While the Lakers have taken a commanding 3-1 lead in their first round series against the Denver Nuggets, they have had long stretches where they’ve struggled to find a rhythm on offense. During the regular season, Denver was the fifth worst team in the league defensively, and 11th worst in terms of defensive efficiency. With a team that boasts Andrew Bynum in the low post, Pau Gasol in the high post, and Kobe Bryant on the wing, it’s inconceivable the Lakers as a team are a very average 9th in terms of offensive efficiency.
Kobe has always battled with his efficiency on offense, preferring 1 on 1 forays into the teeth of the defense over making the extra pass to a wide open teammate. This season, he has surprised me in his willingness to let the offense work more for him, by using weakside screens and letting the double team hit Andrew Bynum and waiting for the swing pass against a scrambling defense. However, old habits die hard, and Kobe still finds himself taking enough bad shots that weigh the team down, keeping an obviously inferior club closer than it should be.
The mile high altitude has clearly been taking its toll on this slowly aging Laker team, and many of the bad shots Kobe has been taking look to be as a direct result of his tired legs. No longer can he shot fake and blow by his defender, especially someone as spry as Arron Afflalo, who was instrumental in harassing Kobe into a bad shooting night. Which makes George Karl’s decision to go with Galinari on Kobe a big head scratcher. It also matched up Afflalo on Pau Gasol for the crucial possession where Steve Blake hit the game clinching three pointer.
While that possession, and the game, worked out for the Lakers, the decision to ignore Gasol in the post against Afflalo should not be completely overlooked. And in future playoff series, against much better opponents, those kinds of decisions can’t be left on the table, or else the Lakers will get bounced early.
For the playoffs, Kobe has been most effective in the post, where he’s ranked in the 94th percentile (according to Synergy Sports). That makes up 13% of his possessions, while he is using a whopping 30.4% of his possessions on isolations. Unfortunately, he’s just above average at 52%, and when you see how easy the shots come for him when he cuts off of teammates and lets the ball swing around to him, it makes you want to stand up and shout for Kobe to go away from the iso, and get back to the team concept.
The bottom line is that the Lakers should be scoring much more easily against the Nuggets defense, which ranked 25th in Synergy’s defensive rankings (PPP) and 19th in Hollinger’s defensive efficiency. While Javale McGee has proved somewhat effective as a low post defender, Bynum and Gasol should still be the keys to get Denver’s defense out of position, and that will open up shots for Kobe. Whether Kobe trusts in them and allows this to happen may mean the difference between a brief second round exit and a deep run in the playoffs.
Written by Coach Nick