L.A. Lakers Do Not Need a Superstar, They Need Common Sense
There seems to be an absurd idea floating around. People seem to think the Lakers, as they are currently built, cannot contend anymore. People think Dwight Howard for Bynum, Kevin Love for Pau Gasol or Deron Williams/Chris Paul for whoever will fix the Lakers.
They are wrong.
The Lakers need to make two moves in terms of personnel, none of which involve major trades.
It is the team philosophy that will determine if the Lakers will win or not.
If the Lakers follow these steps, I guarantee a competitive 2011-12 Lakers team that can contend with anyone else, including the champion Mavs and the super Heat.
Personnel Move No. 1: New Point Guard
To get the obvious out of the way, the Lakers need a new point guard.
First and foremost, Derek Fisher has been and probably will always be my favorite Laker.
But the only offense he can survive in at his age is the Triangle.
As I will explain later, to have any chance of winning the Lakers must not run the Triangle. The offense I will propose later requires a point guard who can make a defender pay for playing him too close. Derek Fisher is little more than a spot-up shooter at this point, and he just can't cut it in the NBA much longer.
Jamal Crawford is my ideal point guard. He's a hybrid who can also back up Kobe. He's a good shooter and he's versatile enough to help the Lakers with their recent energy issues.
Personnel Move No. 2: Backup Center
The Lakers' biggest, most vital advantage is their big men. Their three-man rotation of Odom, Gasol and Bynum is second to none.
But we've seen what happens when Bynum goes down.
Gasol is forced to play center, which I think is the worst place to put him. He crumbles in the face of physical punishment from centers.
The Dwight Howards and Joakim Noahs of the NBA? Not so sure if he can sustain it.
The Lakers need a center who can give quality minutes off the bench, occasionally start and, most importantly, be more than just a big body out there.
Samuel Dalembert is my ideal backup center. He's a tough, defensive center who plays with intensity, and can score in the post.
Team Philosophy: Establish Who They Are
The Lakers must define themselves. Too often last year, the Lakers would showcase two or three different squads, ranging from physically imposing to soft and feeble. Sometimes they would try to run and gun, and sometimes they would slow it down, depending on who was in the game.
This cannot continue.
Based on the Lakers personnel, they must establish themselves as:
-A dominant defensive team that plays with physicality
-A slow, grinding, physical, offensive team
Defense No. 1: Up Close and Personal
On defense, no team can cover the whole court. There will always be a soft spot in any defensive scheme. Teams with weak perimeter defenders will get burned on the drive and the three-pointer. Undersized teams will get posted up.
With the Lakers, the decision is obvious.
When committed, the Lakers frontcourt can shut down any other opposing frontcourt.
With Andrew Bynum emerging as the second-best defensive center in the NBA, and an aggressive Gasol (more on that in a bit) no frontcourt should enjoy much success against the Lakers.
The advantage of having such a big and talented frontcourt is that, with good rotations, they can stop penetration from opposing guards as well. The Lakers perimeter defenders should get up in the grills of perimeter shooters. If they drive by, they will be running into a seven-footer to contest. If the Lakers rotate, they should be able to cover all open shooters and stop penetration.
I propose that the Lakers give allowance to the mid-range jump shot.
If a guard drives by a wing player and decides to pull up and shoot, have at it. I'd give that shot up all day as opposed to a layup or a three. Stop the penetration into the lane and the three. Let them shoot jumpers worth two all day; there aren't a lot of good mid-range shooters in the NBA.
Defense No. 2: Gasol and Hedging
Contrary to popular belief, Derek Fisher did a great job guarding Chris Paul in the playoffs.
Now, before you organize a lynch mob, hear me out.
The Hornets ran screens for Paul toward Pau Gasol's side of the court. When this happens, Gasol is supposed to "hedge." What this means is that Gasol is supposed to flare out to the three-point line and keep Paul in front of him until Fish can get back to him from the screen.
Gasol is not expected to guard Paul one on one, just stop him from turning the corner on the screen. Bynum is supposed to shadow Gasol's man until Fish catches up to Paul, and then Gasol will hustle back to his own man.
Gasol half-assed every single hedge. It was infuriating.
Gasol would never flare high enough. He would sink around the free-throw line instead of blasting Paul higher. Paul would turn the corner on the screen and blow by Gasol. This left two Lakers defenders out of position. This is how the Hornets got such easy looks. The Mavs used this effectively in a two-man game with Jason Kidd/J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki.
So, for the Lakers defense to work, Gasol must learn how to hedge. If he does not, the Lakers will never learn to stop the pick-and-roll, which has been their Achilles heel for years.
Offense No. 1: Pound the Rock
I cannot emphasize this enough—the Lakers must scrap the Triangle offense completely.
When the it worked, it was a thing of beauty. Too bad it rarely did. For an offense based on movement, there was an awful lot of standing around.
Kobe Bryant was the centerpiece of the Triangle. Everything ran through him. The post players felt less pressure because teams had to stick tight to Bryant, leaving little room for a double-team.
When the pass to paint was denied, Bryant would, without fail, go 1-on-5.
He's not 28 anymore. He can't do that.
Every Lakers offensive possession needs to have a concentrated effort to get the ball into the post. The Lakers must run their offense through Bynum and Gasol. They are simply too talented to be second options, and that's before factoring in Lamar Odom!
Pau Gasol has been heavily criticized lately for his soft performance in the NBA playoffs. I, however, noticed something about Pau, and this is nearly without fail:
If Pau is involved early, he will be aggressive. If not, he will be passive
The Lakers must make Pau, Lamar and Andrew the centerpieces of any offense they run.
Offense No. 2: What About Kobe?
This will be the ultimate test of just how far Kobe has come as a team player—mostly because I believe Kobe would absolutely hate having the role I am about to suggest for him. Yet, if Kobe plays this role and plays it well, he could average 27 points a game on 55 percent shooting, even at his age.
Kobe must get the majority of his shots through a single-double set.
Have you ever wondered how Ray Allen, one of the best three-point shooters ever, routinely gets open for threes, even though everyone knows he is dangerous from out there?
That's right, the Celtics almost exclusively run Allen through single-double sets.
The single-double starts with either an entry pass into the high post or a pass to the wing. The shooter in question (Kobe) will get a back screen from the center (Andrew) and cut into the paint. The ball will then swing to the top of the key. Once there, the center sets a screen on one side of the key and both the power forward and small forward set up screens on the other side—hence a single-double.
Depending on where most of the defense is, Kobe has the option of taking the single screen off of Bynum/Gasol, or the double screen off of Gasol/Odom and Artest/Barnes.
Once Kobe chooses his screen, he will curl and receive a pass. He will have a wide-open jump shot the majority of the time. Bynum and Gasol can then seal their men deep in the paint and get a pass from Kobe for an easy layup/dunk too. If neither of those options are there, he can swing the ball back out to the point guard and reset.
Kobe Bryant has a low shooting percentage because he has a nasty habit of taking ridiculously difficult shots while being double-teamed. This would fix that.
Kobe's primary role would be off the ball. Not only would he get a ton of open shots, but he would open the court for others, as the entire defense would be forced to shift to him on the curl. He would put a ton of pressure on a defense just by coming off of the screens.
The biggest obstacle to this plan, however, is Kobe's ego. If he must be the alpha dog, and he must be the primary option then the Lakers will not win.
Kobe must put his pride aside and accept a new role, fully embracing the concept of team play for the Lakers to have a chance.
There You Have It
The Lakers do not need Dwight Howard. Andrew Bynum has been so dominant on defense lately, it would be a shame to trade him now. If he spends this offseason strengthening that knee, we're looking at the potential for him to surpass Howard. Indeed, Bynum did a number on Howard during their last encounter, blocking his shots twice and forcing nine turnovers.
The Lakers do not need Deron WIlliams or Chris Paul. The Lakers don't need to bust their team up looking for a superstar point guard. When's the last time a superstar point guard won the NBA championship? Unless you consider Tony Parker a superstar, which I don't, certainly not this decade.
The Lakers need a guard that can shoot the open three, pass the ball and play decent defense.
The Lakers need to establish themselves as tough, physical, imposing and intimidating. That is the best course for this group of vets who are losing athleticism by the week.
Pau Gasol must be aggressive on offense and defense. Most importantly, he must learn how to hedge.
Andrew Bynum needs to spend the offseason strengthening his knee, the Lakers absolutely need him.
And finally, Kobe must put his pride aside, stop going 1-on-5 and accept an off-ball sharpshooter role if the Lakers hope to advance.
Thank you all for the time and the read, let me know what your ideas for the Lakers are!