Perhaps the most basic and essential element of Mike D’Antoni’s – and really most of the NBA’s – offense is the screen-and-roll action, designed to force the defense into making a decision that leaves the offense with an open shot.
Five games into the season, the Lakers have not run it well. Too often, the big men are setting the screen and popping out for a jump shot instead of rolling to the basket, where they could either receive a pass with a chance finish or draw defensive attention that would produce open shots for teammates.
“(We need) more rolling, that’s what we want to do,” said D’Antoni after Wednesday’s practice in Houston ahead of Thursday’s game against the Rockets. “Mid-range shots aren’t the best thing in the world, so if that’s all you’re trying to get, that’s not a winning formula.”
I asked D’Antoni to what degree he’d prefer his big men roll, as opposed to pop.
“Almost 90 percent of the time we want you to roll hard, because we have another big that plays with (the roller) and he’d be the popper. You always have one shooter outside.”
And what is lacking?
“What we’re missing is a dynamic force going to the basket,” revealed D’Antoni. “Kobe (Bryant) would give you that, but we don’t have that force anywhere. So now we kind of play on the perimeter, and sometimes it works out a little bit, but that’s not what we need to do.”
“Sometimes we get too stagnant and we don’t create advantages,” said Pau Gasol when asked what L.A. needs to do better. “We have to create motion out of the pick and rolls, so that’s what we’re going to try and do more of from now on … (make) the defense move and for guys to be open from those actions. If we’re going to continue to run it, we have to do it more effectively. Hopefully when I roll, it’ll get me closer to the basket, too, and the ball might get there often, so that’s kind of the plan … our guards are not too fast, so we have to create advantages other ways.”
Gasol rolling to the hoop late in games after setting a screen for Bryant was L.A.’s bread and butter during the three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals from 2008-10, so he’s certainly capable and aware. Clearly, the coaches would prefer that he, Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill and even Wesley Johnson try and establish that “dynamic force” heading to the hoop after setting the screen. To what degree the bigs execute the plan remains to be seen.
Of course, there are two sides to the screen-and-roll, but on defense, the way the Lakers need to play the action is more simple.
“We just have to put the effort in mentally and focus on being gritty,” D’Antoni said. “For whatever reason, we have a hard time sustaining our effort mentally and focused in on being gritty … we’re not good enough to fall in like everybody else. Somehow we have to distinguish ourselves and that’s by grit and determination, and we’re not there yet.”
That grit was certainly lacking in Dallas, when Monta Ellis (30 points on 11 of 14 shooting, nine assists) got into the paint at will en route to the 123-104 blowout loss.
It’ll be just as much a focus in Houston on Thursday night, as the Rockets essentially run D’Antoni’s offense, with Omer Asik and Dwight Howard setting screens for James Harden and Patrick Beverley/Jeremy Lin. Howard did relatively little rolling to the hoop for L.A.’s offense last season, and D’Antoni hopes his bigs will begin to reverse that trend on Thursday evening.
Tip off is at 6:30 p.m. PST on TNT.