Roster Experiments: Real Genius or Weird Science?

Roster Experiments: Real Genius or Weird Science?

Postby trodgers on Wed Oct 15, 2008 10:23 am

Roster Experiments: Real Genius or Weird Science?
Travis J. Rodgers

After the Los Angeles Lakers' failure to capture the 2008 NBA title, fans turned immediately to consoling themselves with thoughts of the roster-that-could-be in 2008/2009. If the prospects of a lineup including Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum do not elicit a salivatory response in one, one just might not be a Lakers fan. Because that lineup is simply devastating, featuring four players capable of putting up twenty points with some regularity and two who can score thirty or more. And of course one of them is the greatest offensive weapon in the game. But fairy tales rarely contain more than a trace of reality. The preseason seems to suggest that the Frightening Five is not to be.

In the first place, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have struggled to play together on the court effectively. It is not at all evident what the problem is, as Gasol has played a good deal of Power Forward in his career and has an effective jump shot while Bynum is a prototypical Center. Gasol's finesse play would be backed by Bynum's power game. Yet reports from Lakers camp are that the two on the court at once is not working so Bynum may be headed to the bench.

Second, Lamar Odom, who has played essentially every role on this team except Shooting Guard, showed up to camp out of basketball shape (perhaps more mentally than physically) and threw a fit when early indications pointed to his inability to play in the starting lineup. Rumors of his playing at Shooting Guard or even Point Guard have been tossed around. Most recently, he has shown signs of having come to terms with the possibility of being first off the bench.

So where does this all leave the Lakers' rotation? If Bynum and Odom both move to the second unit, Fisher and Bryant would still man the back court, but there would be a considerable shakeup in the front court. Gasol would return to Center, where he was adept offensively for the Lakers last season. Trevor Ariza might slide into the starting Small Forward role by default as Sasha Vujacic's avulsion fracture will keep him out of the bulk of preseason and prevent him from competing for a starting spot (should that happen, Bryant would slide to a slightly more effective Small Forward role). Vladimir Radmanovic would presumably be Phil Jackon's top choice for starting Power Forward. Radmanovic, when playing his best, is a solid player in the mold of Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu. He can do everything reasonable well, including defend when he puts his mind to it (in this sense, he is not as effective offensively as Peja but is superior defensively). Yet at his worst, he is a train wreck on the court.

So why is Radmanovic even in the running for a starting gig? If Jackson's appreciation for offensive play borders on the obsessive, his ability to look past defensive inconsistencies and hope that some Zen spirit infuses the unit and brings it to a higher level borders on the obscene. So expect Radmanovic to start if Bynum and Odom are both pushed to the second unit. In such a situation, the sole response that would put LA in good shape on both sides of the ball would be to put Ariza at the Small Forward spot. His offensive game has some limitations, notably in terms of ball handling and distance shooting, but with Fisher, Bryant, and Gasol on the court, the Lakers would still fare reasonably well in those categories. The lack of a true Point Guard did not hurt LA except possibly for the NBA Finals. Bryant's ability to create a shot off the dribble would be augmented by Ariza's, who is arguably the second most skilled (although Jordan Farmar certainly makes a strong case) on the team at creating in such conditions. Vlad's weak defense can be concealed by Ariza's tough-minded approach and there is always the Jacksonian hope that feeding a player's offensive game will spill over into his defensive efforts. So perhaps things will work out. Imagine if they do.

LA's starting five would still be one of the best in the game, but when it comes to second units, imagine a team trying to compete with Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum. Or perhaps it would be Walton out and Josh Powell in, with Odom sliding to the Small Forward spot. At any rate, no team in the NBA can compete with that. Perhaps that is the fantasy Jackson has. Now for the serious problem.

Basketball players are not chess pieces. You cannot manipulate them around the depth chart like pawns on the board. Even if he plays thirty or more minutes per game in Jackson's plans, Odom may not respond psychologically to the demotion from the starting lineup. And after the season Andrew Bynum was having until his injury, and given how hard he worked during the offseason, his plans were not to serve as backup. As a young player eyeing a big contract, the stress on Bynum is already considerable. Struggling to find regular heavy minutes in Jackon's often inconsistent substitution plans may take their toll. And this is all assuming things go swimmingly in the starting lineup. If not, further shakeups will be necessitated.

So while there have been numerous defining moments in Phil Jackson's career, it is unclear that there has ever been a more monumental test looming for his skill at manipulation. Hailed as the Zen Master, Jackson has battled to fit together jagged-edged egos into a seamless puzzle. Perhaps he has always succeeded in the past, but this season may pose the greatest test yet. Whether Jackson will be remembered ultimately as a cool and calculating genius or a mystical eccentric could be determined over the next few months.

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Re: Roster Experiments: Real Genius or Weird Science?

Postby cthroatgtr on Wed Oct 15, 2008 10:35 am

Bynum and Odom won't both move to the bench. If Odom goes to the bench Bynum starts and if Bynum goes to the bench, Lamar starts. The starting 5 of Fish, Kobe, Vlad, Gasol and Odom made it to the finals so you know that lineup works. What was clearly not working was Bynum, Gasol and Odom on the court at the same time. Too congested with those three and Kobe becomes spot up shooter, his one real weakness.

I really think it is Lamar as sixth man, with Bynum, Gasol and Vlad starting. Vlad gets the nod for his range as much as anything. Then expect Lamar to replace Gasol or Bynum, depending and Ariza to replace Vlad. Kobe can also move to the three and you have Sasha and Farmar off the bench. Spot minutes for Powell will be there as needed.

Remember that a lineup of Fish, Kobe, Ariza, Odom and Bynum was really working well last year before Ariza and Bynum got hurt. We know the finals lineup worked well as well. Farmar running with Odom at PF means a quick up and down lineup and if Sasha is playing SG you can always slide Kobe to the 3 as well. Luke will probably not see much time nor will Sun Yue. Powell gets spot minutes.
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Re: Roster Experiments: Real Genius or Weird Science?

Postby trodgers on Wed Oct 15, 2008 10:45 am

cthroatgtr wrote:Bynum and Odom won't both move to the bench. If Odom goes to the bench Bynum starts and if Bynum goes to the bench, Lamar starts. The starting 5 of Fish, Kobe, Vlad, Gasol and Odom made it to the finals so you know that lineup works. What was clearly not working was Bynum, Gasol and Odom on the court at the same time. Too congested with those three and Kobe becomes spot up shooter, his one real weakness.

The rosters put on the court SO FAR do not bear out your suggestion. Fisher, Kobe, and Pau each have three starts. Ariza and Odom each have 2. Vlad and Bynum each have 1. It would be a bit strange to have Bynum start just one game if he is written in (in ink) at the starting C spot.

Nor do the +/- numbers bear out your suggestion. Consider those two independent sources of evidence counter to your suggestion. It might be the case that you're correct, but we're not there yet.
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Re: Roster Experiments: Real Genius or Weird Science?

Postby therealdeal on Wed Oct 15, 2008 4:46 pm

Phil has already said that the Twin Towers are looking fine together. He opened camp saying they weren't to motivate them to try harder. JSM posted it in one of the training day threads.
Predicted starting five:
Fisher
Bryant
Radmanovic
Gasol
Bynum

Inside power in the Twin Towers, outside attack with Radmanovic and Fisher with Kobe slashing and jumping.
or

Fisher
Bryant
Radmanovic
Odom
Gasol/ Bynum

effective enough to get to the Finals ( or as Bynum was at his peak breakout point). With an extremely effective bench.

Either way works fine. This team for the most part is willing to put pride on the mantle and play to win.
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Re: Roster Experiments: Real Genius or Weird Science?

Postby cthroatgtr on Wed Oct 15, 2008 5:19 pm

trodgers wrote:
cthroatgtr wrote:Bynum and Odom won't both move to the bench. If Odom goes to the bench Bynum starts and if Bynum goes to the bench, Lamar starts. The starting 5 of Fish, Kobe, Vlad, Gasol and Odom made it to the finals so you know that lineup works. What was clearly not working was Bynum, Gasol and Odom on the court at the same time. Too congested with those three and Kobe becomes spot up shooter, his one real weakness.

The rosters put on the court SO FAR do not bear out your suggestion. Fisher, Kobe, and Pau each have three starts. Ariza and Odom each have 2. Vlad and Bynum each have 1. It would be a bit strange to have Bynum start just one game if he is written in (in ink) at the starting C spot.

Nor do the +/- numbers bear out your suggestion. Consider those two independent sources of evidence counter to your suggestion. It might be the case that you're correct, but we're not there yet.


If Lamar and Bynum go to the bench who are you starting at PF? Vlad typically plays SF. He can occassionally play PF but only in a run and gun game plan. Slowed down Vlad cannot play PF and is a weak rebounder. The team would get killed if the started Pau, Vlad and Ariza. The pecking order is probably Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom you don't send #3 & 4 to the bench. Lamar is the second best PF on this team behind Gasol so if you send Bynum to the bench you play Odom at PF. If you send Odom to the bench you play Gasol at PF.

Phil has tried the twin towers and the "big" lineup as well as Vlad starting at SF along with either Gasol or Odom. Phil has not tried Lamar and Bynum on the bench nor is there any indication he would move both to the bench.

My belief is he will try Bynum and Gasol with a perimeter SF and bring Odom off the bench. If that doesn't mesh look for Lamar to start and Bynum to come off the bench. They will run small stretches with Bynum, Gasol and Odom but only when it works and against the right teams.
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Re: Roster Experiments: Real Genius or Weird Science?

Postby trodgers on Wed Oct 15, 2008 6:08 pm

I don't want Vlad on the court. He plays PF regularly though so he'd be there if he's on the court and neither Odom nor Bynum are.

Phil has not tried Lamar and Bynum on the bench nor is there any indication he would move both to the bench.

I'm not sure whether you're just saying this or whether you don't know, but just in the game against the Kings, neither of them were on the court for a 14-minute stretch. Maybe you're just referring to the starting lineup, but I see no reason to think that Jackson would have shot his bolt in terms of starting lineups after 3 games.
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Re: Roster Experiments: Real Genius or Weird Science?

Postby cthroatgtr on Wed Oct 15, 2008 8:26 pm

trodgers wrote:I don't want Vlad on the court. He plays PF regularly though so he'd be there if he's on the court and neither Odom nor Bynum are.

Phil has not tried Lamar and Bynum on the bench nor is there any indication he would move both to the bench.

I'm not sure whether you're just saying this or whether you don't know, but just in the game against the Kings, neither of them were on the court for a 14-minute stretch. Maybe you're just referring to the starting lineup, but I see no reason to think that Jackson would have shot his bolt in terms of starting lineups after 3 games.


Preseason review of players doesn't count. I am referring to start of 1st and 3rd periods where he has played with a starting lineup. Vlad rarely if ever plays PF. On offense he camps around the 3pt line and on defense he guards 3's almost exclusively. When Lamar is running the offense Vlad may "technically" be the PF in the offense, but really he plays almost exclusively at SF. No way Vlad plays PF.
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Re: Roster Experiments: Real Genius or Weird Science?

Postby trodgers on Thu Oct 16, 2008 6:56 pm

But that's just wrong. He does play PF. I'm not talking about a preseason game or two. I'm talking about for lengthy stretches.
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