The Los Angeles Lakers have played admirably in the absence of their fearless leader. After the astounding come-from-behind win in Sacramento last night the Lakers have played their way to a winning record at 10-9 on the season. The selfless play from everyone on the court, notably Steve Blake and Pau Gasol, has lead to open shots all over the floor and the best run D’Antoni offense I’ve seen since he coached in Phoenix. The recent results have been great: a 6-2 record since mid-November and a 40.09% three-point percentage, good for 3rd in the NBA. But, can we expect this style of play to last with the return of one Mr. Kobe Bryant?
Without Kobe in the lineup the ball moves quickly while players move quickly without the ball. More importantly, the ball rarely gets stuck in one player’s hands. It’s a revelation for Lakers basketball that we just have not seen in the waning years of Kobe’s career but has been a key factor in the success of Mike D’Antoni’s offense this season. So, can it last? Probably not. As Kobe returns, he will take over duties as the primary ball-handler, leaving Steve Blake to fall back into the role of spot-up shooter. But, Blake isn’t the only one that will see his touches decrease significantly. Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, and Wesley Johnson will all see their well-deserved playing time and touches dwindle.
However, that doesn’t mean the the Lakers will scrap the entire offense and migrate back to a slow, post-up style of play in which Kobe excels. As we saw last year, “Magic Mamba” is fully capable of running the D’Antoni offense, and running it well. He can make all the plays Blake has, he can make all the shots Meeks or Young have. The question is will he try to? I fully believe that the single most important aspect of the Lakers’ ‘success’ this season is selfless play, and lets face it, thats not exactly Kobe’s style. Kobe will play on Sunday against the Toronto Raptors, and I have to guess that he wouldn’t have chosen that day unless he is ready to play 40-something minutes. He surely won’t come back and try to mesh with the existing roles.
But, Kobe is all about trusting his teammates that earn it, and if he comes back and the Lakers continue to make the shots that have been open for them all season and play with effort on both ends, I predict Kobe to work with (not within) the pace and add extra dimensions that this offense now lacks. For example, according to ESPN, Kobe has the top-rated shot percentage in the NBA on post-ups at just under 56%. Kobe also adds the element of drive-and-kick penetration that Blake doesn’t exactly execute well. But, most importantly, he’s KOBE-freakin-BRYANT, and other teams know it.
Regardless of how Kobe will have to adjust his play to the Lakers and how the Lakers will adjust for him, Kobe Bryant is still one of the faces of the NBA that needs, (read: demands) doubles and triples throughout every game. That is the element the Lakers needed most. This will do more to open up shooters than anything Steve Blake, or even Steve Nash, could possibly do. If Kobe is willing and able to even out his game into more of a dare I say “LeBron” style of distribute-then-dominate, this Lakers team has to ability to make some waves this year.
The Lakers host the Raptors at 5:00 PM PST on NBAtv and Time Warner Sports Network.
Let me know what you think Kobe’s return has in store for the Lakers on twitter @kingofcahill or in the comments below.