How Kobe Bryant Will Operate with the Ball in Steve Nash's Hands
For most of their respective careers, both players have thrived with the ball in their hands at the start, middle and end of possessions. They have both been the primary perimeter-shot creators for their respective teams and now, in teaming up, they will need to find a balance when on the floor together.
For Kobe Bryant, this will mean an adjustment to how he operates on offense when playing with Nash. Luckily for the Lakers, Kobe has already proven that he can be more than effective when operating off the ball.
Working Off Screens
With Nash being the primary ball handler, Kobe will start most possessions off the ball. In the Lakers' Princeton offense, that means he'll mostly start high in a two-guard front but he'll also be able to start possessions on the wing or near the low block.
Regardless of where Kobe starts, though, he will be put in position where he is moved off screens in order to make a catch cleanly in order to set him up to take an open shot.
This possession starts with Derek Fisher bringing the ball up the left side of the floor and Kobe positioned on the right wing below the foul line. Fisher passes the ball to Matt Barnes on the wing and starts a UCLA cut off Andrew Bynum's shoulder, who then steps out to receive a pass from Barnes. Fisher then reverses field to set a back screen for Barnes and then executes a handoff with Bynum.
Meanwhile, on the weak side, Kobe hasn't even moved. He's standing in almost the exact same spot with Pau Gasol only a few feet away from him. But when Fisher takes the handoff from Bynum, Gasol sets a down screen for Kobe who pops to the top of the key where Fisher hits him with a pass. Kobe elevates and knocks down the wide-open jumper.
Kobe will have ample opportunity to play in sets just like this one when Nash is on the floor. He can start sets away from the ball, conserve his energy and then use picks to free himself up when the opportunity presents itself. These types of sets can result with wide-open jumpers and these are the exact types of shots the Lakers want Kobe taking (and the exact type the defense doesn't want to surrender to him).
Back Cuts and Lob Passes
As we showed above, Kobe can be such a threat when coming off picks that he has the ability to set himself up for shots when working off the ball by cutting at opportune times. When Kobe works off the ball, the D will expect him to use a pick to get free; he can use that aggressiveness against them.
On this play, Kobe actually starts the set with the ball in his hands but quickly gives the ball up to Gasol at the pinch post. This is a set up the Lakers will run often this season as it's a staple of the Princeton offense.
Once Kobe passes to Pau, you see him and Lamar Odom set screens for each other with Odom set to come back towards Pau for a handoff and Kobe set to flare to the corner for a jumper off the screen. However, Kobe fools the defense by cutting back door after feinting to the corner and Pau hits him with a nice pass that he converts for a lay in.
Kobe can also work off the ball in a way where he uses the idea of a screen against his man.
Here you see Kobe setting up at the pinch post on the weak side while Fisher looks to initiate the offense on the other side of the floor. Fisher is looking to the strong-side wing and into the post while also eyeing Lamar Odom who is standing above the top of the key. With no one open on the ball side, the next pass can either go to Lamar or Lamar and Kobe can exchange spots on the floor with Odom setting a down screen for Kobe. In one motion, Kobe fakes as if he's going to exchange with Lamar and then cuts back door (while tossing his man to the side) and Fisher hits him for a lob that he stuffs home.
When working with a creative passer like Nash, Kobe will be able to set up passes just like the one he received from Fisher, simply by playing in open spots of the floor where he can go in multiple directions based off the flow of the offense.
Kobe is one of the better spot-up shooters in the league. When he's able to set his feet and shoot his jumper in rhythm, he is extremely dangerous and is prone to hitting a high percentage of his shots. His success at this type of shot is one of the reasons critics want Kobe to shoot spot-up jumpers more often rather than doing so much work off the dribble.
When being paired with Nash, Kobe will have the opportunity do just that. Especially when Nash is running the pick-and-roll.
In these clips you can see how effective Kobe really can be off the ball with a pick-and-roll expert like Nash. In the first clip, Kobe simply trails the play while Ramon Sessions and Andrew Bynum run a sideline pick-and-roll in delayed transition. Sessions attacks the middle of the floor and then hits Kobe for an easy jumper as the defense collapsed.
You also see some creativity in the Lakers' sets when Kobe sets a screen for Pau, who then screens for Sessions who's handling the ball up high. After Kobe sets his screen, he floats to the corner to spot up. Sessions and Gasol run their pick-and-roll, Sessions again threatens the middle of the floor and then hits Kobe on the wing for the spot-up shot.
In the last clip, it is Metta World Peace who runs the pick-and-roll with Bynum, but the principle is the same. MWP accepts the pick, threatens the paint with an attack dribble and when the defense sags he hits Kobe with pass that he turns into a made three-pointer.
When playing with Nash, these are shots Kobe can and will get as a result of working more off the ball.
There is simply no way around the fact that Kobe will not have the ball as much throughout possessions as he has in the past. He will not be initiating the offense nearly as much as he has in past seasons and will need to work more off the ball via cuts and movement off picks rather than simply making a catch on the wing in isolation.
But, as you can see above, he's well suited to do these things already as they have been a part of his game for years. Playing with Nash will just mean he will be doing them more.
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