Kobe Bryant And The Lakers’ New Offense

Darius Soriano —  December 5, 2011

If there’s one thing we know about the Lakers it’s that they’re an elite offensive team. In the past ten seasons they’ve ranked in the top 10 of offensive efficiency every season (save for 2009-10 championship team that ranked 11th), and with the talent on the current roster that doesn’t look like it will change this season. The Lakers simply have too much versatility on that side of the ball to objectively claim otherwise.

That said, how the Lakers attack opposing defenses is still somewhat of an open question. After Mike Brown was hired he gave insight into his offensive philosophies (attacking the shot clock, spacing the floor, reversing the ball from side to side) and openly stated he’d incorporate aspects of the triangle offense as well as some of the sets the Spurs used in their “twin tower” days from his time as an assistant there. While these sound bites offered a hint of what the Lakers would do, he didn’t get into many specifics into how the players would fit into their roles.

However, in a sit down with the media last week, Brown did give a bit more detail into how he plans to use some of his players. Specifically, Kobe Bryant. From Mike Trudell’s press conference notes:

-Brown and his staff have been developing specific plans for specific players on both ends. He described some of those plans for Kobe on offense: “We have play calls for him that will put him on the post and different areas of the floor that are named, such as what we call the Karl Malone area, a few feet off the block. We have sets and automatics that will get him to those areas, and to the elbows, and he’ll have a choice in the matter.”

This one-liner may not seem like much, but there are nuggets of information littered throughout that brief statement. A few thoughts:

  • Brown uses the term “automatics” and that’s a key term because it implies there will be set plays built into their offense to get Kobe to his key spots on the floor on any given possession simply by making a number or name call. Like any good coach, Brown shows he realizes an effective Kobe will greatly aid LA’s offensive execution and Brown wants to create scenarios where Kobe can get to his spots easily. This may seem like a departure from the triangle offense where reading and reacting to the defense triggered actions, and under normal circumstances you’d be correct. However, after watching Kobe all these years it’s been quite evident that Kobe manipulated the triangle more often than anyone ever pointed out. Knowing the offense as well as he did meant he could read a possession multiple steps ahead, make passes to certain players/parts of the floor, run the appropriate actions, and then set himself up in a position where he’d get the ball at the elbow or the low block. (How many times do you recall Kobe passing to the wing, cutting to the weak side, ending up at the elbow, and then pointing to the strong side and asking for a ball reversal so he could make the catch at the elbow? Only hundreds of times by my unofficial count.) Under Brown, the Lakers offense will work much in this same way only it won’t happen under the guise of the Triangle – instead it will be a set action; an “automatic” to get Kobe to the mid-post or the elbow area in order for him to operate.
  • Brown mentions the “Karl Malone area” and the low post as areas where he wants to see Kobe operate and it’s a no-brainer to understand why. Kobe shot a very efficient 51.5% on shots from 10-15 feet and 48% on shots from 3-9 feet last season. Furthermore, Synergy Sports shows that Kobe posted identical .99 points per play numbers on both post-ups and isolations ranking him 30th and 22nd in the league respectively in those categories. As Kobe has aged he’s become one of the best post up players at any position as well as a tremendous mid and short range jumpshooter. By getting Kobe the ball 15 feet and in the Lakers will give him countless isolation options where he can shoot over his defender, get to the paint much easier, and post his man up. Capitalizing on Kobe’s strengths in this manner should be a key to any offense he’s a part of and it sounds like it will be.
  • Where we’re still lacking information is what the secondary options on these “automatics” will be. Kobe, for all the criticisms he faces as a ball hog, is a gifted passer that sees the floor as well as any other elite playmaker. And because Kobe is still such a gifted scorer he will receive extra attention that can be taken advantage of with crisp passing should the outlets be available. This is where the triangle greatly aided Kobe – the emphasis on spacing and player movement created passing angles for easy finishes by teammates that timed their cuts into open spaces (recall the Nuggets series in 2009 as a prime example). It will be imperative that Mike Brown’s schemes create the same chances but where Laker fans can find solace is that Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Matt Barnes are all very  good at moving into open spaces (especially Odom and Barnes) and have shown plus instincts in this area in past seasons. It shouldn’t take much tweaking to ensure these opportunities exist next season.

Ultimately, we won’t truly know what Brown will do with Kobe (nor his teammates) on offense until we see them in game action against an opponent geared up to stop them. But, based off what Brown has revealed so far he’s got the right type of plan in place to maximize Kobe’s game. And if Kobe is doing well, the odds are the Lakers offense will too. After all, the one constant in the Lakers being a top 10 offensive team in the past decade is #24.

Darius Soriano

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