Kobe Bryant's Early Return Would Make Lakers Dangerous in West

Andrew TornettaCorrespondent IIDecember 6, 2013

EL SEGUNDO, CA - DECEMBER 3:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during practice on December 3, 2013 at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

With the countdown to the return of Kobe Bryant reaching its final stages, now comes the time to ask how dangerous the "Black Mamba" makes the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference.

In a word: very.

According to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin, Bryant is eyeing a return to the court as early as Sunday against the Toronto Raptors

The Lakers have performed admirably without their star, splitting 18 games so far this season for a 9-9 record, although they are tied with two other teams for just 10th place in the loaded Western Conference.

Even though Bryant will likely be added back into full-time play gradually when he makes his return, the simple fact that he will be back on the court is a major boost to the Lakers.

The last we saw of Bryant he was on a rampage, averaging 29.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 2.1 steals while playing 44.5 minutes per game in the seven games prior to his injurysix of which were Lakers wins.

Kobe Bryant was playing his best basketball of the season last year prior to his injury.
Kobe Bryant was playing his best basketball of the season last year prior to his injury.Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Even if it takes him the rest of the season to get back to near that level, he is on a team that has something he hasn't had in a while—a ton of depth.

Last season, the Lakers had one of the worst benches in the league and Kobe suffered because of it. Antawn Jamison, the Lakers' most productive bench scorer last year, averaged just 9.4 points per game for a unit that was averaging 25.8 per game for the seasonthird worst in the league according to Hoopstats

This forced Bryant to play more minutes and he was relied on more heavily to make up for the lack of bench production.

This year is much different.

When Kobe does make his fateful return to the court this season, he won't need to decide how much he needs to carry the scoring load. The only decision he needs to make is which scorer he wants to pass to.

The Lakers bench is averaging a league-high 47.7 points per game, led by Nick Young (14.2), Xavier Henry (9.2) and Jordan Farmar (9.2). Jodie Meeks and his 13.2 points per game will likely drop into a bench role when Bryant returns, joining Jordan Hill (8.9), Wesley Johnson (8.4) and Chris Kaman (8.3).

In short, the Lakers bench is absolutely loaded, and Bryant will have plenty of opportunities to ease his way back into the lineup without having to carry the team on most nights.

In fact, with Jordan Farmar tearing his hamstring last week, Bryant will likely play the role of facilitator most of the timea far less stressful duty than a 30 points per game scorer would be.

Despite his reputation as someone that likes to hog the ball, Kobe has proven to be very lethal with his passing game when he needs to be.

Getting Bryant back on the court this early in the season cannot be underestimated when looking at the Lakers chances come playoff time. A fully in shape and motivated Kobe Bryant, playing alongside a litany of scorers and up-and-coming young players, could mean trouble for many teams in the Western Conference.

The bad news for the Lakers is that they have a lot of teams ahead of them in the standings. The good news is they still have four months to make sure they pass a handful of those teams and are playing at their highest level for the playoffs.

The great news is Kobe Bryant is on his way back and is ready to silence everyone who doubted him.

Watch out NBA.


Andrew Tornetta is a contributor for Bleacher Report. You can find his B/R archive and follow him on Twitter @AndrewTornetta.