were unceremoniously ousted by the hot shooting, and eventual title winning, Mavs. The reign of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh then began with two consecutive titles, followed by the Spurs return as champions last season after their heartbreaking defeat the season before. This season, the Warriors posted a historical season with 67 wins and top-2 rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. All of these teams relied heavily on outside shooting to fuel their offensive attacks, a drastic shift — at least aesthetically — from what the Lakers had offered in their title winning years.
Today, at SB Nation, Tom Ziller and Paul Flannery discussed these ideas, using a recent Phil Jackson tweet as a jumping-off point to their conversation. Ziller and Flannery covered a lot of ground, but a key part of their discussion centered on whether, as the style of play around the league shifts, we are too dismissive of “old-school” thinking about three pointers:
FLANNERY: I want to go back to something. Do we run a risk by dismissing wise old heads like Phil Jackson simply because they don’t conform to the style of the day?
ZILLER: Absolutely! It’s easily one of the most dangerous facets of the New NBA, where an increasing share of decision-makers come from business or law school in lieu of a fuller basketball background. We as a chattering class are, at this point, so much quicker to wax skeptical about Phil Jackson’s positions than those of Sam Hinkie. We’ve joked before that the nerds won. It’s legitimately true.
I feel guilty for ridiculing the concept of the Basketball PhD and the theory of its demise as a professional credential in the NBA. The presentation of the concern was worth ridicule; the concern is not. There is knowledge gathered from learning and excelling in a field that cannot otherwise be obtained. That doesn’t mean we need ex-players running every team, but it speaks to the value of their voices and theories.
Every theory ought to be judged by its merits, not by the ideology it fits within or the orientation of its presenter.
FLANNERY: It doesn’t help that each side can drip with condescension when it wants to either. There are insights and intel to be gleaned from vets, quants, scouts and cap gurus. Sometimes it doesn’t jive with a preconceived notion, but that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. It should be embraced. I feel like the best organizations are the ones that blend all that stuff together into a basketball bouillabaisse. Of course, there’s a difference between having all those people on staff and giving them all a voice.
What’s interesting to me isn’t whether Phil is right or wrong, it’s that as the league moves forward and embraces whatever innovations that can assist in winning, it’s easy to forget that there actually are multiple ways to win and that most successful things build on previously used concepts as foundation for their success.
Phil actually spoke to this, somewhat, in the tweet following the one that got so many in an uproar:
In it’s most simplest form, basketball is about penetration. The Triangle used penetration in the form of the dribble, the pass, or a shot – this is one of the key principles that Phil and Tex Winter often harped on. The advent of “pace and space” style offense that optimize three pointers uses penetration against a spaced floor to accomplish this. And, as Phil noted with the Heat, the dive out of the P&R to collapse the defense in ways that open up the outside shot was key to their runs. What people also often forget is that Phil consistently used Kukoc, Horry, and Odom as stretch-y PF’s on his best teams and that, at least with the Lakers, his teams were consistently in the top half of the league in three point field goals attempted.
For the current carnation of the Lakers, they too would be wise to understand where the league is going, but not forget there really are multiple ways to win. Byron Scott got himself in some hot water by downplaying the value of the three pointer, but as the season went on his team did shoot more shots from behind the arc and opened up their offense to incorporate more P&R that helped space the floor. Finally playing Ryan Kelly at PF also helped. Having enough flexibility and finding that proper balance between optimizing inside play and being able to space the floor via effective shooting should continue to be a priority for Scott and his coaching staff.