As Kobe Bryant heads into what looks to be his final season, he will do so having to do something he hasn’t had to do since his first couple of seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Head coach Byron Scott has said that Kobe will play mostly small forward this season, and even a little power forward in certain lineups.
The makeup of the Lakers roster is interesting as the team added players in the backcourt such as D’Angelo Russell and Lou Williams, as well as a number of big men in Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, and Larry Nance Jr. The small forward position, however, hasn’t seen much change and unless Scott plans on starting Nick Young, there really isn’t any other option other than starting Kobe at the three.
Whether or not the move will actually pay off is another question. Kobe has the skills to handle himself regardless of what position he is at, but small forwards are getting much bigger in today’s game and Kobe banging with the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Kawhi Leonard is difficult to picture throughout an entire season.
The move will allow the Lakers to start both of their young guards in D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson and both need as many minutes as possible to develop. That still doesn’t guarantee that the move will pay dividends for Kobe himself.
So we asked our panel of experts whether playing small forward this season will help or hurt Kobe Bryant. This is what they had to say:
Kevin Chan (@Kevin_Cruiser): Kobe at small forward will put him at a defensive disadvantage because most players he’ll match-up against will be at least two inches taller, heavier and longer. Historically Kobe has been a beastly defender, but his defense has regressed over the past four or so years.
He will be 37 years old when the season kicks off and coming off of three consecutive season-ending injuries. It’s too much to expect Kobe to be effective at guarding players who are larger, longer and quicker. From a defensive standpoint, Kobe’s game will definitely suffer from starting at the small forward position.
I never really worry about Kobe’s offense. He’s too skilled for any player in the NBA to completely shut him down. Kobe’s unparalleled footwork will allow him to jab step, spin and fade-away from whoever is guarding him. I don’t expect that Kobe’s move to small forward will impact his offense.
In summary, the only concern I have about Kobe’s move to small forward will be on the defensive side of the floor. The Lakers will need to employ a more team-oriented help defense if they’re going to employ a small line-up. Otherwise, Kobe will have a very tough time guarding the three position on a nightly basis. The logical concern is that if Kobe overexerts himself on defense, his offense will suffer and the risk for injury increases. Hopefully Byron Scott will make some adjustments to ease the burden on Kobe.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): I believe that playing small forward full-time will undoubtedly help Kobe Bryant this season and could possibly even allow him to extend his career another year or two.
Offensively, Bryant has operated almost exclusively from the elbows in for the last couple of years. Usually that forced someone like Wesley Johnson outside the three-point line where he is ineffective and can’t create for himself. With Kobe at the three, however, it keeps two guards capable of creating for themselves and others on the outside, helping the Lakers’ spacing.
Defensively is a little tougher as many small forwards will be much bigger than Kobe. However, most of the top small forwards in the league or in the East, meaning the Lakers will only see them twice a year. After Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, the top small forwards out West are guys like Rudy Gay and Chandler Parsons. Surely they will be difficult match-ups, but Kobe would be far from outmatched going up against those guys.
There will definitely be some nights where Kobe is going to struggle, but overall the positives outweigh the negatives and both Kobe and the team will be better with him at the small forward spot.[divide]