The Los Angeles Lakers couldn't contain the Portland Trail Blazers, allowing a career-high assist night from Damian Lillard while giving up open looks all over the floor. That's been an issue all season, but their strategy took a very apparent turn it shouldn't have Sunday night.
The Lakers tried to double the pick-and-roll ball-handler several times against Portland, but without forcing turnovers it exposed too many weaknesses within their defense. L.A. doesn't have the organization or personnel to double the ball-handler out of pick-and-rolls, yet they kept trying it against the Blazers.
This appeared to be the Lakers' defensive strategy whenever Brandon Bass was the big man Portland pulled out to the perimeter. Lakers head coach Byron Scott is trying to transition Bass into a small ball center, but it's exposing their defense on a nightly basis. They give up a team-worst 112.8 points per 100 possessions while Bass is on the floor, according to NBA.com. Their defensive rating improves to 103.8 while he's on the bench.
So what exactly did the Lakers do against the Blazers that made it such a glaring issue? Here, the Blazers run a pick-and-roll with C.J. McCollum and Ed Davis in the fourth quarter and Bass initially helps over the top before coming out to cover the ball-handler. Davis dives into the paint, and Kobe Bryant is going to be the man that rotates to protect the paint:
This rotation creates a wide-open corner three for the Trail Blazers. At this point it's not surprising to see the Lakers give up these kinds of opportunities, but doing so while tying to make a comeback in the fourth quarter makes it even more painful to witness:
Here's the sequence in motion:
The shot misses, but Portland couldn't have asked for a better shot opportunity. Credit Metta World Peace for hustling to the corner to contest the attempt, but that's the kind of thin line the Lakers are flirting with when defending the pick-and-roll. This is more of a gamble than strategy for this Lakers team, and they were repeatedly punished for it.
The other issue it creates is a massive mismatch when the guard and big switch. Bass and Clarkson do just that in this pick-and-roll, and all Davis had to do was use his size to get great position before finishing over the completely overmatched Clarkson. The made shot isn't included in the GIF of this sequence, but the important thing to note here is how deep in the paint Ed gets once the switch happens. All he has to do is back Clarkson down until he's in a great place to punish the Lakers:
The Blazers expected the weak side help as the night went on, too. They continued kicking out to the corner, taking advantage of the Lakers' defense at will. It's just too easy for teams to pick on the rotating weak side defender in this defensive scheme.
Davis read this from the Lakers like an open book all night. Here, Bass and Clarkson "contain" Lillard together while Davis dives into the paint. Julius Randle is the man to rotate, leaving Maurice Harkless in the corner. Damian hits Ed on the roll, who is met by Randle in the paint, but knows he has an open man in the corner. Harkless cuts baseline behind Julius, who isn't able to make all of those split-second decisions in time to stop an easy dunk:
That baseline cut out of a pick-and-roll sequence happened twice off of Davis assists, in fact:
Running Brandon Bass as the backup center might be the basketball operations team's attempt to find additional "value" in signing the veteran power forward, or their attempt at creating additional time to allot for Larry Nance, Jr. (who received a DNP against Portland), but it's exposing them on defense.
It's a picture that's painted even clearer looking deeper at Bass' defensive data. The Lakers are giving up too many shot attempts at the rim while Brandon is on the floor, and opponents are converting on 69 percent of them. Putting his performance side-by-side to Roy Hibbert's defensive shot chart makes it even more apparent, yet Roy's often been the frontcourt player sitting out of fourth quarters:
The Lakers will never survive that kind of defensive liability. That's a massive 20 percent swing at the rim and is just one of the many signals that point to Bass as the backup center not working. Even worse, Bass clearly needs a rim protector behind him, yet somehow he's played ZERO minutes with Hibbert on the floor all season. Somehow, not a single lineup has included both players.
Fixing this means playing Bass exclusively at power forward sooner than later, where he's spent the majority of his 10-year career playing and has been a serviceable NBA rotation player. It's not fair pile Brandon considering the context of what's happening around him, and what direction Scott has taken the team's rotations and strategy. Yes, Bass' defensive limitations aren't helping the problem, but with the kind of decisions being made, he's essentially been set up for failure all season.