EL SEGUNDO- Over the last two years, emulating the Los Angeles Lakers’ style of play wouldn’t have been looked at as much of a positive for any basketball team. But with Luke Walton’s run-and-gun-and-fun Lakers reboot getting off to an unexpectedly enjoyable and successful 4-4 start, suddenly the Los Angeles D-Fenders decision to emulate their philosophy from the start of their season this Friday looks like a pretty good idea.
"Obviously we're going to do what Luke wants to do, similar stuff to what they're doing with the Lakers,” said first-year D-Fenders head coach Coby Karl. “I just want to see them play a little faster, have a little more fun together. Be creative on their own, not as many play calls, and letting them create their own identity.”
The D-Fenders certainly didn’t lack speed last year, when they posted fourth-most efficient offense in the NBA D-League while playing at the fifth-quickest pace, but returning point guard Josh Magette says the team is kicking things into overdrive.
"I enjoy watching the Lakers play this year a little bit more than I enjoyed in the past few years,” Magette laughs, “But [this pace] definitely more suitable for me. I like getting up and down and playing at a faster pace."
So how do the D-Fenders plan to quicken what was already a nitrous-fueled offensive attack? Karl and his players spoke about experimenting with different lineups and playing a fair amount of small-ball lineups featuring two point guards.
In Magette (who led the D-League in assists last season) and Julian Jacobs (who spent training camp with the Lakers) the team has two high-caliber D-League floor generals, so it makes sense to try and get them on the floor together.
“I played with another point guard in college, so it's definitely something I'm capable of and I just have to work on playing off the ball a little bit more,” Jacobs said. "Coby was mentioning to me the other day how playing multiple positions and guarding multiple positions will give me a better chance to stay on the floor, so that's definitely something that I want to be able to do."
"We're trying to play so fast this year, I think playing two point guards at the same time is just going to allow us to play even faster,” echoed Magette.
Karl praised Magette as “probably as important as anyone” on the D-Fenders and has been impressed with Jacobs’ superb athleticism. Not mentioned was the shooting of either lead guard.
Magette shot 32.7 percent on three-pointers while playing through a broken right (non-shooting) hand last season after making 37.7 percent of his triples during his first year in the D-League. Jacobs said he’s finding consistency with his shot but never made more than 32.6 percent of his three-pointers in college, which could be an issue preventing them from playing together on certain rosters.
The D-Fenders are not one of them, with the shooting abilities of Justin Harper (who made 39.1 percent of his threes while playing center last year) and Travis Wear (who canned 36.7 percent of his triples during his rookie year as a power forward with the New York Knicks) allowing them to space the floor from the frontcourt.
"Justin and myself can really shoot the ball from the outside,” Wear said. “I think it's a team that is going to be able to play a lot of four-out, or even five-out sometimes, and get in transition and run and score the ball.”
How does such ball movement happy, egalitarian offense fit with returning guard Vander Blue, who led the NBADL in scoring the last two seasons while posting a team-high 28.2 percent usage rate? Comfortably, as it happens.
"I'm coming more into this season trying to just dominate both sides of the ball. It's not about scoring thirties or whatever. That's cool and all, but it hasn't gotten me to where I want to get,” Blue said. “I just want to show more of a complete game. I think last year my role was a little bit more about putting the ball in the basket, [former head coach Casey Owens] really wanted me to score, but this year I can already tell Coby is putting the ball in my hands a little bit more and letting me decision make, letting me show guys I can play multiple positions and I can show more of a complete game this year."
With Blue playing in lineups alongside Magette, Jacobs, Harper, and Wear at times, the D-Fenders feel primed to accomplish their primary goal on the floor.
“If we're in shape we're going to have a lot of shots that we get up within the first ten seconds of the shot clock,” Jacobs said. "That's our whole objective. To shoot threes and get up quicker shots as fast as possible.”
In addition to being fun for fans to watch, that type of lightning quick scoring attack will allow Karl to implement the other part of the Lakers’ new culture he brought with him after spending training camp with the team.
“I want them to have fun,” Karl said. “I've said it a couple times, but we're all getting paid to play or coach basketball. It's a game and we're lucky enough to have it as our profession, so I want to remind them that this is fun."
All quotes obtained firsthand. Alls stats per http://stats.nbadleague.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at@hmfaigen.