The Los Angeles Lakers have been a lot of different things this season. When first assembled, they were NBA champions. A team that wouldn’t be beat. They were going to challenge the ’95-96 Bulls for their win record. The Miami Heat? Bah. An afterthought.
Then reality hits. The games have to be played. The Lakers become one of the most unfortunate and unlucky teams that we’ve ever seen. The injury bug bites them hard and they lose Steve Nash. Then, Kobe does this. Then Mike Brown gets fired. Then they’re good again, but they need a new coach. Now they tell Phil Jackson no and Mike D’Antoni yes. Then, they lose close games to good teams and they destroy the bad teams. Then, after a while they got destroyed by bad teams.
Now? They’re finding somewhat of a groove. They’ve been playing better defense and this thing looks like its finally starting to come together. They beat the Oklahoma City Thunder last last week in a really convincing win. Before that they demolished the Utah Jazz. They’ve won five out of their last six games and seem to have stumbled upon a formula that has contributed to this.
Many people have complained about how inconsistent the Lakers offense has been over the course of the season when really that’s a stretch of the truth. The Lakers are 8th in offensive rating, scoring 108 points per 100 possessions. They’re 3rd in pace with 94.6 possessions per game as well. They play fast and they play well on that end. They’re one of the better offensive teams in the league and that’s because of all of their weapons.
As of late, though, there has seemingly been a role reversal that has helped the Lakers get a few wins. Kobe Bryant has become more of a facilitator rather than a scorer and a closer. The ball has been in his hands all year long and that’s no secret. In fact, that’s exactly why the Lakers are beating teams using this new method.
What has been killing teams lately is how much they’re sticking to the scouting report on Bryant. Of course, that’s what they’re supposed to do as players. But lately, Bryant has been misdirecting and deceiving us all. He’s called upon the powers of Rajon Rondo and become more of a willing passer and one who uses angles to attack defenses.
The scouting report on Kobe probably reads something like this: Likes to play from the post, has an old man’s game, will make tough shots on you so make sure to contest, WILL SHOOT OUT OF DOUBLE TEAMS, shows lack of trust in teammates, etc. Well, it probably looks nothing like that, but that’s what I imagine that one would look like. For the sake of this post, that’s what it is. Kobe tends to do all of those things on offense. He’s a ball stopper, he likes the ball in the post, and he shoots the ball a lot. He also likes the ball on the baseline and loves to attack the basket from the corners off the dribble.
Lately, Bryant has taken all of those things that some teams use to pigeon whole the Lakers offense and used them to kill opposing defenses. He’s actually creating shots for others and not only himself. When he gets the ball in a spot and holds it, the defense collapses on him. He’s getting the ball in spots that make the floor unbalanced. Lets take a look at a few screen shots so we can get more in depth.
Here’s a play where Kobe has the ball on the low block against Luke Ridnour. As Kobe posted up, Earl Clark and Pau Gasol ran a vertical bow route through the middle of the floor. Now we have a situation where Earl Clark is at the left wing spotting up and Pau Gasol is in the paint while his man is cheating off of him to watch Kobe. This leaves Andre Kirilenko no choice but to come under the rim and try to protect against an easy basket for Gasol. Let’s go to the next screenshot.
Here we see that Kobe dribbles his way around the double team and gives a bounce pass to Gasol who has Kirilenko sealed off under the basket already. This makes for an easy two points for the Lakers. While Kirilenko is an awesome defender, there’s nothing he can do when he’s got a body on him as big as Gasol at point blank range under the rim.
This is just one example of how the Lakers have used off-ball screening and cutting around Kobe posting up to facilitate easy opportunities. Lets take a look at another one.
Here the Lakers get the ball back on an offensive rebound. Kobe catches the ball on the left baseline and holds it. Three defenders instantly turn their attention to Bryant here. Gasol cuts under the rim and Kobe already has three other options for three–one at the top and two on the wing. Shannon Brown either has the choice of protecting from the skip pass and going to Antawn Jamison on the right wing, or he can come under the paint and protect from an easy bucket by Gasol. Just for the sake of,well, good defense, I drew an arrow to the decisions that he should’ve made, but I’ll let you know that he made neither. He actually juts stood there. Here’s the end of the play below.
Bryant takes one more dribble and gets further into the paint to collapse the defense more. He kicks the ball out to Metta World Peace for an easy three point attempt. He had many other options that he could’ve chosen from as well, but at least Bryant didn’t shoot the ball. It would’ve been a terrible decision–something that he may have done only a month ago. With him passing the ball it keeps everyone else in rhythm. That’s what Mike D’Antoni’s offenses are all about.
Who knows what triggered this attitude change in Bryant? Was it the advice of Mike D’Antoni? Maybe Steve Nash told him that he should play off ball instead. After all, Nash is a better spot up shooter than Bryant it could’ve been thing of floor balance for the Lakers. Maybe it was the shooting slump that Bryant was going through not too long ago? Who knows. All that matters is that this works.
When the defense is collapsed to only one point of attack, it gives the rest of the players on the team room to breathe. Kobe has done a great job of finding guys from out of the post or while standing from one spot. He’ll make skip passes, bounce passes and outlets to his teammates. Something that we really don’t normally get from Bryant.
There’s plenty of irony in this, too. This is a piece of the offense that Mike Brown envisioned when he proposed that the team should run the Princeton offense. A lot of the looks that they’re getting now, they were getting when they were losing with Brown. Now, Mike D’Antoni has infused some of the elements of his own offense–focusing on pace, baseline cutting, screening along the wings, and most notably the high screen and roll–and combined that with the Princeton offense to cater to some of Kobe Bryant’s tendencies.
On top of that, he has Kobe taking those tendencies and eliminating the negative effects that they may have through sharing the ball. He’s letting one end of the floor collapse all into one area and taking advantage of the defense from there. The spacing and cutting that D’Antoni has the players focusing on is making this effective also. Its really an all-around team effort.
For a guy who has been called out in the national media for not being very versatile in his coaching, this seems to be pretty versatile to me. D’Antoni has faced a lot of criticism for the offense that the Lakers have been running this season even though its been relatively productive this season in his time with the Lakers. D’Antoni has added a new wrinkle to it that I’ve never seen done before. This offense is a very innovative one and should be recognized as such. But we know how things are in L.A. If you aren’t winning, you’re losing. If the Clippers are better than you, then you’ve got to trade for Kevin Love tomorrow.
Thanks to Synergy Sports for their video.