All season long, finding space on the offensive end of the floor has been a bit tricky for the Lakers. As Beckley Mason wrote in a piece on the Spurs, the creation and exploitation of space is the driving force behind any top-flight offense. While L.A. hasn’t been a slouch on that end of the floor (they currently sit 9th in Hollinger’s offensive efficiency rankings), the have struggled at times to find continuity.
A weak bench, shoddy point guard play (up until the Ramon Sessions trade) and a lack of capable, consistent shooters have been the primary culprits, but perhaps there is a deeper issue blocking the Lakers quest for offensive improvement.
After all, as great as Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant are as individual offensive threats, the fact remains that all three are most effective when going to work inside the 3-point line–Bynum and Gasol take turns attacking opponents on the block while Bryant continues to roaming from the mid-post to the pinch post looking to eviscerate anyone in his path.
The problem that arises from this dynamic is that when one of the three has the ball, there’s only so many places to hide the other two. Yes, Kobe and Pau can stretch the floor a bit and the temperamental Bynum showcases a willingness to shoot 3’s, but stationing any of them away from their attacking areas seems like a bit of a waste. So while the Lakers have been productive enough on offense, they have rarely generated the flow and synergy characteristic of great offenses.
Since Bryant’s injury, however, the Lakers offense has had a decidedly different look. Pockets of space have opened in areas that were previously clogged with help defenders. Actions on that end of the floor have looked, in a word, ‘cleaner’.
The new flow isn’t just an aesthetics thing either. Taking away their loss against Phoenix, their first game without Kobe, and the Lakers have seen their offensive performance actually improve.
How have they done it?
|Last four games w/out Bryant||109.6||51.2||54.7|
Without Bryant, L.A. employed a freelance 3-out, 2-in motion with their starting unit. The concept is very simple. Sessions, replacement starter Devin Ebanks, and Ron Artest position themselves outside the arc while Gasol and Bynum work inside. Once into their motion after a called set or secondary break action, Bynum usually looks to post on the ball-side while counterpart Gasol looks for high-low opportunities or anticipates spots for a post seal after a quick ball reversal or skip pass. If that fails, they spread the court and one of the bigs comes out to set a ball screen for Sessions.
The actions, however, may not nearly be as important as the freedom and space allotted to perform them. For all his ability, Bryant is notorious for hijacking the offense on a whim. Perhaps his absence has allowed the Lakers to establish a more defined plan for their possessions. In any event, with a talented creator in the backcourt (Sessions) and an emerging offensive focal point (Bynum), the Lakers production is no longer tied directly to Bryant’s production.
Obviously, four games is a ridiculously small sample size. Those offensive gains may simply be attributable to the torrid shooting of Artest, so it’d be quite a rush to judgment to assume the Lakers are better off without Bryant (at least on offense).
These four games can instead be used as tool to point L.A. in the right direction. To a place where space and synergy mesh with talent.