How Kobe can create without the ball

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
1:45
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
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We know there will be oodles of talent, but what exactly will the Lakers' new offense look like?

Los Angeles has offered some clues by hiring Eddie Jordan, an assistant coach who will bring with him the Princeton offense, and by publicly stating that Steve Nash will have license to control the offense as he sees fit.

But the real question is, how will Kobe Bryant fit into all of this? For the past decade, Bryant has been both the primary creator and finisher in L.A. Now he'll be playing with the two players who have been about the best on-ball creator (Nash) and finisher (Dwight Howard) in recent NBA history.

One projection is that Bryant will essentially play as he always has, with plenty of planned and improvised isolations. However, the more tantalizing vision involves Bryant in combination with his talented teammates, even when he's not initiating the action.

At HoopsWorld, Anthony Macri offers some insight into how Bryant, even if he isn't handling the ball as much, can still create for others and find opportunities for himself to finish.

Given Nash’s strengths in combination with Los Angeles’ two bigs, Bryant would best be utilized as the end of misdirection. Bryant, stationed on the weak side of the floor, becoming an off-ball screener for the two bigs.

A very difficult combination for any team to guard would involve Bryant screening for Howard, who sprints to set a ball screen for Nash. Simultaneously, (Pau) Gasol screens down for Bryant as Nash comes off the screen. This multiple option screen-the-screener dynamic will force teams to hedge, recover, and generally distorts defenses. On any pass to Bryant, he will have an ideal opportunity to attack a closeout.

Passes to Howard rolling or Gasol spacing will also yield ideal recovery or closeout opportunities. Finally, the various moving pieces will prevent teams from helping on Nash’s penetration, which will lead to many clear forays into the lane.


With so many talented players surrounding him and a point guard capable of exploiting any advantage, Bryant's usefulness as a decoy will be at an all-time high. But only if he embraces that role. We should expect Bryant's shot total to decrease a bit next season (he led the NBA in field goal attempts last season), but that hardly means his impact on offense must also diminish.

Think back to Russell Westbrook's play in the Western Conference finals. Like Bryant, Westbrook is a scorer who shoots a ton. In six games against San Antonio, he averaged 38 percent shooting on 18.5 attempts. But he managed to be a major part of the Thunder's best moments on offense without even touching the ball.

Remember the great play for Kevin Durant that the Thunder would run in the fourth quarter when they needed a bucket? It was Westbrook who crashed down from the top of the key to land a punishing screen on Durant's defender, repeatedly creating crucial scoring opportunities for his team. Whenever his defender stepped up to help on Durant, Westbrook would slip back door for a layup.

LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki are also examples of top scorers who set fantastic screens as regular parts of their teams' offenses.

Bryant can put similar pressure on the defense by using his strength and wiles to send opponents scrambling before he even touches the ball. And when he receives the rock, immediately attacking against an unprepared defense could help him bounce back from the worst shooting season of his career (by True Shooting Percentage, a metric that incorporates 3-pointers and free throws).

But jogging through screens to get the ball, then holding and setting up for a straight isolation attempt? That's the kind of play that could prevent the Lakers from harnessing all that "on paper" talent.
Beckley Mason is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com.

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