However, any observer also knows that the Lakers' success hasn't been built on Kobe's back alone. He's been blessed with some fantastic teammates over the years, and one of the main reasons he has five championships to his name is because of his ability to mesh his game with theirs in order to maximize results.
Heading into the 2012-13 season, Kobe has a new duo of superstar teammates to play with. Steve Nash and Dwight Howard offer an array of skills and individual talents that Kobe can play off of. One of the key variables to achieving their ultimate goal will certainly be how well these players blend together.
Playing with a point guard the caliber of Steve Nash will be a new experience for Kobe. Throughout his career, Kobe has rarely had to cede his role of primary perimeter creator, but with Nash he likely will. This, however, shouldn't be an issue for Kobe. In fact, it can actually help him be even more effective.
First off all, Nash is the type of pass first point guard that is sure to look to get Kobe better shots than the ones he's gotten in recent seasons. Nash is a master at manipulating defenses; he's a floor general that moves defenders like chess pieces in order to generate good looks for his teammates.
As you can see in the clip above, Nash broke down the entire defense, drew multiple defenders and then picked out the open man for a wide open shot. If you look closer, you'll see that Channing Frye wasn't the only open man, either. In the right corner, Jared Dudley was spotting up wide open as well. Can you imagine Kobe getting those types of wide-open looks?
But Nash's ability to make sweet passes isn't the only way he'll help Kobe's game. Besides being a top assist man, Nash is also one of the league's best shooters. His ability to space the floor will give Kobe cleaner looks at the basket simply because he's dealing with fewer help defenders willing to leave their man. Imagine Steve Nash replacing Ramon Sessions in the picture below. Do you think Russell Westbrook cheats over as far to deny Kobe's drive to the middle of the floor?
The Lakers can also run countless two-man game options between Kobe and Nash in order to get Kobe good shots. Last season a staple of the Lakers' offense was a 1/2 pick and roll where Kobe would set a screen for the point guard. This action was designed to force a switch and get Kobe isolated on a smaller defender. The play didn't work as often as the team would have liked because the point guard could rarely threaten the defense off the dribble to force a switch. With Nash replacing last season's PGs, that will no longer be the case.
Nash, though, is only one part of the equation. Kobe will also have a field day playing next to Dwight Howard. Throughout his career, Kobe's developed great chemistry with every high-caliber big man he's been paired with, and I expect the same to be true of Dwight.
First of all, Dwight Howard is a monster in the pick-and-roll game. His ability to dive down the lane, make the catch, and finish at the rim with power is unparalleled in the league:
Plays like these will not only get Kobe easy assist opportunities, but they'll also put the defense in a difficult position every time the action is run. With Kobe coming off the pick and Howard drawing the attention of multiple defenders, Kobe will only have more space to operate with the ball in his hands. This will allow Kobe to get his jumper off with less pressure and open up angles that allow him to drive to the rim.
Second, Dwight Howard is a fantastic screener, both on and off the ball. His wide shoulders allow him to pick his target consistently and open up his teammates to move freely around the floor. Kobe is one of the best off-the-ball movers in the NBA, but even with his ability it's difficult to shake free without the help of a teammate setting a good screen. Howard, more so than Bynum has done for Kobe over the years, will set solid screens that open him up to make clean catches that give him that extra half second to get a good shot off.
Kobe can also benefit from parts of Dwight's game that are clearly flawed. A main criticism of Howard is that he's a poor free throw shooter. This really can't be argued. However, what people rarely mention is that because Howard shoots FTs so poorly, he's fouled at an incredibly high rate.
In the 2011-12 season Howard drew a league leading 8.5 fouls a game, or essentially a shade over two fouls per quarter. Considering teams shoot bonus FTs on the fifth team foul, the Lakers (much like when Shaq was on the team) are set to be one of the league leaders in FTs attempted. This past season, Kobe shot 7.8 foul shots a game (fourth in the NBA) and that was without Howard on the team. With Dwight in the fold it's conceivable that Kobe can take even more FTs a game next season. Those will be easy points for a career 84 percent foul shooter.
Who Kobe better meshes with next season will be up for debate. Both Nash and Howard give Kobe dynamic skill sets that he can use to compliment his own game. That said, the bigger take away isn't who will be better for Kobe but that both players should be able to give a nice boost to Kobe's performance.
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