The Los Angeles Lakers are going to wake up today the same way all of us will and when it comes time to start their day they will put their pants on the same way each of us do: one leg at a time.
They have an established 10-man rotation and unfortunately for the team and their fans, oftentimes they play basketball the way they put their pants on, the same way each of us do.
Don’t be fooled by the 10-5 record, the Lakers have won a lot of games against inferior opponents and four of their five losses have come against playoff teams (Chicago, Denver, Portland, Los Angeles).
The Lakers have been doing a few things well, however. They are fifth in the league in assists per game and points against while grabbing the league’s second-most rebounds per game.
Big picture: They are clearly struggling on the offensive end in the paint (despite having two “dominant” big men) and behind the three-point line. They are not getting to the free-throw line as often as they had in the past and when Kobe is not locked in, the team is not locked in.
Factoring in the shortened training camp, the changes to the roster and the coaching staff, and the condensed schedule, I will cut the team some slack and give them a B- through 15 games.
Here are individual grades for the guys in the 10-man rotation.
Statistically speaking, last night’s close win against Dallas aside, Kobe is deserving of an “A" if not an “A+.” Unfortunately for Kobe, he is the superstar of all superstars and is looked at as such a competitor—and winner—that his grade was affected because of the team’s struggles.
Kobe is averaging 30.8 points a night in addition to nearly six rebounds and 5.4 assists. He had the sports world captivated as he dropped 40-plus in four straight games and has been filling up the box score a little more than the team is filling up the win column.
Despite Bryant’s hot start this season, the Lakers are 10-5 and their slim lead in the Pacific division won’t be a permanent one. By coupling Kobe’s wrist injury with the condensed schedule, I have concerns that there is trouble down the road for the star and his team.
But for now, let's sit back and enjoy the show he puts on every time he steps onto the hardwood.
Pau has gotten off to a decent start this season from a box score standpoint. Despite playing back in home in Spain over the summer and the nixed trade that must have dealt an emotional blow, he has shown up in shape and ready to go.
So I will acknowledge that as impressive, because it is.
Yet, as a lifelong Laker fan, the fact of the matter is Pau Gasol looks the worst he has ever looked in purple and gold. Since coming over in February of 2008, Gasol upped his game and took advantage of playing in a big market by earning the respect of the league and becoming arguably the best power forward in the NBA.
Starting last year in the first round against Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets, for whatever reason, Pau Gasol began to fall apart emotionally and his play on the court dwindled. This season, he is averaging 15.9 points and 9.5 rebounds, which are pretty solid numbers.
Plenty of teams would take a “16 and 10” guy like Pau, but having watched every game this year I can say without a doubt that he is far from dominant, confident or dependable thus far in 2012.
He is far from who he once was, and I hope he can find himself before it’s too late.
For every Kobe Bryant critic that says “he shoots too much” or “he’s a ball hog” or “they need to establish Bynum and Gasol,” to you I say, “How many Laker games have you watched this season?”
Bynum is doing the same things to the box score Pau is doing. He is averaging 16 and 14 while getting nearly two blocks a night. He’s shooting a solid field-goal percentage, but for the second-best center in the league, he is only shooting 5.6 free throws a night, and only making 50 percent of them (meaning he leaves nearly three points on the table every night).
I had Bynum as a “B” until watching last night’s ugly win against Dallas. Brendan Haywood—whom my roommates and I call “the corpse”—managed to body up Bynum throughout the night and blocked three of his turnaround shots.
Bynum has to want to win, and on a nightly basis I just don’t see it.
Now that the Lakers' “big three” are out of the way, the microscope can zoom out a little bit. I find it hard to scrutinize a role player for simply playing their role (unless of course, they do it poorly).
Matt Barnes came over from Orlando last season and didn’t make quite the impact he or the team had planned due to injury. This year, however, showed lots of promise because Barnes came into camp healthy.
New head coach Mike Brown made some serious tweaks to the rotation, throwing Barnes into the starting five.
Barnes is averaging 9.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists this year. He’s playing a hair over 26 minutes a night and is shooting nearly 50 percent from the field. However, he is known among Laker fans as a defensive guy and is getting less than one block and steal per night.
Barnes' best moment of the season came last night on a Mavericks fast break when he extended both arms and threw them right into Dirk Nowitzki’s face, picking up a flagrant foul. Barnes, as a role player, needs to recognize his role.
Be scrappy, be dirty, hustle and get in the opponent's head, Barnes. Come on.
Derek Fisher, the last of the starting five, did it again last night. Fisher will forever hold a special place in my heart and the hearts of every Laker fan because of moments like last night.
Fisher had a tough offseason for countless reasons. Not only is he getting old and slowing down, but he spent almost all of the prolonged offseason in the boardroom representing the players in the lockout negotiations while his teammates were in the gym.
Fisher is averaging a modest 4.3 points a game while dishing out nearly five assists. He is holding his own defensively, is still making his hustle plays and still has the leader aura about him.
Thanks to last night’s shot, he hushed the critics, boosted his confidence and showed the new guys why Kobe loves him so much.
Steve Blake’s injury—which will keep him out 3-4 weeks—is going to hurt this Lakers team far more than people expect.
Watching rookie Darius Morris play Blake’s minutes is brutal. Every sequence Morris has the ball goes something like this: dribble, dribble, dribble in, dribble out, stop dribbling, look uncertain, pass to Kobe.
Blake, through the 12 games he played, had 7.3 points and 2.8 assists in 24 minutes a night. He was hitting 40 percent of his shots overall and 36 percent from behind the arc.
His numbers are nothing over the top, but for a guy jumping off the bench, Blake showed much improvement from last season on both sides of the floor. He has also shown flashes of bunch scoring by putting up double-digits in five of the 12 games he played in.
10-plus points off the bench works for me.
I prayed regularly during the offseason that general manager Mitch Kupchak would trade World Peace, amnesty his contract or simply cut him. I saw his effectiveness go down the drain late last season and in the playoffs and I was not looking forward to watching him play this year.
When Mike Brown came over this offseason, he sat down with the former Ron Artest and told him he wanted him to come off the bench and lead the second unit, now known as “the peace corps.”
Artest agreed wholeheartedly, but other than dropping 19 and 14 in games two and three of the season, he has been essentially useless.
He’s playing 20 minutes a night and scoring 5.4 points while grabbing 2.7 rebounds. He is getting less than one block and steal a night, like his defensive teammate Matt Barnes.
Compounding his poor defensive effectiveness is the fact that he is shooting 33 percent from the field and seven percent from three (a whopping 2-of-27).
Thanks to bad luck, injuries and a lack of depth, rookie Darius Morris has been thrown into the mix as a regular rotation guy. He is really raw athletically and his talent isn’t fine-tuned yet, which is understandable because he is so young (turned 21 two weeks ago).
In the small sample size we have (he didn’t play a minute until the Blake injury) Morris has looked bad. He is playing 18 minutes a night and only scoring 3.8 points during the games. From an efficiency standpoint, Morris is basically averaging the same number of personal fouls and turnovers a night as he is assists.
More than anything that shows up in the box score, Morris looks nervous every time the ball is in his hands and is very reminiscent of the guy in a pick up game that you never want on your team because he dribbles too much, turns the ball over and doesn’t play good defense.
I feel bad bagging on him because he is so young and new to the game, so really this is me bagging on Mike Brown and Mitch Kupchak for having this guy in the game at all.
“JMR,” as I call him, has been the bright spot off the bench thus far this season for the Lakers. McRoberts is the guy on the floor that you love if he is on your team and hate if he is lined up against you. His effectiveness on the floor rarely shows up in the box score because he is an energy guy that loves to compete.
He’s playing 20 minutes a night while scoring roughly five points, grabbing five boards and blocking one shot. The crowd loves him and his goofy socks and you can tell Kobe enjoys the effort he puts forth every second of the game.
As the team continues to mesh, the offense picks up a flow and Mike Brown gets the guys to really click, I expect JMR to get more minutes and fill up the box score offensively and defensively.
He is something I and all Laker fans should be excited about.
Kapono’s grade is also coming off a small sample size. He has only gotten into 10 of the team’s 15 games. Of those 10, he has only played double-digit minutes in seven of them, averaging 12.5 minutes a night.
Kapono is the kind of guy that, when he checks in at the scorer’s table, he gives you exactly what you are expecting. He’s a decent defender, a streaky scorer and a solid teammate.
If you give him minutes, he will give you numbers. If you don’t, well, then you don’t.
His numbers are not noteworthy yet this season, however he is shooting the ball well from all over the floor and he finds himself in a similar situation to McRoberts. Once the team fully clicks, gets the new offense down and improves in the half court, I see his minutes going up and his effectiveness as well.