Archives For Laker Analysis

Sunday night’s game against the Warriors is barely worth discussing. If the first time these teams faced off last Thursday was a beat down, Sunday’s game was a massacre. Before I was even back from the kitchen with my Hansen’s mandarin-lime beverage, the Lakers trailed 14-2. At various points of the game they trailed by over 30 with the Warriors doubling up the Lakers’ point total. They ended up losing the game by 41.

The big theme of the night wasn’t just that the Warriors outclassed the Lakers on both ends, but how they went about doing it. As I noted on twitter, the Warriors and the Lakers really did not look like they were playing the same game:

The fact that the Lakers were struggling to produce good looks shouldn’t necessarily surprise. First of all, the Warriors are a very good defensive team. Klay Thompson is emerging as one of the better wing defenders in the league. While he did not start yesterday’s game, Andre Iguodala has long been a premier perimeter stopper. Those two are backed up by Andrew Bogut (a top flight defensive center) and flanked at any given time by Draymond Green (a versatile tweener forward who can guard stretch fours and wings with equal skill). Add in the other athletes on the roster and the Dubs are going to give offenses issues all season.

Further, the Lakers are learning a new offense while also missing two of their better offensive players. Say what you want about Nick Young or Jeremy Lin, but both can find the holes in a defense and put up points in a hurry. Missing Lin was especially meaningful as he’s the lone player (besides Kobe in the Denver game or Julius Randle) who has shown any ability to get to the rim off the dribble and create a good shot for himself or a teammate this preseason. Combine all this with Nash only playing a quarter and the Lakers’ offense cannot be fully judged off its effectiveness in this particular game.

So lets move beyond this game and onto something that has been consistent over the team’s first three exhibition games: the Lakers are taking a lot of long two point jumpers. I mean A LOT of them. Here is their shot chart from the second warriors game:

Lakers Warriors 2

As you can see, a whopping 48 of the team’s 82 shots were mid to long two-point attempts. And only three of their shots were three pointers without a single shot from one of the corners. If you think this is just a single game thing, it’s not. In the Lakers first game against the Warriors, 38 of their 89 field goal attempts were mid/long range two pointers while they only took 11 threes (with only one coming from the corners). Against the Nuggets, 36 of their 87 shots were mid/long range two’s while they took only 10 threes (with only two coming from the corners).

Individual players can build an offensive attack off mid-range and long two point shot attempts. For years Dirk and Kobe have feasted on defenses while taking these shots at high volume. More recently LaMarcus Aldridge has become an all-star by becoming a master of the mid-range. Not every player is going to shoot this shot as well as those guys, however. And this is why entire teams cannot build an offense around taking this shot. Over the course of a game a team might get hot from this area of the floor and make a defense pay for continually surrendering this shot. But over the course of a season, the offense will lose this battle. There is a reason most coaches encourage opponents to take this shot over and over again.

Meanwhile the Lakers are seemingly running an offense that will have them take this shot more frequently. Further, they seem to be doing so at the expense of taking the three point shot. I’d argue this is just a random occurrence from the first few preseason games, but these quotes from the head coach imply otherwise:

“Our game plan is really to get to that basket,” said Scott after practice Tuesday.  “I like the fact that we only shot 10 threes.  If we shoot between 10 and 15, I think that’s a good mixture of getting to that basket and shooting threes.

“I don’t want us to be coming down, forcing up a bunch of threes.  I really want us to attack the basket.”

I can fully understand Scott’s stance about not wanting to “force” a bunch of threes. One of my chief complaints about the way last year’s team played offense was the players’ lack of discernment between what is a good shot or a bad one. While it could be argued the freedom the team operated with enabled more confidence and better results on those shots, the simple counter to that argument is that the misses and increased pace put the team at a disadvantage defensively far too often.

However, shooting the number of threes Scott says he would like to will put the team at a disadvantage offensively. Especially if that decline in the long ball is traded for long two point shots. And while Scott says that he would prefer his team “get to the basket” more, there seems to be a disconnect in how teams are actually able to get to the basket in today’s NBA. With zone defenses now legal and the onset of Tom Thibodeau inspired strong side schemes that clog the paint, driving lanes are produced via a spread floor. Players who like to attack the basket, now more than ever before, benefit from shooters spacing out the defense to created those creases to the rim. If the Lakers continue to be a team that eschews the three ball in favor of long two point shots, they will likely find a more crowded lane that limits drives to the rim and promotes…wait for it…more long two point shots.

That leaves me tweeting things like this:

Again, it’s important we put some caveats on all this. The Lakers have not had Nick Young, Xavier Henry, or Ryan Kelly available all preseason. Add to that Nash and Lin’s health issues that have kept them out of action and that’s five of the Lakers’ better offensive creators and outside threats. With the team also likely experiencing some heavy legs from Byron’s conditioning and defense heavy practices, the team is not only (probably) a little fatigued but also somewhat behind offensively. Over time, then, the hope is that some of these issues will lessen as the team gets healthier and guys get more comfortable in how they will operate in Scott’s system.

That said, it’s fair to be concerned. Scott’s own words and what the team has been doing on the floor come from a different era of basketball. Further, they reflect a style of play that does not necessarily optimize results for a team who will struggle to be even league average defensively. I mean, if the Lakers are not stopping teams defensively, they must find a way to keep up offensively. Making the long two point shot a staple of the offense will not allow the team to do so.

More than any of the other candidates who could have gotten the Lakers’ head coaching job, Byron Scott will get an extended honeymoon period. While I have expressed my thoughts on more than one occasion about how much Scott’s history as a Laker should matter, the fact is that it does. It mattered to the front office when they made their choice to hire him and it matters to fans now.

More than what matters to fans or Jim Buss or Mitch Kupchak, though, what matters to the players is most important. They’re the ones who will follow Scott into the battle or tune him out. They are the ones who must buy in to what he’s selling in terms of philosophy and then go out on the court and execute his schemes. And of all the players, the one who matters most here is Kobe Bryant. He’s the leader of this team on the floor and if he’s on board the other’s will follow him.

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The wait is over.

THE WAIT IS OVER.

On Monday the Lakers will open training camp, hosting their annual media day. The media masses will come (though fewer than normal, I’m sure) to listen to the players speak on expectations, what they hope to get out of the year, and how they’ve put on 15 pounds of muscle (or, in some cases, lost 15 pounds). They’ll gather to hear new coach Byron Scott talk in reserved, yet optimistic tones, about where he thinks this team will go and how he believes they can surprise people by defying expectations. Everyone — especially Kobe — will talk about the work to be done and growing as a team and we will soak it all in because we have been waiting for what feels like an eternity for basketball to come back.

In reality, though, this is the least interesting part of what is beginning. Most every player has been through this multiple times and knows the drill. Nothing — or at least very little — of substance will be said. The more important thing is that the work will begin and this team will take its first steps towards becoming…whatever it is they will become. We all have our opinions on that, of course, but even what I (or you or anyone else) predicts ends up being 100% accurate, it will all have to play out on the floor with the players trying to follow what the coaches tell them to do.

Even in saying all that, the story lines heading into camp are many and real. So, let’s look at 10 questions for this team at the dawn of this new campaign:

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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.