The Los Angeles Lakers tailored the roster to fit Mike D’Antoni’s coaching philosophy, and as a result, the offense looks more in tune with his style of play.
A year prior to the 2013-14 campaign, the Purple and Gold had a cast of elite players grouped together, but the coaching staff struggled to incorporate all of their talents. That has since changed, but it’s still important to understand what prompted the shift.
The offense that was…
In what was an amazing management coup, Los Angeles boasted a team featuring Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. However, Mike D’Antoni’s spread pick-and-roll system was not ideal from a stylistic standpoint with the pieces in place.
For instance, the Lakers had issues pairing Gasol and Howard together on the floor because neither were classic spacers. The Spaniard has three-point range, but that is not the best way to utilize him.
Still, he spent far too many possessions camped out away from the rim in an effort to accommodate Howard’s post-ups. Also, Bryant was given far too much command of the offense, which was problematic at times for his comrades.
The five-time world champion was tasked with handling the ball and directing traffic for his teammates. The main issue with that concept was Bryant’s scoring mentality.
Given that he has never been shy about putting up shots, he did just that in 2012-13. Thus, when players came off screens or rolled towards the hoop expecting passes, those plays were not always executed. Instead, the four-time All-Star Game MVP called his own number.
Here is an example of this:
What’s fascinating about the failed experiment from last season is the fact that Los Angeles had a top-10 offense. They were a low-turnover team and did a good job of crashing the glass for second-chance opportunities.
With that said, the Lakers offense had stretches where it seemed choppy because of the lack of chemistry among players. In addition, Howard’s seemingly clumsy post-ups killed the flow on occasion and gave the appearance of a completely inept offensive unit.
Watch the three-time Defensive Player of the Year try to establish a scoring opportunity in the low post:
Forget about the lack of aesthetics for a moment (as hard as that may be), this is one of the lasting images fans have of the Howard era in Los Angeles. His offensive repertoire was harshly criticized because this is all anyone saw: A player with robotic moves that lacked grace.
And yet, it was effective at times. The starting frontline wanted to be featured more often because they felt as though the team would have more success.
Oddly enough, for all of the complaints voiced over roles last season by Howard and Gasol, the Lakers were actually one of the best offenses in the league. When we fast-forward over to the present, there have been a few changes that have taken place, and they have not exactly yielded positive results.
The offense that is…
Los Angeles has a free-flowing offense this season that places an emphasis on ball movement and finding open players. Interestingly enough, everyone has the proverbial green light. Thus, the Lakers' philosophy is not about attacking matchups, but rather to just find the best possible shot based on defensive movements.
The Lakers are doing this by running pick-and-rolls as often as needed to manufacture quality looks. According to Synergy Sports, 17.3 percent of L.A.’s field goals have been taken by the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations in 2013-14. That’s up from 12.2 percent from the year prior.
Given that Pau Gasol and company do not have great shot creators with Kobe Bryant on the shelf rehabbing his Achilles and Steve Nash battling injuries and age, the screen-and-roll game is their best bet with respect to creating high-percentage looks.
They have reduced their amount of isolations and post-ups, and instead, the coaching staff has the team playing a wide-open style of basketball where everyone gets touches.
It’s the offense Mike D’Antoni enjoys because all of the players are involved. The entire five-man unit must be accounted for, and as a result, the floor is more open. So, in theory, the coaching staff’s ability to put players in position to take open shots is nothing short of brilliant.
In practice, though, the product does not meet expectations. Regardless of the ingenuity of plays, there is simply no substitute for talent, and, well, the Lakers do not have much of it.
For all of the open looks they have created, they are not even close to hitting a respectable amount of shots. Synergy Sports tells us that a fifth of their field-goal attempts come in the form of spot-up jumpers, and yet they have failed to hit 40 percent of these shots to open up the season.
The Lakers’ style of play is certainly fun to watch what with the exquisite ball-handling and complete disregard for good shot selection (ahem, Nick Young).
Mind you, the inability to convert good looks has made their scoring numbers look pedestrian at best. In the early portion of the season, the offense has ranked in the league’s bottom third. The long-range shooting has been solid, but everything else is simply a work in progress.
When glancing at the shooting percentages from different spots on the hardwood over at NBA.com, we can see that Los Angeles is simply far below average in every facet save for three-point shooting. The next video illustrates some of the issues. Watch as Xavier Henry gets himself into the paint and creates a shot he ends up missing:
The tricky part of it all is that D’Antoni is not to blame here. His players are getting decent looks, but they are not converting them, and, really, it’s fair to wonder if they ever will given their limited skill sets.
A look into the future
The Los Angeles Lakers have struggled through the early portion of the regular season offensively because they lack an elite playmaker. Kobe Bryant will eventually rejoin the team, and that role may very well be his.
His Achilles rupture makes it difficult to project whether he will regain his previous form, but we will assume that with proper training, rehab and research into the recovery of Dominique Wilkins’ tear that he will approach a level close to what he was pre-injury.
If such is the case, that will cure some of the Lakers' ailments. The Purple and Gold do a good job of creating and converting attempts from downtown but struggle everywhere else.
Bryant is one of the best offensive talents the league has ever seen, and consequently, he will bail out his team by scoring both at the basket and from mid-range.
More importantly, his playmaking skills will allow teammates to get open looks at the rim and also from long-range, where they are already prolific. Bryant and Gasol have always had a terrific rapport on this side of the ball, and as a result, there is no reason to believe that will be different.
Mike D’Antoni’s offense is, in fact, working for the Lakers, but they simply do not have the results to show for it yet.