Monday, January 30, 2012

Showtime they are not

After yet another road loss, a reporter asked Kobe if the offense was under construction.  He quipped that,

"We're still working on the blueprints, actually."

Although he was smiling, I'm not convinced that the man was joking.

The Los Angeles Lakers' offense is seriously struggling.  In other news, Greece's economy isn't doing so well.

Is this all that surprising?  Let's not forget that the team has undergone major changes since last season.  Lakers fans need to come to grips with the fact that Adam Morrison has left for Turkey and he ain't coming back.  Also, the Phil Jackson regime is gone and they took the triangle offense (and Phil's orthopedic throne) with them.  They had a 10 point quarter versus the Magic last week and have scored under 100 points in 17 of their last 19 games.  In Portland, the Lakers somehow managed to miss every 3 pointer they attempted, including a woeful 0-5 performance by Steve Blake.  Chris Paul is not walking through that door, folks (at least not in a purple and gold uniform) and right now the Lakers seem lost out there.

In the 3 consecutive years where the Lakers made it to the NBA Finals, they had good balance offensively.  It was a simple time.  They ran the triangle offense using Kobe and Pau as their primary scorers and playmakers.  They were the Jordan and Pippen of that team and were used in a very similar manner.  Phil rarely took both of them out of the game at the same time.  Roles for everybody else on the team were clearly defined and role players did their part.  D Fish was there to handle the ball, pass to Kobe or Gasol, and knock down the open shot.  His role was simple but not easy.  Ron Artest was there to defend the other team's best perimeter scorer.  On offense, Phil kept him on a sort leash.  He was asked to knock down the open shot and occasionally attack the basket in a clear mismatch situation.  Defining Andrew Bynum's role is a bit more difficult.  He anchored the defense, clogged the paint, and collected lots of rebounds.  It seems as though he was being groomed to be a primary scorer but chronic knee injuries put the kibosh on that.

The Lakers also relied heavily on their bench for scoring.  Reigning 6th Man of the Year Lamar Odom was the King of the "Killer B's".  Perhaps "Queen B" would be more of an apt analogy but that just sounds weird.  Odom was the second unit's primary scorer, playmaker, and ball handler.  Shannon Brown was there for alley-oops, put back dunks, and 3-pointers.  Sasha Vujacic spaced the floor with his outside shooting.  Those 3 players have since left town and while Goldie Loc (Andrew Goudelock) had a nice game the other night, I hardly think that this second unit as it's currently constructed is scaring anybody.  Goudelock, Troy Murphy, Devin Ebanks, Jason Kapono, and Darius Morris are all averaging about 3 points or less per game.  Al Harrington single handedly gives Denver as much scoring as all of them put together.

What is the "blueprint" for the Lakers' offense?  Among the fraternity of NBA coaches, Mike Brown is a well respected figure.  As a head coach, he does certain things quite well.  Being creative with his offense is not one of them.  The way he utilized (or did not utilize) Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, JJ Hickson, Delonte West, and Shaquille O'Neal in Cleveland seemed strange at times.  Some of his decisions regarding substitutions and playing time were downright puzzling.  He inherited a Lakers team that has been pretty efficient since Pau Gasol came to town.  They currently rank 18th in offensive efficiency.

Let's start with the obvious.  This Lakers' offense is still built around 2 players.  Are they holding up their end of the bargain?  Kobe is still the primary scorer and playmaker on this team.  Nowadays the league's leading scorer is doing way more scoring than making plays for others.  One could argue that this is in part due to the poor outside shooting from his teammates.  Matt Barnes, Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, and Troy Murphy haven't found their shooting touch and no one is ever going to mistake Metta World Peace for Steve Kerr.  One could just as easily argue that Kobe has been taking too many bad shots and not looking to pass the ball enough.  This season Kobe is shooting more jump shots than ever and generating less assists per game.  Pau Gasol has not looked like himself either.  He is not establishing himself in the low post as much and, as a result, he is not scoring very efficiently.  Lately he has been settling for outside jump shots.  The biggest downside to this is that we have seen much less of that great passing from the low post that he was known for.  Without Kobe and Gasol consistently setting up their teammates, this offense looks very mediocre.

One bright spot has been that with limited touches Andrew Bynum has shown flashes of dominance.  Limited being the operative word.  Is it finally time to give Bynum the oppportunity to be a primary scorer?  The Lakers took Bynum in the first round and (until recently) resisted every offer to trade him.  He is the only Laker aside from Kobe and Bynum that is able to create offense without having to be left open.  Could his low post scoring be the answer to the Lakers' offensive woes?  Could getting him the ball more help guys like Fisher, Barnes, World Peace, and McRoberts find their mojo?  The only way to find out would be to give him the ball a lot more than they have been.  Phil Jackson seemed to want Bynum to eventually become the focal point of the offense but it never actually happened.  The offense has always run through Kobe and Gasol.  Trying to change that now would be perceived as either foolish or incredibly bold.

What should Mike Brown do?  He is their head coach and the buck stops with him.  Brown knew when he took this job that anything less than a Finals appearance would be viewed as a failure.  At 12-9, the Lakers are the 8th seed in the Western Conference and would be out of Playoff contention with another loss or a Spurs win.  Mike Brown is a defensive minded coach and fixing this offense will be a difficult task for anybody.  Will he have the chutzpah to tell Kobe to stop shooting so much?  Can he tell Pau that he will be benched if he keeps settling for jump shots?  Will he be willing to take a player out of the game that's not hitting open shots, even if that means replacing them with a worse defender?  Much has been made of the lack of practice time due to the lockout.  This is especially challenging for teams attempting to learn new systems with new coaches.  I imagine that this is a factor but I have doubts that this offense is going to fix itself without being shaken up either through personnel changes or scheme adjustments.  Make no mistake.  There is plenty of basketball left to be played, plenty of time to make trades, and plenty of opportunities for Mike Brown to prove his doubters wrong.  Let us see what "blueprint" Mike Brown is constructing.

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