For all the star power added to the Lakers this season, by one measurement at least the team”s most effective duo is the one that”s been around for years.
Via the Elias Sports Bureau, in those moments where only two of L.A.”s Big Four are on the floor, by far the most effective combination is Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. In just over 251 minutes together, the Lakers are 107 points better than their opponents, a net 20.7 points per 48 minutes, when those two play without Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
By comparison, Kobe/Howard are plus-56 in 502 minutes (net 5.3 per 48), and Nash/Howard, plus-13 in 155 minutes. (Nash and Gasol have played only 13 minutes together without either Howard or Bryant on the floor, and lineups featuring Nash and Kobe without either big have been absolutely torched — minus-82 in 173 minutes, or -22.8 per 48.) Imperfect a stat as it might be, the numbers reflect something most people understand intuitively: Offensively, chemistry between players takes time and repetition to create, something in exceedingly low supply for the Lakers this season, something by definition available only to two of L.A.”s four All-Stars.
had a turn back the clock vibe, as the two-man game between Kobe and Gasol was on display more than it had been all season. Particularly late. While Gasol only had one shot in the fourth quarter — a lefty layup with about 90 seconds remaining on a beautifully timed feed from Bryant off the pick-and-roll — it felt like more because of how he and Kobe worked to set up shots, whether for Bryant or other teammates over the final 12 minutes and throughout the game.
“You can”t guard it,” Bryant said after of their two-man game, his legs dunked nearly knee high in a bucket of ice water. “There”s really no reasonable way that you can defend that… You”ve seen us run it over the years, and it”s really unstoppable. You have Dwight ducking in on the inside and put Jodie Meeks in the corner, you just hope we miss.”
In theory, the Kobe/Pau combo was supposed to be a big part of the whole offensive blueprint when this roster was assembled, except circumstances haven”t allowed. (And still aren”t, and won”t for the rest of the year.)
“It”s been a lot of figuring out, it”s been coaching changes, it”s been injuries. It”s been all that crap, man. But it”s better late than never,” Bryant said. But while Kobe tends to speak about all things related to L.A.”s attack with an air of confidence, regarding his chemistry with Pau it”s actually well-deserved. They have an understanding only time, trust, and track record can create. So now with Gasol rounding back into form and Bryant throwing everything he has physically into the Drive for Eight, it”s reasonable to expect the Kobe/Pau combo to play a larger role in the team”s final six games, particularly with Nash missing but even when he returns.
Kobe may be unlike the rest of us in nearly every regard, but he”s the same in this respect: In difficult, high leverage situations, he”ll default to that which he believes in, and trusts. And for all the unflattering animal comparisons with which he”ll tag Gasol, Kobe absolutely believes in and trusts him. Given the amount of ball handling Bryant does with Nash sidelined, the context of that game, the stretch run, and the season as a whole, it”s hardly a surprise to see Kobe lean on something familiar.
Certainly Pau would like to see more of Friday”s approach going forward.
“It”s important, because we”re both knowledgeable players. We both have high basketball I.Q.”s, we”re both high quality players,” he said of their two-man game. “So it”s not just about making plays, but to start out the offense that way and then see how the defense reacts, and then set somebody else up for a good shot. I think that”s important. That”s what we can do as players, and I like to see it happen the way it”s been happening lately.”
“We”ve played with each other the longest, for sure. So yeah, I think that was always a constant in the past, and it seemed to work pretty well,” Gasol continued. “I think it”s just smart if we continue to do that, not for ourselves but for the rest of the guys. Make easier shots for everybody else out there.”
After a season of fits and starts, in this way at least the Lakers could end up resembling something out of the (very recently buried) time capsule.