Despite the Los Angeles reloading with star power this offseason, people still question how improved the Lakers will be and how easily Kobe will share the ball with his teammates.
Steve Nash as a primary ball handler is a great thing, but can he coexist with a shooting guard who is used to having to create most everything for himself? Can Kobe allow Nash and others to create plays for Bryant and get him easy scoring opportunities? Does Mike Brown have anything in the playbook — Princeton or otherwise — that will benefit everybody involved? Have you counted the ringz yet?
These are all questions that have been uttered over the last few months as we prepare for the NBA season. And one play that keeps reappearing in my mind when thinking about how the Lakers can get Kobe easy buckets is a set they ran last season from the high post.
Here’s how the play starts out. You’ve got the small forward in the right corner with Pau in the high post at the right elbow, Bynum/Howard in the high post at the left elbow, and Kobe Bryant waiting in the lower left side. With Bynum/Howard on the same side with Kobe, it looks like you’re defending against your basic pin-down screen to free Kobe up on the top left side.
The point guard passes immediately to Gasol in the high post. This already gives the Lakers options to score. You could run the small forward from the corner around Pau for a handoff, run a pick-and-roll or a pick-and-pop to get Pau a mismatch, or let Pau take his man one-on-one. The point guard clears through the lane and down to the area where Kobe is waiting for a screen.
At this moment, you’ve got even more options for the Lakers off this play. Because of Pau’s playmaking ability, especially passing out of the high post, you can curl the point guard back around to the top. You would essentially have Kobe setting the first screen and Bynum/Howard finishing the job as the second screener. Off this, if Kobe’s man decides to step out and create clutter for the point guard to get through, Kobe could always slip the screen and be alone at the basket.
Instead, what the Lakers run here is the point guard setting the screen for Kobe to come across the lane while Bynum heads down to set a screen for the point guard to pop up at the top.
Here’s why this part of the play is so ingenious: Kobe Bryant is the one coming across the lane to plant himself in front of the basket. As long as he gets through the screen relatively free, you’ve got one of the biggest stars the league has ever known fighting for position right in front of the basket. Bump him significantly on his way to the hoop and you’re going to get whistled for a foul. It’s just one of the perks of having Kobe on your team, especially when you’re running this play.
With any decent shooter in the corner on Pau’s side of the halfcourt, the help defender won’t be able to drop down so far into the lane. Clearly, that’s not happening with Ron Artest (still not calling him that), but with Jodie Meeks out there or maybe even Devin Ebanks, you’re going to either have a ton of room for Kobe to stop in front of the rim so he can seal off his man or you’re going to have an open corner 3-pointer.
At the same time, you’ve got Steve Nash coming up the left side of the floor this season, off a screen from Dwight Howard. This will open up a potential for Kobe to clear through the lane and Dwight to slip the screen for the lob from Pau. Or you’ll have Nash popping up on the left side and Howard in deep post position. By the way, let’s check out Nash’s shooting percentages from that side of the floor just for fun:
OH MY GOD THERE’S SO MUCH GREEN LANDSCAPE IT MIGHT AS WELL BE IRELAND IN A SOAP COMMERCIAL!
How many of those looks on this chart do you suppose were open shooting looks for Nash? How many do you think he’ll be able to get with three other All-Stars on the floor at the same time?
However, that’s just an option off of this play. This play is designed to get Kobe Bryant an easy bucket or scoring chance around the rim. And he’s really good at sealing his man deep in the paint on this play and getting off a good shot attempt. Feels like, at worst, you’re going to free throws for Kobe and he’s still a career 83.8% from the charity stripe in his career. Those options end leading to this:
The Lakers ran this play a lot last season, and especially against the Nuggets in the playoffs. It killed almost every time they ran it. It’s a little wrinkle they have for getting Kobe the ball near the top of the key so he can have plenty of room to operate. Nash doesn’t have to go down and set a great screen. He just has to give Kobe enough room to plant his feet inside the restricted area. And Nash can always fake the screen and come back up the left side to initiate a new quick option.
The Lakers have so many places they can take this set, and all of them seem deadly to the opponent. With Pau as the initiator out of the high post, you know there’s going to be a good decision with the ball. And replacing Bynum with the more agile and athletic Dwight Howard and Sessions with Steve Nash adds so many more dimensions to this set the Lakers have at their disposal.
Good luck with that.