Lakers/Suns: The Kobe Show (And Luke Walton Too!)

Darius Soriano —  January 10, 2012

Boxscore: Lakers 99, Suns 83
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 113.8, Suns 95.4
True Shooting %: Lakers 58.2%, 50.2%

The Good:
Before the game, in the preview for this contest, I wrote that when Kobe is playing like it’s a combination of 2009 (all around great play) and 2006 (effective gunning) he’s simply a joy to watch. Well, tonight he was all that and more.

Kobe had 48 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals on the evening and frankly, I don’t even know what to say about him. There simply aren’t enough superlatives to write about him. He was just…amazing.

Working primarily 20 feet and in, Kobe terrorized the Suns’ defense. He stroked his jumper effortlessly and then used the threat of that shot to get into the paint for closer looks. He moved off the ball masterfully, using screens and all variety of angled cuts to break free from his man to go to work. On several possessions, just watching him made me tired.

And speaking of working off the ball, a subtle adjustment has developed over the last couple of games. Kobe’s not calling for the ball in the back court as often and instead is relying on the PG to bring the ball up and initiate the Lakers’ sets. This is allowing Kobe to move off the ball early in possessions and letting the Lakers run their screen actions to get him free while also opening up space for his big men. When asked after the game what the difference is for him working in Mike Browns’s sets rather than the Triangle, Kobe said that it’s now easier for him to get to the post and to the elbow as the team is setting more picks for him to shake free and get to these spots. This is allowing him to catch the ball easier and go to work from positions on the floor that he’s most comfortable.

Tonight, it was clear that he found his comfort zone early and it allowed him to ride the wave to the type of night we’ve seen countless times before but one that never gets old watching. Tonight, Kobe was amazing and the scary part is it’s becoming a habit.

(Honorable mention goes to Luke Walton for his performance tonight. With the Lakers missing both Troy Murphy (stomach flu) and Josh McRoberts (injured toe), the Lakers needed someone to step in and provide production at power forward and Luke did just that. Walton didn’t do anything flashy, but he did have an impact. His numbers weren’t eye popping – 6 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists – but they were meaningful. Five of his eight boards came on the offensive end and helped the Lakers secure the extra possessions they needed to find their offensive groove. And while his 5 assists didn’t lead the team, his knack for hitting the open man on time and in position to do damage was a key ingredient in helping the Lakers find their stride on that side of the ball. Most important though, was that he was simply playing hard and doing as many little things he could to help his team win. It showed not only when watching the game but in his team high +30 on the night. I don’t expect this type of performance from Luke every game, but tonight, when the Lakers needed it, he delivered. And for a guy much maligned for his contract and his lack of contributions over the past few seasons, I’m happy for him.)

The Bad:
The Lakers didn’t do a lot bad tonight but one thing they could have done much better was defend Channing Frye. The Suns’ PF had a team high 17 points on 7-9 shooting, including 3-5 from long range. He consistently shook free from his man (mostly Pau Gasol) and hit jumper after jumper to the point that the Lakers had to call timeouts just to figure out their coverages and rotations in order to try and mark him better. Ultimately, the Lakers countered by going small and removing Andrew Bynum from the game in order to move Pau to Center and bring in MWP and Walton to better match the perimeter oriented game of Frye. Before the game I wrote about how a player like Frye can give the Lakers problems because he’s the big man that can shoot who spaces the floor in the Suns P&R game, but I was hopeful they’d have their strategy sorted out. Turns out, I had real reason to be concerned as he found the space he needed far too often.

(As an aside, I know after tonight’s game folks are going to be a bit down on Bynum after he again struggled to score with any consistency and it was partly some of his inability to help contain Nash’s penetration that led to Frye getting so open. I can understand this sentiment but the Suns keyed on Bynum early and often in this game and effectively double teamed him to make him a passer. Nearly every time Bynum touched the ball he saw a hard double or had a 2nd defender actively digging down and then recovering to his man to throw off his rhythm. Defensively, I thought the Lakers did their big man a disservice by repeating the failed defensive game plan they employed against the Mavs in last year’s playoffs by having Bynum sag in the paint when Nash came off the P&R which opened up Nash’s passing angles and allowed him to pick out his teammates. Ultimately, this wasn’t a great showing for Bynum by any means, but his dip in production – at least tonight – had a lot to do with the defensive game plan and the way the Suns attacked him with multiple defenders on offense.)

The Ugly:
This will sound like a broken record but the Lakers couldn’t hit a three pointer tonight to save their lives. They finished the evening 2-17 from deep (11.8%) and they didn’t even seem that good. Meanwhile, the Suns hit 7-20 (35%) of their three pointers and while that doesn’t seem that great, going +15 from behind the arc kept the Suns in this game longer than they should have been. At some point, the Lakers are going to have to hit some shots to keep guards from double teaming the bigs and to continue to allow Kobe the space he needs to operate 18 feet and in. If they don’t, we’ll continue to see nights where Bynum has to live with a second defender in his lap and Kobe facing double teams when he starts to get hot.

The Play of the Game:
Kobe Bryant, alley up reverse dunk. Need I say more?

 

Darius Soriano

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16 responses to Lakers/Suns: The Kobe Show (And Luke Walton Too!)

  1. What a surprise (and a shame) that the Lakers didn’t test their new P&R scheme on the best in the league.

  2. Props to Kobe and Walton, and the coaches.

  3. Hmm…according to ESPN, Luke only got credited with three assists. Blake had eight and Barnes seven. Luke did play very well, though.

  4. I throughly enjoyed a vintage Kobe performance, but the 3pt shooting that you point out again, is getting a bit disturbing. I mean I just can’t believe how bad they are shooting through 11 games.

    In their 7 wins they are below mediocre at 33 0f 117 from three. But in their 4 defeats they are a dreadful 9 of 66.

    Kobe should do what he does best and operate off screens for mid range shots. MWP and Kobe work so much better from mid range in, I don’t know why they take so many threes. And Fish, well hopefully he just only shoots when more than wide open or if up against the shot clock.

    It looks like Blake, Murphy, and Kapono are the only capable outside shooters. So maybe Kapono and Murphy need to get a little more burn to keep the opposing defeneses honest.

  5. Looking at SynergySports I realised that Bynum hangs in the bucket when defending the roll man a lot more than I had gotten the impression of while watching the games.

    The block he had on Gortat was a nice example of why this can work for a giant like Bynum. He hangs low in the bucket to make Nash give it up, but still has the length to block Gortat at the free throw line.

    Further more I noticed Bynum spinning baseline on the block on both sides of the floor to avoid a double, nice combination of patience and a quick decisive move.

    With 7.50 left in the third Bynum has a hard show on Nash, who flips a behind the back bounce pass to Frye. Gasol closes out nicely but the jumper is good. The show itself looks good and intimidating, but I am now wondering how the team knows when to do what. Is it Bynum keying the action, is it the spot on the floor of the P&R (both the mentioned plays where sideline P&R going towards the middle, but the first was with Nash going left, second with him going right) or is it the lineup?

  6. …Edit: Above comment, it was Gortat sinking the mentioned jumper, not Frye.

  7. I hope Kobe bought some stock in that German doctor’s company. He is moving as freely as we’ve seen him in years. The knee doesn’t seem to be bothering him at all. I wonder how many other athletes will now give this procedure a try. Now if they can only find a similar procedure for his hands.

    Earlier in the season I hoped Kobe would play off the ball more. I was hoping that a new scheme and a new voice in Mike Brown would make him see how much more effective he could be. I’m loving the results so far.

    Bynum’s struggles are frustrating even if they are understandable. But I’d rather he get his seasoning now. The more experience he gets in learning how to handle multiple defenders and knowing where and when to pass is only going to pay off come playoffs.

    What is it about putting on a Laker uniform that seems to make free agent shooters lose their form. Yikes, I can’t believe how bad the 3 point shooting is so far.

  8. thisisweaksauce January 11, 2012 at 7:18 am

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    What we’ve been clamoring for a while now is starting to occur: Kobe is playing off the ball. And he is absoulutely deadly. Ever since that game, he and Brown have worked to get together to put him in the spots where he’s most comfortable: in the mid-post, off the curl, etc. And we’re seeing the results of it. No more isolation offense at the top of the 3 point line. Additionally, he’s as visionary as a playmaker as any point guard in the league, Chris Paul included (yes, he “only” had 3 assists yesterday, but I think 18-31 will suffice. The other games he was racking up 6, 7, 8 assists.). Some of the passes off the pick and roll have been amazing. This is why I loved the Mike Brown hiring; I felt that he and Kobe would build a really good rapport with each other.

  9. Darius: Thanks for the write up above. The use of the words “terrorized” and “masterfully” were especailly enjoyable. I have the man top 5 all time (another discussion).

    Issues: 3 point % is a severe liability; FT% is not great; PG is weak, but specifically PG “D”, which exposes the fact that our bigs are not great helpers; SF: When KB is out, the fact that we have 2 hustle/defender type SF’s (MWP + MB) really hurts us (No “O”); Bynum: Games like this are not 2nd Team All NBA worthy.

    My dream of the 5 game winning streak going into the Clip game looks good.

  10. Lets not bash Bynum. According to Skip Bayless he is already better than Howard.

  11. We need Tebow to be our point guard.

  12. Just have to say what a joy it is to have Stu Lance calling the games. He was in rare form last night. I just love how he perceives situations and describes them.

  13. @tviper, I always enjoyed Stu and how he’s not a homer when he commentates. I’m also pleasantly surprised with the job Billy Mac is doing. I was really annoyed that Spero didn’t become the TV play-by-play man and maybe that caused my low expectations with Bill McDonald but I find it much more enjoyable listening to Laker games will Billy Mac than Joel Myers.

  14. Darius, this is completely unrelated to the Phoenix suns or Lakers. BUT when is someone going to start talking about Phil Jackson coaching the knicks next year completing his tri fecta of the biggest basketball cities in the country, where his basketball roots are, reuniting with Lamar Odom finishing his career in New York who takes a smaller contract. I can see this happening. With a healthy Baron Davis and another shooter? Do you think that’s possible I would root for that team.

  15. 13

    Joel Meyers was like nails on a chalkboard. Like you I was hoping Spiro would get the TV gig but McDonald is solid.

  16. 14, I think your vision is highly likely to prove correct. Mike D’Antoni is a terrible coach for the personnel that the Knicks have (and will have for years to come). My guess is that he is as good as gone after this season, especially after they flame out in the playoffs.

    With the money, the location, and Phil’s history there, the Knicks have got to be the most likely landing spot for PJ, and there’s no way the Mavericks will keep L.O., which will free him up to sign for the MLE in New York.

    This would be an interesting team to watch, for sure.