Breaking Down the Roles of the L.A. Lakers Bench
During the Los Angeles Lakers' past seven NBA Finals appearances, one of their strengths was having productive players coming off the bench.
On the flip side, the Lakers' lack of production off the bench is why they've missed the Finals the past two seasons, as they were bounced out of the playoffs by the deeper Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder.
In preparation for the 2012-13 season, the Lakers certainly upgraded their roster by making a bold trade for Dwight Howard and signing veterans Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison.
However, while the bulk of the team's playing time will go to its starting five, it's the reserves who hold the key to once again putting the Lakers back in the NBA Finals.
Here's a breakdown of the roles that the new and returning Lakers bench players will fill in the coming season.
Antawn Jamison has always been a darn good NBA player. He has a career average of 19.5 points per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field.
The only problem is, Jamison has never had the demeanor of a No. 1. guy, yet he's often had to carry the scoring load on under-performing teams—the Golden State Warriors, 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks, Washington Wizards and most recently the post-Lebron Cleveland Cavaliers.
But on the Lakers, he has none of that to worry about.
As the backup for Pau Gasol, Jamison will be able to showcase his scoring touch without having to carry the team. I expect him to be the fourth- or fifth-leading scorer on the team behind Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Gasol and possibly Steve Nash.
His creative scoring ability down low and ability to hit the deep two-point shot should instantly make him a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award. He's the type of weapon the Lakers have missed since getting rid of Lamar Odom a year ago.
Jamison is a good fit for a team that needed to add depth, and it's a great role for the 36-year-old veteran who'd like to get his first championship ring.
Though the newly added 38-year-old Steve Nash will not be able to play anywhere close to 40 minutes per game, expect him to start each game, finish all close games and be on the court during every clutch possession.
So Steve Blake's role, as it was primarily last season, is to be a serviceable backup point guard who can keep the game rolling while the starter is getting rest.
And though Nash will likely be sitting when Blake is on the court, some combination of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Antawn Jamison or Dwight Howard will still be on floor with him.
Blake can knock down an open three-pointer and he's a decent passer, so his job will be to avoid turnovers, get the ball to Bryant, Gasol, Jamison or Howard and be ready to knock down an open shot.
If he can successfully do all the above while Nash catches a breather, Blake will have served his purpose.
Jordan Hill emerged from a sprained MCL in his knee last season to log productive postseason minutes for the Lakers.
In fact, Hill had three double-digit rebounding games during the Lakers' first-round series against the Denver Nuggets.
This season, Hill will benefit from being surrounded by three other bigs—Howard, Gasol and Jamison—who can more than carry their fair share of scoring. He will be able to focus his efforts on defending and rebounding.
Hill will be the Lakers' backup center to Howard and should be able to fill that role quite well, so long as he keeps his right knee healthy.
Earl Clark is a forward, but he's not the greatest post presence.
He can knock down the deep two-point shot and has a pretty explosive first step, but he's not reliable enough to log big minutes. ESPN.com has Clark as the third power forward on the Lakers' depth chart.
However, those qualities might make him a perfect candidate for the Lakers' bench because he won't need to log big minutes. Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill will all see minutes before Clark does.
Clark is a 6'10" athletic presence who can mix in well when the Lakers have opportunities to go small, and he'll be serviceable off the bench if someone gets in foul trouble.
Also, Clark and Howard were teammates the past two years in Orlando, so he could be valuable in helping Howard find a comfort zone in Los Angeles.
Bleacher Report featured columnist Steven Cook expanded on Clark's trade to Los Angeles in an article he wrote in August.
Chris Duhon is another guy who came over to the Lakers with Howard in the big trade.
He's an experienced, 30-year-old NBA point guard who's started more than half of the 560 games he's played in the NBA.
Like Steve Blake, Duhon can shoot the three. Duhon, however, is a much more creative scorer than Blake.
With the massive number of points I expect Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash to accumulate each night, the Lakers will still most likely run with the pass-first Blake when Nash sits for a breather.
Duhon, nevertheless, provides the Lakers with another experienced guard off the bench. He's a player who can put the ball in the basket if passing first isn't what they need on a given night.
ESPN.com has Duhon fourth on the Lakers' depth chart behind Darius Morris, but I put him at third, just behind Blake.
If the Lakers were more concerned about grooming their young players, I might agree. But they're in a win-now mindset, which, in my opinion, has them going with the cagey veteran over the unproven second-year player.
The Lakers signed Jodie Meeks as a free agent this offseason.
Meeks is very much a shooting guard. He doesn't pass much or collect many rebounds, but he can certainly score when called upon, which makes him valuable as a backup to the aging Kobe Bryant.
Don't get me wrong, a 34-year-old Bryant will still be one of the best players in the NBA and the offensive leader for the Lakers.
But too often last season, Bryant had to carry a little more of the load than he should have and had to stay on the court a little longer than advised, all because of a lack of depth.
Meeks gives the Lakers an able-bodied substitute for Bryant without completely giving away the farm. Meeks also gives the Lakers a trio of guards off the bench—along with Steve Blake and Chris Duhon—who can be mixed and matched in different types of lineups.
It's important to note that the top three scorers for the Lakers last season—Bryant, Pau Gasol and former Laker Andrew Bynum—all saw a spike in minutes per game because of the lack of team depth.
The Rest of the Bench
Devin Ebanks, Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock round out the rest of the Lakers' bench.
I don't expect Ebanks, Morris or Goudelock to see many minutes outside of garbage time, as they are all young and unproven players.
Ebanks is the true positional backup to Metta World Peace, but with the guard and forward depth the Lakers have added, they have better, more experienced options to put on the court ahead of Ebanks.
Morris is a guard who showed the Lakers enough to keep him around this season, but I don't see him offering the Lakers much help in their Finals quest this coming season.
Goudelock is another shooting guard option, but he has only played very limited minutes in one season.
The Lakers needed to provide depth to their bench, and they did that this offseason. However, a team's best players dictate its success, so there's bound to be a handful of guys on a 15-man roster who don't see many minutes. Ebanks, Morris and Goudelock are in that category.
Also keep an eye out for Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre, unsigned draft picks who could make the Lakers' final roster.
(Correction on Sept. 12: Though Robert Sacre's salary information was unlisted on several sources, he was actually signed to the Lakers on Sept. 7. However, according to the Los Angeles Times it's unclear if his contract is guaranteed or not and may be nothing more than an invite to training camp.)
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