I don’t know what the Lakers are doing out there.
It’s very possible that this is all an overreaction. It’s possible the Lakers have tanked games to get the Ron Artest (I’m still not calling him that) suspension off the books before the showdown with Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Maybe the Lakers are THAT overconfident and smug to believe they can just fold games to the Nuggets and still come out on top when they need to. We’ve seen teams turn on the switch before, but rarely do you see teams intentionally flip the switch to “off” during the playoffs.
Or maybe the Lakers are just completely mismanaging their offensive sets against Denver. I have no problem with calling Kobe Bryant the best player on the Lakers right now. I think he is. I know the new shocking revelation to drop on basketball fans is that maybe Andrew Bynum is the top guy or possibly Pau Gasol is actually the best player on the team. It’s also entirely possible these two big men might be so good because Kobe gets the majority of the attention.
The problem I have with what Mike Brown is doing with his team’s offensive attack right now is they have an extreme length advantage with the Pau-Bynum combination and they’re ignoring the Pau Gasol part of that equation far too often. The Lakers had the length advantage very early on in the series and George Karl was able to neutralize the Bynum aspect by harnessing the physical attributes of JaVale McGee.
It’s not that Bynum has been shut down because he certainly hasn’t. It’s just that McGee has matched him for the most part over the past three games, a stretch in which the Lakers went 1-2. It’s pretty hard to imagine McGee will keep up this stretch of basketball he’s having, but that might just be because our history of JaVale has never included him being used and molded by a great coach. He’s a young, clumsy big man who might be finally realizing what he’s able to do on the court.
With young, clumsy players that have trouble making the correct decision on the court, I’d imagine the strategic philosophy is to let them beat themselves. It’s a lot like a Blackjack table in Las Vegas. They hook you up to an IV of free drinks for a reason. The longer you’re there, the more the odds run over to the house’s side.
The longer a young, relatively uncoordinated big man is on the court, the more likely he is to lose all of his theoretical chips. However, McGee isn’t losing his chips right now. He’s actually taking the house for everything they have in the tray.
The problem this leaves the Lakers with is they now can’t just rely on the outside scoring of Kobe being combined with the bullying laid down by Bynum. The bullying is being met with impossible length. So where should the Lakers turn?
Check out this chart of the possessions (possessions being defined by mySynergy’s scouting as a possession that ends in a field goal attempt, free throw attempt or turnover) used by the Lakers’ big three in the five games of this series:
Kobe’s usage is more than double what Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are getting most games and even more than what the two big men are combining for in three of the contests.
I’m fine with Kobe getting the bulk of those possessions because his scoring is still a huge focus for the opposing defense that can cause help, rotation and rebounding miscues. What I’m not fine with is seeing Pau Gasol getting fewer possessions per night than Andrew Bynum.
Bynum has been met with the three-headed bulk of Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee. This has often left Pau Gasol being guarded by Kenneth Faried (6’7″) or Al Harrington (6’8″). One of those guys has a huge length advantage that should be impossible to guard and only when you double team him will it allow the copious amounts of passing ability and instinct to shine through like a beacon of light glimmering off the Larry O’Brien trophy. The other guy is Andrew Bynum who prefers the fetal position whenever he’s hit with a double team in the post.
In the Lakers’ three wins in this series, Pau Gasol has 19 assists, with no game totaling fewer than five. In the two losses in this series, Pau has just four assists total. When you’re combining those possessions described from earlier with the possessions in which Pau is letting his scalpel of a passing game treat the Denver defense like a cadaver, it seems almost impossible for Denver to find a solution to both Bynum AND Pau.
Throwing the ball down into the post with Pau or letting him operate out of the high post more gives you ample opportunities to get post moves, drop-step hooks on the baseline, and a high-low game between Pau and Bynum going that will give Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka the shivers in the next round. When the help comes, he’s a willing passer that can not only move the ball away from the double but also set guys up with great scoring chances.
So why is Pau touching the ball less and getting lost in the shuffle like he’s a Spanish version of Josh McRoberts?
The Lakers have a chance to put the series away tonight and a big way to go about accomplishing that is fighting the Nuggets’ response of JaVale McGee’s length with another guy that Denver simply doesn’t have the personnel to account for.
I wonder if Mike Brown will figure it out before it’s too late.