Coach: System the Problem for Lakers?
Offensive System Not the Issue in L.A.
Two games in and there is already a deluge of calls for abandoning the Princeton Offense in Los Angeles. It can’t work for a host of reasons, and one need only look at the results from the Lakers’ first two games to know that it simply can’t work.
However, to point to this system as the sole or even dominant reason for the Lakerss’ results is misguided at best, and willfully ignorant at worst. I am a firm believer that it doesn’t really matter what you run – that if you have good players focused on team objectives, any system can be successful. So how can we best assess the state of Laker-land two games in? I think it comes down to two key components: personnel issues and style (not system) of play.
There are two overarching personnel situations which must be acknowledged before you start placing undue blame on the coaching staff or the system. One, Dwight Howard is simply not himself yet. Two, Steve Nash looks, well, old.
On the first situation, it is a case of caveat emptor. The Lakers knew Howard’s back was an issue before acquiring the center, and there can be little doubt now that he is still struggling with the effects of that injury. He moves fairly decent in spurts, but spends a great many trips up and down the floor laboring to keep up with the play. His explosiveness is at 60 percent or so at best right now. This is certainly a situation that will correct itself over time, especially if the Lakers manage to get him appropriate rest and rejuvenation time.
The problems with Nash’s advancing age, however, will be much more difficult to remedy. The evidence in the first game was readily available when Darren Collison basically turned him into an eighth grader at midcourt. He also seems just a step slow defensively (never his strong suit to begin with), and missed some simple recovery opportunities in the second game. Whether he can find a fountain of youth to return to his old self or not is a valid and important question.
Perhaps, however, the question can be moved beyond personnel and speaks to style of play. Employing the Princeton Offense does not necessarily mean playing a certain “style” as well – here, I take style to refer to the tempo and aggressive mentality of an offense. It is very possible to use nearly any system and couple it with a specific style to get results: You can run the Triangle Offense in a fast-paced, high-octane style. It can also be run in a grinding, measured manner. The same can be said for the Princeton Offense.
What I have seen in these last two days is a team that really isn’t looking to push advantage situations. This is where I think the biggest mistake is. A team with Nash as your lead guard should not be moving into the frontcourt slowly to set up with 13 seconds left on the clock. He should be getting out, pushing the ball down the throat of the defense to see what advantage they can gain. Then, if the defense is able to slow down the action, let the pieces (Howard, et. al.) get into place. This stylistic approach prevents Nash from being taken advantage of by more physical, athletic guards, and it takes advantage of the fact that Los Angeles has some very talented pieces on their team.
Incidentally, this slow-it-down style could be attributed to Lakers head coach Mike Brown, whose teams in Cleveland during the LeBron James years were also known for their walk-it-up, grind-it-out tendencies. With the Cavaliers, the system involved a lot more isolations, but the style of play was very similar to what we see now.
The Lakers are still a very talented team, and sometimes talented teams search for their identity. The key to understanding this process is that it isn’t about what they run, so much as it is about who they run it with and how they run it.
Filling Lanes or Filling Space
I love picking up on subtle trends in basketball and seeing how teams take advantage of the floor in different ways based on their specific personnel. I witnessed two very distinct approaches to fast break and secondary break offense over the first few days of the regular season that really speak to what might be a shift in basketball.
Classically, a fast break is executed in order to get a rim attack. The goal is to get the ball right into prime real estate, increasing the chances of drawing a foul and putting pressure on defenses to protect the lane. Watch a team like the Denver Nuggets. They push the ball toward the middle of the floor, and their wings fill lanes wide and fast so they are coming at the rim hard. This forces teams into awkward backpedaling positions, and makes them a tough team to guard.
However, there is an alternative to the traditional rim attack being used more and more. Teams like the Boston Celtics are running hard, but they are running to spaces on the floor, typically outside the three-point line. This approach forces defending teams not only to scramble back into their lane, but also to locate, identify and close out on potential shooters. Giving their personnel specific areas to run to helps the lead guard (in Boston’s case, Rajon Rondo) find open teammates as he makes reads of those spaces.
While athletically impressive above-the-rim action in the fast break will never disappear from the game, expect more teams to find ways to fill space as a way to keep defenses off-balance and find easy, numbers-advantage shots.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. ET for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @AnthonyLMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD’s NBA analyst Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players and teams from around the league. Macri is the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of the ASEAN Basketball League (the first regional pro sports league in Southeast Asia), setting and executing a strategic vision for basketball and business development, league operations and marketing. Previously, Macri served as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, as the business manager at the IMG Basketball Academy, and as a coach at two nationally ranked high school programs. The Coach’s Notebook is a weekly feature on HOOPSWORLD.