The Western Conference has long been more about finesse and style more than bruising basketball.
Spreading the floor and finishing with style is prioritized in NBA basketball on the west coast, and the Los Angeles Lakers have been at the center of that trend since the days of Magic Johnson and “Showtime.”
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It may be time for some Showtime again, as the Lakers are loaded with a plethora of talented perimeter playmakers who can shoot and score in different ways.
Kobe Bryant has been a smooth operator in the league since his 30th birthday, relying more on mid-range jump shots and elbow scoring opportunities than in his earlier days of being an athletic freak that would look to drive and finish most of the time.
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Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell, meanwhile, are young combo guards in the making, capable of playing both on and off the ball in different situations. Both can shoot the basketball (although Clarkson’s shot needs a little bit of work, as he shot 31.4 percent from three-point range last season), and both can penetrate the defense and score off the dribble.
Lou Williams is the hybrid of all three players if you will. He possesses the playmaking and shooting talents of Clarkson and Russell while also looking to be crafty in the mid-range similar to Bryant, all at a smaller size at 6-foot-1.
With so much talent at the guard spots, it’s going to be important for head coach Byron Scott to get all of them significant minutes. The good news (or bad news depending on how you look at it) is that the team doesn’t really have a designated big-time small forward. Bryant is already looking at that being his role, but Scott said something else interesting regarding a position for him.
"“The one thing that we wanted to do and accomplish through this draft and through free agency was to try and be a little more versatile, have some versatility. So I think (Clarkson, Russell, Williams) can definitely do that. Kobe can play 1, 2 and 3. There’s no doubt in my mind. And there’s some games. against some teams, where he’ll probably play 4. With his tenaciousness, the way he guards people and when his mind is set, if I say ‘Kobe, you’ve got him,’ he takes that as a challenge. You know how he is. He’ll compete.”"
Bryant playing the 4? It may not be as farfetched as you might actually think.
Being 6-foot-6 with perimeter skills and a competitive motor is becoming more and more of a blessing to coaches than it once was as lineup creativity continues to evolve.
These players are now not only playing the 2 and the 3, but also the 4 in pinches in order to play small ball to throw off the opposing defense by spreading the floor with as many playmakers as possible.
And what has Bryant excelled in the most at this point in his career? Post-ups and mid-range opportunities. Does this mean he should always be looking to set his back to someone who’s much bigger than him at the 4 spot? No, but he does have the moves and skill to get around those players and make something happen for himself and his teammates.
He’s the “Black Mamba” for a reason, folks. Bryant’s skill coupled with his fire and intelligence make him one of the most dangerous weapons in the league today, even if he’s been declining for a few years now.
The best part about a lineup with all four guards in place next to a big man? Bryant doesn’t have to create everything for himself, as Clarkson, Russell and Williams are all more than capable passers. This could save Bryant a lot of energy on the offensive end and ultimately make him more effective on defense as well.
Defense is the problem here, as all four haven’t necessarily been considered defensive stoppers in their respective careers, be it professionally or collegiate.
Blue Man Hoop
Bryant has been a plus defender throughout his career because of his size for the guard position and his athleticism, but he could struggle having to play against bigger players for extended minutes.
The Lakers do have Roy Hibbert at center to lock things down and be a rim protector in case the defense allows too much penetration, but he can’t be the only defender on the floor for a long amount of time.
Would this lineup be a starting lineup for the Lakers? Absolutely not. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t get any run at all. If they can all share the ball and use their skills to their advantage, then this could be one of the most dangerous lineups deployed for 15 minutes a night that the league has to offer.
While Los Angeles makes sure that second-year player Julius Randle is healthy and can handle the rigorous NBA schedule, this lineup could offer a little insurance when the offense looks a little mucked up. After all, Randle and Hibbert both do most of their damage in the post, which could clog the lane. And Randle’s recent struggles in the Summer League don’t help his cause either.
Versatile is the name of the game these days, and the Lakers could take the meaning of that word in terms of the NBA game to a whole new level if this experiment works.
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