Any critique leveled against any team on the second day of the season has many caveats attached to it. For the Lakers, this is especially true. Not only is the “it’s only been one game!” caveat important, so are the ones tied to the team’s youth, the high amount of roster turnover, and the resulting lack of familiarity and continuity which comes with it.
Simply put, any real criticisms should be held off on for now. We really are too early in the season to come to any lasting conclusions. Let’s see what things look like after 15-20 games to get an idea if what we are seeing are actual trends or not.
However, some of the issues we saw in Wednesday’s loss to the Timberwolves aren’t new. This is especially true on offense where the Lakers looked very much like the team they were last season in many ways. And not good ways, either.
In reviewing the game, one play stood out to me that captured many of the team’s issues and encapsulated why they can sometimes struggle in the half-court.
Let’s just explain how the play unfolds:
- The possession starts with Russell walking the ball up, not crossing the mid-court line until there are 20 seconds left on the clock.
- The play begins with a guard to guard entry and then a second pass to the wing where the PF (Randle) makes a catch, not to attack, but to really just let the play’s continuity action continue. The action developing is a cut by the guard who originally made the guard-to-guard pass (Russell) with the second guard (Huertas) also looking to cut to the weak-side.
- Again, Randle is not looking to attack, but instead just wants to reverse the ball back to where it came from at the top of the key. When he finally swings the ball back to Hibbert, there are only 14 seconds left on the clock.
- After Hibbert makes the catch, Huertas circles back to the top and receives a hand-off from Hibbert. When he gets the ball back, there are 10 seconds left on the clock.
- Huertas then looks to Kobe, who is trying to establish position at the mid-post.
- Kobe is fronted, however, and cannot get good position. He then breaks off his spot to gain possession of the ball. When he finally makes his catch, he’s 27 feet from the rim. There are 6 seconds left on the clock.
- Kobe, fully aware of the clock — you can see him sneak a glance at the shot clock above the basket on the opposite end of the floor — turns, faces, recognizes he has some space, and fires up a jumper right as the clock starts to go under the 5 second mark.
- The shot airballs. This is one of Kobe’s 10 misses from three point territory on the night.
This is, basically, what the Lakers’ offense looks like in its worst form. The ball is walked up, the play is slow developing, the action within the play – screens, cuts, etc — doesn’t threaten the defense or get them in a reactionary position, the ball is reset at the top against a dwindling shot clock, Kobe is put in a position to shoot late in the clock as everyone just stands in one place and watches.
Again, this isn’t a new phenomenon under Scott — especially when Kobe is in the game. This is why, even though there has only been one game, I am a bit concerned. The Lakers are still over-reliant on individual playmaking in what end up to be isolation situations. Too often they are not threatening the defense in ways which force them to move or react or be put into the type of help situations which trigger the types of rotations that lead to open shots off ball movement.
Not every play looks this way, of course. But more do than anyone would like. And while time and cohesiveness and scheme understanding will help smooth out some of the rough edges — like, for example, Huertas’ hesitation in making his cut when Randle wanted to reverse the ball to Hibbert — I do fear the pace within the sets and the ultimate goal of the possession are still too focused on creating an isolation from an inefficient spot on the floor against a shot clock too far along to have secondary options.
I do not want to condemn the coach here. But I do hope the team moves away from these types of actions as the season progresses. Last season, after injuries ravaged the team and Clarkson took over as starting PG, that is exactly what happened as high P&R’s became the staple. Will we see something similar this year? Time will tell.