Pros and Cons of LA Lakers Lineup Without Kobe Bryant
For the sake of compiling our list of pros and cons, we will look at how they affect the Lakers’ ability to win games during the regular season and possibly even during postseason play.
Pro: Superior Ball Movement
The absence of Kobe Bryant from the lineup has transformed the Lakers into a unit that favors ball movement.
With Bryant on the floor, Mike D’Antoni was far too reliant on the former league MVP’s ball-handling and playmaking. This occasionally resulted in lack of movement off the ball and Bryant bailing out his teammates with low-percentage shots.
This isn’t to suggest the Lakers are better without their leading scorer, but with the team’s primary ball-handler absent, the Lakers must now rely on each other instead of one individual player.
Per NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, the Lakers have produced more assists on average with Bryant off the floor this season.
The ball movement produces great looks at the basket and makes the Purple and Gold a little unpredictable.
Con: Inability to Create off the Dribble
The Lakers might display better ball movement with Kobe Bryant out of the lineup, but they struggle in dribble penetration.
Steve Nash could certainly help out, but his injury means the Lake Show must rely on Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and Metta World Peace on this front, which is hardly an ideal choice.
The Lakers aren’t exactly one-dimensional, but the lack of ball-handling means they must operate from the post and from three-point range with little in between. According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, the Lakers attempt more shots from beyond the arc on average with Bryant off the floor this season.
Using the most recent game as an example, in the contest against the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers attempted 27 shots from beyond the arc and also generated 31 free-throw attempts.
There’s no reason to expect any different. The lack of dribble penetration will remove some of the creativity in the offense and add a small element of predictability.
Teams with variety are very tough to defend. The Lakers just lost some of it
Pro: Reestablishment of Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol has slowly regained his form and reemerged as the playoff stud from three seasons ago that helped the Lakers win a title. In the month of April, he is averaging 17.6 points, 11 rebounds and six assists on 53.1 percent field-goal shooting.
The absence of his superstar teammate changes his role and makes him the second-best player on the team, a position he is quite familiar with.
With Gasol playing the role of wingman, the Lakers have made it to three straight NBA Finals and won titles in consecutive seasons. That version of Gasol was always there, he was just on sabbatical for most of the season.
Gasol will now have added responsibility on his shoulders.
As evidenced by the victory on April 14 against the San Antonio Spurs, Mike D’Antoni will rely heavily on the Spaniard’s talents. Whether on the low block or in the high post, Gasol will often act as the hub of the offense and dictate which of his players get scoring opportunities.
With the two-time champion getting his fair share of possessions, the Lakers are far more likely to operate around the paint, where they get high-percentage shots.
Good or great offenses typically manufacture a multitude of easy looks, and running more of the offense through Gasol certainly points them in that path.
It’s worth noting that a productive and once-again skilled Gasol instantly becomes a huge trade chip in the offseason. Hence, Bryant’s injury actually inflates his value, given the additional possessions he gets to showcase his superb talent.
Con: Replacement-Level Talent
With Steve Nash injured, Kobe Bryant’s absence hurts the Lakers in more ways than one.
Missing your starting backcourt is painful. It promotes bench players into starter roles.
And let’s be honest, second-unit players usually occupy that role primarily because they aren’t good enough to be starters. Where things become infinitely trickier is when the newly promoted bench players need rest.
This means the Lakers must go deeper into their bench for the sake of giving the new starters a breather. Thus, Jodie Meeks, Chris Duhon and Darius Morris must now play bigger minutes.
Consider this little tidbit: Most of the lineups that featured Morris playing alongside starters this season had negative scoring differentials per NBA.com’s advanced stats tool. Now he will be playing next to other reserves.
Consequently, the Lakers’ wiggle room with their replacement players is almost nonexistent.
Pro: Twin Towers
On April 14, the Los Angeles Lakers played against the San Antonio Spurs and simply looked bigger and more imposing.
Same Lakers team, but the difference in philosophy and attitude gave the Purple and Gold a different type of edge.
Pau Gasol had one of the worst shooting games of his career, but it hardly mattered. The tag team of Gasol and Dwight Howard simply muscled their way on the interior for points, rebounds and free-throw attempts.
Although their stat lines didn’t completely reflect it, they were simply dominant. The pair combined for 33 points, 33 rebounds and six blocks. The added touches resulted in the tandem being far more active than usual at both ends of the floor.
This means that going forward, the team should get this type of effort on a nightly basis. Given that few teams have a power forward and center combination as formidable as the Lakers’, this certainly makes them a difficult matchup.
Establishing their dominance on the interior this late in the season makes it incredibly difficult for opponents to defend them given that they haven’t scouted this version of the Lakers yet.
Also, using Howard as the primary option gives him a taste once again of what it feels like to be the focal point of an offense. This could potentially even give him an incentive to re-sign with the team in the summer.
Con: No Hero Ball
In the past few seasons, the term "hero ball" has taken a negative connotation. It gets associated with everything that is selfish about basketball, and many have used Kobe Bryant as its poster child.
Mind you, in games where players are simply struggling from the field and the team needs to get out of a slump, hero ball can be quite useful. Bryant has had many scoring explosions throughout his career and they’ve been essential at times with games hanging in the balance.
This is unquestionably where the former league MVP will be missed the most. It’s not simply the outrageous point production, but also the late-game baskets. With Bryant on board, the Lakers always had a chance, provided the deficit was reasonably close.
And when the games got tight late in the fourth quarter, few players were more reliable than Bryant. Indeed, according to NBA.com/Stats, the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer is still presently tied with Kevin Durant in total clutch scoring (defined as the last five minutes of the game with the scoring margin within five points).
It stands to reason Mike D’Antoni will need a new plan. Bryant saved the Lakers countless times this season with his heroics at the end of games, but his teammates can no longer enjoy such a luxury.
They must now find a different course of action in these situations, and quite frankly, I’m not sure they can find a good one.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.