Notes on Ty Lue, Frank Vogel, 30 other head coaching options, and a couple assistant coach names to watch
After three seasons under Luke Walton, the Lakers are now in a position to take a new approach and look to hire a new coaching staff to make the most of their young roster and aging superstar.
What makes the coaching search so difficult is identifying how each coach approaches the game, and then projecting how that approach would work with a specific roster. Success in one place doesn’t automatically mean success will be found elsewhere. Digging deeper than wins, titles, and stigmas around coaches can be difficult but very enlightening when ascertaining who is the best fit to unlock a team’s future success.
I’ll break down 32 options for coaches the Lakers can look at, and go in depth with Ty Lue, who we now expect to soon take control of the franchise and usher in a new staff and approach to a roster with budding potential.
I’ve tiered the options for coaches based on my view of their fit with LA’s situation, but have not ranked options within tiers.
Note: I started this piece weeks ago and am just finishing it now, so if you’re here for Ty Lue and don’t care for anyone else, scroll down to the second tier list of coaches.
First People I’d Gauge Interest From
Stan Van Gundy – In terms of offensive scheme, I like what I see. I’d give it a B compared to other NBA offenses, with good variation of actions and smart use of actions with different alignments, with few poor plays and a healthy number of great plays thrown in. This would line up well with his 67th percentile offensive optimization.
SVG also knows what he’s doing on defense. Only Pop, Bud, Clifford, and Vogel have defensive optimization data better than Van Gundy, among coaches who have coached at least two full seasons in our data going back to the 2013-14 season.
In the four seasons of optimization data we have on Van Gundy, in zero of those years did his rosters return performance below their talent levels.
If you want to get a sense of his insight, check out his podcast appearance with Zach Lowe breaking down the playoff series. He’s talked at clinics how his perspective is to always be building other coaches up publicly as members of that brotherhood, which explains why you’ll see him on national TV being positive and vague in the infrequent occasions he’s asked about different coaches. But check that pod out and see what kind of mind he actually has.
John Beilein – Beilein would be my top choice among college options, but is right up at the bottom of that same list of options when it comes to likelihood of leaving their current setup. I don’t think he’d leave, but if he did he’d be bringing the best defensive mind in the college ranks with his assistant coach and defensive coordinator Luke Yaklich, who has transformed the team from being reliant on their offense to being a perennial top defensive team in the country. What is encouraging about Michigan’s approach is their fitting of tactics to their personnel, opposing personnel, and adjusting decently to how the other team is attacking them.
Oh, and John Beilein is also a brilliant offensive mind with a 5-high setup that creates great cutting and driving lanes and gets high volumes of opportunities for players off of flare screens and high ball screens. It’s an approach that’d work in the NBA if you tweak slightly to ensure corner 3s are more embraced, and Beilein has the mind to make that adjustment.
Where John and his staff do struggle is attacking switches. Teams this season, far more than in previous years, decided to just switch everything Michigan did offensively and force the Wolverines to either scheme in switch-beating tactics or beat players one on one. Michigan opted for the latter, and had some success but still displayed a clear tactical weakness that’ll be more common to see from NBA defense but also hopefully more exploitable in one on one settings with a higher level of isolation prowess at the NBA level.
Beilein hasn’t been poor with his locker room, so I have no concerns there. The big question mark, as with all the NCAA options, would be how they adjust to the tactical game at the NBA level. I believe in Beilein in that regard, but there will still be an adjustment period.
Ettore Messina – Messina has a ridiculously decorated European coaching career, full of titles in different leagues with different teams that leaves little doubt he’s a strong coach. In total, he has 25 titles, 9 coach of the year awards, a hall of fame induction, and a “top 50 EuroLeague contributors” designation. One area of concern for Messina is the fact that he’s been turned down several times recently for other head coaching jobs, most notably in favor of colleague Spurs staffer James Borrego, who was their guard player development lead. That stands out on its own, but especially so with Messina being in charge of the Spurs’ motion concepts. I’d have interest in Messina, but to a degree you’d still be looking for more to uncover about his current knowledge, skills, and abilities through the recruitment and selection process for LA. So Messina is a soft yes from me, with the understanding that we don’t have the ideal sample of performance to break down.
Tyronn Lue – I’ll start this out by saying that I like what I see in a couple respects. Lue will be a massive upgrade from Walton and his staff schematically, both on offense and defense. That said, I’ve seen ideas floated around about Lue that claim he just gave the ball to LeBron and got out of the way, and others praising a 5-out style that’ll perfectly fit the Laker young players and praising Lue as a schematic mastermind.
The truth is somewhere in between, and I poured through hundreds of Cavalier possessions in the 2017-18 playoffs and the six games in 2018-19 before Lue was fired to help ascertain where Lue really fits in when we talk about Xs and Os.
Before digging into the basketball side, I want to comment on the people side. Lue has done a good job with locker rooms, media, and his front offices. He’s gotten praise from each of those groups, and deservedly so. It’s not a wildly differentiating factor, but is a prerequisite to be an NBA coach that achieves any sort of success, and he checks that box. Other than the very best teams, you’ll face some downs along with your ups. A good leader at the coaching role can help keep the team together, and Lue should be able to do that.
The other big piece is the LeBron piece. Lue and LeBron have a good relationship, and Lue’s style of having good sets run when he does use them but otherwise having a pretty loose system can be viewed favorably to players like LeBron James, as it was to Jordan Clarkson and likely will be for Kyle Kuzma. The lack of structure and occasions where players will abort organized offense under Lue was higher than the Lakers under Walton, but Lue doesn’t seem to mind. That’s fine for LeBron, but also results in stretches where the wrong players (Jordan Clarkson) can be chewing up (read: wasting) possessions.
Looking at both the Cavs with LeBron and the Cavs without LeBron (and other changes, of course) was important to me in understand what Lue has in his toolkit and what we might be able to see from him in LA with at least the key pieces we know will be on the roster (LeBron, Ingram, Lonzo, Kuzma, Hart).
Those Cav teams used simple actions early in the shot clock to generate mismatches, then let their stud iso guys go to work, with the treat of open catch and shoot 3s if you over help.
What you need for that are:
- Elite isolation options: LeBron for sure, and Ingram has gotten to that point or close to it as well
- Above average 3-point shooters: Nope. The Lakers NEED to make big shooting signings in this regard if they want that approach to have a chance to be effective. And McGee or McGee type players as lob threats (just like Thompson) makes them exempt from this requirement as long as there’s only one of them on the court along with shooters.
- The iso guys also need to be above average 3-point shooters as well, which Ingram was not over the 2018-19 season. And Kuzma might fancy himself as a good isolation scorer, but he was very poor in that respect last season and is also not a good perimeter shooter.
Another thing to consider is how that approach optimizes your talent. With those Cavs teams, the role players on the roster were almost always very “siloed,” as I like to say. They had a skill, and it was shooting. Their role perfectly matched that skill, and we saw on occasion how bad it could get when those players had to become creators or work outside of those normal roles.
In that sense, this offensive approach did an excellent job optimizing the overall roster talent (which was reflected in our talent optimization data on the site). There may be easier ways to get LeBron, Kyrie, and Love scoring looks, but high volume in mismatched isolation (or even normal iso) situations isn’t a bad way for them to spend their possessions.
Pick and Roll Game
For both groups, we saw a lot of pick and roll. A little over 50% of possessions for both groups. You could also read that 50% as 0.5 per possession. Adding in dribble handoffs (DHO) and Chicago action (down screen with a DHO to follow) and we’re up to the mid 60% range for the 2018-19 Cavs and into the 70%s for the 18-19 Cavs. That’s the bread and butter for Lue’s offenses, along with some isolation. For comparison, Luke’s offense (on possessions I logged) was just below 60% for the pick and roll and up to 67% once adding in handoff type actions.
Ball screens weren’t just high in volume, but the variance seen on the types of screens was cool to see. Ghost screens, where a guard would set a ball screen for LeBron but quickly slip away to the 3-point line, is something we’ve seen be very effective for the Curry/Thompson/Korver/Redick types. Perhaps not matching current Laker personnel perfectly, but still a decent action that often causes confusion or at least a switch. Cleveland would also in some cases have the guard stand and actually set the screen (which is needed for those ghost screen to work as a counter), which would fit Lonzo’s screening ability well (and Hart should fare well here also).
This also creates short roll opportunities in some situations, which is a place I’m very comfortable with Lonzo operating within, putting him in a situation to attack a situation with his quick decision making against a man advantage, similarly to how UCLA’s pick and roll style heavily relied on those quick Zo decisions. I cover this type of attack with Lonzo passing from the screener spot (as well as LeBron) in this article.
Ram action ball screens can be seen as well, where the eventual ball screener first gets a screen of their own by a guard, often creating a scenario where when that player goes to set their screen for LeBron, their defender isn’t in position to offer any sort of hedge and lets LeBron get downhill. This would be great for both him or Ingram to attack off of.
The Cavs under Lue both years would also utilize double drag ball screens, with two bigs setting the screens, often with one rolling and one popping. None of these are unique concepts, but Lue mixes them in well and creates different looks for the defense.
The final note I’ll make is that you can often see screeners flip screening sides, no matter what the screener and ball handler combination. This lets us know it’s a coaching tactic. What happens when a screener sets the screen on a defender’s left side, then quickly switches to their right side, is that the screener’s defender may move to the left to hedge and then be out of position when the screen goes to the right. This sort of tactic sometimes effectively removes any coverage and sometimes causes the defense to be late to hedge out of uncertainty.
LeBron should be able to make something of the stagnation away from the ball and I like Brandon Ingram attacking off of the very high flat drag screens in the secondary break I saw from the Cavs several times a lot better than the lower step up screens Walton’s offense brought, but Ingram and Lonzo in high volumes of those half court pick and rolls with nothing at all happening off-ball wouldn’t be great.
Ultimately, Lue’s pick and roll attack will be smart, often be simple off-ball, and will be at high volume. With the right personnel, I’m all about it. But the standing around off-ball along with non-shooters in Laker lineups will make these attacks much easier for defenses to stomach.
With LeBron leading the attack, I’m confident he can make the reads and score in enough ways that the coverage shouldn’t make a huge difference. He should be able to beat switches the defense often gave the Cavs and may give the Lakers, but is he losing a step? Last season, LeBron scored 0.83 points per possession in those mismatched isolation situations post-switch in the pick and roll, a mark better than just 37% of the NBA. The season prior, 1.06 PPP (71st percentile). Before that, 1.01 PPP. For context, no NBA team was anywhere close to scoring only 0.83 PPP on half court possessions this past season, so LA will want a much better mark than that.
Hopefully, LA will have much better spacing this season and help LeBron recapture his former efficiency despite continuing to age. I’m confident he will, and LA will absolutely need that to be the case to be successful with Lue’s offensive approach.
Ingram should be able to beat switches in isolation too, but had just 10 makes all season in those types of situations, and also is not a good pick and roll passer. Lonzo made 1 shot all season attacking switches derived from a pick and roll, and hasn’t shown the scoring ability off the dribble or from pull up 3s to have the defense doing anything but sagging deep into the paint, as they likely will with Ingram. Pops (get shooting bigs, Pelinka!), short rolls (I like Zo and Bron here, but we don’t know what the bigs will look like and if they can pass well), and screeners immediately setting off-ball screens (Lue won’t do this) would be the three main ways LA can counter. If LA has a non-shooting big setting that screen, I’m not liking what we’ll probably see.
There may be a large learning curve LA will run into, or they might just not have the personnel to be as successful with this approach as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were on the Cavaliers (and looking at the data, no one else) forcing and beating switches.
Following up on the previous points, Lue’s offensive approach leaves much to be desired even when switches are generated. With so little action off-ball, it’s less likely you’ll exploit a mismatch unless you have the ball in your hands. What’s missing is the cutting and running off of screens. Another thing with standing around off-ball is that even when you do get a mismatch, it’ll be easier for the defense to switch two defenders near each other and mitigate the degree of mismatches conceded.
On-ball, it’s all about that iso game for Lue. Kyrie and LeBron could do it on the outside. LeBron and Love could do it on the inside. But Iman Shumpert or JR Smith weren’t guys asked to do it much and weren’t ones you wanted attacking that way. The same can be said for LA. Ingram and LeBron can attack that way, but do we really feel any level of confidence in Lonzo Ball isolating or Kyle Kuzma, who was 58th in iso efficiency this past season of the 62 players with as many possessions as him, chewing up those possessions?
I don’t think LA will intend to see a lot of iso from poor iso players, but with such a high volume of 1-action sets from Lue and inevitable possessions without Ingram or LeBron on the floor, they will come if switches accompany LA’s likely pick and roll heavy attack under Lue.
Where LA could combat switches in the pick and roll would be with slipping screens. This is something Lue’s teams did 20th most over his final two years with LeBron, and 28th most of 30 teams with their bigs. Long story short, Lue won’t attack with this with bigs (even when Thompson was a big lob threat). When it does, it’s with guards on ghost screens, which is not a tactic to attack switches.
The pick and roll isn’t the only places defenses will switch against Lue. Off-ball screens on the interior and perimeter will generate switches, and are areas where flash cuts will do damage. This is where the Warriors beat teams switching on their off-ball screens and get open dunks and layups for screeners. Lue’s teams were 29th in flash cuts his last two years with Cleveland, better only than (you should be able to guess this one)… Houston.
Sealing in the post is the third big easy way to take advantage of switches. On a flex cut or other screen where a switch leaves the screener having inside position on their new defender, that inside player can use their body to post up looking for the lob pass to them, leading to an open dunk or layup. Or at the least, completely collapsing the defense on many occasions and opening up open 3s. This is a place where Lue’s teams have been strong, with volume 4th highest of any team over his last two years with LeBron’s Cavs. Kevin Love on cross screens was a huge part of that, as was LeBron. The two of them generated 69% of these seal looks for the Cavs. This is the one area Lue’s teams will beat up on switches. LA will need to sign a post presence along with LeBron to optimize that.
Overall, I don’t expect LA to do much to attack switches in any creative fashion (I list some in a Patreon post here). Hell, I don’t expect them to do much to attack switches in many simple fashions. But they will get some easy inside looks from cross screens to LeBron, and they’ll likely isolate an uncomfortable amount. This approach worked when Lue had elite isolation options and shooters that couldn’t be helped off of, but he has 1 or maybe 2 of those isolation guys in LA (pending free agent signings) and nowhere near the shooting he’d need to have for this Laker group to equal that Cavs group in those specific skills.
Non-Pick and Roll Actions
Among non PnR actions, I saw the occasional cross screen into a down screen for the initial screener combo. We also saw some down screens, staggered screens, and occasional hammer action or even a split cut.
What stood out was the lack of weak side action (effectively no flares or pins). The Cavs got only 2 shots per game off of screens (including ATOs, SLOB, and BLOB plays) under Lue’s tenure in the 2018-19 season, despite having some great options available to leverage for those sorts of attacks. His offenses have been that way for a while, with Korver running around screens being the one exception (just not this year).
I also saw a lot more closed post possessions than I would’ve expected. Similar to Walton in that the non-shooting bigs didn’t do much except for ball screen, post up, and be in the dunker spot. What I realized was a lot would start 5-out, but after bigs would roll they’d just hang out in the paint. Didn’t help w/drives.
Depending on what LA does this offseason with signings and draft selections, this can be very problematic. You want shooters on the floor with a 5-out setup. If you don’t have that, you just enable disengaged primary defenders with the lack of pin downs and flare screens Lue’s offense brings.
In 2018-19 I saw very little freelance motion (no movement on pick and rolls or post ups). The only real cutting was when they’d clear the side of the court out for Love down low. Not even some lifts and fades from wing/corner shooters. This differed from last season, where split cuts were more common and you’d see pin-in flare screens and other flares occasionally for shooters weak side during the primary action (this happened on 6.6% of possessions I logged).
The variance and action portfolio of what could be an excellent scheme, but with a volume that isn’t inspiring. 1.09 action per possession for the 2018-19 Cavs squad under Lue would rank below every other team I’ve logged other than Luke Walton’s Lakers… and the 2017-18 Cavs, which rank dead last. So let’s talk about that.
Those Cavalier teams were a very unique offense. It’s easy to see how what Cleveland did with those Cavs teams could be seen as giving LeBron the ball and getting out of the way. Their plan was often to create mismatches for Kyrie on the perimeter, Love on the interior, or LeBron anywhere, then attack those advantages and punish any over helping with their excellent spot up 3pt shooters and elite lob threat in Tristan Thompson. It was unconventional, but it worked. A lot of the actions run were designed to set those isolations up, and the Cavs used ghost screens and back screens in particular to force those switches they wanted, or often have open 3s or layups if the defense didn’t switch.
That is the approach Lue took for several seasons, and had great success and even won a title with that approach. But that’s not an approach you can take unless you have a roster specifically designed for that approach. LA can look to emulate those skill sets this offseason with signings, but the deck of cards LA is starting with aren’t stacked in their favor when it comes to shooting, with Lonzo (C perimeter shooting talent grade), Ingram (C), Hart (C), and Kuzma (D+) needing to be some of those key pieces.
If that weren’t the approach Lue could take, we have the sample of six very uninspiring games of offensive scheme to look at from the 2018-19 season. That gives me serious pause when it comes to endorsing Lue offensively.
The greatest strength of Lue’s schematic game offensively is his after timeout (ATO) play calls. On those plays we saw ~2.5 actions per possession, which is very strong. On those sets I saw incredible variance in actions, great synergistic combinations where one action would set up the next, and good shots were often generated. I see why he’s earned the tactician label.
Another aspect of Lue’s offense that I enjoyed watching was his willingness to run a play a couple times in a row if it’s working. If the defense doesn’t show they can stop it, why stop doing it yourself? I saw Lue do this several times on film with an ATO being run and scored with, then running the same play the next time down the floor. He did this in the regular season this past season and has done it in previous seasons and playoff appearances. It’s not incredibly pervasive, but Lue will pull it out occasionally. Perhaps the most common example people will think of is Cleveland running Horns Rub against the Raptors in the playoffs.
Here’s that Horns Rub set run against Toronto:
So the ATO sets are strong. The downside to this is that those ATO plays only happen once every six or seven half court possessions. They’re a great cherry on top, but can’t be what you hang your hat on offensively. But what this does create is an aura of schematic prowess, which has been cited by media and even reportedly noticed by the Lakers in their recent interviews with Lue. And I don’t blame them. I bet these ATOs were a lot of what was shared, and it’s good stuff, especially so with LA coming off of years of having Byron Scott and Luke Walton’s staffs leading scheme.
But this creates high highlights and less attractive “meat” to the offense overall, which concerns me. If we got those sets once every two or three half court plays instead of every six or seven, this would be a different analysis. But I’m very much expecting Lue to retain the public perception among many of being a tactician due to these ATO sets, no matter what happens on the other 85+% of possessions. This is similar to Brad Stevens in that great ATOs have created a reputation that the rest of both offenses don’t live up to on a play to play basis. To be clear, I’ll take Stevens’ ATOs all day, but Lue is that mold of coach and has created his offensive tactical reputation in that same way.
Among ATOs I really enjoyed, one action I saw twice at the end of quarters was a ghost screen with that player then immediately setting a pin, then flare for the same player. They’d keep the lane clear so the screening big rolling after screening was an option as well.
Another action I liked was a back screen, with the guard setting that screen then sprinting off of a big to get a handoff. Another ATO that I saw just once.
I also saw the same exact 1-4 high set Luke Walton’s Lakers ran repeatedly and were inefficient scoring off of be inefficient under Lue. Not every ATO was great, but overall ATOs are a strength of Lue’s and will be important moving forward. If the rest of his offense showcased sets of that caliber more frequently, I’d be much more in on Lue.
One idea I’ve seen floating around recently is that Lue would usher in a 5-out offense that’d create the perfect spacing for Brandon Ingram and LeBron James to be fully optimized. I like the thought, but the reality may be far from that.
First, Lue’s offenses ran 5-out on 22% of their logged possessions in 2017-18 and 18% in possessions this past season, so it’s more of a part of the offense than the offense itself.
Secondly, we again run into the lack of shooting from the Laker young core to battle. This offense requires 5 shooters out on the floor, and there’s a good chance that LA is rolling out 3 on average and maybe 4 next year, depending on signings. If LA wants to take a 5-out approach, you’re going to need some great growth from the young guys and signings with shooting skill sets at every position.
But I don’t think Lue plans to base what he does on a 5-out approach, since it wasn’t even a plurality of what was used last season or this past season, and he also showed that he could identify when to use it and when not to use it. I would much rather see ~20% usage of 5-out and all 20% be with the right personnel than see 50% usage with only 20% having the right players for it to be effective. And Lue did well here. When he didn’t have the guns to run it, he didn’t. And when he had four shooters and a center that couldn’t shoot, he’d start out 4-out 1-in and have the center sprint to set a ball screen, temporarily creating 5-out spacing.
Also notable was the drop in efficiency Lue’s Cavalier teams had offensively when not having at least 4 capable shooters on the floor in the possessions I logged. That’s not abnormal, since shooting is pretty important. But the degree of drop speaks to his approach when not having shooters out there, which concerns me.
Due to the lack of above average shooters already on the roster, LA will need a lot of smart signings this offseason to equip Lue with the type of lineups he found success with in Cleveland. If their front office doesn’t perform in that regard, I’d predict a lot of struggling for LA if they hope to use anything close to the approaches Lue took with his iso + shooters Cav teams of the Bron Cleveland era or even with what he rolled out this past season in Cleveland.
All in all, don’t expect a ton of 5-out unless the roster changes. But also don’t be afraid of Lue running 5-out if the roster doesn’t change. Either way, hope for LA to sign shooters and better enable those 5-out lineups, because Lue’s teams have been much worse when they don’t have 4+ shooter on the floor.
Other Special Teams
Along with ATO sets, sideline and baseline out of bounds plays make up some of the more infrequent offensive attacks (but important ones nonetheless). Lue ran mediocre baseline out of bounds sets no matter if it was after a timeout or not. His sideline sets were interesting, because the normal ones were often nonexistent (they’d just get the ball inbounded), but the ones after timeouts were pretty good.
Lue likes to run the SLOB set w/the back screen for the inbounders (Laker fans should know the one) like LA has under Walton. It’s pretty solid, and I liked Lue’s variations to it (Walton just ran the same darn thing repeatedly).
It’s important that Laker fans realize this: yes, the Lakers have better young talent than those Cavs did. But yes, that Cavs team far exceeds this roster’s ability to match the mold that Lue has been successful with. He can very well shift approach and mesh well with this new group’s skill sets, but I’d consider that unlikely based on the lack of that adaptation this past season before being fired. LA will NEED to kill free agency with an elite signing and shooters all around to have that approach yield a top level offense like Cleveland had.
Lue also comes into LA boasting offensive optimization ratings in the 91st, 92nd, and 88th percentiles in three seasons with LeBron (and one in the teens without LeBron). Those stats tell us what they do, which is that Lue got more out of those rosters than he should have. A large part of that is how much Cleveland was able to get out of those siloed players, as previously mentioned. Stripping away almost all offense other than shooting for players who could do little more than shoot on offense is a big way to get there. Lue actually didn’t get much more out of LeBron, Kyrie, and Love than our talent grades would suggest he should get.
The optimization for Lue’s offenses was about taking those supplementary pieces that in reality weren’t very talented players and making the most of them that made the difference, the same way it has for Mike D’Antoni and his Harden and CP3 led offenses that optimize the hell out of catch and shoot wings and guards around those key pieces. Ironically, MDA is the only coach with better offensive optimization rates than Lue heading into this season of disaster for Lue’s offense. And from a scheme standpoint, no current team resembles Lue’s attack with isolation and shooting led teams than D’Antoni’s Rockets.
In short, past success doesn’t mean future success will come if the context and/or requirements of the two situations are different. Lue may still be working with his Death Star Legos directions but a Bambi Lego kit. The pieces aren’t close to the same as he had in Cleveland (at least not today), so it’s not ideal to rely on old info for a new situation.
Lue with Brandon Ingram
Will Lue repeat Walton’s continued mistake of throwing Ingram into high volumes of pick and roll? Probably. Based on how much of the offense relies upon it and how little goes on away from the ball, I’d bet Ingram carves out a roll attacking in the pick and roll, similar to how Walton deployed Ingram like a high level guard in that regard at an inefficient rate on high volume for years, leading to incredibly poor optimization and efficiency stats nowhere near representing his true talent, leading to the birth of the optimization rates concept. In that introductory piece, I talked about how Ingram was one of the most misused players in our database. There’s a good chance that usage continues, and we just need to hope and pray Ingram’s scoring in those situations improves and his passing takes a massive leap.
Will Ingram be used much as a cutter or downhill off of screens? Probably not all that much. So where is the perceived great fit with Lue’s offense for Ingram? Spotting up, it seems. Ingram catching on the perimeter and operating in a 5-out offense, which I’ve outlined has a high chance of not being reality on any consistent frequency, seems to be the thought. That doesn’t excite me. But it’ll be hard for him, as a developing player coming out of the worst offensive scheme in our database from active coaches, to not take steps forward this season from an efficiency standpoint.
Lue vs Walton
It’s natural to compare what you just had with what you have now. When it comes to Lue vs Walton, LA will be making a big upgrade with ATOs and likely a smarter and better overall offense schematically.
But both do have some commonalities that concern me. Neither use weak side action much at all, opting rather to have players away from the primary attack stand around. This makes it easier to zone up defensively and help to stop the primary action, then scramble recover defensively on a pass out and be okay. It also means less ability for players like Ingram or Lonzo to capitalize on the cutting abilities they’ve flashed for LA or even going back to UCLA for Lonzo.
Both also use some of the same 1-4 high sets and SLOB plays, run offenses with the lowest action volumes to create easier looks for their players, and run a lot of pick and roll (albeit with Lue’s pick and roll game being much stronger).
Even with the critiques I have for Lue, he’s a far better offensive mind than Walton or Walton’s offensive coordinator Jesse Mermuys. In my film-based scheme ratings from the 2017-18 season, Walton was in the 28th percentile and Lue in the 41st percentile. That’s a jump for LA, and perhaps a larger one than those ratings indicate. Adding in this past season, I’d have LA much lower and Lue about where he was. I’d be okay with someone pitching Lue as leading an offense in the 10th-15th ranked range, but I’d personally have it lower. Anything higher would be off-base with the film I’ve watched and the data BBall Index has, although it’s always difficult comparing coaches when roster is such a big piece and most people watch mostly one team.
Lue Offensive Summary
I’d summarize by saying I see the tactical strength, but it’s almost exclusively confined to ATOs in a way that the impact is far less there than the reputation. The average half court offensive play would be something like either a pick and roll or dribble handoff, then somebody isolating if it didn’t work. And too often did those isos see a clogged paint.
The Cavs this season, both before and after Lue, were very low in terms of ball movement, as evidenced by their passing numbers.
I’ll say that it was only six games and it was early in the season, but that excuse doesn’t go far when you can turn on film of the same roster a week or two later running better offense after having no offseason to get acclimated with those new sets.
Where Lue has been strong, along with the ATOs, is getting mismatches. This was apparent his years in the playoffs, and what truly unlocked that approach to be effective while having stagnation away from the ball was elite isolation scorers (Kyrie on the perimeter, LeBron anywhere, and Love on the interior) paired with shooters all around (and an elite lob threat at the time in Tristan Thompson).
I don’t want to make it seem like the Cavs wouldn’t run plays at all, because that wouldn’t be true. But the action volume and set play frequencies were both quite low. And just like with the 2018-19 season, a majority of the good sets that were run were from ATOs. That approach worked just fine with that roster, but it’s not one that can be copied and pasted onto any random team, and certainly not on the 2018-19 Lakers. What happens this offseason will be huge in how I view LA’s odds, if under Lue, of being successful offensively. When healthy, LA has the talent to overcome mediocre scheme, but if the strategy is actively working against their personnel it’ll be a struggle to be effective.
The consistency in Cleveland’s approach with LeBron and uniformity with that mismatches for iso + shooters plan combined with Lue’s lack of coaching experience made what happened early this season even more important to me. I have serious concerns that Lue is a one-trick pony offensively, based on the stark drop off this season when they didn’t have those isolation guys and shooters across the board to work with.
I hope to be proven wrong, and the staff Lue puts around him will be helpful in piecing that together, but while I see him as the best of the options LA has been interviewing, there’s likely nothing that can be said or reported that’ll make me feel fully comfortable with Lue and his staff controlling the Laker offense. And I think the disaster that was his time with the Cavs this season before being fired is a large factor in him not getting a chirp of coverage about interest from teams other than the Lakers during or after this past season.
One last offensive note will be that Lue’s lead assistant to be, Frank Vogel, had an offensive optimization rating better than only Luke Walton among active coaches. So he’s unlikely to be much help on that end. We still have yet to hear what other assistants Lue will be adding, and I’ll keep an eye out for that list to understand what offensive minds will be added to the group. Larry Drew was likely a big piece to what Lue did offensively, but Lue’s influence was clearly strong considering what the Cavs offense looked like post-Lue in 2018-19. How that void is filled, assuming Drew isn’t brought back, will be interesting.
I’m excited for the Lakers to be strong on the other end of the court, where Lue overall has 58th percentile defensive optimization and lead assistant and presumable leader of the 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.
Once the roster is sorted out I’ll predict where exactly I see it finishing the year defensively, but be prepared to see improvement. What we see from the carryover players will be most interesting, since a lot of next year will be viewed (rightfully so) by a largely new roster and hopefully better roster health.
But we also don’t want to make the same assumptions about Vogel as some are about Lue, and assume one plan for one roster will work on another rosters, so Vogel will be worth much more of a look before coming to any strong conclusions.
In fact, Vogel has admitted publicly that his defense in Indiana, that operated in a time where more 2-big lineups were played and 3-point shots were down, no longer worked, and that he’s changed some of his principles to keep up with how modern offenses attack.
Where we can look for some peripheral indicators of Vogel’s defensive success, before I get to dig into some film, will be in the data.
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.
With all of that said, I’ll conclude my Vogel thoughts by saying I’m cautiously optimistic and feeling good about Vogel’s defense. I’ll want to learn more about his principles and watch some more film, but the data tells a story of an elite defensive coach needing to adjust. It then tells of him making that adjustment in a new place before atrocious offense resulted in him being fired (which isn’t a concern here).
What we’ve seen from Lue teams in the past on defense is a bump during playoff time defensively, and that has coincided with him taking the reigns defensively when it comes time to be more tactical. Between him and Vogel, LA should be strong enough in the regular season defensively and then have an extra boost come playoff time.
The last piece I’ll touch on for Ty Lue is his player development ratings, which are based on growth over expectation in each talent area of our talent grades at BBall Index for players under one coach for consecutive years.
LA is coming off of seasons with Byron Scott and Luke Walton, who have ratings better than only 29 and 24 percent of coaches when it came to offensive player development, respectively. Lue and Vogel will (if hired) be bringing in ratings in the 74th and 76th percentiles, which are huge jumps.
Some particular areas that stand out that may be useful for LA, all dependent upon which player development coaches from those two staffs are actually brought on, will be:
- Perimeter Shooting: Walton 9th percentile -> Lue 79th percentile
- One on One: Walton 38th percentile -> Lue 62nd percentile
- Finishing: Walton 47th percentile -> Lue 76th percentile and Vogel 1st place
- Roll Gravity: Walton 38th percentile -> Lue 68th percentile and Vogel 1st place
- Playmaking: Walton 0th percentile -> Lue 35th percentile
Defensively, however, Walton and his staff were very strong when it came to developing players. Walton had the first ranked defensive player development, which will be followed up by 12th and 26th percentile defensive optimization ratings from Lue and Vogel. They may get more out of what they have, but developing it isn’t their specialty.
Another coaching name I’ve had emphatically recommended among coaching individuals I trust is Chad Forcier, who is a current assistant with the Grizzlies specializing in player development. He has experience under Pop, Carlisle, Vogel, and several others. The Vogel connection may be useful, along with LA’s wallet, to get Forcier to join Lue’s staff. If so, LA would have a mind that’s good at their specialty and also one that’s been within San Antonio’s brain trust for years in their environment where everyone on staff contributes, possibly picking up a lot along the way.
Darvin Ham is another name that would make sense. Ham is currently on staff as Milwaukee’s lead assistant, has Laker coaching experience, and has been with Mike Budenholzer for years, likely picking up some good intel from an elite defensive mind with solid offensive 5-out and spacing principles.
Neither of those two or any other assistants are individuals who we can know have those specific skill sets for sure from afar, but are both at least worth a look and are names coaching sources have given the thumbs up to.
Tom Izzo – First, I’ll say that Izzo won’t leave. But if he were interested, LA would be looking at a coach who would build a strong culture of defense and team with good offensive concepts and excellent rebounding. He’s gotten crap over the years for being fired up with players and being publicly vocal in a very “angry old man” looking way. His style isn’t for a lot of players, and at the NBA level with players having far more power than in college that approach would likely work even less. He’s not a guy that would let LeBron or Ingram or Lonzo slack off, and there’s as good a chance as anyone on here that you’d find yourself in a star player versus coach feud resulting in a termination for the coach.
That said, his teams have always had a very tight knit family culture that in some ways enables that type of approach to not destroy a team, with the idea being that off the court everyone is a family and on the court you’re all there to be your best self (and 90% of the yelling is about hustle or other discretionary effort miscues). Still not common and not for everyone. Tactically Izzo and his staff have generally been good, so they’d stay afloat in that regard in my opinion with the NBA game.
MSU’s staff also develops players very well. If Izzo were to ever go the NBA route (again, doubtful) I can see him finding success, but his current stability and stature in the MSU program, lack of NCAA violation wrongdoing that may shake that up, and his style make me doubt he’ll take the jump and the last part makes me question his fit for a LeBron-led team.
Chris Beard – Beard, who has been one of my favorite coaches the past couple seasons and finally got some recognition this year after taking Texas Tech to the NCAA title game, is another option that may be of interest. He’s another defensive mastermind that also runs a good offensive scheme, albeit one that lacks great spacing at times and at the highest of levels I’d compare it to being like Beilein’s scheme, just run 3 feet deeper on the court.
Matt Painter – Matt Painter needs some love, man. Every year, his teams run good sets, have a good culture, and put players in positions to succeed. Painter and his staff do a good job coaching defense, and on offense are excellent at scheming opportunities for players based on what they’re good at. Shooters off motion will be leaned on and given plenty of chances to come off of smartly designed off-ball screens to get open looks. What stands out about Painter’s sets is they often flow into 3-4 different options and attack the defense in a lot of ways. I have no reason to believe he’s itching to leave Purdue, but he’d be a qualified candidate in my eyes that’d be worth a deeper look.
Jay Wright – Wright has found great success at the college level from being excellent at the little things. Strong player development and a Pop-like extreme focus on fundamentals are what stand out the most. His schemes were the basis for a lot of high school 4-out 1-in motion offenses, so you’ll see a lot of love for him from that community.
While his motion has value, it’s incredibly bare of actions and does little to create scoring looks for players. Instead, they rely on shooting a lot of 3s to raise expected value of shots, creation from their own players, and then do a great job spotting up at pump faking to create a compromised defense and are as good as there are at driving and finishing strong or jump stopping, possibly kicking out to shooters, and finishing around the rim. The way I’d phrase it is that the scheme doesn’t create much for the players, but the players (coached how they are) create the most within the scheme to the point where it is successful.
I can see Wright taking over for a younger team and building a strong culture off the court and strong behaviors on the court. Not a big fan of his approach with a LeBron led team.
Cranjis Wouldn’t be Happy
Frank Vogel – Vogel is a strong defensive coach that needs a lot of help on offense. If you could promise to me that he’d be getting a new offensive coordinator and one that’s strong to replace whoever had that role for him in the past, I’d have interest. If not, I’d rather look elsewhere.
Update: Hearing that Vogel would be on Lue’s staff works for me, as he may be in position to handle the one side of the game he’s strong at and hopefully not get near touching the team’s offense.
Tony Bennett – Bennett is one of my favorite college coaches, and is one with very clear strengths and weaknesses. His team’s primary offense and defense were both inherited from his father, Dick Bennett, and he’s done a nice job cultivating a program that creates good defenders and smart basketball players over their years to execute the Virginia way.
Offensively, a good bit of what Bennett’s teams have traditionally run is their mover-blocker offense. If you watch them run it and then watch some Trail Blazers film you’ll see the resemblance (although Portland tweaked it to run it better). Three shooters as the “movers” running around down and flare screens from two screeners (“blockers”). It gets a ton of action in a short amount of time, but is very much a highly structured attack about the team rather than a specific player. You need high IQ guards and wings who can attack off of motion and read the defense to get and take good shots, and be able to attack off of curling down screens.
This is an offense that doesn’t fit the current Laker roster well, because I wouldn’t describe Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram as fits for that style, nor would I say that LeBron James is most effectively used with the ball in his hands for just a couple seconds per possession and sprinting around screens for the rest of his offensive possessions. It’s just not a good fit, and it’s essentially the offensive scheme Bennett (and his father) has hung his hat on and would likely lean on no matter what level he’s coaching at.
If Bennett ever does make it to the NBA, I’d foresee this offense late-clock needing to evolve into what Portland does, where they’ll run ball screens flowing right out of the wheel mover-blocker action. That tweak would make me feel fine about what some may see as too slow an offense that I instead see as just very patient while running good attacks on the defense. Being able to flip the late-clock switch would make me feel better.
This season, UVA joined dozens of other teams and added some Euro ball screen motion to add some diversity to their attack. I like its fit a bit better for LA than the mover-blocker, but it’s still more of a college continuous motion than the baseline for an NBA offense.
Neither of those two offenses is a way to optimize LA’s roster offensively and neither have much going on post-catch with weak side actions that make me feel like it’s a next level offense ready to burst into the NBA.
The other side of the court is somewhere UVA also has a very strong identity with Bennett’s pack line defense (also from his dad).
The pack line defense works at the college level, but you can’t play pack line all game at the NBA level and not get burned repeatedly by quickly adjusting teams. That defense forces you middle, which isn’t generally a good idea in the NBA. It’s also reliant on sagging off of 3-point shooters to clog the lanes, an idea that doesn’t quite work with how much further you’d need to sag (due to the longer 3-point line) to actually clog driving and cutting lanes, making (better) shooters more open than what Arizona is used to conceding at the college level.
The pack line’s hedging ball screen coverage is also easily beaten with pick and pops, slips, and bigs that screen and then set quick screens for shooters. That’s not unique to the pack line, but we see teams running pack line be incredibly slow to adjust away from their coverages in an effort to not have to change the entire defensive philosophy, which NBA teams will abuse.
So while Bennett is a very good college coach, what makes him a great coach isn’t what I’d consider to be the most translatable to the NBA or specifically to this Lakers roster.
Mike Brown, Rick Pitino, and Tom Thibodeau – for the sake of time, I’m not going to break these guys down. I’m writing this part on 5/3/19 and already know these wouldn’t be options, so won’t expand on them like I did with the other candidates that I wrote about several days or weeks ago that are in this article.
Larry Drew – Drew took over for Ty Lue this past season and immediately we saw a jump in offensive scheme. But man, was that defense atrocious both in results and optimization of talent. I’d stay away from Drew as a head coach, but would generally be okay with him as an assistant on a staff. On Lue’s staff, however, I’d rather go a different direction. If Drew was around for what Lue’s offenses were rolling out despite what Drew’s offenses showed they could do post-Lue, I’d rather find someone else who can better influence Lue’s offensive scheme.
Becky Hammon – Hammon is a well-respected coach among her peers and players for the work she does, which is guard development for the Spurs. She’s been praised for her work with Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes. She has no other coaching experience, so I’d hesitate to assume what her levels of scheme and tactical knowledge would be or what a coaching staff assembled under her would look like. I’d take Messina for sure over Hammon, and Ime Udoka would be the second most prepared candidate from their staff to take a head coaching job. I wouldn’t be very confident in Hammon taking over for a team this offseason, but give her a couple more years and it may be a different situation.
Monty Williams – Williams’ scheme and tactics while leading the Pelicans left a lot to be desired. He has 50th and 90th percentile offensive optimization seasons, but those offenses were also incredibly tailored to Anthony Davis and the non-AD actions weren’t very good. Another part of those optimization ratings worth mentioning is that the performance at the time may have been adequate, but what the data won’t capture is the difference in era or style that will lead coaches like Monty to find less success in today’s NBA if they deploy the same strategies they did back when that data was collected.
I won’t go in-depth, but I’ll say that I’m not a big fan and what Williams brings for that part of the job is easily replaceable/beatable with other candidates. His offense was alright for its era, but by today’s standards wouldn’t cut it at all. With Williams having been a head coach so long ago (by NBA standards), I view him the same I’d view a current assistant in terms of the uncertainty about what they’d do schematically and with a staff. But with Monty, we actually have a baseline to work off of for what it could be (and that baseline is quite low).
Sean Miller – I’m not a big fan of Miller’s offense. It won’t be the worst, but it won’t be an asset in my opinion. And Miller’s defense is the same as Bennett’s, so refer back to those comments for why I’d be extremely hesitant on that end.
TBD: Need More Info
Note: the info on what each of these assistants do (other than Howard) hasn’t been confirmed, but is what my sources were able to dig up from their notes and knowledge.
Juwan Howard – player dev coach for Miami that now is their defensive coordinator. Complete wild card when it comes to what a staff would look like under him and what the offense would look like, and the Laker front office isn’t one I have confidence in helping make those selections. As for Miami’s defense and when Howard may have transitioned to defensive coordinator, a huge jump was seen in their defensive optimization in what would have been Howard’s third season (of six) on staff. Since that point, they’ve averaged 78th percentile defensive optimization. That makes me feel pretty good about Howard and what he’d bring from a defensive perspective, but offensive competence isn’t anything we can assess from afar.
Maurice Cheeks – Cheeks has years of coaching experience, with the most recent decade being filled with OKC assistant coaching years before and after (with one year off) a 2013-14 stint with the Pistons that ended with him being fired in the second half of the season. The Pistons’ scheme during that time was poor and tactically they don’t appear to have been strong. It’s been a while since then, but nothing about OKC’s tactics or scheme would have me thinking Cheeks would be picking up some top notch knowledge by being in that organization, if he even is making tangible growth.
Jeff Van Gundy – the scheme over a decade ago on his teams wasn’t anything good by today’s standards, but that was over a decade ago. His work with the US senior men’s team is also not a great set of film, but that’s nearing all-star game type status, so it’s hard to ascertain anything from that either. His on-air comments for years have been hit and miss, and the ones schematically aren’t ones I’d grow much confidence from. JVG is a personality and a wild card, making him harder to endorse than candidates with a more clear picture of what (and whom) they’d bring to the table.
Adrian Griffin – Griffin is currently the top assistant for the Raptors. His specialty is player development. He’s also been lead assistant under Tom Thibodeau, Steve Clifford, and Billy Donovan. Those coaches and their teams have varied quite a bit in terms of tactical and scheme abilities. Griffin’s potential staff would be a question mark and his own skill set doesn’t extend to the chess side of the game, but one would expect the player dev to be strong on his staff.
Sam Cassell – Cassell has been with the Clippers since 2014, focusing on guard player development. Before that time he was a player development coach for the Wizards and notably John Wall. His staff would be a major question mark, as would his own schematic and tactical knowledge.
Cranjis Would be Big Mad
Jason Kidd – In five years as a head coach, Kidd’s optimization data shows zero seasons of average or better defensive optimization and one season on the offensive end. In the player development realm, we see 71st percentile offensive development and 32nd percentile defensive development. I’d be cool with Kidd being added as one of several player development coaches (but keep in mind the player dev under him was likely driven mostly by the player dev coaches on his staff), but his teams’ scheme and tactics were quite poor, and the massive boost we’ve seen from the Bucks under Bud has been augmented by how below average they were starting from (Bud has done an awesome job).
Coach K – Coach K is too old and has too great of a thing going at Duke to leave, but it’s important to understand what’s made him successful and how that’d translate to the NBA. Krzyzewski is regularly rolling out absolutely stacked rosters and finding success at the NCAA level. Sometimes those teams have reached absurd levels of talent, as they did this past season. Player development is a large question mark due to how high a percentage of players at Duke in recent years have been there for only a year, so the results are harder to see and the techniques and strategies used at Duke may be tailored to that fact. Tactically we’ve seen some more flavor from Coach K’s teams in March Madness, but schematically they’re incredibly vanilla on offense and I’d have serious concerns about their ability to put players in the best positions to succeed.
John Calipari – Coach Cal, just like Coach K, is a motivator and recruiter, not any sort of tactician. Just like Duke, Calipari’s Kentucky teams have been far below requisite NBA caliber scheme offensively. Defensively I’ve seen less from Cal when it comes to tactics, and offensively he’s weak from a tactical standpoint as well. Calipari’s teams showed more translatable NBA scheme in his earlier days as a coach, but even then it’d be ranging around the 30th-40th percentile in my eyes. What makes Cal successful in college wouldn’t help him in the pros, and I’d guess he understands that and isn’t included whatsoever to leave the gig he currently has to take that risk.
Byron Scott – Scott grades out about exactly where Luke Walton did in terms of roster optimization, and it’d be hard to find worse scheme and tactics out there to hire. Byron won’t be a serious candidate for the Lakers or any other team.
Derek Fisher – I’ll mention him because he has betting odds for the Laker job, but Fisher is currently under contract with the Sparks, which should remove him from consideration. His scheme was quite poor with the Knicks, and the data doesn’t flatter him much either. A small beacon of hope would be his optimization data taking quite a jump from 2013-14 to 2014-15, bring him much closer to average.
Miles Simon – Simon was a player development coach on Luke Walton’s staff. He was an assistant at Arizona over a decade ago and was one of Luke Walton’s pals. I’d assume he’ll be on Walton’s Kings staff, but I’d have zero interest in him if for some reason he was left behind and available.
Mark Jackson – Jackson has some of the worst offensive optimization data in our database and is quite outdated when it comes to his scheme concepts. His on-air comments also haven’t built up the resume of knowledge you’d look for him to have from that prime opportunity to prove himself as a basketball mind. I mean, he’s out there incorrectly explaining what’s happening in plays for very basic actions and defensive coverages. No interest here.
Brian Shaw – Shaw’s last head coaching gig didn’t go well and wasn’t good when it came to the locker room, nor does his optimization data frame him as a prime candidate for this position. Furthermore, he was on Walton’s staff for the three years of maddening issues schematically, with rotations, and with in-game decisions that saw almost no growth. Shaw was at the worst a prime contributor and at the least a guilty bystander unable to influence an inexperienced coach. He’ll probably be on Walton’s Kings staff, but I’d want nothing to do with him if he were available for an LA position.
David Fizdale – Fizdale has garnered respect for post-game comments, positioned himself well as a figure to have sympathy for, and has gained the sympathy of many just because of what happened with him in Memphis. But just like with Walton, being treated poorly or unfairly doesn’t make us unable to evaluate performance when it comes to rotations, scheme, in-game decisions, tactical calls, and locker room management. Fizdale’s optimization data in his two seasons in our database were a step up from Walton’s, but for offense and defense still both under the 25th percentile of performance, meaning that 75% of the coaches in our database were getting more out of their rosters when it came to offense and defense than Fizdale was able to do.
J.B. Bickerstaff – I’ve heard no noise around Bickerstaff to LA and am quite pleased, because he’s another coach with plenty of years of data that’s poor and scheme we can look up film on and quickly realize wouldn’t be an asset for the Lakers. No thanks.