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Thursday, November 22, 2012

New Lakers' Offense: The Archangel

Chicago Bulls' assistant coach Johnny Bach--who served as the de facto defensive coordinator during the first three-peat (1991-93)--had a picturesque description of the team's crunch-time offense during the early years of Michael Jordan's career: Bach called it the Archangel Offense because the plan was, in the words of Coach Phil Jackson, "Save us, Michael." There has been a lot of talk about Mike Brown's version of the Princeton offense and how Mike D'Antoni's Seven Seconds or Less offense will be a tremendous upgrade but the main offense that the Lakers have run this year--whether Brown, interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff or D'Antoni called the shots from the bench--has been a version of the Archangel, with the Lakers replacing the mantra "Save us, Michael" with the plea, "Save us, Kobe."

Bryant is not only leading the league in scoring (27.3 ppg) but he has posted career-high shooting percentages from the field (.531), from three point range (.418) and from the free throw line (.876). He is also leading the team in assists (5.2 apg), though his added responsibilities--and his teammates' unfamiliarity with whatever it is the Lakers have been trying to run at various points in time--have resulted in a slight increase in his turnover rate. Bryant recently logged the 18th triple double of his career and "stat gurus" are no doubt stunned, perplexed and outraged that he leads the league in "Win Shares"; if James Harden keeps shooting bricks and throwing the ball all over the court while Bryant posts the most efficient numbers of his career the "stat gurus" may spontaneously combust before All-Star Weekend. "Stat gurus" are shocked and amazed that Bryant is a legitimate MVP candidate while Harden is struggling to fill the first option role but 20 Second Timeout readers should not be surprised: I predicted that Dwight Howard's arrival would help to improve Bryant's offensive efficiency, though I did not expect Bryant to shoot better than .500 at this stage of his career (and Bryant will not likely maintain that pace for the entire season); I also suggested that even though Harden is a very good player he is not the "foundational player" that Daryl Morey thinks he is.

Once Steve Nash returns to action and Coach D'Antoni has the opportunity to fully implement a modified version of his offense (the aging Lakers cannot run the way that D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns did a few years ago), the Lakers will find ways to get other players involved and the Lakers will probably lead the league in field goal percentage--but it remains to be seen if D'Antoni will be able to pair that offense with a championship-caliber defense. The Lakers are not as bad as they looked in the first five games under Mike Brown nor are they as good as they looked during the brief honeymoon under Bickerstaff when they feasted on some weak teams. A fully healthy Lakers' team with Dwight Howard anchoring the defense and a Bryant-Howard-Nash-Pau Gasol offensive nucleus can dethrone the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference and defeat the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals but D'Antoni and company have a lot of work to do to accomplish that goal. The first step is to develop greater offensive continuity and cut down on the turnovers that are providing easy baskets for opposing teams; if the Lakers can force opposing teams to score in a half court set then Howard should be able to lock down the paint while Bryant and Metta World Peace contain the opposing team's best wing players. The shaky defense provided by Nash and the other Laker point guards should enable Howard to lead the league in blocked shots--reminiscent of how a young Moses Malone won the MVP on the strength of his offensive rebounding and then thanked his teammates for missing so many shots--but if Nash and others can at least funnel the point guards in one direction while Gasol slides over to pick up Howard's man then Howard's blocked and altered shots could fuel the Lakers' fast break. The Lakers would have improved whether or not they fired Brown. Would they have won a championship under Brown? We will never know. Will they win a championship with D'Antoni running the show? It will be interesting to see how D'Antoni builds the Lakers not just on offense but also on defense.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:01 PM