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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



At Thursday, November 22, 2012 12:19:00 PM, Anonymous Jackf said...

Sloan Sports Analytics Conf. came out with a report this year that the best 3 pure shooters in the NBA are Nash, Ray Allen and Kobe Bryant(Dirk came in 4th). I know Kobe had one of the best mid-range game ever but I didn't think he'd be rated that through statistics.

on Lakers: Do you think this Lakers team will be able to sustain the offensive pace that the D'Antoni offense demands? Look how flat they came out last night?

On Bynum: Have you been following the recent reports on Andrew Bynum?? It seems the Lakers couldn't wait to trade him after his antics last season. Kareem was right when he questioned his dedication to the game.

At Thursday, November 22, 2012 2:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

Kobe has consistently posted very good field goal percentages from the midrange areas; so far this season he has been off the charts good from just about everywhere.

No, I don't think that the Lakers can sustain the kind of pace that D'Antoni's Suns did--and I said as much in this article. Even D'Antoni has said something to the effect that this will be more like 12 Seconds or Less instead of Seven Seconds or Less.

Bynum has always been an injury-prone player whose dedication and maturity are questionable. The Lakers won two titles with him playing a minimal role--roughly equivalent statistically to the role that Luc Longley had for the 1996-98 Bulls. I said for quite some time that the Lakers should trade Bynum for Howard if such a deal were possible and that this would be the only way to avoid squandering Kobe's final seasons. Acquiring Howard does not guarantee a championship but keeping Bynum would have guaranteed that the Lakers would not win a championship in Kobe's final two seasons.

I am not convinced that even a completely healthy Bynum is an elite player--and the reality is that Bynum likely will never be completely healthy for a full season.

At Thursday, November 22, 2012 2:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even healthy, I don't think the Lakers can take out the Spurs.

At Thursday, November 22, 2012 2:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Perhaps you are right. It is also possible that the Lakers could win the West without facing the Spurs if the Thunder or Grizzlies beat the Spurs. The playoffs are several months away, so it is impossible to project who will be healthy and how the teams will be seeded. What I like about a healthy Lakers team is that the four key players have complementary skill sets: Howard dominates the paint, Gasol is more comfortable playing power forward than center, Bryant is a pure scorer who can also be a playmaker and Nash is a pure playmaker who is also an efficient scorer. The biggest concerns for the Lakers are injuries, a high rate of turnovers and the disappointing lack of productivity from the bench (particularly Jamison and Meeks, two veterans who I expected to perform well in reserve roles).

At Thursday, November 22, 2012 4:44:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Excellent article. I always have an element of sadism invested in the Lakers' ongoing drama, but I also am excited about the resurgent Tim Duncan so far this year. 20 and 15 last night vs the all-nba defender Kevin Garnett?

At Saturday, November 24, 2012 1:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't seen that SSA conf study, but I'd imagine the reason that Kobe ranked high according to their methodology is the fact that Kobe shoots well from so many areas on the court.

He is consistently among the league leaders in shooting % from midrange and long 2's, in addition to being respectable from the 'at the rim' area and from 3.

He also likely ranks higher if they broke down shots into 'guarded and 'unguarded' shooting %'s and normalized for how he did in relation to average in each.

His efficiency has suffered in recent years b/c of an inability to consistently generate the most efficient shots (3's and layup/dunks). So while he is good to great from each area on the court, the high proportion with which he takes the toughest shots lowers his overall shooting %'s.

He has been better in this regard (shooting less long 2's) and that has contributed to his best shooting #'s in his career (which will obviously regress).

When you account for difficulty level and other contextual factors (how many were bailouts at end of shotclock?), its easy to see why Kobe ranks high in the study.


At Monday, November 26, 2012 2:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was mildly surprised that D'Antoni could not convince McMillan to join him as a defensive coordinator for the Lakers. Maybe there's another reason - like hiring McMillan would mean firing someone, or the Buss family had no interest in growing their payroll. I mention McMillan because D'Antoni (and his brother) are not known for their defensive acumen. Having Howard is a big plus, but do you think that the current staff is capable of coming up with defensive schemes that will work against the top tier teams?

At Monday, November 26, 2012 3:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As I indicated in the article, I am skeptical that D'Antoni will build a championship-caliber defense.

At Wednesday, November 28, 2012 1:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has to be said, nobody gets things right with such regularity as you do.

This post was written as if you had already watched today's game against the Pacers...

At Wednesday, November 28, 2012 4:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for your kind words.

I agree that Kobe scoring 40 points--after battling illness all day long--while his teammates only combined to score 37 points is a classic example of the "Archangel Offense." Howard is still not 100%, Gasol is a declining player and Nash is still sidelined by his broken leg so the Lakers are extremely reliant on Kobe's greatness just to be competitive.

At Wednesday, November 28, 2012 11:51:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

In all fairness, Kobe has had to save the lakers or go down firing for years now, this is nothing new.

It's hard to find a worse offensive game than last night's debacle. But yet, Kobe was extremely efficient even though he was forced to shoot several suspect shots(not necessarily bad, he could've made his misses, but shots he wouldn't normally take if his teammates weren't so inept on offense). In the 4th, he gets Pau the ball wide open at the elbow, and Pau doesn't even look at the hoop, throws a late pass that somehow finds Howard. Pau was 2-9 with 5 of his shots blocked, including one on a 4 on 1 fastbreak. Outside of Kobe, the lakers were 12-48, 1-17 from 3, and 12-30 from the line. How were they even in the game?

They've had a favorable schedule so far, and only 7-8. Kobe's playing as well as anyone is, and they can't even scratch .500.

At Wednesday, November 28, 2012 2:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The difference now is that the Lakers do not have a system or structure that enables other players to consistently be productive/efficient offensively; Phil Jackson's triangle provided a framework for Gasol, Odom, Bynum and various role players to maximize their skills/minimize their weaknesses (helped, of course, by the way that Bryant consistently attracted double teams). This season the Lakers have yet to find a way to consistently get anyone going other than Bryant.

At Thursday, December 06, 2012 1:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Advent of the "Kobe Assist" #AdvancedStats

At Thursday, December 06, 2012 3:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is actually shocking that Grantland/ESPN.com published something about basketball--let alone about Kobe Bryant--that makes sense.

Of course, I have been saying for years that the major difference between statistical analysis of baseball and statistical analysis of basketball is that a baseball game consists of discrete events while a basketball game consists of a continuous flow of action. Here is just one of many articles in which I made that point:

The Strengths and Limitations of "Advanced Basketball Statistics"

Long prior to the publication of the Grantland article, I explained that Bryant's ability to attract defensive attention greatly elevates Pau Gasol's performance:

NBA Truths

Here is a quote from that 2010 article:

"Gasol is clearly a skilled big man but he is not any more skilled now than he was two years ago. What changed is that Gasol no longer carries the burden of being his team's best player; Kobe Bryant has that responsibility for the Lakers, meaning that Gasol can post up without being double-teamed as frequently and Gasol can get an open face up or slashing opportunity almost any time he wants simply by setting a screen for Bryant and waiting for his man to trap Bryant. That is why Gasol's shooting percentage has soared and that is why Gasol's offensive rebounding is at career-high levels: Bryant attracts so much defensive attention that Gasol (and other Laker bigs) often have a free run to the offensive boards. Here is a challenge for all of you "stat gurus" out there: find out how many NBA bigs increased their offensive rebounding productivity in their ninth and tenth NBA seasons. Gasol did not suddenly learn new rebounding tricks; he simply has an easier path to the offensive boards now."

I did not need a "stat guru" or a chart or a Grantland article to figure out Bryant's impact on Gasol and on the other Laker bigs; I just watched the games with understanding and wrote what I saw.

Watching basketball with understanding is the reason that I could predict James Harden's drop in efficiency this season as a result of switching from the third option in OKC to the first option in Houston and it is the reason that I could predict that the Thunder would not miss a beat by replacing Harden with Kevin Martin.


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