Kobe Bryant has only played two games since returning from an Achilles’ tendon tear in April last season. He’s looked sloppy and the Lakers have lost both games since he came back, but we doubt that means he’s experiencing a crisis of confidence. In fact, when the Lakers face off against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena tonight at 8 p.m. EST, he’ll be running the point, which means he’ll attempt to guard the vortex of motion Russell Westbrook, even as doubts about how sharp he can be still swirling.
Kobe Bryant is playing point guard and will guard Russell Westbrook tonight vs Thunder, coach Mike D'Antoni says.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 13, 2013
Bryant is starting at point guard because Steve Nash and Steve Blake are both out with injuries and the depleted Lakers backcourt simply needs him to run the show. Whether he can handle the responsibility of guarding All-NBA point Westbrook, and running the Lakers’ offense, remains to be seen. But some have confidence he can take on those responsibilities even so early in his return to the court.
Sports Illustrated‘s Ian Thomsen spoke with an NBA advance scout to try and determine what exactly Kobe could bring to the table. What the scout said about Kobe as the Lakers’ facilitator may surprise some who still regard the 35-year-old future Hall-of-Famer as an abyss that swallows up shots when the ball hits his hands.
“He’s on a team that can stay in games and he’s a player that can win those games for them,” an NBA advance scout told me this week. “It all depends on if he can see himself in that role. He doesn’t have to carry them all 48 minutes; he can be with them for 47, and then available to carry them in the 48th. There might be nights where he’s got to take over a little bit. But I don’t think there’s going to be as many.
“He could be a point guard and facilitate for them,” the scout said. “He’ll never be the type of point guard that Steve Nash is — or was, or would like to be — but he could adjust his game to be on the floor. He’s a hell of a shooter, a winner, a post-up player.
“Does he go into the post more? That would be something he could turn to. But is that something that’s in the scheme right now of D’Antoni’s offense? I would say not really. But it could be â€” if that’s what it takes to win, then D’Antoni will do it, I’m sure.”
On top of the questions surrounding Bryant’s ability to come back from the career-threatening Achilles tear and run the Lakers offense, is the increasing ineffectiveness of Pau Gasol. Los Angeles Times‘ long-time columnist Bill Plaschke spoke with the Lakers center and got him to open up about what’s ailing him within coach Mike D’Antoni‘s offense. The prognosis is not very optimistic:
“This year hasn’t been ideal, certain things are not ideal for me, but that’s not going to change any time soon,” [Gasol] said.
So why hasn’t it been ideal?
“What do you think?” he said. “I’m not going to say anything, but it’s easy to see. You see a guy with a certain skill set, where does it fit better, where it doesn’t.”
When asked about D’Antoni’s sometimes pointed criticism of his toughness, Gasol shrugged.
“I don’t pay attention. Mike is sometimes all over the place, I don’t give much credit to things like that,” he said.
When asked if D’Antoni has ever discussed this criticism with him directly, for the first time in the interview, Gasol sounded irked.
“Nope, zero. Nope, zero,” he said. “Like I said, it’s not ideal, but it is what it is.”
A few minutes later, in another part of the emptying gym, D’Antoni offered his own shrug and acknowledged he has never discussed his criticisms directly with Gasol.
“We know how he has to be,” D’Antoni said. “We talk, but he has to produce. He knows how to play, he knows what he has to do.”
So, besides the uncertainty surrounding Bryant, there’s a rift developing between LA’s former All-Star center and the coach. These are the two biggest questions as the 10-12 Lakers face off against the Thunder tonight. If the Lakers continue to lose, it won’t be long before they’ve eliminated themselves from competing in the postseason this year. The West is just too tough to go on an extended losing streak and have any chance of acquiring a top-eight seed.
For Lakers fans unused to such a tenuous grasp on a playoff berth just a year removed from a superstar-laden Lakers roster, tonight might be a good indication of whether they have what it takes to make the postseason in a stacked Western Conference.
How will Kobe do against Russ tonight?
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