The Lakers have a new head coach. It’s hard to be enthusiastic with a choice that wasn’t in their top three options, and was initially seen as just an assistant coach option (and rightfully so). Vogel didn’t crack the top two tiers in my list of 32 coaching options the Lakers could pursue, and highlighted the “Cranjis Wouldn’t be Happy” tier of names in that piece.
After a couple days of poring through film and data on Vogel in both Indiana and Orlando, that’s still where I’d place him among that list.
You can read up on Vogel almost making the finals, coaching a young Paul George, and being “well respected” plenty of other places, but today I’ll be attempting to gauge his abilities as a coach through a film and data driven approach.
The bottom line up front would be that I have serious concerns about Vogel’s fit with the existing young core in both an X’s and O’s way and also from an offensive development standpoint through the lens of developing them to execute what Vogel, or whoever is diagramming the plays (even if LA brings an outsider in to boost that area), has the team running. I also see some attractive fit between Vogel’s offense and LeBron James’ skill set, while also anticipating perhaps a small bit of conflict and adjustment to start the season between the two for a specific reason I’ll detail later.
Am I happy? Yes and no. Two weeks ago if you told me this would be the result I’d be pretty upset. I’m still not pleased. The Lakers should have Ty Lue as their coach right now, and I think he’s a good but not great coach. They should’ve called many more competent options than they did, but here we are. Among those they actually considered, and it was quite an awful group that caught their eye, Vogel was the best option. But the best of bad options when LA could have possibly waited to see if Brett Brown became available, never glanced at Ettore Messina or Stan Van Gundy, and didn’t even for a second consider any other strong assistant options or college options irks me.
The pool of retreads without jobs is full of poor coaches for a reason. There’s a relative scarcity of strong NBA head coaches. And it’ll take a team taking a chance on a college coach, an international coach, or an assistant coach for the next batch of good coaches to make it to the NBA ranks. You can’t just shuffle chairs forever. Perhaps the Lakers weren’t in a position to take a risk like those, but it’s hard nonetheless to argue their process was sound and their preferences were smart even among the retread options.
With that out of the way, let’s get into Frank Vogel.
Vogel’s Offense by the Numbers
Concern #1 with Frank Vogel is what he does offensively. Raw offensive ratings aren’t generally a good way to gauge how strong a coach or coaching staff is in that regard, since much of that ultimate output is driven by roster talent. But in Vogel’s case, the data lines up well with the ineptitude that can be seen even at the highest of levels, and actually indicates that Vogel’s teams were under performing their offensive talent levels.
Our offensive optimization data at BBall Index attempts to gauge how well a roster is utilized, through comparing the outputs with player talent ratings, which we calculate for key offensive and defensive categories. You can read high level write-ups about the optimization rating approach here, our offensive grades here, and our defensive and rebounding grades here.
For Vogel, his offensive approach has yielded seasons of performance rating out better than 31%, 38%, 15%, 13%, and 17% of other individual coaching performances when it comes to making the most of the offensive roster talent he’s given. Altogether, that places him better than ~20% of coaches in our database (going back to the 2013-14 season) and in the range of coaches like Jeff Hornacek, Tyrone Corbin, Dave Joerger, Nick Nurse, Lionel Hollins, and Scott Skiles.
If stacked up against current active head coaches, Vogel’s offensive optimization rating is better than only one name… Luke Walton. Even if his two Orlando years are written off as tanking seasons, he’s right around that same range. From the data, Vogel’s offense appears to be a clear weak area.
Vogel’s Offensive Approach
I spoke with BBall Index’s Orlando Magic contributor, Preston Ellis, on what to expect from Vogel from someone who covered the Magic closely for both of Vogel’s years in Orlando. Of what Preston mentioned to me, a couple points stood out as being beliefs of Vogel’s that I want to comment on:
“He prefers fluid movement offensively both with the ball and with multiple actions per possession.”
While Vogel may prefer those principles, his teams haven’t quite lived them out. His Magic squads were 17th and 19th in the league in passes per possession under his tutelage, and of the 200 possessions I logged from his final season in Orlando, his team’s 1.19 actions per possession volume ranked 7th of the 10 teams I logged. Neither mark would say they’re bottom of the league (and in fact both are higher than Walton’s Lakers or Lue’s Cavs), but both indicate below average standing in ball movement and action volume, respectively.
When we expand the view to include his Indiana squads, we see 11th place, 8th place, and 14th place pass per possession values in the three seasons of tracking data over that time. Along with a very different offensive scheme during that time compared to his newer approach that is more modern, this data differs from the Magic data in that it shows above average ball movement. I’d say that the data aligning with the more recent and modern scheme would be more predictive of what we’ll see in Los Angeles moving forward.
“[Vogel] doesn’t believe in isolation basketball offensively”
This is a point that holds true for Vogel’s teams. In Orlando, they had the 2nd and 4th lowest isolation frequencies of any NBA team. But those teams also didn’t have dominant isolation players. In his years leading Indiana, his teams ranked 21st, 19th, 18th, 27th, and 18th in isolation frequency, even with a more isolation talented roster. It’ll be interesting to see how strong that belief of Vogel’s stands up to LeBron James and a possible second star coming to LA this offseason having keen interest in going one on one next season.
I’m glad it’s not a preference of Vogel’s, but he can rest easy knowing he has some good options late-clock in Ingram and LeBron (and possibly more players depending on signings). We may, however, see Vogel snap at guys for deciding to isolate with 10-15 seconds left on the clock, which the Lakers had the tendency to do last season.
Context of Orlando’s Failure
Preston also shared that a perception exists that Vogel’s ultimate downfall came from an incredible number of injuries on that rebuilding team, which could very well be true. I think roster talent certainly didn’t help. In fact, the Orlando roster grades out in the bottom quartile of roster talent data for 2016-17 and in the second to bottom quartile for 2017-18. At a surface level, I wouldn’t buy as much into injuries being a big issue, with Orlando ranking 11th and then 20th in games lost to injury or illness those two seasons (per InStreetClothes). But Vucevic playing only 56 games in 2017-18 hindered Orlando far more than the 20th team ranking would indicate. Regardless, both of these are factors are captured by our optimization ratings, which still don’t view Vogel positively even after doing so.
Where I see this playing out is an added patience and forgiveness of recent failures being preached for Vogel even if he truly isn’t performing well, perhaps playing out a similar way to how Laker fans preached patience Luke Walton from him having to deal with roster turnover or injuries over several seasons.
Indiana vs Orlando
Vogel had success in Indiana with a far more experienced roster, higher roster talent, and running schemes both offensively and defensively that featured lineups with two traditional big men. There was less focus on more modern NBA concepts offensively in Indiana and defensively a design that was more susceptible to those same concepts, forcing change once he got to Orlando.
When it comes to predicting which Vogel we’ll see, you may see arguments presented about roster experience or talent levels, which may lean more toward Vogel’s Indy days being the blueprint for LA. I’d argue that’s misguided, and the change Vogel displayed was to attempt to match the changing NBA, and that no matter the roster he has he’ll lean far more toward the Orlando schemes that were designed to keep up with the current competitive landscape.
Rundown of Vogel’s Offense
Here are some answers and notes on how Vogel approaches different aspects of offense:
Vogel’s Magic teams were 7th and 10th in transition frequency, indicating we may see continued fast play like LA saw under Walton. It’ll just be cranked back a notch or two.
Action Volume and Style
I mentioned previously that Vogel’s offense in Orlando had a 1.19 actions/play volume for the possessions I logged. I want to note that the 1.19 number is dragged down quite a bit from a high volume of 5-out high ball screen plays with no other action. I saw a ton of those possessions. Vogel had a higher proportion of 2+ action plays than the 1.19 number would suggest, and a much higher mark than Lue or Walton’s offenses provide.
There are many different ways to attack in the NBA. Here are some of the actions I saw most on film from Vogel’s Orlando teams:
- A lot of high ball screens
- Flare screens (including hammer action)
- Pin downs
- Step up ball screens (ala what we saw from Walton’s teams)
- Chicago action (pin down into a dribble handoff)
- Staggered off-ball screens for shooters
- Wedge ram action, where a ball screen at the wing was preceded by the eventual ball screener receiving a screen themselves to free them up from their defender, attempting to prevent big man coverage on the ultimate ball screen
- Floppy (from a diamond setup) and mover-blocker action
If we break the actions down into what I call action families, here’s the breakdown and frequency of each:
- Pick & Roll / DHO: 0.81 per possession
- Down Screen: 0.19 per possession (ex: pin down)
- Back Screen: 0.03 per possession
- Flare Screen: 0.13 per possession (ex: Detroit flare, hammer flare)
- Cross Screen: 0.03 per possession (ex: AI action, post cross screen)
Vogel’s offense features quite a bit of 1-action ball screen plays from a 5-out formation, but also mixes in some above average and average play calls in a way Luke Walton’s offense didn’t do with any consistency and Ty Lue’s offenses rarely did other than after timeouts.
Here’s the breakdown of alignments I saw from Vogel’s Magic team:
- 5-Out: 61% (like with Lue, I counted bigs sprinting into high ball screens to temporarily create a 5-out look at 5-out)
- 4-Out: 19%
- Horns: 9%
- 3-Out 2-In: 5%
- Diamond (for floppy): 2%
- Mover-Blocker: 2%
- Miscellaneous: 2%
5-out was something I had seen mentioned as a big reason Ty Lue’s offense would be great for LA, which is broke down (in multiple senses) in my piece on Lue. In reality, Lue ran 5-out less than 30% of his team’s half court offensive possessions both with and without LeBron. Vogel at least doubles that mark.
“Is that good?” is the question I’ve gotten on Twitter a half dozen times after I tweeted that same info out earlier today. Yes and no. If LA has the personnel to execute 5-out (have shooters), yes. If not, no. And unlike Lue, who exhibited a strong grasp on when his personnel afforded him the opportunity to do so, Vogel ran 5-out on numerous occasions where the alignment and associated actions were watered down by not having great personnel to run them, which I believe at relatively high volume contributed to Orlando having the 7th and 12th lowest frequency of rim and 3-point shot attempts for 2016-17 and 2017-18. Defenses could help better on drives, worry less about shooters, and ultimately end up giving up quite a bit of mid to long range 2-pointers.
Where this could be a strong fit with LeBron is the spread offense, chances to get inside and either attack the rim or kick out to shooters, which resemble what LeBron did in Cleveland. That’s also an environment we can theorize Brandon Ingram’s driving ability could thrive. But that’s all theoretical unless LA can add to their shooting and better enable a massive change in those rim and 3-point frequencies numbers referenced just above this paragraph. Otherwise, LeBron will be kicking out to shooters who will miss open and contested 3s more than most teams, and Brandon Ingram and LeBron will be dealing with more traffic in the lane than ideal. IF the personnel is right, the potential is there. If not, the pros and cons scale of running high volumes of 5-out shift.
An encouraging indicator that Vogel is figuring out how to better create those driving opportunities is the volume of drives Orlando had in their second season under Vogel vs their first year under his brand new scheme. They went from 18th in driving frequency to 6th, which I think correlates strongly to their off-screen frequency rise in the second year and greater 5-out focus.
Still, to me, that means LA needs to get shooters this offseason and hope their young guys can improve their Perimeter Shooting grades from last year: Lonzo (C perimeter shooting talent grade), Ingram (C), Hart (C), and Kuzma (D+) being those key young pieces.
Vogel’s Orlando offense overaged 0.81 pick and rolls or handoffs per possession in the possessions I logged. Those actions were a majority (not just a plurality) of their actions, so how they run them will be important to LA’s success.
In my piece breaking down Lue’s offense in depth, I broke down how Lue will have screeners feign screening one side of a defender to then switch to the other, use ghost screens quite a bit where a fake screen is set and then the screener sprints to the 3-point line, ram screens where a guard would free the big man screener up for a high ball screen by first screening for him down low, and double high drag screens with one big rolling and another popping, often forcing switches or confusion on the defense’s part.
Vogel doesn’t do most of that at any significant volume. I saw ghost screens twice in 200 possessions, double drags 5 times in 200 possessions, almost no inverted ball screens with guards setting the screen, and ram action executed a different way from how Lue’s offense normally does it 4 times.
Vogel’s bigs also do much of the screen flipping to try to trick the defensive coverage. But what did stand out was the willingness and skill Vogel’s bigs and guards had when attacking from their 5-out high ball screens to take the correct initial screening angle to get the guard the best chance to attack downhill. Often, it was a late declaration that resulted in that or the guard dribbling one way to set up the screen another way. Not quite the same tactic as Lue’s teams took, but still effective in getting ball handlers inside.
Here is how Vogel’s Orlando offenses dealt with switches in the three major easy ways I outlined for Ty Lue in my last piece:
Slipping Ball Screens – when the defense switches ball screens, the screener often has a chance to slip to the rim and be open (especially with Vogel’s high 5-out usage). Orlando ranks 17th and 13th under Vogel in slip possessions. Average usage here.
Flash Cuts – with defenses switching off-ball screens, the screeners have chances to flash to the rim for dump offs and dunks. Flash cuts not associated with switching can also appear here, and I’d expect 5-out alignments to generate more of those than other alignments, favoring Vogel well and perhaps inflating these numbers just a bit. Vogel’s Magic teams ranked 11th and 7th in flash cuts, so we’re looking at an above average number of these. With the volume of off-screen possessions Orlando generated and heightened opportunity to cuts off of those from screeners, this also makes sense.
Post Seals – If ball screeners or off-ball screeners slip to the rim and aren’t open initially from their step on their new defender, they can take that inside position and seal their defender off and look for a lob pass and layup/dunk. Orlando ranked 19th and 16th in these attempts. What’s interesting was that Orlando was 11th and 25th in post ups those two years, leading me to guess that Vogel grew in this regard from his first season to his second season in Orlando, considering that high relative jump in volume when considering the general post possession volume both years.
And of course, there are a number of more creative ways to attack switches that I discuss in a Patreon post here. I don’t expect as much of that, but Vogel at least appears to be average in each of the above simple ways to attack switches, which is encouraging (and couldn’t be said of Lue’s offenses). A fair bit will still be through isolation on mismatches, but LA will get some easy buckets with these tactics over the next few seasons as well.
Weak Side and Off-Ball Actions
Off-Ball actions in general are important in creating shot attempts for shooters cutting off of flare or down screens (or their variants) and for players inside or in driving opportunities off of back screens or cross screens (or their variants).
Additionally, those types of actions (if defended) engage off-ball defenders and occupy what could otherwise be help defense against primary or ball-side actions (pick and roll, iso, post up). Having screening away from the ball rather than players just standing around creates extra scoring opportunities and enhances the ones you already have on-ball.
Weak side action (occurring during a player being in a scoring position on the ball) was a major criticism of mine for Luke Walton (well, Jesse Mermuys), and were also a big concern of mine with Ty Lue’s offense. Vogel doesn’t have that issue nearly as much, with his Orlando teams seeing 3-4 times as many shots per game for off-screen shooters as Lue’s squad did. It’s still not a huge part of the offense from a total possessions sense, but being 6th and 8th highest in off-screen possessions in the league Vogel’s two seasons in Orlando is very encouraging.
The portfolio of actions Vogel uses would fit the KCP/Bullock types of players well. He had a good mix of off-screen variations that fit both guard type players and also less mobile players, so I feel comfortable in Vogel’s ability to get any players with good enough shooting and footwork off those kinds of screens. Again, a place where shooting in signings will be important (the Orlando teams were not strong from a shooting talent standpoint) and development of that skill from Lonzo/Ingram/Hart/Kuzma will be key for them to be impactful within Vogel’s scheme.
I saw the occasional weak side action during a pick and roll, which is far more than can be said about Walton’s offense and was also higher than what I saw from Lue’s offenses with and without LeBron. This is something I look for from teams when I look at their “freelance motion,” which I consider off-ball movement on pick and roll, isolation, and post up opportunities. Orlando had this in some pick and rolls, and that same action was seen in Indiana under Vogel as well.
In addition to the screening actions, spot up guards and wings often “lifted” from the corner to the wing or “faded” from the wing to the corner on drives, which occupied their defender and kept help defense from stopping pick and roll plays or other actions toward and around the rim. It’s a small thing, but one that helps a lot and is seen often with the Spurs, Warriors, and many other strong offenses. Walton’s Laker teams did this far less frequently than I preferred, and Lue’s teams were lower in frequency with this as well.
Converting on Actions
When looking at a team’s scheme, it’s important to look both at the strength of the diagrammed plays and the execution within those actions. Luke Walton’s Lakers under Jesse Mermuys’ scheme had low action volume and poor design, as well as very poor execution of the actions that were run. I often watched the team left with the belief that not only did some sets not make sense, but that players were ill-equipped by the coaching staff to make the proper reads and properly execute what was diagrammed. If from a 0-50 your design is a 20, and from 0-50 your execution is a 15, your 35 out of 100 leaves you in a very poor place schematically.
Vogel’s offense is different. From a diagramming standpoint alone, I’d have him closer to a 30 out of 50. That’s a stark contrast from his offensive optimization rating offensively, which was very poor. That’s where the execution comes in. With the volume of errors around screening angles and technique, reads on screens, and sometimes even very strange timing of off-ball actions, I can’t help but feel that Vogel’s staff may be weaker when it comes to teaching schemes and actions. If players are memorizing rather than understanding, it’s harder to execute well and especially hard when the defense throws different things at you and you need to adjust.
That lack of execution manifests in the logging data. Of those pin down and flare screens run in Vogel’s offense, only ~19% ended a possession with a shot/foul drawn/turnover, compared to about 30% from Walton’s offense.
This is something that a veteran team can overcome if they already have the basketball IQ with the roster, but I worry about a Laker roster of players coming off of years under Luke Walton’s staff won’t have that prerequisite skill set established to make the most of what Vogel and his staff do diagram, in a similar way the young Orlando roster struggled.
With a veteran roster, that lack of teaching ability may have its impact mitigated. But taking young players who are coming from what appeared to be a similar problem under Luke Walton and hoping they can overcome this possible continuing deficiency is an uncomfortable place for me and leaves a looming possibility of downside and potential unrealized for what are very promising and talented young players.
On the bright side, I did see some well drawn up sets. And I see potential within what Vogel already does offensively to obtain average or slightly above average offensive optimization ratings. Well, that plus Vogel avoiding personnel and lineup errors like Aaron Gordon at the SF position (Gordon had negative optimization ratings individually both seasons under Vogel, by the way) plus a roster with shooting that better fits the way Vogel decided to modernize his offense. The Perimeter Shooting talent levels of the returning Laker players doesn’t inherently raise that bar, so free agency will again be key.
Vogel’s Usage of Big Men
Vogel’s offense saw a big revamp from year one to year two in Orlando particularly around his post game. His first season, and far closer to what we saw in Indiana, was the 11th highest post up possession frequency. That was followed by the 25th ranking in frequency his last year leading the Magic. Vucevic posted up less, and Serge Ibaka’s departure from the team also left several post up possessions per game vacant that Vogel didn’t seek to have filled elsewhere.
Only once or twice did I see any screening occurring when the ball went into the post, so I’d anticipate low usage with LA and usage mostly consumed by LeBron (pending free agent signings), and for little to happen off-ball when those possessions occur.
When non-shooting bigs were on the floor, Vogel did a good job keeping them out of the posts altogether and further opening up driving lanes (more so than Lue). The “dunker” spot was the go-to for those players if they weren’t screening and rolling. But with the low frequency of weak side action and opportunities for these players to be screening weak side, we’ll see help coming and dump offs open more than just a wide open lane for dunks and layups.
When Vogel had capable shooting big men, he put them on the perimeter. The volume of screens for them was low, with them instead being pick and pop options, pick and roll options, spot up shooters, or screeners themselves.
Vogel does some encouraging things on the offensive end that give me more hope than his optimization rating does. But the ball movement and action volume data pull me a bit back to earth, as do his high usage of a formation in 5-out that I anticipate to see a lot of even if LA’s roster doesn’t quite fit it. I think we’re looking at a below average coaching staff in offensive design with an even lower capability to groom young players into high IQ players to execute what’s drawn up.
I like LeBron in the system, but the pieces around him not being good fits makes me like him in it less. I do like how Vogel is better equipped to attack switches in simple yet smart ways, but the volume may be lower with Vogel’s offense placing far less emphasis than Lue’s would have when it came to forcing switches through back screens, ghost screens, and the other smart tactics Cleveland used in the past.
I feel worse about this offense for Lonzo than I did with Lue’s, due to likely less of Zo being put in the screener role and less able to leverage his quick decision making skill set. If the weak side flare actions happen with more frequency than they did for Orlando and Indiana, that may be a chance for LeBron and Lonzo to flash their passing. But Vogel’s offensive scheme highlights are a bit different from the median possession of a 5-out high ball screen.
For Ingram, we’re not going to see much of him screening, getting downhill as a cutter after screening or off of AI action or back screens, and may see him face a congested paint due to poor spacing on 5-out looks whenever that weak side action can’t occupy some help defense and/or we have a big man screening who can’t pop. If LA doesn’t get a stretch big, I can see Ingram having plenty of games where he takes a disgusting number of mid range pull ups from pick and roll possessions. I’m uneasy about Ingram’s fit in this offense, pending major roster skill set enhancements through offseason acquisitions.
If Kuzma can shoot, he’ll find himself in advantageous spot up and off-screen opportunities that fit his mobility and attacking mentality well. If not, he’s a tough fit into this or any other offense with the way his tendencies were last season.
Over four thousand words in and we’ve finally gotten to the part of Vogel’s game that he’s known for. To set the stage, I’ll steal a bit from my last article that mentioned Vogel’s defense:
“Frank Vogel has *the* best defensive optimization rating in our database among all coaches with 2+ seasons coached since the 2013-14 season, with tanking years for all coaches excluded.
This is coming to a defense that was led by Luke Walton, who in our database rates out as having *the* worst defensive optimization ratings in his time in LA among coaches with 2+ seasons coached. We saw some glimpses of high level defense over the past couple seasons, largely driven by strong defensive roster talent, but this data indicates it’s about to take a jump.”
That 1st ranking for Vogel’s defensive optimization was counting his years in Orlando as tanking years, and thus excluding them. All seasons included, he’s behind Steve Clifford, Steve Kerr, Stan Van Gundy, Brad Stevens, and Mike Budenholzer among coaches with 2+ seasons coached.
If you just look at his two Orlando years, he was in the 15th percentile with his defensive optimization, and that optimization data shows little growth year over year. The defensive roster talent both years was about average, per out data, but Vogel was returning below outputs below expectations from both squads.
I believe a part of that has to do with Vogel’s approach needing to acclimate a bit more to an NBA with more emphasis on 3s and spreading the floor than in the past, and some of it has to do with key injuries his second season. I’m still a bit unsure about where the existing mismatch of principles/tactics are with what will be desired without diving deep into Orlando film, but I hope to provide more context in the coming weeks to what has been what appears to be a step back for a coach who has an otherwise elite defensive resume. A possibility exists that some of those excuses hold up. But a possibility also exists that even with Vogel tweaking his defensive approach to the modern NBA, opportunities exist to improve.
One possible explanation would be around switching, which is an area I’m told Vogel strongly believes should be avoided whenever possible. Elite modern defense comes down to being able to defend great schemes through switching in many cases, then holding up with individual defensive play to steller offensive players. We’ve seen this play out in the playoffs already.
If Vogel’s defenses, who by post and isolation data face a below average volume of mismatched possessions as a result of a switch, are conceding more shots to schemes by trying to defend them without switching, that might be a legitimate reason for what we’ve seen. And perhaps with that Orlando roster there was hesitation to defend in switch situations.
That fear exists far less with Lonzo and Hart having strong interior defense for guards and LeBron still being a strong perimeter defender on-ball. Kuzma would still be a target, but has improved. But so many pieces of the puzzle are missing for LA currently that it’ll be hard to say how susceptible they’ll ultimately become to mismatch situations. I’ll dig into the film deeper in the days and weeks to come, but that’s my initial guess.
Again, I’ll steal a bit from my last piece and save new readers the hassle of piecing together two half scouting reports on a coach:
“What will work in today’s modern NBA are the 6th and 9th lowest 3-point rates allowed (5th total over the two years), the 9th and 10th lowest defensive transition frequency allowed, and the 6th highest long mid range shot frequency over those two seasons. All of that and a big jump from a poor defense to about an average one while coaching a team in a poor roster and possible tanking situation give me hope that Vogel still has it.”
Among Vogel’s principles I do know, he’s talked about not leaving your feet on closeouts but contesting hard and get shooters off the 3-point line, as well as playing squared up on the perimeter and being more willing to give up the middle. Not being no-middle in particular stands out, and fits into what Indiana seemed to do with funneling middle into the wall that was Roy Hibbert.
Vogel also wants to have as many actions defended by two men as much as possible with everyone else staying home on shooters, and drills those actions in practice to refine those individual action defensive techniques. I don’t imagine any of that is greatly unique, but it’s good to know nonetheless.”
Thankfully for Vogel, he’s inheriting several good to great defensive players. Lonzo Ball is a top level defensive guard when healthy. Josh Hart, even playing hurt for most of this season, had a B Perimeter Defense grade and an A- Interior Defense grade. Brandon Ingram, who our BBall Index data is lower on than many fans, has C+ and B defensive grades for the 2018-19 season and has the physical tools to exceed those marks if he can improve his off-ball defense. LeBron James, contrary to perceptions of many following the highly publicized errors (several of which weren’t his fault), grades out strong as a defender as well in our data (B and B+), had strong defensive impact data points (RPM, PIPM, RAPM), and honestly played a good defensive year as Ben Taylor breaks down well in this video. Hell, even Kuzma showed positive growth this past season defensively and is no longer just an absolute turnstile on that end.
The building blocks are there for Vogel’s raw data to jump back up defensively, and for Vogel’s defensive prowess to raise the bar for the Laker players who will be remaining with the franchise for next season.
Keys Moving Forward
Based on what we know about Vogel and the current Laker situation, here are some of the keys I see with the team moving forward:
1) Jason Kidd’s Role
What’s most striking about Kidd is that in literally every conversation I’ve had with contacts in the coaching realm, basketball operations side of the house, and front office world, I haven’t found any advocates of Kidd’s.
I won’t cover them in depth because others already have, but Kidd’s misgivings in his criminal/personal life have been well documented and are very unbecoming for a coach or player in the NBA to possess and an organization to buy into.
In a functional front office, the type of toxic politics Kidd has engaged with in the past would be squashed and likely him removed altogether. This Lakers front office isn’t one I trust to operate with that degree of competency. Instead, we have a very legitimate opportunity to see back stabbing and Jason Kidd end up as the team’s head coach at some point over the next three seasons. If the team starts out slowly this next season and there’s any sniff of displeasure from the locker room with Vogel, we may see this sort of coup this season. I’d keep an eye out for those Vegas odds.
And I’ll be clear with Kidd: what he brings to the table is not worth the dysfunction he’ll be adding to the franchise.
So what does Kidd bring? He doesn’t scream “upside” in anything from his principles to his nitty gritty operational execution. He by no accounts was individually a driver in player development for his rosters or even his point guards. We know he thinks Lonzo is good and can be very good, which from what I’m told isn’t an uncommon opinion among NBA personnel and certainly isn’t a qualifying factor for the job. Tactically and schematically he leaves much to be desired, with one total optimization rating over five seasons and 10 total data points that is above average in either offense or defense.
One argument I can see made for Kidd is player development results from his past coaching experiences. A 76th percentile offensive player development rating from Kidd’s staff is nothing to laugh at. Here are the percentiles for every offensive category
- Perimeter Shooting: 91st percentile, meaning it was higher than 91% of coaching staffs in our database. And I’ll note that Giannis’ step back is noted in the data, but the aggregate growth for the entire rosters yield a rating this high. And a focus on shooting less 3-pointers wouldn’t be reflected in these ratings, but are a real problem to identify.
- Off-Ball Movement: 82%
- One on One: 15%
- Finishing: 21%
- Roll Gravity: 85%
- Playmaking: 76%
- Post Play: 53%
- Offensive Rebounding: 56%
At first glance, that’s really encouraging. But let’s be clear of what the context is for that data. The numbers show us what they mean to show us, which is the growth Kidd’s players experienced in each skill set over expectation (based on age, position group, and skill) under his entire staff.
I’ve been told by several people in the NBA world, and have seen in the NCAA world firsthand, how little head coaches often influence that growth. It’s the player development coaches designing the plans and spending the hours designing and executing the right drills with players. If Kidd’s staff hired a shooting coach to work on shooting to get those 91st percentile results, it’s not logical to assume Kidd as an individual can replicate that success acting in a shooting coach role.
Thinking Jason Kidd by himself will be able to replicate the highlights of what a full player development staff did in the past with a new set of players is the kind of thinking that gets you a former agent being GM, a former player being president of basketball operations, and a former player being head coach for three seasons. Oh wait…
Anyway, I want to reemphasize that while those numbers are what they are, I do not expect them to translate. But I fully expect someone to take them out of context and make that exact case somewhere on the internet.
The only real pitch/rationalization for Kidd is that as an assistant he can’t hurt, and he can potentially (as a former PG) bring some help to Lonzo Ball. But we have no evidence that his impact in that regard will live up to that hope, and mountains of evidence both in the league and in his personal life that red flag Kidd more than any name that has been brought up as a possible coaching option for the Lakers.
The key with Kidd will be what this role ends up being. If it’s an individual player development role, it’s less likely he’ll ascend to the head spot anytime soon from backstabbing and leapfrogging his colleagues (and I’m selling some of my Lonzo stock).
Player development coaches do work pretty late hours, so he’d still have ample opportunity to plant seeds in the minds of players and staffers for an ultimate attempt at an overthrow. If he’s associate head coach, we’re living on the edge of that cliff starting today and continuing for the next three seasons.
Here’s a quote from Magic analyst and BBall Index contributor Preston Ellis that is very ominous given the circumstances: “My main concern coming from his [Vogel’s] time in Orlando would be his ability to manage the locker room. He’ll need a strong first assistant to manage the chemistry.”
Vogel has a vulnerability with chemistry and will need to rely on a strong first assistant? Possible deterrence of locker room responsibilities and trust building? That is the perfect storm for Jason Kidd to cause problems.
2) Hire an Offensive Coordinator
With Vogel’s offense having the holes it has experienced, many including myself have advocated for Vogel and the Lakers to look toward supplementing Vogel’s eventual staff with additional offensive expertise to bolster the existing body of knowledge and skill. In fact, in my initial article on the 32 coaching options, I noted that I’d only have interest in Vogel if he were to hire a new assistant coach to serve as his offensive coordinator and fill what in the data appears to be a glaring hole in what he and his staffs of the past have brought to the table.
After diving deeper, I’d refine that ask to be more than just someone who is strong with diagramming an offense.
What Vogel also needs is someone who can teach concepts and develop understanding among players of the where, why, and how of the offense’s actions. They also need someone who can organize an offense either matching the eventual roster LA will have and the associated skill sets, or is strong with developing a system to be custom made for that roster rather than just dressing it up on some of the margins.
As expected, it’s difficult to rattle off a list of names who fit each of those three criterion. From afar, it’s hard enough to know who on each team actually runs the team’s offense.
It should also be noted that Vogel’s assistants in Orlando were Chad Forcier (currently available), noted below (and a name I wanted for Ty Lue to add), Corliss Williamson (on the Suns’ staff), David Adelman (on the Nuggets’ staff), and Jay Hernandez (on the Hornets’ staff). If Vogel can’t pry those guys away from their current jobs, he may have far more than just an offensive coordinator spot to fill. That’s good and bad in my eyes, because I fear for who LA may push on/at him but also see it as an opportunity for Vogel to improve tangibly through adding in new diverse and qualified perspectives.
Chad Forcier was someone I named in my first piece for player development and possible knowledge offensively due to having worked with Pop, Carlisle, Vogel, and others in the past. I’ll stand firm on that endorsement, and feel good about it based on info I’ve gotten from other contacts with more knowledge around Forcier than most.
Darvin Ham (Milwaukee) is another name I mentioned in my first piece and went into some detail on. I was thinking that his experience with Bud’s 5-out offense would help enhance what Ty Lue’s often stagnant 5-out offense looked like. With Vogel that concern is quelled somewhat, but Ham would still likely be an excellent option to enhance that side of things and also possibly bring in some strong defensive knowledge from another one of the best defensive staffs in the NBA. But remember that with any assistant, there’s the possibility that their true roles and responsibilities differ from our assumptions, and what they actually bring to the table is potentially in a completely different area. But I feel good about Ham.
Larry Drew might be someone to call up and at least check out. Ty Lue’s former assistant and presumed offensive coordinator, there’s a possible chance to incorporate some concepts from Lue’s offense that could enhance what Vogel does, particularly with the inverted ball screens, ghost screens, and ability to easily force switches (and perhaps some ATO knowledge).
I’d give Lloyd Pierce(?) a call as well to see if he’d have interest and what he could potentially bring to the table. More specifically, whoever ran the offense of the Hawks this year (I don’t have a name) would be who I’d look into. The Hawks coach ran a good number of sets I liked and would add a different approach to what Vogel’s offenses normally look like. Our data doesn’t like what Atlanta did this year offensively, but I think tanking had a bit to do with that. I can’t give a strong endorsement, but I would think they’re still at least worth a look.
And, I mean, you’re the Lakers. You have money, no salary cap on coaches, and should be able to poach an assistant from somewhere. Go see who runs the offenses for Utah and Denver, who are the two teams that attack in ways I think LA could tweak and look to emulate in different ways. I don’t have names for either team, but an NBA team should be able to easily get those names.
What is the likelihood of this actually occurring? I’d say it’s questionable. Coaches prefer to keep their staffs together, and this would likely need to be a process driven by Vogel in a self-reflecting way for it to be effective. If it wasn’t, and LA’s front office were driving it, I have absolutely no trust at all in whatever names they pushed Vogel’s way as options (or demands). And even if not, and Vogel did have the freedom to pick, the likelihood of Vogel’s buy-in from him to a new approach he didn’t ask for or even acknowledge himself is far lower than if he sparked the change.
3) A+ Free Agent Signings
This one is a given no matter who the coach ended up being, but it’s important particularly for how Vogel (and Lue) prefer to attack. The largest requirement, considering the 60+ percent usage of 5-out sets from Vogel in Orlando (somewhat regardless of the skill sets on the floor), is how LA will need every player added to the roster to have a shooting skill set.
The Lakers are starting in a rough spot already based on the shooting performances from Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart last season. You can’t add average or below average shooters to that group and hope to have the 5-out offense Vogel like to run drive strong results.
LA will likely need some spot up wing, 3&D type players to add to the roster. A KCP/Redick/Korver type player to knock down 3-pointers off of movement would also enhance the offense’s versatility and create an easy go-to for bench lineups that need to generate some offense.
LA will also need bigs that can shoot or be excellent lob threats rolling. I’d prefer shooters, because that should limit the types of defensive coverage teams can play against ball screens, greatly improve both LA’s ability to open up the line in the pick and roll for Lonzo, LeBron, and Ingram (and enter free agent ball handler name here) and forcing a lot more switches for LA to exploit. Shooting bigs are also easier to have off-ball standing in the corner to draw away possible rim protection and open the lane up, whereas non-shooting bigs either need to be great lob threats in a dunker’s spot avoiding driving lanes as much as possible (and still creating a quick decision from drivers possibly facing that help defense) or screening away from the ball to occupy their defender.
Free Agent Options
Alright, fine. I’ll share the current version of my free agent targets list for the Lakers. This hasn’t been adjusted to match Vogel’s coaching style or scheme on either end of the court, but I don’t anticipate it changing much from that considering what my starting parameters were (defense and shooting for the most part).
I’ve vetted these a bit more than my first time around, and have tiered players by position group. And I’ve started working on rankings within tiers, but still have some work to do there. The next iteration of this will have that refined, and will also have expected value for the next 1/3/5 years for each player to help calculate where the best values will be.
I’m fully aware that Butler and Klay could be tier 1 or tier 1/2, but have it set up that way for now to make everything fit into one picture. Don’t get upset. I’m comfortable with the tiers for each position group, but Tier 2 for Guards just may not be exactly the same as Tier 2 for Wings, etc. Players in red font are restricted free agents. I made some notes for each player but kept it concise for now.
As you might be able to tell, shooting is important to me. And with current and previous season talent grades being the largest driver in this iteration of the rankings so far, you’ll notice I have a guy like D’Angelo Russell a lot further down that some others might.
I like DLo, and rooted for the Nets this postseason because of him. But his talent levels aren’t quite up to where you’d expect an All-Star to be. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, it took injuries and Jimmy Butler being a jerk for Russell to get the designation he did. Due to crossing out several names ahead of his, the bar to reach was a bit lower for his selection this year. He did very well for the relatively limited skill set he does have, but is also weak in areas like defending that aren’t reflected nearly as much as they should be with All-Star picks and is also an area fans tend to care less about or struggle to evaluate.
What also stood out about D’Angelo this season was how incredibly similar he looked to the DLo of LA in his first full healthy season in Brooklyn, as his talent grades below would indicate.
A funky quirk about Russell’s talent grades is how he’s gone from being used in the post and very effective doing so to completely disregarded down low, back and forth. That results in some jumpy grades, but other than that he’s been very steady elsewhere other than dropping in Off-Ball Movement and improving steadily with his Interior Defense grade.
I’ll develop this list further and expand more on it then, but I hope you enjoyed that sneak peak and don’t immediately go to bash it and me on Twitter. If you like this sort of data and would like to see (and create) more graphs like the one above, see our full grades database, see all of our optimization ratings and player development ratings by head coach, and have access to extensive POE and PIPM databases along with G-League, WNBA, and NCAA data, check out our $5 Data & Tools package by clicking here.