Just to be clear, the title of this article is not whether the Los Angeles Lakers are better off without Kobe Bryant, but whether Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are better off without Kobe Bryant. Make no mistake, any team with a Kobe Bryant is better off than a team without a Kobe Bryant.
Having said that, Kobe Bryant is a ball dominant shooting guard. Kobe is not a spot up shooter, but a dribble drive penetrator and a pull-up shooter off the dribble. This means that Kobe needs the ball in his hands in order to be effective. It is no coincidence that Kobe has never played with a ball-dominant point guard his entire career. I still believe that the Chris Paul experiment would have failed if David Stern didn't intervene. It’s also no coincidence that the only time Kobe Bryant has ever gotten a ball-dominant point guard such as Steve Nash, that Nash is the one that turned into a spot up shooter, not Kobe.
However, now that Kobe is gone, the offense for the Lakers flows through the post on a much more consistent basis. As spectacular as Kobe Bryant is, especially at the age of 34, the strength of the Lakers has always been their size. The acquisition of Pau Gasol at the power forward position has given the Lakers the size advantage over every team in the league, in particular with Andrew Bynum and Howard playing the center positions.
In the last game of the regular season against the Houston Rockets, Howard scored 16 points and grabbed 18 rebounds and Pau Gasol went off for a triple double with 17 points, 20 rebounds, and 11 assists. There have been some games this season where either Howard or Gasol have played like All-Stars, but this is the first time that both big men have played well together in one game.
Coincidence? I think not.
If the Lakers have demonstrated anything the past two games, they have shown that they can be an inside-out team or a high-low team in the post. However, when head coach Mike D’Antoni has Kobe Bryant playing nearly every minute of every game, the offense tends to stall and the ball doesn’t wind up in the post nearly enough. Instead, Kobe Bryant is being worn out by creating contested mid-range shots or penetrating into an overcrowded paint for the majority of the season. What D’Antoni failed to see was that Kobe Bryant probably could have rested 12-15 minutes per game while the offense flowed through Dwight and Pau. With Pau's passing ability and 15 footer, there was never any reason why the two big men couldn't have flourished together earlier. What ended up happening instead was that the Lakers offense centered around Kobe Bryant at the top of the key, which forced Pau Gasol to the corner three.
A Kobe Bryant-less team is not better than a team with Kobe Bryant, but the Los Angeles Lakers will never reach their full potential when Kobe returns, unless they can utilize Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard to their maximum potential. And that means more inside-out and high-low basketball.