Our good old Los Angeles Lakers did a thing that I believe is called “winning” on Friday night. I’m still not entirely sure what “winning” is but I enjoyed it so I would like to experience this feeling a few more times this season. If the Lakers are to continue their winning ways (the season starts tonight!) they must take some lessons from their best collective game of the season so far and apply those lessons to future games.
Of course, this win came against arguably the worst team in the NBA in the Brooklyn Nets, but the way the Lakers played should lead to an improvement in games against better competition as well.
Byron Scott’s Rotations:
The Lakers’ rotations and lineups have been the point of well deserved scrutiny in the first few games of the Lakers season. But with the team obviously not performing well, Scott finally made some changes that seemed to play a role in the team’s improvement.
The most important of these changes was finally discarding the Ryan Kelly-Brandon Bass frontcourt lineup that had become the ire of Lakers fans everywhere. Instead, Scott gave more minutes to Tarik Black, the backup center who last year became one of two great finds by the front office. After playing a total of six and a half minutes in the Lakers first three games, Black has played about 18 minutes in each of the next two games. Against the Nets, Black put up seven points and six rebounds while also adding a steal and blocked shot. Black played much better defense than both Kelly and Bass have all season, while also adding his threat of finishing at the rim on pick and rolls.
Scott also gave Larry Nance, Jr. his first playing time of the season, which he turned into the very solid production of six points and five rebounds in under 16 minutes. It may be safe to assume that Ryan Kelly is out of the rotation, although I would prefer to see him getting Bass’s minutes, though that may be an unimportant point of contention. More importantly, Scott should give the minutes that he gave to Metta World Peace in the win against the Nets to rookie Anthony Brown, who is probably the better player at this point and whose development should be an important goal. In the same line of thought, please give D’Angelo Russell more playing time in the fourth quarter. Baby steps.
Pick and Rolls:
If you take away the horrid first quarter from the Lakers, the team’s offense looked much better in the win against the Nets. The main reason, of course, was the willingness to run more pick and rolls. Both of the Lakers’ young guards were allowed to handle the ball on pick and rolls, which they did with much success. Russell made jumper after jumper in pick and roll situations en route to 16 points on 6-9 shooting. Meanwhile, Jordan Clarkson used the pick and roll to get to the rim and to set up Black for easy scores. Black’s minutes have a lot to do with the Lakers’ success in pick and rolls in this game. Black is the sole player on the Lakers roster who consistently dives to the rim after setting screens instead of popping out for jumpers. His threat as a finisher in these situations can either provide an easy basket at the rim off passes such as those provided from Clarkson or create space for the rest of the team.
In the future, it may be wise to play Black and Russell together to create even better offensive sets. The Lakers must continue to run pick and rolls over and over again; after all they are pretty good at it:
Through five games, Jordan Clarkson is averaging 1.16 PPP in pick-and-rolls. 89th percentile.
— Ryan Kelapire (@RyanKelapire) November 7, 2015
D’Angelo Russell is averaging .88 PPP on pick-and-rolls. 67th percentile.
— Ryan Kelapire (@RyanKelapire) November 7, 2015
It is the league’s worst-kept secret that Kobe Bryant is no longer a good player. That may also be a huge understatement as the Lakers legend has struggled mightily to start the season. For one quarter in Friday night’s game that seemed to be the case again, as Bryant started 0-6 while taking some incredibly terrible shots.
Then something clicked within Kobe and the Lakers’ offense. Bryant became a spot-up shooter and off-ball cutter which led to much more success. Kobe was then able to make a couple drives to the rim and finish with easier buckets, while going 5-10 to finish the game. Bryant will never again be the player that he once was, but his talent did not disappear overnight.
If the Lakers can continue to use him in ways where they can maximize what he has left, he can be a great weapon both in winning games and providing help to the Lakers’ young players as they continue to develop. While Bryant is no longer the team’s best player (nor second-best, nor third-best, nor…) his success can be a great gauge for the team’s success as a whole.
There is still plenty of work to do for the Lakers and much of that still falls on Byron Scott. My opinion of him still has not changed, but one must be fair in evaluating his coaching and there was visible improvement in that regard on Friday. Whether that is sustainable remains to be seen. For one game however, the Lakers were not completely terrible. The next step is taking the lessons learned from this game and improving upon them and apply them to the rest of the season. For the sake of our sanity, I hope that the Lakers do just that.
(All stats via NBA.com)