Frank Vogel’s Approach to NBA Basketball
The new Lakers coach offers details in his introductory press conference.
On Monday morning at the UCLA Health Training Center, GM Rob Pelinka introduced Frank Vogel as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Vogel keyed on his optimism about his new team’s prospects, and shared his organizational and basketball values while seated next to Pelinka as the two fielded questions for about 30 minutes. It’s been a very loud offseason for the Lakers since Magic Johnson stepped down on the final day of the 2018-19 regular season, but Vogel’s message can be summed up quite neatly.
“I see a lot of promise, a tremendous amount of promise for what we can be,” said Vogel. “What we have on our current roster combined with the vision of where we’re going to build the roster, also combined with where I hope to put my stamp on to the way we’re going to play, I think we can accomplish great things.”
Vogel said that starts by establishing a culture of hard work, structure on the court and discipline with how the team plays, all under an umbrella of accountability.
“Our guys are going to be coached very hard,” he explained. “Every player that I’ve ever been around that’s worth a damn wants to be challenged and wants to be pushed, and wants to be coached hard, and wants to be held accountable. That will be the expectation with every player on the roster.”
Pelinka said he was impressed with hearing that message during the interview process.
“First and foremost, (Vogel) is incredibly prepared,” said Pelinka, who clarified that, as GM, he’s responsible for making basketball decisions after collaborating with his group, and then getting the final sign off from owner Jeanie Buss. “(Vogel) stood out with his vision for the game, the structure he wants to play with and the way he would use our roster was really, really impressive.”
I was curious what elements of offense and defense Vogel carried as core beliefs, and where his thinking has evolved since he first entered the NBA as an assistant coach in 2001. He spent 10 years in the assistant or advanced scout’s chair, then seven seasons as a head coach for Indiana (2011-16) and Orlando (2016-18).
“There’s been a major evolution stylistically how I want to play the game, and it’s about the evolution of the league,” he responded. “The whole league has changed with the 3-point shot and the amount of switching that occurs and is necessary to occur on some level – I do believe it’s overdone on some level. But the two years in Orlando, while we were developing the young talent – and it was a rebuild situation – turned into a little bit of a laboratory for me. To figure out this new NBA. Figure out this new world. What is the exact scheme that needs to go in to be successful in the modern NBA. It was a great learning experience. I continued that in my sabbatical year this past year, visiting with teams all around the league, having a lot of lengthy discussions about offensively, how to play this style of play and how to transform the scheme, and defensively as well.”
The work that Pelinka and his staff do in terms of the draft, free agency and through possible trades will of course make a major impact, but Vogel has been fine-tuning the blueprint for what he wants to do for years.
When it comes to offense, Vogel said he has an “analytics-based approach to playing the game outside in,” which uses the 3-point line and the “space that creates to open up a really strong, basket-attacking team.” Sharing the ball and playing for one another are core elements as well.
On the defensive end, Vogel thinks first about protecting the paint.
“With all the talk of the 3-point line, it’s still most important to build your defense inside to out,” he said. “The basket is still the top priority. The paint is still the top priority. And then you spray out and guard the 3-point line.”
Of course, all of that will start with LeBron James, aided by the core of talented young players, the lottery pick that jumped up to No. 4 from No. 11 last Tuesday, and an absence of bad contracts. Vogel sees quite a lot to work with.
“The perception of our organization is very far from the reality from my experience coming in here,” said the New Jersey native who graduated from Kentucky in 1996 before starting his NBA career five years later. “Just the thoroughness of the work, the collaboration of how things are being done with the decision making, and quite frankly, there is a lot of positivity. I am a positive energy, enthusiasm type of a coach, and I’m going to spread that to everybody.
“You’re going to have to wait and see … but you’re going to be happy with the product that we put on the floor this year, and where we’re going as an organization. You really are.”
Pelinka appears to value Vogel’s straight-forward, hard-working approach, which is how the GM thinks the franchise should focus moving forward.
“I think the important thing of any process is to be open-minded, to be methodical and to be prepared, and I think at the start of this, we had a committee of people internally that we had many names around,” he said. “Frank was one of those strong names. Throughout the process, he just continued to emerge as someone that had the qualities I talked about … and we celebrate that. He is the coach, he’s the right guy for this job. Everyone’s aligned with what he stands for. We’re going to fully support him.”
Vogel spoke about the need to “build togetherness with our organization,” not just with the 15 to 17 players in uniform, but from ownership, the front office, the coaching staff, the trainers and the business side.
“We are all going to be pulling in the same direction,” he said. “This is something that I’ve always preached as a head coach, because you can accomplish amazing things if everybody is together. When that happens, with the way we do things from day to day, that stuff translates to the court and how we play.”
That translates, he believes, to unselfish basketball.
“We’re going to play by trusting the pass,” Vogel continued. “Creating for others with the basketball. Defensively, communicating, talking to each other and covering for each other. Working together. It starts organizationally wide, translates onto the basketball court, and I’ve seen it, when it happens, you win big. That’s going to be a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
Vogel addressed a few specific areas, like shooting, as the Lakers ranked 29th in both 3-point percentage and FT percentage last season.
“I think can get there, both by developing from within, improving the shooters that we have,” he said. “There will be a lot of work put into the gym, into training camp and throughout the season. Nobody gets the job done at this level without developing their own players first. And obviously with free agency and other moves that Rob can make, we’ll address that to try and add some shooting.”
Vogel shared that he did get a chance to speak with LeBron James – who was in attendance on Monday – at one point, calling the conversation “very positive … there’s an excitement about what we can be and what we can accomplish.”
LeBron, of course, stood directly in Vogel’s path to the NBA Finals when Vogel coached Indiana, as LeBron’s Miami squads beat Indy in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Finals, as well as the 2012 Eastern Semi’s.
Vogel said in the press conference that LeBron’s 2018-19 season was defined by that Dec. 25 groin injury that kept him out for six weeks and derailed his and the Lakers season. But he’s more than excited about 2019-20.
“I expect us to see one hell of a bounce back season from LeBron James,” he said.
LeBron is, of course, the superstar at the heart of Vogel and Pelinka’s optimism for next season.
“If people take a look at where this franchise is right now, we have a great coach, we have a high draft pick, we have a great young core, maybe one of the best in the league, we have a superstar on our team and an open slot,” Pelinka concluded. “So I think people can look at this as an opportunity to come and win a championship possibly next year. And we’ve got to do the work … that’s what our fans expect, and we will put in the work to have an incredibly successful roster and team next year.”
Vogel knows there will be noise and expectations on the outside, but it’s his job to just focus on the process of becoming a great basketball team. And of course, there’s only one way to keep everybody happy, which he shared as the final two words of the press conference.
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