It has taken about four days of practice for the Lakers to report feeling comfortable with a new offensive set that puts an added emphasis on floor spacing and ball movement. It apparently has taken Kobe Bryant only a few moments before mastering it without even practicing it.
“I told him a little bit and he was like, ‘Yeah I got it,'” Lakers coach Byron Scott said, smiling. “I wasn’t surprised. I knew he would. It’s not a big deal.”
The Lakers (11-49) also enter Tuesday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets (17-42) at Staples Center insisting it is not a big deal on how they will continue blending this new offensive sit with Bryant’s presence amid his expected return after nursing soreness in his right shoulder. As Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson mused, “He’s a basketball genius and will figure it out in two seconds.”
But when accounting for Bryant’s presence and the Lakers’ tendency to defer to their star player, how do the Lakers find the balance between adhering to the offensive principles while maximizing Bryant’s scoring abilities?
“I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” Lakers forward Julius Randle said. “We’ll create spacing and move the ball. It’ll help us operate and make plays for each other and for ourselves.”
Scott tweaked his offense last week during Thursday’s practice that he described as “one set with a ton of options.” That left little time for the Lakers to prepare before Friday’s loss to Memphis. The move also initially appeared headscratching considering the Lakers have only 22 games remaining. Yet, Scott said he reverted back to a motion offense his summer league team ran to prepare for the 2016-17 campaign.
“I was really torn on putting it in now or waiting until the summer to go over it with the younger guys and add it,” said Scott, though it should be noted he is not assured of coaching past this season. “But the coaching staff was like, ‘You know what? You might as well give them a taste of it now.’ Let’s get them familiar with it.”
Russell flourished with a 22-point outing against Memphis. But Jordan Clarkson only scored in single digits for the first time in 28 games, while the Lakers shot a collective 41 percent from the field. The Lakers’ veterans, including Lou Williams, Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass, may have experienced hiccups since they never ran that set yet this season.
“For the first game, you knew it was going to be rocky. Guys were thinking,” Scott said. “But in the next couple of days of practice it looked better and better. It’s just a matter of guys sticking to it and doing it on a day-to-day basis. At the end of the day, it’s something that will be better for us.”
One, the Lakers could use any help they can to end an eight-game losing streak and bolster an offense that ranks 27th out of 30 NBA teams in points per game (97.5) and 30th in field-goal percentage (41.4%). An improved offense could help the Lakers on transition defense, an area that has largely contributed to the team on pace to finish 28th in the NBA in points per game allowed (107.2).
Two, Scott hopes this new wrinkle could prevent a lost NBA season from becoming stale. The Lakers also wanted to prepare for life without Bryant.
“The biggest thing is to find ways to keep them as interested as much as possible. This set has done that,” Scott said. “This set also gives guys more of an opportunity to play. It’s not like you have two guys in the parking lot. This is five guys on the court who will all have the chance to touch the ball every single time they’re down the floor. That’s one of the biggest reasons I decided to do it now instead of later.”
But will the Lakers manage to do that with Bryant on the floor?
The Lakers believe so. Scott mentioned that all the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions are interchangeable. He added that he wants Russell, Clarkson and Bryant to run a fast-break after a rebound. But after decreased his shot attempts from December (17.4) to January (12.5), Bryant has averaged a team-leading 20.6 attempts in February.
“We’ll run it the same way. He’ll get his shots. He’ll find his places,” Clarkson said. “The offense will be fine with him.”