Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Building the New Lakers Offense - An Exercise in Creating a Playbook


Anyone that has followed the NBA in the last 20 years knows who Phil Jackson is and the significant impact he's had to the game. Since 1991, he has won 11 Championships with the Bulls and Lakers and reached the NBA Finals 13 times. He also earned a championship twice with the Knicks as a player. Unfortunately, this season was his last as a coach which ended the Phil Jackson era in Lakerland. In its place we are introduced with the Mike Brown era. This has left many to wonder what the future holds for the Lakers' triangle offense. While I don't know the answer to that, it gives us an opportunity to speculate by examining the options in front of him.


The Lakers are moving away from the triangle offense, a read-and-react system and I think it would benefit them to continue with a system that uses those skills. It will make their offense unpredictable, dynamic, and fluid making it very difficult to guard. It would also likely make the transition easier for the players since they can continue to use the underlying concept behind their current offense. For this reason I think they should use some form of motion offense, which I discussed in my post about the Mavericks and Bulls.

Roster Concerns

Any offensive system should be a reflection of the roster the coach has in front of him. The offense should try to maximize the roster's advantages while masking its disadvantages. Mike Brown then must take full assessment of his roster and consider what direction he wants to take. Assuming the roster remains the same (or at least the starting 5), I believe Mike Brown's options are mostly centered around what role he sees for Kobe this season. That means that Fisher will likely still be mostly a spot-up shooter, Artest will have occasional low post looks but mostly also remain a spot-up shooter or off-ball threat, Bynum will be a low post option, and Gasol will be a low post or high post scoring option. That leaves us with Kobe.
Is Kobe:
(1) still explosive enough to be a threat driving into the paint,
(2) going to be more of a mid-post threat,
(3) the second offensive option behind Gasol,
(4) mainly an off-ball threat that navigates off screens, or
(5) relegated to mostly a spot-up shooter?
The system Mike Brown uses will depend on how he answers these questions.
Knowing that we will have at least one low post player in Bynum, that eliminates any set that uses double high posts. So we can exclude the following sets:
4-high, I think we can also exclude any 4-out set since it would put Gasol too far out of his shooting range.
1-4 high
double high post
That's not to say we can't make plays out of these sets for specific situations, but any heavy use would take Bynum out of the game.
That leaves us with some form of:
or 1-3-1
The focus of the offense will be with either Kobe or Gasol, though likely there will be a combination of the two. Gasol has two places that he is effective on the offense, either on the high post or, more commonly, low post. Between the two options, we should have an offense that is focused more on the low post and we can integrate specific sets for some high post looks. We might want to integrate the 1-3-1 set for some of those high post plays for Gasol.
That leaves us with 2-3, 2-1-2, and 3-2. The real difference then is what role we want for Artest. If we look at the 2-1-2 diagram you can see Artest would be at the free throw line to help passing and have some lane drives or mid range shots. This doesn't seem to fit the roles Artest has typically been put in and might not be the best spot for him. For that reason I think we can eliminate the 2-1-2 as a valid option, that leaves us with the 2-3 and 3-2. I think either one is a valid option so I'll take a look at both and let you decide which seems like the better option for the Lakers.


The 2-3 has a few different formations. The one pictured above was a 2-3 low
This is the 2-3 high set. This version gives us more room for drives by opening up the lane. As discussed above, this version won't work for us because it takes Bynum out of the low post and puts Gasol too far off the post.
The 2-3 low has a nice offensive system called the flex offense which you may recognize from our discussion about the Bulls. Let's take at a possible play we could run in the 2-3 and see how well this would work for us.
Here the C flashes to the high post after setting a screen for the SF on a curl to the weak side corner. The PG uses the pinch post as an option for a drive and the SG cuts to the ball side for an open look.
What do you think? Can you see this working for the Lakers? Personally, I don't see this working too well because it takes Gasol out of the play, relegates Kobe to a spot up shooter position, and puts Fisher as a layup when he's typically a spot up shooter. While we may have found a decent set it doesn't seem like we've found the right motion in this set. Let's look at another.
I think this is an improvement because it gives Kobe two offensive options, puts Gasol in the high post where he's a legitimate threat, and puts Fisher and Artest as spot up shooters with Artest given an opportunity for an easy layup opportunity or rebound cut. Something becomes immediately apparent with this set though that I dislike. Since Artest is set lower he'll be making a lot of baseline cuts which is fine when we need additional rebounding but it has a tendency toward clogging up the lane at times. In this last play Kobe and Artest met under the hoop and that can cause some confusion that we can probably avoid. This set might then be a good option for when we need additional rebounding because we'll have Bynum, Gasol, and Artest all in good position to grab rebounds. This might also be a good set if we ever plan to have Odom, Gasol, and Bynum in the game at the same time with Odom at the SF position. Let's take a look at the 3-2 and see how that compares.


As we saw in the diagram of the 3-2 earlier, this gives us more more space around the post area. Immediately one thing I like about this set is it gives us an easy two man game option with Kobe and Gasol.
We can also easily make an isolation for Gasol or Kobe by simply feeding the ball to one of them and moving the other to the weak side.
Let's take a look at some possible motions.
Simply having Gasol flash to the high post gives Kobe an open driving lane to the basket off the pinch post.
Here Fisher does a dribble hand off to Kobe while Bynum comes up to receive a pass. Gasol screens for Fisher who is given a driving lane to the basket and eventually curls to the corner. The pass then goes back to Kobe after Gasol screens for him. Kobe now has an open 3 point shot or he can pass to Gasol on the slip after the screen. Fisher and Artest are both available as 3 point shot options. The onlu disadvantage to this play is Bynum is left in defensive balance so any turnovers would be a certain fast break opportunity for the opponent and we're left with a lack of rebounding. However, the offense is fairly strong - putting most of the players in positions they're comfortable with.
Let's see how we can incorporate Bynum into the offense.
Here Kobe does a V cut to accept a pass from Fisher. Gasol screens for Bynum then flashes to the high post for a pass. Bynum seals his man to accept the high-low pass and Bynum is free to get a basket.
This play shows how we can convert to a 4-out to give Bynum an inside look.
We can give Kobe a double high screen that puts Artest and Fisher in spot up shooting position and Gasol ends in the high post or slips to the short corner with Bynum as a rebound or rolling pass option.
Here we have an example of the two man game that opens up with this set. Kobe receives a screen by Gasol while Artest screens for Fisher. Fisher and Artest are open as three point options, Kobe and Gasol have driving lanes off the pick and roll with Gasol as the trailer in this version.
This is the double curl play and it gives three great pass entry options for Kobe to either Bynum, Gasol, or Artest.
Here Kobe is given a cut to the basket and if the pass isn't available, he sets a screen for Bynum to get a low post pass.
So far I tend to favor the 3-2 set because it puts Kobe and Gasol in positions that they're effective and gives good options for Artest, Fisher, and Bynum. Thus, I would recommend the 3-2 motion offense as the main offensive system for the new Lakers offense. Do you agree or disagree?


Gasol is effective at the high post and we can add a few plays specifically designed to give him some options from there out of the 1-3-1.
These two plays show how Gasol is able to divert attention away from himself by using his passing abilities to wing players.
Here the 1-3-1 can set up for a wing iso.
The 1-3-1 can also turn into a low isolation for Gasol.


Based on the above, do you agree that the main offensive system for the Lakers should be a 3-2 motion offense with some 1-3-1 sets for Gasol and 2-3 for rebounding? I think this combination would provide the most benefit by allowing players to continue to use the read-and-react skills they're used to and it puts players where they're most effective.

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