It's the beginning of a new year, and everyone is making resolutions they will have forgotten about in two or three weeks. I swore off of Twitter arguments and will probably be asking people to meet me in Temecula by the end of the week. Even Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott seems to be making a few resolutions and basing them, as so many do, around criticism that he has received. Here are two specific ways that it appears that Scott is trying to be a better coach in 2015.
Rising Three Point Attempts
In mid-October, Byron Scott made waves and raised the ire of many basketball fans when he made this comment to Baxter Holmes of ESPN:
I asked Lakers coach Byron Scott about his philosophy on 3-pointers. "I don't believe it wins championships. (It) gets you to the playoffs."— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) October 17, 2014
It was the type of asinine, "old school," tough guy posturing that Scott specialized in during his preseason media tour. He obviously felt he could win PR with this line of thought, given Mike D'Antoni's love of three-pointers and how much fan animosity had built up towards him. The problem was:
Seven of the past eight NBA champions led all playoff teams in 3-point attempts and makes.— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) October 17, 2014
Yeah. It was not even like these comments were anything new, they were merely further clarification of Scott's philosophy on threes, exhibited by his quote during preseason, when he stated, "If we shoot between 10 and 15 [three pointers], I think that's a good mixture of getting to that basket and shooting threes"
Maybe that really was how Byron felt during the preseason in October. But by November, the Lakers were shooting 18.3 three pointers per game according to NBA.com. In December that number rose to 22.7 attempts per game. In possibly related news, the Lakers point differential rose from -6.4 to to -4.7 in those months. Not all of this credit for schematic change should go to Scott, as the Lakers best three-point shooter (minimum 1 attempt per game, sorry Jordan Clarkson) in Nick Young returned to the lineup late in November and played far more minutes with December's lineups than he did in November, exemplified by the Lakers three-point percentage rising from 31.3% in November to 40.9% in December.
Still, part of coaching is tailoring your schemes to the players you have on hand, so Byron must get at least some praise for changing his outdated ways. The Lakers are up to 21st in the league in overall three-point attempts per game, which is not great, but is better than where they were in November (24th). Speaking of tailoring your schemes to the abilities of the players you have on hand, our second change Scott has made is.
Responsible management of Kobe's minutes
This season, easily the most prevalent criticism of Scott has been his management of Kobe Bryant. Scott seemed to coach Kobe far different than he did the rest of the team, harping on defense but letting Kobe get away with napping on that end at times while still playing him the most minutes on the team. It only took him 32 games, but Scott seems to have finally found a sensible plan for Kobe's role and minutes management. After Bryant sat out three games with a sore "everything," since his return, he and Scott seem to have decided that less Kobe is a more effective Kobe at this stage in his career. For example:
Kobe season minutes avg: 35.2 19th in league
Post return minutes avg: 31.9, would rank outside of the top 50
And while Net Rating is not a perfect stat because it can be affected by a lot of statistical noise, and it is a small sample size of two games, it is worth noting that Bryant went from being a net negative of -12.3 (second-worst differential on the team for the season) in the stat to a net positive of 1.2 points per 100 possessions (4th best) in his two post-rest games. Bryant has also made a much more obvious and conscious effort to involve his teammates, which is reflected in his absurd 41.9 assist percentage (percentage of teammates baskets assisted while on the floor) in those two games, which would rank sixth in the entire league if it was his season average. This is made more notable by the fact that Bryant's season average assist percentage is 27.
Bryant's reduction in shot attempts and minutes has also helped his much maligned efficiency, as he is averaging a true shooting percentage (factors in the added value of three pointers and free throws) of 62.8% in his two games since returning, a massive improvement of his abysmal season average of 48.1%. Kobe should certainly get credit for some of this improvement, but so should Scott,
We have all given, and almost surely will continue to give, Byron Scott his fair share of criticism for his coaching. This is just the nature of things, and criticism is fair when it is deserved. But the man should also get credit when credit is due. When he was hired, there was some thought that it was because he was a figure who was respected by Kobe and could potentially guide him through his twilight years without being run over.
Scott now seems to have gotten buy-in from his star on playing a reduced role, which is not only leading to stylistic and statistical improvement on the court, but is also better protecting a $48 million dollar franchise asset from becoming damaged. Whether these improvements are a blip on the season radar, or a longer term sign of coaching competence remains to be seen. They say no one keeps their New Year's Resolutions right?