Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
What are your impressions of Kobe and the Lakers with Kobe right now?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: We’re seeing rust flake off before our eyes, and by “rust” I include everything about making such a comeback – including the confidence Bryant gains in his repaired left leg and the fit he has with a reconfigured Lakers roster. The game in Memphis Tuesday was seen by him and others as a breakthrough (21 points on 9-of-18 shooting, five rebounds, four assists) because he felt physically capable against a rugged defender (Tony Allen). For the Lakers, it’s been an adjustment – they’ve scored 100 points in just two of Bryant’s six games vs. 11 times in 19 before that, and after reaching 40 field goals seven times without him, they haven’t done it at all with him. The offense is catching up with the pecking order, but I’m not worried about Mike D’Antoni gearing up this offense.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Kobe’s doing about what everyone expected — trying to do too much. Of course, there are added burdens with the injuries to Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar, but the poor ballhandling, piles of turnovers, forced deep 3s are as much about ego as the surgically repaired Achilles’ tendon. Nobody really thought Kobe would ease his way back into things and he hasn’t. Whatever rhythm and chemistry that the .500-playing Lakers had pre-Kobe has been lost. The question is how far in the West standings will they be buried by the time he plays his way into peak shape and doesn’t look like a guy wearing two oven mitts.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: His performances are going to fluctuate. He’s played six games. In three he’s scored in single digits. In three he’s scored 20, 21 and 21. Predictably his lift isn’t there on drives to the basket and at times on his pull-up jumper. On top of everything though, to have had to immediately take over as the point guard is a wholly unfair task to ask of him, but it’s not as if he or coach Mike D’Antoni really had a choice considering the injury situation. Kobe’s increased his playing time to 32, 32 and 33 minutes in the last three games. My only fear is that he pushes himself too hard, too quickly.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: He is right where it would have been fair to expect — obviously rusty, getting his timing back, but already able, at this early stage, to turn a game. The challenge will be to get to 100 percent in endurance and rhythm without the needle going into the red, to where the workload creates problems with the injury (or injuries, given his history in recent years). That is a very fine line. Same with the Lakers as a whole: about what expected. I thought at the start of the season they would be a .500 team, and that is holding up. Some good moments, some bad moments, a ton of attention on each pendulum swing, good enough to be decent but not good enough to make No. 8.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s coming off major surgery and he’s playing out of position, so it’s been a slow start. But he’ll get more comfortable and confident with every game. Offense wouldn’t be my concern, though. Since Bryant’s return, the Lakers have looked atrocious defensively against any offense worth a salt, which really isn’t unexpected given the makeup of their roster. And no matter how much Bryant improves, they’re not going to be very consistent if they continue to play bottom-10 defense.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m honestly a bit stunned he’s played as much as he has considering what type of injury he had to battle back from. He’s rusty, of course, but who wouldn’t be after all those many months off? He’s basically a shell of himself right now, scoring 12.4 points a game to go along with his 6.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds and those unsightly six turnovers a night. The fundamentals and muscle memory is there. The explosive ability, the fear factor from the opposition and the desperation we saw in him last season when he refused to let the Lakers miss out on the postseason aren’t there. All that said, it’s simply a part of a recovery process that I suspect won’t end until sometime in late January or early February. All-Star Weekend is about when I expected to the Mamba to rear his head and get back to the business at hand. As for the Lakers, they were a flawed bunch, with or without Kobe back in the fold.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Several times since his return I’ve seen Kobe in a position where a loose ball has popped free near him, and Kobe basically just watched the ball go by him without much more than a token effort. I think it’s obvious that right now Kobe doesn’t have the explosion and fast-twitch fibers that have made him so special throughout his career. But at the same time, as a basketball nerd, I’ve loved watching him survive on guile and institutional knowledge. He may not be able to out-quick anyone or use his athleticism the way he used to use it, but he still manages to string together ball fakes and impeccable footwork to create opportunities and get shots. It may not be KB24, but it’s still Kobe. And for now, maybe that’s good enough.
Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: I honestly believe Kobe is trying too hard to blend with the group while his teammates are waiting for the old Kobe to explode. He has been committing turnovers because of his eagerness to be a passer but no matter what happens he is a pure scorer and an attacker. He should be more aggressive to attract the defense — then he could facilitate better once opponents know he is back.
Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Kobe is back. He’s not Kobe Bryant yet, but he’s going to be his old self very soon — before the All Star break, I’d say. The Lakers with this Kobe are worse than they were before he came back. But that is because they don’t have a point guard available, and coach D’Antoni was forced to move Bryant to the PG spot. That is another challenge for a player who still need time to adapt to the game and to his teammates. The Lakers will instantly improve as soon as they got a true PG back from the injury list. (Hey Jordan Farmar, how are you?)
VIDEO: Lakers vs. Memphis, Dec. 17, 2013