Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers is, deservedly, mentioned among the top two or three greatest shooting guards of all time. This season, however, as Father Time has taken his toll, Bryant and the team might be best suited if he occasionally plays small forward instead. Asking “The Black Mamba” to do so would probably cause a stir from his at-times illogical fans, but the move would actually be rather natural.
New head coach Byron Scott has hinted at such a position change, but Bryant is known as much for his stubborn nature as he is for his scoring proficiency. Scott would have to convince Bryant that such a move would best suit the player and, more importantly, the team.
The NBA has basically shrunk across all positions on the court. First and second-string point guards often play alongside each other to improve ball handling. This means Bryant would have to guard quicker scoring guards than the typical ones he’s already struggled to stay in front of the last few years. Sliding down to small forward would allow for more natural matchups defensively while not necessarily taking away from his offensive abilities.
Bryant has perfected a mid-post game that he uses to take advantage of smaller match-ups. This is why the move should not be permanent, as that has become such an efficient means of scoring the basketball. But while at the small forward, Bryant could set more screens to open up those same switching scenarios.
In terms of rotation, playing Bryant at the three would open the Lakers up for that aforementioned small lineup featuring two point guards. It would take some time for both Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin to get used to playing off the ball, but a combination of Nash, Lin and Bryant would present some issues for other teams. This unit could only be used sparingly, however, because of the utter lack of defense on the perimeter between those three.
When Bryant plays alongside bigger wings like Xavier Henry and Nick Young, the move can occur without any type of adjustment as they would all be roughly the same size. Bryant, Henry and Young would be able to switch most screens defensively, but teams trying to guard them might not necessarily be able to do the same as they each score with varying means.
Bryant at the small forward would not work for long stretches against LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony because of their size and scoring abilities, but the vast majority of the remaining 26 teams wouldn’t have such mismatches to throw at the Lakers. That being said, Bryant’s competitive nature often comes out most fervently against those guys, and he often requests those match-ups with, let’s say, varying results.
Due to considerable overlap in talent on the roster as currently constituted, Scott will have to get creative to make the rotation work. While this would be among the many moves he’ll have to think about, it’s not nearly as extreme as fans’ reactions and makes a lot of sense not just to the team but to Bryant as well.
Whether Scott can convince Bryant of such will say a lot about the former’s coaching abilities and, more interestingly, the latter’s priorities.