With a retooled starting lineup and a revamped bench, the Los Angeles Lakers are among the favorites in the NBA to win the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2013. Everyone on the roster is accompanied by a fair amount of hype, but there’s reason to believe some players’ stock is better than others.
On paper, the Lakers appear to have the best starting lineup at all five positions and their bench is vastly improved from last year’s unit led by Matt Barnes and Steve Blake—neither averaged even eight points per game off the bench last year.
However, “good on paper” doesn’t always translate to the real deal. The Lakers have a plethora of stars combined with solid role players, so let’s look at every Lakers' stock leading up to the 2012-13 season.
We’ll start with the first of two Darius's on the Lakers roster.
According to a Los Angeles Times article by Ben Bolch, the Lakers signed Johnson-Odom to a non-guaranteed contract with an extended invite to training camp.
Johnson-Odom had to impress from the get-go on a guard-heavy Lakers roster to make the team, and his Summer League performance didn’t help his case.
In the Lakers first Summer League game against the Golden State Warriors, Johnson-Odom went 0-of-8 shooting and had as many rebounds (three) as he had personal fouls. The Lakers Summer League squad lost the game by a 40-point margin.
Johnson-Odom’s performance never saw improvement, so there’s a good chance he’ll start the 2012-13 season in the D-League—especially given the fact he’s signed to a non-guaranteed deal.
Unlike Isaiah Thomas—last year’s “Mr. Irrelevant” in the draft who had a great season with the Sacramento Kings—it’s hard to expect the same production from Robert Sacre.
In the Lakers' third Summer League game, a 50-point loss to the Miami Heat, Sacre had a plus/minus ratio of minus-50. In other words, when Sacre was out on the floor for the Lakers, the team was outscored by 50 points.
In addition, Sacre had just one rebound in 32 minutes played. As a seven-foot center, Sacre should have stumbled across more than one rebound by accident—especially in 32 minutes of play time.
The Lakers have solidified their front court moving forward, so Sacre appears bound for the NBA D-League.
Darius Morris played in 19 games for the Lakers a season ago. He averaged 2.4 points per contest and shot a respectable 44.4 percent from three-point range. However, Morris struggled with everyone else on the Lakers’ Summer League team.
In the infamous 50-point loss to the Miami Heat during Summer League, Morris shot 4-of-17 from the field (just 23.5 percent) and turned the ball over six times.
As a point guard, it’s hard to imagine Morris will make the roster now that the Lakers have Steve Nash, Chris Duhon and Steve Blake at the position.
Again, starting the 2012-13 season in the D-League molding his game may be the best bet for Morris moving forward.
Earl Clark was thrown into the deal that sent Dwight Howard to Los Angeles, so it would be surprising if he’s in the Lakers’ future plans.
Clark has now bounced to his third NBA team in what will be his fourth professional season. The former 14th overall pick of the Phoenix Suns never found consistency or steady playing time and has struggled as a result.
In the playoffs this past season, Clark actually had a solid showing for the short-handed Orlando Magic. In the Game 1 win over the Indiana Pacers in the first round, Clark recorded six points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
Unfortunately for Clark, that performance was his peak in the playoffs as he dropped off statistically afterward.
Playing behind Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and Devin Ebanks next year in Los Angeles won’t lend Clark too much playing time. The fact that his solid performances have been few and far between prove Clark could be an afterthought yet again.
Before the signing that brought Jodie Meeks to Los Angeles, it appeared as if Andrew Goudelock was going to have the primary responsibility of backing up Kobe Bryant at the shooting guard spot.
The Lakers felt that an upgrade was necessary by signing Meeks, which doesn’t help Goudelock’s case.
Goudelock did show flashes of being a decent role player last season, scoring 14 points once and 13 points twice. However, his field goal percentage of 39.1 percent for the season left a lot to be desired.
Meeks is an upgrade on defense and in the three-point shooting department, so Goudelock’s minutes could see a decline from the 10.5 he notched a season ago.
Given his lackluster Summer League performance, Lakers fans can breathe easy knowing he won’t have an expanded role.
Although Devin Ebanks’ role on the Lakers expanded significantly when compared to his rookie year, Ebanks failed to produce with increased minutes.
During his rookie season, Ebanks averaged 3.1 points per game in 5.9 minutes per game.
During his sophomore year, Ebanks’ minutes jumped up to 16.5 per game, but he scored just four points per game.
In addition, his field goal percentage of 41.6 percent last season was just 0.4 percentage points higher than his rookie year. His free throw shooting was down, and he failed to make a single three-point shot all of last season (including playoffs).
Ebanks’ role could expand once again in 2012-2013, but he didn’t show any improvement with a huge jump in minutes last season, which is a concern.
Steve Blake’s numbers a season ago were down across the board from his career averages. If that doesn’t mean your stock is down, I don’t know what does.
It doesn’t help that Blake will be competing with Chris Duhon for playing time at the backup point guard spot next year. Also, the Lakers new floor general, Steve Nash, will get the bulk of the playing time.
Now that Blake isn’t backing up Derek Fisher or Ramon Sessions, his minutes could (and should) take a hit.
Blake gained a reputation in the NBA as a knockdown three-point shooter, but his 33.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc last season was the second-lowest total of his entire career.
Blake is a capable backup point guard in this league, but his inability to defend coupled with his lackluster stats may mean more playing time for Duhon moving forward.
Chris Duhon is a veteran NBA point guard, but he just turned 30 years old a month ago. He’s eight years younger than Nash and two years younger than Blake, making him one of the younger players on a team stacked with older veterans.
Duhon was buried on the Orlando Magic’s roster a season ago, but joining a big market team could revive his career, as it has done in the past.
In Duhon’s first season with the New York Knicks, he put up the best statistical numbers of his career. With the starting job in a big market, Duhon averaged 11.1 points and 7.2 assists per game and even had a 22-assist game in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system.
Duhon isn’t a great defender by any means, but he’d be an upgrade from Steve Blake and Steve Nash.
The former Duke Blue Devil has a great chance to take over the backup point guard job in Los Angeles, but only time will tell if he’s up to the task.
With Dwight Howard recovering from the back surgery he underwent in April of this year, now is Jordan Hill’s time to step up and embrace a role bigger than he’s ever had in the NBA.
Sure there’s a lot of pressure involved, but Steve Nash’s ability to make everyone around him better should put Hill in a position to succeed.
Hill had a rough transition to the NBA when he was drafted 8th overall by the New York Knicks. He didn’t fit in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system and was traded to the Houston Rockets during his rookie year. He got more minutes in Houston and played well, but showed Lakers fans last season what he can do when he gets court time.
Hill played seven regular season games for the Lakers a season ago. In a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 22, Hill scored 14 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked three shots. He also recorded two double-doubles in the first round of the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets.
Hill will have a big role on this Lakers team with Howard sidelined, but Hill is going to be a huge part of the Lakers’ second unit even when D12 comes back.
Of all players on the Philadelphia 76ers who played 12 or more games in the playoffs last season, Jodie Meeks had the fewest minutes per game by far at just 7.8 per game.
He clearly fell out of favor in Doug Collins’ rotation when the postseason rolled around and will now join the third NBA team of his pro career.
With that said, Meeks will have a steady job and a true test during the 2012-13 season backing up Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.
The most successful Bryant backup in recent years has been Shannon Brown, a hyper-athletic guard who brought energy and some scoring punch off the bench. If Meeks can emulate what Brown did by scoring consistently in limited minutes and add his solid defensive prowess, the Lakers won’t regret this signing.
Meeks will be one of the leaders of the Lakers' revamped second unit next season despite being just 25 years old.
If Meeks can improve his shooting ability and play within himself as Bryant’s backup, there’s no reason for him not to succeed as a glue guy for the 2012-13 Lakers.
Yes, Antawn Jamison shot just 40.3 percent from the field last season (the worst of his career). Yes, he’s currently 36 years old and has declined statistically in recent years, but in spite of these facts, Jamison’s stock for the 2012-13 season is up because he’ll be back with a winning culture.
Last season, Jamison and the Cleveland Cavaliers finished with a 21-45 record. The season before that, they finished at 19-63.
Losing takes the fun out of the game. It’s difficult to keep morale high when the team’s record is in the basement. Jamison has to be thrilled that he’ll play for a championship contender next season for the first time in his career (unless you count the Washington Wizards of old with Jamison, Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas, which I don’t).
As a former Sixth Man of the Year award winner, Jamison should be comfortable reprising that role in Los Angeles.
Honestly, the Lakers bench can’t be worse than it was a season ago, so Jamison is in the perfect situation to win over fans.
Believe it or not, I actually considered Metta World Peace's stock up for the 2012-13 season.
Leading up to the postseason, World Peace scored in the double digits in nine games in a 10 game span. The streak included scoring outputs of 26 and 23 points (the two highest single game totals of his season).
In spite of his streak, it's impossible to ignore World Peace in terms of grand scheme. The man formerly known as Ron Artest has declined statistically for the past four seasons and had arguably the worst season of his career last season.
World Peace shot 39.4 percent from the field, 29.6 percent from three-point range and scored only 7.7 points per game as a result.
World Peace was also rumored to be a victim of the league's new amnesty clause this summer, but appears to have narrowly avoided it.
As the weak link in a starting lineup filled with stars, World Peace would be smart to keep his head down and go about his business by improving on a down year. Instead, according to Matt Moore of CBS Sports, World Peace said the Lakers want to go 73-9 and beat the 1996 record set by the Chicago Bulls.
Just when we thought the target on the Lakers' back couldn't get bigger, we receive a "Metta being Metta" moment, making that target even bigger.
World Peace needs to improve next year if the Lakers are going to win 73 games, but that shouldn't be an arduous task with his stock in the cellar.
As far as the regular season is concerned, Pau Gasol appears poised to have yet another great year with Steve Nash at the helm following a "down year" in which the Spaniard averaged 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
This team needs to play well during the regular season to get a high seed, but truly all that matters is the postseason, where Gasol's stock has been on a drastic decline of late.
After winning back-to-back championships with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010, Gasol's postseason numbers in the last two seasons have been abysmal:
2011 Postseason Stats: 13.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 42 percent shooting from the field.
2012 Postseason Stats: 12.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 43.4 percent shooting from the field.
Gasol clearly hasn't been himself in the playoffs for the past two seasons with alarmingly low field goal percentages.
Fans forget just how outstanding Gasol was during the Lakers' latest two championship runs. Even so, his statistics have not been at all Gasol-like recently. That needs to change if the Lakers plan to win the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Andrew Bynum is coming off the best statistical season of his career and Dwight Howard is coming off season-ending back surgery...
Now, the vast majority of Lakers fans would still take Howard, but it's something to take note of moving forward.
With that said, if anyone can bounce back from season-ending back surgery, it's Howard. He's freakishly athletic for his size and hasn't experienced any significant injury troubles prior to the recent back trouble.
He may very well return to Defensive Player of the Year form and dominate with the Lakers, but if you were to pick any time in Howard's career when his stock is down, it's right now without argument.
Getting out of Orlando should be a big sigh of relief for Howard, but until he proves that he can come back to basketball and be 100 percent, his stock has taken a (slight) dip.
Steve Nash may be 38 years old with a bad back preventing him from logging huge minutes, but he still played at an extremely high level with the Phoenix Suns last year.
He ranked second in the NBA in assists per game behind only the Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo and led a team of role players to a .500 record—nearly to a miraculous playoff birth.
Instead of surroundings that include Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley and Channing Frye, Nash's new toys include Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. If you think that one of the best distributors in the game isn't licking his chops to get this season started, you're crazy.
Nash will have a vastly superior supporting cast in Los Angeles and can pick his poison on any given play. Should he play the pick-and-roll game with Gasol to set him up for easy points? Should he give the ball to Bryant and watch him operate in isolation? Perhaps he'll toss Howard a backdoor alley-oop to get the crowd buzzing.
The bottom line is that even as an aging star, Nash has enough weapons at his disposal next season to make that a moot point.
Kobe Bryant averaged 27.9 points per game a season ago (good for second-best in the NBA), but he shot just 43 percent from the field, which was well below his career average of 45.3 percent.
He's also logged more than 42,000 regular season minutes in his career (keep in mind that excludes playoffs and the Olympics).
As a 34-year-old, Bryant has plenty of miles on the odometer. He shot his worst percentage from the field since 1998 a season ago and is clearly at the tail end of his career.
Even so, counting out Bryant when Mitch Kupchak and the rest of the Lakers front office just reloaded the roster would be a foolish thing to do.
Bryant would like nothing more than to win a sixth NBA championship, and now that he has Steve Nash and Dwight Howard as teammates he's sure to have extra motivation toward that ultimate goal.
There are a lot of factors working against Bryant, but as long as he's out on the court, he's a threat to make some special things happen.