Sunday was Kobe Bryant’s return, and Tuesday is his first public progress check.
The takeaway from Bryant’s first game back was that the Los Angeles Lakers superstar had developed rust from eight months away from the game. He had returned, but he had a long way to go before he would be back as the Black Mamba. The player and the team would require time to recalibrate their individual and united equilibriums.
For Bryant, he is still testing his body. Although he may have cleaned cobwebs in practice, he still needs to learn his limitations and adjust to playing with the added adrenaline and energy of a game. The pace at which he adjusts is entirely unknown, but Tuesday offers the glimpse into what to expect going forward.
Bryant will look to improve on eight turnovers and seven missed shots on nine attempts. Also, missing a couple free throws was uncharacteristic for the 35-year-old. No doubt, Bryant likely spent a bit more time on shooting following Sunday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors.
On Tuesday night, the Phoenix Suns come to play.
The cameras will re-focus on Staples Center, and Bryant’s every movement will be under the magnifying glass. Following the loss to the Raptors, Bryant contended that he still had the quickness required to get by opponents, but his decision making had failed him. It was rust and timing. It was not knowing his teammates. Most importantly, it was fixable.
Defensively, the backcourt duo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic does not offer any easy matchups for Bryant. Listed as a shooting guard, Dragic is averaging 20.5 points and 7.1 assists per game in his last 10 outings. Bledsoe is coming into the game averaging 18.6 points and 6.0 assists per game this season.
As much as Bryant believes he still has his quick first step offensively, the Lakers adjusted their lineups and moved Bryant to small foward. Bryant's defensive assignment is P.J. Tucker. The Suns play a small lineup, and Tucker, who starts as small forward, is the same height and weight as Bryant.
Considering Tucker is coming off back-to-back 18-point games, though, Bryant will still be challenged on the defensive side of the ball.
The return has come and passed. Tuesday, the comeback continues.