The pick and roll, triple post, and you
When the Finals roll around, quality access to players and head coaches can be tough to come by, but if there's a perk to the media circus it's that getting time with assistant coaches- guys who often give you more candid and detailed answers than their bosses- is relatively plentiful. Friday afternoon, I had a chance to talk with Lakers assistants Jim Cleamons and Brian Shaw for a few minutes, and heard some good stuff.
There's no question the Lakers have operated at a very high level offensively over the last 10 or so quarters, but the manner in which LA tore up Orlando in Game 1 Thursday night wasn't the same as their approach against Denver in Games 5 and 6 in the Western Conference Finals. (I also talked to him during the Houston series.) Thursday saw a seemingly endless stream of extremely effective Kobe-led pick and roll sets. When people, be they commentators or fans, see that sort of thing, it's often described as working outside the normal parameters of the triangle offense.
So I asked Cleamons if that was the case.
Not at all, he said. The pick and roll is an important and readily available option. Cleamons recommended thinking of LA's offense as a department store. Lots of different options and choices on every floor, some of which look very different but still existing as part of the same larger system. One common mistake, Cleamons said, was to lean on the term "triangle" to begin with.
"Technically, it's the triple post. Out of that, you move your players around and you create spacing for them to play. And out of that, two man basketball is just part (of the game). You can play two man basketball- i.e. the pick and roll- all the time. All you have to do is call a guy out, "come set me a pick." We stay away from it a lot because we like the spacing (of other options) and to let guys play, but it's just like on the department store. Floor number four, it's the pick and roll. You have the opportunity to stop on four, or go to five- men's clothing, or appliances or whatever. So it's all part of it."
So those who talk of the Lakers abandoning the triangle when they run a lot of pick and roll are missing the point? Absolutely, Cleamons said.
"The triple post is an offensive system. And in that system, you've got all these components. We've got the post up, that's part of it. Most teams have plays. We believe you can stop a play. But the triple post is a system, and out of the system you can pick and choose where you want to go, when you want to go, based on who has the basketball, who you want to attack defensively, and what your whole game plan is in how you want to weave this thing together."
"No matter what happens, there's an option."
At this point, Cleamons has a sparkle in his eye and was pretty animated, at least by his standards. From a temperament standpoint, Cleamons is about as calm and thoughtful a man as you'll meet. Philosophically, though, he appreciates the larger purpose of of what they try to do offensively, and the quality of basketball it can produce.
I note his energy in talking about the team's basketball philosophy, and Cleamons smiles.
"I get excited because if you have an opportunity to learn the triple post- and it's not difficult to learn. It's like going from an elementary primer book to maybe a college book- but if you've learned basketball, and I'll use the word, quote-unquote, "correctly," rather than (run a) play here, a play here, a play here, because it is a system, the triple post will expand your basketball ability and ability to play. It won't hinder you at all. But you have to be willing to understand that it is a system and it might take you time to learn it. But once you do, there's a whole new world that opens up to you."
Okay, the leap from elementary school to college seems a little burly to me, but I understand his larger point. And it does seem to require a certain openness, especially for new players coming in (see Brown, Shannon as an example of a guy who came in with the right attitude and approach), but in the hand of talented players it can be a beautiful thing to watch.
After Thursday's win, Luke Walton was asked if the Lakers are currently operating at a level of efficiency and execution unmatched during his tenure in LA. "Yeah. We might have played a well, but definitely not better. We're constantly getting good shots, and that's all you ask from your offense," Walton said. "To get high percentage and then by the end of a game, you're going to normally end up winning, if you constantly get high percentage shots and then get the other team to take contested ones."
I can't believe Orlando will shoot under 30% for the rest of the series. Their shots will fall, Dwight Howard will have better nights, and so on. But when the Lakers are clicking offensively as were over the last three games, they're nearly impossible to stop. And if Kobe's current level of intensity translates to performances similar to the one he had in Game 1, forget about it. That puts an enormous amount of pressure on the Magic to score in bunches.