This was not intended to be a podcast of its own, but we had a few requests for it, so here you go. Here’s my D’Angelo Russell rant, regarding his recent struggles.
***GOING LIVE AT 6:00pm***
Join Pete & Tom Zayas on the latest edition of Laker Film Room Live for real time analysis as the Lakers visit the Phoenix Suns in the last game before the All-Star break.
If our audio is ahead of your video: Paste the link in a browser (link coming soon), which should bring up an audio player. Listen for a bit, hit pause and then resume at the right time (i.e. remembering the last thing said on the broadcast like “Russell brings the ball up” and hitting resume when you see that happen on the video feed)
Lakers, Suns Face Off in Final Game Before All-Star Break
By: John Lu
After struggling through much of December and January, the Lakers have played better as of late. Their recent stretch re-introduced glimpses of the promising style of basketball what was played throughout the first 20 games of the season, when the team exceeded expectations on their way to a 10-10 record.
In the last game before the All Star break and the trade deadline, the Lakers will face off against the Suns for the third time this season. In the season series between the two Western conference bottom-dwellers, the two teams have split the first two meetings – the Lakers winning the first 119-108 and losing the second 115-119. In these two games, the Suns starting backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker averaged a combined 51.5 points and 11 assists per game on 57.6% true shooting. The Lakers will need to formulate their game plan around containing these two to maximize their chance of winning.
Devin Booker Shooting the Three
Why it Worked: Booker has shot extremely well in 2017 – averaging 44.4% and 38.2% from long distance in January and February, respectively. Part of the reason behind his high three-point percentage is his teammates’ ability to find him for open shots beyond the arc. On the season 78.1% of his three-point makes were assisted.
In this play, Bledsoe brings the ball up and Tyson Chandler sets a screen on his man about 40 feet away from the basket as the ball crosses half court. This high screen and roll action allows Bledsoe to accelerate and easily get by John Henson (#31 on the Bucks) with a left-to-right crossover. As he penetrates into the paint, all five Bucks defenders collapse onto him, leaving both Booker and T.J. Warren wide open behind the three-point line. Bledsoe makes the correct read and swings the ball out to Booker. Splash.
How to Adjust: The high screen and roll action puts the Bucks’ defense in a reactionary situation and Booker’s defender unnecessarily helps on Bledsoe’s drive – allowing Booker to be wide open at the three-point line. It’s imperative for Booker’s defender to be disciplined to minimize the amount of open three-point looks for him.
In closeout situations, the defender must try to run Booker off the three-point line. On the season, he is shooting a suboptimal 37.8% from 10 feet to the three-point line and has yet to show the ability to efficiently create offense for others (averaging 3.6 assists and 3.0 turnovers per 36 minutes with 15.9% AST% and 12.4% TOV%). As a result, Booker’s defender should aim to attack him on the three-point line and force him to try to make a play for others.
Bledsoe on the Drive
Why it Worked: Bledsoe’s offensive game is best when he drives into the paint. For the season he is finishing around the rim at 61.4% while averaging career bests in both free throw attempt rate and free throw percentage (0.434 and 84.9%, respectively). In addition, he is also very capable of creating offense for others as the defense closes in on him (31.2% AST% and 14.7% TOV% this season).
In this play, the Suns again run high screen and roll. Unlike the other play, Chandler’s defender is not in position to hedge high and allows Bledsoe to accelerate and drive directly into the paint. Jameer Nelson gets caught on the screen and loses the angle to cut Bledsoe off. As a result, he steps around Nelson for a layup at the rim.
How to Adjust: It would be best for the defense to prioritize containing Bledsoe on the drive and force him to settle from the perimeter. On the season he is shooting just 35.9% from 10 feet to the three-point line and 32.5% beyond it. His outside efficiency is very pedestrian compared to his ability to finish at the rim or create open shots for others. Limiting Bledsoe’s penetration opportunities also minimizes kick outs to open teammates at the three-point line. Therefore, putting a quicker or longer perimeter defender (Clarkson or Russell) on him and having the big man hedge higher in screen and roll situations will help to curtail Bledsoe on the offensive end.
Exploit the Suns’ Perimeter Defense
Why it Worked: The Suns are the third worst team in the league in terms of defensive efficiency at 109.4 points per 100 possessions. The Bucks run a baseline loop play for Jason Terry. Although the two screeners make minimal contact with Booker, he still missteps around the Henson screen and forfeits an angle for Terry to catch and drive into the paint. While all this is happening, Bledsoe does not bother to apply any pressure on the passer, allowing him to accurately deliver the ball to the cutting Terry without concern for a deflection. As Terry drives into the teeth of the defense, he has options to either dish to Henson in the paint, Giannis at the three-point line, or to take the shot for himself. Booker has no choice but the commit the foul.
How to Adjust: The Lakers would be wise to run plenty of off-ball action against the poor Suns defensive backcourt. Bledsoe is averaging a career worst -0.5 DBPM while Booker has always been a negative defender at -2.9 DBPM. The Suns clearly have both communication issues and individual technique deficiencies on the defensive end and running motion off-ball plays will definitely open up offensive opportunities for the Lakers. Russell this season has shown the ability to make correct reads in these situations and the whole team will benefit by putting him at the trigger position.
Notes: The Suns and Lakers are two of the fastest teams in the league in terms of offensive pace – the Suns 4th at 101.8 possessions per game and the Lakers 6th at 100.6 possessions per game. At the same time the two teams are among the league’s worst in defensive efficiency – the Suns at 28th at 109.4 points per 100 possessions and the Lakers 29th at 110.1 points per 100 possessions. As a result, this game should be a high scoring affair. Over the past three games (excluding SAC), D’Angelo Russell has averaged only 5 field goal attempts while playing 23.3 minutes per game.
The Lakers rode a 76 point 1st half to a 122-114 against the Milwaukee Bucks, despite a scare at the end. In this video, Pete Zayas takes a look at their huge first half, and what caused them to lose most of the lead in the 4th quarter.
Many Laker fans have clamored for D’Angelo Russell to move to SG since he was drafted, where he can tap into his natural scoring ability without the burden of running the offense. To that end, Lonzo Ball represents the “pure PG” who can facilitate this change, capable of orchestrating the action just as he did at UCLA, and thereby establishing the natural order of the Laker backcourt for the next decade.
Not so fast.
Ball is a remarkable facilitator in transition, whipping advance passes up court that are as effective as they are simple. He has unparalleled spatial intelligence for a 19 year old, and punishes the transgressions of cheating defenders with swift adjudications that put his teammates in the advantageous position of attacking opponents whose feet are not set.
Yet the requirements of the PG position go beyond the gifts that court vision and unselfishness can bestow upon others, and Ball is lacking in two critical areas: the pick & roll, and making reads out of organized sets.
The latter concerns me less than the former does. Few college offenses are nearly as sophisticated as their NBA equivalents, a fact that is exacerbated by the prevalence of zone defenses and the talent discrepancies between respective NCAA programs. College PGs get relatively little experience making the type of reads against high caliber man defenses that they need to make in the pros, so there is an inevitable learning curve that all of them experience as they transition to the NBA. Despite his considerable talents, I don’t expect Lonzo Ball to be any different in this respect. UCLA’s offense is relatively basic, and the lion’s share of his half court responsibility involves delivering the ball to shooters as they come off of pin-down screens.
The half court decisions that he is required to make don’t extend far beyond this and a couple of other simple actions. Teams have also taken to running a good deal of zone against the Bruins, which require a different set of reads from Ball which are not as directly translatable to the next level. I have little doubt that he will be able to adapt, as many less talented players have before him, but to expect him to be capable of immediately navigating NBA defenses while orchestrating an NBA offenses is unrealistic.
My pick & roll concerns have deeper roots. Prior to UCLA, he took the basketball world by storm at Chino Hills High School, with an unconventional style of play that included 70-foot outlet passes, 30-foot three point attempts, blistering pace…and very few ball screens, which is a phenomenon that has persisted during his time in Westwood. In the 5 games that I charted, he was involved in just 18 ball screens or handoffs, a remarkably low number relative to his position, generating just 13 points (0.72 PPP). The NBA game is far more pick & roll intensive than college is, and he will need to add this to his repertoire in order to fulfill his potential as a PG.
This is where Ball’s unusual shooting form will likely hurt him the most.
Ball is notoriously reticent to shoot mid range jumpers, which on its surface demonstrates an understanding of what constitutes a good shot, but the reality of the NBA is that sometimes the defense is going to succeed in protecting both the basket and the 3-point line over the course of 24 seconds. Quite often, that mid range look is all that is available, especially if a team is incapable of spacing the floor out to the 3-point line at 4 or 5 different positions. One of the means by which NBA defenses accomplish this is by soft hedging/corralling pick & rolls, with the defensive guard fighting over the screen and the big hanging back in the paint.
If Lonzo Ball has taken this type of shot in an organized game, I haven’t seen it. While there is danger in speculating about something that player doesn’t do, the individual components of his shot don’t translate toward this part of his game developing particularly well. He typically uses a step-back move to create space on his pull-up 3-point attempts, but that is not available against a soft hedge due to the back pressure from the defensive guard. Furthermore, the additional space is necessary for him due to his shooting stroke, which crosses both his body and his head on the way up, and can be bothered throughout that process as a result by the hedging/corralling big.
Ball’s workaround for this is a teardrop off of one foot. These shots are typically very low percentage, with few exceptions.
His ability to attack switches is questionable as well, as he possesses an average first step and good-but-not-great moves off of the dribble. This was the most common coverage that he faced in the games that I charted, where he was usually only capable of attacking opposing 5’s with a stepback jumper. One of the most significant differences between NCAA and NBA level talent is the mobility of the big men, so if he’s struggling to get a decent shot off against switches at UCLA, it could be very problematic in the pros.
Lonzo Ball’s difficulty against soft hedges and switches both point toward the same conclusion: the NBA is going to make him prove that he can score on them when he has the ball in his hands.
I am more bullish on him as a spot up shooter than most, and believe that the negative effects of his shooting stroke are mostly counteracted by his excellent footwork and tremendous range. His ability to hit from 30+ feet compromises the defense regardless of how they decide to defend him. If they help off of him, he’s quick to get the shot up, capable of converting at a high rate, and the defender won’t be close enough for his shooting stroke to be disadvantageous. If they stay at home on him, he has now effectively spaced the floor for teammates by taking a help defender much farther away from the basket than they would usually be.
He has some catch & shoot ability coming off of screens as well, where he uses quality footwork to quickly get into his shot, and often leans back a bit to mitigate against the contestability of his shooting stroke. Despite that fact, his success at the NBA level will likely be determined by how much space he’s able to create prior to the catch.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, Lonzo Ball’s limitations in the pick & roll, inexperience running a pro-style offense, and spot up shooting ability may lead him to begin his career as a PG in transition, but a SG in half court situations.
The Lakers are an ideal fit to mask his offensive deficiencies and accentuate his positive attributes. Ball isn’t nearly as ball dominant as you might expect from a player who is amongst the NCAA leaders in assists per game, and has a great feel for back cuts and counters off of the ball. If Luke Walton wants to go further down the path of the Golden State Warriors, who run more off-ball screens and fewer on-ball screens than nearly every other team in the league, a D’Angelo Russell/Lonzo Ball backcourt would go a long way toward achieving that. Russell’s immersive education in pick & roll play and offensive organization over the last 6 months minimizes Ball’s weaknesses and inexperience, Ball impacts the game in transition in a way that Russell never will, and both can spot up and work as a cutter while the other runs the show. Their biggest collective weakness is the ability to get to the basket off of the dribble, which certainly matters, but isn’t a fatal flaw within a Laker offense that presumably seeks to emulate the ball and player movement of the Warriors more than it’s been capable of with their existing talent.
Lonzo Ball’s effectiveness in the NBA may largely hinge on who drafts him. Much of his success at UCLA is predicated on simply making the “right play” over and over again, and getting the ball to excellent NCAA-level finishers (Leaf, Holiday, Alford, etc.) in advantageous positions, where they can exploit a closeout or mismatch through the force of their own talents. In many ways, Ball’s value is proportional to the talent that he’s surrounded by, so a team like Brooklyn, with limited talented that could desperately use a sun for their planets to orbit, could be disastrous for his career. Conversely, he could fit in seamlessly with a talented older team (Boston), which is unusual for a player his age, or become a foundational piece for a young team with a collection of weapons surrounding him. (Lakers, Phoenix, Minnesota)
But make no mistake…Ball is a genius, and I do no throw that term around lightly.
His court vision, spatial awareness, intelligence, and unselfishness draw rightful comparisons to NBA greats like Magic Johnson & Jason Kidd. He has almost single-handedly changed the culture of UCLA basketball, turning them from a group of mismatched individual talent into a cohesive and historically effective offense. Even his ability to make open 3’s from NBA range have an application in the modern game, despite his unique delivery. Yet his inexperience in running the most common of NBA plays is worrisome, and the aforementioned shooting form may very well prevent him from growing significantly in this area. This enormous polarization within his skill set makes him one of the more fascinating prospects in years, with the potential to make both his supporters and skeptics look spectacularly wrong in retrospect.
Ultimately, an NBA team will have to ask itself two questions before they draft Lonzo Ball:
- Can he fit into what we do, or do we need to adopt an entirely different style of play that is built around him?
- Can a PG be a star player if he can’t score effectively on the pick & roll?
I’m glad that my job doesn’t depend on being able to answer either of them correctly.
Coming Soon: Lonzo Ball Scouting Report – Defense
Lakers Conclude Grammy Trip in Milwaukee
By: Tom Zayas
The Lakers are the first team to play the Bucks since Jabari Parker’s injury on Feb. 8th. He finished the season averaging 20.1 points on 16 field goal attempts per game, which partially demonstrates the efficiency with which he’s been playing with this season. A lot of the Bucks’ offense depended on Parker operating in the high post and he performed well at it, shooting a career-best 53% eFG and 36.5% from three. When Parker went down, Beasley came in against Miami and scored 11 points in the 4th quarter, as he is wont to do. I’d suspect Beasley will slide into the starting lineup in Parker’s place, and his scoring ability has the potential to haunt the Lakers all night long. Giannis Antetokounmpo will shoulder more of the burden on offense in Parker’s absence, and get your popcorn ready to see how Brandon Ingram matches up with the Freak. Let’s check out some film to see what the Lakers will be facing on the court in Milwaukee.
Freak in the 1 – 5 Double-High Screen
The Bucks like to run a double-high screen for Antetokounmpo with the point guard and the center setting the screens, which virtually guarantees a mismatch against Giannis’ length and speed.
Why it Worked: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ridiculous length helps him get around Chriss and to the basket for an and-1. He two steps his way into position from the free throw line, but it’s the double-high screen from Dellevedova and Henson the allows the Freak to create momentum for his long strides toward the basket. The play creates multiple mismatches — as Henson rolls with Bledsoe matched up with him, he’s ready to clean up Giannis’ miss or receive a pocket pass for a dunk.
How to Adjust: I’m almost certain we’ll see this play from Milwaukee early in the game, so let’s assume that Ingram, Russell, and Black will be defending against it. Ingram should fight over the screens and try to keep up with Giannis from behind. Russell needs to tag (jump in front of) Henson once he rolls (and contest Dellevedova if kicked to him for 3), and Black should get into Gianni’s body and eliminate his ability to go east-west with each step. All that being said, forcing him one direction and bodying him up without fouling is easier said than done.
I’m fascinated to see if Ingram is able to go over the screens with Giannis, trail him, and contest his shot at the basket from behind. Ingram’s not strong enough yet to be able to defend Giannis with any consistency, but it will be interesting to see whether or not Ingram can show flashes of mitigating elite length and speed in the NBA.
The Bucks are particularly good at using their length to affect passing lanes. At 9th in the league in steals per game, they disturb passing lanes and create easy transition opportunities.
Why it Worked: Milwaukee is vulnerable against skip passes as their rotations have the tendency to get scrambled in half-court sets, but guards get into trouble when they try to go over the top of the Bucks for skip passes. Devin Booker tries to skip the ball across the defense but waits too long and Greg Monroe obstructs the passing angle with his length. The deflection leads to a transition opportunity, where the Bucks excel at team passing as seen in the clip above.
How to Adjust: The best options to mitigate the Bucks’ length is to make quick decisions on the skip pass before they can obscure passing angles, make bounce passes, or drag the trapping bigs out to create a passing angle for the short roll. All of these things D’Angelo Russell excels at for his age, but chances are Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams will rack up a few turnovers because of the Bucks’ length.
Milwaukee is second in the league in paint touch points (16 ppg) behind only Golden State. Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo frequently operate out of the high post, but are also extremely good cutters off-ball and create passing angles for layups — a trait that trickles down to the Bucks’ role players as well. Here’s Greg Monroe delivering an excellent back-door bounce pass to Mirza Teletovic for an and-1 layup.
Why it Worked: T.J. Warren tries to ice the screen from Brogdon, and Teletovic properly reads the back door cut. Monroe delivers an excellent bounce pass that passes Teletovic open, and the Suns’ interior defense isn’t prepared to contest the shot. Whether it’s Monroe, Giannis, Beasley, or Brogdon, the Bucks are an excellent interior passing team who create inside shot opportunities from penetration and cutting off the high post.
How to Adjust: It will be important for the Lakers to not overplay the perimeter catch, as the Bucks don’t have many quality three-point shooter that you worry about. Teletovic is probably their most consistent shooter, but he’s still capable of beating you back door if you assume that shooting threes is all that he can do. As the Lakers scheme to beat the Bucks, I’d recommend forcing them to beat you from deep on Friday night, as they have limited outside shooting and shot creators without Jabari Parker out of the lineup. Forcing the Bucks into mid to long range jumpers all night will help mitigate the Bucks biggest strengths — fast-break points and points in the paint.
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In this edition of the Laker Film Room Podcast, Pete Zayas & Darius Soriano (Forum Blue & Gold) answer your questions on the state of the team.
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***FULL GAME ANALYSIS***
Pete & Tom Zayas provide real team analysis of the Lakers vs. Pistons game in the latest of Laker Film Room Live.
The new Lakers starting lineup on Monday night came as a bit of a surprise, with Luke Walton benching the franchise’s two big free agent signings in favor of Brandon Ingram & Tarik Black. In this video, Pete Zayas takes a closer look at how they performed in the Lakers’ 121-107 win over the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden, and how that may translate toward the future.