Kobe Bryant's Absence Will Benefit Lakers Later in Season

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIINovember 10, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 29:  Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to someone in the crowd during the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on October 29, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers will be a much better team when shooting guard Kobe Bryant makes his highly anticipated return to the court, but not just because of the superstar's presence.

Head coach Mike D'Antoni is having to juggle minutes and shuffle the lineup to figure out which rotations work best, which will benefit the squad as it bids for a 2013-14 NBA playoff spot.

Although the start to the current campaign hasn't been spectacular, Los Angeles could have done a lot worse than 3-4 in the first seven games.

An uncommonly balanced scoring effort and some savvy coaching are helping the Lakers get it done, even as the team flounders on the defensive end by giving up 105.6 points per game.

Eight Lakers are averaging 8.7 points per game or more, but none are higher than leading scorer Jodie Meeks, who is putting up 12.3 points on 49 percent shooting and over 48 percent from beyond the arc.

Star center Pau Gasol is struggling from the field early on, but he is being complemented well by the perimeter players around him, along with fellow big man Chris Kaman.

Seven members of this squad average more than 22 minutes per game, and that doesn't include Kaman, Jordan Hill or Shawne Williams, who is at the low end of the 11-man rotation, playing 13.6 minutes per contest.

Jodie Meeks is the Lakers' leading scorer thus far in Bryant's absence.
Jodie Meeks is the Lakers' leading scorer thus far in Bryant's absence.NBA Photos/Getty Images

That balanced scoring has been an antidote of sorts for Bryant's usual production, but the Black Mamba will most help with his elite perimeter defending ability.

Until then, the rotation is a constant work in progress, but one that is already netting promising returns.

The malleability of their personnel is a testament to the effectiveness of D'Antoni's offense and a strong showing of how a good shooting night can keep the team competitive with anyone thanks to the relentless, attacking style.

As reported by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, D'Antoni was disappointed in the lack of hustle the team showed in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

"I don't think we moved quick enough to lose the ball. You have to hustle a little bit," said D'Antoni.

There is no shortage of fire from D'Antoni, either.

As a result, multiple Lakers have been able to log significant minutes—time that wouldn't be available with Bryant on the hardwood.

It remains to be seen which smaller set of players D'Antoni will choose to play down the stretch in crunch time, but for now, he has time to figure that out. Meanwhile, he has point guard Steve Nash to help facilitate his style of play and mentor the younger Lakers.

Nash won two MVP awards with D'Antoni in Phoenix, and although his skills are waning, the 39-year-old is still capable of being a valuable contributor.

The team that Bryant returns to will be far different than the one that featured Dwight Howard when he last took the court late in the 2012-13 regular season. However, the accumulating experience should fortify the Lakers' depth, and take some of the onus off Bryant to carry Los Angeles to the playoffs.