Scouting the Lakers: Can Bryant play within offense, instead of outside?

Last Wednesday before the San Antonio Spurs (45-16) were manhandled at home by the Kobe Bryant KBless-Los Angeles Lakers, I spoke with Spurs shooting guard Danny Green about what it was going to be like playing the Lakers without Bryant.

“He’s definitely a tougher factor,” Green said, “he’s somebody that we’d have to factor into our defense. So our defensive schemes change a little bit.”

Fast-forward to today, the Spurs are on a five-game winning streak and haven’t lost since the Lakers beat them at home. In fact, the Spurs returned with their own 22-point blowout of the Lakers in Staples Center.

The “tough factor” Green described, Bryant, will be making his return to the Lakers lineup after missing seven consecutive games. The Lakers played stellar in that stretch going 5-2, but those two losses were each 20-point blowouts. The Lakers team was getting more efficient looks at the basket and players were playing as a team, at a high level. Will this continue with Bryant’s return?

Case No. 62: Los Angeles Lakers (40-23)

Scorers

Kobe Bryant – 28.1 points (23.2 FGA), Andrew Bynum – 18.9 points (13.3 FGA), Pau Gasol – 17.4 points (14.1 FGA), Ramon Sessions – 13.2 points (9 FGA), Matt Barnes – 7.8 points (6.1 FGA), Metta World Peace – 7.6 points (7.2 FGA)

Take note of these numbers:

Andrew Bynum – 23.1 points, 14.1 rebounds, 19.6 FGA

Pau Gasol – 21.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, 18.3 FGA

Metta World Peace – 16.3 points, 12.7 FGA

The Lakers were playing retro Spurs “Twin Towers” basketball through seven games when Bryant was injured. They had to seven footers who were scoring over 20-points and 10-rebounds per game. With Bryant back, not only does his 23.22 field goal attempts take away the dominance of their front line attack, but World Peace also goes back to possibly playing average basketball because he won’t be getting those five extra shots anymore.

Unless Bryant can find a way to insert himself into the offense and find a good mix with the “team game” as opposed to the individual game, then the Lakers will continue to stay a middle-of-the-pack Western conference team.

The Spurs have a good amount of perimeter depth to throw at Bryant with rookie Kawhi Leonard having gained experience by defending veteran scorers night after night. If Leonard struggles, the Spurs can always go to the physical Stephen Jackson and the quick Green as two other options to throw at Bryant.

Shooting/Posting High Percentages

Andrew Bynum (56%), Pau Gasol (50%), Ramon Sessions (50%), Josh McRoberts (47%), Matt Barnes (45%)

Two of the Lakers’ biggest weapons shoot 50% or better, yet the main focal point of their offense (Bryant), shoots below 45%.

Three-Point marks men

Kobe Bryant (5 x 3PT FGA – 30%), Metta World Peace (3 x 3PT FGA – 30%), Steve Blake (3 x 3PT FGA – 32%), Matt Barnes (2.2 x 3PT FGA – 34%)

The last time the Spurs were in San Antonio, they shot an unusual high percentage. The Spurs must be aware of Bryant when he gets in the post right about the free throw line-elbow, where he likes to either post his defender or pass out to an open shooter on the perimeter.

Gets to the free throw line

Kobe Bryant (7.9 FTA – 85%), Andrew Bynum (5.7 FTA – 69%), Ramon Sessions (4.8 FTA – 73%), Pau Gasol (4 FTA – 78%)

Enforcers in the paint

Andrew Bynum (12.1 rebounds), Pau Gasol (10.4 rebounds), Kobe Bryant (5.5 rebounds), Matt Barnes (5.5 rebounds)

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich made a brilliant move in Los Angeles on Tuesday, he started Tiago Splitter alongside Tim Duncan, and gave all of DeJuan Blair’s minutes to Splitter, Matt Bonner, and Boris Diaw to help Duncan.

The move was so good that both teams tied with 37-rebounds, and Bynum and Gasol each had just seven rebounds. That is a world of a difference to the game when Blair played, where the Spurs were outrebounded 60-33, and Bynum had 30 rebounds all by himself.

Blair played well against Golden State on Wednesday with 10 points, but the Lakers exposed his lack of height so well that coach Popovich might be forced to once again keep him benched throughout the game so the Lakers’ frontcourt doesn’t take advantage of their height advantage.

Passers

Ramon Sessions (6.7 assists), Kobe Bryant (4.6 assists),Pau Gasol (3.6 assists), Steve Blake (3.2 assists)

Stealers

Kobe Bryant (1.2 steals), Metta World Peace (1 steal)

The Spurs’ backcourt must be keen on how they handle the ball. With Bryant back and World Peace on the other side of the floor, the Lakers will be looking to get their hands on every ball that’s passed, as both players like to gamble in anticipation of stealing a pass.

Denying the Rim

Andrew Bynum (1.9 blocks), Pau Gasol (1.4 blocks)

The 29-points Tony Parker scored Tuesday was a huge plus for the Spurs because it gave Parker the confidence that he can score on the two towers of the Lakers, as long as he and the Spurs continue to push the pace and keep the game at a run-and-gun style.

Bynum and Gasol’s length aren’t as scary when they’re forced to play quick and out of their comfort zone. If the Lakers get the halfcourt going, then it could spell trouble for the Spurs attacking the paint.

Offense vs. Offense

1. Points: Spurs (102.7) – Lakers (97.1) = Spurs

2. Assists: Spurs (22.9) – Lakers (22.4) = Spurs

3. Shooting percentage: Spurs (47.4%) – Lakers (45.9%) = Spurs

4. Three point shooting percentage: Spurs (39%) – Lakers (32.2%) = Spurs

5. Turnovers: Spurs (13.1) – Lakers (14.6) = Spurs

Offensive Leader: Spurs 5-0

Defensively, the Spurs have a better understanding of what they’ll need to do with Bryant playing again. Bryant is the focal point of the Lakers’ offense, so the Spurs know where the ball will be the majority of the time on defense.

When Bryant was out, the Spurs had trouble having to be aware on all five players as Bynum, Gasol, Sessions, World Peace, and even Devan Ebanks were getting shots from different parts of the floor.

Defense vs. Defense

1. Opponent scoring: Spurs (96.3) – Lakers (95) = Lakers

2. Opponent shooting: Spurs (45%) – Lakers (44%) = Lakers

3. Opponent 3PT shooting: Spurs (36%) – Lakers (34%) = Lakers

4. Rebounds: Spurs (42.7) – Lakers (46.2) = Lakers

5. Personal Fouls: Spurs (17.4) – Lakers (16.9) = Lakers

Defensive Leader: Lakers 5-0

Offensively, the Spurs just need to come out the aggressors as they displayed on Tuesday. If they can play their frenetic fast paced offense and make the Lakers commit to playing a running game, then the Spurs’ offense will get into its comfort zone and looks at the basket will begin to open up.

Should the Lakers stay disciplined and keep the tempo in the half court set, then the Spurs will need to execute on their pick-and-rolls at a high level and really rely on their playmakers to have big nights.

Game Expectation

With Bryant back, I think it gives the Spurs an edge because they now know who to prepare for on the majority of the Lakers’ possessions. Beginning with Leonard, the Spurs’ wing defense will have a tall task in store, but as long as they can get Bryant to keep shooting and limiting his teammates from getting involved in the game, then the Spurs shouldn’t have any problem winning this game.

Think about it this way, if you’ve ever played full court basketball with a couple of your buddies and you have that one friend who thinks he or she is Michael Jordan, and it gets kind of annoying after you play defense, rebound, pass, and your friend takes all the shots.

Through the course of the game, you begin to rebound less, and start playing mediocre defense because you know you’re not going to get to touch the ball on offense.

If Bryant takes the role of your friend, and you take the role of Bynum, Gasol, or any of the other Lakers in this game, would you want to keep playing hard for a full 48-minutes?

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX and the 2013 NBA Finals.

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