Lakers are down two points and there are ten seconds left in the game. What to do? What play do you run? This is usually how it has been this year: Ball goes into Kobe… He dribbles as Nash, Metta World Peace, Meeks, and Dwight Howard watch, all giving him space to work. Kobe dribbles to his favorite spot, but since the other four players are not moving, the opposing team doubles on Kobe. Now, what does Kobe do? He just so happens to shoot a contested shot while someone is open.
In previous years, we had absolutely no doubt as fans that ball would go swishing through the hoop like nothing. However, this year we all feel different about this way to end the game. What has changed from our point of view? How can Lakers FINALLY come through down the stretch to cap off the comebacks they expend so much energy on?
For the best solution possible, let’s take a look at the Lakers’ opponent tonight, the San Antonio Spurs. What we will look at is not tonight’s game but rather the one on November 13th in Los Angeles. Watch the video please, and then we will analyze it.
If you pay close attention, the only time Parker touches the ball is when he gets the inbound pass. Duncan, the 2nd most dangerous weapon out there, touches the ball when he receives the pass from Parker, but promptly passes it to Kawhi Leonard and sets a screen for Danny Green, who knocks down the clutch shot. Tony Parker stands on other side of the court with World Peace on him. That eliminates any help that MWP could potentially provide. Kobe hedges just a tad because he was more worried about Stephen Jackson getting the ball off the Danny Green screen, which allows Green himself to have enough time to be open off the Duncan screen and hit the shot. Aside from the fact that an ACTUAL play was drawn(and there was a ton of player/ball movement, something Lakers definitely need), the top two players on the court for the Spurs were used as decoys. This is a sign of maturity and trust on behalf of the leaders of the team, as well as a great head coach. This scenario is the complete opposite of what the Lakers deploy when they need a basket late in games. Kobe-iso ball does NOT work anymore. If you watched tonight’s game, you saw that everyone stood around after Kobe got the ball except Clark. What if someone cut to the corner where Kobe was near to, which could allow Spurs to potentially double-team and would leave a Laker open for a shot? There are many options to run down the stretch with the Lakers squad. However, there is a play that I would like to see be run and here it is:
For this scenario, let’s assume the ball is coming in from the side and there are 10.4 seconds remaining, just as was the case tonight(as well as all players are healthy). Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Meeks, Kobe and Nash would be out on the floor. The start of the “play” Lakers ran was perfectly fine. Metta World Peace inbounded it to Nash, who then gave it to Kobe. What Kobe did was what frustrates many Laker fans; he took a contested shot. I would like to see Howard go to where Kobe is with the ball and set a screen on Kobe’s left side. This takes Howard’s defender out to the perimeter area while drifting the play to the middle/left side of the court. While the screen is set, Metta and Meeks set a double screen for Nash so he can run to the furthest corner of the court(he is standing on the left side at the time Kobe plays pick and roll with Howard). If the defense overreacts to Kobe on the P&R and doubles him, it means SOMEONE is open on the court. Now, if the defense overreacts to Kobe, and freaks on Nash getting an open shot in the corner, this means Meeks or Metta are open for a shot. If the defense just focuses on Kobe and forgets that Lakers have other players, Nash has a wide open shot in the corner. If somehow the opponent forgets that Kobe Bean Bryant has the ball in his hands and decides to close on the shooters, it could leave Kobe wide open to shoot the shot.
Just player and ball movement in general will do wonders for the Lakers down the stretch and during the game in general. A great example of this was the play run by Kobe, Nash, and Jamison. Nash received a screen and went to the rim after Kobe lobbed the ball over the defense. The Spurs’ defense was forced to rotate in order to not let Nash get an easy layup. Jamison cut to the basket instead of waiting around the perimeter(something Lakers tend to do) and had an easy layup. Running set plays leads to better shots than iso-ball.
An example of the Lakers’ offense becoming stagnant, predictable, and easy to stop were plays I noticed the Houston Rockets game. Steve Nash would try to do pick and roll, but the other three Laker players were standing around the perimeter. As soon as Nash tried the drive, the defense would crash and Nash ended up trapped. The problem was the Houston would rotate and not allow to even get the ball to the shooter. One time, Nash was tied up by Jeremy Lin as soon as he drove and caused a jump ball. The second time, Nash was hip-checked by Marcus Morris and fell, but only a jump ball was called. Why could the defense do this on Nash? It is simple, really. No player movement. Just by players moving around, the defense also has to move. Many times, when there is movement, confusion exists. The elite defenses are able to minimize these errors, but you cannot be perfect all the time. Just by creating movement, the ball handler was more options instead of having to get around his defender and then facing a wall of guys in the paint. It could also lead to mismatches if the defense always switches if back-door screens have been set, allowing for potentially easier shots. All these things are better than iso-ball. This is why plays need to be drawn to have win the close games instead of the infamous “hero-ball”.
In conclusion, the Lakers need to drift away from ball-watching a Kobe-isolation play. It is the worst way to try and win a game and it is not even close. All the defense worries about is guarding one player instead of all five, making it even tougher with the player in charge of shooting the game-tying or game-winning shot. If the Lakers can run a play and use Kobe Bryant as a decoy, they will have much better shots available and will finally be able to cap off the comeback effort they expend so much energy on.