It has been nearly eight-months, 241 days since Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon, but still showed a warriors' mentality to slowly step to the free throw line and calmly knock down two shots, but also to walk off the court without help and schedule his surgery for the next day.
Bryant has missed 25 games. Kobe will be a seamless fit into the offensive attack and return's to a Lakers team that has exceeded expectations, competed hard, showed a lot of resiliency, is above .500 and has the best bench in the NBA. Kobe Bryant's career averages are 25.52 points per game, 4.75 assists per game and 5.31 rebounds per game.
Unlike last season, this Lakers team has an identity, athleticism, improved three-point shooting, chemistry and have played better in the second year of Head Coach Mike D'Antoni's run and gun system with nine different players averaging at least eight points per game. Several pundits stated that the Lakers would not win twenty games this season. Perhaps those were the same pundits that hilariously tried to sell us on the idea that Kobe Bryant was the 25th best player in the league. Both predictions could not be further from the truth.
The doom and gloom predictions have helped to motivate this team. At times is has appeared that the Lakers have not had a difficult time replacing Kobe's 27.3 points per game. Unlike last season, Mike D'Antoni will limit Kobe to 20-25 minutes tonight. An often asked question throughout Kobe's rehab Will his role change? The answer is yes. Due to the Lakers being thin at the point guard position look for the "black mamba" to run the point and facilitate the offense.
Kobe is a threat with the ball in his hands and is the 4th leading scorer in NBA history. Bryant will draw double-teams', defenses must honor the black mamba scoring off the dribble, attacking the basket, in isolation plays, scoring off of screens, handoffs, pull up jumpers, in the post, in the pick and roll play, catch and shoot opportunities and his mid-range game remains lethal.
Bryant will fulfill his role as the leader of this team and when the team needs a bucket he will be the first option to score or set up a teammate to knock down a wide open three. Bryant's presence on the court will elevate the rest of the teams' level of play. The biggest issue for Head Coach Mike D'Antoni and staff is to make sure the Lakers continue to have solid ball movement and player movement instead of having the rest of the team stands still and watches Kobe work.
Unlike last season, Bryant has help from a productive group of bench players and several three-point shooters that a defense has to honor. The Lakers are a banged up team dealing with several injuries, but when completely healthy Kobe Bryant's return makes the purple and gold a very versatile team. The addition of a first ballot Hall of Fame player will enhance any lineup there is a long road ahead, but it could easily be enough for this Lakers to continue to beat the odds fight for and land a spot in the playoffs.
Jeff Little is the host of "The Locker Room" a daily sports talk radio show based out of Los Angeles 6-8 pm PST www.sportsjourney.com Follow on twitter @JeffLittle32, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+