On the first possession of the first game of the 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers season, LeBron James made a beeline to the left block. With Patrick Beverley riding his hip, James gave the pesky point guard a slight nudge before widening his stance in preparation for the entry pass in the post.
James would go on to forcefully score on the play, and in the process, signal what would be a 48-minute-long gameplan from the Lakers. The possession was just the first of 20 post chances (27 when including passes) the team would execute during their 112-102 loss to the Clippers, an abnormally high number within this era’s style of play.
For comparison sake, last season’s league leader in post-up possessions per game was the San Antonio Spurs, with just a little over 13 a contest according to Synergy. Anthony Davis eclipsed that tally by himself with his 17 possessions against the Clippers’ front court.
While the end-result ultimately was not what the team had hoped for, their 90’s-era-esque offense does not sound like it’s what the Lakers are blaming for the loss, either. Nor will it being going away anytime soon, according to the club's new head coach Frank Vogel.
“Our post offense is a problem for other teams,” Vogel told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “We shot the ball poorly and didn’t take care of some controllable things on the defensive end... When we see that take place, we’re going to be a hell of a team.
“We played a pretty good game last night and they just played a little bit better. I’m not upset with where we’re at, obviously I was hopeful that were going to be 1-0, but I’m hopeful for what we could be.”
Always the optimist, Vogel is essentially right. There were plenty of other reasons, namely defense, a gigantic discrepancy in bench points and simply hustle that played key roles in the loss and will need to be areas that get shored up as the season progresses.
Although the team’s post-play did stick out like a sore thumb within the age of streamlined and perimeter-oriented play, the traditional action was still plenty effective.
The Lakers scored 25 points on their 20 post-ups on Tuesday night, with Davis scoring an absurd 1.23 points per possession. For context, amongst players with at least 200 post possessions last year, Joel Embiid’s 1.04 points per possession led the league.
While the Lakers and Davis are likely not going to be that effective on a nightly basis, the team’s reliance on the post hopefully sounds like it is more match-up dependent than sole option. A tool, not the entire shed.
When asked about the Lakers’ lack of variety on the offensive-end, namely why the team only squeaked out two pick and rolls (roll man) possessions and one field-goal attempt out of them (from Dwight Howard) in the entire game, Vogel stated this had more to do with what the Clippers were doing, rather than his team’s normalized repertoire.
“We did (want to run pick and rolls), but they got into a switching game, and they started to switch one through five and then it becomes an iso game, and we’ve got to be more efficient in those situations,” Vogel said.
“Getting Rajon Rondo back will put us in a lot more pick and rolls, but our post offense was something they had to deal with. So we were heavier in the post than maybe we usually would be throughout the season because it was being effective for us, but we’ll make sure we have a diverse attack.”
Vogel’s point on the Clippers’ switch defense is accurate, but also something the Lakers did a poor job in countering.
One of the most traditional methods to attack a switch coverage is to put the opposing player that is viewed as the biggest mismatch (mouse in the house) in a direct ball screen in order to get him on an island.
The Lakers instead conceded the switch and threw it to Davis in the post for the majority of the game, without first attempting to exploit the switch advantages on the floor. As the aforementioned numbers indicated, it still worked, but also essentially allowed their opposition to remove one of the most devastating actions in the league: a James/Davis pick and roll.
Adding a player like Rondo back into the fold, warts and all, at the very least offers up an additional guard who can run these types of actions. Still, it will ultimately be up to the coaching staff to have counters ready. That will hopefully come with having a more balanced and “diverse” attack Vogel mentioned.
As a result of their opponent’s defensive scheme and the Lakers’ own gameplan, the offense felt noticeably one-dimensional and operated at a snail’s pace. The Clippers not only outscored the Lakers in fast-break points 22-5, but also had an overall higher transition frequency (15.8%) compared to the Lakers’ 9.4%, according to Cleaning the Glass. That’s another butterfly effect that comes with an inordinate amount of a singular play-type.
Like the game itself, there were both positives and negatives to be taken away from the team’s post-play.
Yes, Davis and James feasted in these opportunities, but they also potentially succumbed to the physical tolls that come with banging in the post for 48 minutes (was this not the type of thing the team signed a full-time center to limit Davis’ exposure to?) by the time the fourth quarter hit.
There is also the trickle down effect it had on the roster. Those Davis short-rolls we saw all preseason in which he lobbed it up to JaVale McGee after the defense collapsed were completely absent.
Ultimately it was only a single game, and a single strategy that could and likely will get altered by their next contest. But, for a team that firmly has playing in June in their sights, this is exactly the type of minutia that could end up being the difference when it comes to matchups against equally talented opponents.
The Lakers got a firsthand lesson courtesy of the Clippers. Hopefully they learn from it.
All stats and video per NBA.com unless otherwise noted. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.