After last season’s disgraceful exit from contention and in the foreboding departure of coaching legend Phil Jackson, it was clear to anyone who cared about the Lakers that changes were coming. Fans accustomed to winning are often accustomed to the means of getting there, and so these changes were not readily accepted by all, especially Triangle aficionados like myself. Los Angeles has tradition of beautiful and exciting offensive mastery, and the hiring of Mike Brown seemed comparable to asking a lumberjack to fill in for a brain surgeon.
In the basketball-less months that preceded Christmas Day, many who had scrutinized the Brown decision argued that Brown’s weaknesses on offense would be supplemented by European mastermind Ettore Messina. Having developed a reputation for running slower, half-court offenses, Messina seems to have found the perfect fit with this Lakers team.
After watching these first two pre-season games and the four regular season games that followed them however, it seems the Mike Brown is not as inept on offense as originally thought, and with Messina’s help, this team is slowly reconstructing their identity on the offensive side of the court.
Sebastian Pruiti, former editor of NBAPlaybook and newly hired Grantland talent, illustrated in June how Mike Brown’s time in San Antonio could function with his current Lakers roster. Assigning Bynum to be the relative equivalent of David Robinson and Pau acting as Tim Duncan, Pruiti illustrates how both bigs were positioned in a double low block set, allowing both bigs to play off of each other and reduce the likelihood of being doubled by frontcourt defenders. Here we can see the ways that Duncan and Robinson work together seamlessly on the low block.
As Pruiti observes, this offensive system allows for the Lakers big men to operate in the post with space, much like the Triangle would have. It also allows the Lakers’ most potent weapons (outside Kobe of course) to showcase their passing skills, an advantage over much of the rest of the league. In this way, Brown’s “San Antonio” offense would feature two players maneuvering in the low block as opposed to the one primary post up option typically featured in the strong side triangle.
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Fortunately, Messina’s specialty is in post up plays as well: his time in Real Madrid saw more post up plays than any other offensive option outside of spot up shooting, according to Synergy Sports Technology. As Pruiti notes in his third article on the Lakers’ offensive possibilities, Messina’s strategies not only bring in efficient ideas, but they also complement the double post sets that Mike Brown’s is comfortable running.
In this clip, we can see some of how Messina’s cross screen to post action would work, with Fisher heading to the low block, and then turning to set the cross screen for Pau. Pruiti points out the benefits that this can have for the oft-labeled “soft” Pau Gasol. Because pushing in the paint is more viable without the ball, Pau can establish post position off the cross screen as opposed to having to force his way into deep post position.
Messina’s sets are designed to be simple, but effective. For players like Metta World Peace and Steve Blake, who had a hard time adjusting to the Triangle, these simplified offensive sets can be the metaphorical wind beneath their sails. If the Triangle was pure Kung Fu to these players, then this new Lakers system is definitely Jeet Kun Do. Simple. Fast. To the point. It also utilizes the talents readily available for the Lakers and disguises their weaknesses. John Bennet, also of NBAPlaybook, goes on to further describe the adjustments made by the Lakers this year with this clip.
By allowing World Peace to post up, Brown instantly creates a viable scoring option from the bench, and the Lakers’ role players can find their niche. The reasons for playing Goudelock over Morris are starting to become more readily apparent. When Bynum, Gasol, Bryant, or World Peace post up, it allows players like McRoberts and Barnes to finish at the rim, and players like Kapono, Goudelock, Blake, Murphy and Fisher to make it rain from downtown.
While Brown’s Lakers have been hailed in recent days for their defensive prowess (and deservedly so), it is the offense that should get Lakers fans excited. As Reggie Miller stated during Thursday’s Knicks’ game at Staples, offense takes a little longer to develop than the defense, especially so this year. And if the Lakers can get as comfortable with this new system as they were under Phil, this team has the potential to be very, very dangerous.