Three words from Darvin Ham’s introductory presser as the Lakers’ new head coach felt like more than just three words.
“Facts over feelings.”
With his calm but commanding presence, Ham won his first public appearance by detailing how he plans to take over one of the most pressure-filled jobs in sports. Whether or not Ham’s visions will lead to success remains unclear, but one thing’s for sure: there’s going to be a whole lot of change.
Aside from the new faces that will occupy the first few seats of the Lakers bench next season, Ham also wants to change the Lakers’ culture, playing style, and give them what they lacked the most this season — an identity. The man the Lakers have tasked with taking them to the mountaintop embodies the traits they sorely lacked this past season — accountability, toughness, humility, and hard work.
Now, does this mean that the Lakers have found their savior? No. But to get back to the winning habits they built two years ago, Ham promises to “communicate, collaborate and demonstrate” the same way with every player on the roster, from top to bottom. As he takes over the seat Frank Vogel was evicted from, the nine-year assistant coach is determined to make an immediate impact.
Here are the biggest changes Ham has in store for his Lakers:
A change in approach
There’s no denying that the Lakers were a dysfunctional mess last season. Not a single party wanted to accept blame for their shortcomings as the finger-pointing continued well beyond the season’s conclusion. With Ham in charge, this is all going to change, at least on the court.
In his very first opportunity to address the media as the Lakers’ head coach, Ham called out both Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. The former Milwaukee Bucks assistant promises to hold every player on the team accountable when they don’t meet expectations, which he said will be done through film sessions and in practice. When these players don’t meet expectations, Ham demonstrated that he will be the first one to single them out.
Every team tends to take on the characteristics of its head coach. Vogel was a defensive-minded, soft-spoken leader who couldn’t make it work with the ill-fitting and defensively-challenged roster he was handed. These failures in maximization and cohesion led to the lack of identity the Lakers displayed last season.
This year, the Lakers will look to a leader in Ham who is all about the grind, is tough as nails and won’t take lip from anyone, regardless of stature. Ham’s energy in and of itself is a culture setter. Even better, the Lakers’ front office appears to have learned their lesson from how they handled Vogel’s tenure, pledging to tailor a team to Ham’s style and approach.
A modernized system
Ham also laid out the “360-degree” coaching method he plans to deploy with his new roster. Gone are the days of directionless offense led by the expectation of a nightly superstar takeover. Specifically, Ham mentioned his plan to utilize a “four-out, one-in” offensive system after cultivating a defense-first identity.
The four-out, one-in offense is pretty self-explanatory — one player positions themself inside the paint (most of the time in the dunker spot) while the other four move around the perimeter. The most significant change schematically this year is that Ham will assign Davis (who was arguably underutilized on offense in each of the past three seasons) to be the fulcrum of his system. This scheme requires high-quality ball movement, decision-making, spacing, and the ability to exploit mismatches for it to run efficiently, all of which were lacking in the Lakers’ offense of the past three years.
In one way though, Ham’s ideology sounds a lot like Vogel’s own, as he believes that the only way for the offense to catch fire is to get stops on defense, which opens up transition and semi-transition attack opportunities before the other team can get set.
Under Ham, the Lakers will enter each game with a holistic strategy designed to win on both ends of the court (i.e. a “360-degree” game plan).
Finally, more autonomy for the coach
The beginning of the Darvin Ham era is off to an ideal start, especially considering how well the Lakers handled the coaching search and selection process. Not only did Los Angeles land the best available name on the market, but they also reportedly offered him a comfortable contract, unlike how they handled Vogel.
Ham has also been granted the autonomy to pick his assistants and work with Rob Pelinka to build a roster that will thrive around his coaching style and philosophies. Most importantly, Ham reportedly won’t have to worry about Kurt Rambis lurking in his shadow — all of which would represent a departure from what Vogel experienced last season.
From the process of landing their new leader to implementing his philosophies, schemes, and leadership style, the Lakers seem to be sending a message that they’re learning from their mistakes and are ready for change. The Lakers not only secured the head coach that wanted the most challenging job on the market, but also one that’s not one bit intimidated by the pressure of the bright lights that come with it.
Welcome to the Darvin Ham era — so far, so good.