On his first day as the Los Angeles Lakers’ new head coach, Darvin Ham didn’t shy away from opening up about the changes he wants to see his new team implement. The first-time head coach said that his goal is to not only bring back the Lakers’ defensive identity and transition offense from two years ago, but also deploy a motion 4-out 1-in system that the team will abide by next season.
The 4-out 1-in system is pretty self-explanatory — one player positions himself inside the paint (most of the time in the dunker spot) while the other four move around the perimeter. It’s one of the most popular and versatile offenses in modern basketball. Check out this diagram below for an example of what a 4-out-1 in setup can look like:
Bucks blue box system that Ham helped develop. pic.twitter.com/95Bt4GYknw— #FREERUSS (@im_disgusted) June 6, 2022
And here’s a sample play that the Lakers could utilize underneath the umbrella of a 4-out 1-in scheme:
Here's an example play I'd think can be a staple for the Lakers if they go with the 4-out 1 dunker spot setup.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) June 12, 2022
With a shooter in that dunker spot, get their non-rim protecting defender rotating to defend a Bron drive while they use an exit screen to present a good kickout option pic.twitter.com/HoAAoVLOF7
This system prioritizes a spaced floor while encouraging movement within a highly flexible alignment. Coming from Milwaukee, hopefully Ham can port over the Bucks’ elite year-over-year offensive efficiency along with the scheme that they have used in the past few seasons. Theoretically, if there is one player capable of approximating Giannis’ offensive dynamism, it’s LeBron James.
Because of its versatility, the 4-out 1-in offense can help teams exploit mismatches and confuse opposing defenses with its unpredictability. However, in order to maximize the utility of this system, every member of the team needs to play their part accordingly.
Obviously, finding the right players that would fit in Ham’s system and principles is easier said than done, especially given the Lakers’ limited roster and salary cap flexibility. Still, Los Angeles needs to make this their top priority when they build their roster this offseason because if they don’t, they’re liable to hand their coach a roster ill-equipped to carry out his gameplan for the second straight season.
That said, here are the type of players the Lakers should target this summer as well as what they need to address in order to actualize Ham’s vision for the team:
Find point-of-attack defenders
The lack of point-of-attack defense was one of the biggest reasons why the Lakers ranked 24th in the league in defensive rating (114.3) last season. An aberration for a Frank Vogel team, it was obvious that L.A. just didn’t have the right personnel on the defensive end.
They can’t replicate their porous performance again this coming season, especially if Ham has made it known that he wants to generate good offense with good defense. Ham said that one of his visions is to make sure the Lakers develop a habit of running. This starts with acquiring defensive-minded perimeter players who can pressure the ball, disrupt passing lanes, and prevent the opponents from easily driving in the paint in order to turn defense into offense by generating stops and fastbreak buckets.
Get a stretch 5
Given that the 4-out 1-in system is extremely perimeter dependent, the Lakers need to find a big who can stretch the floor by knocking down outside shots in order to open up the driving lanes. There’s no point in running the 4-out 1-in the offense if the “4-out” can’t all shoot.
If L.A. manages to nab a 5-man who can shoot as well as he can protect the rim, then that would be a home run the offense, defense, and Anthony Davis (who prefers playing the 4). The Bucks had that player in Brook Lopez, but the Lakers might be able to get a similar contribution from a slept-on trade candidate like Mike Muscala. Frank Vogel’s Lakers often deployed athletic, rim-running bigs as opposed to the more ground-bound shooters that might fit better in Ham’s system. It will be interesting to see which player-type the Lakers do ultimately choose to pursue.
Prioritize 3-and-D wings
Arguably the position of greatest need for the Lakers, no team can have enough of these highly-coveted players. Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma each filled a 3-and-D role for the 2020 Lakers (with varying degrees of shooting and defense), but have both since left Los Angeles for the Eastern Conference. The Lakers need at least one guy, and probably more, to guard multiple positions and keep the floor spaced offensively for the superior playmakers to go to work, even if they don’t have the on-ball juice to do it themselves.
Ham knows he needs a roster with wings that do all the little things that make winning basketball happen, like cutting to the basket, crashing the glass, shooting from the outside, attacking a closeout, and making the right offensive reads in order to make good on LeBron James’ all-time great advantage creation.
Develop in-house pieces
Ham said that one of his primary goals this season is to further the development of Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson, and Talen Horton Tucker — three of the team’s best young assets under contract. All three represent relatively incomplete versions of ideal contributors to a winning basketball team, lacking some specific skill that would make them core members of an elite supporting cast. While they all have a variety of pathways towards improvement, each of them needs to shoot better in order to make themselves truly viable.
The Westbrook situation
So much of whether or not Ham’s system will be a success is predicated upon what the Lakers plan to do with Westbrook this summer. If they decide to run it back, then there’s a good chance that most of the roster spots will be filled with veteran minimum players just like last season. How sure are we that these players can be trusted to play in a two-way system that requires high IQ and pristine execution?
If Los Angeles does end up trading Westbrook, beggars can’t be choosers, but they have to at least take in players who fill some of the needed positions mentioned above. The Lakers need to ace the Russell Westbrook trade if they want to give Ham a fair chance to coach this team next season.
Building and retooling the roster will be the hardest and most important task for Rob Pelinka and Ham this summer. The good news is that both of them are already on the same page and promised to construct the team around Ham’s system and principles. Only time will tell if they can pull it off, but their performance this summer may define the ultimate end of this Lakers season before it even starts.