Archives For Laker Analysis

Getting Ahead of the Game

Darius Soriano —  December 15, 2015

One of my favorite movies is the 1994 crime film Fresh. I won’t summarize the film for you here, but the way the main character (a 12 year old black kid in New York) manipulates his situation via strategic plotting influenced by his playing of chess will always be something I appreciate. What can I say, I’m a sucker for smart characters and this kid was smart.

This isn’t a movie review, but I was thinking about chess earlier after I read Zach Lowe’s latest piece for ESPN on the Dallas Mavericks. Lowe goes into detail about how the Mavs continue to win games even though their roster has turned over by more than half and how an aging Dirk and head coach Rick Carlisle are still getting it done.

The passage which caught my eye, however, is below:

It turns out, Dallas needed a slight recalibration, rather than a total overhaul. The team traded a few pick-and-rolls for more intricate pieces of five-man basketball chess: classic Carlisle and Terry Stotts “flow” sets, with Pachulia and Nowitzki helming the elbows and a whir of on-ball and off-ball screens unfolding around them. Only three teams have set more on-ball screens, and only five have nailed opponents with more off-ball picks, per SportVU data and numbers crunched to ESPN.com by Vantage Sports…

The Mavs have collected smart players who read the game in snapshots, guys who can improvise an off-ball screening ballet and understand how to cut against the defense’s expectations. They keep you guessing all over the floor until someone breaks.

The concept of elite basketball players “playing chess” on the floor is not a new one. Back when the Lakers were coached by Phil Jackson and ran the Triangle Offense, I often talked about how Kobe, Pau, and Odom manipulated defenses via expert level understanding of how each action of the offense would impact what their opponents did to stop them.

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Back in February of 2012, the Lakers were a team looking to find its way. Coming out of the NBA lockout, Mike Brown was tasked with coaching the team Phil Jackson departed, trying to pick up the pieces and re-form a group fractured by the attempted trade of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom for Chris Paul.

Looking back, it was not an easy time at all. Not the lows the team is facing now, but a different sort of struggle where expectations to contend were still high, but coming in a condensed season with a group possessing insane numbers of miles on their legs, looking to achieve what was, in hindsight, well beyond their grasp.

That was the backdrop for comments that Kobe Bryant made to Stephen A. Smith about what his future might hold. Yes, those questions were popping up nearly 4 years ago, before the ruptured achilles, before the team’s plunge into the high lottery. Stephen A. wanted to know if Kobe might one day leave the Lakers to join a better team – a team which might net him that elusive sixth NBA Championship. Kobe shot that down pretty quickly:

“Why would I want to go somewhere else, that ship sailed in (2007),” Bryant said. “If there was ever a time I was going to move to go play someplace else, that was it. I’m not going to jump ship to chase a sixth ring, it’s just not going to happen. It’s going to happen here or it’s not going to happen.”

After Kobe said that, he also had this quote about how long he might play:

“You think I’d hang around and average 18 points, 19 points… hell no.”

We all know what is happening this season. I do not want to pile on Kobe, but his season has been poor. The numbers speak for themselves. I don’t need to paint them in vibrant colors or put them into historical context to sensationalize them. We watch the games, we know he’s not done well. He knows he’s not done well.

This is where that last quote comes into play. Kobe never thought he’d be this guy. He’s a career 25, 5, and 5 guy. The thought of him becoming a guy who would only be getting 18? No chance.

But, Kobe was wrong. And that’s perfectly okay.

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The Lakers remain one of the lesser offensive teams in the league. A high producing unit or a scoring flurry from one of their several quality offensive players just doesn’t equate to a stable, high performing team. On the whole, the team still ranks 29th in offensive efficiency and while I think, over time, they might be able to climb from that mark, they are what they are offensively.

However, just because the team’s output remains low, it does not mean we cannot get some inspired play. Recently the team has gone away from the Princeton offense more than earlier in the campaign, mixing in more straight P&R sets and even incorporating some Triangle actions into their scheme. The results aren’t always great, but changing things up is a good sign, not just because it helps mix in some variety which can help the team overcome defenses which seem to know what’s coming, but because it shows some flexibility in the coaches — something that hasn’t been too present this season.

But even when the Lakers aren’t diverging from the Princeton entirely, they are showing some more creativity in finding different actions to run out of the general formation of the offense. The below play, from the Spurs game on Friday, is a perfect example of this:

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This does not mean the Lakers have no chance. And, at some point, the team is very likely to have a game where they break through, shoot well, get a few timely defensive stops, and pull out a win. Tonight would be as good a night as any to make this happen. After all, the Wizards did travel from Cleveland last night while the Lakers only came from Philly. There is a chance they will be as tired or more than the visiting team. Or maybe I’m reaching. We shall see.

The above paragraph was from Wednesday’s game preview against the Wizards. I’m not saying I can tell the future, but if you’re interested in tonight’s lottery numbers, hit me up in the comments and I might share them with you.

No, but seriously, the Lakers were due for a win. They have been a bad team this year, but coming into the game against the Wizards they were on pace for about an 11 win season. That win total would be the worst by any NBA team ever. The Lakers may be bad, but they’re not that bad.

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Have you ever had that friend who the rest of the group just says: “Oh, that’s just so-and-so.” They’re late for everything; they skimp out on dinner and bar tabs; you don’t trust them with you significant other… But you keep making excuses for them because of what else they bring to the table or how long the friendship has lasted.

Eventually, it hits everyone that, hey, maybe that friend is just an a-hole. No one else gets those same excuses made for them, right? So what is it about that one friend?

For the Lakers and many fans, it appears we’re reaching that point with Kobe Bryant. For the last two decades, you’ve overlooked some chemistry issues, borderline selfishness on the court, and a manipulation of the various offensive systems at only his benefit because, you know, he’s Kobe. All the other stuff was worth it.

Now, at the end, though, those habits are rearing their ugly head, and at the detriment of the Lakers’ future. Tuesday night in Philadelphia was the absolute worst case scenario of his farewell tour taking priority over developing the rest of the roster. Or so we hope.

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After a strong few games to start to the season, Julius Randle’s effectiveness has been as up and down as you might expect from a 20 year old player who, while technically in his 2nd season, is essentially a rookie. Players at his age rarely come into the league and dominate, instead they rely on the best parts of their game to try to work their way through and hope it is enough to remain effective against an unforgiving league that feasts on players’ weaknesses.

Randle is no different, using his quick first step and off the dribble work to get into the paint where he can finish over, around, and through opponents. Some nights, this works wonderfully. Other nights, especially when facing disciplined defenders with length, not as much. Based on this early trend, the obvious next steps to improving his chances against defenses loading up on his drives is to develop a reliable enough jumpshot to make defenders think twice about sagging off him to wall off the paint.

To Randle’s and the Lakers’ credit, they understand this quite well and are formulating a plan to do just that. From the OC Register’s Bill Oram:

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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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