A favorite refrain from Jalen Rose is how positions were added to the analysis of basketball to help the more casual fan understand where certain players belong on the court. It’s an interesting premise that might hold water if plays weren’t designed around players fitting roles based on their skill sets and size (you know, positions). There has, however, been a move toward positionless basketball – a more free-flowing, offensive predicated on versatility and individual skill.
Granted, “free-flowing” is not what you think of when Byron Scott’s crossed arms pop up in your head, but the Lakers do have the pieces – especially in their starting five – to make this work, at least for stretches.
The first player most point to when they think of positionless basketball is LeBron James, which makes sense as he should be the guy anyone thinks of first in terms of any style of basketball. He’s really, really good. When considered in this scenario, though, it’s because of his versatility. He’s a Ferrari in a semi’s body, Karl Malone, but as a point guard. Being so athletically dominant and so skilled makes any offense built around him otherworldly.
While the Lakers may not have LeBron on their team, they do have plenty of guys who are more than capable of playing a few positions or stretching the boundaries of what their position typically demands.
Kobe Bryant is interesting because he’s basically the opposite of LeBron (cut to his detractors nodding obnoxiously). Bryant plays shooting guard based on his size, but is fairly easily the Lakers’ best post player and has been the best playmaker on any team he’s played on for most of his career. When he’s on the court, the Lakers might employ a point guard, but that’s mostly for defensive purposes. Historically, he’s done most of the creating.
Julius Randle might be built like a power forward, but he has wing skills, with shooting as the obvious exception. From the right wing/high post area, Randle will have the opportunity to penetrate and look to kick with his dominant hand. There aren’t many power forward who can do that kind of thing with his level of quickness and from that exact position on the floor, seeing as he is left-handed.
Even D’Angelo Russell, who will play “point guard” isn’t built like you’d typically expect someone playing the position. He and Jordan Clarkson could alternate plays in such a role based on what the defense gives them while normally one would carry to load mostly as the other anticipates based on how the defense is broken down.
Combine the skill sets from the four guys I mentioned above, and it would be fairly inefficient for the Lakers to force-feed any one player over the others. Having Kobe float around outside would be a complete waste of his mid-to-low post talents. Randle would quickly grow frustrated if he had to share the limited space down low with Roy Hibbert, the only prototypical position player of the Lakers’ ideal starting five. Even Hibbert has shown a proclivity to step out and knock down a midrange shot on occasion, which only further lends itself to a this type of playing style.
Forcing Russell to create for everyone at the top of the three point line would not only frustrate his teammates who are more than capable of opening similar holes in the defense, but probably Russell, as opponents would have time to set and adjust for the pick and rolls the Lakers would repeat from that angle.
Sure, the bench is probably best-served to stick to a more rudimentary system, as it is made up of less-versatile players. But while the starters (or, at least, the guys I hope are the starters) share the court, Scott would be tying his own hands behind his back not to at least experiment with this type of system.
The Lakers have fallen under some (fair) criticism for falling behind the times in many respects. Thing is: the starting five most anticipate is something closer to modern. No, Randle can’t yet step out and hit threes like today’s prototypical power forward, but his skills lend themselves to something beyond the bruising power forwards of yesteryear. If the Lakers as an organization are fighting the perception of an unwillingness to adapt, the lineup they’ve pieced together sure feels like a step in the right direction.
It has been an ongoing trend to have dual PG’s in the back court and have a big back court where players can switch rather than fight through screens to create a faster reacting defense. It is one of the reasons I was so adamant about drafting Russell to fill the back court with Clarkson. It is just becoming the ideal way of doing things.
Craig W. says
Barring injuries – always an issue – this year is going to be a very interesting one to measure Byron Scott by. His coaching legacy is on the line. With this group of talent and age, he needs to be flexible and somewhat creative. If he can’t do that then I think the rope is very short. If he can make good use of the talent provided and develop our key players, he becomes the logical coach going forward.
He has excelled in getting his players to give maximum effort, but that doesn’t always translate into a functional team. I am not going to count the wins so much as how the team develops and adapts to the new NBA. If we see players accepting/understanding their roles and developing within that framework, I think he will have shown himself to be a decent coach. We will see.
Clay Bertrand says
Back in the mid to late 80s (AKA the GLORY DAYS), Pat Riley once mused that if he could design his perfect team position-wise, he wanted five 6’9″ guys on the floor at one time. The idea being that at that size, though some would be relatively undersized for their “position” and others oversized by the standards of the times, it would allow for the most versatility in all facets of the game from running the floor, to switching on D.
Fast forward to today, and you see an evolution toward this concept. The article discusses the offensive options that would be possible with the new roster. But these days, DEFENSIVE VERSATILITY and particularly the ability to simply switch on Pick and Rolls and against the rapid ball movement of teams like the Spurs, Warriors, Hawks, (and numerous other teams trending that way) is the real value of “Positionless Basketball”. Rapid rotation and switching on D are the keys to defending the modern offenses of the NBA.
I know DEFENSE isn’t sexy like slam dunks, cross overs and splashy 3s. But the Warriors D was perhaps their most important quality during the playoffs. Byron’s clunky Princeton offense is outdated IMO and I do not think he is the best coach for us (Love BScott the player, as a coach = Meh). BUT his chap-ass hardline insistence on guys playing tough D is something strong that will never be obsolete. If we can at least use our young legs to play “Positionless Basketball” on D, we could really form a gritty identity going forward and the Offense will take care of itself Princeton or not!!
This is something that I have thought about for some time. It has made sense, in my mind, since the Lakers drafted Randle, who is a hybrid player — not really a SF or a PF. Why not look at him as a Forward and pair him with another player that excels in areas he doesn’t.
Actually, Pat Riley thought this up many years back. He wanted to roll out 5 multi-skilled 6’9″ players and let the other team try to figure out how to match up. The question I have is this: Is old school Byron Scott comfortable with going with a such a strategy? It really seems to me that he prefers traditional roles for players which as Darius pointed out may not be the case for these Lakers.
Baylor Fan says
Riley’s comments also came to mind as I read through the post. The Princeton offense is close to positionless if the ball is moving around. It looked like the Lakers got away from it due to a higher rate of turnovers than just running P&Rs. Speaking of turnovers, if players do not have a clear idea of their roles and where they need to be, the ball will be sent into the stands frequently. The make or break for this team will be the transition defense. If it does not improve dramatically, exceeding 26 wins will be a tall order. This part of defense, even under that tough talking Scott, has been pathetic. I am not sure a more fluid (and turnover prone) offense is a good choice until the Lakers show they can get back to stop transition shots.
Clay – Sorry, I missed your post before submitting my comment about Riley. With
Magic on board ‘Riles’ thought anything was possible.
T. Rogers says
Well, the Lakers flirted with the “position-less” approach in the Triangle days. The Triangle stressed spacing and post play above all. Anyone could be in the post as long the spacing was right. It is what allowed Kobe, a 6’6″ 205 lb. guard, to excel at post play. It allowed Gasol, a 7 ft. 250 center, to do damage from the high post area. The main thing in both cases was the supreme talent and skill of prime Kobe and Pau. Which goes with Anthonys’ point about LeBron. When your best players are like swiss army knives your team will be tough to beat.
I like the idea of Randle being free to move around the court. With his first step he shouldn’t be confined to playing in the post. Like Craig W, I’m interested in see what kind of creativity Bryon Scott can inject into the offense this season. And I’m really interested in seeing Randle’s development. I think I’m more interested in seeing Randle this season than Clarkson or Russell.
-Glad to see so many remember Riles considering playing five “positionless” 6′ 9″ guys in the ’80’s. Sweet! Hat’s off FB&G.
J C says
I’d add that ‘winless’ basketball is also an option for these lakers.
Russell starts slowly but by the end of the season is runner up for ROY
Randle has an uneven season
Nance contributes and has a great rookie year
Clarkson continues to build his reputation and the Lakers lock him up to a long term contract early
Kobe plays well but gets injured again
With regard to Riley’s comment: It is interesting that he picked 6’9″. That was Magic Johnson’s height. So yea – give me 5 Magics and I will take anyone. Somehow Riley found room on the court for Kareem. Our 16 titles all were won with HOF big men: Mikan: 5, Wilt: 1, Kareem: 5, Shaq: 3, Pau: 2. Those who think various versions of the splash brothers will win the next 20 NBA titles are entitled to their opinion. I am not sure when #17 will come, but I would bet that another name will be added to this list.
Warren Wee Lim says
The idea of position-less basketball is intriguing, since we do have some pieces who are versatile enough to slide, slate or move into. Our team is starting to have real talent, unlike 3 seasons ago when everyone was washed up and simply cannot defend.
The idea intrigues me, I would be hard-pressed to think about it more in the coming days… however, Byron Scott is NOT the coach to bring that kind of brand into our team. Might as well try to think of the ideal replacement for him while you’re at it. You need a coach that’s accustomed to a different mindset, someone that doesn’t bring his own identity into the team, someone who can allow the team’s potential to be reached without imposing anything.
For the guys who have somebody in mind already as Scott’s replacement, no Thibodeau. I’m starting to think the guy is Mark Jackson.
Warren Wee Lim says
And for whatever its worth, I would even entertain hiring Steve Nash as assistant coach. That guy would bring alot of freshness and insight into a team like ours. Hire someone like Monty Williams as his assistant and maybe try to find if Mark Iavaroni is still around.
J C says
Thibideau seems like a better option than Jackson. Thibs is a real coach.
Jackson is a personality.
I like the idea of Nash joining the staff as an assistant. If he likes coaching and is good at the craft then I’d have no problem promoting him to head coach him in two years.
That said, I think we have Scott through 2016/17 season. We’re at square one now and we really don’t know what we have yet. So as much as I don’t think Scott is a good fit he should stay on until we get a better handle on what kind of talent we have. Plus, I don’t think it’s fair to bring in a young up and coming coach to have to deal with Kobe (and yes, I think the Buss kids will beg him to play one more year). Lastly, I don’t think a coach worth his weight would come on board until this ‘Jim Buss promise thing’ is worked out. There’s a lot of moving parts but the Lakers have created a lot of this uncertainty themselves.
So the Summer of 2017 is key. That summer we could be looking at FO changes, it’s a big one for Free Agents and is the kiddie core should have developed into a solid foundation at that time. Kobe’s one year extension would have expired. That my friends is the Summer the franchise turns and completely moves forward. New FO (hopefully), new coach, solid foundation and adding a free agent or two.
Something to look forward to.
Rico Tico says
Offensive Versatily, Consistent tough defense, and being offensive unpredictable is the key.
I am very pleased at most of your comments. We have people that know Lakers history and provide intelligent takes.