Jordan Kahn breaks down the latest NBA trends in video form. You can find more of his work at Basketball Things and follow him on Twitter @AyoitsJordan.
This post is part of our playoff preview series here at Hickory-High, complete with both statistical and video breakdowns. Check out the rest of the previews here.
The Lakers-Nuggets series is a matchup of one of the slowest teams in the league playing against one of the fastest. But in order for Denver to run, they will need to stop the Lakers’ half-court offense. With the help of mySynergySports, let’s take a look at how the Lakers can attack the Denver defense and what Denver can do if their transition game isn’t available.
Playing against Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol creates obvious problems for Lakers’ opponents. Few teams have two big men with enough defensive ability to contain them. Gasol ranks 20th in the league in points per possession in the post and Bynum ranks 46th. The Nuggets don’t have the highest regarded post defenders, but they rank third in the NBA in defending post possessions. So in a worst-case scenario where the Lakers’ post-up game isn’t working, Gasol’s versatility will come in handy in finding creative ways to score. When Bynum is involved in a pick-and-roll, Gasol can serve as an intermediary if the ball handler doesn’t make the direct pass to Bynum. The video below shows a few examples.
However, sometimes Gasol takes things into his own hands. It’s pretty rare to see a power forward-center pick-and-roll, but Gasol and Bynum have great timing when they run it. The video below shows the Gasol-Bynum combination in its full glory. Having these two run a pick-and-roll this close to the basket puts their defenders in a very unfamiliar position. If the Nuggets go to a bigger lineup to stop post-ups, we may see the Lakers bring the Gasol-Bynum pick-and-roll out of the playbook.
The Nuggets have relied heavily on their transition game to create one of the best offenses in the league, and they will try their hardest to force the Lakers into a full-court affair. About 18 percent of the Nuggets’ possessions have come in transition, but transition possessions only make up 12.6 percent of the Lakers’ defensive possessions. Something has got to give here, and as many pundits will note, the Nuggets will have to execute in the half-court in the playoffs to have success. Let’s take that conventional knowledge at face value and explore their half-court options. One main option is Danilo Gallinari. While he has a reputation as a jump shooter, he’s actually been very good in the pick-and-roll this year. He ranks 12th in the NBA in points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball handler, and he’s drawing fouls on 20 percent of those possessions. Despite that jumpshooting reputation, Gallinari shows an attacking mentality when coming off ball screens. Putting Gallinari in the pick-and-roll may be a good way to get the Lakers in foul trouble. The video below shows some examples of his pick-and-roll game.
Another half court option is to run Arron Afflalo off of baseline screens, where he ranks 31st in the NBA, scoring 0.9 points per possession. Afflalo has used plenty of Rip Hamilton-esque screens, even where it’s obvious that Afflalo is the main option on the play. However, recently Denver has also run some decoy pick-and-rolls to get the defense moving prior to screening for Afflalo. The video below has a few examples of this action that keeps the defense on their toes. If the Nuggets want to run screens for Afflalo against Los Angeles, using that deception might be necessary because the Lakers rank 2nd in the NBA in points allowed per screening possession.
If all else breaks down, Ty Lawson in isolation could work well for the Nuggets. He ranks 28th in the league, scoring 0.91 points per possession in isolation. He will be facing off against a couple of sub-par isolation defenders in Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake. While Sessions was an overall upgrade from Derek Fisher, his isolation defense is slightly worse, ranking 194th in the NBA. Steve Blake has been pretty atrocious as an isolation defender, coming in at 303rd and giving up a whopping 1.11 points per isolation possession. But despite this obvious advantage, Lawson didn’t have many isolation opportunities versus the Lakers in the regular season. Considering the fact that the Lakers held Denver under their average offensive efficiency in all four regular season meetings, trying out a few Lawson isolations might be worth a look. The video below shows Lawson’s isolation possessions against Sessions and Blake. On this small sample of isolations, he’s able to get into the middle of the defense, but doesn’t always finish.
This series is a study in clashing styles, as the Nuggets will try to speed up the post-oriented Lakers. Because it will be so easy for the Lakers to slow things down with Bynum and Gasol getting the ball, the Nuggets’ halfcourt execution could be pivotal in deciding the series.