Coach: Phil Jackson
2008-09 Record: 65-17
Pythagorean Record for 08-09: 61-21
Offensive Rating: 112.8 (3rd in the league)
Defensive Rating: 104.7(6th)
Possessions per 48: 94.3(5th)
|Offensive||51.3 (6th)||.123 (5th)||.294 (3rd)||.230 (21st)|
|Defensive||49.0 (8th)||.142 (6th)||.730 (17th)||.213 (6th)|
Roster (Red indicates new acquisition, Blue indicates rookie) Click to enlarge
There are more volatile players in the league than Kobe Bryant (heck, one is on his own team). There are more vocal players. There are guys who twitter and blog, and guys who inspire fierce loyalty. But there is no figure in the league more divisive than Kobe. Every observer of the NBA has an opinion on the great Mr. Bryant, and they tend to fall into two camps. One camp thinks Kobe is overrated, a media darling who, though very good, is more hyped than he deserves. The other camp thinks he is the world’s best player and heir to Jordan’s throne. There are those who fall in the middle, but people largely fall along those lines, and both sides think the other side is filled with idiots. It’s really a shame. As you know if you’ve read much of my writing, I’m on the side that thinks Kobe is a bit overrated, that he isn’t the best player in the league. I’ve drawn some flack for that over the years (I am, apparently, a hater). Here’s the thing though, I understand where the Kobe supporters are coming from, I really do. There’s an element of Kobe’s game that isn’t captured in a row of numbers on paper. His game is balletic, artful, beautiful. Where LeBron explodes and Wade slashes, Kobe floats. There’s just something about watching Bryant pump-fake, pirouette, fade, hang and shoot that picture perfect jumper of his. There are times when he’s not perfect, times when he’s a mere mortal like the rest of us. But then there are times when everything comes together, and Bryant combines perfect execution of every technique your coaches ever taught you with a glimpse of his old athleticism and a splash of unexpected creativity, and it’s just basketball magic. For those times, for the moments when Kobe scoring is more than just two points on the scoreboard, I can understand why people consider him the best, even if I don’t agree with it.
The thing that always gets overlooked about Lamar Odom is his defense. He’s not as good an offensive player as people seem to think he is. He’s versatile, and works well with Paul Gasol because they both pass so well, but he looks really good in LA because he gets to be the 4th offensive option, which is about what he needs to be. Defensively though, he’s absolutely fantastic. He has the quickness and length to match up with the stretch forwards who are becoming so popular in the league right now (see: Rashard Lewis), but he’s also a very good low post defender who rebounds at a high rate and doesn’t give up many easy baskets. Each year Odom has been with the Lakers, the team’s defensive rating has been at least 2 points better with him on the court, and last year it was a massive 8 points better while Odom was on the floor, the 4th best mark in the league.
Pau Gasol was really good in Memphis, but with other scorers and effective passers around him in LA, he’s been brilliant. He has an excellent arsenal of post moves, and he’s a great shooter for a big man, but his most important skill might be his simplest one. Pau catches a ton of passes as he’s rolling/cutting to the lane, and he rarely turns the ball over because he does what every big man is taught but few actually do, he keeps the ball high and doesn’t bring it down when he catches. That, combined with his soft touch, makes him one of the league’s most dangerous pick and roll big men, and the Kobe/Gasol P&R is one of the toughest plays to defend in the game today. You can still attack Pau on the defensive end with physical post players, who he struggles to hold position against, but that weakness is less pronounced than it was early in his career.
I know everyone loves Derek Fisher, but he has some serious limitations, and despite hitting some big shots, he was a big disadvantage in the playoffs. At this point, Fisher’s a good shooter, and he’s strong enough to keep opposing guards from overpowering him, but that’s pretty much it. He’s not a threat driving the ball at all, since he’s not very quick and can’t elevate at all, which is why he shot an abysmal 35.4% in the immediate basket area. Likewise, because his quickness has really eroded (and he wasn’t exactly a speedster in the first place), he really struggles against quick guards, who can beat him off the dribble pretty much at will. The secret weapon for LA this season may be Shannon Brown, who was a pleasant surprise after they acquired him from Charlotte last year. Brown isn’t really a point guard, but he doesn’t have to be in the Lakers’ system. He’s a good shooter and an very good athlete, and he’s a much better defender than Fisher. Given Fisher’s limitations and how terrible Jordan Farmar was last year, Brown may have a big role to play in LA’s success before all is said and done.
Obviously, Andrew Bynum is very talented. He’s big and skilled, with long arms and soft hands that make him an excellent finisher, shotblocker, and rebounder. When he’s healthy, he gives the Lakers another All-Star caliber post who is a handful down low and protects the rim defensively. The key to that is “when he’s healthy.” So far, we’ve seen two really good starts to the season from Bynum, followed by season-ending (or near season-ending) knee injuries. The question remains, can he stay healthy? Even if he does stay healthy, can he maintain his performance over the course of an 82-game season? Those are the things we don’t know, and it’s what will likely determine the Lakers’ fate this season. If Bynum plays all 82 games at a high level, it’s going to be VERY hard for anyone to beat this team.
X-Factor: Ron Artest – What, you were expecting D.J. Mbenga? I almost put Bynum here, since he’s so important, but Artest is the real question mark. You just never know what you’re getting with Ron-Ron. I mean, first of all we’re talking about him fitting into the offense simply as a basketball player. Artest isn’t a guy who likes to take the backseat, he takes a lot of shots. He’s always been a high-usage guy, so how is he going to adjust to being the 4th or 5th option on this loaded Lakers team? Maybe he takes to that role really well, but we don’t have much encouraging evidence in that regard. Beyond just the on-the-court aspects though, this is Ron Artest we’re dealing with here. The guy is certifiable. Any time you’re bringing in a wild card like that, it’s a risk to your chemistry. If Artest does work out, he gives them a physical wing defender, which is one of the most important things for a contender to have these days, what with Pierce, Melo and LeBron running around. It was a gamble by the Lakers, and given that they could’ve just resigned Trevor Ariza, I don’t really think it was a good one, but if it works out, it’ll allow them to match up much better with their likely playoff opponents.
Lets just throw this out there, it’s really hard to repeat as champions, period. I know most people will consider the season a failure if they don’t win the title again, but it’s a very difficult thing to do. It’s even harder when many of your main competitors got better. Orlando is much improved from the team that LA beat in 5 last year. San Antonio had the best offseason of any team in the league, and will be an extremely strong opponent if they stay healthy. Boston added depth to their bench and gets KG back. Cleveland added Shaq and improved the supporting cast around LeBron. Even if everything goes perfect for the Lakers, it’s going to be extremely tough to hoist that trophy again. That said, if Bynum doesn’t get hurt and Artest doesn’t screw things up, it would be awfully hard to pick against this team. There isn’t another team in the league that can match their size with Gasol and Bynum on the floor, and then you have to worry about that Kobe fellow. They have question marks, and even in a best-case scenario, they still have problems at the point guard spot, but the top five guys are so good that it may not even matter.