A few days ago, Daniel Buerge wrote this brilliant post about how the Lakers have suffered as the average shot attempts from players not named Kobe declined. In all of the Lakers losses this season, everyone not named Kobe has averaged under eight shot attempts per game. In all but two of their wins, the average shot attempts were at least eight. This graph was shared for a visual reference:
Last night, the Lakers got their third win with the Lakers not named Kobe shooting fewer than an average of eight attempts each (6.625) and was a microcosm of their season on the offensive end at large. There were stretches during last night’s game where the ball moved and the level of engagement from everyone on the offensive end was fantastic. Then there were those possessions where Kobe held on the ball too long and guys were left ball watching as Kobe jacked up shots.
Going back through last night’s game tape, I found that Kobe’s shot selection wasn’t horrible on the whole night. In fact, for three quarters, Kobe played within the flow of the offense and took the majority of his shots playing off the ball. Early in the game, the Lakers worked Bean on the weak side while trying to get Howard established early. Entry passes to Howard led to one of three things: 1) Howard took a shot, 2) the ball was kicked out and reversed to Kobe on the weak side, or 3) Howard sent a skip pass to Kobe on the weak side.
This worked for the Lakers on multiple levels — but most importantly — it kept the level of engagement of the whole offense at a premium. There was one play in particular in the first quarter where four guys touched the ball, including two entry passes to Howard on the left block. The ball ended being rotated to Bryant in the corner for a spot up three pointer. He didn’t knock down the shot, but this is exactly the kind of shot D’Antoni would like to see Kobe take. It’s a high percentage shot (he’s shooting 40 percent on right corner threes this year) after multiple options had already been explored. Check out the play in real time.
For the most part, I liked with D’Antoni did with Kobe against the Wizards. Kobe had began the season playing his most efficient basketball of his career. A large part of that had to do with the fact that he was largely playing off the ball and was getting opportunities to score going toward the basket. In recent weeks, Kobe had been the primary ball handler on a lot of possessions and saw his efficiency plummet. Last night, Kobe still wasn’t efficient, but D’Antoni started getting him some better looks off the ball, at least in the first half.
However, as the game progressed, we began seeing bad Kobe possessions where he began holding the ball too long and/or taking ill-advised jump shots. And when he began going down this path, you could see the level of engagement from the other offensive players come down.
This following possession begins well. It starts with a princeton guard-to-guard action at the top with Kobe using an option-screen with Dwight Howard. With Martel Webster going over the screen, Kobe doubles back and receives a pass from Duhon at 17-feet. He drives baseline and stopped by Cartier Martin, who comes to double from the weak side wing. Instead of kicking the ball out to a wide open Duhon, Kobe just pump fakes a couple of times and forces up a tough shot. Miss.
As the game progressed, things only got worse from there. Kobe forced his way into a lot of isolation situations in the fourth that left his teammates alienated for several possessions at a time. On this final play, Kobe pops out to receive the ball at the top of the perimeter. Duhon clears out around Howard, then Howard slides over to the strong side block to give Kobe the whole left side to operate. With the space, Kobe takes a hard dribble, picks up the ball at 19-feet and pump fakes three times before hoisting up the lowest percentage shot on the basketball court.
What was most disheartening about the final two plays is how much the level of engagement from the first to the last quarter. On the first clip, guys were active participants of the offense. There was great ball movement and great movement off the ball. On the second play, there was still movement, but things slowed down considerably when Kobe received the ball. On the final play, it was pretty much, every one go find somewhere to stand while Kobe does things on his own. All three possessions ended up with Bryant shots, but there was an obvious disconnect between Kobe and his teammates on that final clip — and that’s what has been hurting the Lakers in their losses.
Fortunately, they played what may be the worst ball club in the NBA in the Wizards and came away with the win. But if they’re going to build on last night’s win, Kobe is going to have to get the ball to his teammates on possessions where he isn’t in prime position to score. They seem to be moving in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before this is a well-tuned offense.