Grading Every Position Heading into L.A. Lakers Training Camp

Sim RissoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2012

Grading Every Position Heading into L.A. Lakers Training Camp

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    The Los Angeles Lakers will enter training camp with several new players on the roster. This offseason, they acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in trades and signed free agents Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison. They also are going to give Reeves Nelson and Greg Somogyi at shot at making the team.

    With that change comes uncertainty. Namely, the Lakers don't know how long it will take players like Steve Blake and Howard to recover from injury. They also don't know how head coach Mike Brown will adjust his rotation in their absence.

    Given all that, here's a look at each position and how it grades out heading into training camp.

Point Guard

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    The Lakers improved the most at point guard this offseason, acquiring perennial All-Star Steve Nash, the Lakers' best player at the position since Magic Johnson.

    Last season, Los Angeles had three point guards—Derek Fisher, Steve Blake and Darius Morris— entering training camp. During the season, the Lakers traded Derek Fisher to the Houston Rockets for Jordan Hill, then acquired Ramon Sessions to be the starter.

    Entering this season, Blake and Morris remain, along with Chris Duhon, who was acquired as part of the Dwight Howard trade. Duhon's had a solid eight-year career. If he makes the team, he should be a more than serviceable backup to Nash.

    Blake, who will miss at least three weeks with a puncture wound in his foot, could lose his roster spot to Duhon.

    Grade: A

Shooting Guard

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    We all know that Kobe Bryant is one of the best players in the NBA. He's been that way for more than a decade and you shouldn't expect that to suddenly change this season.

    Not that it's necessarily needed, but on top of Bryant, the Lakers also have a solid backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks. He is an excellent three-point shooter, an area of need for the Lakers, and can hold his own on defense.

    In short, Meeks gives the Lakers a viable option if they want to rest Bryant more this season. And since Bryant is 34 years old, the team might want to scale back his minutes to keep him fresh for the playoffs.

    Of course, Bryant has to go along with reduced playing time, so we'll have to see how the minutes are distributed.

    Returning is second-year player Andrew Goudelock. But with Meeks in the mix, Goudelock will have to drastically improve if he wants to have a meaningful role on this team.

    Based on last season, his major strength is his 37.3 percent shooting percentage from three-point range.  He couldn't consistently generate his own shot, didn't get to the free-throw line with any regularity and didn't offer much on defense.

    Darius Johnson-Odom was acquired in a trade from the Dallas Mavericks during June's draft. It's hard to envision a scenario in which he doesn't end up in the NBDL. If he ends up making the roster, it will be because he proves to be more valuable than Goudelock.

    Grade: A

Small Forward

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    The Lakers' weakest spot is small forward, with Metta World Peace likely getting the nod as the starter entering training camp. At the same time, the Lakers have added Antawn Jamison, which should help to fortify the position.

    World Peace's biggest strength is his ability as a one-on-one wing defender. It's how he has earned his living in the NBA. While he may not be as much of a lock-down defender as he was five years ago, he still held opposing small forwards to a player efficiency rating of 11.8, below the league averaage of 15.0. That should help in slowing down Kevin Durant if L.A. plays Oklahoma City again in the playoffs.

    Where World Peace leaves a lot to be desired is on offense. But with the addition of Jamison, the Lakers should be able to make up for his lack of production.

    Jamison is still an excellent scorer. He averaged 17.2 points per game for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 33.1 minutes per game last season. It's unlikely he'll play that many minutes for the Lakers, but he'll still get his fair share of playing time.

    Also, instead of going against opposing team's starters, he'll get a lot of his playing time against reserves. So, he shouldn't have much of a dip in production because he'll be going against inferior competition.

    Devin Ebanks will also be in the mix at small forward. There don''t seem to be many minutes available for Ebanks. But given his ability to defend and rebound, he should prove valuable in a reserve role.

    Reeves Nelson will also join the team in training camp. However, it's hard to envision a scenario in which he makes the team.

    Grade: B

Power Forward

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    Power forward is a rags-to-riches position for the Lakers. That's because they have one of the best in Pau Gasol and one of the worst in backup Earl Clark.

    Gasol's a four-time All-Star who has been named to the All-NBA third team twice and the All-NBA second team once. His credentials speak for themselves.

    Now 32 years old, Gasol's production has dropped compared to his first three seasons with the Lakers,  when he was one of the top-three big men in the NBA. But, while he's not as good as he was at his peak, he's still an All-Star-caliber player.

    Clark came to the Lakers as part of the Dwight Howard trade. In Clark, the Lakers acquired not much more than a throw-in player. He's not particularly good on offense, indicated by his career 8.9 PER, including an 8.1 in 2011-12.

    He's also not much better on defense. He gave up a PER of 17.3 to opposing power forwards, according to 82games.com. The Magic also gave up 3.7 more points per 100 possessions when he was on the court.

    Jordan Hill could also play power forward this season. But to open camp, most of Hill's playing time will be at center due to Dwight Howard's recovery from back surgery.

    With Hill in the mix at power forward later in the season, Los Angeles will have a solid option to back up Gasol. But as things stand, power forward is one of the Lakers' weakest positions.

    Grade: C+

Center

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    Heading into training camp, the Lakers have a few questions to answer at center. For one, we don't know how long Dwight Howard will be out recovering from his back surgery. We also don't know who will be the starting center on opening night.

    If and when Howard gets healthy, he'll give the Lakers the best center in the league. Paired with Pau Gasol, he will be part of the best one-two punch at power forward and center in the NBA.  But we don't know exactly when Howard will be returning to the court.

    In the meantime, Jordan Hill will likely get the nod as the starting center. However, that hasn't been confirmed yet. The Lakers could start Antawn Jamison at power forward and slide Gasol to center. In terms of talent alone, that's probably L.A.'s best option.

    The Lakers also have invited two centers, Robert Sacre and Greg Somogyi, to camp who could compete for roster spotsi.

    Neither has played in the NBA, so it's not certain what we can expect. The Lakers did select Sacre with the 60th pick in the draft, so he might have an edge over Somogyi. But either way, it's unlikely they'll get much playing time even if they make the team.

    Due to the uncertainty surrounding Howard's injury and subsequent recovery, a lack of a firm understanding of how the starting lineup will be comprised while Howard's out, and no clear-cut backup until Howard returns, it's impossible to grade the center position heading into training camp.

    Grade: Incomplete

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