The Los Angeles Lakers hit a snag against the Sacramento Kings, but Kobe Bryant played well nonetheless, pouring in 38 points on 11-for-20 shooting from the field. Of course, small sample size caveats apply, but Bryant will have a career season if he stays anywhere close to his current pace.
The Mamba is taking fewer shots, better shots and mostly within the flow of a moving offense. Even if Wednesday night's Kings game featured a return to Iso-Kobe, the trends have mostly been good.
First, I want to cite an instance where the pick-and-roll failed, just to elucidate how important it can be.
In the below play against Sacramento, Dwight Howard slips his screen to make a run at the basket. This can be a fine tactic, if employed correctly. However, there's plenty of coverage waiting for Howard, and he doesn't seem to have read the situation. As a result, a covered Bryant is forced into taking a difficult push-shot. He makes it, but it's not an ideal circumstance.
The lesson: No screen, no space.
Dwight is usually a great pick-and-roll partner, but part of what makes him special is the ability to fly over the top of the action. Defenses are so consumed with maintaining coverage when two players are screening that they can fall asleep on lob attempts to him.
We can actually see an example of this against these same Kings in the preseason. Dwight sets a ball screen for Kobe and rolls to the hoop. Unlike his above slipping action, Howard actually juts out to make contact and screen Bryant's man. From there, Howard rolls to the basket.
Now, the defense may have any basic bounce or chest pass to Dwight covered. But what they don't have is any recourse for a lob that the athletic Lakers center can catch.
Sometimes, Howard gets free lobs off screen-and-roll actions that don't even involve him. In the below play, Bryant and Pau Gasol play a two-man game, screening twice. When Kobe finds Gasol behind the sluggish Brook Lopez, Brooklyn's defense is compromised, allowing Howard to get the alley-oop.
Pau is also helping Kobe by maintaining an accurate jump shot. I slowed down three Gasol-to-Bryant pick-and-rolls to their choppy essence below, and you can see how Kobe can get easy assists when defenses follow him off the screen.
If Pau is hitting that midrange jumper, it can open up lanes for Kobe to drive, as he does off the third screen play in this sequence.
There are even instances where the mere prospect of the pick-and-roll can discombobulate the opposition.
Against the Rockets, Pau comes over to Bryant for the screen. Kobe takes advantage of the defense's anticipation and rushes off towards the opposite direction. The result is a defensive breakdown and an open dunk for Dwight.
The pick-and-roll is ubiquitous in the NBA, but it's Mike D'Antoni's specialty. Though the Lakers lost a bad one to the Kings, Bryant will benefit from D'Antoni's PnR imprint in the future.