When discussing shooting guards on the Los Angeles Lakers, one name comes to mind.
If the Black Mamba is healthy enough to get back for the start of the regular season, he’ll be as spectacular as he’s ever been. But whether or not he can recover from a torn Achilles in an unhuman amount of time is up in the air.
Even Bryant, one of the most driven players in all of sports, is unsure if it’d be wise to push himself back for opening night.
Here’s what he told Rob Garratt of Time Out Dubai on September 10: “I’m feeling pretty good, stronger than I was. I’m ahead of [my recovery] schedule. I don’t know [whether] that means I’ll start the season – I hope so.”
Whenever he does come back, Bryant will be the team’s primary shooting guard. Although his minutes are likely to wane from the ridiculous 38.6 he averaged in 2013, there should be no drop-off in his production.
Despite his unwavering will to return as soon as he can, there’s a chance that Bryant’s recovery takes longer than expected. It's entirely possible that he could miss the first month or two of the season.
After all, he is a human being.
If the Mamba can’t go, Jodie Meeks will get the nod.
Meeks is the only other shooting guard currently on the roster, but he too is recovering from an injury. He suffered a third-degree strain in his left ankle during the first game of the postseason—horrible timing as Bryant had just gone down with the Achilles with two games left in the regular season.
However, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, Meeks should be 100 percent healthy to start the season.
After just four years in the NBA, the Kentucky graduate has showcased many different aspects of his game.
First of all, Meeks loves to shoot. If he touches the ball, there’s a strong chance he’ll find a way to get a shot off.
But while his affinity for high-volume shot attempts has occasionally driven coaches crazy, Meeks can really fill it up at times—the dude can flat-out score.
Through four seasons, Meeks has contributed eight points a night while shooting 40 percent from the field, but last season he scored more than 15 points in nine different games.
He’s got a quick first step off the dribble and can hit shots from beyond the three-point arc. With a bigger role in his sights next season, head coach Mike D’Antoni is going to have to put his young shooting guard in the right positions.
Last season, Meeks shot just nine percent from the field in isolation situations, via Synergy Sports. That’s right—nine. However, as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, the 26-year-old connected on 43 percent of his shots.
Meeks is in line for a huge role next season, and he has to be ready for it—especially if Bryant needs longer than expected to recover.
D'Antoni's Other Options
Although there aren’t any other true shooting guards on the Lakers’ roster, D’Antoni will have the chance to get creative with his rotations.
Each of those guys will bring a unique skill set to the court.
A career 37 percent shooter from downtown, Young will be the three-point assassin. If he’s plugged in as the 2-guard, his job will be the stretch defense and knock down long-range shots.
Johnson is ridiculously athletic. If D’Antoni chooses to give him some minutes at shooting guard, it will be to match the three-year forward up with the opposing guard or to try to get the team going in transition.
It should be noted, however, that Johnson and Young will primarily see time in the Lakers’ small forward rotation.
If Steve Nash’s health breaks down, Farmar will take over the point guard role, but otherwise he’s going to have to find minutes elsewhere. If Bryant can’t return as early as he wants to and Meeks is struggling, Farmar would be a viable option to plug in as a shooting guard.
The Lakers aren’t exactly stacked at shooting guard, but they’ve got a lot of options that D’Antoni will experiment with as the season unfolds. Even if Bryant misses some time, the team will have pretty reliable production in the backcourt.
But when the Mamba inevitably comes back, watch out—the Lakers are going to be a dangerous team.