5 Adjustments the Los Angeles Lakers Must Make to Improve Their Chemistry
Not a lot has gone right to start the Los Angeles Lakers' season. That's reflected in their win/loss record and the fact that they replaced their coach, Mike Brown, after a 1-4 start.
Beyond the spotty play on both sides of the ball, one thing that's been noticeable is that the players haven't seemed to be on the same page.
A lot of that is due to unfamiliarity, especially in the starting unit, but it has also been because the players seem to be thinking about what they should be doing on the floor as individuals rather than how they fit into the larger team concept.
Basketball can't be played at its highest level when this is the case. Basketball requires that all the players see the floor the same way and react to the circumstances they face together while moving in the same direction.
In essence, the players need a chemistry on the floor that can connect them to perform at their best.
Variables like not playing together, learning a complicated offense or off-court distractions can make building those connections harder. But ultimately, teams need to bring the focus back to building a solid foundation together in order to become the best team they can be.
This is especially true for the Lakers. They've had a whirlwind start to the season, but things are about to settle down for them.
They've hired a new coach and should now try to put all the distractions behind them in order to win games. And to do just that, it will require they find some of that chemistry that's been missing to start their season.
Let's explore some ways the Lakers can get it done.
Simplify the Offense
The best way to get everyone on the same page is to make things simpler.
It's been proven over and over again that players aren't at their best when they have to think about where they're supposed to be on the floor, when they're supposed to be there and how they're supposed to get there against a defense geared up to stop them.
The Lakers would be wise to simplify their offensive sets and rely more on the natural playmaking ability of their top players. By putting their players in position to let their talent take over, the Lakers can expect their offense to flow smoother and better chemistry to ensue.
The good thing is that Mike D'Antoni is likely to do just that. His offense is a system predicated on spacing and ball movement. The basic premise is that if the ball is always going to the man that's open, once he has the ball, he has room to operate.
Furthermore, D'Antoni will put his players in positions to succeed by letting them be themselves and playing to their strengths. This means letting Steve Nash run pick-and-rolls, getting Kobe Bryant the ball on the move and in space, allowing Pau Gasol to be an all-purpose player from multiple spots on the floor and giving Dwight Howard the chance to use his athleticism when attacking the rim.
By making the Lakers' sets more straightforward, he can get more out of his players while allowing them to make each other's lives easier. This can only lead to better team play and raised production across the board.
Become More of a Running Team
Building on the theme of simplifying their offense, the Lakers would do well to try to create more running opportunities.
When teams are pushing the ball and getting easy baskets, they have more fun. When teams have more fun, they typically play better. And when teams are playing better, wins come easier and chemistry improves.
It's a simple formula, but it's one that's evaded the Lakers too often to start the season.
Under Mike Brown and, to a lesser extent, Bernie Bickerstaff, the Lakers have been a team that hasn't increased the pace of their games and has had to grind out possessions in order to get good shots. That's been effective enough; the Lakers are still one of the league's best offenses from an efficiency standpoint.
However, by running more, the Lakers would create a tempo that increases the number of possessions and gives them the opportunity to let their talent be the difference-maker it should be in their games. By getting out in the open floor, they'll not only be able to score more, but they'll also dictate the terms of the game into their favor.
I'm not talking about the Lakers simply running to get dunks and layups (though that would be ideal), but getting into the open court to go up against defenses that aren't yet fully set. And when defenses aren't geared up and dialed in, the offense is much harder to stop.
If the Lakers are able to get into their sets quicker, they can put pressure on defenses in a way that puts them in position where they have to make difficult decisions on where they want to deploy their resources.
Should the defense cover the paint or the three-point line? Should they rush out on a shooter and potentially give up driving lanes, or should they allow catch-and-shoot opportunities from players ready to take rhythm jumpers?
The goal isn't just to get a bunch of easy baskets. The goal is to put pressure on the defense and make their choices harder. More of this from the Lakers is needed.
Focus More on Defense
Oftentimes when we talk about chemistry, we only refer to what happens on the offensive side of the ball. But defense can be just as important in improving the chemistry of a team, especially a championship one.
Defense is all about players moving together, covering for each other and working toward the same goal. Unlike offense, a successful play is rarely just one player doing something well. Rather, most good plays on defense require a total team effort where rotations are sharp and every single player is doing his part within the group's concepts.
To start the season, the Lakers haven't been a very good defensive team. They have had their moments, but too often they have found themselves out of position and not up to the task of getting the stops they needed to win games. This needs to change, and quickly.
The Lakers need to sharpen their focus on the defensive side of the ball by tightening up their rotations and making the second effort on plays. They need to help the helper, close out on shooters and finish possessions with rebounds.
Furthermore, focusing on defense requires that the team starts to do simple things better. It reinforces the concepts of communication, teamwork and sacrifice. These also happen to be key ingredients in improving team chemistry and ultimately playing a better brand of basketball.
In the end, if the team can come together on this side of the ball, they'll find that their overall game will improve. Getting more stops will give them the chance to get out and run more and will improve their offensive performance.
Pair Jordan Hill with Pau Gasol
Some players' skills just complement one another, and when those players are mixed together, the overall performance of the unit improves. Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill are two such players.
Gasol is one of the most skilled big men in the game, but that doesn't mean he can't be put in better positions to succeed.
To maximize Gasol on both sides of the ball, he needs to occupy the post on offense while being the secondary big man on defense. This allows him to be a feature player on his strongest side of the ball while giving him a bit less responsibility on the other.
Another key part of Gasol's game is that he relies more on skill and finesse than on ruggedness and physicality. This isn't a knock on him—not every post player is going to be like Shaq—but it means that his best type of frontcourt partner will be someone who can do a lot of the dirty work while also being able to take advantage of the skill Gasol brings to the table.
Enter Jordan Hill.
Hill is the exact type of frontcourt partner Gasol can thrive with. Hill isn't an offensive threat and will spend most of his time off the ball and working the offensive glass. He is also a rugged defender who doesn't mind getting his nose dirty by banging in the post or diving into the paint in pick-and-roll actions to take away the dive man.
Hill is a low-usage, high-energy player who knows what his strengths are and plays to them as often as possible. Matching him with Gasol allows him to do what he does best while doing the same for the Spaniard. It really is a win/win for the Lakers on both sides of the ball.
As the foundation of the reserve unit, Gasol and Hill can take advantage of the weaker front lines they'll see from opposing benches and give the Lakers the production needed to build leads (or cut deficits).
Play Antawn Jamison at Power Forward
One of the best ways to ensure that the chemistry on a team is right is to put players in position to succeed. When players are optimized, they're likely to play better, and that will almost surely lead to positive results for the individual and the team.
The experiment of playing Antawn Jamison at small forward needs to end. Jamison needs to make a move back to power forward for the sake of his production and for the team's sake as well.
At this stage of his career, Jamison simply isn't equipped to play small forward. He lacks the quickness to chase wings around the perimeter on defense and doesn't have the skill set on offense to beat these smaller defenders from the outside. Sure, his size gives him an advantage in certain situations, but those are outweighed by the negatives of having him play out of position.
It's time for him to make the switch back to power forward. As a stretch 4, Jamison can give the Lakers the spacing they need to better operate in Mike D'Antoni's offense.
When running pick-and-rolls, one of the major keys is to open up the floor by placing shooters around the arc. This puts defenders at risk of either giving up the lane to a diving big man or opening jumpers to quality shooters around the arc.
Furthermore, as the Gasol and Hill pairing is playing more, Howard needs a frontcourt partner who can mesh with his game and help him thrive. Jamison is that player because of his ability to hit the outside shot. His craftiness as a cutter can help take advantage of the extra attention that Howard receives.
Ultimately, by using Jamison more to his strengths, the Lakers can improve his play and the overall play of the bench. This should then translate to better play over the course of the entire game and more wins—and nothing helps chemistry like winning.