Historically, James Worthy sort of gets lost in the shuffle. He was third in line behind Magic and Kareem. A vital part of “Showtime” and a guy known for rising to the occasion in big games (hence the nickname), but still someone who, will likely never be remembered as fondly by national observers as his more celebrated teammates.
Today though, on his 52nd birthday, we’ll remember Worthy for the fantastic player he was. Not just the guy who came up big in the playoffs every year, but the guy who night in and night out played a fantastic floor game with an ability to finish in a variety of ways from 18 feet and in regardless of who was guarding him. Watching the clip above, you get a real feel for how fundamentally sound, yet how creative Worthy could be when he had the ball. He had great foot work, a fantastic first step, nice touch, and excellent feel around the basket.
So, while many people nationally will always remember Worthy for raising his game in the big moments, enjoy the video above and appreciate all that he did in the little ones too. He really was a great player.
Last night’s game against the Blazers seemed to hang in the balance the entire night. The game was tied countless times and it really didn’t seem like the Lakers would ever get over the hump and create the separation they needed to win the game.
In the first half, the Lakers found some success playing the way they have in their recent stretch, with Dwight starting to find his stride as a post practitioner, pick and roll finisher, and having some impact on defense (J.J. Hickson’s ridiculous shooting notwithstanding). Antawn Jamison was having some impact off the bench and Kobe, like he has been of late, was playing a very controlled game scoring 11 points on 9 shots with 3 assists and 3 rebounds.
This style, however had the Lakers trailing by two points.
In the second half, it was fair to question if the Lakers really would win this game that they needed so desperately. Portland looked like they were “due” to get a win after losing 6 straight and the Lakers looked like they would be the team to give it to them
Heading into that 2nd half, our own Emile Avanessian made a simple plea on twitter:
This whole "team ball" thing is great, but can Kobe just be Kobe for a half?
Emile would get his wish. In the 2nd half, Kobe scored 29 points on 14 shots and carried the team’s offense all the way to a win. The game itself wasn’t always pretty, but Kobe Bryant’s performance sure as hell was.
It feels cliche to continue to tell people to appreciate Kobe. But he’s been so good for so long we can sometimes take him for granted. Against the Blazers, though, he showed us once again what a classic Kobe game was. And for that, I know we’re all grateful.
When the Lakers signed Antawn Jamison, there was a great hope that he’d be able to help the team offensively. The thought was that he could be the type of stretch power forward the team would need to play off of the Lakers’ big men while also providing some sorely needed scoring punch to the bench. Jamison, though struggling defensively for most of the season, has mostly been the player the Lakers’ have asked him to be. Sure, he’s been up and down and has found himself in and out of the rotation, but for the most part his scoring has been only slightly down per minute from his recent norms and his rebounding has been solid.
And while Jamison hasn’t been the deep shooter the Lakers would hope (32% on threes this year), the rest of his offensive game has been as advertised. The scoops, funky flip shots, half hooks, and floaters have been on full display this season and that variety has been a nice addition to a Laker team that could always use more players with a nice in between game to work off of the attention their star players receive.
One of the reasons that Jamison has consistently gotten good looks at the basket is because he moves well off the ball. When you narrow your focus and only watch Jamison, you’ll see a player who understands spacing and has a knack for slipping into the creases of the defense for shots close to the basket. With gifted passers aplenty on the Lakers, this skill could very well be Jamison’s most valuable to the Lakers. When Kobe or Pau or Nash draw a second defender, there’s Jamison sneaking along the baseline or cutting backdoor.
That said, as much as Jamison is the beneficiary of great teammates, he’s also quite good at creating his own openings when working off the ball. One such way he does this is by slipping screens in a manner that you rarely see other NBA players do.
Here we see the start of a play against the Hornets. Steve Blake has the ball high on the right side and Jamison is coming from the left to set a screen for him:
Next, we see Jamison sprint towards Blake with the defense getting ready to defend the P&R action:
However, instead of setting a pick on Blake’s man, Jamison rounds off his cut and dives down the lane line:
Blake sees a wide open Jamison and hits him with a perfect bounce pass. Jamison then finishes with an easy lay in right at the rim. Here’s the play in real time:
One of the reasons this play works is because of the spacing the Lakers have created on the ball side. Notice when Jamison starts his path towards Blake that Earl Clark cuts towards the area that Jamison is about to vacate. This cut opens up the area of the court that Jamison will eventually cut to. Also notice Dwight Howard holding his position along the opposite lane line and occupying his man so he can’t really help on the dive.
Most important, though, is Jamison’s smarts and instincts to stop his path towards Blake short and instead cut hard to the rim. Jamison’s man is already getting into a hedge position to help on Blake should he use the pick and Blake’s man is eyeing Jamison and getting ready to engage the screen. Jamison set up this play perfectly with his hard run towards the ball and then his equally hard dive towards the basket. Blake’s pass is just the finishing touch.
Jamison will never be a pure floor spacer and that’s okay. Because even though he can hit the long ball, his real value is in making plays going towards the basket and keeping the defense off balance with finishes in the paint. And, as we’ve seen more and more of late, it’s through this action of slipping the screen that has given him a lot of those finishes.
Steve Nash said Kobe was “brilliant” when describing the dunk. Kobe, meanwhile, is “very, very concerned” about Pau’s foot injury. Such is the up and down nature of the Lakers’ season to this point. The breaks the team catches have mostly been bad ones this year, especially on the injury front. Describing the season to this point as a roller coaster doesn’t do it justice.
Through it all, however, the team has battled. And maybe that is the bigger theme to this season to this date. The weight of expectations can be crushing. This team had ideas about what they could achieve heaped on them very early in the process. They have not come close to reaching those heights yet, but have preached about the process and the unyielding pursuit to still get to the finish line. Along the way there have been setbacks, but also been surprises. This is why we say to enjoy the journey. Things won’t always be easy, but they’re sure to keep you captivated. Kind of like that Kobe dunk.
On to the stories of the day…
Mike D’Antoni wants him to play. It’s been hinted at by his teammates that they want him to play. Fans definitely want him to play. But Dwight Howard is sitting with his bum shoulder. He won’t rush back, either, says Mark Medina. Not to play in pain or be less effective than he knows he can be. This may be hard for some to understand, but as Dwight has said, he’s the one out there playing. We, the fans, are not. I understand this perspective, even if it’s frustrating.
Dwight, of course, wasn’t alone in missing last night’s contest. Ron sat at the team hotel, watching on a TV, as his suspension didn’t allow him to even be in the arena. This is Ron’s 11th suspension in 10 seasons and, at this point, one can only assume his past transgressions plays a role in all decisions by the league to sit him down.
With Dwight and Ron out, someone needed to step up. The main player to do so was Earl Clark, playing 40 minutes and providing a double-double in the process. In talking about Clark’s emergence, Kobe says the Lakers would “be in deep crap” without the versatile forward. Dave McMenamin has the details.
The focus now shifts from last night to all the nights that will follow, starting on Thursday against the hated Celtics. While that matchup marinates on the mind, however, our focus is also on Pau Gasol. An MRI awaits him in Boston and there are fears of the worst. Words like “pop” and “tear” are never good and the prospect of missing the Spaniard for any stretch, especially when he was starting to figure things out, is a cruel blow for a team that’s seemingly suffered more than their fair share up to this point in the season. All we can do is wait. Hopefully the news is good. But if it’s not, I can at least trust that this team will battle and scrap to try and preserve their goals. They’ve at least proven that much this season, even if the results haven’t been what we’ve wanted.
If not, watch the video above a time or fifteen and answer again. Tonight’s Lakers/Heat game should be a good one simply to watch these two all-timers go at it again. (h/t to @meir21 for the great work on this one)
I can watch videos like this all day. The super slo-mo allows you to see the all the little things that you never get during a live broadcast. The anguish on a player’s face when he’s rushing to close out. The big man thinking he has a play bottled up only to realize his defense was futile. The crowd reactions to seeing one of the all time greats ply his craft.
Before the 76er game, Kobe spoke about how he may not have many trips to his hometown left as his career is much closer to the end than we may all realize. Lucky for us, he keeps giving us clips like the one above to satiate our thirst for seeing him do what he does best. The man was born to play this game, I’m glad I’ve been able to watch him do it.
For Lakers observers — both those that root for their success and don’t — there’s long been the phrase “you live by the Kobe, you die by the Kobe.” Last night, against the Bobcats, we definitely got a sequence of plays in which that phrase applied perfectly.
With a little over a minute and half left, the Lakers and the Bobcats were tied. Throughout his career, moments like this have been Kobe time. With the ball in his hands, Kobe got a much needed bucket by attacking the rim:
On the Lakers’ next possession, they still held the two point lead that Kobe’s lay-in had given them and with the ball in his hands again, Kobe went to work. After creating some separation with a hesitation dribble, Kobe used a great screen by Dwight Howard to set up a pull up jumper that he knocked down:
The next possession would be the last one for the Lakers’ offense. At this point, we’ve seen Kobe hit two big clutch shots to turn a tied game into a 4 point lead for his team. After getting the ball on the inbounds, Kobe again goes to the P&R but this time takes a more difficult jumper with the hedge man really on top of his shooting hand. The shot did not fall:
To me, the evolution of shots that Kobe took is pretty fascinating, but also encapsulate why fans can both love and loathe his approach in close, late game situations.
On the first possession, Kobe put his head down and got all the way to the bucket. The shot he hit was not easy and on certain nights he may have even earned a foul call. If a player is going to an isolation play down the stretch, this is the type of play you want them making. Even if Kobe had missed, he drew multiple defenders to him which opened up offensive rebounding chances. When talking about a strong, aggressive move, that is the perfect example.
The second possession represents an example of what will likely go down as a quintessential Kobe late game bucket. With the defense keyed in on him, Kobe still found a way to get to one of his preferred spots on the floor (right above the elbow) and get off a jumper. The shot was semi-contested, but was clear enough that he could easily get it off in rhythm. He’s hit countless shots just like that one. And while a long two point shot isn’t the most efficient look, I think most fans are okay with it simply because it was in rhythm from a spot he’s typically good from. If the shot would have missed there may have been some hand-wringing but nothing too over the top.
On the last play, however, we got the type of shot that people cringe at and point to whenever they want to focus in on Kobe’s “hero ball” approach to late game situations. Kobe came off the pick and rather than look to see what else was available, he simply drifted to the wing and took a heavily contested jumper against a defender who was, essentially, the double team man. The odds a shot like that fall are pretty slim (much lower than the jumper in the previous clip) and with an open Dwight Howard rolling to the hoop unimpeded, the the shot looks even worse on replay. When Kobe elevated for the shot, I thought to myself “that’s a forced jumper” and upon further review, my mind has not changed on that.
On all three shots, circumstance played a role. With the game tied, Kobe attacked to get to the rim. In that situation, FT’s are as good as anything else and he played for a shot as close to the hoop as possible. On the next play, his team was up by two and that margin lends itself to a different approach. The fact that he’d just driven to the hole likely gave him that extra half a foot of space to hit his jumper. With the Lakers up by four, his last shot was one that almost seemed like a throwaway. Charlotte needed two scores to tie (or win) and while any basket buries them at that point, they still needed a lot of work to get a win. It almost happened, but you know what they say about almost. (As was pointed out to me, the Lakers were only up by 1 at the time of Kobe’s final jumper. That makes my previous analysis moot. With the score being so close, Kobe’s final shot is exactly the type of shot fans kill him over and for good reason. Getting points of any kind is pretty important there just to create a cushion for their last defensive possession. The fact that Kobe settled for a long, highly contested jumper is a difficult decision to defend.)
In the end, it’s difficult to really sum up Kobe simply. Even those three shots don’t come close to doing it. But, those shots do, I think, offer a good representation of what fans both love and loathe about Kobe’s approach. In the span of three plays his choices seemed to go from perfect to “really?!” just like that. Maybe that’s why he’s the most polarizing player of his generation. Maybe it’s what makes him great too. What I know for sure, it’s likely never going to change. And that, for better or for worse, is what makes him Kobe.
One of the enduring critiques of Mike D’Antoni’s coaching career is that he’s not very adaptive to his personnel. He’s seen as a spread pick and roll devotee, and those players who don’t fit into that model aren’t very useful. While I don’t fully accept the premise of this critique, it’s also not completely off base.
Early in his tenure with the Lakers, you can already start to see why this perception exists. Pau Gasol has struggled to find his stride as a mostly stretch-y power forward while Kobe has mostly been asked to play the role of a pick and roll practitioner on the majority of the Lakers offensive sets. These aren’t necessarily the round peg, square hole fits that would lead to outright questioning of how to deploy these players. But they are sort of round peg, oval hole fits where you’d hope more diversity could be employed in order to better maximize the roles of the players he has at his disposal.
In recent games, we’ve started to see some of that diversity. Rather than only employing the spread P&R to initiate their sets, the Lakers have started to run more direct post ups for Dwight Howard and more pin down and off ball screen actions to free Kobe for open jumpers. And, interestingly enough, they’ve also started to run an action that looks very much like it was lifted from the Mike Brown sets the Lakers ran from the past two seasons, but with a little D’Antoni twist to still incorporate the P&R.
Below is a set from the Lakers’ win over the Nuggets. The alignment should look familiar as it’s essentially a Princeton looking set with the point guard high on the floor, Dwight Howard at the elbow, and Kobe on the left wing:
The set begins with Chris Duhon entering the ball into Dwight at the elbow and then moving to the left wing to set a pick for Kobe. However, rather than using the screen, Kobe cuts back door in a manner consistent with the Princeton (or Rick Adelman’s Corner offense). When Kobe cuts to the baseline side, he circle cuts up the right lane line and comes off Dwight’s shoulder to receive a hand-off. After getting the ball, the defense is concerned about protecting the paint and yields an 8 foot floater to Kobe. The shot doesn’t fall, but the execution is there. Kobe has essentially got one of the more efficient shots he can take in an offense.
Against the Hornets, the Lakers ran this same exact set but with entirely different personnel. Here you see the bench unit execute the play again:
This play starts with Darius Morris as the PG, Jodie Meeks on the left wing, and Jordan Hill at the left elbow. The same action proceeds as in the first clip. Morris enters to Hill at the elbow, goes to set a screen for Meeks, and then Meeks moves away from the screen to cut back door. Meeks then circles to the top, takes a hand off from Hill, and comes off his shoulder to attack the paint. However, instead of pulling up, Meeks drops off a pass to Hill who gathers the pass but misses the shot at the rim. Again, this play wasn’t successful but the team got as good a look as they could expect out of this action.
The mix of Princeton principles with D’Antoni’s emphasis on creating P&R actions is a nice wrinkle for this group of players. This type of action puts players in positions to run more traditional actions that threaten the defense. It allows a player like Kobe (or Meeks) to work off the ball initially while working back into the fray to set up a good shot. This action could be run with Gasol in place of Howard and presents a variety of options that can be spun into other good looks (after the SG cuts back door, there’s a sideline P&R just waiting to develop between the PG and the C while the SG circles back to the top of the key as an outlet).
When the Lakers have their full roster available to them I can only imagine we’ll see even more variety in their offense. Steve Nash will be integral to the D’Antoni’s standard spread P&R attack and that set alone should allow the Lakers to feast on defenses multiple times a game. But it’s these types of alternative sets that feature Kobe, Howard, and, when he returns, Gasol that will sustain their offense should teams overload on the standard P&R. The fact that D’Antoni is already implementing these actions is good to see.