Lakers impressed with Steve Blake's understanding of the triangle offense
Standing off to the side, Lakers forward Ron Artest approached Phil Jackson with a potent observation. In just his second practice, Steve Blake already provided a formidable impression.
"Was Steve here during the summer a lot?" Jackson recalled Artest asking him. "Because he seems to know the offense already."
Even casual observers understand the irony in this conversation. Lakers fans may hold Artest in high esteem now for his 2010 NBA Finals' Game 7 heroics and lovable nature, but they also painfully remember Artest trying to figure out the triangle even well into the postseason. They witnessed his questionable shot selection, confusion over where he should move on the floor and transition in becoming a secondary offensive option. Compare that with Blake, and you have the Zen Master praising his understanding, Kobe Bryant crediting his basketball IQ and Blake, himself, sharing his extra off-season work.
"I'm pretty comfortable with it," he said following Monday's morning practice. "The more I see it with five guys on the floor, the more comfortable I'm getting with it."
It's necessary to take training camp developments for what they're worth. The Lakers signed Blake this off-season to a four-year, $16-million deal because of his uncanny court awareness, penetration and passing abilities. So it shouldn't come exactly as a surprise that Blake's met expectations. While praising Blake's skillset, Bryant pointed out this comes as no surprise given what he calls Blake's "high basketball IQ." The session also entailed no contact and Jackson expects Monday night's practice with contact will prove more valuable and revealing considering Blake is coming off a minor sprained left ankle that kept him out of the end of Sunday's practice. And Blake, himself, said he's trying to fully understand the offensive terminology.
Still, training camp and exhibition games provide at least an early glimpse of potential and how the team can lay the foundation. Blake's quick acclimation suggests he's well on his way in fulfilling the backup point guard role beautifully. His understanding of the triangle reminded Jackson of Pau Gasol's masterful quick study shortly after Memphis traded him February 2008 to the Lakers. Jackson already sees Blake possession as a certain quality that proves critical in properly executing the triangle, which is a pass-oriented offense involving player and ball movement, balanced spacing and constant reads and adjustments on the defense.
"It's a feel," Jackson said when I asked him what's needed in order to master the concepts right away. "It really is more of a feel than anything else. It's pretty simple. But it's a feel of how to do it and the timing that it takes that really is the aspect of playing in this system. All your players have to be fully functioning as playmakers. They have to be able to draw the defense in, know the timing and know the spots that other players are on on the court because everybody is playing a multiple spot that they can play. You see advantage situations and you have to know when those things happen. It's kind of a rhythm that ball players fall into."
For Blake, executing the offense properly also involved trying to learn early. He asked Jackson to send him a tape highlighting various parts of the triangle. He arrived to the facility two weeks before camp started to work with Lakers advance scout Rasheed Hazzard and assistant coach/shooting coach Chuck Person to go over which cuts to make, where to pass the ball and what reads to notice. He's repeated the process over and over to ensure sharpness and consistency. Blake points to having to "immerse yourself in it." And if the Lakers' third practice serves as any indication, Blake's already well on his way.
"I have a feel for it," he said. "I understand when the ball goes one place and a guy makes a cut, you do this or you do that .... It's more when you get out on the court and you make the cuts and you make the passes that you start to pick up on it."
-- Mark Medina
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