Los Angeles Lakers' Winners and Losers from Week 1 of Training Camp
The first week of training camp for the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers is officially in the books now that the Lakers have completed their first game of the preseason, a 110-83 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Some players take advantage of the opportunity and make good impressions on the coaching staff, while other players may seem to be falling out of favor at this early stage of the preseason.
The Lakers starting lineup is already set in stone with Steve Nash at point guard, Kobe Bryant at shooting guard, Metta World Peace at small forward, Pau Gasol at power forward and Dwight Howard at center (when he's healthy enough to return).
The bench is where players are jockeying for playing time, but that doesn't necessarily mean a starter or two can't make a "winning" impression early in training camp.
The Lakers have both veterans and rookies competing for spots in the regular-season rotation. Training camp and preseason games give the players in competition for playing time valuable minutes on the court, as the starters will play sparingly in an attempt to keep them healthy for the regular season.
With that said, let's take a look at which Lakers players appear to be early "winners" and which could be labeled as "losers" after the first week of training camp.
Loser: Chris Duhon
Lakers training camp opened with Chris Duhon having a golden opportunity to gain an edge in the battle for backup point guard. Incumbent backup Steve Blake had suffered a foot injury after stepping on a parking lot spike, leaving the door wide open for Duhon to shine.
Unfortunately for Duhon, Blake recovered from the foot injury and returned to practice sooner rather than later and quickly re-established himself as the lead candidate to spell Steve Nash. Blake even logged all of the minutes as Nash's back up in the first half of the Lakers' opening preseason game Sunday evening. Blake played nine minutes in the first half and finished with two points, two assists, no turnovers and a plus/minus of minus-five (compared to Duhon's minus-21 in the second half).
Duhon did play ten minutes with the Lakers reserves in the second half, but he was unable to get the Lakers offense going. The Lakers reserves struggled getting into their offensive sets, even being outscored by the Warriors 28-0 at one stretch in the third quarter. Duhon rode the pine in the fourth quarter in favor of second-year guards Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock.
Duhon still has a few weeks to redeem himself, but as of now it appears that he has fallen far behind Steve Blake in the battle of the backup point guards.
Winner: Pau Gasol
It's not often that an established NBA starter and four-time All-Star comes into training camp looking to make a good impression, but Pau Gasol did just that in the first week of camp this season.
Gasol spent last season playing out of position offensively for the Lakers, again raising questions about whether or not he should be traded. Enter Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and a new offensive game plan, and Gasol is back to looking like the player many consider the best power forward in the NBA.
Gasol came out aggressive in the first game against the Warriors, asserting himself early and scoring eight of the Lakers' first 16 points on a variety of post moves and mid-range jumpers. Gasol looked very comfortable moving around the Lakers' Princeton-style sets that are clearly better suited for his skill set.
Gasol has been labeled as "soft" on numerous occasions during his five seasons with the Lakers, but those days look to be behind him. A nice opening preseason game performance has earned Gasol the label as one of the early "winners" in Lakers training camp.
Loser: Jodie Meeks
The Lakers signed Jodie Meeks to be the primary backup for shooting guard Kobe Bryant. But if the first week of training camp is any indication of things to come, Meeks has a long way to go before earning those minutes.
Apparently, the Lakers coaching staff is experimenting with third-year wing Devin Ebanks as Kobe's main backup, a move that was confirmed by O.C. Register Lakers reporter Kevin Ding via his Twitter account during the game Sunday evening. Meeks did not enter the game until the second half with the reserves, while Ebanks was one of the first Lakers off the bench in the first quarter.
Meeks was brought in on a one-year contract to give the Lakers a shooting threat off the bench. He can shoot and did knock down a three-pointer against the Warriors, but Meeks will need to do more to impress the Lakers coaching staff if he plans to beat out the more versatile Ebanks.
Winner: Devin Ebanks
While Jodie Meeks seems to be dropping on the depth chart, third-year guard/forward Devin Ebanks appears to be quickly rising. Ebanks was subbed in for Kobe Bryant in the first quarter of the preseason opener against the Warriors and was impressive during his time on the court at shooting guard.
Ebanks showed improved form and confidence on his jump shot, knocking down three of six shots for six points in 13 minutes Sunday evening. Ebanks also moved well without the basketball on the offensive end while doing his part defensively.
After last season, there were concerns that Ebanks wouldn't be able to be enough of a threat on offense to play big minutes, prompting the Lakers to bring in Meeks and scoring wing Chris Douglas-Roberts to compete with Ebanks for playing time. But so far in training camp, Ebanks apparently has shown enough improvement to establish himself as a key member of the Lakers rotation.
Winner: Metta World Peace
After Metta World Peace showed up heavier than usual in 2011 and took months to get properly conditioned, everyone has been raving about what great shape he came to training camp in this season. Metta is reportedly 20 pounds lighter this year per the L.A. Times, and he looked to be in excellent game shape Sunday evening.
World Peace tied for the team lead in scoring against the Warriors with 10 points while also contributing three rebounds and three steals in 16 minutes. MWP also knocked down two of three shots from long range, an area where he will need to be productive for the Lakers to succeed. For good measure, World Peace also registered a plus/minus of plus-9, good for second on the team behind Steve Nash's plus-12.
If the Lakers' season were to start today, Metta World Peace is one Laker player that would be fully prepared. For this reason, MWP is one of the biggest winners after the first week of Lakers training camp.
Winner: Jordan Hill
No Lakers player has made a bigger impression during the first week of training camp than reserve Jordan Hill. The 6'10" bouncy forward has drawn rave reviews from coach Mike Brown for his energy and overall activity.
In Sunday's game against the Warriors, Hill was all over the court. He rebounded well, was active on the defensive end and played well on the offensive end as well, even showing range out to 20 feet on his jump shot. Hill finished the game with 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting, three rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes while backing up spot-starter Robert Sacre and Gasol.
Hill may have been a bit trigger-happy with his jumper after knocking down his first 20-footer, but the Lakers should be encouraged by Hill's confidence to take the open shot if it's there.
Hill's best asset is his energy and rebounding, and if he can add a scoring touch of any kind, that will be an added bonus and make it hard to Mike Brown to keep him on the bench.
Earning a larger role is the goal for just about every young player during the preseason. No other Lakers player may have improved their stock more than Hill, making him the biggest winner during the first week of training camp.