Establishing the Los Angeles Lakers' Offensive Hierarchy
It's tough to be Mike Brown these days. The Los Angeles Lakers head coach has drawn the ire of every fan, pundit and talk radio blatherskite in Southern California in the wake of his team's 1-4 start. A man known for his defensive expertise is currently overseeing a unit that ranks 25th in scoring efficiency, despite having Dwight Howard, a pair of (once) elite perimeter stoppers in Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace and solid length all around.
And, after mustering a meager 86 points on 33.8-percent shooting against a middling Utah Jazz defense, LA's Princeton-ish offense—which was originally Mike Brown's idea to install—is back in the crosshairs.
Next thing you know, there'll be a mob of Purple-and-Gold-clad fanatics calling for Mike's shiny bald dome on a stick, right next to Ned Stark's in King's Landing.
Which, I believe, is somewhere off the 405 freeway.
Brownie has plenty on his already-overloaded plate, then. Frankly, I feel somewhat sorry for the guy. He's a solid coach with a resume to match (albeit one without a ring) who was in a near-no-win situation replacing Phil Jackson and wound up under even more ridiculously intense pressure after Mitch Kupchak's magical summer.
More importantly, as a native Angeleno and long-time Lakeshow viewer (until Time Warner Cable took over, anyway), it'd be nice to see this star-studded squad succeed.
I'm not a coach and I certainly don't play one on TV, though Brownie might do well to heed these suggestions regarding the Lakers' offensive pecking order.
1. Kobe Bryant
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No surprise who should be the alpha dog on this Lakers squad. Kobe may be 34 years young, but this is still clearly his team.
As well it should be. He's the only one who's shown up and looked like he gives a darn consistently this season. He's scoring more efficiently than ever before—27.2 points on 56 percent shooting from the field, 42.9 percent from three and 91.7 percent from the line—despite the fact that he's basically playing on one foot.
Whether he's playing the Princeton offense or the Lower Merion offense, the Black Mamba is having relatively little difficulty putting the ball in the basket.
To be sure, Bryant hasn't been perfect; his assists (3.2) are down, while his turnovers (4.4) are way up.
But someone has to pile up points for a team without a reliable supporting cast to this point. Might as well be the Mamba, right?
2. Dwight Howard
Of course, having Kobe run around like Benny Hill isn't necessarily the easiest way for any team to score points. Luckily, the Lakers have another guy on their roster who's about as close to a sure thing as there is, and his name is Dwight Howard.
The best big man in basketball has acquitted himself well on the offensive end. So far, he's turned 67.8 percent of his field goals into baskets and is contributing 22.4 points per game up to this point.
His free-throw shooting (50 percent) still leaves much to be desired and he's turning the ball over far too often—3.8 times a night, to be exact.
But, as ESPN's Henry Abbott recently noted, he's playing remarkably well given his ongoing recovery from late-April back surgery. Once the strength returns to Howard's legs and his body is back in pique playing condition, he'll turn even more of those dropped passes and strips into dunks and layups.
At that point, the Lakers should start living up to their once-lofty expectations.
3. Pau Gasol
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It's tough to pinpoint exactly what's getting Pau Gasol down. He didn't take well to being the third banana in L.A.'s offense last year after Mike Brown designated Andrew Bynum as Kobe's No. 2 and has only fallen off further with Dwight moving into the middle.
So far, Gasol's averaging career lows in points (13.6), field-goal percentage (.418) and free-throw attempts (2.8). These numbers make some sense when considering how few and far between his opportunities to operate in the post have been and how much of an afterthought he seems to be at times as a mid-range shooter.
After Pau's pathetic five-point (on 2-of-9 shooting) performance in Utah on Wednesday night, ESPN's Beckley Mason surmised that the Catalonian might simply be stuck in a physical rut.
Subjectively, he looks out of shape. Or at least Laker fans better hope that’s the case. He’s 32 and is coming off of an intense, lockout-shortened season in which he played more minutes per game than every season of his career but one, which came when he was 25. He then played a couple rounds in the playoffs and went to London where he carried Spain to a Gold Medal game.
Whatever the case may be, the Lakers need their superb Spaniard to start playing like an All-Star again if they're going to turn this thing around. Inherent in having a roster as top-heavy as is L.A.'s is the need for each of the stars to contribute adequately (at the very least) to the team's effort.
The Lakers, then, will be hard-pressed to pull out Ws against quality competition unless/until Pau gets back to passing, shooting and generally playing up to his $19-million pay grade.
4. Steve Nash
The same goes for Steve Nash and his $9-million bounty, though he'll be excused until his fibula is fixed.
Nash's productivity in essentially a game-and-a-half as a Laker has been paltry—4.5 points (on 33.3 percent shooting) and 4.0 assists—and he's never been a natural scorer, per se.
That being said, Nash still sports the smoothest shooting stroke of anyone in Purple and Gold, if not the entire NBA. He'll get his fair share of spot-up jumpers and patented runners in the lane once he's fit to play again.
He has a ways to go before he's fully comfortable in his new digs, playing off the ball at times and sharing duties up top with Kobe.
But the two-time MVP remains one of the game's premier playmakers, even at the age of 38. He'll have his opportunities to make the Lakers offense hum as well as the Seven-Seconds-or-Less Phoenix Suns once did.
Assuming, of course, he's given a bit more room to pick and choose his pick-and-roll spots comfortably.
5. Metta World Peace
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If not for the struggles of Antawn Jamison (more on him in a bit), Metta World Peace wouldn't even be able to hold down a top-five scoring spot in L.A.'s hierarchy despite his starting role.
As it stands, The Artest Formerly Known as Ron Artest has hardly performed in a way that's worth writing home about. His scoring is up, to 10.8 points per game, but so are his attempts (9.2) and his turnovers (2.8).
Meanwhile, his .391 field-goal percentage currently stands as his lowest mark since 2005-06. The fact that MWP is launching five three-pointers a game wouldn't be such a big deal if he were hitting more than 32 percent of them.
To be sure, the Lakers need World Peace to be a threat from distance. He's had tons of open looks, particularly from the short corners, with Kobe, Pau, Dwight and (to a lesser extent) Nash demanding defensive attention.
It's tough to expect a streaky 33-year-old who's hit 34.1 percent of his threes for his career to suddenly morph into Ray Allen or even Bruce Bowen. But the Lakers clearly could use his help in that endeavor.
Especially if Mike Brown intends to use him as Kobe's backup at shooting guard going forward.
6. Antawn Jamison
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So about Antawn Jamison...
Apparently, he's not quite cut out for bench duty like he used to be. The former Sixth Man of the Year is averaging an abysmal 3.8 points on 42.9 percent shooting in 16.2 minutes per game.
A guy like Jamison, who typically does little other than put the ball in the basket, should be taking far more than 2.8 shots per game if he's going to be of value to this team. Drop-offs in productivity are the norm for 36-year-old NBA veterans, especially ones transitioning back to reserve duty as 'Tawn is.
But such microscopic contributions are appalling for Jamison, who put up 17.6 points per game over his last two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Granted, he was starting and essentially had free reign on a Cavs squad that was reeling in the aftermath of LeBron James' "Decision."
Nonetheless, Jamison needs to step up his game as the leader of L.A.'s paper-thin bench mob. He's eminently familiar with the Princeton offense from his days under Eddie Jordan with the Washington Wizards and still has an arsenal full of herky-jerky moves.
Hopefully, he'll be able to bust 'em out to greater effect to boost the Lakers' second-worst second unit.
7. Steve Blake
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Give Steve Blake some credit. He may be overmatched going against the NBA's best point guards night after night and doesn't always look good doing it.
But, in his defense, he's held his own in Steve Nash's stead much better than most expected. Blake isn't shooting well from the field overall (.346), but has more than held his own from three (.438) while contributing 3.6 assists.
To be sure, the bar has been set low for Steve ever since he stunk it up in a Lakers uniform upon arrival in 2010. And he knocked down just 2-of-8 three-point attempts in Wednesday's clunker in Salt Lake City.
Once Nash returns, though, the Lakers needn't ask him to do anything more than spell his All-Star sparring partner and keep opposing defenses honest with his outside shooting from time to time.
All of that should be right in Blake's wheelhouse.
8. Everyone Else
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As far as scoring is concerned, anything the Lakers can get out of the rest of their reserves is a plus.
Jordan Hill is a fantastic energy guy who can crash the board, but should have his offensive output restricted to putbacks, alley-oops and easy layups and dunks.
As opposed to his current proclivity for mid-range masonry.
Devin Ebanks doesn't just look like Trevor Ariza; he shoots like him too, which isn't a good thing and hasn't been since the 2009 NBA Finals.
Darius Morris tends to run around on the court like a headless chicken, as if he's still trying to weave his way through traffic in the Big Ten.
Which is to say, he'd probably be better served getting some seasoning with the D-Fenders of the D-League.
The only real quibble with Mike Brown's bench rotation, to this point, concerns Jodie Meeks. The Lakers brought him in for his three-point marksmanship, which he hasn't had a chance to show off. To date, Meeks has played in just three of LA's five games and seen a total of 22 minutes of playing time in those three.
That's disconcerting, if not downright unacceptable, considering how heavy Kobe's minutes have been in the early going. The least Mike Brown could do is lighten Bryant's load for Meeks' sake.