When head coach Frank Vogel signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, the team was clearly going to be a throwback roster with two traditional bigs with a heavy emphasis on defense.
The Lakers wound up winning the 2020 NBA Championship with that style, but they have morphed into a completely different team during the 2021-22 campaign. After an eventful offseason of acquiring multiple shooters and floor spacers, Vogel has finally leaned into their new identity as a small ball unit looking to play fast.
The past few weeks seem to have jumpstarted Los Angeles as the new look has done wonders on both ends, though their rebounding woes were on full display against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Sunday night’s win.
The Timberwolves pulled down 56 total rebounds (20 offensive) compared to just 28 total for the Lakers. There were several stretches where L.A. could just not come down with a rebound and Vogel admitted he had to hold himself back from playing a true center like Dwight Howard or DeAndre Jordan.
“Yes, I did have to resist the urge,” Vogel admitted. “The glass was a concern but if he’s scoring in the low post against Stanley’s toughness, we can live with that. We feel like those are good situations for us defensively – the ball is not in Anthony Edwards’ hands. But the glass was not just Reid, they’ve hurt us, when we played the first two games big, they killed us on the glass. They just fly in from the perimeter, they’re a great perimeter-crashing team. That was going to be an issue whether we were big or small.”
While most coaches might make an adjustment, Vogel defended his decision by stating that the goal is to build an identity and there may be some ups and downs along the way as they continue to learn how to play effectively with these small-ball groups.
“That’s a huge part of it, and honestly, we talked about that going in. We know we have been hurt on the glass by this team, we knew it was gonna be a challenge. I think we showed 25 box-out clips from the Portland game and the last Minnesota game before the game to demonstrate that if we’re gonna play this style that this is an area that we have to be better. We weren’t much better [laughs], but it is about if we’re gonna explore this style of play, we’re gonna have to learn how to deal with this.”
Injuries and health and safety protocols have made it impossible to truly evaluate the roster and lineup combinations, so Vogel’s explanation makes complete sense. Consistency has been hard to come by for the Lakers, but as of late, it feels like they are starting to build something and it would be unwise to mess with it at the first sight of trouble.
While it is fortunate the Lakers were able to come away with the win, the sobering reality is they will not be able to get away with that kind of rebounding disparity most nights.
With it looking like LeBron James at center will be a normal part of rotations going forward, Vogel and the team will need to figure out ways to be better on the glass.
Vogel credits James for defense on Reid down stretch
One reason the Lakers were able to come away with the win was there defense and rebounding down the stretch. Timberwolves big man Naz Reid, in particular, killed them inside and on the glass in the first three quarters.
James took the challenge and guarded him in the fourth quarter though, and Vogel credited his star player for doing so.
“He’s a difference-maker, he can do it all. LeBron James can do it all,” Vogel said. “So [Naz Reid] is going and we decided to put him defensively on their center to slow him down and he’s still executing the pick-and-roll coverages well when Edwards is coming off and what-not. He had a terrific defensive fourth and really defensive game. But that’s LeBron James, you’re able to do that with him.”
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