Amid the hilarity of Monday's blowout loss in which most of the players on the floor looked like, well, players who had had barely a week of training camp to get acclimated to one another, we saw bits and pieces of the San Antonio-inspired offense Mike Brown hopes to implement. Derived from the one shaped around two highly skilled and multifaceted post threats in Tim Duncan and David Robinson, Brown's offense emphasizes early offense with the bigs running the floor and setting up a post threat before the defense can be set, heavy use of screening in the pick-and-roll and especially the pick-and-pop to create opportunities on the perimeter, and more set plays than the triangle that nevertheless will require their own set of specific reads. If that was lost on you while watching the disorganized yet entertaining mess that was the Lakers offense on Monday, then don't worry about it, as we will undoubtedly see it fully expressed over the course of the season.
In a series of articles over the summer covering the Lakers' needs at point guard, the wings, and in the frontcourt, we previously discussed the specifics of what Brown's offense might entail, largely working off an excellent post by NBA Playbook's Sebastian Pruiti, which is a must read for any Lakers' fan right now, as it more or less looks like the shape Brown's offense will take. After the jump, we will reiterate some of the offense's principles, discuss how this current roster can fit into it, and what possible rotation moves or future signings might be necessary for Brown to maximize what he gets out of his offense as the Lakers move away from the triangle that has been their identity for so long.
Wait, why does our big have the ball at the top of the key?
Quite a few posters asked the above question during the game on Monday, and the simple answer is that it is the entire starting point of the offense and the foundation of what Brown means by "early offense." Both bigs are expected to run the floor in this offense, which both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are fully capable of doing, and as both are very able post players, they are interchangeable in terms of who goes where. The first big down the floor is expected to go straight to the basket and claim deep post position, and the second big takes up position at the top of the key, where he receives a pass from whichever guard brought the ball up the floor. If done right and quickly enough, the big at the top of the key has an easy entry pass to the big in the post, who has sealed his defender at this point and has a nice look at the basket since the defense isn't set yet. As previously mentioned, it doesn't matter which of our primary two post players makes it down the floor first since both can fulfill either role as the passer or the post player.
Of course, that pass isn't always going to be available, so the big offloads the pass to a player on the wing, from which a number of options open up. First is a basic post feed that should be familiar to anyone who has watched the triangle for an extended period in which the big at the top of the key goes to claim post position and receives an entry pass from the wing. From there, the big in the post begins a double block set with both post players on opposing sides of the block -- the defense is forced either to allow the big to operate in isolation, which obviously is a dangerous proposition against Bynum or Gasol, or attempt to double, from which it is an easy pass to the now open big under the basket. Moreover, if a guard attempts to bring the double instead of the big, it is an easy kick out for an open shot. Again, this is all familiar to anyone who has watched the Lakers play for the past few years, and this familiarity should benefit the Lakers.
What is different from the triangle is that a good chunk of the time, the big, after making the pass to the wing, will go and start a pick-and-roll set, which works again since both Bynum and Gasol are able screeners, can consistently knock down 18 footers in the pick-and-pop, and roll to the basket after setting the screen. In the halfcourt, the pick-and-pop is also used as the initial play, as the guard dribbling the ball up the floor gets a screen from one of the bigs, which we saw a good deal on Monday. From here, there is a multitude of options available to the ball-handler coming off the pick, especially since the other big should be claiming deep post position at the same time. The guard then has a number of options: he can hit the big with deep post position assuming he has done so, hit the big setting the screen for an open shot as part of the pick-and-pop, kick out to an open shooter on the wings or the corner, rise up for a jumper, or take the ball all the way to the rim.
Naturally, all of the aforementioned things are available if the ball-handler is Chris Paul. Derp. Thankfully, there are imperfect solutions on the roster. One is a certain Kobe Bryant, who is perfectly capable of doing all those things, and is probably the Lakers' best option as a primary ball-handler. The still very potent threat of Kobe off a pick is enough to cause the defense to commit one way or another, which should open up plenty of opportunities for other players on the floor. Past Kobe, we get into some murky waters. Steve Blake is a fairly solid option, as while he can't penetrate and test the defense off the dribble, he is a very able passer in a more open offense like this, and he looked much more comfortable on Monday than he did for much of last year in the triangle. He also is capable of pushing the ball down the floor and making reads in semi-transition, which is essential to this offense and should earn him some solid rotation minutes this season.
As for a certain Derek Fisher, yikes. If you will indulge the incredibly lame pun, Fisher will definitely be a fish out of water this year in an offense that requires him to be more than a glorified two guard who can dribble the ball up the floor, make the initial pass, and go and spot up on the corner and the wing. While it is always helpful to have another ball-handler on the floor and he will definitely have no trouble executing the more triangle-esque parts of the offense like basic entry passes, he's not a pick-and-roll guard by any means, and playing him will require having Kobe, Blake, or perhaps Darius Morris on the floor with him to run many of the offensive sets.
In regards to Morris, he probably is the purest point guard on the roster, and besides Kobe, is the only guard who can probe defenses off the dribble and create for others. Besides shooting from range, Monday's game to the contrary, Morris definitely can run a pick-and-roll offense and is a better option than Fisher or possibly Blake in that regard, even with some rookie mistakes and quirks he will have to work out, such as pounding the ball too much -- although part of that was a product of other players on the court having no idea where to go and not getting open -- and realizing his limitations in the NBA, as he can't carelessly blow by defenders as he did at Michigan. While he likely won't get significant minutes off the bat and between Kobe and Blake, there is enough present to hold down the fort in terms of ball-handlers, Morris should get more playing time as the season progresses, although he may spend much of the first part honing his craft in the D-League alongside fellow rookie Andrew Goudelock.
Aside from the guards, there is a very cool set Pruiti brings attention to in which the Spurs have Duncan handling the ball in the high post and receiving a screen from Robinson, thus creating a 4-5 pick-and-roll. Duncan can either shoot a jumper from that spot, throw a pass to Robinson as he rolls to the rim, or if both options are unavailable, just dribble over to the block and start posting up himself. Gasol definitely has the ball-handling skills to replicate what Duncan does here, and Bynum is an able screener and roll man to make this work on his end as well.
This also highlights how important both our starting bigs are however, and it brings us to the issue of rotations and how Brown is going to manage a bench unit that will likely will include Morris, Blake, Devin Ebanks, Jason Kapono, Metta World Peace, Josh McRoberts, and Troy Murphy. The abundant spacing available in that group should be heartening to Lakers fans who saw the team's lackluster accuracy from range last year, but the inability of McRoberts and Murphy to post complicates how the second unit will approach Brown's offensive sets. One solution is simply staggering the rotations to always have either Gasol or Bynum on the floor at all times, but Brown could utilize MWP as a post-up player, as attempting to utilize him as a creator off the dribbler on the perimeter had disastrous results on Monday. Moreover, either Morris or Blake should be able to run lots of pick-and-roll with this group, as McRoberts can roll to the rim as well as shoot the 18 footer, Murphy's range extends to beyond the arc, and Ebanks and Kapono should provide the necessary spacing. That's how it should work in theory at any rate, but don't read too much into this unit's disorganized performance on Monday, as a combination of a new offense and new players who had never played with one another were the primary culprits.
This noted, the list of ball-handlers on the offense capable of creating for others is still awfully thin, and depends a lot on Morris getting up to game speed over the course of the year in order to avoid depending too much on Kobe and Blake to run the offense. On Monday near the end of the game, Brown trotted out a lineup of Morris, Kapono, Ebanks, Murphy, and McRoberts, which per above, should work in theory because of the spacing and pick-and-roll options Morris has, but once the Clippers started denying Morris the ball on the wing, the offense stagnated. Part of what was so attractive about getting Chris Paul was the fact that this would essentially never become a problem for obvious reasons, and now the Lakers have to make do with limited options now that Lamar Odom is in Dallas. Are there any possible solutions available outside the roster? Not really, unless you are willing to take a flyer on Gilbert Arenas and see what he has left in the tank as a bench scorer, although one could imagine him possibly having a Tracy McGrady-esque resurgence year. Whether a gamble -- relatively speaking, given that "gamble" implies risk, and the Lakers can and would only offer Arenas the minimum -- like that is necessary will depend on how this new bench meshes with one another.
Going away from how the bench will work as an individual unit, it should nicely complement the starters and provide Brown with a nice toolbox he can use for individual matchups. Need more shooting? Rotate Kapono or Murphy into the lineup. Some more energy? Throw Ebanks and McRoberts out there. Obviously, this will take some time to work due to the shortened training camp, and we should expect some dysfunctional results from lineups that aren't the starting unit to start the season, but there is enough present that the Lakers shouldn't be deficient at that end. Far from it, as the primary problems Monday more than anything were turnovers and bad free throw shooting, both of which are correctable, as the former was a result of lack of familiarity with a new offense and the latter an aberration. With the pieces available on the roster, Brown certainly can have success with what he wants to implement and the overlying question is simply how long it takes all the players to get acclimated to a new offense. If anything this offseason, the Lakers added the necessary spacing to maximize the success of their post players and Kobe working with the ball, and we should see it pay dividends next season.
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