Breaking Down How Kobe Bryant Beats Double Teams
Kobe Bryant faces as many double teams as any player in the league, and if talent and instinct alone weren't enough to get him from under such committed defensive pressure, repetition surely would be. Every move that Bryant makes on a basketball court is perceived as a threat by opposing defenses, and thus it's crucial to the Lakers' viability that Bryant be able to handle himself against the variety of traps and schemes thrown his way.
Double are just a single element in many more complicated scenarios, but they're nonetheless the type of strategic turn that requires direct attention and address.
So how goes Bryant manage?
An active bounce
When faced with double or triple teams, the natural instinct of many basketball players is to immediately protect the ball at all costs. Some begin a literal retreat, slipping backward into a corner or toward a sideline. Some pick up their dribble outright and look to keep the ball out of arm's reach of imposing defenders. Worse yet, some do both, putting themselves in a horrible situation and giving the defense just what it wants.
Bryant isn't a practitioner of any such panic and does a fine job of keeping the ball alive through the defensive pressure. Much of that comes from Bryant's own confidence in his ball-handling skill, but that confidence wouldn't mean much if he didn't have the handle to back it up. Command of the ball is essential when looking to beat doubles off the dribble, and Bryant manages to keep passing and shooting angles alive by remaining active.
Submitting to the defense's demand
Teams opt to apply added defensive pressure for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is to get the ball out of the hands of a particular player. That's not always a great thing when it comes to Bryant; though Kobe is one of the most talented scorers of his era, his passing game allows him to set up teammates for highly-efficient shot attempts against a stilted defense. Few are as theoretically capable of making plays out of the double, as Bryant's size, creativity, handle, scoring potency and vision afford him access to all kinds of passing angles.
Unfortunately, that's not always the way that Bryant opts to take advantage of the defense. He has the capacity to destroy opponents by making the right play, but whether through some innate tendency or years of playing alongside underwhelming role players, Bryant regularly chooses to take matters into his own hands.
Opponents push extra defenders at Bryant to derail the threat of his scoring, but if Kobe were to more regularly submit to that demand and set up other Lakers for quality attempts, he'd benefit greatly from L.A.'s more efficient offensive production.
When in doubt: fire away
Yet far too often Bryant sees the double as a chance to rise and fire; shooting over a double team isn't the wisest course of action, but at the very least, it affords the offense a shot attempt of some kind by removing the possibility of a turnover. Bryant loves reinforcing his ability to accomplish the improbable, and thus seems to take defensive pressure as more of a direct challenge than he probably should. Having a brilliant analytical mind doesn't mean much if Bryant so often chooses to ignore it. He simply betrays his own best interests when it comes to judgment calls and hoists up shots when he has no business doing so.
It's not the worst possible outcome to a double-teamed possession, but with a player like Kobe, we have every justification in wanting more. Athleticism, skill and savvy should result in something better than a fadeaway over two defenders, and yet more than anything, that's Bryant's path toward "beating" a double.
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