World Peace Rising

With Kobe Bryant’s imminent return
on Friday at San Antonio, the minutes and shot dispersal of L.A.’s perimeter players that have stepped up in his absence will change … just not too much, Bryant hopes, particularly in the case of Metta World Peace.

We’ll get to MWP’s jump in production shortly, but even generally speaking, Bryant explained that he doesn’t want his teammates to play any differently than they did in his absence, so impressed was he with their performance in going 5-2.

“It’s been good to see how much guys have progressed, doing things they would ordinarily not try to do,” he said after the team’s Wednesday win at Golden State. “When I’m not out there, you have to do other things. You have to experiment with your game. They had a great deal of success with it.”

Bryant’s replacement in the starting line up, Devin Ebanks, averaged 25 minutes, 6.1 points and 2.9 rebounds on 6.3 field goal attempts in doing precisely what was asked of him. Since Bryant averages 38.5 minutes per game, the 25 per from Ebanks left 13.5 additional minutes to disperse mostly between World Peace and Matt Barnes. With Kobe’s 28.1 points per game on 23 field goal attempts a night out of the line up, both wings filled the void by upping their production, with MWP carrying much of the burden:

World Peace: 36.4 minutes, 16.3 points, 12.7 field goal attempts
Barnes: 27.6 mpg, 11.6 ppg, 7.8 FGA’s

World Peace: 25.8 mpg, 6.5 ppg, 6.5 FGA’s
Barnes: 22.3 mpg, 7.3 ppg, 5.9 FGA’s

Can L.A. get that sustained production and aggressive nature from World Peace once Bryant returns as the primary perimeter focus?

Bryant thinks so.

In his much-celebrated role as positive/extremely well-dressed assistant coach, Kobe surely noticed how effective World Peace has been, and has acknowledged how much more dangerous the Lakers are when MWP plays with that edge on offense.

In fairness, the rise of World Peace didn’t come out of nowhere; it didn’t start when Kobe went out. In fact, World Peace upped his shooting from 34 percent before the All-Star break to 43 percent since, and dropped 23 points on 8 of 13 FG’s in the game before Kobe went out. Indeed, MWP’s play has steadily improved as the season has worn on, due in no small part to his body getting in increasingly better shape after an injury-plagued offseason that made it difficult for him to train as he normally would.

“Even with Kobe returning, Metta will be more aggressive since he’s continued to get into better shape,” said Lakers player development coach Phil Handy. “I don’t see that changing over the rest of the season. Metta’s goal was to be in tip-top shape by the time the playoffs started, and that’s exactly what he’s done.”

The increase in minutes and field goal attempts has helped all the more, and not just physically.

“We’ve just been finding out a lot of things about ourselves,” Peace explained. “I had to do this when I was in Sacramento with Kevin Martin and John Salmons. I had to sit out some games sometimes. I was scoring a lot but I didn’t see what other guys could do and I wasn’t giving other guys the opportunity.

“Then I realized that these guys could really play and then that grew confidence in guys. It’s the same situation. (Kobe is) seeing something.”

With that said, no one’s more excited than World Peace for No. 24′s return.

“I can’t wait to have Kobe back, I just can’t wait,” he said. “I’ll be so happy to have him back and get him back in shape. I came here to play with Kobe. I know what type of player Kobe is and I want to win some rings and that’s why I came to Los Angeles. I can’t wait until he’s back.”

On Friday, Peace will get his wish, and if MWP plays like he’s been playing, so will Bryant.