Archives For Laker Analysis

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:

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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.

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We honestly know very little about how Julius Randle’s game will translate to the NBA level. Sure, we have our guesses, but that’s all they really are at this point — guesses. What we do know, though, is that Randle seems to possess a more versatile game than he was given credit for coming out of Kentucky.

After seeing him perform in a couple of summer league games, I wrote this about Randle:

First is that Randle possesses a very nice combination of quickness and power. On several plays he uses a surprising quick step to gain an advantage on his defender and then is able to hold that man off or body up a second defender using his frame. Regardless of the level of competition, these two traits will serve Randle well as the way you create separation in this league is either through outstanding footwork or physical prowess. Randle seems to have the latter and, coincidentally, also flashes some of the former.

The second thing that stands out is Randle’s skill level and ability to play out on the floor. This is where the Zach Randolph comparisons seem woefully out of touch. Randle seems to prefer to step out to 15-18 feet, face up his man and use his dribble to attack the paint. Employing some good ball-handling and a nifty spin move, Randle is able to get to closer to the rim and use his soft touch to convert. Randle also showed off good awareness when creating off the bounce, spotting open teammates on the wing several times, especially when help came at him from the corner.

That ability to play out on the floor and the skill displayed while doing so really did surprise me. It’s not that I didn’t think he was capable — coming out of high school, Randle was touted as an all-court player — but actually seeing him put the ball on the floor at his size while also flashing passing ability was impressive.

In a way, it actually reminded me of Lamar Odom.

First, it should be pointed out that no one is really that much like Odom and the differences between him and Randle are substantial. They have different body types — Odom was long and lanky, Randle is more compact and powerful — and, from what I can tell so far, definitely possess different on-court personalities — Randle seems to be much more of an “alpha” player whereas Odom was very much of a player who did the smaller things well and shifting his game to fit the team’s needs.

But, in looking past those differences, there are some strong similarities. Besides the left-handedness, Randle’s aforementioned ability to play out on the floor and take advantage of his ball handling skill is very much like LO. Add in the nice mix of passing, touch around the rim, and sneaky athleticism (though Randle seems to have even more than Odom did) and there is a good comparison to be made.

What also reminds me of Odom, however, is that some people are already starting to talk as if Randle should play some small forward in order to take advantage of skills that remind of a perimeter player more than a classic big man. And, much like Odom, I think that would be a major mistake in utilizing those skills.

Randle, like other big men who possess some perimeter skills, are best maximized by pitting those skills against players who are not used to defending in space. Put a 6’10” player on the perimeter and tell him to defend a like sized player who just so happens to be able to put the ball on the floor with skill and quickness and the advantage will almost always lie with the player who possesses the ball. Big players normally lack the needed lateral quickness to stay in front of such players. Add in the advantages that come with drawing that bigger defender away from the paint and the benefits to an offense only increase via better spacing for the entire team.

Of course, the natural counter to that argument is that if you have a big man who can score in the paint via post ups — like Randle can — can’t you gain similar advantages by punishing smaller defenders while playing him at small forward? The answer, however, isn’t as straight forward. Yes, in an individual match up you can, potentially, exploit smaller players. But what you also do is crowd the area below the FT line and decrease spacing. Helping against this player is also easier as it usually allows either a PF or C who is roaming in the basket area to slide over more quickly and help erase that advantage. When you combine that with the decrease in spacing, offenses are more easily gummed up as ball movement suffers and defenses do not have to scramble as much.

This was one of the main reasons the ultra big lineup using Odom as a SF next to Pau and Bynum never materialized as a staple of those team’s attack. Not only did it neutralize Odom’s guard skills by putting a defender on him who is more used to defending players with his skill set, but the spacing issues and crowded paint took away the most sought after result of trying to attack a smaller defender with the bigger one (shots in or near the paint). More often than not, the affect wasn’t some advantage for Odom or the team but instead had the opposite result as Odom couldn’t use his quickness as an advantage against smaller players while also limiting his ability to create in space and attack a vacated paint.

The same would likely occur with Randle. Especially if he’s paired with the types of PF’s and C’s the Lakers have on their roster (Boozer, Hill, Davis, and Sacre aren’t exactly guys who need to be defended outside of 15 feet).

I know it’s easy to look at a big man like Randle, see some of the skills he possesses and think that his versatility will lend itself to playing on the wing and punishing smaller defenders by getting into the paint and using his physicality to get buckets. But history tells me the Lakers will be much better off not going in that direction. Because while that versatility is an asset, it can also be misused if you’re not careful.

Unless you’re a major proponent of the Byron Scott hiring — which I have my questions about — Jeremy Lin’s acquisition will go down as the team’s best move of the off-season. Using only cap space and the rights to a European player none of us had ever heard of, the Lakers acquired Lin and a first round pick from the cap space hoarding Houston Rockets. The deal was, at its essence, the epitome of getting something for nothing.

Just what did the Lakers get in Lin, though?

From a name recognition standpoint, the Lakers acquired someone fans can really get behind. From the time he burst onto the scenes with the Knicks, thrust into a starting role via a decimated backcourt rotation, Lin turned heads via his game and his backstory. A Taiwanese-American player with the Ivy League education playing phenomenal point guard for the home team in the Big Apple? It was captivating. The Lakers saw this first hand when he buried them with countless big shots.

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