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While not a major signing by any means, the Lakers acquisition of Jason Kapono this off-season provided a glimmer of hope for a team that lacked a consistent threat from behind the arc. With Shannon Brown leaving Los Angeles for the Phoenix Suns, Kapono figured to get a good amount of minutes backing up Kobe Bryant at shooting guard.
Rookie Andrew Goudelock played well enough in camp to earn himself some minutes at the back-up shooting guard spot as well, so the role hasn’t belonged completely to Kapono. That said, Goudelock has only gotten serious playing time against teams that play a smaller two guard like Memphis, Phoenix and Golden State. In all other situations, Kapono has been the one getting the call.
It has been abundantly clear what Kapono’s role has been for Mike Brown: spread the floor. When the Lakers get into slumps offensively, specifically from the outside, Brown normally goes to Kapono to force the defense to play at least one of the Lakers perimeter players honestly. In theory, the career 44% three-point shooter should be able to keep defenders from collapsing on Los Angeles’ big men, but so far it has been the 2010-11 version of Kapono showing up for the Lakers. The one that played in just 24 games last season for the 76ers.
The reason is quite simple: Kapono is a spot-up shooter at this stage in his career, but Lakers don’t give defenses any reasons to cheat off of Kapono. He is rarely in the game with both Bynum and Gasol, so on post-ups, defenses aren’t doubling with his man, they’re doubling with Troy Murphy or Josh McRobert’s defender. And when he’s in the game with Metta World Peace, defenses leave him on purpose to double team the Laker big men. Kapono can still knock down the spot up jumper – he’s shooting 44% on 18 spot-up chances this season – but 18 looks in 10 games is a very small number.
Thus, Mike Brown has been forced to treat Kapono like his is Kobe Bryant. Literally.
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s piece…
One of the few gems of Mike Brown’s offense so far this season has been a nice little set designed to get Kobe Bryant a wide open jumper off of a screen. Take a look at the play develop, here:
Kobe has been incredibly effective on these plays, as he’s scoring 56% of the time he comes off of an off-ball screen. That scoring rate is 13% higher than off screen master Ray Allen.
Because Kapono has been a good mid-range shooter throughout his career and because the screen on the above play can be set a bit higher, setting Kobe up for a three-pointer, Mike Brown has been running the same set for Jason Kapono. Unfortunately, Kapono has only finished six possessions coming off of a screen, and every time the result has been a miss or a turnover.
There are few reasons for this:
1) Since his last effective season in 2008-09, Kapono has lost a step or two, and is no longer able to create separation from his defender while coming off of those screens. Even an aged Kobe is a good enough athlete to get to the ball considerably quicker than Kapono. During his time with the Raptors, Kapono was running all over the floor, likely coming close Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton in distance traveled during games. But he’s not that active anymore.
2) As his athleticism has declined, Kapono has also lost the ability to effectively shoot over his defender, which means he needs to be wide open on the catch to put it in. That’s not so great when you lack the speed to get open for the catch.
3) He’s been a bit hesitant to shoot as all Lakers not named Kobe Bryant have been this season.
Here are a couple examples of the set being run for Kapono, but to no avail.
McRoberts doesn’t get a direct screen on Kapono’s man, Randy Foye, but it seems like it will work out in the Lakers favor. Kapono doesn’t go past McRoberts and instead catches right behind him. Kapono’s momentum is going to his right while Foye’s is going to his left. This should be a wide open one dribble jumper for Kapono.
To top things off, McRoberts does get a piece of Foye as as he attempts to recover on Kapono. Three years ago, Kapono would have already hoisted the shot. Instead, he’s still yet to take his first dribble for the pull-up jumper.
Here’s another example from last night:
But Kapono doesn’t catch and shoot, and instead opts to take a dribble after the catch. This allows James Jones to recover, already within an a foot of Kapono. In this situation, Kapono could still get a good look off because Jones isn’t in front of him yet, but with Udonis Haslem there, he’s timid to pull-up in his face. For old school Kapono, this wasn’t a problem. The result was a kickout to Metta World Peace and a reset of the offense.
Based on his decent rate on spot-up chances, there’s some reason to believe that Kapono can still be an effective shooter. But unless he starts running a bit faster to the ball when coming off screens, he’s not likely to fill in the role of Kobe, even in a set catered to some of the strengths that made him an NBA player. Perhaps a boost to his confidence would make Kapono more comfortable firing off the shot even if it isn’t the cleanest look but for now it appears as if Mike Brown’s pretty good idea to space the floor is a fruitless one.
With Kapono not being able to provide scoring, the Lakers second unit offense has been anemic, especially from the perimeter. Sadly, this set being run for Jason Kapono has been one of the Lakers “staple” plays for their second unit and it has yielded almost no success. MWP isn’t going into the post very often anymore and for some reason Darius Morris isn’t getting involved into a lot of action that would allow him to create looks with his dribble. So if the defense can Bynum or Gasol from getting the ball in a good spot, the Lakers are hard pressed to score when their big three isn’t in the game together.
[If there's any silver lining, it'd be that in eight isolation situations against C.J. Miles, Jamal Crawford, Kevin Martin, Randy Foye and Vince Carter, Jason Kapono has yet to allow a field goal. Stats!]
Photo Credit: ICON SMI