Kobe Bryant loves to have the ball in his hands, but even he can have too much of a good thing.
In just his third game back with on the court, Bryant will assume point guard duties for the Lakers for the foreseeable future after Thursday’s news that Steve Blake will miss six weeks with an injured elbow.
Bryant has fulfilled many roles for the Lakers over the years, from complementary star to defensive stopper to undisputed alpha dog, but serving as the team’s primary ballhandler and playmaker will be one of his greatest challenges. It’s not that playing point guard is hard — it is — or that Bryant is 35 years old and still testing his surgically rebuilt Achilles — although all of those are factors, too.
It’s the combination of all those things that make playing point guard a daunting responsibility for Bryant.
Before any such speculation begins, let’s get one thing out of the way: Playing point guard will not help Bryant ease back into playing shape by removing the burden of being L.A.’s primary scorer. Point guards don’t get to “ease” into anything, for one thing. Bryant will never shed the role of primary scorer, for another. All this does is double Bryant’s responsibilities at an age and in a physical condition when most players are trying to figure out ways to lessen their demands.
“I don’t really have a choice right now,” Bryant told ESPN.com. “I’ve got to get out there and do a lot more than expected in terms of handling the ball and doing significantly more running.”
In his first two games back in uniform, Bryant noticeably struggled with his lift off either his healthy right leg or injured left leg. He started Wednesday’s game in Phoenix at small forward, moving over from his customary position of shooting guard, and though he scored 20 points and moved better than he did in his debut against the Raptors on Sunday, that game ended just like the first — with a Lakers loss.
Typically, a point guard wouldn’t have to jump or cut as much as a wing player. But Bryant isn’t typical. Expect him to bring the ball up, get the Lakers into their offensive set, and immediately begin operating off the ball as though he is the No. 1 option on every play. Also, less jumping and cutting doesn’t mean the work is easier, just different. Bryant probably won’t have to pressure the opposing ballhandler — Jodie Meeks or Xavier Henry probably will get that assignment — but he will have to face defensive pressure in the backcourt and while trying to activate L.A.’s offense. That’s a tough way to work his way up from the 28.5 minutes per game he has gotten so far.
Given the Lakers’ many injuries and faultily constructed roster, coach Mike D’Antoni has little choice but to turn to Bryant, probably the only player left standing who is still capable of playing point guard for L.A. Knowing Bryant, he will thrive at the point, just as he would thrive at center, sideline reporter or equipment manager, if forced.
Just because Bryant is capable of the task doesn’t mean it will be easy, though, or that his body will get any breaks.