The Los Angeles Lakers were trounced 112-95 against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night in a game they were never truly competitive in despite point guard D'Angelo Russell continuing his hot streak since entering the starting lineup. The 20-year old rookie scored 22 points on just nine shots and made both of his three-pointers to go with three rebounds and three assists, but he was just about the only bright spot on a bad night for the Lakers on both ends of the floor.
The 95 points the Lakers scored in the loss was their lowest total in six games, and the team looked out of sync offensively for much of the night while shooting just 41 percent from the field as a unit. Lakers head coach Byron Scott blamed a leadership void due to the absence of Kobe Bryant, but that wasn't the only possible source of the team's struggles. If the team looked a bit discombobulated or confused, it's because they were (via Baxter Holmes of ESPN):
"We had a whole new offense thrown at us yesterday," Lakers rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell said after Friday's game. "Coach [Byron Scott] was demanding we run it. It was kind of tough because we didn't really get to run it against defense. We just talked about it, threw it in and then played with it. I feel like it's a great offense, but it was kind of thrown at us."
Jordan Clarkson told Shahan Ahmed of NBC LA that the offense was created as a means of facilitating more ball movement from a Lakers team that ranks 29th in the NBA in offensive efficiency and 28th in the league in percentage of assisted field goals. However, it sounds like the new playbook was a lot to take in 24 hours:
Jordan Clarkson: "We put in a WHOLE new offense (yesterday & this morning)."— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) February 27, 2016
One fan in attendance may have best described the results on Friday night:
One exasperated Lakers fan near press row: "WHAT THE F------?!?!?!?!?!?!"— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) February 27, 2016
Installing a new offense in the 60th game of the season is fairly unorthodox, but there are a few positives to take away from it. The new sets did seem to allow Russell a ton of freedom to create, which on Friday night he mostly used to score on his own, but as the season goes on and team's start to send help his way he could presumably begin to facilitate more for other too.
The Lakers spacing still looked cramped and the team shot just 21.7 percent from behind the arc against the Grizzlies, but if that number ticks up the new offense will presumably look better than it did on Friday night.
Byron Scott made similar changes towards the end of last season when it became clear that the Lakers needed to center their offense around Clarkson to evaluate him going forward, switching from their more regimented Princeton-based sets to mostly spread pick-and-rolls to give Clarkson more freedom to attack. As the always thoughtful Darius Soriano of Forum Blue and Gold noted, though, Thursday's practice may have not been the most opportune time to make such a change:
Later in his story, however, Oram makes a very good point that the team does have time to practice their new scheme in the coming days. The Lakers do not play again until Tuesday, leaving them Saturday (normally a day off after a Friday night game, but Scott has called a practice), Sunday, and Monday to teach and refine their offense. And while that's true, I would argue the team just had several days of practice without playing a game when coming out of the All-Star break. Coming out of that weekend, the Lakers had, like they will coming up, three days of practice. Plus, most players were coming off a vacation and were refreshed mentally and physically.
Wouldn't it have made more sense to start to put this offense in place at that time and use the practice time since, and coming up, to further refine, tweak, and determine the ways the new approach works and doesn't for this specific group of players? Hibbert says the offense Scott is implementing is influenced by what the Spurs do, but that style of play is predicated on timing, feel, and awareness of what teammates and the defense is doing in order to make the correct reads. This takes time â time the team does have some of in the coming days, but would have had more of just two weeks ago with the added bonus of also having this stretch ahead to continue to build on the new principles.
Whether or not this change eventually proves fruitful remains to be seen, and the "more ball movement" aspect of the new sets will be especially tested whenever Kobe returns to the lineup. Still, it's good that Scott is trying something to improve what has been one of the worst and most disappointing offenses in the entire NBA this season. If Russell played so well when he wasn't comfortable, it could be a good sign heralding a strong stretch run for the 20-year old when he does become versed in the new schemes.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.