Unlearning what they've learned

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
1:03
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The introduction of a new coaching staff naturally brings a learning curve. It's true under the most normal of circumstances, and even more so this season. The Lakers are integrating Mike Brown's offensive system along with fresh additions to the roster without the teaching time afforded by a typical offseason and training camp. Playing precision basketball from the jump is an almost impossible demand, as evidenced by their 40-plus turnovers in two preseason games.

Other squads around the league face similar hurdles, but for the Lakers there's an additional complicating layer.

Throughout the Phil Jackson era, anytime the Lakers acquired a new player it raised the question of how long it would take for him to learn the system. Now the process is working in reverse. Key pieces of the Lakers' roster have had their NBA wiring formed in the triangle. Andrew Bynum has never played in a different system. For all intents and purposes, neither has Kobe Bryant. Derek Fisher is so closely associated with Triangle Point Guard, he's treated like a living, traveling exhibit from the Naismith Museum.

Principles of the offense are run throughout the league and the Lakers didn't run it all the time, but the triangle had been the Lakers' foundation for over a decade. They were the only team using it, and the mindset, approach, and execution were very specific.

As Bryant explains, unplugging from it isn't an instant process:



Following Monday's loss to the Clippers, Bynum admitted he was still feeling his way through. "Offensively, I don't know exactly where to be on every play," he said. "I really am so used to being on one side of the basketball, ducking in, and then reading different actions. In this offense, it’s more timing. More reading other players, knowing when to dive, versus when not to."

Talking with him later this week at practice, he elaborated:
"In the triangle, everything was a set. There were basic reads that were constant, all the time. In this, it’s sort of reading the offense itself. You have to read the player you’re playing with in the situation.

For example, you can give to Kobe. He can do pretty much anything. You can do dribble handoff with him, you can do a screen and roll with him, you can play big-above. Whatever you want to do. Another player might not have all three of those things, so when you go to him you’ve got to play it differently. So just reading that with each and every guy, with a new team, we’ve got new guys out here in a new offensive system, it’s a bit difficult.”


There's also new terminology, and the changes in floor spacing Bryant describes in the video above. Overall, it's a less egalitarian approach. Says Brown, "I think in the triangle, it was more of an equal opportunity thing. It didn’t matter if you were a small or a big, you were catching right off the block more than anything else. I think that’s the difference."

Even Pau Gasol, who spent less time in the triangle than some teammates, has a MENSA caliber hoops I.Q., and thanks to almost yearly play overseas is accostomed to flowing between systems acknowledges the challenges. "It’s a little bit hard, it takes a little bit of time, and that’s what we need to also understand. Don’t get frustrated quickly if things don’t click right away. It just takes a little bit of time. It takes effort, it takes some jelling."

Still, in the end, Gasol believes (and Bryant agrees) it's still basketball. "It’s the same sport. Different positions, different plays, different system, so be it. It’s the same principles. It’s about sharing the ball, it’s about setting screens, it’s about making reads out there. It’s natural things [in the game]," he says.

"You move on."

Or in the words of Yoda:

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0