NBA Roundtable

2012 Team Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

In Season Previews on November 6, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Los Angeles Lakers

Starting Lineup

  • PG – Steve Nash
  • SG – Kobe Bryant
  • SF – Ron Artest
  • PF/C – Pau Gasol
  • C  – Dwight Howard

One of the fiercest starting units in the league. The best center in the league in Dwight Howard. The second best two guard in Kobe Bryant behind Dwayne Wade. A borderline top five PG in Steve Nash. A top five PF or C in Pau Gasol. Four extremely talented players.

Dwight Howard is the main man for the Lakers because he is the one star player in their lineup who is capable of dominating a game without scoring which will be pivotal for LA because there won’t be enough touches / shot attempts to go around.

Dwight Howard has been the best interior defender and rebounder in the NBA for the past four years. An excellent help defender and rim protector. A brilliant possession creator. Offensively, Dwight Howard demands a huge amount of attention which creates time and space (opportunities) for his teammates to exploit. Particularly potent in the pick and roll game and running the floor. A good post-up player but can be stymied by top notch physical post defenders. A good passer out of the low post but doesn’t make many passes in non-post up situations. A very efficient offensive threat mainly because he sticks to what he does best and that is provide excellent finishing around the basket. Lacks a short or mid range jump-shot and is a poor free throw shooter.

Kobe Bryant has been LA’s main star and leading scorer for the last 7-8 years but now is the time for him to begin to accept a reduced role from years past. Nothing to dramatic, not a role player by any means, still a star and a central figure in LA’s plans … Kobe Bryant is and will be the Lakers most prolific scorer but I’d like to see him become more of a 20-24ppg threat than the 27-30ppg threat he wants to be.

Kobe Bryant continues to be a plus defender, strong rebounder, excellent ball-handler and passer in addition to being a very strong scorer. His all-round contributions continue to make him one of the best players in the NBA. A more dominant player when concentrating on his all-round game than when focused on his scoring. Can become too self-involved (ball-dominant, shot happy) at times. Needs to maintain a better team-focus this season more than ever before.

Kobe has seen some slippage in his game over the past few seasons. Defensively, not as consistent as he once was. Has more nights where his legs aren’t there (often making him a liability as a defender / possession creator) than before. And offensively, Kobe doesn’t get to the rim as well as he used to so we are seeing a larger proportion of his offense coming from midrange and long range jump-shots. Often contested shot attempts. Which has lowered his scoring efficiency.

Steve Nash is still an influential player. A dominant All-Star caliber season for the Phoenix Suns last year. An excellent passer/playmaking who creates high percentage shot attempts for his teammates. A solid scorer who is a brilliant jump-shooter and good shot-creator. Doesn’t look for his shot often enough though. A weak defensive player / rebounder.

Nash is going to have a tough time playing to his highest level while in LA playing alongside Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. No longer has a monopoly on the ball. Has to allow others to create offensively and play off the ball more than ever before. The Lakers twin-tower configuration also detracts from LA’s spacing offensively which will further inhibit Nash’s creativity. Plus, Nash is minutes-limited at this juncture at this stage in his career. So in terms of productivity, one should expect to see Nash down around 10-12ppg and 6-7apg than the 16ppg/12apg threat Nash was a few years ago.

Pau Gasol remains one of the top 5 big men in the NBA. A supremely skilled low post scorer and facilitator (passer). A good defensive player and strong rebounder. A good midrange and long two point range jump-shooter. An excellent overall player who is a borderline top ten talent in the NBA.

Despite a very high skill-level, Pau Gasol is a poor fit within this Lakers offense.

  • Gasol will continue to struggle to develop chemistry alongside Dwight Howard as he did with Andrew Bynum because of Dwight’s (and Bynum’s) inability to play outside of 6-8 feet from the basket which in turn forces Pau Gasol to the high post to provide proper spacing for the Lakers offense to function adequately.
  • That in turn leads to a larger proportion of Pau’s scoring coming from long jump-shots and a decrease in post-up opportunities (high percentage shot-attempts). Which makes Pau Gasol a much less efficient scoring option.
  • Playing in the high post as a PF also reduces his main advantage at the power forward position (size, low post threat) which also decreases his contributions as a shot-creator.
  • Pau Gasol has never been an overly aggressive player. He needs to feel involved throughout and is selective in his attacks offensively. Instead preferring to move the ball and keep his teammates involved. That personality trait makes it difficult for Pau to become a selfish post-scorer once Dwight/Bynum sits which has frustrated LA’s fans.
  • Someone like Marc Gasol who can both play in the high and low post would be a much better complement to Pau Gasol offensively. Marc Gasol’s size (7-1, 265lbs) and low post threat keeps the opposing teams center on him freeing Pau Gasol up to destroy the smaller big man (PF) + Marc Gasol’s high post passing ability and jump-shooting keeps proper spacing for Pau to attack in the low post and allows Marc to punish double teams when Pau kicks it out. Dwight Howard is unable to do this. Howard’s more limited offensive range as a shooter/passer forces Pau Gasol out to the high post (18+ feet from the basket) and limits Pau’s strengths.
  • Plus, Dwight Howard is capable of playing big minutes. One of iron men in the NBA. Rarely misses games and plays 36-38 minutes a night in the regular season and is easily able to play 40-44 minutes come playoff time. This means almost all of Pau’s (especially his playoff) minutes will be coming alongside Dwight Howard.

Add to this the continued complications of sharing touches / shot attempts with Kobe Bryant + the new arrival of Steve Nash who’ll need even more time on the ball than any previous Lakers PG and you have a situation where Pau Gasol will be unable to play anywhere near his highest level for the Lakers this season. Marginalized.

Ron Artest remains a very strong man-to-man defender at the SF position. Possesses excellent physical strength and good lateral quickness. Struggles to run through screens and is vulnerable in transition. A weak rebounder who doesn’t explode to the ball. Good at creating turnovers. Weak overall possession creator. Offensively, Artest is a ball-stopper who’s slow decision making stops player movement and creates a stagnant offense. A very poor decision maker. A streaky shooter and inefficient overall scorer. Undependable offensive threat.

Artest’s offensive skill-set is a bad fit on this Lakers team. They need someone who is more able to blend into the team. To provide superior perimeter shooting (say a Jared Dudley) and/or more quickness in transition and activity as a cutter off the ball (like Ariza provided). Someone who is more accepting of a low usage role and will move the ball quickly and ably instead of a ball-stopper. A bad fit offensively for the Lakers starting unit.

Bench

  • PG – Steve Blake, Chris Duhon, Darius Morris
  • SG – Jodie Meeks
  • SF – Devin Ebanks
  • PF – Antawn Jamison
  • C  – Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre

One of the weaker benches in the league. Borderline bottom five. Most likely the worst bench amongst playoff caliber teams nevermind teams with title hopes.

The Lakers do not have a single above average bench player nevermind a high level one. They have only one player (position) I’d describe as average at center with Jordan Hill. Two guards (PG + SG) who are slightly below average bench players. Devin Ebanks is another below average performer but solid player. Antawn Jamison is an outright liability. Duhon is a strong third stringer but other than that the Lakers have no other quality options deeper on the bench.

Antawn Jamison is the big name on the Lakers bench but the truth is that Jamison should have retired two years ago. The worst defensive player in the league at his position. A sub-par rebounder and weak overall possession creator. Unable to chase down rebounds the way he did when he was younger. A so-so passer. Moves the ball well but doesn’t create much. A skilled and versatile scorer but his shot-happy ways and poor shot-selection have made Jamison an inefficient and largely ineffective scoring option. So a large negative in the non-scoring contributions with only limited positive contributions as a scorer.

Steve Blake is a solid player but a limited creator. Not a good combination on a bench with limited talent / shot-creation / playmaking. A good outside shooter who avoids turnovers. A good decision maker. A dodgy defender/rebounder. Limited shot-creator / playmaker.

Chris Duhon is a good defender but limited offensive threat. A weak primary backup PG to high level third string PG. Darius Morris is an out of control third string PG who doesn’t deserve playing time. Has some talent if he can ever learn to play under control.

Jodie Meeks is a very strong jump-shooter but is an otherwise limited player. A dodgy defender, rebounder / possession creator, passer and shot-creator. Mainly a spot up shooter but can make the odd catch and shoot running off screens.

Devin Ebanks is a solid but unexceptional defender/rebounder but a limited offensive threat. A very athletic player. Has shown minimal development since joining the NBA. A disappointment to date but there is still time for Ebanks to become the player he is capable of being.

Jordan Hill has done an excellent job on the boards since joining the Lakers. Undersized defensively at the center position but is better at defending his natural position at power forward. A very limited offensive player who has no jump-shot or passing skills. Strictly a garbage man.

Sacre was a second round pick. Has shown some decent play in preseason but is unlikely to be a contributor this season.

Concerns

Here is a quick list of the main concerns heading into the season

  • Kobe Bryant has one of the highest usage rates in the NBA. Nash is another heavy usage / ball dominant offensive player. Pau Gasol was already struggling for touches. Dwight Howard wants to be a 25-30ppg scorer and wants more touches / shot attempts. There is only one basketball and not enough shot attempts to go around. There will be large diminishing returns especially for Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.
  • There are significant chemistry returns. The above diminishing returns. The concern over a ball-dominant PG and a ball-dominant wing combined with a twin-tower setup where one of those towers struggles to make a shot outside of five feet. Plus, Ron Artest is a very poor fit offensively who will only exacerbate LA’s issues.
  • A very weak bench / supporting cast. Huge pressure on the Lakers big four to perform night in night out for LA to get results. Will struggle when one or more isn’t playing well.
  • A dodgy Head Coach in Mike Brown who shouldn’t be in charge of a title contender.

Trade Pau Gasol?

With Pau Gasol marginalized on this Lakers team, I can’t help but wonder whether they’d be better off moving him for either a more complementary star or for several quality role players who can better round out the Lakers lineup.

Not sure what either of those options would look like but I do believe it’s something LA should explore.

Overall

A genuine title contender who are better built for the playoffs (when they can ride their stars) than the regular season (when they’ll have to keep a wary eye on their star’s minutes).

The Lakers lack of quality depth / supporting cast will stop them from posting a big regular season win-loss record. More of a mid-50s (maybe even high 50s) win team than a 60+ win squad.

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  1. My crystal ball says Lakers will be a huge dissapointment. Only time will tell if it’s right :).

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