Creative Lineups L.A. Lakers Can Use to Exploit Positional Matchups
The Lakers are blessed with a fantastic starting five. They have size, quickness, scoring, passing, power, finesse and tremendous skill interwoven throughout the lineup. Any success they have this season will be built on the backs of these players' performances on both sides of the ball.
The Lakers bench, though, also has a nice group of players that mix very well with the teammates they'll be asked to play with and behind. In Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks, along with Steve Blake and Chris Duhon, there is a blend of shooting, rebounding, defense and leadership that will serve the team well.
Having a roster with this type of diversity of skill gives Mike Brown a unique opportunity to interchange players to create mismatches and maximize results. He can put together different personnel groupings that can take advantage of the lineups his team will see throughout a contest and exploit them.
The great thing is, Brown has several options to choose from. Below are just a couple that should be staples for the 2012-13 team.
The Pick-and-Roll Machine
In Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Lakers possess what may be the best pick-and-roll tandem in the league. Nash is a maestro with the ball in his hands coming off picks, and Howard is the most dynamic finisher in the league after setting a screen and then diving to the rim.
But for the Lakers to maximize this partnership they will need shooters surrounding Howard and Nash to space the floor and knock down open shots. Enter Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison and Devin Ebanks.
Meeks is important because, statistically, he's the Lakers' second-best outside shooter behind Nash. In the 2011-12 season Meeks shot 36.5 percent from three, which was actually down from the season prior where he shot 39.7 percent from downtown. Meeks has proved that he can knock down the open shot when given the chance, and by playing with this group, he'd provide the second guard that can make defenses pay.
Obviously, Meeks took these shots in a variety of situations, but you can see the ease in which he can knock down shots. With the space Meeks will be afforded as defenses react to Nash and Howard, he should get plenty of chances to duplicate those types of shots.
In Jamison, the Lakers accomplish two critical goals of having a pick-and-roll-heavy attack.
First is that Jamison spaces the floor by being a viable threat to hit the open three-pointer. For his career, he's a 34.6 percent three-point shooter and has only shot below 34 percent three times in the last 11 years. Give Jamison time to set his feet and there are few power forwards that can knock down the three-pointer better than him.
Second, and maybe most important, is that Jamison is a power forward. By playing one of the "big" positions, Jamison draws the secondary paint protector away from the paint just by camping behind the arc. This creates the space Dwight needs to dive to the rim while also making the rotation Jamison's man needs to make to help on the dive that much more difficult.
As you can see in the clip, Channing Frye is all the way in the opposite corner while his defender (Luis Scola) is outside the paint paying close attention to him. When Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire run the pick-and-roll, a smaller man (Shane Battier) ends up having to help on the dive and proves no match for Amar'e when he finishes at the rim. For the Lakers, imagine Howard playing the role of Amar'e and Jamison playing as Frye and you can see how the Lakers will benefit.
As for Devin Ebanks, he's not necessarily a great shooter, but he is a very good slasher. When defenses key in on Nash, Howard, Meeks and Jamison, it will often mean that Ebanks has freedom to cut behind the defense and get easy baskets.
The Princeton Package
In Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have the foundation for a lineup that can thrive in a read-and-react system like the Princeton Offense. When the Lakers won championships in 2009 and 2010, it was Pau and Kobe working within a different read-and-react O (the triangle), and they can easily carry over their experience to make their current sets work.
Rounding out their lineup will be Steve Blake, Metta World Peace and Jordan Hill. This trio will offer a nice blend of attributes that can play off Pau and Kobe within the Princeton to punish defenses.
A key component of the Princeton O will be utilizing Pau's ability to be a set-up man for his teammates. Whether working out of the low or the high post, Gasol's ability to be the fulcrum of the Lakers' sets will make his teammate's lives so much easier.
Here you see how Gasol, after receiving an entry pass near the elbow, picks out Steve Blake for a wide open jumper. The Lakers ran a simple scissor screen action off of Pau, and it lead to Blake breaking open just long enough for for the pass to be delivered.
This exact same action can also be tweaked for Metta to get him the ball in a position where he can do damage.
Here you see the a post entry from Kobe to Pau and then the same scissor action between Kobe and MWP. However, in this set, Pau recognizes that the defense overcompensates in shifting towards Kobe and that Metta breaks open for a brief moment under the rim. Pau delivers the pass on time and on target for an easy basket.
In a lineup in which Kobe and Pau will be expected to do the heavy lifting on offense, Jordan Hill can do what he does best by working the creases of the defense for offensive rebounds and getting put-backs. In the preseason (at least before his back injury), Hill has also shown that he can hit the wide open 15-foot jumper from the elbow, which should prove useful in giving Pau the space he needs to work in the post.
Overall, these different lineups offer enough variety to put the Lakers in a position to maximize their talent against other teams' second units. If Mike Brown can sort out his rotations and substitution patterns, the lineups listed (as well as variations of them) can be trotted out against teams using less talented players.
Can you imagine Nash and Howard facing off against backup guards and big men? What about Kobe and Pau? This is where Brown can really exploit teams and take advantage of mismatches. It's not so much that the Lakers are so much deeper than their opponents, it's that they have players who can play similar positions at an elite level that can be rotated against other team's reserves.
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