How Steve Nash Will Allow Kobe Bryant to Play His Natural Game
It's hard to remember a time when Kobe Bryant wasn't the No. 1 option on the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe was second to Shaq for the first two titles the Lakers won in 2000 and 2001, and 2002 was a pretty interesting 50-50 split between the two. After that, it was Kobe at the top of the team.
Kobe will continue to be the top option for the Lakers until he's ready and willing to hand over the keys to the team, but with the addition of Dwight Howard and especially Steve Nash, Kobe is going to be able to relax a bit and slide into a more natural position.
For as long as I can remember, which comes to 11 of the past 13 years, Kobe has led the Lakers in both assists and usage percentage, meaning he was the No. 1 option in more than one way. Not only did the Lakers expect Kobe to lead the team in scoring, but he was also the main distributor in the offense.
Some of Kobe's assist numbers can be chalked up to the triangle offense, which often led to Bryant getting more touches and sort of being the neck of the funnel that was the Lakers' offense under Phil Jackson.
Things changed a bit with Ramon Sessions taking over the point guard duties halfway through last season, but Sessions is an average point guard at best. He ended up taking over the lead in assists for L.A. and allowed Kobe to slip into a different style of play.
Admittedly, Bryant never really adapted well to playing off the ball more often (there were moments where he was effective), but there were also some points where the Lakers' offense fell into a lull where they couldn't do anything but settle for a jumper. A bit of that can be blamed on the lack of creativity in the offense, while some is probably due to the Lakers trying to get used to playing through the point more often than they had in the first two-thirds of the season.
One thing that can be said for Kobe playing with a point guard is that his three-point percentage actually increased. His season was dreadful beyond the arc with Derek Fisher and Steve Blake at the point, shooting just 29.4 percent. Once Sessions came in, Bryant registered a 34.7 percent stretch in the final 10 games of the regular season.
A Sessions-to-Steve Nash comparison is not even one that Stretch Armstrong would make, but it gave us a bit of an insight into how Kobe could end up playing, and how it turns him into a more natural player at his position.
Kobe hasn't really been a natural shooting guard in the classical sense of the term since Shaquille O'Neal was in L.A., but there are definitely remnants of that game left over. And with the positional revolution being in full swing, it doesn't really mean much that he doesn't play the way a shooting guard was once expected to play.
Three facets make up the base of Kobe's offensive game: isolation, off-ball screens leading to jumpers and cuts to the rim, either as a distraction or a means of scoring.
He has always and will always be able to play an isolation game. Where his speed has taken a knock down, his strength and guile have increased, giving him new tools to get to an open shot. Nash being on the floor is going to allow Kobe to face off with a defender in situations where he's not expected to be the main facilitator. Instead, he's going to be able to focus solely on exploiting his man's weakness.
The biggest thing that Nash does is allow for more open jumpers from Kobe. Nash will be able to come in and run an offense like not even Kobe has been able to for the Lakers over the years. A series of screens (which the team's new Princeton offense is famous for) and ball movement (ditto) will lead to inevitable open shots for Bryant.
When I look back at the guys Nash has made better in his past, Joe Johnson is the go-to example. Back in 2005, Nash was able to play chicken with his offense against the opposition's defense. He had Amar'e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion in their offensive peaks. Translating the situation, Stoudemire and Marion are just Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol with a bit more range.
Joe Johnson fit into the offense as the guy coming off screens and knocking down open jumpers. He shot an astounding 47.8 percent from downtown that season because of the way Nash was able to play with his offensive toys.
Obviously, Kobe isn't Johnson. He's a great shooter, but he's not a guy who can hit nearly half of his three-pointers based on the fact that he gets too much attention from the defense and he's been known to put up some questionable shots. However, with how Nash is able to contort an offense at will, it wouldn't surprise me at all if Kobe put up a career high three-point percentage.
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