How Each LA Lakers Role Player Can Help Kobe Bryant When He Returns
While the Los Angeles Lakers have shown high levels of chemistry and continuity in the early stages of the 2013-14 season, the team is far from complete.
The anticipation for Kobe Bryant’s return from his gruesome Achilles injury last season is mounting, and the Mamba is working to get back on the court as soon as possible.
Vino has never played with Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson or Nick Young and last took the court with Jordan Farmar four years ago. While Bryant has some history with Jordan Hill, the 6’10” forward is going into just his second full season in L.A.
Despite the lack of experience that those role players have in taking the floor alongside Bryant, each one of them—in his own specific way—will make Bryant's transition back onto the court easier.
Because they play the same position, Jodie Meeks and Bryant will very rarely be on the floor at the same time.
However, the fact that the fifth-year pro has picked up his game and averaged over 11 points a night will decrease the need to give Bryant serious minutes before he’s ready.
While Chris Kaman has played well in his first season with Los Angeles, his presence on the court will not affect Bryant when he returns.
Kaman doesn’t have the post ability of Pau Gasol or the rebounding prowess possessed by Jordan Hill, so whether or not he’s on the court won’t matter to the Mamba.
5. Jordan Hill: Offensive Rebounding
As incredible as Bryant is, he’s going to be hit with a harsh reality when he returns to the court after months of being on the sidelines. Not every shot is going to go in.
If Kobe has even an ounce of human in him, odds are he’ll be very rusty. And that’s where Jordan Hill comes in.
Missing open three’s, firing ill-advised jumpers and botching layups will absolutely kill the flow of any offense across the NBA. However, relentlessly hitting the offensive glass has a backbreaking effect on defense.
When Bryant misses—and he will miss, believe it or not—Hill, who leads the Lakers in offensive rebounding, will be there to clean it up.
The Mamba will have the security blanket of one of the game’s best offensive rebounders, which will result in less hesitation when he launches from outside the paint.
4. Wesley Johnson: Perimeter Defense
Immediately upon his return, however, he won’t be asked to guard the opponent’s best player.
Wesley Johnson, who signed a minimum deal with Los Angeles over the summer, has drawn comparisons to Shawn Marion by coach Mike D’Antoni as a result of his defensive prowess, according to the Los Angeles Times:
“What coaches have to coach Shawn Marion?” D’Antoni said. “That was the experience I had and I told Wesley and that's a lofty goal, no doubt about it, because Shawn is obviously one of the better players in the league -- but [Johnson] has a lot of those qualities. He can do that. He can disrupt at the four.”
At 6’7”, Johnson will be matched up against some of the premier guards and forwards whom Bryant would normally draw as his defensive assignments.
It doesn’t have to be permanent, but Johnson’s versatility will allow Bryant to focus his jumper and getting used to full-speed basketball again.
3. Nick Young: Spacing the Floor
Even at 35 years old and coming off of a devastating injury, Bryant is going to demand the attention of opposing defenses. It was just a season ago that he averaged over 27 points and six assists a game while dragging his Lakers into the playoffs.
Teams are going to plan their defensive schemes around Bryant and do everything they can to make his return uncomfortable. However, double-teams will not be a part of that plan thanks to Nick Young.
Swaggy P is one of Los Angeles’ top shooters and will be able to draw potential help defenders away from Kobe.
According to Vorped’s shot charts, Young is shooting over 55 percent on mid-range jumpers and hitting 46 percent of his shots from the field.
Although he’s connected on just 33 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, Young has flashed the ability to light it up from downtown throughout his career, totaling over 100 made three’s in two of the past three seasons.
In addition to spacing the floor, Young will also be able to offer Bryant some of his legendary swag.
2. Jordan Farmar: Ball-Handling
With Steve Nash in and out of the lineup, Vino’s six assists per night last season tied his career high. However, matching up against guards like Ricky Rubio, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving in the second half of the year may have contributed to the Achilles injury that’s kept him on the sidelines.
Nash is still great—but he’s 39 years old and one of the most injury-prone players in the league. Farmar, coming off a season of overseas stardom in Turkey, has given the Lakers about 10 points and five assists a game in 22 minutes.
Farmar is the team’s best option at point guard right now and will take a lot of pressure off of Bryant in regard to ball-handling duties. His ability to penetrate and kick will get the Mamba open looks from the perimeter and minimize the amount of help defenders he’ll see once he returns.
1. Xavier Henry: Scoring
L.A.’s offense is thriving under Mike D’Antoni this season.
The Lakers are putting up over 100 points a night, led by an unexpected explosion at the shooting guard position by Xavier Henry.
The 22-year-old Henry, who ranks as the team’s second-leading scorer behind Pau Gasol, has found a home in Los Angeles after struggling with the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets for three seasons.
Due to Henry’s impressive production (over 12 points a game), Bryant will not be asked to drop 27 a night and carry the Lakers offense on his back like last season.
Bryant and Henry, who was moved into the starting lineup four games into the season, could see time on the floor together due to the fact that Henry is 6’6” and freakishly athletic, allowing him to perhaps check in as a small forward.
If healthy, the Mamba will likely emerge as L.A.’s leading scorer by the end of 2013-14. But until he finds his rhythm and gets his legs under him, Henry will shoulder a good portion of the offensive load.