Point guard Steve Nash is still at least two weeks away from returning, and the Lakers remain stuck with Chris Duhon and Darius Morris at the point until the veteran is fully recovered. The team has continued to struggle under new coach Mike D'Antoni, and neither Morris nor Duhon has thrived in the new run-and-gun offense. Rather than create plays, they seem more than content to get the ball to Kobe Bryant and let fate take over.
That approach may have failed when Phil Jackson or Mike Brown was in charge, but letting Bryant run the offense with D'Antoni at the helm is probably the best thing for the team right now. He has completely bought into the fast-paced system, and is the Lakers' best playmaker with Nash still hurt.
That isn't to say that Bryant should automatically be the point guard. This is a system Nash knows well, and he will be the quarterback on the floor once he is fully recovered and ready to play again. However, in his absence, better to let Bryant be in charge instead of an untested youngster in Morris or someone like Duhon who is simply average, if even that.
This season alone, Bryant has already had some fine nights in the passing department. He notched 11 assists in a win against the Houston Rockets on November 18, and eight in the Lakers' recent victory over the Denver Nuggets.
His performance against Denver is particularly noteworthy, as he scored just 15 points on 5 of 15 shooting. His stat-line was less that of an elite scorer and more of a traditional scoring point guard. Granted, it's just one game, but it shows that Bryant can indeed turn down the scoring and focus on creating plays and getting his teammates involved.
D'Antoni can also create more opportunities on offense by installing Bryant at the point, namely by means of stretching the floor. Consider this: Bryant runs the point, Jodie Meeks starts at shooting guard and Metta World Peace starts at small forward. It's an unconventional approach, but still diversifies the Lakers' offense while Nash recovers.
Meeks may seem like an odd choice for the Lakers to start at the two. After all, he is only averaging 5.4 points over 11.8 minutes per contest this season, and hasn't really been overly impressive thus far.
That may be true, but Meeks has shot an astounding 41 percent from long range this season. Starting Bryant at the point and him at shooting guard gives the Lakers an uncanny ability to create more space on the court.
Bryant would probably be double-teamed under these circumstances, so either Meeks or World Peace would be left with a wide-open shot. All Bryant would have to do is dish the ball off to one of them and voila! Instant offense.
Throw in that World Peace and Meeks are shooting a combined average of 40 percent from long range, and this idea becomes even more appealing.
But wait...what about Pau Gasol? He has constantly struggled in D'Antoni's system, but seems built for it based on where most of his offense came from last season.
This is quite possibly the most important reason that Bryant should play point guard until Nash comes back. Kobe is in his sixth season with Gasol, a man with whom he has won two championships and made three trips to the NBA Finals. He knows how the Spanish seven-footer works, and will do a great job of creating plays that get the best out of him.
The same can be said for World Peace, who is currently in his fourth year playing with Bryant.
Look at it this way: Before Steve Nash, who did Bryant, Gasol and World Peace have getting them the ball that could be called a legitimate point guard?
There was Derek Fisher, who was a fine leader in the locker room. On the floor, however, he was little more than a shooter and averaged just 2.8 assists per game from 2008-2011. Rather than try and set plays, he just dished the ball off to Bryant and let the star guard take the wheel.
The Lakers also had Ramon Sessions for half of last season, who was definitely an improvement over Fisher. He averaged 6.2 assists per contest, but the Lakers' offense was still without a true pass-first point guard who could also be a force on offense, like Steve Nash is.
This makes Nash even more of a godsend to the Lakers, and particularly to Bryant and Gasol. His injury makes him an even greater loss, because Gasol and Bryant are now back at square one. Instead of having a reliable floor general getting them the ball, they are essentially on their own until Nash gets back.
By letting Bryant run the point, however, Mike D'Antoni can ensure that the Lakers stay in the Western Conference playoff race. The Black Mamba has great court vision and good relationships with his key teammates, and adding another shooter in Jodie Meeks to the mix would allow for D'Antoni's offense to be whole. As of now, with Nash out and the Duhon/Morris combo manning the one, D'Antoni is settling for having a puzzle that is missing a key piece.
Nash will make that puzzle whole again once he returns. Again, he is going to run the offense and Bryant will return to his usual spot at the two, but there's no telling when that will be, given Nash's slow recovery.
That said, the Lakers simply have nothing to lose in letting Bryant be the team's point guard in the short term. Duhon and Morris will do nothing but hold the offense's potential back, while Bryant can use his court vision and experience to get the best out of his teammates and keep the Lakers in the hunt until Nash comes back.
Once the future Hall-of-Fame point man does return from his injury, the Lakers' offense will be in full swing, and will go from being simply in the hunt to being a Western Conference superpower. That means in order to avoid digging the team into an even bigger hole, Coach D'Antoni must start Bryant at point guard, a gamble that is well worth the risk.
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