The Los Angeles Lakers managed to go 10-9 in 19 games without their best player by playing for one another and sharing the ball.But in two games with superstar Kobe Bryant back in the mix, they’ve struggled to adjust to his presence for a variety of reasons.
Ultimately with Bryant, the Lakers figure to be a better overall team. But there are a few points of caution as pointed out by Lakers swingman Nick Young on Sunday after L.A.’s loss to the Raptors:
Via Serena Winters of Lakers Nation:
“Sometimes you can catch yourself watching [Bryant] while you’re out there on the floor. … We can’t just defer to him every time.”
Consider that Young is 28 years old — seven years Bryant’s junior — and spent many of his formative years idolizing him as an L.A.-area native. Also consider the fact that outside of veterans Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, the average age of the rest of the team is 26.3 years old.
That’s almost 10 years Bryant’s junior, and considering where he fits in league history, it’s not difficult to understand why his teammates can get trapped gawking at his exploits — they’re literally fans.
Everyone has to adapt
As with everything concerning a major injury, coming back for Kobe is going to involve a long process for all parties involved. So far, it’s been a struggle.
The evidence lies in the film room. In two contests since Kobe’s return, the Lakers have been stagnant and looked out of synch on both ends of the floor after cohesiveness had become their calling card for the first quarter of the season.
Head coach Mike D’Antoni used a deep rotation in order to keep opponents guessing, and it paid dividends. What’s more is that on offense, L.A. found success in sharing the ball as well as any team in the league. Through 21 games, the Lakers ranked fourth in assists per game with 23.9, according to the NBA’s official stats site.
On two-point field goals, the Lakers were also well above the league average over the same period in assists percentage with a mark of 54.1 percent. The league average in that metric is 50.7 percent, which further illustrates their unselfishness.
In the very small sample size of two games with Bryant in the lineup, the Lakers are averaging 20.5 assists per contest. That’s below their season average and indicative of a shift in the way the team will have to play moving forward with him as the centerpiece.
How Kobe will fit in
These assists numbers are deceiving because they don’t tell the whole story. The Lakers are adept at sharing, but the bounty of assists come at the expense of shot creation. When the team has struggled this season, even pre-Kobe, it’s struggled to find a go-to player down the stretch. That means that when Bryant gets his form back, he will give the Lakers a much-needed lift in that area.
The Lakers’ greatest all-time scorer has made a career out of taking (and making) difficult shots, so it stands to reason that he’ll adjust his game adequately under the constraints of his serious Achilles injury. It’s up to everyone on and off the floor, from the front office to the players, to figure out how to get the personnel the Lakers have this season to mesh with the face of their franchise.
Los Angeles is rightly committed to Bryant by signing him to a two-year extension this year, not only for the player they still think he can be, but also for all he’s done.
He won’t be the master shot creator he was in his prime — Father Time alone can ensure that. But what Bryant won’t be is a mere shell of his former self.
He’ll still compete and bring a dynamic set of skills and unparalleled intensity to the table as always. For all of the difficulty the Lakers had on Tuesday night against the Phoenix Suns in a 114-108 loss, the silver lining was that Bryant appeared to get more of his legs underneath him and showed some explosiveness, even getting his first dunk of the young season.
It’s going to take some getting used to, but the Lakers are ultimately better off with their best player on the floor. How long it takes for that to show up in the win column depends on everyone’s ability to find balance on offense and limit rotational mistakes on defense.
That’s easier said than done.
Catch up with Michael C. Jones on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets.
Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist and was Yahoo’s 2012 Contributor of the Year. He is the founding editor of Sports Out West and also contributes to SB Nation and Examiner.
Source: Yahoo Sports