I think it’s fairly obvious that Kobe Bryant will remain the number one option on offense. Despite the tales of his demise and downward spiral, I still think his ability to score and scare the defense gives the Lakers a huge advantage in how they plan their attack. By having Kobe garner so much attention from the defensive focus, it should actually open up things for the rest of his teammates.
I know what you’re thinking: "but Kobe doesn’t pass."
He does and he doesn’t. He also doesn’t necessarily need to pass. Let’s say Kobe Bryant still decides he wants to take off-balance 20-footers over two defenders. I don’t believe most defenders on the perimeter can handle Kobe one-on-one. You almost always need to bring a second defender over to bother him.
By doing this, you’re leaving Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard battling the boards against inferior big man tandems while still being mindful of being outnumbered through the flight of that shot. But this isn’t about whether or not Kobe should be the first option on offense.
Should the second option be Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol?
It flip-flopped at various times last season, but Pau ended up cycling through being the second and third option with Andrew Bynum as the alternative. And the results were pretty much positive. The Lakers ranked 10th in the NBA in offensive rating.
In my opinion, the Lakers were at their best when they ran things through Pau to make plays for other teammates.
Assuming his back is okay, Dwight Howard is a lot better offensively then most people realize. And they will realize it this season when he gets the most coverage he’s ever seen. Despite being the only real offensive option to run the schemes through in Orlando, Dwight was still incredibly efficient with his possessions.
He ranked 95th in the NBA in points per possession with a 0.96 (which is really good). Considering he had over 1000 possessions in which he took either a shot attempt, ended up at the free throw line or turned the ball over, having that kind of usage rate and still approaching a full point per possession used is incredible.
The three best ways to utilize Dwight are by posting him up (55th in the NBA), rolling him in a pick-and-roll (2nd in the NBA and 74 percent from the field), and having him cut to the basket (17th in the NBA and 83.3 percent from the field).
Some people still seem to confuse Dwight Howard not having great touch with not having a post game. They are not the same thing. Dwight’s footwork in the post is pretty incredible. His feet are quick and nimble, getting him into great position when combined with his agility.
The problem for Dwight is that he has a hard time establishing deep post position because his base is so small. He doesn’t have a big butt or tree trunks for legs to root himself onto the block against defenders. He counters this by quickly moving through his post moves, but it can leave him at a bit of a disadvantage.
This is a move we see Dwight make a lot. He’ll go from the post position to facing up against his opponent. This is simply to get his defender to guard against the drive, leaving him a lot of room to get his spin move off. Once he does this, he does a great job of squaring up his motion to get off a good hook shot.
Guys without post games can’t spin to the baseline and put up a hook with their weak hand. Dwight doesn’t have a feathery touch, but he does have the ability to get off good hook shots with both hands, using a variety of different footwork to get into position for the shot.
It’s pretty obvious why he’s so devastating on the pick-and-roll. Throw it anywhere and he gives you a highlight. He has very good hands and can catch low passes, high passes, and lob passes before finishing with a thunderous dunk.
The same goes for when he’s cutting to the basket off of dribble penetration from a teammate. As soon as the defender leaves him some room to move toward the basket, he’s attacking in a straight line and signaling for the lob. And the beauty of lobbing it to him is it takes a fighter jet in the arena to prevent him from finishing the play.
The important thing to note on those last two highlights is that was Jameer Nelson making those passes to him. Replace him with the penetrating ability, scoring threat, and passing acumen of Steve Nash. Hold on—all of the blood just rushed away from my brain.
OK, I’m ready to continue.
As good as Dwight is on offense (and he’s very good), I still think Pau Gasol should be the second option. It’s not that I think Pau is a better player than Dwight, it’s just that Pau Gasol is the most skilled big man in the league today. He can score from every angle on the court. He’s better in the post than Dwight (21st in the NBA with 0.95 PPP on post-ups) and with his passing ability, he can make plays that few other big men can create.
On plays when Kobe isn’t initiating the scoring opportunities, a pick-and-roll with Steve Nash on the strong side or top side of the floor with Dwight Howard lurking from the baseline seems impossible to stop.
This play isn’t a pick-and-roll, but it shows exactly how you can’t game plan against Gasol as a moving target receiving the ball in the lane. His touch passing and vision are second to none at the big man position. Kevin Garnett used to be that guy, and once upon a time Chris Webber and Vlade Divac thrived making these plays. But as of right now, there’s Pau Gasol and then everybody else.
With Pau and Dwight on the court, the Lakers can do something nobody else in the league can by running the set through Pau. They can run a pick-and-roll with just their big men. Pau is a good enough dribbler and definitely a good enough passer to pull it off. If the defense sinks in to protect against the pass to Dwight, Pau can take the ball all the way to the basket. Otherwise, he can drop it down to Howard for an easy score.
By using him in the high post as the initiator, you can run players off of him as a screen and if the defense doesn’t dig down to protect against the pass, Pau will find his teammate for a layup.
He also is great at running those guys off of the attention he gets in the post. Here you have Steve Blake benefitting from confusion in the defense and Pau finding him for an open jumper. Now imagine Steve Nash spotting up for that jumper instead of Blake. Would the defense even leave Nash like that? And if they didn’t, wouldn’t Pau have an easy look at scoring the ball one-on-one?
Speaking of scoring, we’ve been discussing Pau’s passing ability, which helps open up the scoring chances for him in the post. A defense really can’t drop down and double him without feeling like he’s going to pick them apart with his passing.
Because you have to now worry about an agile Dwight Howard cutting from the weak side or Kobe spotting up for a jumper or Steve Nash being ready to drain a three, Pau should get more room to operate in the post. When he’s allowed to do this, his turnaround jumper is one of the best shots in the game. He can also adjust off the post defender and drop to the baseline for his patented left-handed hook.
And Pau is still quick enough to spin around his post defender and get to the basket for the strong finish. Some people seem to still label Pau with the “soft” label, and it’s just asinine. Gasol finishes around the basket as well as anybody, and he often goes up hard to finish plays.
Because of Pau’s versatility and the different ways he can kill the defense efficiently that Dwight can’t do, I’d definitely run Pau as my number two option more than Dwight.
Pau’s passing opens up his scoring and his scoring opens up his passing. He’s an underutilized weapon by the Lakers, who should be pounding the ball into him more to make things happen. Perhaps with Nash directing the offense, we’ll see this more and see how the team plays off of Pau controlling the ball.
It doesn’t mean that Pau has to average the second most shot attempts on the team or score the most points behind Kobe. It just means running him as the second option opens up everything for Dwight, Kobe, and Nash.
Remember how incredible Bynum looked last year receiving passes from Pau and benefitting from the attention Kobe got? Now replace Bynum with Dwight, who put up better numbers while drawing the entire focus of the defense. If Dwight is dropped down to the third option on your team, he could put up the best offensive season he’s ever produced.
What’s scary is that the Lakers have so many options with what they can do on every possession. Run the ball through Kobe and have an advantage on the boards. Let Nash and Dwight or Nash and Pau run a pick-and-roll. Post up Pau. Post up Dwight. Post up Kobe. Run guys off of Dwight in the mid-post or Pau in the high post. Let Ron Artest take… never mind.
The Lakers offense has so many options of who can and should be the second option on any given possession that we should see a fast improvement in an offense that was already really good.
Let’s just hope they don’t forget one of their best weapons is Pau. Well, unless you’re rooting against the Lakers. Then you probably are hoping they have amnesia when it comes to what Pau can do in the half court.