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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17 responses to Kobe Bryant And The Lakers’ New Offense

  1. gotta type … fast
    for WARREN!

    actually Darius, I think you missed a critical word in the first sentence of the last paragraph.
    did you mean, we “won’t” truly know… ?

  2. Great post… I’m gonna wait till I actually see what the Lakers offense looks like before I comment on it. The only thing I do know is that outside of the triangle Kobe’s usage rate won’t be the highest in the league this season.

  3. … I also think there will be more post ups as outside the triangle our perimeter players won’t be able to manipulate the offense to allow for more shots. There will be specific plays called they will have to initiate. I am worried though that without the triangle our players will too often be working against the strong side of the defense. What I loved about the triangle is it allowed our team to switch sides of the floor easily and attack the weak side of the opponents defense often.

  4. I think it’s difficult to determine the intricacies of what the offense will be until we know who will actually be running it. Who is our starting point guard?

    We can only pray that Fisher doesn’t get the starting nod.

    Hopefully we can grab an effective point for cheap in free agency.

  5. @Rudy
    While I do think the Lakers will look for another point guard to run the more traditional offense that Mike Brown will run, I don’t think we have to pray that the starting job doesn’t go to Fisher. Phil Jackson had a lot of confidence and respect for him for a reason; he is a leader, a high IQ player, and one of the few guys (in my opinion) who has earned complete respect from Kobe.
    I know Fisher is coming towards the end of his career, but I really don’t mind starting him and seeing him play short minutes (20-25 a game?).

  6. Double edged sword in having the automatics. Kobe’s strong will means he will possibly try to get those called more often.

    OTOH, possibly it could mean less late shot clock attempts under duress. Too often in some of those triangle actions, by his manipulations to get the ball in the post, there wasn’t much time left. He’d have to take the shot even if it wasn’t there or forced to pass and there wouldn’t be enough time to develop another quality shot.

    If the automatics for Kobe in the post are run much earlier, it could mean more time to create a better shot if the initial look isn’t there.

  7. Aside from the actual x’s and o’s of this, the most interesting aspect of is that it implies the most extreme reversal of philosophies imaginable, namely, from having a fully formed and complete basketball philosophy that the players are acquired for and then expected to implement, to the cobbling together of a set of plays that take advantage of strengths and weaknesses of existing players.

    Obviously, there aren’t many coaches in addition to Phil Jackson that have such a fully formed philosophy, and are bold enough to implement it so completely, but so far, Brown sounds like such a stark contrast that it’s hard not to get conceptual whiplash.

    A more pragmatic approach may very well be just what this group needs. Then again, the downside to that kind of pragmatism is that it could lead to endless tinkering and changes when things don’t go well. Now that I think about it, I assume that Brown has a fully formed defensive philosophy that he will attempt to implement, but that is based more on reputation than anything else at this point.

    Here’s to hoping that he is as effective on the offensive end as Phil was on the defensive end.

  8. Update from Woj, always on top of things. Our front office is trying to get us a shooter:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=aw-wojnarowski_jason_kapono_lakers_120511

    Kapono was an elite percentage 3-point shooter, he just stopped taking them. But shooting is hard to forget. For the vets minimum, I like.

  9. Now I finally had time to read this post (between classes). Fantastic work. Man, I missed not being able to read FBaG’s in-depth X’s and O’s.

    This year, with a new coaching system, there will be even more reason to talk X’s and O’s and more to learn from Darius and the crew.

  10. With a veteran team – one that has run the triangle for 12 years – I suspect Brown won’t fully implement any other system. The players will tend to run the triangle, no matter what he does – especially since there is very little training camp and a compressed schedule. Both these facts argue for a consistent, not a complete makeover approach to team basketball.

    I just think Brown will give the players more rope to move out of the triangle and some structure to use when doing this.

    Let’s not make the mistake of thinking the world is going to turn over in 2 weeks.

  11. - Count me in as one of the many Laker fans who is praying that Fish does not start, or plays more than 12 minutes a game. If Fish continues to start or receive significant minutes, it will mean either the Lakers failed to upgrade the position..Blake has not yet rediscovered his shot and confidence…or the rookies have not developed as hoped. In other words, if Fish starts again, this team will be in serious trouble.

  12. Having run the triangle for so many years, Kobe and other triangle vets will still intuitively implement the “read and react” aspect of it.

    The beauty of the no-called-plays-aspect of the triangle was that other teams couldn’t jump your plays because they knew which action would come next. That sensibility should still exist, even when running plays with limited options.

    But having plays will also allow for Kobe (and others) to get the ball in advantageous places on the floor without necessarily moving someone else off the block. And if the rest of the Lakers go into watching-24-work mode, he is in a (Karl Malone) range closer to the basket allowing for more efficiency even if the offense stagnates.

    Losing the triangle should also mean more comfort for players like Blake and Artest, as well as any other players that may come in midstream. Tex always said that it took a minimum of two years to properly run the triangle in more than just a simplified form.

  13. I am still very much doubtful of Mike Brown. But getting Kobe automatics would be a nice change. While Kobe continues to be great at post ups, he will never be as automatic as Jordan simply because defenders these days are taller and more athletic than he is and the Lakers lack decent 3 point shooting and ball handling outside of Kobe. To these eyes most of Kobe’s assists off posts ups are to Pau and Bynum with good reason. Whereas Jordan had all kinds of room to work with down low in the 1990’s since zones were not allowed and the Bulls almost always had a center who was a reliable mid-range shooter.

    Therefore the automatic that I would very much like to see is having Kobe curl around a screen for a jumper 15-18 feet out, early in the shot clock. Kobe can be devastating as he is strong enough to bump his defender into the screen, similar to what Carmelo does 5-6 times a game, and Kobe’s mid-range is even more deadly. One of my main complaints about the triangle offense is that if it ends up to be a Kobe post play or a Kobe mid range jumper, the play needs at least 8-10 seconds to develop. And usually the play takes longer.

    Also an early offense based off a Kobe curl early in the game would create some confusion in the middle of the floor for the defense, and also allow our point guard and our other wing to stay near the 3 point line for better transition defense. Not to mention Kobe wouldn’t have to work so hard to get his points later in the shot clock ….

  14. There is so much wrong with this I don’t feel like writing a whole article just to educate this one A) An “automatic” is exactly the opposite of what you described. The set play is abandoned as the offense “automatically” reacts to defensive coverage. Like if the post is fronted “automatically” evacuate the back side. or when the pick and roll is switched “automatically’ isolate the mismatch and evacuate the front side, When the wing is denied past the 3 point line “automatically” clear the low post and back cut. When the point is forced to pick up his dribble the low post “automatically” moves to the top of the key for pressure relief etc. B) The triangle can not be “manipulated” to get yourself the next pass as the defensive coverage determines both the cuts and the next pass in the triangle. This is why you were always seeing Kobe giving the broken triangle hand sign. He had permission to use some possessions on isolation plays. Also when the ball is reversed to the two man [back] side the perimeter recipient has the chance to go 2on2 or 1on1 as he chooses. Phil also ran complimentary set plays and pressure relief set plays [usually] back door lobs. C) D) E) I could go on… It’s enough to say Mike Brown’s offensive approach will be the opposite of Phil’s, Mostly sets with occasional read and react.

  15. #16. Shareef,
    First off, thanks for your comment and feedback.

    Second, the types of “automatics” that you describe are actually more prevelant in the Triangle than more traditional offenses. What you describe are more read and react actions that are triggered by what the defense is doing.

    What Brown described *is* different than that. He’s describing ways for Kobe to get to his spots quickly within the context of his offense in order to maximize his effectiveness. This is what I tried to describe in my post.

    Third, yes the Triangle had set plays. Besides the lob action that you described (a play that Phil ran a lot out of timeouts and as the first play of a half), he also had single/double screen actions that he ran a lot for Fisher and Shannon Brown to free them up coming off picks to get open jumpers. There are several more examples but we don’t need to get into them now.

    Lastly, if you don’t think Kobe manipulated the Triangle, you’re fooling yourself. As a primary ball handler in the Triangle he had a lot of influence on the direction of the offense simply by making the first pass. A pass to the corner to form the sideline triangle starts a different sequence than reversing the ball immediately and starting some of the weak side actions. Kobe understood this perfectly and would often make a certain pass in order to get a teammate a certain look or to, gasp, get himself a shot that he wanted. Jordan did this too. As did Shaq, though not as easily as he was not an offensive initiator from the perimeter the way that Kobe and MJ were.

    Ultimately, and back to my original point, this is why conclusion confuses me the most. You write that “Mike Brown’s offensive approach will be the opposite of Phil’s, Mostly sets with occasional read and react.” but the types of pressure releases, back cuts, and one or two man game “reads” that you describe are keys in any read and react system. Brown has not described this type of system anywhere that I’ve read.