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Which Kobe Bryant Do the LA Lakers Need the Most?

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Which Kobe Bryant Do the LA Lakers Need the Most?
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant dishes the ball.

The Los Angeles Lakers need Kobe Bryant’s talent, but one can only speculate with respect to which version they need.

The Lakers’ all-time leading scorer has seen many transformations to his game throughout his career in an effort to adapt to the scheme and personnel of his team. The iteration that most have become accustomed to is the scoring one.

Bryant has climbed up the league’s all-time scoring ladder because of his seemingly unstoppable ability to insert the ball in the basket. Given that Los Angeles struggled to efficiently put points on the board during Bryant’s absence, his return is a more-than-welcomed addition.

Indeed, while the 2-guard was rehabbing his ruptured Achilles and getting himself into shape to rejoin his teammates, the Purple and Gold had a bottom-third league offense.

Hence, the return of an elite scorer certainly benefits the Lakers, but not in the way that many think. Mike D’Antoni has desperately needed solid point guard play during the season and has not gotten it.

Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar have been sidelined for long stretches through the first quarter of 2013-14, and consequently, Steve Blake has been the team’s maestro. Blake has played well in the role, but he is nowhere near elite.

He is good at setting up his teammates and running the offense, but he simply does not have the necessary skills to break down defenders and create high-percentage looks, especially late in the shot clock.

Watch below what happens when that specific situation arises:

Also, Blake lacks the ability to create favorable settings for others simply by his presence. Great floor generals typically force teams to defend them with at least two players, which lead to easy scores. Blake is not that type of player.

His career-high shooting figure is 43.8 percent, and he accomplished this during the 2005-06 campaign. In other words, teams want to see him attack players in one-on-one situations.

Blake does not instill that fear into defenders, and that means he will routinely face single coverage. Watch him operate in the pick-and-roll below:

Bryant, on the other hand, is more than capable of occupying that role. It’s an interesting dilemma because it is one that a former Hall of Fame player faced with the Lakers during the 1970s.

Wilt Chamberlain joined the franchise as perhaps the most devastating scoring machine the league had ever seen. And yet, when Bill Sharman took over as the team’s head coach, he asked the big man to defer to his teammates.

The legendary former Boston Celtic and Lakers coach shared his insights with ESPN.com’s Mitch Lawrence:

Here I am, asking the only guy who has ever scored 100 points in a game -- the only guy who will ever score 100 points in a game -- and the only guy who averaged 50 points to adjust ... and Wilt did it. His defense was a big reason we were as good as we were. But that's the way Wilt was for me. He was wonderful, very cooperative. It's just a shame what happened [Chamberlain’s death].

Although we are citing an example that occurred over 40 years ago, there is nonetheless a Lakers precedent of a high-scoring superstar ceding ground to placate his teammates.

In the instance of Bryant, the evolution is not as radical as the one Chamberlain went through. Granted, it would require a change in mindset, but it is a version of the 2-guard we have seen before: playmaker Kobe.

Watch him feed teammates below:

During the 2012-13 campaign, the former league MVP had a stretch in which he masterfully facilitated the offense and made life easier for his comrades. When pressed on the issue, he offered his take to Sam Amick of USA Today:

It's trying to evolve and figured out what we need as a ballclub. Instead of me being a finisher, I'm just really facilitating and drawing the defense in and making plays. I game-planned for it, and it seems to be working.

He eventually abandoned the act and reverted back to his volume shooting ways. Still, it is rather telling that he seamlessly vacillated between roles based on the Lakers’ needs.

If need be, the two-time Finals MVP could easily play point guard and become a much better version of Penny Hardaway when he starred for the Orlando Magic alongside Shaquille O’Neal. In breaking down Bryant’s game, Grantland’s Zach Lowe offered this assessment of his skills:

Kobe is a wonderful passer, and always has been. He’s such a fascinating player in part because so much of his passing ability stems from his almost unique selfishness as a scorer. A large portion of his typical assists come from post-ups and wing isolations in which Kobe holds the ball for SO DAMN LONG — sometimes as many as 10 consecutive seconds — that defenses almost feel like they must send an extra defender at him at some point. And when that happens, with the shot clock dwindling, Kobe is an expert at reading multiple layers of help defense and dishing to the Lakers’ very best option — the cutter, the player who comes open behind the cutter, or some other spot-up guy.

Considering the amount of players on the roster who simply cannot create their own shots, it would be fairly logical for Bryant to operate as the Lakers’ point guard, at least until Farmar and Nash prove themselves worthy of handling the accompanying duties.

This will certainly benefit the entire roster given that it is devoid of great shot creators. The player who stands the most to gain in this setting is a struggling Pau Gasol.

He simply has not been able to convert shots at a great rate because easy shots have not come his way. The defensive attention he has received this season has held him back, and thus, he needs some of it to dissipate.

Bryant’s presence certainly helps Gasol, and also, the shift to point guard means the Spaniard becomes the focal point of the offense. The big man is a great finisher and will be better served by simply catching and shooting.

Gasol and Bryant have always had great chemistry, and it’s allowed them to fool defenses. Watch Bryant hit the former Olympian for an easy score:

The return of this dynamic will elevate the Lakers offense and perhaps propel the team into the postseason. The Purple and Gold need a stud playmaker, and luckily for them, they already have it in the form of Bryant.

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