The Lakers got their 9th win of the season against the Hornets by the count 103-87, showing both the Jekyll and Hyde nature of their play so far this season.
In the first half they had trouble defending the Hornets’ pick and roll attack, surrendering open shots at the rim by not helping the helper and ceding open jumpers on the wing on late rotations. On offense they ran a clunky, isolation heavy attack that left them seeking out good shots that came few and far between. The result was a 2 point deficit after 24 minutes born of lackluster play that looked all too familiar.
In the 2nd half, that all changed. On defense, the rotations were more crisp. Back side wings dug down on the roll man and disrupted passes into the paint. The open jumpers that were so prevalent in the first half mostly dried up as well. Defenders were much more engaged all over the floor, talking and active. Dwight Howard took command in the third quarter, controlling the paint on both sides of the floor. The ball moved on offense, shots started to fall, and what was a deficit quickly became a lead that would not be relinquished (in fact, it was barely threatened).
And so, the Lakers won a game they sorely needed. It was a game they should have won, but in a season where nothing has been certain (save for uncertainty), every win is a good one.
But, in a departure from looking at all that went right and wrong in this game, I turn my focus to Kobe Bryant. So excuse me for the fawning that will proceed…
Tonight Kobe Bryant joined an elite club. The number of people who have scored 30,000 points in their NBA career(s), before tonight, totaled four. They are the names of players who only need be identified by a single moniker. Kareem, Jordan, Wilt, The Mailman. These are the faces that have sat on the Mt. Rushmore of scorers in league history. Against the Hornets — the team that drafted him — Kobe joined these men on that mountain.
The points came on a play we’ve seen Kobe make hundreds of times before. After catching the ball on the right wing, he drove past a closing out defender, slithered into the lane, elevated over the help defender, and flicked in a one handed runner while fading to his left. It showed off his body control, his touch around the rim, and the scoring instinct that got him to this point. It was, in many ways, the quintessential Kobe bucket. Not too flashy, but enough of a wow play that makes you want to watch it again.
In between that shot and the the first one he made so many years ago, we’ve seen countless others. So many, in fact, they blur together. The baseline fade away. The pull up at the elbow. The heat check three pointer. The reverse lay in. The thunderous dunk. Through all the makes we’ve marveled at the focus, the footwork, the innovation, the creativity, and the desire. Especially the desire.
Seventeen years ago the Lakers acquired Kobe, a high school guard who had as much talent as moxie. He talked of “taking his talents” to the NBA and the challenge of playing the game at the highest level. In the years since, he’s been humbled plenty and reached the mountain top as an individual and as part of a team. The MVP’s (league and Finals), the championships, the all-star games, the franchise records, and all-NBA nods speak to his greatness.
And, through it all, he’s done it his way. For better and, at times, for worse. Playing his game has left him with as many detractors as he has staunch supporters. It’s also left him with almost universal respect. He’s as hardworking as he is relentless. As unforgiving a competitor as he is driven to improve. For all intents and purposes, he’s a player that’s made himself great as much as he’s had greatness bestowed upon him through his 6 foot, 6 inch frame and the NBA pedigree.
He has been, and continues to be, one of a kind. And he’s still going. Congratulations, Kobe Bean. If they’d told me 17 years ago he’d be this great, I wouldn’t have believed them. Which is probably one of the reasons he’s this great to begin with.
On Friday night, before the Lakers beat the Suns, Kareem finally got his statue. And while the past couple of years produced many jokes and more than a few hard feelings in the lead up to this honor being bestowed, by the time the ceremony took place everything was put in its proper perspective. Kareem spoke about what an honor it was while former teammates talked about how great a player Kareem was and how deserving he was of being immortalized in this way.
Of course, the statue is of Kareem shooting his famed sky hook. The most devastating weapon the game has ever seen, Kareem demolished opponents night after night by swinging left and shooting right over the top of his man. For years this single shot anchored the Lakers’ half court offense and whenever they needed a bucket Magic could hold up the number 5 and signal The Captain to get into the post. And more times than not, he’d deliver.
So, while we honor the man that did so much for the Lakers we should also sit back and enjoy watching him doing what he did best. Here is Kareem, destroying his man with the move he mastered. Congratulations again Captain, you certainly earned it.
In Mike D’Atnoni’s introductory press conference he wowed media and fans alike with his calm confidence, humor, and bold proclamations about what the Lakers can be on the offensive side of the ball. He expressed a willingness, no a desire, to let his players be the decision makers on the floor and allow their talent to shine through.
More important than what D’Atnoni said about the Lakers’ offense was his take on their defense. He noted that he has the type of defensive talent for the Lakers to a be “a bear” on that side of the ball and mentioned several times that in the period his players get up to speed on what they like to do on offense, the team will need to win games with energy and defense.
D’Antoni then laid on effusive praise for Dwight Howard and for good reason. While acknowledging that Howard is still not 100%, he expressed the need for Howard to carry the team on the defensive side of the ball in the short and the long term. This isn’t a foreign concept as it’s what we’ve all believed to be true as well. Howard’s pedigree on that side of the ball is well known and it’s impact there that had fans most excited about him becoming a Laker.
Through the first 8 games to the season, the Lakers haven’t gotten that guy. At least not consistently. He’s had his moments to be sure, but his timing and freakish athleticism haven’t come all the way back on an every play basis just yet. But, we may just be seeing a breakthrough. In the San Antonio game, Howard made one play that stood out to me as maybe his best defensive sequence of the season:
On this play, Howard did everything you’d want a big man to do. He hedged on the pick and roll to prevent dribble penetration. He then recovered to his man to contest what would have been a 15 foot jumper. After his man faked the shot and put the ball on the ground, Howard slid with him and then challenged the shot to force a miss. Then, as the ball caromed off the rim, he quickly leapt again to secure the rebound.
Dwight may not be all the way back but it’s plays like this that show me he’s getting closer. The angles, recovery, the challenge, and the second jump were all there.
Moving forward if Dwight can make these plays consistently, he’s going to make his coach look like a very smart man.
In today’s breakdown, we’re going to take a loot at some of the different ways that the Lakers’ new offense has gotten Kobe more high percentage shots. We haven’t seen much of the old Kobe repertoire this season — wing ISOs, high P&Rs, triple threat of death — we’ve seen a much more efficient Kobe who has been getting to the rim more. I understand that we’re talking about an incredibly small sample size here, but right now, Kobe’s shooting 50 percent of his shots at the rim, nearly double what he was doing in the past two seasons, take a look at his shot distribution charts (courtesy of NBA.com). Click the chart for a bigger view.
Here to help me explain why Kobe’s been able to get to the rim as often is Andrew Garrison of the fantastic Lakers blog Silver Screen and Roll. Garrison suggested that I write a post taking a look at how Kobe has been cutting off the ball more often, which has led to a lot of easy buckets. I asked him to help me out on this post. We’ll both be taking individual looks at a couple of plays where Kobe was able to get to the rim, and discuss a final play together at the end of the post. Andrew kicks things off with a look at how Kobe getting to the rim has created offensive rebounding opportunities.
AG: Cuts and Defensive Rotation Advantages
The most noticeable things Kobe Bryant has done through the season thus far is attack the paint. This has mainly been through the use of cuts, but he has also been driving from the perimeter decisively when the ball is in his hands. Kobe’s tendency to go into isolation jab step dance dance revolution mode has gotten a bit out of hand in recent years. It’s refreshing to see him willing to lower his shoulder and drive straight to the rim. If he’s matched up against a slower defender, like a Matt Barnes for example, he can push right by without an issue and get to the second layer of the defense. The hope has to be, even if matched up against an elite perimeter defender (say, Andre Iguodala, who will body and move his feet to keep Kobe in front of him), Kobe will at the very least draw a foul. Considering how crafty Kobe is at this point in his career, if he get’s even a whiff of the rim that’s an issue for the other team to account for. Once the defense sinks in to put a body in front of Kobe, the possibilities begin to branch out. A) He still manages to get the bucket B) He is fouled in the process C) He recognizes a soft spot in the defense and gets the ball to the open teammate or D) He misses.
The “good” thing about him missing, though, is that it creates a great chance for an offensive rebound. If the defense is having to rotate and turn their backs to Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, or Jordan Hill the probability of getting an offensive board shoots through the roof. The Lakers’ three primary bigs have great offensive rebound percentages, with Hill grabbing an insane 24.8%, Howard with 13.2%, and Gasol gobbling up 10.8% of the available boards. Simply put, if the defense’s bigs are having to move out of position, the chances that there is a Laker waiting to take advantage of this and erase the miss are very high. With the Lakers are shooting the ball at 50.3% over the first four games giving them extra possessions will have them putting points on the board in a hurry. Howard, Gasol, and Hill will gladly feast on wide open gimmies at the rim off of rebounds. Here, Kobe completely loses his defender on a backdoor cut. With nothing between him and the rim, the defender that is sitting under the rim with Pau is forced to rotate and try and force a miss from Bryant, which he does successfully. But, leaving Gasol alone under the rim proves to be deadly and it’s an easy two points for the Spaniard. While it was a miss in the end for Kobe it was still a good basketball play that led to easy points for Los Angeles.
PB: Bringing Howard Out of the Paint
Until Darius pointed it out to us earlier this week, I hadn’t noticed how much space Dwight Howard was creating by coming up to the high post. In Darius’ post, he explains how Pau was able to get some touches in the low post by inverting the bigs for a few plays per game. In the following set, the Lakers ran a 1-4 high set which started off with Kobe entering to Pau on the left wing and clearing out to the opposite side. Pau swung the ball to Nash who then hit Howard in the high post. As Nash clears out Pau comes down to set a down screen for him as Kobe is using a Ron screen to pop out. Already, there is tons of movement in this set which is fantastic. What makes this set unique is that all of the action is happening away from Kobe.
Nash slips as he turns the corner around Pau’s screen. He was obviously going to take a handoff from Howard considering the direction he was going and how high Howard was. My guess is that Nash was going to use the lane created by the spacing to penetrate and either get off a floater or dish to Nash should his man leave him to stop Nash. Since none of this happens, Kobe continues moving toward the ball until Batum turns his head, giving Kobe the opportunity to cut behind him with a wide open lane. Ron was still at the right wing, Howard was still high on the left wing and Pau wasn’t exactly on the left block as he tried to help out on the broken play.
The result is a wide open layup for Kobe mainly due to the spacing underneath the basket afforded to him with Howard catching the ball at 17+ feet. Also, Kobe with some weak side movement as the defense is focused on the action surrounding Howard/Nash/Pau really helped to open things up. In years past, you couldn’t get that many sets of eyes off of Kobe simply because the Lakers didn’t have the personnel to hold the attention of opposing defense. Check out the tape.
AG: The Sneaky Spaniard Screen (SSS)
The cutting and driving Kobe has been doing is really just a pretty bow to place on the gift that is Kobe Bryant the offensive player. His skill set is still remarkable in his 17th season in the NBA. While he has been getting high percentage looks around the rim, he remains a threat from almost anywhere on the court, in any situation. In this play Matt Barnes is matched up with Kobe Bryant in a half court set. For the majority of the night Kobe had attacked Barnes by driving through to the rim. Because of this tendency, Barnes clearly prepared to play Kobe one to one and expected another drive. Then, boom, he’s blindsided by a HUGE screen from Pau Gasol.
With the space created from the screen, Kobe immediately takes advantage of the mismatch created with Blake Griffin having to rotate, and gets up a fall away jumper that is nothing but net. The variety of ways the Los Angeles Lakers can utilize Kobe Bryant is key in keeping the opponents off balance. Work him off ball in cuts, hand-offs, in the post, and off of screens. Defenders already know they have to deal with a mixed bag of tricks against Kobe in one on one situations, but layer in the macro game of using different ways to get him those looks makes this an even trickier slope to scale. Blake Griffin does a good job of switching onto Kobe and preventing him from getting into the paint, but giving Kobe that much space to operate in generally means he will find a way to score. Just too skilled without anyone pestering him.
PB: The Option Read
This is a set that the Lakers have run a few times this season. Kobe will set up on the strong side wing with either Pau or Dwight (Dwight in this case) in the low block on his side. As Nash brings the ball up, Dwight moves up the line and receives the ball in the pinch post. Nash enters the ball into Howard and heads to rub off of Howard’s right shoulder, Kobe his left.
Both Nash and Kobe reach Howard at the same time, effectively setting screens on the man guarding the other guy (Nash screen’s Kobe’s man and vice versa). As both men start to turn their respective corners, Howard makes an option to hand the ball off to one of his guys, which is Kobe more often than not. Again, with Howard being brought out of the high post, Kobe essentially has an open lane as he attacks the basket.
By the time the defense starts collapsing on Kobe, he’s already began his gather toward the rim and is laying the ball in by the time defenders start to jump. Check out the clip below and see how the design of this set was to get Kobe an easy bucket around the rim instead of having him take a jump shot.
AG: This cut from Kobe is just a flat our pretty basketball play. Metta World Peace is one of the most maddening Lakers right now, his up and down play leaves me shaking my head and laughing at times, but he puts this pass right on the money for Kobe. Tayshaun Prince is caught with his pants down essentially while he looks at MWP attempt to dribble around in the corner and Kobe immediately cuts through the key. This play really drives everything home, to me. Kobe again cuts off ball and it forces the defense to shift their bigs to try and account for it. The layup went down, but if it had missed, Dwight Howard was in prime position to swoop up the offensive board and get an easy put-back basket.
PB: Like Andrew said, this was just a fantastic play. Ron obviously wasn’t going to get anything in transition there, but Kobe made a great cut on the secondary break and Ron made an excellent pass that slipped right behind Tayshaun Prince. What I enjoyed about this, and what we’ve seen Kobe take advantage of a few times this year, is Kobe using his old habits to take advantage of defenders. More often than not, Kobe would prefer to pop out or hold off his man around the perimeter and extend an arm to receive a pass. Knowing this, Prince is playing a lot higher than he should trying to prevent the kick out to Kobe. Bean slips right behind Prince and receives the ball from Artest in stride to get an easy lay in.
While everything isn’t exactly smooth in Lakerland right now, there have been some positives on the offensive end — especially when concerning Kobe. Last night’s game against the Jazz was Kobe’s first game shooting less than 50 percent (.412) yet he still scored 29 points on 17 shots because he was able to consistently get to the rim and draw fouls. If there was one thing I’d like for the Lakers to continue as this season progresses (and we know there isn’t much right now), it would be for them to continue to get Kobe easy looks on offense. Having Howard in the middle has certainly helped his cause as he draws so much attention, but it’s been much more than that.
The version of the Princeton offense the Lakers will use this season has the chance to be an evolving oasis of offensive possibility. The sheer talent and versatility of their core four players can translate to a multitude of actions — some obvious, some not so much — that can hurt a defense in a variety of ways.
When the Princeton was first talked about as a system the Lakers would employ, one of the first things that came to mind was Pau Gasol operating at the high post. Using Pau at that spot on the floor, with Howard occupying the low block, would take advantage of his elite passing while also utilizing his ability to space the floor as one of the better mid-range shooting big men.
This, of course, has become a staple of what the Lakers do run on offense. Every game we’ve been treated to at least one Gasol dime to Howard where he makes a catch at the elbow and plays high-low basketball with his frontcourt partner. As the season advances and these two develop even more chemistry, we should see even more of this action and little wrinkles added to it to force defenses into making the types of lose/lose choices that often result in made baskets.
However, one of the not so obvious ways the Lakers have started to take advantage of their talent has been the inverting of their big men. Against the Pistons, the Lakers ran several actions that put Pau at the low block and left Howard at the high post. This is the opening play of the game:
This play starts as many Lakers’ sets have lately, with the point guard (Steve Blake in this instance) bringing the ball up the left side of the floor with Kobe on the wing and Dwight in the ball side post. Blake enters to Kobe who looks to Dwight for a quick post up. Instead of entering the ball, Kobe passes the ball back to Blake who then enters a quick pass into Dwight as he slides up the lane line to the elbow. Blake then screens away for Pau who pops open at the top of the key where he gets the ball from Howard. This is where the heart of this action comes to life.
After Pau gets the ball at the top of the key he swings the ball back to Kobe and then rubs off a high pick from Dwight to dive to the low post. Kobe hits Pau with an entry pass while Howard hovers around the free throw line. It’s important here to note how closely Howard’s man is playing him and how much room Pau has to work on the post:
With all this room, Pau backs his man down and shoots a half hook that misses. But since he’s maneuvered his way around his man, he follows his shot, gets the offensive rebound and scores easily on a put back. It bears repeating, in this next still Howard isn’t even in the picture and Maxiell still hasn’t left the FT line area to help on the glass and is watching as Pau scores an easy two points:
One of the key reasons this set works is that the Lakers have put Pau in the post and spaced the floor in a way where if the double team comes Gasol can use his tremendous passing ability to hit the open man.
Furthermore, with Dwight at the elbow, the defense has a unique problem. If Dwight’s man leaves to double team he’s allowing Howard to dive from the FT line with the best passing big man in the league ready to drop him off a pass that will surely end with either a basket, a foul, or both. Not to mention that if Dwight’s man leaves him but the pass doesn’t go to him, he still has a wide open lane to crash the glass and be an offensive rebounder.
What the Lakers have figured out — and based off how many times they ran a variation of this set, they have figured something out — is that the defense must respect Dwight if he’s anywhere near the paint. His ability to cut to the ball and score off passes or simply get to the front of the rim for rebounding chances means that his man has to keep within arm’s distance of him at nearly all times or risk being exposed.
This doesn’t have to be a full time set for the Lakers. Dwight is still best served operating from the low post and trying to score on his man via touches in the paint. Many of those touches will come from the splendid passing ability of Pau. But there will be times where the Lakers can invert their bigs and use Pau’s strength as a post scorer to their advantage and not hesitate. Even though Dwight doesn’t have range on his jumper and isn’t known as a great high-low passer, it doesn’t matter. He’s too dangerous to leave.
Offensive spacing can come from many places. In this case it comes from Dwight Howard standing at the foul line. Not sure many people saw that coming.
Welcome to the Strategy Session. In this space we’ll explore different aspects of the game from a strategy standpoint. It may mean looking at a coaching decision — like determining a rotation. Or a specific offensive play that we think will work. Or it could be an examination of a defensive scheme. Sometimes we’ll use video others we’ll just blab away for a while on the topic of the day. Hope you enjoy it.
With a lot of negatives to focus on after the Lakers’ first two games, I thought I’d instead look at something that has worked in the past and should be able to work again in the future.
Contrary to popular sentiment, the Lakers’ offense really isn’t the chief problem with this team right now. Of course there are issues — most notably Steve Nash still finding his balance between on/off ball effectiveness and a feel of clunkiness that persists to sets the team is still picking up on — but the team is shooting the ball pretty well and has shown glimpses of what they can be once they settle in and find their stride.
One such action that can aid them in moving forward in a positive direction (it proved to work in the preseason) and should continue to be a useful play for the Lakers is a strong side hand-off sequence. This action utilizes Nash, Kobe, and Dwight on the same side of the floor and puts the defense in a position to make tough choices. All three players are threats on the play and when run crisply it creates good looks.
This first example leads to the type of shot the Lakers want Kobe taking:
The play starts with Nash bringing the ball up the right sideline while Dwight waits at the elbow and Kobe sits on the wing. Nash enters the Howard and proceeds to set a screen for Kobe who curls off the pick towards Dwight. Kobe continues his cut, takes the hand-off from Dwight and then elevates for his jumper over DeMarcus Cousins who helped a split second too late. Kobe knocks down the 16 footer, a high percentage shot for him.
This play worked so well, the Lakers decided they were going to run the exact same action on their next possession. The only difference is that they run it on the other side of the floor:
Here, again, you see Nash bringing the ball up the floor (this time on the left side) with Kobe (on the wing) and Dwight (at the elbow) in the exact same positions. Nash makes his entry to Dwight, proceeds to set his screen for Kobe who then curls to take the hand off from Howard. Here’s where you see the difference, however. When Kobe gets the ball he again looks to elevate for his shot but he’s drawing more defensive attention with a quicker reaction as well. Kobe recognizes the defense is out of position and when Howard rolls to the hoop he leads him to the rim with a lob pass that is dunked home.
One play, two actions, same result.
There are even more actions that can be run off this single look. In both of the above plays, Steve Nash’s man sinks to the lane line to try and help on Howard’s dive to the rim. If Kobe is looking that way, he can hit him for an open jumper. On the play where Kobe threw the lob, you’ll notice that Ron’s man came over to help and left him open on the wing for a wide open jumper. Other options include Nash, instead of flaring to the wing, cutting back door after setting the screen or Kobe, rather than accepting Nash’s screen, cutting back door when Nash comes over to try and free him.
One of the key principles to the Princeton offense is setting up plays to look the same but then countering what the defense does through reading how they react to the action in front of them. The Lakers are trying to get to the point where all of these options are utilized; where the players working together can recognize what the defense is doing and then respond accordingly.
In some cases — like the plays above — they’ve made headway. In many others they’re not yet close. The result is flashes of brilliance mixed with bouts of frustration. The hope is that we see more progress soon. But the good thing is, that hope can be rooted in knowing that this stuff actually does work.
There may not be a lot going on at this time of the basketball year but that doesn’t mean there aren’t topics of interest to discuss. So, let’s go around the league (and beyond it) with some fast break thoughts…
We’re at an interesting point in the Lakers-as-super team news cycle. We have, essentially, completed the inevitable circle of coverage that occurs when moves like this happen. The stories went from ” Wow, I can’t believe the Lakers got Nash and Howard, they’re going to be amazing” to “Look at everything they can do on offense/Here’s how the Lakers will be amazing” to “Here are some things that may hold the Lakers back from being amazing” to “Let’s not crown the Lakers yet, the Thunder and the Heat are still the best teams until proven otherwise”.
For what it’s worth, I’m still of the mind that we need to see some games before we know anything beyond what their potential is. That said, based off talent alone the Lakers have catapulted themselves into the conversation of having the best team in the league. And, since talent matters so much, this is pretty important. So, at this point, my analysis stops at “the Lakers are one of the 3 to 4 teams that have a legitimate shot to win it all”. And, frankly, that’s enough for me.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still getting used to the fact that when I see a link to a Dwight Howard story it is, essentially, now a Lakers’ story. It hit me again the other day when I clicked on a link about Dwight playing pop-a-shot in China and there he was in his home Lakers #12 jersey. It’s still sort of surreal.
Speaking of Dwight, Eddy Rivera (and his crew of fine writers at Magic Basketball) have been producing fantastic content as part of their Dwight Week series. You should visit and learn everything you’d ever want to know about the newest Laker big man.
There’s a general sense that the Spurs are boring. It’s been talked about for years and has come to be what they’re known for. Well, I know of at least one Spur that isn’t: Greg Popovich.
One thing I love most about the off-season is that it gives me a chance to watch film, dive into the numbers, and give me a bit more insight into the league at large heading into the next season. In that regard, I’m always looking for more places to help me learn more. So, you can only guess at how happy I was when Tom Haberstroh (of ESPN and the Heat Index) dropped a link to VORPed. There’s so much time lost surfing around that place. Be careful.
Thing I can’t stop smiling over: Steve Nash’s shot chart from this past season. In case you were wondering, green and yellow are the colors you want. Good luck double teaming off that guy.
Lastly, a while back several of us at FB&G did a roundtable review of Jack McCallum’s Dream Team book. One of the themes touched on in that book was that regardless of what other guys had accomplished at that point of their careers, the trio of Michael Jordan, Magic, and Larry Bird were always held at a higher level of esteem. They were the exclusive club that no one else could penetrate. I’d imagine that today, the same is likely true. Those names ring out like few others in basketball history. Last week I was reminded of this by a great video. Check it out for yourself:
After Magic Johnson’s retirement and the end of Showtime, the Lakers were a team in transition. They’d yet to find another franchise icon and instead put together a team of carryovers, journeymen, and youngsters. Guys like Vlade, Sedale, George Lynch, Elden Campbell, Van Exel, and Eddie Jones. What transpired was the “LakeShow” era of Los Angeles basketball that may not have won any championships but sure were fun to watch.
One of the reasons they were fun was because of Eddie Jones. Watching him run the floor and finish above the rim was like an extension those Showtime teams. Jones attacked the rim with reckless abandon and didn’t care if it was a guard or a big man under the hoop to challenge the shot – he was going to try and finish over him. This style produced countless highlight plays and had me jumping out of my seat countless times at home.
Of course, within a few years of Eddie being drafted the seeds for a new era were planted. Shaq came as a free agent, Kobe was traded for on draft day, and the expectations for the team started to change. But I’ll never forget Jones streaking down the floor and throwing it down over any and everyone. And, thanks to the beauty of the internet we can all remember it today too. Enjoy, Eddie Jones DUNKS!: