The Lakers have the talent, but how will they handle game-winning shots? (Brian van der Brug and Anne…)
The Lakers trail by one. The clock ticks down closer to zero. Everyone at Staples Center rises to their feet.
And then what happens?
Do the Lakers follow the script and let Kobe Bryant take the last shot? Do the Lakers feed it inside either to Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol? Do the Lakers have trusty point guard Steve Nash take charge in both organizing the offense and attempting the game winner? Would they even take their chances giving the ball to a wide-open Metta World Peace?
The Lakers have plenty of veteran savvy, basketball intelligence and talent to operate the right way. But it's because of these qualities that makes it critical the Lakers execute their late-game offense with the same proficiency as they do for the rest of the game. Health concerns aside, this nuance could mark another significant variable in determining the Lakers' championship prospects.
Every decision could have a positive effect.
Lakers fans well know Bryant's is proven in making game-winning shots. Bryant's talent level aside, the Howard-Gasol tandem will give the Lakers a definite post advantage. Nash isn't a 42% career three-point shooter by accident. And even if World Peace remains unpredictable, his wide-open look may have a better chance of going in than a teammate shooting through multiple defenders.
Every decision could have a downside too.
Sorry, Kobe fans. But the numbers don't lie. According to 82games.com, Bryant hit 32.7% of his shots last season in the final five minutes of the game with neither team ahead by more than five points. Dishing to Howard might not be a good option, considering his career 58.8% mark from the free-throw line. Gasol, at times, has shrunk from big moments. Nash may be needed more to look for an open man than taking the last shot. And World Peace's shooting has remained inconsistent.
Neither answer is correct or wrong. It matters more on how the Lakers actually run their offense for the last shot than who actually receives the ball for the potential game winner. That's why the Lakers should operate out of set principles.
First off, scrap the idea of having Bryant run isolation plays. Bryant made only 37.3% of those shots last season, and there's no reason to think that'd be more effective when he has so much talent around him.
Secondly, Nash has to run the offense. That doesn't mean he will always pass. It doesn't mean he will always take the last shot. It just means he should do the job he was brought here to do.
Thirdly, all of Nash's teammates need to move off the ball. Bryant must look for his sweet spots along the elbows, baseline and post. Howard and Gasol either need to establish post position or run pick-and-roll with Nash. World Peace must fill in the remaining gaps instead of standing idly behind the perimeter or clogging the lane.
Fourth, Nash must find the open man instead of passing to whoever's demanding the ball the loudest.
And lastly, each teammate must be prepared to take the last shot if they're open or make the additional pass if they're not.
This sounds so elementary. It could seem demeaning for a team that features four future Hall of Famers. But as we've seen in previous seasons, the Lakers' offensive principles frequently collapsed in the final moments because of a combination of Bryant's hero ball and the front-court's passivity.
With stronger talent, that may not be an issue this season. With the Lakers' strong basketball intelligence, this dynamic may happen instinctively. With the Lakers recognizing their short shelf life for a championship, they may put the egos aside for the sake of team play.
But as they trail by one with the clock ticking down and the Staples Center crowd rising to their feet, will the Lakers consistently make the right call on the final play?