The Not So Fantastic Four: Free Throws, Rebounds, Defense, Turnovers
Had the Lakers played their season opener in that God-forsaken little town of Dallas, that annoying rant would have permeated the Mavericks home atmosphere. I doubt the Lakers players would have been able to purge the mantra ringing in their ears.
Now I am by no means the end-all when it comes to hoops; hell, I barely developed a semblance of a post game a few months ago (still did it before LeBron). But when it comes to basketball, there are four major areas that are crucial to winning games.
It’s like a table. Remove one of the legs, and it may still stand, but it’s wobbly. When you suck at all four areas (like the Lakers did Tuesday night), well, you’re gonna have a bad time.
During the preseason, the Lakers averaged 73.3 percent on their free throws, and at nearly 28 attempts a game, that’s too big of a cost to pay. When you remove Bryant, Nash and Meeks from the picture, the averages go way down.
Put simply, the Lakers as a team need to make a concerted effort to convert on free throws. On nights like Tuesday when the difference is 8 points, missing 19 free throws is a huge deal.
Obviously, the burden of this task falls squarely on Dwight’s shoulders. His ability to convert at the stripe goes beyond points scored. It opens up his offensive options as a player, and gives the Lakers more flexibility in crunch time. When a player fails to make free throws, it cheats him out of his other more practiced skills.
A simple look at the box score of this game won’t suggest much with the Lakers won the rebounding battle 46-40.
In a game where both teams shot nearly 50 percent, it’s not as if there are that many rebounds to be had. But the Mavericks’ offensive rebounding totals would suggest otherwise. The Mavs’ grabbed nine offensive boards over three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, a league leading rebounder in Pau Gasol, and offensive rebounding prodigy Jordan Hill. Nine. Nueve. Kyu.
And who were these board hoarders?
Shawn Marion, Elton Brand, and Eddy Freaking Curry.
It’s one thing to be good nominally; it’s completely different when you allow a borderline NBA reserve to hop (I’m assuming he got legs off the ground) over you for the board.
Normally, I’m a numbers guy. I like having stats to back up my arguments. But sometimes it all comes down to heart. You can’t win if you don’t want to. I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s a reason why Kobe grabbed 15 boards in the epic Game 7 of the 2010 Finals. He wanted to win, and his shot wasn’t falling.
Those 15 boards accounted for a 21 percent jump in rebounding percentage, all because of hustle. I get it. The offense isn’t flowing. But that doesn’t affect how you rebound the ball.
Part of this is hustle, and part of it isn’t. There were a few possessions where Dwight wasn’t in it, and was lackadaisical in contesting shots. Some of his rotations were slow, and he hesitated on jumping a few times. Dwight isn’t the only one; Kobe on a few possessions pointed to the spot where a defender should be, but his legs never carried him there.
Part of the rhetoric since the Howard trade was that he would shore the Lakers’ defensive deficiencies by his presence alone. Defensive liabilities like Nash (and yes I daresay, even Kobe) would be buffered by Dwight’s long reach and agile quickness. But while offense can be carried on some nights by a single player, defense will always be a team victory. Relying on Dwight too much is not the answer to a title this season.
Just like the offense, trusting each other will take time. In the same way that opposing bigs would hesitate to leave Dwight alone in the post, one could see that same hesitation in Dwight as he was unsure whether Pau would rotate or not. The Mavs shot an easy 47.1 percent without Dirk on the floor.
If Dwight can’ trust Pau when Pau’s in the paint, how will he be able to trust him when Pau needs to guard Dirk on the perimeter? For all the effort that’s going into learning the Princeton Offense, it does seem as if Mike Brown’s defensive priorities have slipped, at least a bit.
During the pre-season, the Lakers averaged nearly 18 turnovers per game. No, that’s not assists per game, or bench points per game, or the number of minutes Kobe played. That’s the number of times the Lakers gave the ball to the other team every game, for free. That’s like willingly setting your jaw on the ground to be curb stomped: you just don’t do it. The obvious answer, and most likely accurate, is that the Lakers are lost.
Even in the first quarter when the Lakers held a small lead, there was a lot of pointing and interpreting of the offense. Movements were slow and forced, and in comparison, the Mavericks looked like regular professionals. Simple passes were botched on the way to 14 turnovers for 17 Maverick points.
I think this issue may be the only issue that comes with time. You can’t teach a player to make less turnovers as you can teach free throws. With free throws, there’s at least a form that can be taught. Keeping control of the ball involves developing on-court patience, and that comes with on-court comfortability.
As of right now, the Lakers have not had enough time together to really flow like the Princeton Offense is designed to. I’m not one of those people who thinks we should abandon this offense so quickly as there were moments of offensive brilliance.
Because the Lakers have a plethora of post players, the Princeton Offense really allows for solid floor spacing and open cutting lanes. Plays often started with the guard (Nash) dishing the ball to Pau in the high post, and then continuing to swing until the ball found Dwight in the low post. With Dwight in the low post, there were numerous options for him to create, one of which being finding the open and cutting man, whether that be Kobe or Jordan Hill.
It is not that the Princeton Offense doesn’t work. It does, no matter what Charles Barkley or Shaq says. The comfortable atmosphere and patience that are required to run it properly are what’s needed for this Lakers team to reduce the turnovers and starting putting points on the board.
Check out what Mike Brown had to say about Kobe being “chippy” in practice today.
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