Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel must best his Boston counterpart Brad Stevens
Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel does not need to tell his team this is a statement game against the Boston Celtics. The nationally televised game (5:30 PM PST on ABC) should have a playoff-level intensity similar to the game against Philadelphia.
The question is, which statement will the Lakers make? Will they show other teams that they are vulnerable? Or are they going to reassert their dominance?
Coach Vogel does not need to motivate his team. He needs to put them in the best position to win by winning the chess battle against the Boston Celtics and their coach Brad Stevens.
But the chess pieces are real people. The Lakers just came off a bad loss vs Detroit. At this point, the team needs a mild jolt to get them through the regular season successfully. Vogel should therefore go to a smaller lineup against Boston.
Although the eye test and stats would justify the move, Vogel is ambivalent about going small because the old-school power ball is his calling card. The LeBron-AD frontcourt could prove to be an iteration of a death lineup in crunch time (h/t Silver Screen and Roll)
"“It’s not a lock that I’ll go to that every game. There’s some strengths with that lineup in terms of defensive speed around AD and Bron defensively as sort of the two bigs,” Vogel said. “But Alex, KCP and Dennis obviously (have) elite perimeter speed and containment ability, and they’ve got great space to drive and kick and play that game with AD at the five.”"
The Los Angeles Lakers need that speed against the Boston Celtics.
Why going small vs Boston is the right move:
Against Boston, they will need as much quickness as possible. Boston’s trio of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum has plenty of offensive firepower. Brown in particular has emerged into an all-star caliber talent this year.
Coach Vogel has to downsize most of this game, as he did against the Houston Rockets last season. I think he will adjust. Coach Stevens may be renowned for his X’s and O’s acumen, but Vogel is in the same tier judging by the sets he runs throughout the game. Like Stevens, Vogel also leverages opposing defensive tendencies into open looks.
Allow me to explain further.
How Frank Vogel gets his players open looks:
Coach Vogel leverages the offensive gravitas of LeBron James and Anthony Davis to generate open looks for not just his two stars but also for everybody else on the court.
The Lakers lead the league in effective field goal percentage. Much of that is the individual brilliance of LeBron and AD, but some of the credit should go to Vogel for generating open looks out of set plays.
Here is how he gets some of his guys open.
Drawing up effective inbounds plays are a very overlooked part of basketball. Coach Vogel’s go-to side inbounds play on the left-hand side of the court is intended for LeBron James. Notice how Vogel leverages the strengths of each player on the court to generate an open look.
- Marc Gasol is at his best as a facilitator from the top of the key
- LeBron is an all-time great finisher
- KCP is the team’s most consistent three-point shooter
Off the pass to Gasol, it is smart to have KCP be the screener. Using the best shooter to set cross and back screens puts a lot of pressure on the defense to bump LeBron on the cut. As we see here, defenses oftentimes cannot stop this play even if they defend the play correctly.
Now the best way to defend this is to shade LeBron to the middle of the court. Force him to face cut instead of back cut, which funnels him into the teeth of the defense. KCP’s man would have to hedge over to cut off the passing lane to LeBron then fight through the down screen from AD.
Easier said than done. Nobody is bumping LeBron off his spot.
Good luck, defense.
When defenses shift over to stop LeBron, KCP gets a pin-down screen from AD in single coverage. The screen-the-screener often generates wide-open looks the first time the play is run. The second time, AD (the screener for KCP) gets a free roll to the basket because two defenders will jump out to stop KCP.
Vogel ran a similar play against the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs. It won them not just a scrimmage game, but indirectly led to Anthony Davis’ buzzer-beater in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
How Frank Vogel gave Anthony Davis his shining moment in the Western Conference Finals:
Frank Vogel and Anthony Davis won Game 2 against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. Many pundits and talking heads criticized Denver’s defense for leaving AD open, but Coach Vogel deserves more credit for finding a tendency and exploiting it.
For instance, Denver’s Mason Plumlee tends to overhelp on drop coverage when defending off-ball screens. When they scrimmaged in the bubble, Coach Vogel used LeBron and AD as decoys to set up Kyle Kuzma’s game-winning shot.
Plumlee’s job was to jam LeBron’s cut then recover to close out on Kuzma in time. He was two steps too far from defending the play correctly. There was no reason for Plumlee to be that close to the basket given LeBron James was already covered on the back-screen.
Even if Denver’s Bol Bol was supposed to stay on Kuzma, Plumlee had to jam Kuzma when he came to the ball.
Vogel noticed this.
When the Lakers played Denver for real, Vogel ran a misdirection play for Anthony Davis because he knew Plumlee would drop too far back to be able to close out to AD in time.
That is coaching genius.
But coaching geniuses can also overthink things on the court. Sometimes, the coach just needs to sit back and let his stars go to work.
Frank Vogel has LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Against Boston, Davis is unstoppable. They have no one who can guard him reliably.
Frank Vogel always runs a play for Anthony Davis to open the game. Radius Athletics does a great job of breaking down the play.
- LeBron sets a rip screen for AD as soon as he passes it to KCP
- LeBron catches ball and then Javale McGee set the screen
- As LeBron is coming off the screen, Danny Green sets a cross-screen for AD
Coach Vogel needs to go to that play early and often. Boston cannot guard it at all because they trend smaller than most teams. Their versatility and length do not matter when AD can dunk all over them inside. Boston ends up with two less-than-stellar scenarios as a result:
- If Boston switches, AD gets a small on him on the block and will finish easily
- If they fight through the screen, he’ll setup shop at the mid-post area and blow by Daniel Theis or Tristan Thompson by doing a reverse pivot to go baseline
Once Boston shifts their defensive weight to AD, KCP will be open coming off the down screen. I would also run a variation of this play with LeBron in the post. All Vogel has to do is to have LeBron cut through instead of screening for AD.
Boston will give the Lakers their best shot. The Lakers have guys who can theoretically defend Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, or Jayson Tatum. But nobody on Boston can defend Anthony Davis. If Coach Vogel can get AD at least 10 post-up touches, the Lakers win tonight.