ATLANTA — Within a week-long span, Kobe Bryant has morphed into many characters.
Facilitator. Screener. Shooter.
Each role has changed as Bryant has become more comfortable playing since shattering his left Achilles tendon eight months ago. But he’s entered the Lakers’ game Monday against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena averaging 13.5 points on 43.9 percent shooting, seven assists, 4.5 rebounds and 6.3 turnovers in 28 minutes per game. That marks a far cry from his 25.5 points on 45.4 percent shooting in 36.6 minutes he’s averaged in his 18-year NBA career.
But there’s one prominent NBA player who ruptured his Achilles that believes Bryant will become the player that once won five NBA championships and climbed to fourth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Eventually.
“By All Star break, we’ll see a different Kobe,” former Atlanta Hawks forward Dominique Wilkins told this newspaper. “By then, he’ll have a lot of games under his belt.”
“You’ll see more explosiveness from him,” Wilkins said. “Right now, he’s trying to feel his way through. Normally Kobe would be at the top of the key looking to attack. A lot of times he’s passing and gets in the flow later. But each game, you can see him doing a little bit more.”
The NBA plays its All-Star game on Feb. 20 in New Orleans, testing the Lakers’ patience as they scrap for a playoff seed. Wilkins didn’t have to wait as long to round into form. After rupturing his right achilles tendon Jan. 28, 1992, the 32-year-old forward scored 30 points in his first game game. Wilkins also averaged 29.9 points on 46.8 percent shooting that season, a slight increase from his previous season’s output where he averaged 28.1 points on a 46.4 percent clip. Wilkins then played seven more seasons and made two more All-Star appearances.
But Wilkins pointed out he had one significant advantage not afforded to Bryant.
“When I came back, I had a training camp and an exhibition season,” Wilkins said. “I had time to get it strong. Kobe hasn’t had time to get it strong yet. He’s getting his strength by playing more as he goes.”
Bryant has showed marked improvement each game as the team’s defacto point guard with long term injuries to Steve Nash (back), Jordan Farmar (left hamstring) and Steve Blake (right elbow). Bryant has mostly taken on a facilitating role, but in the Lakers’ win Saturday against Charlotte he finished with a season-high 21 points.
“He’s getting training on the job. I think he will still score. As he goes, he’ll get more and more minutes,” Wilkins said. “You have to build that up. By playing, it helps strengthen and loosen his Achilles. You have to get the range of motion back and you have to get it looser.”
“He’s slowly getting back to where he is left. “Kobe isn’t stupid. He knows its going to take time.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org