Coach: The Challenge of Offensive Integration
Three of the most significant acquisitions this offseason were accomplished by two teams: the Los Angeles Lakers adding point guard Steve Nash and center Dwight Howard, and the Philadelphia 76ers landing center Andrew Bynum. These changes represent a fundamental shift for both squads in terms of talent, and will require a radically different personnel deployment structure. That is, both teams will need to employ a different style to reach their potential.
In the case of Los Angeles, the addition of Howard will get a lot of attention, but it is more the presence of Nash that will cause change for the Lakers. Nash’s proficiency as a penetrating guard, particularly off of ball screen action, cannot be exaggerated. Failure to full utilize these talents, especially in combination with two very good screen and roll partners in Howard and Pau Gasol, would be a serious mistake.
The real question for Lakers fans is how to best incorporate Kobe Bryant into this new calculation in a way that exploits his still considerable talents as a one-on-one scorer from a variety of places on the floor. There a number of conceptual changes that Los Angeles can employ that will incorporate all their deadly offensive weapons into an integrated system. However, some of these changes would be a relatively radical shift for Bryant in particular.
Given Nash’s strengths in combination with Los Angeles’ two bigs, Bryant would best be utilized as the end of misdirection. Bryant, stationed on the weakside of the floor, becoming an off-ball screener for the two bigs. A very difficult combination for any team to guard would involve Bryant screening for Howard, who sprints to set a ball screen for Nash. Simultaneously, Gasol screens down for Bryant as Nash comes off the screen. This multiple option screen-the-screener dynamic will force teams to hedge, recover, and generally distorts defenses. On any pass to Bryant, he will have an ideal opportunity to attack a closeout. Passes to Howard rolling or Gasol spacing will also yield ideal recovery or closeout opportunities. Finally, the various moving pieces will prevent teams from helping on Nash’s penetration, which will lead to many clear forays into the lane.
The real key is understanding that standing still in isolations, a hallmark of Lakers head coach Mike Brown, will not give Bryant or anyone else a chance to be truly successful. Using Nash as a spot shooter with Gasol as the decision-making passer can also work, with Bryant cross-screening for Howard in the lane. As an amazing passer, Gasol will need to read the way the defense elects to guard the situation, and find whichever option is most available.
There are any number of situations that would put Bryant in a position to use his talent optimally. Convincing him of the advantages to being a secondary misdirection option is critical, and considering Bryant’s will to win, the Lakers must hope he is open to the idea.
A very different situation is in play for the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that goes from an offensive philosophy mostly based around perimeter attack to one where their first, second, and third options should be in the post. Bynum is one of only a handful of NBA players who can be counted on as low post scorers, and his ability down low commands double-teams because of that ability.
This will certainly not look anything like the 76ers of last season. Though former power forward Elton Brand, who is now a member of the Dallas Mavericks after being amnestied, still carries a reputation as a scorer on the block, his abilities at this stage of his career are nothing like Bynum’s, who is now just entering his prime.
Bynum’s ability to carve out position, receive the basketball, and use his size and athleticism around the basket is considerable, and it tends to require a much less fancy approach to offense. Moving Bynum into the post, getting him the ball on the move to an operational area, is key. But his real strength comes not necessarily from the initial post-up, but rather form the subsequent re-post after a kickout.
Philly’s responsibility will be creating enough movement to occupy help defenders and allow Bynum the opportunity to operate effectively in space. Not only will setting up such dynamics give Bynum considerably better attack positions on the floor, but if the help does converge, great movement will make kickouts more likely to succeed.
The rest of the roster in Philadelphia is built around slasher-penetrators. By moving them around after any pass into the post, it puts defenders in an awkward position, and on a pass out of double teams, the movement will open up attack angles to the rim. While it would help if the 76ers had more consistent outside shooters, to make their situation work best, using movement and screens with the low post as the primary initiation area is the ideal deployment of resources.
For both Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the success of their acquisitions will depend upon their ability to integrate them in a system that makes best use of their talent. This will require some significant changes in approach on the part of both coaches and players, and how this reality is achieved will determine how good these moves were to begin with.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Tuesdays at 10AM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @AnthonyLMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout 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 has coached at two nationally ranked high school programs. The Coach’s Notebook is a weekly feature on HOOPSWORLD.