When the doors to Tuesday’s Los Angeles Lakers practice opened, Mike D’Antoni shared a few different lineups involving Kobe Bryant, hinting at the roles the rehabilitating superstar will play upon his full return from a torn Achilles.
In the past, Bryant has primarily played at shooting guard, but he has occasionally played as a small forward. During Tuesday’s practice not much was different with regards to these roles, but seeing Bryant in action with the current roster of Lakers proved to be promising and noteworthy.
The lineup mostly used during the media’s observations involved Bryant playing as a small forward with Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake playing as the two guards. Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill were the two frontcourt players. Bryant hinted at getting stronger during his time off, and the added muscle would be a necessity for an undersized small forward who is coming off an Achilles injury at 35 years of age.
In a quicker and more athletic lineup, Bryant stayed at small forward with Meeks and Blake in the backcourt, but Wesley Johnson joined Gasol in the frontcourt. Although D’Antoni would love to have this lineup stretch the floor, Hill’s strong play makes him a sure starter unless his play suddenly significantly drops off.
With Hill, Gasol, and Blake expected to join Bryant in the starting lineup, the final variation D’Antoni tried is likely the best fit: Blake, Bryant, Johnson, Hill, Gasol. Closest to resembling the current Lakers’ lineup, Bryant replaces Meeks in a like-for-like substitution. Blake, Hill, Gasol, and Johnson are all in their natural positions, and Bryant is back at shooting guard.
Also, Johnson playing at small forward instantly makes the Lakers exponentially more athletic defensively. Bryant’s defense has been called into question over the past couple seasons, and an Achilles injury surely cannot improve the natural athletic deterioration of an ageing basketball player. Johnson would help cover some of Bryant’s shortcomings on that end of the court.
Regardless of how the team starts when Bryant returns, D’Antoni will likely use all three variations at different points during games. The positive to take away from all three lineups is that Bryant is back in the mix.