Role Call: Kobe Bryant’s Take On What The Lakers’ Roles Should Be

According to Kobe Bryant, the respective roles of the Lakers’ big four should be quite simple. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles picked up a few quotes as follows via Twitter:

I, for one, couldn’t agree more. Nash and Pau are two of the best facilitators in the league and also two of the smartest offensive players, while Kobe and Dwight are excellent finishers and scorers who can also make plays for others.

However, the problem is only half of Bryant’s equation is currently working and in place, so let’s break it down:

Kobe Bryant

Although Kobe is averaging a league-high 30.5 points per game, he is also doing so on a career-high 48.3 percent shooting from the field and 35.8 percent from behind the three-point line.. He is still averaging 4.7 assists too.

Since Steve Nash returned from injury six games ago, however, Kobe has averaged 34.8 points and 3.2 assists on 50.3 percent shooting from the field, but just 27.5 percent from three-point land.

Having Steve Nash handle and distribute the ball has obviously worked out for Bryant and helped him play his position more naturally, as he’s become an even more prolific and efficient scorer (although he’s also averaged 26.8 shots during that stretch).

Steve NashLos Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers

Nash has basically returned from injury and performed like he’s used to performing. 12.2 points on 60.0 percent shooting (50.0 percent from behind the arc) and 9.6 assists per game is typical, always-great Steve Nash.

His defense can always improve, but as far as what Kobe feels his role should be, Nash is getting the ball enough to be an elite play-maker–which he is.

Now, let’s look at the half that isn’t working.

Dwight Howard

Howard’s offensive contributions haven’t exactly been consistent this season. For someone who averaged 20.6 points last season and 22.9 the season before that, Dwight isn’t exactly looking like a “finisher” so far this season. Additionally, he’s only attempting 10.8 field goals per game (compared with 13.4 in his last two seasons).

There’s no question Howard isn’t yet 100 percent after coming off of back surgery, but he still looks like he can contribute offensively. When you have one of the best pick-and-roll big men in the league playing with one of the best pick-and-roll play-makers in the league (Steve Nash), Howard should be getting plenty of easy buckets just off of that.

Mike D’Antoni seemed to echo these sentiments:

Pick-and-roll plays from Steve Nash along with post-up opportunities early in the offense should be netting Howard at least 20 points per game, easily. Right now, that’s just not the case.

Pau Gasol

The biggest part of Bryant’s ideal style of play that isn’t working is the Pau Gasol part. Obviously, that’s the part of it that Bryant had been adamant must work, and has to adapt. He is no longer the defensive player he once was, and may have lost a step offensively, but Gasol is still the second most skilled half-court player the Lakers have, and the second most skilled big man in the league (behind Tim Duncan).

We don’t even have to get into Gasol’s numbers (12.2 points, 8.5 rebounds,  and 3.9 assists compared with career averages of 18.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists) to point out that Gasol simply isn’t playing within his comfort zone out there.

Gasol expressed his desire to be allowed to operate in a zone where he can be effective after the Lakers’ loss to the Clippers on Friday night, and was obviously once again pointing towards head coach Mike D’Antoni for not allowing him to do so.

Gasol’s attempts have dropped significantly as well (compared with Dwight’s), going from 14.1 last season to 11.3 this season. Despite that, however, it is very noticeable that Gasol’s touches and overall involvement have taken even more of a hit.

For a better look at Gasol’s effectiveness from all areas of the floor over the past few seasons, check out this breakdown dissecting Gasol’s play against the Clippers via SB’s Silver Screen & Roll‘s Drew Garrison (@BallReasons).

The Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that this whole thing can work out, and the Lakers’ season can be salvaged. Why? Because the Lakers have the potential to utilize all of their star players on the court, but just haven’t found a way to do it consistently.

The loss against the Clippers is the perfect example: The Lakers were down by almost 20 points but managed to come almost all the way back with some half-court defense, and half-court offense. That is how the playoffs always play out, and is what this Lakers team was built for.

The only problem was that the Lakers outplayed the Clippers at “slow-ball.” but didn’t use their ace in those situations–Pau Gasol. Gasol is a master in the half-court, and is exactly what the Lakers need at that point in the game. Besides Kobe Bryant, Gasol is the Lakers’ best half-court player and can be the go-to guy much like he was during the two championship runs. The thing is that he’s not playing in his most deadly area any more–which is in the post and at the elbow–and is stuck out on the perimeter. kbdh

Then you have Dwight Howard’s ineffectiveness factored in with that as well. While the back-court for the Lakers seems to be flourishing and performing up to expectations, there just isn’t a bridge between the back-court and the front-court to enable the big guys to get going. Gasol can be that if placed in the right position, but each guard must develop chemistry with each big in order for that potential to be maximized.

Additionally, while Bryant not having the ball all the time is allowing him to score easier, and scoring is his most natural ability, he mustn’t discount his own ability and effectiveness to facilitate.

When Bryant is an effective scorer and facilitator, the Lakers are at their best. Last season, and early this season, Bryant had to force both his own offense and try to facilitate–which looked to wear him down. However, with two other play-makers, he can pick and choose when he decides to do what.

Similarly, it appears as though opposing teams this season have decided to double-team Bryant less and kind of let him go off offensively and just live with it. Why? Because even though it has resulted in an extremely efficient Bryant, opposing coaches know that the more they are allowing Bryant to shoot, the less they are allowing his teammates to get involved.

The opposite approach used to work when Kobe was playing with Kwame Brown, Smush Parker, and Luke Walton: “Make someone besides Kobe beat us.” But now, with the talent around him–Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard–coaches have seemingly taken the exact opposite approach: “Let Kobe beat us, but just don’t let those guys get rolling.”

While I agree completely with Kobe that Nash and Gasol need to have the ball in their hands more and facilitate so that Kobe and Dwight can be finishers, I don’t think Kobe should solely focus on scoring either.

Bryant has always been a superior creative player who knows how to throw his opponents off. Nothing would throw them off more than if he drove into the lane, got the drop on the closest rim-defender, and passed the ball to a cutting Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol.

After all, that “extra pass” is often the one that truly throws the opposing team off and gets your team hyped up.

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