Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol running the Lakers' go-to play.
The arrival of Mike D'Antoni as Los Angeles Lakers head coach has brought a new offense and new roles for his players. Gone is the Princeton offense with its balanced floor and emphasis on high-post play; in is D'Antoni's spread attack that focuses on an open floor with a lot of weak-side attacking.
The new offensive scheme has brought a fast-paced, high-octane approach, and the results have been (mostly) high point totals and better results in the win-loss column. And while the overarching theme to the Lakers attack is definitely an increased tempo and emphasis on open-court basketball, the key play in the half court is the pick-and-roll.
The Lakers have versatile personnel who can run this pick-and-roll action very effectively. And with those players, they can also explore a variety of options within the action to produce breathtaking results:
On this pick-and-roll, the Lakers set up with Dwight Howard in the post while Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are up high on the left wing. Gasol and Kobe then initiate the pick-and-roll while Howard fights for deeper position down low. When Kobe turns the corner, he attacks the paint, draws multiple defenders (including Howard's man) and then floats a lob pass up to Howard that he finishes with the monster dunk.
Note that Howard was so open because Kobe is such a threat to score coming off the screen. Coming off the pick and flying into the teeth of the defense is a position Kobe is more than comfortable with, and because of that fact, the defense has to respect him when he's attacking the paint.
When Kobe is in attack mode coming off the screen, few are better than him at creating a shot:
Here you see Kobe set up high in the middle of the floor with Howard approaching to run a direct pick-and-roll. Howard slips the screen but the effect is the same: Kobe goes hard to his right hand and gets his man off balance. Dwight diving hard to the rim effectively occupies his own man, and this allows Kobe to play one-on-one. Once Kobe gets the advantage, he elevates for a one-handed push shot that he hits, drawing a foul on the process.
That's not the cleanest looking pick-and-roll, and because Dwight slipped the screen it's not as conventional as the first clip. But because both players are such threats in acting out their roles—Howard on the dive and Kobe attacking with his dribble—the play works great.
As I mentioned earlier, a key to the Lakers' success in running this play is the fact that multiple players can do multiple things within the action. Pau and Dwight can both set screens; both are threats to finish. Their dual abilities mean that the defense has to respect both players at all times.
This leads to fantastic plays that evolve organically:
This play starts with a simple Kobe/Howard pick-and-roll going to the middle of the floor from the left wing. After Howard sets the screen, he dives hard to the paint and forces the defense to rotate in front of him to take away the passing angle. Meanwhile, Kobe strings out his dribble, as his man did a good job of fighting over the top.
Kobe then sees Gasol, who sets another pick on Gerald Wallace in order to try and create a second pick-and-roll opportunity. After using that pick, Kobe explodes to the paint but finds multiple defenders there to contest his shot so he passes back to Gasol.
Kobe then runs off another screen from Gasol and hits him with a pass, and then Gasol follows that pass with a soft lob over the top to Howard, who finishes with a dunk.
This is the type of play that defenses really can't game-plan for; there are simply too many actions within the possession to completely stop. Initially, the Nets did a very good job of bottling up the Lakers, but as the possession evolved their defense slowly broke down to the point that it allowed the highest-percentage shot imaginable.
Of course, not every pick-and-roll will end in a dunk. In fact, the Lakers will run the action to produce jump shots for wide-open shooters. Defenses are most often designed to rotate and take away shots right at the rim, so the result is often a wide-open jump shot to a capable shooter:
Here, the Lakers run the pick-and-roll from the middle of the floor to the right side of the court. Gasol sets a good pick for Kobe, who comes clean off the screen and occupies multiple defenders as he threatens the paint. Gasol, meanwhile, does not dive to the rim, instead popping to the top of the key as a release valve for Kobe. Kobe sees that Pau is wide open and hits him with a nice pass.
At this point, it's important to notice where Deron Williams is. Williams is forced into a position where he's guarding two players based off the Nets' rotations. He has responsibility to cover Gasol but also to rotate back to Metta World Peace, who is standing on the opposite wing.
After Gasol catches the ball, Williams correctly rotates to him to take away the jumper. But Gasol recognizes this and swings the ball to a wide-open World Peace, who hits the jumper.
In D'Antoni's scheme, the point is to create easy shots for players by moving the ball to the open man when the defense overcompensates. By using the pick-and-roll so frequently, the Lakers are putting the defense into a position where they have to make hard choices on how to defend this action.
The Lakers are showing they have the talent, skill and versatility to exploit defenses by stringing out this play and exploring the various options. As they get more floor time together and their chemistry improves, their results should also get better.
Which, for the rest of the league, is trouble.