With the Lakers ready to start Anthony Davis at center, the question is will Frank Vogel truly embrace small ball and unleash its full array of powers by transforming how the team plays in transition and offense and defense?
Russell Westbrook’s arrival was the catalyst that forced the Lakers, head coach Frank Vogel, and superstar center Anthony Davis to rethink their positional strategy and finally embrace their evolution to a small ball team. But simply sliding LeBron and AD to the four and five is not enough. The Lakers must fully optimize small ball by playing faster in transition and using ‘five-out’ sets on offense and ‘switch everything’ lineups on defense.
Over the next four preseason games, we should get a preview of whether Frank Vogel is going to fully embrace small ball or revert to his traditional resume as a coach who believes offense and defense start at the rim.
THE LAKERS NEED TO PUSH THE PACE IN TRANSITION
The Lakers’ top priority as a small ball team is to rebound and run according to Frank Vogel as the team looks to return to one of the formulas that led them to their 17th NBA championship in the bubble less than a full year ago.
The Lakers finished 21st in the league last season with a pace of only 98.85, down from their 11th best pace of 101.20 during their championship season. Top pace last season was the 104.67 posted by Westbrook and the Wizards. With Russ relentlessly pushing the pace, the Lakers should top the NBA in pace next season, maybe even breaking the 105.51 pace set by the Bucks during the 2019–20 season. Lakers will be looking to reprise Showtime.
Of the three ways to optimize their small ball lineups, increasing the pace seems to be the one change in style on which Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel has no problem embracing. Lakers will lead the league in pace this season.
THE LAKERS NEED TO PLAY FIVE-OUT SETS ON OFFENSE
While the Lakers may set a record for transition points this season, they still will have to generate more than 75% of their points from half court offense. That’s where Frank Vogel’s coaching tendencies could get in the way.
Vogel’s long been a fan offensively of positioning a big in the dunker’s position, which plays into the hands of opposing defenses by making it easier to pack the paint to prevent the Lakers’ superstars from getting to the rim. What the Lakers need to do to optimize small ball lineups is play five-out sets with five capable 3-point shooters positioned behind the arc. That’s the lineup that opens up the paint for Russ, LeBronk and AD to attack the rim.
Half court offense has been the Lakers’ Achilles heel in the past, especially when LeBron rests. With three superstars and five-out sets, the Lakers small ball attack will put so much pressure on the rim that it will be unstoppable.
THE LAKERS NEED TO SWITCH EVERYTHING ON DEFENSE
One of the keys to the Lakers winning their 17th NBA championship in the bubble was the ability of LeBron James and Anthony Davis to switch and guard any player on the other team regardless of the position they played.
While Russ isn’t the elite individual defender LeBron and AD are, he’s still a player with amazing athleticism and energetic motor who has no problem switching and defending smaller or bigger players anywhere on the court. Add an elite pair of 3&D players in Trevor Ariza and Kent Bazemore and the Lakers suddenly have a 5-man closing lineup that could switch everything like the Golden State Warriors ‘Death Lineup’ did to win three titles.
If the Lakers want to take advantage of playing small, they need to run a lot more five-out sets to generate drive-and-dish opportunities. It’s the best way for the Lakers to execute Vogel’s favored ‘Paint to Great’ style of basketball.
THE ARRIVAL OF FIZDALE COULD HELP OPTIMIZE SMALL BALL
One unknown factor that could impact how willing Frank Vogel is to fully embrace the Lakers’ small ball on steroids lineups is the addition of David Fizdale as the lead assistant coach replacing the departed Jason Kidd.
Fizdale will hopefully give Vogel an assistant coach who not only has good experience coaching LeBron James but also has a background as more of an offensive oriented coach than Vogel or the other assistants on his staff. Fizdale won two championships as an assistant on James’ Heat teams and is the highest paid assistant in the league. Hopefully, his involvement will help Vogel make the right decisions to optimize the Lakers’ small ball lineups.
The bottom line is Frank Vogel needs to push the ball in transition and incorporate ‘five-out sets’ on offense and ‘switch everything’ lineups on defense to take full advantage of the Lakers commitment to play small.
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