All preseason, the Lakers — LeBron James most prominently — have spoken about how they’re all learning “a whole new offensive system.” And while anyone could watch and try to discern the team’s goals for themselves, after practice on Friday, head coach Frank Vogel saved us all the trouble. On a Zoom call with the media, he outlined exactly the reasoning for the Lakers’ offensive overhaul, and what the team is trying to get out of it.
“We’re flowing into our offense this year. We’re encouraging more randomness and more cutting, just to keep the defense off guard (with) less predictability,” Vogel said.
This was on display to varying degrees all preseason, but especially against the Sacramento Kings, with Russell Westbrook cutting to the rim as actively as he has all preseason to pressure the defense and threaten the rim off of passes from James or other teammates.
File this away as something of note. Even with two bigs out there, the positioning of those bigs matters quite a bit when it comes to space. AD in the corner, DJ up top, and LeBron at the elbow. With no player in the dunker, Westbrook's cut allows him to attack an empty paint. pic.twitter.com/dNsRuolGvj— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) October 15, 2021
But while the easy conclusion as to the motivation for all that cutting is that it could help Westbrook and James’ potentially clunky fit flow a bit more smoothly, Vogel says that’s not the entire rationale for it.
“We just want to clear the elbows as much as we can, and if that means Russ or (Rajon) Rondo (cutting) out there, great. If that means (Carmelo Anthony), or Malik (Monk) or K(endrick) Nunn or somebody like that is up there, that’s great too. We want to give our playmakers as much space as we can,” Vogel said. “Just emphasizing the movement off those cuts, and then the reshapes out of those is something we’re trying to do with all our guys.”
To that end, the team spent part of Friday’s practice session doing 5-on-0 “scripting” of their offense to help everyone continue to get acclimated to it.
“That’s what practice was about today,” Vogel said. “Going through different actions with terminology that we put in that is different than what we’ve done in the past, and just asking guys to make reads off of each other. If A happens, B has got to happen, if B happens, C has got to happen, and just trying to teach them intelligent movement through randomness. That’s something we are preaching this year.”
The constant movement and activity, and the space it creates — whether through cuts, gravity or other flowing or pre-scripted actions — is something the team is already seeing the benefits of a shift towards:
Here's another example of the same idea. The purpose of the handoff between AD & Russ is to get Fox moving one direction, so they can set up the screen in the other.— Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom) October 15, 2021
Fox goes under but Russ beats him to the spot so Fox's hips are turned, making him vulnerable to a shoulder bump pic.twitter.com/BsMp8D05MZ
LA's later Q2 offense ran through AD in secondary break non-set play actions.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 15, 2021
Each play we see LA space the floor & attack the rim, punishing any switching w/bigs getting inside position for lobs.
*This* is example of chemistry we're seeing built day after day.
Sound ON pic.twitter.com/aAHBTMyAHw
James says that the quick attacks and endless movement can help him and Westbrook deal with as little pressure as they’ve ever faced (via Jovan Buha of The Athletic)
“We’ve grown so accustomed, over the years, to having teams keying in on us when we bring the ball in transition,” James said of he and Westbrook in transition. “Defenses are loading early, not wanting us to get into the paint and break the defense down. Now when both of us are on different sides, if one of us is bringing the ball down and we get the defense shifting on this side — a quick swing to the other side and now we’re able to go without a set of three or four eyes looking at us. It’s just constant pressure that we’re going to put on a defense.”
Vogel admitted at practice on Friday that such a shift in philosophy with an almost completely new roster can “create some uncertainty” for players on the team at times, but he thinks that the roster’s collective IQ will allow them to grasp everything being thrown at them. He also has seen the shifting ways teams play offense around the league, and is trying to do what the Lakers have seen work elsewhere.
“The last few years we’ve been very post-iso heavy, and we will be some this year because of the weapons that we have, but I think you’re seeing throughout the league that a lot more space and randomness is difficult to guard,” Vogel said. “We’re just trying to tap into that some.”
It’s going to take some time, but if it works and everyone is able to acclimate, the Lakers’ offense could end up looking as good as it has in quite a while.