Archives For Laker Analysis

It used to be you could put Kobe Bryant in any scheme and he would excel. Triangle offense? Sure. Spread pick and roll? You got it. Flex? Princeton? Whatever Del Harris or Rudy T ran? He’d still get his because, well, when you are that good at scoring the basketball, it does not matter.

At its most simplest level, Kobe would have the ball, the guy in front of him (and the guy behind that guy) would have to try and stop him from scoring, and they couldn’t. Check-mate.

Those days are gone. And if you didn’t know they were gone from simply watching Kobe play in his 20th season, you should know now that he’s telling you himself.

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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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I want to see Kobe Bryant play well. I want this not as much for me, as a fan with rooting interests in the player and the team he plays for, but for him. As a person and a player.

I want it for him because as one of the best players who I have ever seen play basketball I want him to go out on terms somewhat relatable to the player he has been throughout his career. I want it for him because, after coming back from three season ending injuries and spending an inordinate amount of time simply rehabbing to prepare to play, I want that work to have meant something. I want it for him because, well, on some levels I think he’s earned it.

You can understand my disappointment, then, that I am coming to the conclusion that Kobe will not play well this year. He will not approximate the player he was. He will not depart the game at a status befitting his contributions to it. The hope to avoid the “Willie Mays as a Met/Patrick Ewing on the Magic/Hakeem on the Raptors” comparisons will, very likely, go unfulfilled.

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The Lakers lost to the Raptors on Friday night, their 10th loss in 12 games, which is a bit concerning if all you are doing is watching the standings or worried about the team’s record. I do watch those things and would like that to be different, but if that’s all you are watching you missed some things which, in the bigger picture, are more important.

The Raptors game was a good progress game, a game where the young players all found their stride on the same night, a game that will, hopefully, be more of the norm in the future than it has been to this point in the year. Consider the following:

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In the lead up to the draft, when I wrote about whether D’Angelo Russell was worth the #2 pick, I ultimately concluded that I thought he was. Nothing through the Lakers first 11 games has changed my mind or made me second guess that. Not Russell’s sub 40% shooting from the field, not his sub-3 assists per game, not Byron Scott playing him so few 4th quarter minutes, not…anything. I still have full belief in Russell as a prospect.

In saying that, the same concerns I had about Russell heading into the draft still exist. He can get lost off the ball defensively and is susceptible to getting beat off the dribble too often. He is not an elite athlete and there are times where his motor does not rev very high. There are times I want him to play faster and with more urgency. These are all things that have shown up in his game through the first part of his rookie season. This, really, is totally expected.

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Heading into this season there were certain potentially problematic realities about the construction of the Lakers’ roster.

First was the team having a mix of young and veteran players which all would need playing time to get the most out of them. Second was there being a strong skill-set overlap between multiple players who all like the ball in their hands as shot creators. And, third, the Lakers have a glut of power forwards on their roster.

Four (potentially) viable players at any single position on the roster is too many, and that is how many PF’s the Lakers currently have in Julius Randle, Brandon Bass, Larry Nance, Jr., and Ryan Kelly. Head coach Byron Scott has tried to manage this issue in different ways to start the year, mostly using a two-pronged approach.

The first part of this approach has been to simply leave a player out of the rotation. Larry Nance was that player to start the year. Nance is a rookie and was dealing with a sore knee when the season started so he was an obvious candidate. Nance’s emergence as a rotation player has shifted Ryan Kelly to the odd-man-out in recent games (not to mention Kelly was not playing particularly well on either end of the floor). This change has been for the best, but as someone who likes Kelly’s game, seeing him permanently buried isn’t a positive.

The second part of Byron’s plan has been to play Brandon Bass at Center rather than PF. Dating back to the preseason, Bass has seen the majority of his minutes next to another PF, to mostly mixed (this is generous) results.

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Of the Lakers’ three draft picks from this past June, none was more surprising than Larry Nance Jr. Sure, D’Angelo Russell ahead of Jahlil Okafor turned heads, but Russell was pretty much a consensus top 3 pick. Nance was projected by most mock drafts to last until the late 2nd round, if he was drafted at all. When the Lakers pulled the trigger on him in the first round, a lot of fans were skeptical. Most had never even heard of him.

While Nance Jr. is far from a household name, I’m pretty sure every Lakers’ fan knows who he is now. The recognition started with some highlight plays – a block here, a dunk there – but has now come from being a guy who has found his way into the regular rotation and looking like he won’t give it up anytime soon. I’m not sure anyone saw this coming only eight games into the season. I know I didn’t.

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Tuesday night’s loss the Heat was pretty much expected. On the road + playing a good team + the Lakers being not a good team right now = a loss. I think we can all live with that result. Frustratingly, what has also become somewhat expected but is harder to live with is that D’Angelo Russell couldn’t find his way into the game even though the team trailed by as many as 18 points in the period and ended up losing by 13. As a key young player who, as stated by the head coach needs minutes on the floor to develop, not playing in this particular game seems like a wasted opportunity.

Forget, though, all of that for a moment. Yes, Russell needs to play for development reasons but there are some numbers which say he probably should be playing in the 4th quarter based on merit. Namely, that Russell does his best work in the 2nd half of games, showing especially strong play in the 3rd quarter. The numbers are below:

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