Anatomy of an Assist

Kurt —  January 22, 2008

The first two times the Lakers played the Nuggets this season, Denver wanted to make sure Kobe didn’t beat them. It’s a strategy a lot of teams have used over the last few years — make those other guys around Kobe step up and win the game.

That strategy doesn’t work anymore. Even without Bynum or Radmanovic last night, the Lakers had plenty of other guys who could score if you focus too much on #24 — he showed trust in his teammates and they responded. (In past years, when Kobe made those passes the shots were too often missed, so the next time down Kobe tried to make shot over three collapsing defenders.)

Maybe it was because Bynum was out, but for a third time the Nuggets went with the “stop Kobe” option, doubling Kobe the second he touched the ball. Kobe took only seven shots (making five) but racked up 11 assists. And in the first three quarters he had seven “Gretzky assists” where he made the first pass but a second pass got the player an open look (they give those second-pass assists in hockey).

Here is an anatomy of Kobe’s assists (with mentions of the Gretzkys thrown in):

10:21 First Quarter, Denver 8-2. Gretzky Assist. (Fisher three from the corner after Kobe was doubled on the high pick and roll.)

9:09 First Quarter, Denver 12-4. Gretzky Assist. (Kwame dunk, Odom with the primary assist cutting to the basket after Kobe was doubled in the post.)

8:45 First Quarter, Denver 14-6. Gretzky Assist. (Kwame dunk, Odom with the primary assist cutting to the basket after Kobe was doubled in the post.)

7:01 First Quarter, Denver 16-12. Gretzky Assist.
(Fisher three pointer, Odom with the primary on a very nice skip pass, open because of the double on Kobe.)

6:28 First Quarter, Denver 18-14. Gretzky Assist. (Fisher three pointer, Walton the primary after Kobe was instantly doubled in the post and dribbled back out of trouble.)

3:55 First Quarter, Denver 22-21. Gretzky Assist. (Fisher three from the corner, Turiaf the primary after Kobe passed out of the double in the post. Sensing a pattern here?)

3:26 First Quarter, Lakers 24-22.
Odom takes the ball from Kwame under the Nuggets basket and brings the ball up, but no Nugget really comes out to greet him so he keeps going. Camby eventually tries to pick him up at the free throw line but Odom has a head of steam and blows by him — the only thing Camby does is force Odom to go to his weaker right side. That’s enough, Odom misses the lay-up. But Turiaf doesn’t give up on a rebound that is clearly Kenyon Martin’s (does Ronny know the words “give up?”) and knocks the ball free. Kobe picks it up six feet from the basket and, since all the Nuggets sprinted down for the fast break, it is a three on one. Kobe drives into Camby then makes a sweet behind the back pass to Odom for the one-handed jam. With the left hand. That’s one for Kobe.

2:00 First Quarter. Lakers 28-24.
Kobe is back in the low post, something the Lakers used to great success all game, especially when Carter and other smaller players were on him. With Bynum out the Lakers used Kobe as the post anchor in the triangle (much like the Bulls often used Jordan in that role), and they should go back to that when the matchups favor them like they did in this game. On this trip down however it was Kenyon Martin on Kobe, and it is Farmar who makes the entry pass to Kobe from the corner — Martin tried to front the pass but Kobe sealed him off beautifully and Farmar’s pass was perfect, leaving Martin on the wrong side and Kobe with a clear two steps to the basket. Camby came over to help, leaving Turiaf who went to the basket, Kobe wrapped a pass around Camby and Turiaf had a dunk and one. That’s two.

:10 First Quarter, Lakers 37-29. Gretzky Assist. (Farmar three from the corner, Sasha with the primary assist after he got a pass from Kobe, who was doubled out by half court as the Nuggets wanted to make sure he didn’t get the last shot of the quarter.)

11:00 Second Quarter, Lakers 41-29. The Lakers reset the offense halfway through the clock and again Kobe goes to the post against Carter, and again Farmar makes a great entry pass. Kleiza comes over to double, but does it in a stack fashion putting no pressure on the ball. So Kobe directs traffic, asking Farmar to move to the corner, then drives against the grain and trying to spin into the middle. As he rolls that way into the lane two other Nuggets collapse making it the rare quadruple team. Turiaf is alone and cuts baseline to the basket, and Kobe hits him with a pretty bounce pass. Turiaf dunks and Kobe has three.

10:10 Second Quarter, Lakers 43-31. Guess what? Kobe is trying to post up Carter. This time it is Odom with the entry pass but the Nuggets are slow to double. Doesn’t matter. Farmar comes off a Turiaf back screen, but really both defenders are looking over at Kobe, waiting to collapse on his move they are sure is to come, so they pay no attention to Jordan as he cuts to the basket backdoor. Kobe makes a pretty pass right over his man to Farmar for a reverse lay-up. And we have four.

3:15 Second Quarter, Lakers 62-50. Fisher pushes the ball after a Nuggets make and the defense never gets set. Fisher stops 22 feet out and Kleiza leaves Kobe to get him, so Fisher makes the quick pass to an open Kobe on the low block. Camby rotates quickly, but he is the only Denver player to do so — which means his man Kwame is unattended. Kwame goes to the basket, Kobe hits him with the pass and Kwame remembers to dunk. That’s five.

9:10 Third Quarter, Lakers 68-59. Now Martin is on Kobe and the bigger body is denying quality post position, Kobe is halfway out to the wing by the time he gets the ball. Kobe realizes this and faces up, then drives to his left into the center of the lane. Three Nuggets collapse and, stop me if you’ve heard this before, Kobe kicks out to an open Fisher for a three. Kobe is up to six.

3:00 Third Quarter, Nuggets 79-77.
This time it was Odom on the block getting the double, passing out of it and the Lakers quickly working the ball around the perimeter faster than the defense can rotate. Apparently Fisher is wearing an invisibility cloak because the Nuggets leave him open, Kobe throws him a quick pass and it’s another three, And another Kobe assist to make seven.

2:23 Third Quarter, Lakers 80-79. This time Kobe gets to the high post and is relatively unguarded when he gets the pass from Odom. Seeing this Fisher’s man (Yakhouba Diawara) comes to Kobe and leaves Fisher alone in the corner. By this point you think the Nuggets would rather have anybody but Fisher shooting, but apparently the lesson has not sunk in. Kobe makes the quick pass from the high post to Fisher, and it’s another three. Eight for Kobe.

1:53 Third Quarter, Lakers 83-79. Kobe gets the ball on the right baseline early in the clock and then basically gets a clear out. The Nuggets have gone to a zone, sort of a 2-1-2 match-up, so with the clear out the Lakers overload the weak side but three Nuggets stay with the ball because Kobe has it. Kobe makes the quick skip-pass to Farmar on the opposite wing for the three, which falls. That’s nine.

About 1 minute left in the third, when TNT decided that the score and time box they had up all game needed a breather or something, Lakers 86-79. Kobe gets the rebound and brings the ball up himself, then gets a drag screen (a high screen early in the clock) from Turiaf, and the Nuggets switch which leaves Camby on Kobe. That’s a mismatch out high. So Kobe drives right and goes past Camby easily, Martin and Carter collapse. Unfortunately, Carter had to leave Fisher alone in the corner to collapse. Tell me if you’ve heard this before — Fisher gets the kick-out pass and buries the three. Kobe reaches double digits.

:40 Third Quarter, Lakers 89-81. Kobe gets the ball out high and has Martin with him on out at the three-point line — Martin great in the post, not so much out on the perimeter. Kobe blows past him on the right side and here comes the collapsing Nuggets defenders — I think Dan Issel came out of retirement to collapse on Kobe in the paint. This time it is Turiaf following the play who benefits from the pretty Kobe behind the back pass for a lay-up. And you have Kobe’s 11.

The pattern is pretty obvious – and not just that you shouldn’t leave Fisher alone for the corner three (although that’s a good one, too). The Nuggets were so preoccupied with Kobe that the other Lakers were getting good looks and knocking down the shots. This season Kobe really trusts his teammates (particularly Fisher and Bynum) and the result is a team that is much tougher to defend.

to Anatomy of an Assist

  1. the other Stephen January 22, 2008 at 11:50 am

    delicious game.


  2. By the way, another reason not to get C-Webb (a dead issue, but I like kicking horses):


  3. I didn’t see the whole game but from what you write it also sounds like guys were moving without the ball since they knew kobe would be sharing it. Very important for continued success. I just wish we played the nuggets every game…


  4. It was fun to watch, but the Lakers won’t have the same kind of match-up opportunities (or the poor defensive rotations) to face when they meet the Spurs. This upcoming game is going to require a lot of cool-headedness, and defensive integrity. Once you find yourself in a half-court offense, they’re tough to beat. I think the Lakers have as good a chance as any team to beat their defense, but being out in transition or semi-transition is more important against this team than most others.


  5. How bout Jordan scoring 19 pts in 23 minutes and firing up 15 shots in that time span. He is becoming a strong offensive option, like a Tony Parker lite with a deeper range.

    The best lineup we got without Ariza and Drew is

    Jordan (or Sasha)

    Jordan, Sasha and Fish will keep the court spread with their threat to shoot. Odom and Turiaf will find spots when they move without the ball. We will be able to score, it is on the defensive end (especially the paint) that will be a concern until March. Good win last night, Kobe played masterfully.


  6. Kwame A. – This lineup will not work against shot blockers. The whole purpose of this line-up is to expose teams with no shot-blocking ability. I.E. When did the Lakers deploy this line-up? Long stretches when Camby was off the court.

    Predictably, the Lakers got 4 guys who drive the ball with 3 excellent shooters. Defense collapses to provide help (no shot-blocker) leaving Fish or Farmar/Machine open for the 3 (Kobe will not be open). Even worse, teams have to guard against Ronny’s midrange game.

    Best of all, the triangle works great with this set. A couple of passes to drag defenders out of their spot/zone. Slasher creates penetration and opens the triangle for devastation. Hard to defend against, unless you have shot-blocking prowess. A team like Utah would give this line-up fits with their depth at PF and shot-blocking.


  7. D-Fish was unconscious in the first quarter and when Melo went down with the twist on Kobe’s foot (which, btw was a completely inadvertant, and clean play on Kobe’s part) I knew the Nuggets were dead in the water. It’s too bad too, beacuse I really wanted to see a good game. Oh well, it must be something in the water down there in L.A.. Best of luck without Bynum and Ariza for a little while. Maybe we’ll see you in the playoffs…


  8. Great breakdown Kurt. Nice analysis of each play. It makes it more interesting for fans when they can have someone such as yourself break down each play as it happens rather than just have a stat line that says: Kobe makes 18 ft jump shot (2 pts)!!!


  9. Thanks Daniel, and keep up the good work at your site.


  10. @6. I disagree on the blamelessness of Kobe on the Melo sprain. He didn’t jump, he just walked underneath Melo as he shot the ball. That’s exactly the kind of move we get mad at when Bowen does it to others. I don’t think it was on purpose, I just think Kobe could have been more aware and not walked underneath someone who is 2 feet off the ground. That sprain looked UGLY. I was watching on the DVR and fastforwarded through almost every replay (and there were a myriad).


  11. 81- I think that considering the options, that is gonna be the best lineup against teams, even when a shot blocker is on the floor. Last night when the Nuggets cut the lead to two (with sorry Walton and Brown dragging the team down) we inserted Farmar and Turiaf, this led to a 14-3 run against the Denver starters.


  12. That was beautiful basketball when we made that push at the end of the third. That’s the kind of basketball I wished we’d played versus Phoenix.


  13. What is wrong with Luke these past few games? I know he had the injury earlier this year, and he had a rough start when he got back from that, but i thought that he would be back in rhythm by now. I looked like he was back in early January, where he has double digits for 4 straight games, but this is the time when we need him the most, he’s gotta step it up now.


  14. @10 – I think Kobe was going to get in position to box him out, then realized the shot was good and gave up on the board, didn’t move and watch the shot, and Melo came down on him. His movements look natural, unlike Bowen. The main reason people get mad at Bowen is that many of his movements are so unnatural that the only reason it seems that he would do it is to injure others.

    Melo’s injury is something that has a real chance at happening every time someone jumps, and everyone who has played a lot of basketball has likely been on both sides (the injured, and the one being landed on).


  15. 13. Last night was a tough defensive matchup for him, he can’t handle Melo. In an ideal world we would have gotten a lot of Ariza, but as it was Phil was forced another direction and that worked out well. It was his defense that held the team back last night.


  16. I think the main reason that people get mad at bowen is because it happens repeatedly. In any sport unfortunate things can happen by accident, it is whether the player in question takes steps to rectify the problem that matters. As far as I know bowen doesn’t mean to do it on purpose (although I doubt it), but its up to him to be aware of the problem so it doesn’t happen again. If Kobe breaks another person’s ankle I’ll start pointing the finger but hopefully he’ll be more aware of his foot position next time…


  17. I don’t know, i wouldn’t intentionally try to injure someone, especially if that meant having somebody weigh 200 lbs jump 40 inches and then land on your foot.

    If I was Kobe, that’s a risk I really wouldn’t take at any time in my career, especially now when the team barely has enough people to sub.


  18. The purpose of the ‘move’ isn’t to injure people though, it is to disrupt their shot. So when a player does a jump shot over bruce bowen, they are worrying about how they are going to come down, not staying focussed on the shot.

    The reason it is a dirty play is because it has a high chance of injuring someone, and is pretty much analgous to threatening to punch someone every time they try and shoot it.

    Plus, as can be seen by the many rolled ankles out there, the dynamics of the move doesn’t hurt the defender at all. As the attackers ankle rolls his full weight never ‘lands’ on the defenders ankle so the defender gets off scot free…

    The reason I don’t think Kobe would do the move intentionally is because it is not his style imho. I have no illusions about Kobe, I don’t doubt he is a dirty player in other respects but that seems a bit ‘cheap’ for him…


  19. Wish we’d face the Nuggets every game? Wait till the playoffs…

    The Nuggets are holding on to a slim lead at the Northwest where the real competition lurks. Utah looks like a team that is pushing as we speak and being in the WCF last year tells me they will not settle to being JUST 7th or 8th. In this regard, I still won’t award them the division win until we know how consistent this Utah push is to be. For now, they can be 4th.

    The Lakers are in a funny situation. One day they were 1st in the West, 2 days and a loss later, they suddenly slipped to 5th. Where in the world can you find that happening?

    Since New Orleans is playing inspired basketball, its hard to predict where they will be. The strength of their schedule is ok – not weak not strong. The Lakers have one of the stronger SOS among the 5 best teams in the West.

    It is therefore gonna boil down to this: If the Lakers play well enough to maintain 3rd, and Denver gives up the division lead to Utah and place 6th.


    The Lakers struggle and become so-so in the next 7wks and keep 5th while Utah does not recover enough to win the Northwest.

    Denver gets 4th and we’re 5th but we get homecourt and a HUGE psychological edge over the Nuggs. Either way, these 2 scenarios look like real possibilities. The second round is in the horizon… If the teams play out as currently seeded, we’ll meet Phonenix in round 2.


  20. Assuming everyone is healthy, how do we project/prefer Phil’s playoff rotation?. I assume he shortens it, as we won’t have back to backs and will naturally dial up the minutes of Kobe, Bynum, and Odom. Surely the rotations will often be dictated by matchups and flow, but I suggest something like this:

    Starters: Fisher, Kobe, Walton, Odom, Bynum. This is the experienced, triangle-wise, heady group that understands all the triangle nuances, know their roles, play solid rotation defense, etc.

    3:00 left first quarter: sub Ariza for Walton and Farmar for Fisher, leading to: Farmar, Kobe, Ariza, Odom, Bynum. This is the pure athleticism group, with increased tempo.

    First Quarter Break: sub Radmanovic for Kobe and Turiaf for Bynum, leading to: Farmar, Ariza, Radmanovic, Odom, and Turiaf. This is the pure speed and energy group, with Odom providing some stability and Radmanovic spacing the half court offense.

    9:00 left second quarter: sub Kobe for Odom, leading to Farmar, Kobe, Ariza, Radmanovic, Turiaf.

    4:00 left second quarter: sub Fisher, Walton, and Bynum for Farmar, Ariza, and Turiaf, leading to: Fisher, Kobe, Walton, Radmanovic, and Bynum.

    2:00 left second quarter: sub Sasha for Kobe and Odom for Radmanovic, leading to Fisher, Sasha, Walton, Odom, and Bynum. This gives Kobe a bit of a rest before halftime and gets Sasha some burn.

    Halftime: reinsert starters.

    3:00 left third quarter: sub Farmar, Ariza, and Turiaf for Fisher, Walton, and Bynum, leading to the speed unit: Farmar, Kobe, Ariza, Odom, and Turiaf. Need to start the subbing earlier in the second half as players will be more winded (can’t go the whole quarter) and need to set up to have the starters back by the stretch.

    1:00 left third quarter: sub Radmanovic for Kobe, leading to Farmar, Ariza, Radmanovic, Odom, and Turiaf.

    10:00 left fourth quarter: sub Kobe for Odom, leading to Farmar, Kobe, Ariza, Radmanovic, Turiaf.

    8:00 left fourth quarter: sub Bynum for Turiaf, leading to Farmar, Kobe, Ariza, Radmanovic and Bynum.

    6:00 left fourth quarter: sub Fisher, and Odom for Farmar, and Radmanovic, leading to the starters minus Walton.

    4:00 left fourth quarter: sub Walton for Ariza, leading to the starters down the stretch.

    Final minutes breakdown:

    Fisher: 28 minutes
    Kobe: 40 minutes
    Walton: 26 minutes
    Odom: 37 minutes
    Bynum: 33 minutes

    Farmar: 20 minutes
    Sasha: 2 minutes
    Ariza: 22 minutes
    Radmanovic: 17 minutes
    Turiaf: 15 minutes

    Basically, a 9 man rotation, with Ariza switching between the 2/3 and Radmanovic between the 3/4. I recognize the strong play of Sasha and realize Kwame will need to matchup against big low post scorers, but I’d still prefer to ramp up the minutes of Ariza over Sasha and Turiaf over Kwame; Kobe, Odom, and Bynum will also play heavier minutes, stealing 9th and 10th men their usual time. Some games, Bynum might require high 30s minutes and Farmar or Ariza might play well enough to cut more into Fisher and Walton’s time.

    I like the idea of playing Farmar and Ariza together, especially with Turiaf, as that creates a dynamic speed/energy unit that should overwhelm most teams’ benches — especially if Odom or Kobe stays out there with them (another benefit of having three stars this year instead of 2 — easier to leave one with the second unit to anchor them). I also think Fisher and Walton’s minutes should continue to be paired as they play a similar style and pace.

    Our depth will allow us to matchup with what most teams throw at us. If Utah throws a rebounding front line against us of Boozer, Milsapp and Okur, we can slide Odom to the 3 and play Turiaf at the 4. If GS goes small with Jackson at the 4, we can move Ariza there and put Fisher and Farmar in the backcourt. We have defenders to try against most typical matchup problems: Odom and Ariza against Dirk; Bynum on Amare; Fisher/Farmar/Ariza on Nash; Duncan/Kwame on Duncan; etc. The one thing we have no real answer for is penetrating speed at the point (Parker and Paul), but we have found success lately by forcing them to become shooters rather than helping onto them. There just aren’t a lot of teams out there that can go big/small, fast/half court, rebounding/athletic like we can. I like our chances.


  21. Warren, as you said, “One day they were 1st in the West, 2 days and a loss later, they suddenly slipped to 5th.” The west is so turbulent that no one can take anything for granted, not the Lakers, not San Antonio, not Phoenix.

    We are about to go though a road ‘time warp’ at the end of this month, with 2 key players injured and 1 to 2 other complimentary players just coming off injury. Hence our forecasts tend toward gloom. I think that is inescapable, but…

    Before the season started I said here that a couple of last year’s playoff teams would run into really rough sledding this year and it wouldn’t necessarily be the 7-8 seeds. That wasn’t a big revelation because it happens almost every year. My guess now is that one of the big 3 (SA, PHX, Dallas) will have a tough time in February – cutting us a little slack.

    If we come out of February no lower than the 6th seed, we will probably be in good shape for the year-end push.

    There is no way to relax, but we should enjoy the games as they are played and not be so manic about losses.


  22. Kurt, did Trevor Ariza break his foot due to the foot abnormality thing that people were talking about that he supposedly has, or is it something unrelated?


  23. 23. According to reports it is because he stepped on Fisher’s foot wrong (or maybe Fisher stepped on his). I don’t know if the abnormality played a part or not.


  24. I thought Fish stepped on Ariza, but there was so much confusion initially (Lamar was mentioned at first) I’m not sure what really caused it.

    Anyway, kinda eager to see how the team will play in SA.


  25. I had to catch a flight @ half time so can someone tell me how DJ played?

    It seems interesting that this FO would pick him over Webber n that the FO seems like it would be unnecessary to address scoring in the post as a need.


  26. 26, Phil Jackson he didn’t want Webber, they were more worried about rebounding and defence. If you saw the Seatle or Suns game you would understand. The other four guys can pick up the offence, all the really want is someone on help defense, while Kwame is credited for being a great one on one post defender he is a horrible shot blocker, and with a bum ankle defenders can blow by him (Camby did it to him a couple of times).


  27. 26 –

    MBenga seemed a little lost on offense but that would be expected. He had a couple blocks and looked passable on D.

    Not sure what you mean by your comment. Seems like you answer your own question. Weber would provide offense and weaken the D. Offense was only a problem for the Phoenix game and I wouldn’t expect it to be a problem very often (though, tonight, probably).

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the possible distraction of bringing in a former superstar and potentially large personality like Weber factored in the decision.


  28. 26. Go click the link in comment #2 and read what a former coach had to say about Webber. In addition, what has made the Lakers good this year is defense and Webber (as Hollinger put it yesterday) couldn’t guard my keyboard these days.

    Even all the “Webber to the Pistons” reports seem to come from Webber’s camp. You don’t see the Pistons making a move. Coincidence?


  29. I only see MBenga playing in situations where the other team is making a run by driving the middle successfully and repeatedly – or in garbage time to get him acclimated. if he actually works out then we have additional options down low and Chris Mihm could work his way back in at the PF position. The upside of this move has many more possibilities than the C. Webb option.


  30. Two blocks in the amount of minutes he played was effing great.

    Maybe the Lakers might keep him around after Bynum comes back as an enforcer. That’s a type of role player we don’t have otherwise.


  31. Mbenga has plenty of potential. Lets keep in mind that in his few years in the league he hasn’t had many opportunities to make a name for himself. He’s been quite impressive in the time that he has had on the court.

    Am i the only one that is bothered by him wearing #28?? for some reason #28 seems to get to me, it seems like an annoying number to cheer for… maybe its just me!

    Also, in regards to Chris Mihm returning, I’m not really all that sure of what he would even be capable of doing at this point in his career? How much can he contribute. He was never a phenomenal player to begin with but with no lateral movement he’s pretty much just left as a foul magnet.


  32. I think DJ is a great pick. Honestly I was too young to see C-webb play his best ball so I was just excited I but I guess it’s time to accept that that time has passed.


  33. Re Webber: At about the same time PJ came out to dissuade the media of pursuing Webber, Philadelphia brass filed complaints about C-Webb. After he was traded to Philly, they said he refused to play the low post. Quoting Webber, “That’s not my game anymore.” I guess his game needed a “time out.”

    Re Luke: Luke would score an a$$load more points if he would just be more aggressive on the offensive end. He plays the post and that is not his game. His last 3 post moves (back to the basket) resulted in blocks (to the best of my recollection).

    Additionally, Farmar recently joked about him posting up on a fast break. Based on the last 2 games, I agree 100%. Once Luke receives the ball he passes off to the PG or SG (good decision) and slows down or curls back to an open space on the floor (bad decision). He needs to race to the cup for the finish, as a distraction, or to help space the floor if we have numbers.

    Both of these explain why his point totals and shot attempts have dropped off. Because of the injuries to the bigs, the Lakers are no longer a half-court offensive team. Instead, they are now a press offense (similar to Phoenix or Golden State).

    Further, with 3-4 ball handlers on the floor at the same time, his assists will drop. Since half-court is not his apparent strength (can’t tell from these past few games), he either needs to be a dead-eye shooter or making a conscious effort to dribble-drive and find the open man. No more of this post-up stuff unless the clock is a 3 or less.