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The Los Angeles Lakers are the two-time defending champions for many reasons but the most unique advantage they have over the rest of the league is their tremendous size. In Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom the Lakers have three seven foot bodies (whether it be straight toe to head length or wingspan) that no other team in the league can counter. Perhaps other teams employ as many seven-foot big men but when it comes to skill level, no team comes close to the Lakers.
We’ve seen all three of these players develop great chemistry over the years, which is one of the best qualities any team can have. In my opinion the best duo of big men that the Lakers use, at least in terms of interior passing and the way they work together, is the one they start games with: Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. We’ve seen these two connect on alley-oop lobs before that show their uniqueness as a duo but last night during game six of the Lakers’ first round series against the New Orleans Hornets we saw a new wrinkle to their two-man game: the four/five pick and roll.
On one of the first few possessions of the game, with the Lakers looking to get the ball inside, Phil Jackson called for a beautiful set that produced an easy dunk for Bynum on and up-and-under move. Take a look at how the play developed.
The Lakers got into this set extremely quickly with the first pass actually being made by Derek Fisher to Pau Gasol from the backcourt to the front court. Above is the image of the play during the first few seconds of it’s action. The first thing you should notice is that Gasol is positioned on the left wing behind the three-point line, a location the Lakers seemed to have become more comfortable putting Gasol. Fisher is in mid-cut in this image while Bynum fights for position on the right block. At the moment, Artest and Bryant are waiting for the play to develop and in the end they end up having little responsibility or effect on the outcome of the play.
As the play gets in motion you’ll see that Gasol swings the ball to the top of the key and Bryant continues to move it by hitting Artest on the right side of the free throw line. After making the pass Gasol heads down to the right block where Bynum is and the two set a double screen on Fisher’s man so that he can have enough space coming off the screen to make the catch. If Fisher is feeling it, he has the freedom to take the shot off the curl but instead he lets the play develop further.
As Fisher pops off the screens Artest hits him up around the top of the key and not a lot of time goes by before he swings the ball to Gasol on the baseline. Bryant creates space on the left side of the floor by moving from the top of the key to the right wing. Fisher did have a look at the basket when Artest passed him the ball but he chose to pass it to Pau.
Here’s where the beauty of the play is. Gasol catches on the baseline and instead of taking the long jumper, something he did in the second half, Bynum comes over and sets a pick for Gasol. Gasol is such a skilled ballhandler that he pulled this off almost perfectly. The Hornets have no other option but to switch on the screen and roll. If they took the chance to double Gasol Pau would have had an easy look to get the ball into a wideopen Bynum either by making a pretty pass or by swinging it out to Fisher so that he can make the entry pass to Bynum. The Hornets don’t take that risk and opt to switch putting the much smaller Carl Landry on Bynum. Though Landry could cope with his length disadvantage on Pau because of his strength he doesn’t have a strength advantage on Bynum, giving Andrew a favorable match-up.
As soon as Bynum is done setting the pick for Gasol he establishes post position on Landry. Gasol takes a couple of dribbles to his right before lobbying in an entry pass to Bynum over the arms of Emeka Okafor. Bynum took one dribble, gave Landry an up-fake, pivoted and threw it down for two.
The Lakers have such a unique set of big men and the diverse skills they possess is what make Los Angeles a championship level team. If you ever want proof of their versatility this set is one of the best plays to look at. This play is not one that the Lakers should opt to go to all that often but if the Lakers ever need an inside bucket late in a game or need to establish their interior presence in the early going (like they did here), it’s a reliable set that forces the defense to make tough decisions and creates mismatches for the talented Laker big men.