There was one prime example of how Kobe Bryant is using the strength of his new big man to create space and get a rather open look in Tuesday’s game against the Spurs. Kobe dribbled the ball from beyond the arc. Dwight Howard raced up to set a screen for Kobe. Instead of using the pick to attack a crowded lane, Kobe guided Howard with his hand on his lower back as if Dwight was Kobe’s personal bodyguard covering his man from a bullet; Dwight is Superman after all. The result was enough space created from Dwight’s body that paved the way for an open-look three-ball. Swish.
This one play not only exudes the foundation of teamwork and chemistry the Lakers are beginning to build, but why Howard is a major reason for Kobe’s consistent and rather uncharacteristic shooting efficiency. Before the season I wrote that we should see a more efficient Kobe this year. To be honest, he is exceeding my highest expectations so far, which really shouldn’t surprise anyone.
He is Kobe Bryant, right?
However, the thing that has really caught me most surprised is not the fact that Kobe has been efficient from the field. Rather, it is the fact the he has remained consistently efficient through the crazy obstacles that the Lakers have faced so far in the early season. One of the agreed upon effects of having Steve Nash on the same team as Kobe was that the Mamba would naturally get easier opportunities and higher percentage shots. Yet, Nash has only played in one and a half games in a Laker uniform thus far and Kobe is still effectively producing.
Second, the Lakers have gone through the ringer the season, and we are only eight games in. After one of the worst starts in franchise history, learning an offensive system that was not working for the team, seeing your head coach fired and scrapping the offensive system that was taught in camp and preseason, Kobe’s critics were waiting on the edge of their seats to see if he would revert back to the old Kobe, who relied on ill-advised, forced jumpers that usually came in a double-team, or hero ball.
Kobe has kept those critics silenced thus far as he’s averaging 26.4 points per game on fewer than 17 shots a game, which is the lowest total since the 1999-00 season. Kobe is making a point to get to the rim, rather than relying on last season’s low percentage long shots. Below are Kobe’s statistics from this season. I included stats from last season, which was the worst shooting percentage performance is his career as a full-time starter, as a comparison.
2012-13 Season (8 games played)
Field Goal %: 55.1
3- Point %: 44.1
True-Shooting%: 66.8 (highest in career)
Field Goal %: 43.0
3-Point %: 30.3
True-Shooting %: 52.7 (lowest in career)
ESPN’s True Hoop writer Beckley Mason recently published a piece that did a great job at analyzing Kobe’s efficiency this season. In the article Mason wrote:
When Bryant attacks from the wing this season, he seems focused on attacking off of close outs, when the defense is at a distinct disadvantage, or with the aid of a ball screen. In both cases, Bryant uses the skill of his teammates to help get loose rather than taking it all on himself.
That isn’t to say Bryant’s one-on-one game has deteriorated, just that he’s been more selective. He’s been absolutely dynamite in isolations and post-ups, the two scenarios that accounted for nearly half of all of Bryant’s shots last season. Bryant still does a great job of running down court for early post-ups when there is no defensive help and has almost completely avoided going for difficult fadeaway jumpers over multiple defenders.
While may can argue that Kobe’s efficiency has to do with the fact that his legs and overall health is much improved from recent years or that he may be just going through a spurt, I would like to talk about the Dwight Howard effect on Kobe. After all, in the eight games of the season so far, Kobe’s been playing on an ailing foot that is only now above 90 percent.
At the top of the article, I wrote about how Kobe is using Dwight”s strength for setting excellent picks to create space for Kobe to take a good look three-pointer or mid-range shot. However, there has been a lot of back-and-forth plays with Kobe and Dwight that tires out the defense and keeps them on their heels. Take this one play below that displays the value of Dwight and Kobe not only to the Lakers, but to each other as well.
Dwight Howard is the best center in the NBA. That is why Lakers’ management made the move to trade for him, despite the Lakers having a very talented center already in Andrew Bynum. Dwight’s presence on the offense draws attention by the defense. Defenders know they cannot fall asleep or stay a step behind Dwight, who is averaging 19.3 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and a 22.47 PER. If they do, boom, Dwight just got an easy dunk.
The defense falls inward when the Lakers are on offense and Dwight is on the court. This is music to Kobe’s ears, who has been taking full advantage of this all season. In fact, it’s been a long time since I have seen Kobe being guarded by one man in the vast majority of offensive possessions. There have been times where Kobe has even been wide open. When does that happen? That’s when Kobe goes into Mamba mode and nails a beautiful jumper or uses Dwight’s body and defensive attraction to drive to the rim for a boring yet effective and efficient layup.
The fact is Dwight is having quite an effect on Kobe Bryant and they’re both not in full health yet. Shaq and Kobe were one of the most powerful duos that the game has ever seen. With a more experienced and smarter Bryant, the Dwight and Kobe duo has the potential of being even better. The next step is to see if Mike D’Antoni’s system will impact the Dwight effect on Kobe and extend Kobe’s efficiency.