Previewing the L.A. Lakers' 5 Biggest Training Camp Battles

Sim Risso@@SimRissoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2012

Previewing the L.A. Lakers' 5 Biggest Training Camp Battles

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    The major names on the Los Angeles Lakers are already known. We know which players will play prominent roles on this team. But while we know the players that will be contributing, we don't exactly know the roles they'll be occupying.

    That's where training camp comes in. It will provide Los Angeles the perfect opportunity to assess its parts and see what will work best. Who will start while Howard is out recovering from back surgery? Who's going to be the team's best shooting option off the bench? Which players are expendable?

    Those are all legitimate questions coming into the season and training camp is the time to get the answers. So here's a look at the Lakers' five biggest battles as we head into training camp.

Chris Duhon vs. Steve Blake for a Roster Space

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    With Steve Nash now in the mix, the Lakers have a point guard that will command big minutes. That means there won't be many minutes to go around for backup point guards. Because of this, there's no reason to carry two veteran backups like Steve Blake and Chris Duhon.

    Consequently, these two will be battling it out for a roster spot. Deciding who to keep will depend on what each player brings to the table.

    In Blake, the Lakers have a point guard who can capably manage the offense. He knows where everybody's supposed to be and what they should be doing. And he has the ability to find the open man on a consistent basis.

    But he's not a good defender. He doesn't score much at all, which isn't really a problem from a backup point guard. The problem is that on top of not scoring, he's also not an efficient shooter. He doesn't get to the free-throw line and he's only hit 36.8 percent of his shots the last two seasons.

    With Duhon, the Lakers are getting a better defender than what they have in Blake and Nash. That alone might give him an edge.

    However, while Duhon may be better on defense than the other two, he's not nearly as good on offense. He's much more turnover-prone than Blake and he lacks Blake's court vision.

    The one edge he has on offense is that he's a more consistent shooter (.419 field-goal percentage last season and .420 three-point percentage for 2011-12), but will that give him enough of an edge given his propensity for turnovers and inability to run the offense?

Chris Duhon vs. Jodie Meeks for Best Shooting Option off the Bench

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    The Lakers were 25th in three-point percentage last season (.326). It was an area of the team that Los Angeles needed to address this offseason. By bringing in Chris Duhon and Jodie Meeks, the Lakers have done just that. But who's the better option to provide consistent shooting off the bench.

    Chris Duhon is a career 36.3 percent shooter from three-point range. He had a career year last year in that department, nailing 42 percent of his three-point attempts. But as recently as 2010-11, Duhon only hit 25 percent of his shots from downtown. So maybe his consistency is in question.

    With Meeks, there's a shorter track record to go off of because he's only been in the league for three seasons. At the same time, he's been a consistent shooter throughout his career. He hasn't had any dips like Duhon saw in 2010-11. He's hit 37.1 percent of his 746 career three-point attempts, including 36.5 percent last season.

    Meeks is also a more consistent all-around shooter. He's got a higher career field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage than Duhon. His overall consistency from long range, and just shooting consistency, in general, might give him the edge over Duhon as the Lakers' top shooting option off the bench.

Devin Ebanks vs. Reeves Nelson for a Roster Spot

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    The Lakers recently signed former UCLA standout Reeves Nelson. The team also still has Devin Ebanks in the mix. So who should the Lakers keep for depth off the bench?

    With Nelson, there are a lot of unknowns. For one, he's never played in the NBA so we don't know how he'll handle the transition from college. Perhaps more concerning is that Nelson was dismissed from the UCLA team for misconduct.

    But there's no doubting Nelson's talent. He was on the All-Pac-10 team following his sophomore year and looked to have a bright career ahead of him before it was derailed by his off-the-court mishaps.

    The Lakers know what they're getting from Ebanks. That's a plus. Unfortunately they're just not getting very much. He has good ball-handling skills and can consistently get to the hoop.

    However, he has no semblance of a consistent outside shot and he didn't really make any strides from his rookie year to last season's sophomore campaign. Therefore, is it reasonable to expect any dramatic improvements heading into 2012-13?

    Nelson probably has more upside than Ebanks. But Nelson also has a non-guaranteed contract; Ebanks does not. That means the Lakers would still have to pay Ebanks even if they decide to keep Nelson. That could factor into the team's decision.

Metta World Peace vs. Antawn Jamison as Starting Small Forward

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    Everyone assumes heading into the season that Metta World Peace will be the starting small forward and that Jamison will be coming off the bench. And it's probably a good assumption to make. But just because it's likely to happen doesn't guarantee that it will.

    One thing you know you're getting from Jamison is consistency. He's been a solid player throughout his career and he has never really wavered in his production.

    World Peace, on the other hand, is as inconsistent as they come, mainly because you don't know how focused he'll be. When he's a focused player he's still one of the better wing defenders the league has to offer and he can be refreshingly consistent on offense.

    But when he's not focused he actually detracts from the team. He can become a distraction in the locker room. He starts taking ill-advised shots on offense. Even his trademark defense begins to take a hit.

    So really, it comes down to whether you want Jamison's consistency coming off the bench or in the starting lineup. With the Lakers not having many scoring options off the bench in the past, it might be nice to have a reliable option like Jamison.

    But if World Peace shows up to training camp and he's not ready to roll, the team might be better suited to have Jamison in the starting lineup. At least then the Lakers know what they'll be getting.

Antawn Jamison vs. Jordan Hill for Starting Power Forward

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    This isn't a long-term thing. But considering that there's no timetable for Dwight Howard's return to the court, it's reasonable to assume that Howard won't be participating in training camp or the beginning of the season.

    So until Howard returns to the floor, the Lakers have to figure out what they'll do with the starting lineup during his absence. It seems to be a common assumption that Jordan Hill will just step into the starting lineup. But the Lakers could always shift Gasol to center and have Jamison start at power forward.

    In the short term, a starting lineup of Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Jamison and Gasol probably gives the Lakers the best chance to win during Howard's absence. Jamison's been a starter for the majority of his career; Hill has not. Therefore, Jamison might be more suited for the role.

    However, if the Lakers end up having Jamison start at the 3, then this kind of becomes a moot point. In that scenario, Hill would start at the 5 until Howard returns. But assuming World Peace starts at small forward, getting Jamison in the lineup while Howard's out may be the Lakers' best bet.


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