Grading Kobe Bryant's First Game Back from Achilles Injury for LA Lakers

Andy BaileyFeatured ColumnistDecember 9, 2013

Grading Kobe Bryant's First Game Back from Achilles Injury for LA Lakers

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    Kobe Bryant was introduced to the sounds of John Williams' "Imperial March." The ominous music might have been a sign of things to come for his return from a torn Achilles tendon.

    Sunday night against the Toronto Raptors, Kobe was more Anakin Skywalker than Darth Vader, often wielding his new dark-side powers to the detriment of his team.

    In a 106-94 loss, Kobe scored just nine points on 2-of-9 shooting. He also turned the ball over eight times.

    It's never a good idea to put too much stock into one game, but this one would suggest Bryant still has got a long way to go on his road back.

    But considering the circumstances, it really shouldn't be all doom and gloom for Lakers fans. 

    Kobe fast-tracked his way back from a devastating injury, playing in an NBA game just eight months after the Achilles betrayed him.

    And despite the poor shooting and rusty ball-handling, he almost notched a double-double thanks to a team-high eight rebounds (tied with Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol).

    So while there was a lot to criticize, Kobe may have still done enough to earn a passing grade in his season debut.

Offensive Skills/Execution: D+

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    Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    To say Kobe looked rusty offensively would be an understatement. At times, it was more like those pipes you've seen, that are corroded to the point that there's gaping holes in them.

    For the game, he barely finished with more points than turnovers. The bad plays were the result of two things.

    First, Bryant made some bad decisions that surely won't happen once he readjusts to NBA action. On more than one occasion, he tried to thread a needle through a brick wall.  The ill-advised passes either headed out of bands or were picked off.

    Second, he's not athletically what he was before the injury. At least not yet. For much of the game, Kobe looked as stiff as Forest Gump—before the braces fell off.

    On a couple drives, he made his initial move, failed to get around his defender's shoulder and just kept pushing anyway.

    And the lack of explosiveness didn't just hurt Bryant as a playmaker.

    The Jordan-esque jump shot we've all become so acquainted with looked crippled against the Raptors. He simply didn't have the same lift he had before the injury.

    The best example came in the closing seconds of the first half. Kobe had the ball in his hands, clock winding down, you know, same old story. Only this time, he didn't just miss the shot. Bryant didn't even come close to elevating high enough to shoot over DeMar DeRozan's outstretched hand.

    The shot was blocked, and Kobe fell to the floor in disbelief.

    Hopefully, more game time will help him work through both those things.

    In the meantime, there were some good things Bryant did and upon which he can rely as he gets back up to speed.

    Sure, he threw some really bad passes, but a few good ones led to four assists. The best one came on a drive when Kobe drew Jonas Valanciunas off Pau Gasol. At the perfect moment, he zipped a pocket pass between his man and the help defender to Pau for the layup.

    His best bucket of the night came inside as well. He patiently made his way to the lane (more Paul Pierce than LeBron James), calmly up-faked twice and kissed it off the glass with his left hand.

    The post-Achilles Kobe might have to be more patient, and do most of his damage in the post.

Defensive Presence/Execution: C

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    The one word that came to mind over and over during this game was "stiff." 

    Bryant looked like the older guy in the rec center who played five games, sat five out and then came back in for the last run after laughing on the sideline for a half hour.

    To his credit, he tried to get down into a defensive stance, but he just couldn't shuffle side-to-side quickly enough to deter his matchup.

    But as was the case with his offensive performance, it wasn't all bad on this end.

    On one play in the first quarter, DeRozan unwisely picked up his dribble in the corner. Suddenly, the Mamba could use his quick hands and didn't need to worry about his heavy feet. He bodied up, and as soon as DeRozan tried to sweep the ball through, Kobe took it away.

    He also helped his team defensively by putting himself in a position to rebound on that end. Instead of leaking out for easy buckets, Kobe went to the defensive glass on almost every possession.

Chemistry with Teammates: C

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    Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    It would be hard to make an argument that Kobe helped the Lakers' chemistry on Sunday night. This bunch had won six of its last eight before being handled by the 7-12 Raptors.

    Everyone seemed to be playing timidly for Bryant's first stint in the game. It felt like Kobe was feeling out the other four guys on the floor and they were collectively doing the same to him.

    There were glimpses of cohesion. The pass-turned-assist to Robert Sacre on his first possession of the game. The drive, draw and drop to Pau. A nice slip screen to free Jodie Meeks for a three.

    But on Sunday night, the bad outweighed the good.

    They're simply not used to playing with each other. Frankly, it would have been crazy to expect they would be.

    The Kobe-less Lakers developed an identity and a dynamic. A bunch of guys who shared the ball, chucked up a bunch of threes and played with a ton of energy

    For now, Bryant looks like a square peg to that dynamic's round hole.

Stamina: B-

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    Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    As far as his wind goes, Kobe didn't look bad at all. 28 minutes is more than many expected and he didn't look any slower in his final minutes than he did in the first quarter.

    The problem was his legs.

    Having torn an ACL, broken a femur and suffered countless sprained ankles, I can speak from experience. You can get yourself into a certain level of conditioning by jogging, riding an exercise bike, all that.

    But it's an entirely different beast when the actual game starts. When you play basketball, you move in ways that are pretty hard to emulate anywhere else. When you haven't done it in a while, it's hard.

    It's going to take some time for Bryant to figure out what he's capable of now physically. And if he has to adjust his game accordingly, well, that'll take some time as well.

    We the fans may have to be just as patient as he is.

Overall Grade: C

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    It's kind of sad that this game was hyped to the level it was. The Facebook video, the Twitter madness, the national stage on NBA TV. All that established some expectations that may have been unrealistic for Kobe.

    If they were factored into the overall grade, he'd probably earn an F. And that's what Kobe gave himself. During his post-game press conference on NBA TV, Kobe said, "It's F. For me, it's F. No question."

    But that's not completely fair.

    Coming back from a torn Achilles is no joke, especially for a 35-year old who had already logged 45,390 minutes on his legs.

    What we should have expected was the kind of rust that was evident on Sunday. Had that been the narrative going in, there could have been more focus on the good things he did.

    He rebounded the ball well, played within the team concept and perhaps most importantly, his newly repaired Achilles held up.

    Now it's about adjustments, practice, more rehab. There's still plenty of this mountain to climb, but we'd all have to be crazy to think Kobe's not up to some hiking.

     

    For 140-character pearls of wisdom from Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey, follow him on Twitter: @AndrewDBailey.