Archives For Laker Analysis

We are about 3 weeks from the start of training camp and, soon enough, we will have actual Lakers basketball to discuss. Until then, though, we are left speculating on who might fill out Byron Scott’s coaching staff, how the depth chart at each position might play out, and watching Nick Young randomly stop at a pick up game in New York and bury a step-back jumper while rocking some tight pants and shoes that look like Vans. Such is the summer.

What ends speculation, however, is when decision makers actually tell you what they plan to do. Recently, Byron Scott has been making the rounds with the media and, in the process, has been doing just that. Most recently he sat down with Mark Medina of the LA Daily News and covered a lot of ground, including a nugget about his initial plan regarding a starting lineup:

Scott will spend training camp figuring out his starting lineup, which he says will currently feature Nash, Bryant, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill. He is leaning toward starting Wesley Johnson at small forward because of his defensive potential and relying on Nick Young’s prolific scoring off the bench. Scott also reported Xavier Henry has not fully recovered from left wrist and right knee injuries.

While it would be easy to overreact to Scott saying he plans to start Boozer and Nash, it’s probably best to hold off on that. I thought mid-wilshire had a solid perspective in the comments by stating:

The question isn’t who starts but who finishes and who plays the most important minutes. Nash could start, say, and, in those games in which he does play, average only 15 mpg. The starting nod, then, would be largely symbolic. I wouldn’t get too upset over Nash and Boozer starting. Let’s wait and see how the rotations pan out. Then we’ll have something to talk about.

Beyond that, though, the idea of a healthy (crosses fingers) Nash and a veteran Boozer flanking Kobe isn’t the worst thing in the world — at least offensively*. Both offer a nice combination of scoring and passing ability and can provide the type of medium usage rates that can mesh with Kobe to form the trio of players who play with the ball in their hands most often while playing with more low usage players in Hill and Wes Johnson.

Further, the remaining players actually form a very interesting bench group:

PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Nick Young
SF: Xavier Henry
PF: Julius Randle
C: Ed Davis

Looking at that group, they all share some common traits most notably youth and athleticism. All are more likely to thrive in a more open court game and will be able to change ends well with an ability maximize their athleticism by attempting to get easy baskets. Things will get more interesting in the half court where Lin, Young, Henry, and Randle all project to do their best work with the ball in their hands, but that’s where coaching and execution of the scheme will come into play. If channeled well and operating on the same page, this group should still be able to move the ball and play an attack style against set defenses.

In saying all that, however, none of this is set in stone. Yes, Scott has said this is what he’s planning to do. But it’s early September. With a full training camp ahead, preseason games to play, and a feeling out period that will extend into the regular season, changes are still very much likely as realities set in.

Even in saying that, though, it is interesting to think about. Even if, as noted above, it’s not really about who starts but who finishes.

*I will be saying this a lot this year, but if the Lakers can have relatively good health, I don’t expect offense to be a major problem. The defense, however, is projected to be poor and any lineup with Kobe, Nash, and Boozer playing for an extended period of time will suffer on that end. Byron Scott’s biggest issue this year will be finding lineups to get enough defensive stops and throwing out a group that will have more than one player on the wing who will struggle to defend and having a back-line defender who is as challenged as Boozer is will be problematic. 

If you are an NBA fan, you are familiar with Allen Iverson’s famous rant on practice. In response to a report that Iverson had missed a session (and his coach’s criticism that came with it), he vented to the press and delivered the now famous quotes. While that clip will never cease to make me smile, we must not forget that for all intents and purposes, Iverson was wrong in the big picture. His coach at the time, Larry Brown, came from the Dean Smith tree of coaching that emphasized “playing the right way” and establishing good habits in, yes, practice. Iverson, acknowledged those things, but still turned the moment into a half joke-half serious retort to the idea in principle, going so far as to rhetorically ask how he can make his teammates better by practicing.

I take this trip down memory lane not to beat up The Answer or to try and tarnish the rep of a guy who I used to love to watch compete. No, I bring it up because I was thinking about A.I.’s one time rival, Mr. Kobe Bean Bryant and one of the ways he can most help this year’s Lakers.

In a recent sit down with Dave McMenamin, Nick Young waxed on many topics, including growing up in Los Angeles, his “legend” status as a competitor in the famous Drew League, and returning to the Lakers to try and build on his strong individual campaign last year. He also talked about Kobe and offered these very nice words on his teammate:

“He’s been great, really. He’s been like my mentor, really, right now. He’s been calling, texting me, talking to me, motivating me. I think that’s big. Growing up, who would have thought Kobe would be the one doing all that? I didn’t ever think I’d be working out with Kobe or talking to him.”

Kobe “the mentor” is an idea that comes up periodically from both current and former teammates. Often times it’s framed in the exact manner that Young did, almost in a “who’d have thunk it?” way or as a means of contrasting what is the more general view of Kobe as a teammate. More often than not, we think of Kobe as a guy who will get in teammates faces and tell them the things they don’t want to hear, rather than the nurturing type who builds guys up. He has gone on record as someone who leads through confrontation, after all, so it’s not a surprise that conventional thinking exists.

No leader is any one way all the time, however, so this isn’t a matter of style or tactics or, even, effectiveness (which I’d argue Kobe very much is). It’s a matter of presence. Last year, Kobe was not around. While he was with the team during his comeback from his achilles injury, his presence faded after fracturing a bone in his knee that kept him out after his brief six game return. The longer his absence from the court went, the less and less Kobe was around the guys, either on the bench at the games or at the practices to serve as an example and voice of leadership.

In a way, his absence from the practice court reminded me of the 2011 season. That year, the Lakers were coming off back to back championships and three straight runs to the Finals. Kobe had suffered through knee issues most of the year before and had to have his knee drained on more than one occasion during the playoffs that saw the Lakers dispatch the Celtics in seven games to claim the championship. In 2011, then, Peter Vescey, at that time of the New York Post, broke the news that Kobe Bryant had not been practicing due to recurring issues with his knee. In typical Kobe fashion, he was defiant about his injury, but still acknowledged that his lack of practicing had an impact.

Following the disappointing end to that season, Kobe spoke about this during his exit interview, which Brian Kamenetzky (then with ESPN) captured and discussed:

That Kobe was unable to practice with any consistency is no secret. Asked about how it impacted the team, Bryant said he was disappointed in how the team reacted, believing the players didn’t quite have the same intensity as they otherwise might have, since “big brother” wasn’t on the floor to keep them in line. They could take “days off.” There’s probably some truth to that, but the larger issue is how hard it is for a team to gain continuity on both sides of the ball when the main cog is rarely on the floor to practice. Particularly offensively, where the Lakers struggled to create good looks deeper into games. It wasn’t something that could be avoided — Kobe wasn’t sitting on the sidelines to protect a pedicure, but a bum knee — but was a factor for sure.

This upcoming season, Kobe faces multiple individual challenges. He is coming off major injuries and is staring at his basketball mortality while battling father time. Embedded in the fabric of these challenges, however, is the fact that he must still lead his team. And, in order to do so, he must be a part of the group and, yes, be in practices as the driving force behind creating the culture that Byron Scott is so fond of discussing.

There are complications, however. Even if disregarding the recent injury history, there is the fact that Kobe is…old. He recently called himself “70 in basketball years” and, while it’s a hyperbolic line that inspired a few chuckles, it’s also rooted in truth. After over 50K minutes combined regular season and playoff minutes, Kobe will need the proper rest to play at a high level. This rest needs to be given not only in games, but in practices as well.

Further, Byron Scott is not known for his lax practices. In fact, it’s the opposite. In a recent sit down with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, the question about how Scott liked to practice was barely completed before “Hard” was coming out the head coach’s mouth. He followed that up with a comment about needing to find a balance, understanding his players, and how he’d handle back to backs, but the implication was clear. Scott will work his players hard in practice in the hopes of drilling them on how things need to be done in game situations. As a Pat Riley disciple, we should not expect less.

For Kobe, then, how this plays out will be something to watch this year. If the team is going to achieve at the levels they hope to internally, Kobe will need to be front and center and providing an example, not just in the games, but in the practices. History has proven as much.

Last week, Byron Scott sat down with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com and gave a wide ranging and insightful interview. Among the topics covered were his relationship with Kobe Bryant, views on Julius Randle, and who might fill out his coaching staff. You really should read the entire thing — Scott is honest and forthright, but also showed a confidence in what he wants to do and how he will go about doing it.

The part that interested me most, however, was when Trudell turned the conversation towards what the Lakers would do on the defensive side of the ball. Last season, as we all know, the Lakers were an awful defensive team. We don’t need to recount every issue, but they could neither contain the dribble nor protect the rim and when the ball was rotated around the perimeter after exploiting these issues the Lakers’ rotations were inconsistent.

Fixing this is Scott’s biggest priority and he hinted at how he will go about in doing just that:

Continue Reading…

Within the next two months, the Lakers will begin training camp. While the team hopes to shock the league and critics alike by performing at a level that will see them compete for the playoffs, reality, as of today, is one of justified doubt. Most of that doubt, of course, centers on the roster construction of the team. After striking out in their chase for a major free agent this summer, the Lakers will field a team of mixed of hold-overs from last season’s disaster squad and new blood who has more questions than answers about how good they can perform next year*.

With that said, lets take a very early look the team’s depth chart, with a quick look at who should be slotted where in terms of starter vs bench and at what position:

Point Guards:

  1. Jeremy Lin
  2. Steve Nash
  3. Jordan Clarkson

Unless Nash makes some miraculous recovery and is held on a strict minutes restriction as a starter, I see no scenario where Lin isn’t the clear cut starter. The question is more likely to be whether the Lakers sign a 4th point guard as insurance against a Nash injury and/or to avoid having to rely on a 2nd round rookie Jordan Clarkson (who, for the time being is not yet even signed). We have talked about Lin some already, but to recap he offers a well rounded offensive game and a solid defensive background. On this team, he’s clearly the best point guard and should be treated as such.

Shooting Guards:

  1. Kobe Bryant
  2. Nick Young

Kobe at the top is obvious so lets leave any discussion about him for another day (or at least to the bottom of this post). The real question is if you see Young as the backup shooting guard or the starting small forward. Clearly, for me, it’s the former. While Young may fashion himself a starter, I still see him best suited as a reserve who offers scoring punch that can help prop up a second unit. I don’t have much doubt that Young can play next to Kobe in certain lineups, but I’d much prefer a better defender on the wing to serve as a better compliment to #24 on that end of the floor.

Small Forwards:

  1. Xavier Henry
  2. Wesley Johnson

Some might want to reverse this and to me that would be fine. Neither Henry nor Johnson are particularly strong players and both possess holes in their respective games. I choose Henry over Johnson, however, because he’s the more complete offensive player and when combined with what I see as only a marginal difference in defensive value, I’ll take the southpaw. In reality, though, this is easily the Lakers’ weakest position and I would not be surprised if Ryan Kelly ends up stealing some minutes at SF just because of the minute crunch that will exist at PF. The hope, though, is that Henry shows that some of the success he had last year was not a fluke and that he can continue to be an offensive player who can hit the three ball while getting to the paint to either finish or draw fouls to get to the FT line. That combination is the foundation for a useful offensive player and if he can learn to pass a bit better, he would be a nice complement in most lineups.

Power Forwards:

  1. Julius Randle
  2. Carlos Boozer
  3. Ryan Kelly

First of all, I would not be surprised if Boozer starts. He’s the veteran and his history of success will surely matter to Byron Scott and, to a certain extent, Kobe Bryant. I have Randle as the #1, though, because right now I think he offers more value and is actually the better pairing at PF with a lineup that features Kobe. For one, Randle’s quasi-perimeter oriented game should give Kobe more space to operate in the post and at the elbows offensively. Secondly, Randle’s ability to slash off the ball and make the catch to either finish or make the next pass will come in handy if/when Kobe draws extra defensive attention. Add in Randle’s superior athleticism to Boozer and how that can translate to better court coverage defensively and I’ll take the young pup over the old dog**. The other question, though, is how much will Ryan Kelly play in his more natural PF spot? With Boozer and Randle clearly in front of him, Kelly may struggle to see many (any?) minutes at PF. This will be a story worth watching as the season develops.

Centers:

  1. Jordan Hill
  2. Ed Davis
  3. Robert Sacre

This seems pretty straight forward to me, but who knows how Scott will see it. Maybe he envisions Davis as more of a PF (which, if that is the case, the minute crunch becomes nearly untenable at PF). Maybe Sacre’s hard work will elevate him to the #2 center. What is clear, however, is that Hill is a center in this league and he should be getting roughly 28-32 minutes a night at that spot while Davis/Sacre fight for the other 16-20. Hill’s workload will vary by circumstance — is he getting tired? is he in foul trouble? — but for the most part he should see a heavy increase in minutes from last year and should see his per game averages jump up into the solid double-double range (I’m thinking something like 13 points and 10 rebounds) nightly.

Barring something unforeseen, this is about how I see things playing out — at least by the time the season ends. You can quibble with Young’s slotting or with Henry vs. Johnson, but these are minor things. None of these guys are true difference makers (though, to be fair, Young can win you a game if he gets hot from the field) and getting too wrapped up in where any one of them ends up isn’t a strong use of your time. At some point I’d imagine all will get their chance to show that they belong in the rotation, although my gut tells me Scott will not be nearly as shifty in his lineups as his predecessor was.

When looking at this team, especially when it’s laid out in this manner, it’s easy to see why folks would be down on this roster. Right now they have serious questions on the perimeter and a log-jam at the big man spots. As it has been in season’s past, this roster looks to be severely imbalanced and I wonder how Scott will manage to put together capable lineups that mesh well enough to compete while not shortchanging players out of minutes they’ll probably deserve. We’ll see how Scott approaches things, but in my humble opinion, the above is likely about the best he can do.

*Kobe can fit into either the “holdover” or “newcomer with question marks” categories for this particular post. Though he’ll be entering his 19th season with the team and is clearly an institution, he also only appeared in 6 games last year and has more questions than any other player on the roster due to his health and recovery from significant injury. In some ways, then, I find it hard to even group him with last year’s team but he’s definitely a guy who no one can be completely sure about. So, go ahead and classify him however you want.

**It’s yet to be seen how well Randle can defend at the NBA level and there are serious doubts he will be a guy who protects the rim as a back-line defender in the pros. Add in the fact that rookies — especially big men — face a tremendously steep learning curve defensively and there are more reasons to doubt. That said, Randle’s mobility is worlds better than Boozer’s and I am betting that mobility will translate to better ability to defend in space while also being able make the needed rotations to the three point and back to the paint that are required of big men. Plus, when it’s all said and done, we know that Boozer can’t defend well so I’d rather let Randle try and maybe fail than Boozer try and surely fail.

When Byron Scott was named head coach of the Lakers, one of the major reasons he received instant backing from a healthy portion of the fan base was because of his history as a Laker. The bulk of his career was spent as a member of the Showtime era teams and his legacy is one of a key contributor to championship glory. This history has earned him a credibility that other candidates could not match. I mean when Magic, Silk, and the Captain show up to your introductory presser the goodwill transposed upon you is massive.

Scott will need more than goodwill to succeed, though. He has inherited a mismatched roster mixed with veterans possessing proud histories and young players looking to build their names and continue to progress on an upward trajectory. Managing this situation will not be easy and Scott will need to draw on all his experiences as a coach and as a member of those championship teams to find workable solutions.

If Scott looks back, though, he should find at least one comparison that could aid him in his success.

Continue Reading…