Ranking Every L.A. Lakers Player by Importance to Championship Run

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIAugust 30, 2012

Ranking Every L.A. Lakers Player by Importance to Championship Run

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    The revamped Los Angeles Lakers’ roster for the 2012-2013 season added not only two new members of the starting five in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, but also inserted two key role players to improve what was a very lackluster bench last season in Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks.

    Not only are the Lakers one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference with a top seed this season, but they’re poised for a championship run as well. Guys like Howard and Nash are seeking their first ever championship rings, while Kobe Bryant is targeting the sixth of his illustrious career.

    For the Lakers to win it all this season however, every player on the roster will have to embrace his role and help the team in any way possible.

    With a star-studded cast, some Lakers players will obviously be more pivotal than others. Nevertheless, the role players will have to perform as well if this team stands a chance at regaining glory via the Larry O’Brien trophy.

13. Robert Sacre/Darius Morris/Darius Johnson-Odom

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    None of these three players even came close to impressing during the NBA Summer League. In fact, the Lakers’ 2012 Summer League roster was a travesty. They managed to lose a game by 40 points and another by a grand total of 50 points.

    On a roster loaded with talent, it’s hard to see any of these players getting much court time (if they get any minutes at all). Robert Sacre and Darius Johnson-Odom are both incoming rookies, while Darius Morris played in just 19 games last year for the Lakers, averaging 2.4 points per contest.

    It’s safe to assume that these three players will be buried on the Lakers bench or spend the majority of the season in the NBA D-League to get more playing time to hone their skills.

    In the grand scheme of a championship run for 2013, these three will be lucky to be a footnote.

12. Earl Clark

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    Earl Clark was taken with the 14th overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns. Due to a combination of lack of playing time and lack of confidence, Clark never got his feet wet in the NBA and has now bounced to his third NBA team.

    Clark was an athletic swingman coming out of Louisville, but has been a huge NBA bust. The disappointment of Clark gets magnified when you factor in that he was drafted before players like Ty Lawson, Taj Gibson, Jrue Holiday and Chase Budinger.

    Clark has rarely seen playing time over a three year career, and even when he sees the court, he doesn’t make a habit of making an impact.

    Clark will probably be buried on the Lakers’ depth chart behind Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and even Devin Ebanks.

    Even if he finds some regular season minutes, the odds he gets playing time in the playoffs are slim to none.

11. Andrew Goudelock

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    Before the signing of Jodie Meeks, many Lakers fans were apprehensive at the thought that Andrew Goudelock would have the responsibility of being Kobe Bryant’s main backup.

    Thankfully for the Lakers and their fans, they inked an improvement in Goudelock’s place.

    It’s difficult to fault Goudelock’s effort out on the court, but his 39.1 percent shooting from the field during his rookie season left a lot to be desired.

    The fact that he recorded 20 assists versus 21 turnovers a season ago also didn’t help his case.

    Much like last season, Goudelock won’t play a huge role in the Lakers’ rotation. However, if someone sustains an injury, his number will be called upon to log more minutes.

10. Devin Ebanks

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    Devin Ebanks’ sophomore season may be remembered by his antics after Andrew Bynum was sent to the bench for pulling up for a three-point shot early in the shot clock last season (both Bynum and Ebanks shared a laugh about the incident on the sideline).

    However, Ebanks played decent basketball in limited time and even started 12 games a season ago.

    The 22-year-old forward may get some playing time as the backup to Metta World Peace, but there’s a high possibility that Antawn Jamison could leech away a good deal of Ebanks’ minutes.

    A few years down the road Ebanks may be a solid contributor for the Lakers, but his role for next season certainly won’t be a huge one.

9. Steve Blake/Chris Duhon

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    It’s unclear at this juncture who Mike Brown will decide to slot behind Steve Nash as the backup point guard. However, the Lakers have two veteran options on the roster to embrace that role.

    Blake isn’t the most impressive of options, but his career three-point percentage of 38.7 is not bad.

    Duhon, who was acquired via the Dwight Howard trade, is an NBA veteran who is still just 29 years old. As the starting point guard for the New York Knicks during the 2008-2009 season, Duhon averaged 11.1 points and 7.2 assists per contest in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system.

    Regardless of who ends up with more minutes out of the backup point guard spot, the position will be vitally important in order to rest Nash.

    The former back-to-back MVP award winner is now 38 years old. He played just 31.6 minutes per game for the Phoenix Suns last season, so keeping his minutes to about that threshold will be important moving forward.

    If either Duhon or Blake can play well while Nash rests on the sideline, it will take a lot of pressure off the Lakers’ new floor general.

8. Jordan Hill

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    Although the backup point guards in Los Angeles will play an important role filling in for Steve Nash in stints, Jordan Hill’s niche on the team could be expanded to a starting job to start the season.

    The addition of Dwight Howard is a huge step toward the Lakers’ yearly championship aspirations, but D12 is recuperating from back surgery he underwent in April to repair a herniated disk.

    Howard may not start the regular season healthy enough to play and could miss significant time to ensure that he’s 100 percent when he returns.

    If that’s the case, which appears likely, Hill’s role will be expanded to make up for Howard’s absence.

    Howard should eventually return to game shape and limit Hill’s minutes, but the former University of Arizona Wildcat will play a key role in the Lakers’ frontcourt regardless.

7. Jodie Meeks

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    Backing up one of the NBA’s best players is no easy task. Often times when the superstars of team’s are on the bench getting rest, leads are squandered as the backups fail to notch the same on-court production.

    Jodie Meeks is eons away from being as good of a basketball player as Kobe Bryant, but if he can play efficiently when the now 34-year-old Bryant takes a breather, he’ll go a long way toward winning over fans in Los Angeles.

    Shannon Brown played solid basketball in a backup role in Los Angeles behind Bryant averaging approximately eight points per game off the bench. If Meeks can match that production and improve his lackluster 41.1 percent career shooting clip, coach Brown may be able to rest Bryant more often as he eyes a playoff run.

6. Antawn Jamison

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    Last season, the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench was the team’s Achilles heel. The two leading scorers off the Lakers bench a season ago were Matt Barnes (7.8 points per game) and Steve Blake (5.2 points per game).

    Even though Antawn Jamison shot a career worst 40.3 percent from the field a season ago with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he still scored 17.2 points per game.

    Jamison will be Lakers’ main offensive scoring threat off the bench next season. Putting up 17.2 points per game again is highly unlikely, but his pedigree as a scorer vastly improves the Lakers’ lowly bench of a year ago.

    The veteran forward who has played for the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Washington Wizards and Cavaliers may start some games throughout the season, but his key role will be as the team’s spark plug of a sixth man.

    As a former Sixth Man of the Year award winner, it’s safe to assume that Jamison is up to the task.

5. Metta World Peace

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    Much like Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Metta World Peace is the Lakers’ wildcard.

    Most nights he’ll play lock-down defense, some nights he’ll surprise fans with his offensive output (which has fallen off the grid in recent years) and on rare occasions he’ll do something on the crazy side of normal, usually leading to a flagrant foul and suspension, which hurts the team.

    He may have the most ironic name in all of sports, but World Peace has proven in the past that he can play to an All-Star caliber level while playing elite defense.

    He prides himself on the defensive end of the court and if the Lakers plan on beating teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, World Peace will have to defend two of the best players in the NBA.

    Only time will tell if he’s up to the task, but his negatives as an offensive liability seem to be offset by the Lakers’ core four.

4. Steve Nash

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    Steve Nash’s pedigree as a two-time NBA MVP speaks for itself, but the fact of the matter is the Los Angeles Lakers won five championships in the span of a decade with Derek Fisher, Ron Harper and Lindsey Hunter manning the point guard spot.

    Nash is one of the best point guards to ever play the game of basketball and his influence on the play of Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and the role players will be invaluable.

    However, whether or not Nash can coexist in the same backcourt as Kobe Bryant remains a mystery. Bryant is an offensively inclined shooting guard who needs to dominate the ball to be effective in isolation sets. He’s never played alongside a point guard as capable as Nash, so it will be interesting to see how they split ball-handling duties.

    Nash is a fantastic point guard who makes everyone around him better, but in relation to the Lakers’ core of superstars, he may be the most expendable given the team’s past success with Bryant dominating the ball.

    Oh, and he's also a huge liability on the defensive end of the court.

3. Pau Gasol

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    When Pau Gasol is clicking on all cylinders, he makes the Lakers look unbeatable. When he isn’t utilized in the offense and starts to become timid with the basketball, the Lakers are worse off (not to mention Kobe Bryant publicly calls out Gasol’s lack of aggressiveness).

    Gasol was a gargantuan piece of the Lakers’ past two championship puzzles. He played fantastic basketball in the NBA finals in 2009 and 2010, but is often criticized when he has postseason struggles.

    The addition of Nash to distribute the ball on offense should help Gasol out immensely. Not to mention the fact that Dwight Howard could draw a fair share of double teams in the post, freeing up Gasol as his partner in crime in the post.

    If he can return to form following a “down” year (even though Gasol put up great numbers a season ago), the Lakers will be a hard team to beat.

2. Dwight Howard

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    As a former three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner, Dwight Howard will have the responsibility of anchoring the Lakers’ defense next season.

    Not only will Howard’s athleticism and skill greatly improve the Lakers’ interior defense, but his hustle on D will erase a lot of Steve Nash’s defensive shortcomings.

    Everything depends on Howard’s health following back surgery, but he doesn’t have a history as an injury prone player.

    In addition to his fantastic defense, Howard is a monster on the offensive of the court (as long as he isn’t at the charity stripe).

    Nash will have a field day as the Lakers’ new floor general, using the many weapons at his disposal to rack up assists.

    Many of those assists should come via the alley-oop to the one they call “Superman.”

1. Kobe Bryant

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    He may be 34 years old, he may be past his prime, he may have shot 43 percent from the field last season and could struggle with fatigue following the 2012 Summer Olympics, but Kobe Bryant is still the Los Angeles Lakers’ leader and alpha dog.

    He’s the team’s No. 1 scoring option, veteran leader and he will still have the responsibility of taking the biggest shots in crunch-time.

    As Bryant goes, so go the Los Angeles Lakers. There may be some new faces in town that are accompanied by a lot of hype, but Bryant is a life-long Laker who knows how to lead teams to championships.

    As Kobe approaches the twilight of his career, he’d like nothing more than to taste victory for the sixth time.

    Can the Black Mamba embrace his new teammates? Can he allow Nash to handle the ball on offense to orchestrate the team’s flow? Can he continue to play at an elite level without losing a step?

    If the answer is yes to all three of those questions, there’s no reason why the Lakers can’t win the NBA championship in 2013.