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NBA / Mar 11, 2010 / 9:00 am

Stopping the Unstoppable: How do you guard Kobe and D-Wade?

Kobe Bryant (photo. Chris Sembrot)

Watching Kobe Bryant plunge another spear into the heart of another seemingly helpless opponent the other night, what struck me most wasn’t the degree of difficulty on Kobe’s Jordan-esque corner fadeaway, nor the sunken shoulders of the Toronto Raptors the moment the ball touched the net — even though they technically still had a shot to win the game.

What struck me most was Kobe’s reaction. Or better yet, his non-reaction. While even the coolest young guns like Kevin Durant and Brandon Roy still punctuate their game-winners with Scarface sneers and enthusiastic jersey-popping, 31-year-old Kobe treats his game-winners like he just finished a round of pinochle. And more and more, it seems opposing coaches and defenders have resigned themselves to the idea that Kobe is going to get where he wants for the shot he wants; they can only pray he misses.

You’ve heard it from enough TV analysts and writers: “There’s nothing you can do” against Kobe and the NBA’s other elite clutch scorers when it comes to a last-shot situation. Too bad it isn’t true.

At this point, knowing the Lakers’ personnel and the mindset of their superstar, I don’t understand why every team facing a possible Kobe dagger doesn’t double-team #24 from the moment he walks out of the huddle. I don’t understand why they keep putting the token athletic 6-5 or 6-6 “stopper” on Kobe in single coverage, knowing he wants to and can get off his patented fadeaway over them. What sounds easy isn’t as hard as you’d think: Make Kobe pass the ball.

One time last month the Grizzlies mixed it up, and it worked. Seven-foot Marc Gasol stepped out on Kobe, kept his hands in the air like the cops were on him and moved his feet, and he forced Kobe to pass to Ron Artest so he could miss the big shot. And no disrespect to Ron-Ron, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol or anyone else in purple and gold, but 10 times out of 10 with the game on the line, I want them shooting wide-open rather than Kobe taking it with a hand in his face.

D-Wade (photo. Jeffery Salter)

The same night Kobe was downing the Raptors, the Bobcats faced a similar dilemma with Dwyane Wade. Up three with seven seconds left, Miami ball, you could see the Charlotte coaches screaming “THREE!” at every player on the court. I can only assume the message was either, “Don’t let No. 3 get the ball,” or “Don’t let No. 3 take a three.” Although Wade did get the ball and he did get off a three-pointer, Charlotte’s D was more effective than Toronto’s. After forcing Wade into a corner before the inbound pass — using the sideline and baseline as extra defenders to limit his operating space — the taller Gerald Wallace contested the shot and Wade missed.

“They were all over our initial set,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the Miami Herald. “It’s tough when you’re down three to get a clean, clean look. Dwyane got about as good a look as you can get when everybody knows it’s got to be a three.”

But beyond the fact that Wade missed and Kobe didn’t, there was another big difference in the two plays: Wade faced a defense designed to make him miss, while Kobe faced a defense that was only designed to hope he missed.

Like Kobe, Wade was single-covered. But knowing he is more of a natural playmaker (a.k.a. willing passer) than Kobe who tends to keep his teammates more involved throughout the fourth quarter even in tight games, and knowing his jumper isn’t as reliable as Kobe’s, doubling Wade at the end of a game is more dangerous.

“When we play as a team, playing defense by talking a lot, I don’t care who it is — Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant — it’s tough to score on us,” Wallace told the Charlotte Observer.

Crash is right: Talking and communicating is crucial over the course of a game. But on a last-second play, the most important words should be spoken in the huddle. Everyone should know their job, everyone should know the tendencies of the guys on the other side, and everyone should especially know the habits of the superstar who is most likely to have the ball in his hands in crunch time. Don’t take any chances that a defender has to guess.

Or maybe it’s more simple than that. Maybe it’s simply that Larry Brown is a better coach than Jay Triano, or that Gerald Wallace is simply a better defender than Antoine Wright. Either way, through preparation and knowing your opponent, there’s no reason for any defense to feel helpless.

How would you defend the League’s go-to players — Kobe, D-Wade, LeBron, Carmelo, Durant, Dirk, Pierce, etc. — with the game on the line?

More NBA Superstars:
The Definitive List of Kobe Agitators
Allen Iverson responds to his fans
Is Chris Paul a product of the system?

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  • My Favorite Superhero

    It’s just like the announcers say, these guys are going to get their shots off no matter what, they’re focused on letting everything ride on their shoulders….when you’re facing something like that, it’s hard to really stop it.

  • jackie moon

    whatever you do against those players in that list, don’t foul them. Lebron’s the only guy there who’s not automatic from the stripe.

  • K Dizzle

    You gotta double with size like Memphis did and pray he’s not feelin like givin it up. The other night, vs Toronto, Kobe just dribbled away from the d and pulled up, but as Bargnani was comin over, Lamar was cuttin to the hoop and if Kobe wanted to, he coulda hit him for a easy layup.
    The issue with gamewinning shots is confidence and bragging rights. Like u said, EVERYBODY in the gym KNOWS Kobe gettin the rock, so why does the opposing coach let him get it? Cuz teams know, holding or fouling before the ball is inbounded is murder. The Lakers do a great job of getting the ball to Kobe at crunchtime and letting him decide. Kobe is like 5 of 7 this season and the two times he did pass up the shot, Ron missed in Memphis and then just this weekend found Fish and Ron who missed chances before Kob missed against Barnes and even then, the double was comin and Gasol was open under the hoop. So Kobe’s mindframe gotta be “Why would I pass this when I KNOW I’ll hit it?”
    As Laker fans, we take the good with the bad and it’s mostly been good

  • jackie moon

    everyone, except LBJ, is automatic from the stripe. so don’t foul…

  • fallinup

    Deny them the ball. By all means necessary. If he gets the ball… double…. but most importantly.. ROTATE, ROTATE, ROTATE!!!

    In a last shot situation. The ball should NOT move too much… if it is… you’re playing lazy defense. You can’t stop everyone from getting open… but you should at least be able to deny an open shot. It’s only half court defense.

    Larry Brown is one of the best in the game for his half court defensive sets. He did it with an underrated Pistons team verses a very stacked Lakers team for the chip.

  • Ian

    well there are a bunch of players you cant single cover in the league the only thing is double so some scrub can take the game winner.

  • Scott

    Um, ya, I’m pretty sure Crash is a 100% better defensively than Antoine Wright. And a double team would’ve been nice on a guy who’s lit up your squad for 81 in the past. lol.

  • Claw

    Teams are idiots, like the Raptors. Putting a smaller player on him is ridiculous because he just shoots over them. Need to double with a quick guard and an athletic big, Bosh should have been all over him. Make him pass because he usually won’t do it and would rather take a bad shot.

    Double definitely and make him take a bad shot.

  • Kermit The Washington

    It’s all about that team defense. Like fallin up said, you gotta get that rotation. I’ve actually seen teams rotate in the WRONG DIRECTION, leaving the one guy they were supposed to be rotating to WIDE OPEN. The 04 Pistons had, and the 08-present Celtics have that down PAT. If they wanna deny someone the ball, it’s a done deal. Kobe only got his game-winner against them because he’s nasty (and the fact that this was one time they decided to let Ray go one on one…and he almost locked him up).

  • Kermit The Washington

    And the only problem with “making him take a bad shot” is that some of these guys (Kobe, DWade, Melo in particular) are just as good at “bad shots” as they are at “good shots”. So what you REALLY wanna do is not let him take a shot at ALL; make him have to pass that off to someone else. Any shot is a good shot from those guys at that point in the game.

  • yoda

    kobe and rest of top tier players work on theirs “bad, hard” shots, like other players work on theirs free throws. i’ve read once, after kobe hit hard 3 pointer, that he works on those shots, he practices shooting over one or two guys, and he said he’ll take those shots every day. when there is 3 guys on him, then he’ll decide should he pass. ofc, unless there is wide open guy under the basket. so, when you see kobe taking ill advised shot, its not like some other guy is doing it. he actually works on those impossible shots in gym, whole summer. i guess only tactic is to deny them ball. its too late to try to stop them when they have ball in theirs hands

  • LakeShow84

    All you can do is pray and hope the players nerves get in the way..

    Double too early and too far out and you got touch passes to the hoop that’ll give you a easy layup (especially with Gasol&Odom)

    Double too late and Kobes will rise over whoever is in front of him

    So in Kobes case with him being able to get his shot off whenever/whereever he wants, its pretty hard to pick who/when/where you start your double team..

    With Melo, Dwade and Kobes its all about prayer lol

  • http://heckler@aol.com Heckler

    it shouldnt be that difficult to defend any of them players. as the opposing team, YOU KNOW EXACTLY what each of them want to do already.

    Cleveland doesnt even call a play. LeBron gets it at the top of the key. end of story. LeBrons preference is to go left from top of the key. make him go RIGHT and double with a big.

    Dirk want the ball at the foul line a post position with his back to the basket. then he’ll face up (to see if you send a double). If no double comes, he gonna dribble left twice. then pull up with a pump fake. then take a fallaway jumper.

    Wade is gonna use a screen. usually off Haslem, but if Miami needs a three, it’ll be a 2/1 screen. meaning the point guard (as the 1) will set the screen for Wade (on Wades defender who is normally a 2) so its called the 2/1 screen for Miami. Wade will drive unless the path is clear and he’ll pull up for the 15ft jumper; mainly going left.

    Carmelo and Durant both want the ball on the wing. Durant is only going to give you a jump shot. So just play him tight.
    Carmelo might put the ball on the floor for a power dribble and then pull up and rise.

    Kobe is the most difficult it seems.
    against toronto and miami (last week) Kobe went right. against milwaukee, he dribbled full length of the court, went left by backing the defender down and then did a turnaround.
    against boston and orlando (last week) he operated at the foul line.
    he can and will get the ball anywhere and go anywhere else on the court. you probably have to send a double team and rotate off Odom or Artest if they’re on the court.

    also…
    not included….Manu Ginobli is probably a NIGHTMARE to defend when he is healthy

  • Claw

    @Lakeshow – So you are making the assumption that Kobe would pass the ball?

    He’s not giving up the rock, double early and often. He has made 7 game winners but has also missed shots, we only remember the made ones. Short memory since he missed last Sunday over Barnes (again Orlando didn’t double, idiots!)

    After DFish, you have confidence in anybody else to drill a game winner?

  • SP
  • SP

    Also, did you even watch the play? Wright and Bargnani were ALL OVER Kobe. They played it textbook by forcing him baseline so there would be 2 more defenders with the sideline and baseline for a total of 4 defenders. He made a really tough shot. Period.

  • yoda

    heckler, another problem with defending kobe is that he, if he wants, can shoot effing 3 points with his left hand :S
    that is why he’s so hard to defend, his strong with going left or right, doesn’t matter to him. but what you said for other players, you are right.

  • Blake Superior

    Double team the superstar.
    The other 3 players play a 1-2 zone.
    Works everytime.

  • gotodrickhall

    First thing you do when guarding Kobe in crunch time is make sure the refs watch for his travel. Then just stick everything you have in his face.

    With Wade, you have to get in his way. If he drives, force a charge. If he runs the perimeter, block it off!

    Both will still light it up.

  • Ron Artest

    Pull down their shorts and throw their shoe in the stands

  • http://twitter.com/PoppiGEE POPPI GEE

    Real Simple Don Chaney showed us the way all you need is a ……GOON!

  • Sporty-j

    Man this is a good 1 D-Wade is to fast Kobe-is finess at its finest. Lebron-Pure power and strength Melo-He can pull up or do a spin move on you while he powers the ball in the whole. Dirk-Hes the more simpler one if you ask me because he wants it at the top of the foul line and will SHOOT for sure. Durant-Will shoot also like Melo and i doubt if hes going to drive like Melo would. I think you should always let the teams least likely player on the floor to beat you, beat you take the last shoot out of the 5 thats out there, but coaches always do the opposite especially when it comes to Kobe. Example… When the Lakers played the Heat. You saw Artest and Odom running with D.Wade the whole time at the end of regulation that sent that game to overtime. But the key to that is that not only did they have there best Defender on Wade, they sent there most ATHLETIC PF at Wade who was quick enough to run out there instead of a slower Gasol or Bynum. A lot of people coaches need to take note of that and thats great coaching by Phil. Kobe takes the last shoot against Toronto and they mot only have some short chump on him. They send a SF at him that Kobe is just as big as, instead of sending Bosh. Everbody knew Wade was going to take that last shot like Kobe, but one coach did the right defensive game plan while the other did a plan that will get you fired and will probably hurt his teams positioning in the playoffs. As in he might have to face the Cavs or Orlando instead of the Hawks or Celtics. See the differnce in all??? These guys are not only to good offensive to guard each other. But want D.Wade or Lebron guarding Kobe with a big like Odom running out there to help because even those guys who are the best like Kobe, Wade or Lebron cant guard each other because each one is so unique and different and brings something else to the tabe that the other doesnt.