Beast or Burden: Stone Wall

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 16: Head coach Mike Brown and Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers confer during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on January 16, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 73-70. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

That was not a fun way to watch basketball. Years of the triangle have given us some idea of what good offensive execution looks like, and needless to say, nearly everything outside of a certain Kobe Bryant has looked pretty terrible recently. That noted, the Lakers have won six of their last seven, and it might be pretty safe to say that the reason is due to some fairly superlative play at the other end of the court. We have all said it one time or another -- Mike Brown was brought here to put in a championship-caliber defense, and thus far he has succeeded. That is why the defense is the first item in an inaugural series we will be putting out this week named "Beast or Burden" in which we will look at three items on the rise recently, as well as three things that require some -- often serious -- work to get back up to par. Without further ado, let us begin:

Beast

  • The Defense -- It hasn't been perfect by any means. You still see missed coverage every now and then, whether it is someone leaving a shooter open or infuriatingly, a missed box out, especially with both our starting bigs on the floor. But there is no question it is getting the job done, and there is no place it shines better than in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers squeeze the life out of opposing offenses, which is often necessary given how dismal our own crunch time offense is. Monday's fourth quarter must have sounded like a beautiful symphony to Mike Brown, as Pau Gasol played superlative defense on Dirk Nowitzki and our bigs in general completely stymied the Mavs' pick-and-roll attack at every turn. Gasol and Josh McRoberts in particular have done extremely well with Brown's hard hedge strategy, and it has been a lifesaver for our otherwise slow (Fisher) or inexperienced (Morris) guards. Bynum has owned the interior, perhaps not as dominantly as he did post-ASG last year, but still at a very effective rate. Stuff like this wins championships, and Brown deserves mad props if he devises a zone scheme to slow down Miami tomorrow.
  • Derek Fisher -- That might have been his one good game of the year. There's a 99.9% that there will be a rather large regression to the mean against Miami. That noted, he basically won the ball game by himself for the Lakers in the fourth quarter, coming up with two big steals, a PUJIT he actually hit, a layup in transition, a pair of free throws, and a classic crunch-time three. If he played half as well as he did last night all the time, we would complain about Fisher approximately 95% less, even with all the positively nonsensical stuff he does despite having 15 years in the league under his belt. With Steve Blake out and Darius Morris struggling with being a rookie, we'll have to hope that he has a few more of those games left.
  • Andrew Bynum -- We talked about his defense, which has definitely been his calling card as he has struggled on the other end after teams figured out that they can bother him by sending a barrage of double teams. He is gradually showing signs of figuring it out, awkward as it is, such as his baseline pass to Kapono in the game against Dallas, and he is getting better at getting into his moves immediately after the catch. Either way, besides Fisher, Bynum alone was a positive for the Lakers on offense on Monday, and it is more endearing every game to see him gobble up rebounds and defend with alacrity and decisiveness despite being forgotten about by his teammates a whole lot on the other end. Part of that is maturity, and it's what we want to see.
  • Honorable mentions go to Matt Barnes, who warms my heart by being one of the few guys on this team that understands the concept of cutting, and Josh McRoberts for a solid all-around game last night.
Burden
  • Bench play -- It is almost like the Lakers decided to go into this season and see how they could play while exacerbating their two biggest weaknesses in the form of three-point shooting and a miserable bench. McRoberts has been the best of the bunch, but the decline after that is pretty sharp. Metta World Peace has done his best to make us forget those delightful first few games in which he embraced being a post option, bullied opposing threes down low, and played generally solid defense by chucking brick after brick from the perimeter, as well as making one bone-headed play after another. You kind of have to question why Devin Ebanks, who can at least shoot, isn't getting minutes over him. This probably won't be the case against Miami, as MWP is required to defend a certain LeBron James, but save for those matchups, it's difficult to see why Ebanks isn't playing. Murphy seemingly lost his spot in the rotation, which is strange given that it's rather early in the season and we don't have a replacement for him, but even before that, he was far too tentative with his shot despite getting a wealth of open looks and defends about as poorly as advertised. Jason Kapono has also lived up to his billing, shooting way too many long twos and playing some absolutely terrible defense. Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock both need D-League seasoning, and it's a wonder that the latter isn't there right now.
  • The Offense -- The problem isn't Kobe dominating the ball. Well, usually. Kobe getting the ball of a curl at the top of the free throw line for a jumper is a-okay. Kobe getting in the post and shooting a fadeaway is as well. Kobe and Gasol running a pick-and-roll that results in Kobe passing to a rolling Gasol, who dumps it off to Bynum is beautiful. Kobe dribbling the clock away behind the line before deciding to make a move is not. Gasol staring at his defender, waiting until someone cuts -- and no one does -- and deciding to do something weak with the ball is not. Guys ball-watching and refusing to understand the notion of what a "cut" might imply is not. Morris dribbling the ball away waiting for someone to give him a pick and get open is not. Let's just say that the list of things that are bad heavily outweighs those that are good. To be fair, Mike Brown has had practically no practice time to even talk about implementing his offense yet and has acknowledged that the Kobe-ball can't continue, so it's premature to make any judgments either way, but this is hell of a mess to clean up. Immediate solutions are more pick-and-roll and more cutting. Doesn't require an extensive training camp to get that into the playbook.
  • Darius Morris -- I want to say that part of it isn't his fault. I scream at the television for guys to come up and run a damn pick-and-roll with him and start moving in general to give him options rather than let him sit there on the wing waiting for someone to do something. He has no real utility unless you are asking him to create using his court vision. Mitch Kupchak selected Morris because he was aware that this team needed a real, traditional point guard, and so far, the team has treated him like Derek Fisher v.2. It's maddening. Part of it is on Morris though. He's terribly indecisive about what to do in the lane, needs to be much more willing to go up for a shot, and has to give up the ball much sooner rather than pounding it away. It's okay to make mistakes, but at least we want to see that you're moving in the right direction. To his credit though, one thing that he has brought in solid doses has been defense. He moves well laterally (!!!), understands how to use his length to bother shots, and generally doesn't get caught out of position. He needs some work on how to effectively get through screens, but he's brought effort and heart when he was out there, and the potential to be really, really good at that end is certainly within his reach. Don't let the memory of Chris Paul toasting him fool you -- for one, Paul does that to everyone, and two, those were some tough, tough shots he hit over Morris' good defense.
  • (Dis)honorable mentions go to Pau for looking lost and tentative on offense and the abomination of a third quarter we saw on Monday.
Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.
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