Breaking Down How Antawn Jamison Will Thrive Immediately as LA Lakers' 6th Man
He's back in California, the same state he began his NBA career as a member of the Golden State Warriors. He'll be settling into a role as a scoring-sixth man on a Western Conference contender, much as he did with the 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks.
Time and experience may have reshaped the 36-year-old Jamison's physical condition since those salad days, but his game—that of an unorthodox scorer who's hardly ever met a shot he didn't like—remains largely intact.
If going back to California works out as well for Jamison as it once did for LL Cool J, then the Lakers may yet have found the perfect solution to the residual deficiencies of their reserves.
The Lakers' bench scoring has been sub-par for some time, even before Lamar Odom demanded a change of scenery last December. According to Hoops Stats, LA never ranked higher than 16th in reserve scoring with Odom riding the pine and checked in at 18th (28.2 points per game) in 2010-11, when Odom earned Sixth Man of the Year honors.
To be sure, the situation only deteriorated once Odom asked for an out. The Lakers plummeted to dead last in bench scoring (21.3 points per game) in 2011-12, just below the 29th-place Boston Celtics and the 27th-place Miami Heat.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, for their part, came in 16th.
It would seem, then, that depth is somewhat overrated, at least among teams vying for the title. Of greater import is the employment of superstars and other top-end talent, with depth necessary for those teams that lack players of the aforementioned caliber.
Not that having a strong second unit or a former All-Star like Antawn Jamison to lead it need be considered disadvantageous. Jamison was named the league's Sixth Man of the Year in 2003-04 for his work with the Mavs, averaging 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in 29 minutes per game at the age of 27.
The Lakers can't (shouldn't) expect Jamison to play those minutes or put up numbers like that, especially once Dwight Howard is done rehabilitating his back. Jamison may be called upon to produce more in the interim, but will ideally settle into a more modest statistical territory around 10 points and four rebounds per game.
So long as he fares better and contributes more consistently than Matt Barnes—LA's highest-scoring reserve last season at 7.2 points per game—he'll have more than sung for his supper.
Particularly since the Lakers are only paying him the veteran's minimum to do so.
Jamison's past experience as a go-to scorer, be it as a starter or as a reserve, will serve him well while leading a revamped bench mob replete with role players. In all likelihood, Jamison will garner his fair share of looks at the basket, with Steve Blake running the offense, Jordan Hill cleaning the glass and fellow newcomer Jodie Meeks setting up for outside shots.
Jamison's arrival won't be all purple-and-golden, though. He's long been considered among the NBA's weakest defenders at forward; remains too slow to hang with the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant on the wing; and too slight to stop Kevin Love and Blake Griffin in the middle.
"I understand the importance of not being that weak link. I understand the importance of defensive teams wins championships. I definitely have improved, and not as much a negative on the defensive end early on in my career...Chris Trotman/Getty Images
"You understand how to put yourself in better positions, not get blown by defensively or not be reliable on the defensive end. I'll tell you one thing. I'm gonna work hard and I'm gonna give you my all. You won't be able to say he's the weak link to this defensive team or to this puzzle."
That being said, as anemic as the Lakers' reserves were offensively last season, they were nearly as inept on defense. Opposing benches scored 32.9 points per game (ninth-most) against the Lakers and were the 10th-most efficient, per Hoops Stats.
It'll take more than simply not being the weakest link for Jamison to be an asset on defense, even with a defensive guru like Mike Brown overseeing the operation from the bench.
Brown, though, can boast first-hand familiarity with Jamison from their days together with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Granted, Jamison played all of 36 games (including the playoffs) for Brown in 2009-10, when the Cavs bowed out in the second round before LeBron took his talents to South Beach.
Jamison, for his part, knows full well what to expect from Brown upon arrival:
"The attention to detail is at an ultimate high. I've played thousands of games. This is probably my 12th or 13th coach I've had throughout my career and I've never been a part of a coach with his attention to detail, film sessions. I mean, he does his homework and he has his team prepared... Everybody has to be accountable on both ends of the floor in that locker room."
There is at least something of a pre-existing rapport, then, between Brown and Jamison, if not an understanding on the coach's part of how best to utilize the player. That knowledge could prove crucial to carving out a comfortable role for Jamison, one in which his own success will only benefit the Lakers' pursuit of a title.
Ultimately, that's why Jamison turned down a potentially more lucrative offer with his hometown Charlotte Bobcats to wind his way back to the West Coast. As he told the attendant media at his introductory press conference:
"My biggest thing before I even got there was, I just wanted a chance, because I'd never really had a chance to be a part of a team that can contend for a championship or really have a legitimate opportunity."
Indeed, the Lakers should be no worse than title contenders this season, what with a glitzy core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash lighting up the starting lineup.
If Antawn Jamison can close the loop of his NBA life with a strong season off the bench, the Lakers should find themselves that much closer to hanging yet another championship banner at the Staples Center.
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