The Lakers may have lost to the Nuggets in their second game of the exhibition season on Friday, but in many ways they actually played better than they did in Tuesday’s win over the Kings. Odds are the Lakers actually win this game if they hadn’t played a lineup which featured a total of zero players who should see any sustained minutes in the regular season, if they make the team at all.
So there are many positive takeaways from Friday’s game despite taking the L. D’Angelo Russell bounced back. Julius Randle, while still a bit erratic in the halfcourt, showed the open court skills which make him such a tantalizing prospect. Jordan Clarkson was again a positive defensively while bringing his typical attack style on offense. Nance, Zubac, Black, Calderon, and Ingram also all had flashes. All in all, there were just a lot of good things to build on even though there is a lot of work to do to improve.
Beyond the individual work, though, there were some real strides made in team offense. While Tuesday’s game showed a bit too much thinking through the team’s sets, Friday brought more fluidity and refinement. The coaches clearly added some new actions to that end of the floor and there was one play in particular that stood out during the game. Thanks to SB Nation’s Mike Prada for grabbing the clip:
Nifty lil play by the Lakers here — scissor cut into an elevator screen for the 3 man (though I think Young is acting as the 2 in this set) pic.twitter.com/kJ7bGFe6zo
— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) October 8, 2016
While the Lakers’ offense has mostly been a mix of straight P&R’s and HORNS sets, the play above starts out like an old UCLA action with a flash into the high post by a big man to receive an entry near the top of the key. Before that happens, though, notice how D’Angelo Russell gives the ball up to Nick Young (playing the SF spot) to make the entry to Mozgov.
After the entry, Russell and Young scissor cut off Mozgov and dive into the paint. If either are open Mozgov can dump the ball into them or even execute a hand-off (options I am guessing we may see in the future), but he instead holds the ball and kicks it to Lou Williams who is above the arc. As Lou surveys the floor, Russell and Young execute an exchange in the paint and prepare their cuts.
Russell comes ball side as an easy outlet for Lou, but the core of this action is the double “elevators” screen Mozgov and Randle set for Young on the weak side. Young shoots up the lane line with Mozgov and Randle leaving a narrow opening for Young to squeeze through. They then close the doors on Young’s man so Lou has an open passing lane. After Young makes the catch, he finds Randle’s man switched onto him and Young being Young, moves him off with a hard dribble before stepping back to shoot a three pointer. Which he drills.
Elevator actions have become pretty prevalent across the league over the past few years, but the Lakers and their more old-school offenses during that time have not run this type of action. But it’s not just the incorporation of this specific play which has me giddy about what the Lakers are doing on offense, it’s the general philosophy at play.
In past years much of what the Lakers have done on offense were single option plays to try and get the ball to a player who would isolate or shoot the type of mid-range shot which is, more and more, becoming obsolete as a primary offensive weapon. Pin-downs for an 18 footer, multiple screens to try and bring a guy back to the ball at the top of the key so he can work 1-on-1, cross screens for a post up, etc, etc.
This play, though, features multiple actions with cuts, player exchanges, and creative screening to try and get one of the team’s best shooters (yes, Young is one of the team’s best shooters) an open look at a three pointer. Young still ended up dribbling into an arguably harder shot than it needed to be, but the premise of the play is what matters here. The Lakers are now running plays which feature a modern approach to offensive basketball and it’s not some one-off action out of a timeout.
No, the Lakers, in general, are a team which will screen, cut, space the floor, and hunt for the most efficient shots in the game. It feels funny to celebrate this as some sort of revelation, but based on year’s past it is deserving.