How should Mike Brown determine the pecking order of the Lakers' offense?
With a booming and confident voice, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant provided a clear blueprint on how the Lakers' offense should look.
"I'm going to shoot the ball," he said during his exit interview. "We all know that. Pau [Gasol] is going to get his touches. So he's No. 2 in command. So [Andrew Bynum] has to fall in line with that. It's pretty simple."
Oh, if only it were that simple. This revelation isn't anything new. After all, Bryant famously mentioned that "I eat first and Pau eats second" during the 2008-09 season when Bynum complained about lacking touches. Bryant's argument isn't problematic. After all, he remains one of the best players in the game and the Lakers' best player, while Gasol's poor 2011 playoff performance doesn't wipe away the fact that he's one of the league's most efficient power forwards. But what is new is Coach Mike Brown. How exactly will Brown enforce the pecking order of the team's offense, and in what instances will he find a certain pecking order most appropriate?
After all, it was only a day before Bryant's bold proclamations that Bynum envisioned a much different reality involving his offensive role in the 2011-12 season.
"I'm coming back next year expecting to be a bigger part of the team," Bynum said during his exit interview. "I'm going to work to be a bigger part of the team."
Brown's overall vision on how his offense will run provides a few clues but the picture remains incomplete. There only be "bits and pieces" of the triangle offense remaining, he has said. Brown wants Bryant to get shots in his "sweet spots" with a mix of on- and off-ball movement. He wants a system similar to the one San Antonio ran when Brown was an assistant from 2000 to 2003, substituting Gasol and Bynum for the roles attached to Tim Duncan and David Robinson and involving receiving touches in the high post and running pick-and-rolls. Brown wants the team to "attack the clock" by getting the ball past the time line and set in its offense within the first three or four seconds of the shot clock, enabling the Lakers to run their offense earlier and require them to execute at a faster pace.
But as far as how the pecking order will go? Brown provided an answer that sounds good in theory but one that will be tested once the Lakers actually compete.
"It’s going to determine itself, with how well guys play," Brown said. "I can’t score for any of them. So if they go out and show they can do something, I’m not going to go to Pau if he’s having a good night, if he’s going for 35, 36, and he’s leading us and say “No, no no, you’ve got to slow down and let Kobe pass you.” We’re just going to play the game, and our guys are going to play the game the best way to help this team win."
Even if what Bryant, Bynum and Brown offered as their vision of the offense mostly involves semantics, the differing views already posing a possible problem that could manifest over time once games actually start. It's something that the Lakers handled with large mounts of inconsistency for different reasons.
Bryant has often boasted, "I just take what the defense gives me," but that proved to be the simplistic version of a nuanced approached. He rightfully took a larger amount of shots when the Lakers' front line either didn't play aggressive enough or teammates seemed to passive to create their own shot. He wrongfully took a larger amount of a shots even when the rest of the offense clicked. Bryant rightfully facilitated when the Lakers' front line needed a confidence boost or when he wanted to better manage his injuries. He wrongfully facilitated when the Lakers' front line didn't establish proper post positioning.
Gasol often argued that the Lakers should view feeding the front line as the team's priority. That concept was never wrong in theory but he was often wrong in reality. He deserved more touches than Bryant when the latter's shooting was off. He deserved more touches when Bynum took large ownership of the Lakers' defense. But Gasol deserved fewer touches when Bryant went on a scoring spree or when Bynum proved more efficient inside than Gasol.
And though Bynum hid his frustrations about a limited offensive role by taking pride on the defensive end, he too often criticized the Lakers for not getting the ball inside enough. Bynum warranted more looks when Gasol clearly lacked aggression. Bynum warranted fewer opportunities when Gasol played efficiently. He warranted more looks when he grabbed offensive rebounds. And he warranted fewer looks when the Lakers' inconsistent outside shooters occasionally hit their stride.
So yes, Brown is correct when he argues it's wrong to determine a set pecking order because it leaves the Lakers too consumed with following that plan instead of actually recognizing what's happening on the floor. But it's incorrect to assume that will all sort itself out.
Bryant averaged 18.93 field-goal attempts in the Lakers' 57 regular-season wins, but averaged 22.4 attempts per game in the Lakers' 25 regular-season losses. But that also just sparks debate on whether the Lakers could've done a better job by allowing Bryant to post up, where he shot 49.3% according to Synergy Sports, as opposed to when he handled the ball, when he shot only 39.6%.
Gasol averaged 14.14 attempts in the Lakers' regular-season wins but attempted only 12.56 shots when the Lakers lost. But that also just raises further questions on whether the team and Gasol set himself in the proper spots in those losses. Even though Gasol shot only 43.3% while posting up, according to Synergy, those shots represented 39.3% of his total shots. Even though Gasol remained most effective off cuts (shooting 72.5%) and on spot-up jumpers (55.7%), the 390 combined shots in those two areas still fall short to the 620 jumpers he shot in post-up situations.
Bynum averaged 8.75 attempts in the Lakers' regular-season wins, and attempted 7.38 shots when the Lakers lost. Surely those numbers are pretty similar and partly reflect Bynum's willingness to play a mostly defensive role. But it's also revealing that Bynum's shots didn't increase much even when Bryant and Gasol weren't shooting well.
To perhaps make things even more complicated, this issue includes another wrinkle in how the point guard role for Derek Fisher and Steve Blake will evolve now that the offense won't feature much of the triangle.
“The one thing is it will be an equal-opportunity offense where the one, the two or the three can bring the ball up," Brown explained. "Because all the smalls are interchangeable. So it’s not going to be too much different, because in the past here they had multiple guys, even including Lamar [Odom], bring the ball up. But the one thing we like to emphasize is attacking the clock. We want to get the ball from the backcourt to the frontcourt within the first four seconds or so, so that we can get to a second, a third, and sometimes a fourth option without our backs being up against the shot clock. So we’d like to get the ball up the floor a little quicker than what we’ve done in the past.”
Ideally, Brown wants the offense structured so that defenses remain "off-balance" The Lakers would reach that goal if Bryant interchanges between moving on and off the ball, Gasol and Bynum provide a mix of inside presence to punish teams from doubling Bryant and to spread the floor and remaining supporting cast chip in with better outside shooting and better effort on hustle plays. But the success of that will mostly hinge on how well Brown gets the Lakers to consistently play those roles and show willingness to be adaptable to their pecking order.
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Top photo: New Lakers Coach Mike Brown has been busy interviewing potential assistant coaches for his staff. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Middle photo: Kobe Bryant at his exit interview. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times
Second middle photo: Pau Gasol at his exit interview. Credit: Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times.
Bottom photo: Andrew Bynum at his exit interview. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.