Will Kobe Bryant's Shift to Small Forward Impact His Play?

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterDecember 20, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 18:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers is fouled by Brendan Haywood #33 of the Charlotte Bobcats while driving to the basket in the first half at Staples Center on December 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers defeated the Bobcats 101-100. 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 Lakers have a lack of depth and that means Kobe Bryant has to fill some new roles. Hopefully, for L.A.'s sake, Bryant's occasional shift to small forward will work out better than Mike Brown's dalliance with Antawn Jamison at power forward. 

Offensively, a shift to another wing spot shouldn't influence Kobe Bryant's role much. In the NBA, position does not necessarily dictate offensive role. For example, Mario Chalmers is Miami's "point guard," but LeBron James does all the traditional point guard work. Just because Kobe Bryant occupies the "small forward" position doesn't mean he must suddenly act in a dramatically different way on that side of the ball.

In the NBA, your position is dictated by whom you guard. The biggest change for Bryant as small forward will come on defense, where he will be matched up on larger, slower players. To be clear, Kobe has handled such a responsibility in the past, even guarding LeBron James back in the day: 

The Lakers are supposedly moving Bryant to small forward to make room for Jodie Meeks, but one wonders if there is an ulterior motive. Kobe has struggled with quickness this season, often letting faster players fly right him.

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Switching to small forward will not solve Bryant's lapses on rotations, but it will save his legs against players with quicks. The concern is that Kobe might get pummeled by some larger, lankier players. Sure, Kobe can guard someone like, say, Caron Butler. But what's he going to do against Rudy Gay? What about Kevin Durant? 

That will be the challenge for Bryant, and the Lakers would be wise to monitor the matchups. There are small forwards whom Kobe can guard and small forwards whom Kobe cannot. The Lakers' defense is bad enough without foisting a size deficiency upon itself. Remember: Los Angeles is a top offense so far this season. It's the defense that has been trouble of late. 

There may be a change in Kobe's offensive game at small forward, but it won't be because he's playing that position. The change could occur because Jodie Meeks is a much better three-point shooter than many of his Laker counterparts. 

For Los Angeles to spread the floor, they must actually scare a defense with the threat of a three-point shot. Teams are increasingly looking to pack the paint against Los Angeles, sagging off some of their weaker long-range shooters. With Meeks in the lineup, more space should open up for other Laker players.

This could mean that an already efficient (this season) Kobe Bryant may have even more lanes to the rim and more free areas from which to shoot. It's an alluring possibility, but again, I remind Laker fans that offense has not been the big concern in the D'Antoni era. For Kobe at small forward to work, the Lakers need to ensure that the move doesn't hurt their defense. 


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