Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Lakers Turn the Ball Over 25 Times; Fall to Blazers 116-106

The Los Angeles Lakers played much differently tonight; they pushed the tempo, fed the ball to the Dwight Howard, and most importantly, hit their free throws. However, the Lakers committed a season-high 25 turnovers as the Blazers ran away with this contest at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th quarter largely on a 24-7 run.

The whole bench played confused, lost and generally terrible, except for Steve Blake, who did a very good job defensively on Damian Lillard, and generally ran the offense with smoothness. Blake played 28 minutes due to Steve Nash injuring his left leg during the second quarter. He attempted to come back after a time out, but couldn’t put much weight on to it; he was ruled out for the game. Despite the turnovers, the Lakers stayed in the game with great efforts from Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, who channeled their inner Shaq-Kobe, Super-Mamba combo for this game vs. the Blazers as both scored 30 or more points, however both were also plagued with foul trouble as they had 5 fouls a-piece. Bryant was making mistake after mistake with the ball as he had a season-high and team high seven turnovers. The Blazers pushed the tempo and managed to get 28 very easy points off of turnovers, combined with 10 offensive rebounds largely leading to easy points in the paint and with their 45% (9-20) shooting from deep, and you can easily see why they scored 116 points.

 Los Angeles looked helpless against the pick and roll in the first half, as Damian Lillard had his way with Steve Nash and scored the majority of his 23 points against him in the first half. Steve Blake managed to stop some of the bleeding defensively, and pressured Lillard into a couple of mistakes that helped keep the Lakers in it. Ultimately, turnovers from Bryant and Metta World Peace kept giving the Blazers easy points in transition, and keeping the Lakers from making up any ground. Foul trouble plagued the Lakers; Pau Gasol had 3, Bryant had 5, Howard had 5, World Peace fouled out; the only starter that wasn’t in foul trouble was Steve Nash, and for obvious reasons. Los Angeles played a sloppy game all over the court, except in offensive execution; they shot 50% from the floor, and had 21 assists to the 36 baskets made and the assists coming from everywhere: Howard had 5, Nash had 4, Bryant had 3, Gasol had 2, even World Peace was getting into the passing action and also contributed 2 assists.

Los Angeles had another good offensive night; ultimately, turnovers and poor defense dooms the Lakers against the Blazers, wasting an excellent game from its dynamic duo in Dwight Howard, who finished with 33 points on 9-15 shooting (15-19 from the charity stripe!), 14 rebounds and 5 assists and Kobe Bryant who chipped in with 30 points and 6 rebounds of his own, while shooting 50% from the floor (10-20) as LA falls to 0-2 for the second season in a row under head coach Mike Brown. 

Los Angeles Lakers @ Portland Trailblazers, October 31st, 2012

The Trail Blazers begin their season at home Wednesday night against a Lakers team seeking to avoid a second straight 0-2 start.

Portland went 28-38 last season, after averaging 50.7 wins over its previous three seasons when it appeared to be a team on the rise. Coach Nate McMillan was fired during last year's campaign and the roster has been overhauled along with a new general manager in Neil Olshey and new coach in Terry Stotts.

All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge, forward Nicolas Batum and guard Wesley Matthews are the mainstays with new blood brought in that includes first-round picks Damian Lillard, a point guard drafted 6th overall, and Meyers Leonard, a center drafted 11th overall.

While Portland's new faces are unproven, the same cannot be said for those with Los Angeles. With Dwight Howard and Steve Nash on board, the Lakers are among the favorites as they seek the franchise's 17th championship.

Los Angeles, however, opened with a surprising 99-91 home loss to Dallas on Tuesday, where Los Angeles missed more free throws than Dallas attempted, and neither Howard nor Nash excelled in their team debuts.

Howard had 19 points and 10 rebounds while missing 11 of 14 free throws before fouling out with 2:02 to play. Nash managed just seven points and four assists with seemingly little to do in the Lakers' new offensive scheme. Pau Gasol led the Lakers with 23 points and 13 rebounds while Kobe Bryant scored a wonderfully efficient 22 (11-14 shooting) while playing on an injured right foot. The offense was smooth last night, as it created fairly easy opportunities that the Lakers didn’t convert (especially free throws).

There are a few minor injuries on the Lakers’ side of things; Kobe Bryant is listed as day to day with his injured right foot and ankle, but he still played last night and is expected to play tonight. Backup center Jordan Hill is also listed as day to day with a bulging disk he suffered early in the preseason, he will also play. On Portland’s side, backup point guard Ronnie Price is out for tonight’s contest.
Point Guard
Steve Nash
Damian Lillard
Shooting Guard
Kobe Bryant
Wesley Matthews
Small Forward
Metta World Peace
Nicolas Batum
Power Forward
Pau Gasol
LaMarcus Aldrige
Dwight Howard
J.J. Hickson

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lakers Falter at the Line, Fall to Dallas 99-91

You can’t win them all. It’s a simple, yet very true phrase that applies to all North American sports (except you, 1972 Dolphins). The Lakers came out of an 0-8 preseason to a very hyped up and anticipated regular season opener against the Dallas Mavericks without power forward Dirk Nowitzki or center Chris Kaman. With a starting lineup of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, I’m sure everyone outside of Dallas thought the Lakers take this in a landslide. Alas, here we are with Dallas winning in Los Angeles 99-91.

What went wrong for L.A.? Plenty of things went wrong for Los Angeles, starting with free throws; the Lakers took 13 more free throws than the Mavericks, however, Dallas ended up making two more than Los Angeles. That’s right, out of a whopping 31 free throws, L.A. only manages to make 12; while Dallas made 14 out of 18 free throws. That is unacceptable. What is also amazing: No backcourt player on the Lakers took a single free throw; Howard took 14 free throws (nearly half of L.A.’s total free throw count), Jordan Hill took 6 free throws, only making 1. Pau Gasol had a respectable percentage, as he made 6 of 8 free throws. Antawn Jamison made 1 of 1 to complete an And-1 play, and Metta World Peace only made 1 of 2.

Dallas spent most of its time stopping Howard from getting easy put back dunks, effectively applying the Hack-a-Shaq strategy to perfection as Howard went on to make only 3 of 14 from the charity stripe. The Lakers just couldn’t stop the pick and roll Dallas was running, and that’s without the possibility of it becoming a pick and pop (a play that’s very common and hard to stop with Dirk on the floor). Steve Nash is still the below average defender we all know as Darren Collison ate him alive tonight to the tune of 17 points on 8-12 shooting, and Howard seems to have been off on his timing; he only had one block tonight, and allowed countless shots to go uncontested in the paint.

Los Angeles allowed too many rebounds to Dallas. On paper, it doesn’t look bad, as L.A. hauled in 46 rebounds to Dallas’ 40, but when you realize the Lakers have Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, while Dallas is missing its twin 7 footers, then you know you have a problem. LA looked generally slower than Dallas, and played with less enthusiasm than the Mavs, a problem common with the late 2000’s, Kobe Bryant led Lakers.

Not all is dark in Laker land. Of the team’s 38 field goals, 24 of them were assisted, and not just by Nash, who only had four, but by the whole team, who really seem to be buying into assistant coach Eddie Jordan’s Princeton Offense. It seems the Princeton Offense is making things easier for the team offensively as Los Angeles shot 49.4% from the floor and the offense generally looked fluid and efficient. My only complaint tonight would be the lack of fast break points for the Lakers; after every rebound, Los Angeles would slowly job up the court instead of pushing the tempo with Nash (which is his bread and butter after the pick and roll) to get even easier shots early in the shot clock. Dwight Howard also got too few touches in the post, as most of his shots came off of offensive rebounds and last second passes to him to try to clean up LA’s offensive mistakes. This especially bothered me because Dallas had the much smaller Elton Brand on Howard for most of the night; nonetheless, Howard still managed to score 19 points despite only 12 shot attempts, and very few offensive possessions in which he was the focus. The brightest spot for Los Angeles was the spectacular Kobe Bryant, who is really feeding off of the Princeton Offense to make his own offense efficient and effective; Bryant shot 11-14 from the floor, only forcing up 1 shot (which he made in spectacular fashion over Vince Carter), and forcing zero unnecessary three pointers. 

The NBA is Back!

The NBA is officially back tonight with three games on tap for the season openers.

Washington Wizards @ Cleveland Cavaliers
First, we go to Cleveland where the Wizards look to start the season off the right the way. There is a (huge) bump in the road, however, for the Wizards. Franchise point guard John Wall will be out of tonight’s contest due to a stress injury to his right knee; he will be out for 4 more weeks. Wizard’s big man NenĂ© also has a minor foot injury and will also miss tonight’s opener.

Washington will use A.J. Price and Jannero Pargo at the point for the opening month after cutting Shelvin Mack on Sunday. Price started six of the team's eight preseason games at the point, averaging 9.6 points.

On the Cavs side of things, new acquisition C.J. Miles, who averaged 11.9 points in the preseason after spending his first seven years in Utah, should see plenty of playing time, as he will start in tonight’s contest.

The Cavs, who ranked 29th in the NBA in field-goal percentage (42.2%) last season, are looking for a step forward from second-year big man Tristan Thompson. The No. 4 pick in 2011 averaged 8.2 points and 6.5 rebounds last season.
Starting lineups:
Point Guard
A.J. Price
Kyrie Irving
Shooting Guard
Bradley Beal
C.J. Miles
Small Forward
Trevor Ariza
Alonzo Gee
Power Forward
Trevor Booker
Tristan Thompson
Emeka Okafor
Anderson Varejao

Boston Celtics @ Miami Heat
The attention on this game goes to the Miami Heat. They will hold their championship ceremony tonight to kick off their title defense against the team that took them to seven games during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.

It's also the first time the Celtics will face Ray Allen as an opponent since he left Boston over the summer and signed with Miami, a decision that his former coach and teammates were most unhappy about.  Miami kept its championship rotation intact, while adding Allen and Rashard Lewis to the mix.

Boston has vastly improved the bench to fill the void left by Allen leaving. They have added former Dallas Maverick Jason Terry and former Houston Rocket Courtney Lee, and will also be getting Jeff Green back after missing all of last season with heart surgery. Boston also drafted Jared Sullinger, a very talented player who dropped during the draft last season due to injury and no improvement from one college season to the other.

Allen knows it will be unusual to see the Heat get their rings, especially since five months ago; he was busy trying to thwart their title march. There appears to be no injuries on this front except for Avery Bradley who had off season surgery on both shoulders.
Starting lineups:
Point Guard
Rajon Rondo
Mario Chalmers
Shooting Guard
Courtney Lee
Dwyane Wade
Small Forward
Paul Pierce
LeBron James
Power Forward
Brandon Bass
Shane Battier
Kevin Garnett
Chris Bosh

Dallas Mavericks @ Los Angeles Lakers
Disappointing playoff outcomes led the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks to retool their rosters in hopes of again rising to the top of the Western Conference.

Each team, though, surrounded its long-standing, yet injured, superstar in different manners.

Kobe Bryant expects to play but Dirk Nowitzki won't as these new-look squads open their seasons Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

The Lakers were bounced in five games in the second round of last season's playoffs by Oklahoma City, the eventual West champion that swept Dallas out of the postseason the previous round.

Los Angeles had what was one of the most productive off seasons this side of The Decision trading for All-Stars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard as well as signing former 6th man of the year Antawn Jamison, and acquiring Jodie Meeks. That’s not to say Dallas didn’t have a good off season; they acquired the services of: Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones and Chris Kaman

Howard had a back injury, but appears to be back at 100%, playing a few preseason contests to make sure of that. Bryant was a question mark with a bruised and strained right foot until pronouncing himself ready to go after fully participating in Tuesday's shoot around.

On Dallas’ side, Chris Kaman will miss tonight’s contest and is day to day. Forward Brendan Wright is also listed as day to day, however it is unknown if he will participate in tonight’s game. Dirk Nowitzki will miss at least the first 10 games after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

Starting lineups:
Point Guard
Darren Collison
Steve Nash
Shooting Guard
O.J. Mayo
Kobe Bryant
Small Forward
Shawn Marion
Metta World Peace
Power Forward
Elton Brand
Pau Gasol
Bernard James
Dwight Howard

Monday, October 29, 2012

Steve Nash is the Key to the Lakers Championship Hopes

Steve Nash probably never thought he would be playing with the rival Los Angeles Lakers. After spending his whole career with the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, I’m sure Nash has held a certain disdain for the franchise, especially with all of the playoff battles between his Suns and the Kobe Bryant led Lakers in the mid 2000’s and then again in 2010. This off season, Nash was a free agent looking for a new home. Everyone knew the Lakers had their eye on the 38 year old point guard, but nobody ever thought Nash would even consider Los Angeles to be his new home; most of the attention was going toward the New York Knicks and their run and gun style offense, and up north to his home country with the Toronto Raptors. On top of those things, both of those teams had something that the Lakers did not: Money to spend; Nash was offered 3 years and 36 million from both teams, however Nash had decided that being close to his children was the best option for him (not to mention an incredible opportunity to win an NBA championship) and told the Suns Front Office to make a deal with the Lakers. Seeing as how the season will start tomorrow, I think it’s time to take an extensive look at the Lakers’ new point guard.

Nash might have the highest offensive basketball I.Q. in the NBA. His court vision is rivaled only by Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics and his passing ability is tops in the League. His 6’3’’ frame helps him see over the top of his defender to identify passing lanes and read the defense. While his listed 185 pound frame is a liability on the defensive end, especially when he’s forced to switch onto shooting guards or other taller, stronger opponents, on the offensive end, it’s a blessing; His end to end speed is middle of the pack for point guards, but due to his weight, he is able to keep his quickness in short distances, which outstanding and helps him utilize screens to their full potential. Nash is the master of the pick and roll offense; nobody has been this good at running it since John Stockton in Utah. Nash is a very gifted offensive player in nearly every aspect. One of the most efficient perimeter players in NBA history, Nash’s offensive game is a post-game away from being the most complete offense ever witnessed. Teams cannot run any kind of defense aimed at stopping Nash because even if you keep him off of the board, he knows how to beat you by passing the ball. Jordan rules or double-teams would be especially ineffective against him because of his court vision and surgeon-like precision when passing the ball.

Steve Nash is the most important offensive player on the court on any given night because he brings so much to the table. He’s not a typical scorer like teammate Kobe Bryant, and he’s not strictly a point guard with no range on his jumper like Rondo. Nash is something in between those two extremes; he can score with the best of them from anywhere past the half court line and do it with efficiency from any range, all while keeping his teammates involved and not turning them into spectators (a problem Bryant had with the mid 2000’s Lakers).

Nash has slowly added more and more to his offensive game. He’s one of the best shooters in the game: Last season, Nash shot 53.2% from the floor, and his lowest percentage from any range was 39% from 3 point range. He shot over 53.7% from every range inside of the 3 point line except for 10-15 feet, where he still shot an efficient 49.5%. His 74% shooting at the rim was one of the highest in the league, even higher than teammate (and center) Dwight Howard.
He’s one of five players to be a part of the 50/40/90 club (50% from the field/40% from 3 point range/90% from the charity stripe), which is some very elite company as this club includes Reggie Miller, Larry Bird, Mark Price and Dirk Nowitzki, and has had the most seasons being a part of it with 4. The main reason Nash is never in the conversation for best player in the NBA is his defense; Nash is one of the worst players in this aspect and is one of the only star players (and MVP’s) ever to score a negative Defensive Win Share over a full season; Nash has never had a 2 or higher DWS except for his MVP winning season in 2006. This is offset by his spectacular offense, of course; however he has cost his teams more than a few victories with bad defense.

The question now becomes: how well can Nash fit into the Princeton Offense run by coach Mike Brown and assistant Eddie Jordan?
Steve Nash is an excellent shooter, so even if he’s not used to running the Princeton Offense, he still provides value as a scorer. He will start nearly every possession with the ball in his hands and will quarterback the Lakers’ offense. He dictates the tempo of the offense, how the possession evolves and who gets the ball against certain opponents or during certain situations; Nash will have freedom being the triggerman of the offense. If Nash wants to run a pick and roll to start a Lakers’ set, he can, if he wants to run a play where Bryant will get the ball early and be the primary option, he can do that too. If it’s time to get Pau Gasol or Howard a touch in the post, Nash can make that happen simply by organizing his teammates and dictating how the play unfolds. Nash has that power for most of his career, and he’s definitely earned it.

Coach Brown wants his team playing at a faster tempo than they showed last season. In Brown’s introductory press conference a year ago, one of his key offensive principles was to push the ball up the floor. The only problem was that the Lakers didn’t really have the personnel to do that (I’m looking at you, Andrew Bynum). This season, some of the slower players are gone and that will allow Nash to increase the speed at which the Lakers play. He’ll get more early offense opportunities and can create more plays in transition.

The Lakers have the yang to Nash’s yin in Dwight Howard. Simply put, Nash is one of the very best pick and roll guards and the Lakers have themselves the most devastating pick and roll finisher in Howard. Nash, according to Mike Brown, will have the opportunity to run pick and rolls to start every possession if that’s what he chooses. Whenever Howard and Nash share the floor, they’ll be able to go away from the Princeton and instead unleash the play that’s been the bread and butter for both of them for years. The ability to fall back on this should a play break down really can’t be overvalued as it will keep the Lakers offense efficient, and will get a good opportunity to score virtually every possession, and it will keep Kobe Bryant from unleashing an extremely contested shot with the shot clock down to only a few seconds.

The Lakers offense will be much improved with the addition of Nash. Initial concerns were over defense, but now that has been handled by getting Dwight Howard to provide weak-side help on the defensive end. Nash could very well be the key to the Lakers championship hopes next season. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dwight Howard: Defensive Mastermind

We’re all fairly familiar with newest Laker Dwight Howard’s story. Drafted 1st overall in 2004 out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy (HS), he has lived up to the expectations that come with being a 1st overall pick; He’s a 6 time All-Star, 6 time All-NBA team selection, 5 time All-Defensive team member and 3 time winner of the Defensive Player of the Year award. We’re also fairly familiar with what he can bring to the table for any team (Defensive presence, consistent offense, tenacious rebounding), however, since he is now a Laker, I think a scouting report is in order to learn more about the Lakers’ newest dominant center.

A terrifying (in a good way) athlete, he possesses the agility of a quick small forward within a 6’11’’, extremely muscular 285 pound frame. Howard is easily the most physically dominant post-presence in today’s NBA, as well as one of the most athletic big men the game has ever seen. NBA star Kevin Garnett said it best: "Howard is a freak of nature, man... I was nowhere near that physically talented. I wasn't that gifted, as far as body and physical presence."

Dwight Howard may be the most important player to his team on both ends of the floor. Stronger than any other center, yet much quicker as well, he is not, however, the tallest center in the league; former Laker Andrew Bynum is inches taller than Howard at 7’0’’ barefoot, while Howard is slightly over 6’11’’ with shoes on. He has developed his offensive post-game from good, to very good. Howard has a very developed running right handed hook shot. He can back any center into the low post and bank righty and lefty hook shots all game (although he struggles much more with the left hand than with the right hand). He shot 49.0% from the field on Hook Shots alone.

Similar to Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, his superb athleticism alone can dominate games, however for Howard; this is even more pronounced, as he is the NBA’s best defensive player and usually leads the League in rebounds and blocked shots.

He is way too strong for single-coverage by all but perhaps two centers (Western Conference Rival Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins and Philadelphia 76er Bynum); but his speed and quickness in small spaces give him the upper hand against these taller, just as strong centers. When going to the rim, he is virtually unstoppable, and can out-jump or outmuscle anyone.

Excellent basketball instincts defensively, he knows where he must be to provide help defense, but still give a shade of doubt to the ball handler in passing to his man covered assignment. He has mastered the art of timing, which makes blocking shots second nature for him. For all of his defensive accolades, he has a fairly average offensive basketball I.Q. He’s a very poor free-throw shooter, thus becoming the subject to the Hack-a-Shaq tactic used on former Laker Shaquille O’Neal. He’s a very emotional player in a positive and negative way; he knows how to get his teammates emotionally involved in the game, but he’s also prone to receiving technical fouls and letting certain players get into his head.

For opposing teams, Double-teams are usually a must since very few centers can handle his sheer strength and quickness in the post.  He’s the definition of a franchise player who opens up the game for his teammates and knows how to handle the double-team (something Bynum did not do well in his final season with Los Angeles). He cannot be kept off the block as his sheer size and strength allow him to get excellent position under the bucket for easy defensive rebounds and put back dunks. Much like Superman 1.0, he suffers many fouls that go uncalled, since he regularly finishes with contact.

By far the top defensive player in the world, he can change the dynamic of any game with his tenacious rebounding, man-to-man post-defense and monstrous weak-side help. I estimate that he manages to change at least three times more shots than he blocks, simply with being on the court. He gets into the mind of opposing players who are driving into the lane, and alters shooting motions in the shooter’s attempt to make his release quicker or arch his shot higher to avoid a potential Howard swat. Howard’s jumping ability is something the NBA has never seen from a center. His vertical leap comes in at an amazing 39.5 inches, and he holds the record for the highest leaping reach in NBA history at a whopping 12 feet, 6 inches, one inch higher than the former Man of Steel’s now broken record. The amazing thing about the physical beast that is Dwight Howard is that he’s hardly lost any quickness or speed as he’s gained size and muscle.

The scary thing about Dwight is he’s still developing his offensive game. He added the lefty hook shot to his repertoire around the 2010 season, and that’s normal for a center; however he also added a decent enough jump shot from 15 feet and in. In the past 3 seasons, Howard has made 58/148 for a percentage of 39.1% on jump shots. For a center who’s supposed to be one dimensional, that’s pretty good. Two seasons, Howard shot 10/18 from 16 feet to the 3 point line. The percentage is impressive for any player, but for Howard, it is an unprecedented 55.6%. Brutally efficient from the floor, Howard’s PER last season was a very high 24.2. His hook shot was made a good 49.0% clip. Combine that with the sheer amount of dunks and layups that he makes, which is a combined 265/347 for an excellent 76.3% and you see why he shoots nearly 60% every single season. As expected with any center, his percentage takes a severe drop past a certain distance; in Howard’s case, this is from 12 feet and out roughly. His percentage at the rim is amazingly high as he made 274 out of 375 shots taken for an efficient percentage of 73.1%. Everything from there takes a severe decline from that, as his percentage from 3-9 feet out is an average 41.7% and represents his second highest percentage from any distance last season.

He’s one of the only star players who’s Defensive Win Shares is ranked higher than his Offensive Win Shares; just last season, his DWS was one full point higher (4.4) than his OWS (3.4). His Win Share per 48 minutes was a very high .179. For Howard to truly make the Lakers better, he must play the pick and roll efficiently with Steve Nash, while maintaining defensive dominance and keeping the glass clean. Howard must also handle double-teams as well as he did in Orlando, finding the open man and passing quickly out of it; something Bynum had a lot of trouble with as he would continually hold on too long to the ball. He must also improve his free throw percentage, because unless your name is Shaq, 49.1% from the charity stripe won’t cut it in the City of Angels.

Howard is a premier All-Star for the foreseeable future, as well as the best defensive player in the League. As his offense continues to develop, he may begin to be mentioned in the elite crop of players like LeBron James, teammate Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant, although he will never score as dynamically as these players. As he is now, Howard is the best of the 2nd tier super star players. Nonetheless, Howard is capable of taking any team to the top.

Friday, October 26, 2012

What Should We Expect From Kobe Bryant Next Season?

Kobe Bryant almost seems like a legend, doesn't he? The sheer amount of time played for Bryant is ridiculous. At age 34, he has 42,377 minutes played, not counting playoffs or international play. Including playoffs, Bryant’s minutes increase to 51,018 minutes of total NBA playing time. Compare that to Michael Jordan, who, at 39 years old, retired with 48,485 minutes of total NBA playing time under his belt.

Such wear and tear requires players switching up their playing styles and adapting to the way the NBA is evolving. One of the reasons Bryant has had longevity in this league is evolving his offensive game to the point of no longer needing elite athleticism to beat defenders. Bryant has evolved from the 1-on-1 type player from the early 2000’s to a player that has learned how to play within his coach’s offensive system, learned how to take advantage of off ball situations and has let his team help him out; the difference in percentage of Bryant’s baskets that were assisted on is enormous from 2001-2002 to 2011-2012 campaign. 37.2% of Bryant’s baskets were assisted in 2002; 44.4% in 2012. Comparing Bryant from 2001-2002 to last season’s version, the numbers tell the tale.
2001-2002 Bryant
2011-2012 Bryant
Points Per Game
Field Goal %
Win Shares per 48
Offensive Win Shares

The biggest difference between Old Kobe and Kobe of Old is offensive efficiency. In 2000, Bryant was elite in this aspect, recording a superb .196 WS/48 and having an elite 9.2 OWS in 68 out of 82 games played. Kobe last season had a good but not great .132 WS/48 and 4.2 OWS in 58 out of 66 games played. Bryant has lost athleticism and can no longer rely simply on driving past opponents. This information gives us the obvious: Kobe Bryant is no longer the dynamic and athletic ‘Fro Kobe (or Frobe) from the early 2000’s.
Bryant has evolved and is no longer a one trick pony. 10 years ago, Bryant was primarily a slasher style shooting guard, meaning he would try to drive on opponents to create offensive opportunities for himself and his teammates. Kobe from 2011-2012 has become one of the most creative offensive players in NBA history. Comparing Kobe’s season’s again show us how exactly he’s evolved:
Shot distance
2001-2002 Bryant
2011-2012 Bryant
At Rim
63.4% (325-513)
67.8% (162-239)
3-9 Feet
45.4% (137-302)
41.8% (112-268)
10-15 Feet
44.3% (185-418)
42.4% (113-314)
16- 3 point line
38.7% (234-605)
41.6% (195-469)
3 pointers
28.9% (55-190)
30.0% (104-347)

Young Kobe’s willingness to constantly drive in brought us efficiency from the floor (and some very exciting moments like this, this and this) but it also brought us a more one dimensional player, not to mention injury. Bryant, last season, experienced his worst shooting performance since being a starter. Part of this has to do with age, part of it injury; Bryant had just returned from Germany and had just done a platelet-rich plasma therapy called Orthokine and on top of that, tore wrist ligaments to begin the season and played through the season with that, as well as an assortment of other injures such as a broken nose and concussion suffered during the All Star game at the hands of Eastern Conference All Star Dwyane Wade, and most importantly, shot selection for Bryant has been poor. While Bryant has expanded his game to the point of still being able to shoot a high percentage from nearly anywhere on the court, he has also developed the bad habit of shooting from farther than necessary.

Bryant’s shooting range 10 seasons ago was limited to 15 feet and in to be efficient, anything outside of that range was a struggle for young Kobe as he would shoot a very low 36.3% from 16 feet and out. Current Kobe has expanded his game to include: an effective post game, magnificent mid-range game in which he opens space for himself using a wide array of pump fakes and his excellent foot work (his amazing footwork can create separation often without even dribbling, using an agile pivot and quick head fakes to throw multiple defenders off-balance) only surpassed by Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin McHale and Jordan in NBA history and even though he works a bit harder to get his shots, a well-rest Bryant is capable of rising above a defense to close out a game. Even at this stage, Bryant commands a team’s entire defensive focus and shows an ability reserved for the all-time greats to excel under those circumstances.

Bryant has good height at the shooting guard position, excellent strength and court vision. Combine those with his outstanding post game for a guard, and teams cannot afford to have point guards, combo guards or guards smaller than 6’4’’ attempt to cover him. The Lakers offensive system benefits greatly from the fantastic offensive talents of Bryant, especially because it’s no longer the Triangle Offense. Most teams have one defensive specialist who will always key on Bryant for the majority of the game. The problem with doing this is that most defensive specialists are, as can be expected, one-dimensional. Thus, it allows Bryant – himself a fearsome defensive force – to roam the paint and help out teammates as well as play free safety in the passing lanes and since he doesn’t have to expend much energy guarding the defensive specialist, he can focus his whole arsenal of moves against said defensive player, and generally be more creative and less predictable on the offensive end, and make things easier for himself.

Unlike with other 2-guards in the league, the opposing team simply can’t afford to not put a defender on Kobe, necessarily sacrificing offense. Furthermore, the age old tactic of letting a star offensive player score as many points as he wants, while shutting down the rest of his teammates doesn’t generally work against Los Angeles because Bryant’s teammates are too good to completely shut down. This defense is especially ineffective against the Lakers because Steve Nash will create shots for everyone else. Furthermore, Kobe is the rare offensive superstar that, if he shoots a high percentage, is quite capable of scoring enough to beat a team all by himself, as games of 81 points, 62 points in 3 quarters, and other such offensive outbursts show us.

When going against players his size and larger, Bryant can penetrate, but not like 2002 Bryant; He has slowed down enough to no longer be able to turn the corner against defenders; however he is still explosive. Bryant has the entire repertoire of ball-handling jukes, absolutely paralyzing hesitation moves and foot-placement, making him effectively much faster than he probably is at this point in his career. He has complete mastery of the mid-range game, as well as the footwork necessary to operate effectively from the pinch post. Bryant is also an extraordinary facilitator when inclined, or when the situation demands it.

What can we expect from Kobe Bryant next season? That is a tricky question since Bryant has never played with an elite point guard in his career, however Bryant has adapted well to his teammates over the course of his career so there’s no reason not to hope that Bryant will feed off of Nash, and improve from last season. Nash makes the job much easier for Bryant and everyone else on the roster; I believe Bryant should be used more in a Rip Hamilton like way, having off ball screens set for him to get into a far better position and much closer to the basket than when Bryant tries to 1-on-1 things. Bryant’s excellent court vision will also help him utilize the backdoor of the defense with much higher success now that Nash is on the team. The transition game also opens up for Kobe and the Lakers with Nash on the roster. It’s not comparable to that of Miami’s dunk fest between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, nor should we expect it to be, however Los Angeles will make nearly every steal count, and make every transitional basket look similar to the 1980’s Showtime Lakers led by Magic Johnson. I fully expect next season to be Bryant’s most successful season as an individual player. Efficiency should not be an issue for Kobe playing with Nash.

Expect Kobe to score anywhere from 25-29 points per game, and be much more efficient from the field, anything from 47-52% shooting. His OWS should also sky rocket playing with Nash. 10 or more OWS is certainly within reach for him, as well as a .200 or more WS/48. Kobe Bryant may have his finest, most complete season yet; his transformation from a slasher to a do-it-all type shooting guard has helped him age like a fine wine. It also helps to be playing with a Top 5 point guard and one of the best passers in NBA history.