In the last few seasons, it’s become a running theme for Kobe Bryant. He’s darted up the all-time scoring list and passed players whose names ring out as the best of the best to ever play the game. In Saturday’s much needed victory over the Kings it happened again, Kobe leapfrogging a literal giant, the Big Dipper, Wilt Chamberlain.
The feat itself came on a free throw line jumper, an area of the court Kobe has mastered through countless hours of practice and repetition. The stories of his late night workout sessions are legendary and no doubt set the foundation for what we see today. A combination of talent, skill, will, and determination that create the types of shots that seem routine even as they astound. The shot against the Kings, then, was just another in a long line of muscle-memory jumpers that he has been taking and making for years.
That’s really the only way something like this happens. Through insane practice habits, production, and longevity. I’ve said it before, but if you’d have told me that the high school kid the Lakers traded Vlade Divac for would end up being as great a player as he’s become or even hint that he would pass Wilt Chamberlain in all-time career points, I would not have believed you (and probably called you crazy). The fact that he’s done what he’s done is astonishing. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to see his career unfold before me; to watch his career grow and come of age playing on the team that I cheer for.
There’s no telling how much longer he’ll gift us with the types of plays that he’s given us for so many years. Last night when reflecting on his accomplishment, he again hinted that his career is winding down and that chasing Kareem’s all time mark is unlikely. Even at 34 years of age, while providing nightly reminders of how great he’s been throughout his career by throwing down a monster dunk or hitting a dagger jumper (or both), he knows the end is near. So enjoy him while you can, folks.
Wow. The power of youtube brings us Magic Johnson (and his fantastic afro) in his high school championship game, dominating the action just as he did at Michigan State and later with the Lakers. His talent is on full display in the clip above — his ability to finish inside, hit his little jumper, and, of course, his fantastic floor vision.
The clip above also shows a great game unfold with some uncanny shotmaking, including a shot from the team Magic is facing that if I (or one of my teammates) would have made in a high school game would have been celebrated with the same jubilation. Looked like a pretty amazing game.
In any event, enjoy the video. As you can see, Magic was always a one of a kind player with a unique set of skills. He truly looked like a man amongst boys on some of those plays.
Was the play dirty? That’s the question of the day and that gets complicated rather quickly. On twitter I used that term, but would amend it to say, instead, that it was simply an unsafe play by Jones. There are plenty of ways to contest a fadeaway jump shot, but walking into and underneath an airborne player is one of the more dangerous ways to do so. Here’s a screen shot of Jones contesting Kobe’s shot:
The reason why I’d say “unsafe” rather than “dirty” is because the latter implies intent. I’ve no clue what Jones’ intent was and prefer not to get into that at all. This in’t the real world where we get to go into a court room, hear testimony, and make a determination. There’s no “you can’t handle the truth” moment coming here. So, I see no need to get into that. Instead, let’s focus on the act and that act was Jones walking underneath a player in the air. That’s an unsafe play no matter how you slice it. I’m not out to disparage Jones or judge his actions through the prism of what I thought he meant to do. What he meant to do isn’t as important as what he actually did. And, in this case, the pictures and video show what he did.
What’s done is done, though. Arguing over it is less important than what happens next. The Lakers, simply based off their press release, imply Kobe will miss time. And, while there’s a train of thought that Kobe won’t miss any time (he is Kobe after all), I think he’ll miss at least a game and maybe more.
If that ends up being the case, the Lakers’ lack of depth on the wing will be a big challenge to overcome. Forget for a second that it’s Kobe missing time and simply focus on the fact that he’s currently the team’s starting shooting guard and its backup small forward. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s first substitutions are typically for Jamison to come in for Clark and for Meeks to replace Ron. That latter substitution slides Kobe up to SF where he’s a fixture of a small ball lineup. If Kobe can’t play any SF, who will?
Meeks and Blake are undersized for SG, much less SF. Ron has actually been playing PF more than SF if you look at who he defends on a nightly basis. Does this mean more minutes for Clark? He’s seen a decline in his minutes and production over the last month and isn’t exactly 100% healthy either (he’s had ankle, knee, and finger issues lately). Ebanks is glued to the bench and has played exactly 11 minutes since the turn of the calendar year. I don’t see this going well if Kobe is out for a prolonged period.
That said, knowing what we do of Kobe, he’ll get treatment on his ankle 24/7 until he can get back on the floor, though. He’s really not human in that regard.
In better injury news, Pau Gasol says he hopes to be back next week and it’s being reported he’ll return to the lineup as a starter. This is good news on both fronts. Yes, on both fronts. Before Pau got hurt, we were already starting to see a trend where Clark’s value as a starter was slipping from a team performance standpoint. The starting lineup that included Clark was essentially playing even basketball, their plus/minus numbers flat and their efficiency differentials hovering near zero. Meanwhile, when Clark was replaced by Pau, those numbers were beginning to trend up in a way that reinforced all the preseason belief that these players actually could perform well together as complementary pieces. Yes the sample was small and there were issues to work out defensively, but the numbers and the eye test support the “Big four plus Ron” lineup was starting to make headway as a cohesive unit.
Even though Pau will return as a starter, his biggest value should still come as an anchor for the 2nd unit. The bench has really struggled to create consistent offense outside of some good chemistry between Steve Blake and Jamison in the P&R. With Pau back, he can be the man in the middle whose passing and ability to score from all over the floor serve as a ballast for the bench.
Furthermore, his defense should also be quite useful. The Lakers’ defense is actually 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when Pau is on the floor versus when he sits, per the NBA’s stats database. It’s often easy to forget that even though Pau isn’t the best option to cover perimeter oriented bigs, he still can protect the rim with his length and do so without fouling. Don’t get me wrong, teams will still attack the paint when Dwight sits, but I’d much rather have Pau back at the basket than a combination of Jamison and Clark.
How the rotation shakes out when Pau is back will remain to be seen (and we’ll cover this in detail when he does return), but I would not be surprised to see Clark become more of a SF backing up Ron with Jamison taking the majority of the PF minutes when Pau is out of the game or playing C. Simply based off recent trends and how this coaching staff has deployed lineups in the past, I could see a bench lineup of Blake, Meeks, Clark, Jamison, and Pau starting the 2nd quarter, for example. But, I could also see Clark on the bench with a Dwight, Jamison, Ron trio next to Kobe (or Meeks) and Nash (or Blake) getting big minutes with Clark the odd man out due to Jamison’s greater ability to stretch the floor.
Getting away from Laker stuff for a second, show of hands (or, in the comments below) of who would want to do a FB&G March Madness bracket challenge. We didn’t do one last year but I’m considering doing one again this year, but only if the demand is high. We’d figure out a prize for the winner.
Also, I’m interested in reviving the FB&G mailbag, but only if there’s interest in it. If you have questions, you can email me by clicking that envelope on the right side of the banner at the top of the site. Just put “mailbag question” in the subject line and ask away.
Lastly, friend of FB&G and video maker extraordinaire LD2K has produced another gem that is worth your time. Here you go:
In beating the Bulls, the Lakers really showed how they can manipulate very good defenses with screen actions designed to get their best players makable shots. This was especially true late in the game where the Lakers picked on Carlos Boozer on multiple consecutive possessions in order to close out the game.
Of all the plays the Lakers ran against the Bulls, two stood out to me, and not just because they were successful. Both had very good design, but both were also relative simple actions that preyed on the quick reacting Bulls’ scheme in a way that exposed their aggressive help actions.
First, was a great play the Lakers ran out of a timeout. The Lakers started the play with Nash up high with Kobe on the left side of the floor and Dwight near the top of the key:
Nash goes to his left hand to run a 1/2 pick and roll with Kobe. After Deng hedges on Nash, he actually gets bumped by his own man before starting to chase Kobe who has darted to the right side of the floor. Only, when Deng starts his chase, he’s met by a nice screen from Dwight Howard:
Dwight gets Deng in a severe trail position with his pick and Kobe is wide open by the time the ball lands in his hands. By the time he raises up to shoot, look how far Deng is away from him:
The Lakers haven’t run this type of flare screen action a lot this year so it’s not like it was an easy play to scout. Coming out of a timeout, D’Antoni drew up the perfect play and Kobe came through by hitting the shot, resulting in a 15 point lead that really put stress on the Bulls’ offense. Here’s the play in real time:
The second play was another screen action, this time starting out of a Nash/Dwight pick and roll. We start with a similar set up as in the play before, with Nash high, Dwight in position to set a screen for him, and Kobe on the left wing:
After coming off a Dwight screen, Nash goes hard to his left to initiate a dribble pitch/hand off with Kobe who is circling back towards him. Notice as well that Dwight is trailing Nash rather than rolling hard to hoop as he would in a normal P&R:
After giving the ball to Kobe, Nash sets a screen on Deng. And, after having to navigate that screen, Deng has to fight over the top of a second screen from Dwight. That double screen action gives Kobe a lot of daylight to operate, with Joakim Noah having to step up to ensure that Kobe doesn’t get into the paint:
This is where Kobe’s smarts come into play. When seeing Noah, Kobe flattens out his dribble and occupies the big man in order to draw him up and away from his original assignment (Dwight). With Nash keeping his spacing high on the floor, Meeks and Ron spacing on the right side, and Dwight beginning a roll to the rim, Kobe patiently accepts Noah’s defense, waits for Deng to recover and has now created a situation where he’s double teamed but still able to make a play for a teammate:
The purpose of this action isn’t just to make any pass, however. Dwight rolling hard to the rim after setting the screen is the primary target. And with Carlos Boozer still standing outside the right lane line, Kobe correctly picks out Dwight for an easy dunk:
This play really was the Lakers picking on Boozer, who should have helped off Ron and taken away Dwight’s dive by standing in the paint. With Meeks and Nash the other two players on the wing, Boozer’s guarding the non-shooter on the floor and it’s his responsibility to duck in.
But the beauty of the play design is that Boozer really is stuck in no man’s land. If he does slide over to help on Dwight, he leaves a shooter open for the most efficient three point shot there is in the game. And even though he’s guarding a non-threat, the Bulls defensive scheme is one that emphasizes not giving up that corner shot. So while Boozer is at fault here, I think the play design really did a good job of opening up multiple options for a high efficient shot.
Moving forward, it looks like the Lakers really are starting to find more options on offense by adding wrinkles to their traditional actions in order to create good shots. Whether it’s a flare screen for Kobe or a staggered pick and roll action that opens up Dwight for a dunk, Coach D’Antoni is getting more creative. Furthermore, he’s doing so using his three best players and utilizing them in ways that maximize their abilities to be threats on the floor. Continuing to use these types of plays should only make the Lakers more dangerous and an even bigger pain to game plan for.
Last night’s win over the Hawks was both frustrating and exhilarating.
Watching the Lakers commit careless turnovers and have stalled offensive possessions in the process of giving up a 16 point lead was worthy of multiple anger induced curse words. Watching Kobe close the game with a monster dunk and a tremendous finish over one of the best wing defenders in the game was worthy of multiple celebratory curse words. And, in the end, since a win is a win we’ll all likely just remember the final Kobe plays, add them to our catalogue of memories of why we love him and move on.
But the end of the game also featured a couple of defensive possessions that were key to how victory was decided. After all, the Lakers only needed that last Kobe lay in because the Hawks scored on a fantastically diagrammed action. And Atlanta only lost the game because when running the same exact play for a second time they couldn’t get the bucket. So, rather than just file the end of this game under “Kobe was awesome” let’s take a look at those final defensive possessions and how the game was put in danger only to then be sealed with Steve Blake’s steal.
Before we get to the final plays, we require a bit of backstory. In the 4th quarter one of the ways the Hawks were really hurting the Lakers was by running Kyle Korver off pin down screens to free him up for jumpers. Korver scored 7 of his 16 points in that final 12 minutes by using a lot of the same plays the Celtics would run for Ray Allen (or the old Pistons would run for Rip Hamilton). Korver would start on the wing, run to the baseline and either continue in the direction he was running to receive a screen or reverse course and come off a pin down to make the catch so he could get off a jumper. Running this action freed Korver up for several jumpers and the Lakers were having trouble defending it.
One of the defensive counters to this play, however, is for the man defending the screener to step out (or “hedge”) towards Korver to either disrupt the pass or to make Korver hesitate on his shot until the defender chasing him can recover back to the ball. Of course, Korver understands that this type of defensive adjustment is coming and, when seeing the extra defender step out towards him, knows to try and hit the screener with a quick pass. (As an aside, if this play looks familiar it’s because the Jazz used to run this same action for years with Korver and Boozer under Jerry Sloan in his Flex offense). Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.