Breaking Down the 5 Weaknesses of the Los Angeles Lakers

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2012

Breaking Down the 5 Weaknesses of the Los Angeles Lakers

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    The Los Angeles Lakers may have already become the team to beat in the Western Conference, but that doesn't mean they're invulnerable.

    In fact, this team is so good that the 29 other teams are all spending plenty of time trying to discover those vulnerabilities, to whatever extent they exist. If the Lakers jump out as this season's front-runners, they'll have a target on their backs.

    It remains to be seen whether Los Angeles' weaknesses will be significant enough for anyone to actually exploit them.

    There are two or three teams in the West who'd like to think so, but the Lakers are more talented and more determined than they were just a few months ago. They were already a formidable playoff team, and they improved as much as any team did this summer.

    But, they're not perfect just yet, and here's why.

Playing on the Road

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    The Los Angeles Lakers were just 15-18 on the road last season.

    That trailed the San Antonio Spurs (22-11), Oklahoma City Thunder (21-12) and Denver Nuggets (18-15). Winning on the road is an important metric for a club's title hopes, as you almost always have to beat a good team at their place to have any chance of going all the way in the playoffs. 

    Last postseason, the Lakers lost twice in Denver and all three games played in Oklahoma City.

    Will this team continue to struggle away from the Staples Center, especially when it matters most?

    It's entirely possible, but there are at least some reasons for hope. The Lakers are more likely to pull out close games and remain composed on the road now that Mike Brown has had more time to implement how he does things. Executing his game plan will be easier, and that should yield dividends in games that need it.

    Los Angeles will also benefit from the leadership of Steve Nash, a guy who's never cared what arena he was in. 

    Dwight Howard performed much better at home games last season, however, shooting 63 percent (51 on the road)from the field. The disparity was less pronounced in the previous two seasons, so there may not be much to it.

    But you have to imagine Dwight has made some enemies on the road, and we all know how badly he wants to be liked. 

    For whatever it's worth, Andrew Bynum was as good, if not better, on the road last season.

Playing Defense

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    Yes, Dwight Howard will make the Los Angeles Lakers a better defensive team.

    The thing is, you would have expected them to be better than they were last year, certainly ranked higher than 15th in points allowed. Andrew Bynum may not have always given a complete effort on the defensive end, but he still made more of an impact than your average seven-footer.

    And, Howard won't just be asked to play exceptional defense. He'll be asked to make up for the fact that guys like Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison are defensive liabilities.

    The Lakers aren't turning into the Sacramento Kings overnight. Chances are they'll be better, and chances are it won't matter as much given how potent this offense just became.

    But the Lakers won't turn into the Denver Nuggets overnight either, and that means they'll still need to play defense during important stretches.

    Head coach Mike Brown is known for his defense, so the Lakers could benefit from having additional time to adjust to his philosophy. If they don't, we'll all remember why Steve Nash's Suns never won a title.

The Small Forward Position

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    If you think Metta World Peace is still the same defender who earned a reputation as one of the league's best stoppers, you're mistaken.

    He's not washed up, but nor is the 32-year-old what he used to be.

    The biggest problem for the Los Angeles Lakers' small forward position isn't Metta World Peace. It's the fact their only other legitimate 3s are Devin Ebanks and now Earl Clark. None of these guys are bad players, but they're also not shooters.

    Los Angeles can spread the floor with Antawn Jamison. There's just a downside when they do so, and every team that goes small with any frequency knows about it. The defense almost always suffers.

    The other alternative is to keep Kobe Bryant in with two other guards, but that's precisely how the guy ends up playing 40 minutes so often.

    The Lakers could have really used a guy like Dorell Wright, who the Golden State Warriors sent to Philadelphia this summer. They don't need another star; they just need a guy who can guard 3s and shoot three-pointers.

The Locker Room

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    The Los Angeles Lakers were distracted by trade rumors last season, but you have to expect that will die down now that the club has landed its big prize.

    That doesn't mean everything will be entirely peachy this season. After all, Dwight Howard will have to get used to actually playing on a team with other stars. He got his wish, but he'll have to learn when to lead, when to defer and when to just let Kobe shoot the ball.

    Steve Nash will excel at getting everyone their touches, but there will still only be so many touches to go around. 

    There's also no telling how everyone will acclimate themselves to new roles in the Princeton offense. The new system may indeed be a necessary evolution, but that doesn't mean there won't be growing pains as it's implemented.

Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant probably remains one of the three or four best all-around players in the league. Certainly as a scorer, he has few if any real peers.

    He's hardly washed up.

    But he's also the kind of player who's at his best when he's the second option. The Los Angeles Lakers were at their best when Shaquille O'Neal was dominating other teams and letting Kobe help out.

    Now, Bryant finds himself in a far different position.

    He's his team's best player and undisputed first option, but it's a team that will need to share the ball in order to be effective. You won't see Bryant holding the ball as much as he did last season, but the fact of the matter is that's when he's at his best.

    There's no question he'll adjust to the new offensive schemes and remain effective. But he just might get in the way of what a Steve Nash-run team would otherwise try to do. We saw Kobe forcing shots even when LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul were all on his side.

    Adding Nash and Howard won't make him any less likely to do so. The Princeton offense might not either.

    You can't knock Kobe's talent, leadership or legendary accomplishments. You can, however, be honest about the fact that he's not the best fit for every kind of team.