On November 11, Steve Blake had a decent enough game against the New Orleans Pelicans scoring 13 points and dishing out eight assists with a .509 TS%. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis recorded 32 points and 15 rebounds with six blocks. While Davis’ night was outstanding on the offensive end, it was what he did on the defensive end that subsequently forced the Lakers to make a minor change in their offensive attack.
During the Lakers first game against the Pelicans, the Lakers ran 12 P&R sets that saw the screen man take the shot. Of those 12 sets, 10 of them were run attacking either Jason Smith or Greg Stiemsma. The result in those 10 possessions:
- Anthony Davis Block on Chris Kaman
- Chris Kaman Jumper – Make
- Chris Kaman Jumper – Miss
- Chris Kaman Jumper – Miss
- Jordan Hill Jumper – Miss
- Chris Kaman Jumper – Make
- Chris Kaman Layup – Make
- Jordan Hill Layup – Miss (Anthony Davis altered)
- Pau Gasol Jumper – Miss
That’s six points on 10 shots in pick-and-roll. All of the jump shots were between 15 to 18 feet and contested. Chris Kaman’s lone layup in the sequence was made available by Xavier Henry driving into the body of Davis on the right side of the lane with Kaman slipping into an open on the left side. For most of the night, Anthony Davis was either blocking Pau Gasol’s shot in isolated situations and preventing or altering shots around the rim. The flaw in the design in the Lakers attack was a small one, but huge in consequence as the Lakers would go on to lose 96-85 at the hands of the Pelicans.
The problem wasn’t the fact that the Lakers were running P&R sets — 22 total on the night — but the fact that they were attacking the wrong part of the defense. Most of the Lakers collective athleticism is on the perimeter with younger, quicker guards, so D’Antoni made an adjustment to pull the most athletic big away from the basket and not allow him to roam. Against the Pelicans, the Lakers made their initial point of attack Smith or Stiemsma instead of having the finisher on the P&R attack those two.
Here’s a set from early in the game in the Lakers loss to the Pelicans. Jodie Meeks and Kaman are running a high P&R against Eric Gordon and Jason Smith. Gasol is being guarded on the low block by Davis. Meeks is going to come right off the Kaman screen, then feed Kaman at the left elbow. When Kaman catches, Gasol slides across the lane to the right block to give Kaman room to operate. The problem: Davis isn’t working. He moves from one side of the lane to the other following Gasol, but his eye is on Kaman the whole time.
Kaman is in a supposed one-on-one with Smith, who he effectively takes down to the left block. As Kaman begins to make his move, Davis is still there on the opposite side of the block, slowly moving toward Kaman, lurking. After a series of up fakes and pivot moves, Kaman gets off a shot after clearing space away from Smith, but Davis uses every inch of his 7’4” wingspan to fly across the lane and block Kaman’s shot. This block set the tone early as Davis would continue to lurk in the paint on P&R actions and force a series of bad jumpers for Lakers afraid to attack the rim and alter shots at the rim for Lakers who were feeling bold.
This would change, however, in the Lakers next meeting with the Pelicans, and would remain the norm through the season up to this point. Just two games later, the Lakers adjusted and did a better job of taking Davis out of the game. The Lakers put Davis in positions to where he had to defend the screener on high P&Rs, and when he wasn’t defending the initial attack, the man he was guarding (either Gasol or Hill) would get split out to the weak side corner while the P&R was being run on the other half of the floor. The results: the Lakers would shoot a respectable .450 in P&R situations (still too many mid range jump shots) instead of the .317 in the same number of shots in the first game.
The Lakers would do the same with Washington by forcing Nene, instead of Marcin Gortat to defend the high P&R. They’d do the same with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe against Detroit. They’d do the same with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis. Against the Kings, the Lakers didn’t run many P&R sets, but found success when doing so. In P&R situations where the roll man received the ball, the Lakers made 80 percent of their shot attempts. When the ball handler took the shot, they made 50 percent of their shots.
In this particular set, the Lakers ran a side P&R between Blake and Hill, attacking Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins. The weak side big is Jason Thompson who is guarding Pau Gasol with Marcus Thorton sitting helpside guarding Wes Johnson in the far corner. Instead of having Cousins sitting in the paint waiting on the roll man to receive the ball, he’s actively working on the perimeter hedging, and will be forced to recover once Hill receives the pass.
As Hill starts to roll, Gasol moves up the lane and brings Thompson with him, leaving Hill (6-10) alone with Marcus Thorton (6-4) on the block while Cousins watches Blake’s pass slip right between him and Thompson. These are the favorable matchups that the Lakers have been able to create in P&R sets, and why Blake has been averaging nine assists with a 43.9 assist percentage over the Lakers last nine games. Even if Hill doesn’t get the bucket here, Wes Johnson is wide open in the short corner (shooting .388 from three on the season), and an extra pass would lead to a wide-open Jodie Meeks three above the break (shooting .468 on the season, same as Klay Thompson).
Because of these adjustments, the Lakers have found some rhythm on the offensive end of the floor without a dominate scorer. Pau Gasol (14.9) is leading this team in points, followed by Nick Young (14.1) and Jodie Meeks (12.9). No matter the era, it is very unique for a Lakers team to have a leading scorer average fewer than 15 points per game, but head coach Mike D’Antoni is constantly tweaking the offense to put his guys in the best position to succeed.
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