Now that we have gotten over the novelty of the flow offense and its cure all affects on the Los Angeles Lakers, we can finally see that this modern approach to basketball still falls short in some very key areas that have withstood the test of time and evolution. As much as the game has evolved, there are still the same tried and true methods that create a winning franchise. New York Knicks President of Operations Phil Jackson always said that he did not consider the triangle offense as the cure to everything when he coached (Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers). He merely utilized it in order to teach sound spacing, timing, and movement away from the ball.
By now, it has become apparent that the same issues, which plagued former Lakers’ coach Byron Scott, are coming to the forefront minus the public circus ( that was Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour). You don’t just get better by virtue of playing the game, teaching the fundamentals and how you teach those fundamentals is paramount to developing a winning culture.
Although Los Angeles Lakers’ coach Luke Walton has already set the pace for a more successful season as far as wins and losses are concerned, he is still running into the same defensive and offensive issues that Scott had to deal with. Walton’s approach seems to be the right one being that he is dealing with modern day players and the baggage that they carry but it is simply not enough. Scott was caught trying to instill traditional values of hard work, attention to detail, and toughness to an era of players whom has no clue of what that means or how it applies to winning.
This becomes very apparent in the waning moments of the game when they struggle to score with the same ease as the previous quarters and display horrible decision-making outside of their offensive scheme as they did against the Portland Trailblazers. Down by as many as 14 points, the Lakers staged an amazing come back to tie the game twice and even took the lead at 94-91 on a Nick Young three-pointer only to watch the victory slip away from their hands in the last 3:14 of the game. Ill-advised shots, blown lay-ups, and non-existent defensive rotations gave away the game.
The solution to these issues is simple, it’s finding the correct method to teach these solutions that becomes the true challenge. This is how coaches truly earn their salaries. How do you get today’s players to be tough (not act tough), pay attention to detail and work hard? In order to get them to pay attention to detail, you must teach more than just the offensive and defensive system. You have to teach the individual skill-work that makes these systems work.
Every player is looking for what will make them more effective on the court. You must earn their trust in order to get them to play hard. Coaches must present to them their vision and work hard towards developing it as their team’s philosophy. Toughness can be translated into modern terms as competitiveness. Every drill they utilize to teach skill-work should also promote competitive mindsets like keeping score and holding the defeated accountable.
Finally, the Lakers need to develop an identity. They need to state who their main guys are and work on how to keep these main guys involved especially in the crucial parts of the game. By committing to these particular players, you create a more consistent way of playing that should in turn eliminate a great amount of indecision that occurs outside of your offensive and defensive structures.
It is obvious that the Lakers should invest heavily into Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, and D’Angelo Russell. With more defined roles and designated responsibilities, this trio of young talent should continue to develop and start making specific contributions to the win column. They should always be on the court in the last four minutes of a game learning to make key decisions during intense and pivotal moments of the game in an attempt to teach them how to close out their opponents.
It is not my intent to oversimplify the solution. The true test is not what you say but in how you deliver that message. The challenge is getting your team to listen and follow through with their directives. Unfortunately, the gap between the generations is becoming wider each year and has created a modern player that is not accustomed to being told what to do, taught how to earn his teammates respect, and willing to sacrifice his own agenda for the greater good.
This requires a coach to possess, as an invaluable talent, a level of tact. He must be tactful in his communication with modern players or he risks putting them off and destroying delicate team chemistry. He must be encouraging but not enabling. Analytical as opposed to critical. He must know when to be stern but not oppressive. Walton has his work cut out for him but there is at least light at the end of the tunnel. However, he better work quickly because the Lakers’ fan base is not a particularly patient one.