The Laker players are going through their exit interviews and there is plenty of good insight and information being dispensed. If you’ve not seen them, head over the team website and catch up on what you’ve missed to this point and watch what you can through the rest of today.
One of the interviews I found most interesting was Luke Walton’s time on the mic. In his media sit down, he relayed a lot of good information about the many lessons he learned from Phil Jackson and also found time to endorse Brian Shaw as the next head man. But, there were also several nuggets relayed about why this team didn’t perform the way that it should have this season. We covered this topic some ourselves, but it’s always great to hear the perspective of an insider – especially one who has such a great feel for the game and can point out the failings from the standpoint of the X’s and O’s.
And one of the passages that caught my eye was his discussion of the team’s execution of the triangle:
I think our execution of the triangle was not at the same level its been over the past few years, as far as picking teams apart. It was basic this year, a lot of simple aspects of the offense, not the second and third and counter options that make it so hard to guard especially in a playoffs series, when everyone else runs sets and we know what sets they’re running, where they’re going to go. With us, no matter what you do defensively, there’s always a counter to counter that. We never got into that too much this year.
I couldn’t agree more with Walton’s statement and feel that if the Lakers are to stick with the offense that expanding on how deep they go into the playbook is a priority.
Too often this year, the Lakers ran the simple clear out cuts, elbow hand off sequences, sideline P&R’s, and weak side initiation options that are the staples off the triangle. But, what was missing were many the secondary reads that players off the ball need to make in order to counter a defense that’s locked in on the player with ball.
Everytime a player sets a screen, there’s an option to make himself available to the ball handler for a pass. That player can make a cut back to the ball, seal the man he picked for an entry pass, or slip the screen entirely and flow into open space. How many times did we see this last year? Other options include all the fake hand offs that lead to a variety of other alternative sets that the Lakers rarely ran.
Beyond these alternative actions, it was also easy to see that the players didn’t seem all that interested in moving off the ball at all. That’s an even bigger problem than the one that Luke described. As Kelly Dwyer notes in a very good piece on Pau Gasol:
Not only was Gasol turned into a more orthodox pick-and-roll partner with both Bryant and Derek Fisher in the playoffs, but he was also asked to be a typical low-post presence. He has succeeded at times in both roles during his career, but more often than not Gasol struggles to hit that baseline jumper that was afforded him many times in the playoffs (he prefers it at the elbow extended), and he’s out of his element when handed the ball down low, with nobody cutting off of him. The Lakers just dumped it in, and watched. It was almost shocking to behold, for those of us who have watched this team’s offense so intently, as two and sometimes three Lakers stayed on the strong side as Gasol was asked to go to work, his thin frame poorly suited to uproot defenders and pile in for the jump hook.
Dwyer’s a long time fan of this offense (he is a Bulls supporter that saw Phil Jackson led teams dominate the league with this offense in the 90’s) and his point is well made. Too often the Lakers simply stood around and watched their talented teammates take on the defense with the hope (expectation?) that it would produce a bucket. The fact that it didn’t as often as it did should come as no surprise considering how successful isolations are (even in the post) in compared to players shooting coming off screens, cuts, and hand off situations.
These failings can be placed at the feet of many parties, which actually leads me to blaming the entire team – coaches and players included. At this point, I’m not ready to claim that sticking with the Triangle is the only viable option in a life without Jackson on the sidelines, but whatever offense the Lakers run I hope that they explore it fully and execute it well as that’s the best way to dominate an opposing defense. I’ll leave the last point for T. Rogers who said it well in the comments:
When a team moves the ball effectively and has threats all over the floor defending them is nearly impossible. I would love to see a more equitable Laker offense. Theoretically, the Triangle is supposed to be the perfect offense for utilizing the entire team. For a variety of reasons we just did not see that as much as we needed to this year. That has to change.