Players Critical to Los Angeles Lakers Surviving Kobe Bryant Injury

Jason MarcumCorrespondent IIIDecember 20, 2013

Dec 14, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) watches his team from the bench during the first half of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers once again find themselves needing to replace All-Star guard Kobe Bryant for a significant amount of time. Bryant will miss around six weeks of action after suffering a fractured lateral tibial plateau Tuesday night during the team's 96-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

With him set to miss over a month of NBA action, the Lakers will need several players to step up their game to help overcome the loss of production from Kobe's absence. 

While he got off to a slow start this season after tearing his Achilles tendon last year, Kobe had scored 20-plus points in three of the past five games before the injury.

Here are two players who must contribute more to make up for the loss of Bryant. 

Wesley Johnson 

Over his past five games, Johnson has averaged eight points, 1.2 steals and one block. Those are decent numbers, but in an average of 30 minutes per game, which is essentially a starter's minutes, they should be significantly better than that.

They'll have to be now that Bryant is out. Johnson has started 16 games this year, so he's used to playing significant minutes. Now he needs to produce in those minutes more than he has been. 

His production is not only critical to the Lakers' success this year, but he's playing for a long-term deal to remain in L.A., according to Lakers Nation

Being the athletic wing that he is, along with his 79 percent free-throw shooting, Johnson needs to become more aggressive and look to draw contact to get to the free-throw line.

He's also shooting 40 percent from the three-point line, the second-best percentage on the Lakers. Johnson needs to look to shoot more, and it is up to L.A. head coach Mike D'Antoni to focus on making him more involved in this offense. 

The potential for Johnson to become more of a featured weapon in the Lakers offense is certainly there. Now, it is up to Johnson and the rest of his teammates and coaches to make sure it happens. 

Oct 6, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Jodie Meeks (20) works against Denver Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur (00) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Jodie Meeks

After starting the first 18 games of the 2013 NBA season, Meeks was sent to the bench in favor of Bryant once he returned. He'll now be back in the starting lineup, and it will be up to him more than anyone to help the Lakers overcome Kobe being out.

Meeks was averaging 13.5 points on 50 percent shooting and a team-leading 47.3 percent mark from three-point range in 28.4 minutes per game prior to Kobe's return, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Back in the starting lineup now, Meeks will need to play even better. According to John Hollinger's player efficiency rating (subscription required), Meeks is averaging a career-high 13.16 PER, but that's still only the 10th-best PER on the Lakers. 

That's unacceptable for a starter, and he has to improve his efficiency. Part of that has to do with his 0.9 assists per game. No starting guard in the NBA should be averaging less than one assist per game.

In fact, only eight shooting guards in the NBA are averaging less than one assist per game. Meeks has to become a better distributor going forward to keep the Lakers offense flowing and the team in the playoff hunt. 

If Meeks and Johnson can step up their games while Bryant is out, the Lakers will be able to remain in contention for the playoffs and may end up being better because of Bryant's absence. 

Sometimes, it takes a star like Bryant being out for a significant amount of time for role players like Meeks and Johnson to realize they are capable of being better than that. 


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