Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

» November 2, 2009 12:30 PM | By xphoenix87

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)
Four Factors:

eFG%

TOV%

RB%

FT/FGA

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.

Overview

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.

1st in the West -The Champs


4 Responses to “Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers”

  1. Basketballogy Says:

    Interesting read, x.

    - Point guard –

    You list Shannon Brown like he is THE backup for Derek Fisher, but for some reason, Phil Jackson is reluctant to give Shannon Brown the minutes he should be earning.

    Perhaps it is PJ’s romanticized memories of Craig Hodges, BJ Armstrong, John Paxon and Steve Kerr, — all of whom were outside shooters more than ball handlers, and none of whom were defensive juggernauts, but Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar are getting unwarranted playing time.

    Farmar especially is a disappointment. He is usually good for a highlight play or two per game, but despite all the minutes he’s logged in the NBA, he still is a poor decision maker. When he turns the ball over, he usually follows it with a dumb foul. He often misses opportunities to pass in favor of dribbling more than he should. And while he has the speed and athleticism to be a great defender, and sometimes is, usually his man gets by him.

    Brown is 6′4″ and quick enough to guard point guards, and isn’t inclined to shoot or overdribble, making him an asset for the Lakers for sure, nevertheless he certainly doesn’t seem ready to take over Fisher’s steady role. Among other things, Fisher is a positive influence on Kobe let’s not forget.

    - Shooting guard -

    Most of what was written about Kobe was true about 3+ years ago, but since the arrival of Fisher and Gasol, Kobe has been a different player and that has gone unnoticed. Instead of stepping into the role of primary scoring option, Kobe does whatever he sees the Lakers are lacking on the floor, and tries to pick moments to assert his scoring talents.

    As a player, Kobe could be better if he would stop whining and play, even when the refs are getting it wrong.

    As for a backup 2 guard, the Lakers have none that I feel comfortable depending upon.

    In fact, I would rather see Kobe at the point, and Artest play shooting guard with Shannon Brown coming off the bench then I would seeing Vujacic on the floor.

    Hopefully PJ is trying to help Vujacic shake his confidence woes early in the season, and hopefully Sasha does. Otherwise, I’d bury him in the bench behind Adam Morrison. The Machine’s warranty has expired.

    - Small forward -

    Think of the money the Lakers are spending at this position: Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and Adam Morrison. No wonder Kobe plays small forward almost every game for them now.

    Artest is struggling to make open shots. At least Vladimir Radmonovich demanded respect from his jumper and stretched the floor.

    But so far this season, despite his offensive inconsistencies, Artest has been a pleasant acquisition defensively. He seems to poke the ball away regularly, and prevent scoring with very strong positional defense.

    Artest has, though, over dribbled and bogged down the Lakers offense. Keep an eye on this; it could get worse.

    Odom is playing the 4 (power forward) while Gasol is injured. He is also looking very good this season, except he is usually the first Laker to get flustered and undone emotionally speaking when the calls aren’t going the way he thinks they should. The Dallas loss was highly attributable to a lack of mental toughness through adversity, and Lamar Odom was unhinged pretty much all game.

    - Power forward –

    With apologies to Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol is the best power forward in the NBA right now. His skills, his hustle, and his decision making make him the MVP of the Lakers, I think. He’s not the most talented Lakers, that would be Kobe, but he is the most solid. After Pau, back ups Lamar Odom (who backs up both the 3 and the 4) and Josh Powell make this the only position the Lakers actually have some depth to cover.

    - Center -

    DJ Mbenga. He’s active, he’s big, he’s zealous and well-meaning, but he’s also lucky to get the minutes he does.

    That’s why I think Andrew Bynum is a better x-factor than Artest.

    If Artest goes nuts, Lamar is a very adequate replacement (when Pau is healthy). However, if Bynum fails to measure up, the Lakers are forced to play Pau at center again, and the whole look and rotation for the Lakers is off.

    I like the Lakers, but their championship last year was aided by key injuries on power teams (Ginobli, Garnett, etc.) which probably would have exposed the Lakers’ lack of depth.

    The Lakers can count on 7 players at best, the rest are a roll of the dice on any given night.

    I’m finding I like Artest as a Laker more than I thought I would, but I would still rather have Trevor Ariza at that spot. And the Lakers may as well let go of shooting coach Craig Hodges, because I don’t see any end for Sasha’s slump, and Artest certainly isn’t stretching the floor.

    The Lakers MAY win the west, depending as always on the injury bug, but in no way, shape or form do they look anywhere near as hungry as the Celtics. What the Celtics are doing defensively is out and out intimidating. It isn’t just that Garnett is back, the whole team is on a mission.

    Either the Lakers need to solve their player development issues, or make some trades to make what was once a productive bench mob into legit (and consistent) contributors.

    If the Lakers fail to repeat, fans for years to come may look back on the 2009 NBA champions as lucky as much as they were good. Then again, luck has always played a part in sports.

  2. Basketballogy Says:

    By the way, another x-factor for the Lakers…

    Months ago I wrote elsewhere about the minutes Gasol and Bryant have been logging with their national teams as well as the Lakers. Since then, Gasol has had TWO injuries so far this young season.

    If you think the Lakers are shallow now in the backcourt, imagine how they’d fare if Bryant were out for 10 or 12 games.

    Just as injuries to the likes of Yao, Ginobli, Garnett, etc. opened the window a little wider for the Lakers, we’ll have to watch and see if two summers of playing long into the NBA Finals, along with TeamUSA commitments, show their toll on Kobe’s 30+ body this season.

  3. Marcus Says:

    The Spurs and Celtics are OLD – injuries are to be expected, and it’s the price you pay for veterans on the downhill side of their careers. So you can speculate all you want about what MIGHT have happened, but injuries are part of the game, especially for old teams.

    The only OLD player on the Lakers is Fisher and he’s so strong he doesn’t seem to get injured. Gasol has simply been playing too much basketball but Kobe took time off this summer finally and is the hardest worker in the NBA. And if Bynum can keep his own players from crashing into his knees hopefully he can develop into the best (or 2nd best) big man in the league. A healthy Lakers team romps.

  4. xphoenix87 Says:

    As Marcus points out, injuries are the risk you take when you have an old team. Boston and San Antonio are the most likely teams to be taken out by injury this year, that’s just how it is. However, the Lakers and Cavs have their problems too. Bynum has had back-to-back knee injuries, and that has to worry you. Cleveland’s front court of Shaq and Big Z doesn’t exactly instill confidence on the injury front. In fact, the contending team that is the most resilient to injuries is Orlando. Yes, Nelson went down last year, but it’s not a chronic thing, and he’s 27 and in good shape. More than any other team, the Magic have no big injury questions, and they have the depth to overcome anything but a major injury to Howard.

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