The Los Angeles Lakers second unit needs a lot to go right for them this season. Fortunately for the new additions, they can’t possibly be worse than the abysmal bench the Lakers had last season. At least, so we think.
Last season, the Lakers bench scored just 20.5 points per game. That ranked their second unit dead last in the entire NBA in bench scoring. The Denver Nuggets more than doubled that scoring amount off the bench with 41.5 points per game. Last season’s Sixth Man of the Year award winner, James Harden, rivaled that total by himself, scoring 16.8 points per game off the bench.
From an offensive standpoint, the Lakers bench was just flat-out bad. They leaned on the contributions of Matt Barnes (7.8 points per game) and Steve Blake (5.2 points per game) to lead the bench offensively, which is not a recipe for success. The offense off the sidelines was dreadful, but the second unit’s defense may have been worse.
The Lakers bench averaged a minuscule 1.8 steals per game last season. That also ranked them 30th out of 30 teams. In addition, the second unit’s point differential of minus-9.4 was only “better” than the Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic.
The Lakers bench from a season ago didn’t make a meaningful impact. They were nearly outscored by 10 points per game when they were out on the floor last year. Too much pressure was put on the starters because the bench didn’t perform, but the second unit didn’t get many opportunities to prove their worth.
Now, former Sixth Man of the Year award winner Antawn Jamison, joined by Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill and Chris Duhon (among others) aim to change the negative stereotype associated with the words “Lakers bench.”
In order to succeed during the 2012-13 season, the second unit has to weather the storm when the superstar starters take a breather. Getting outscored by nearly 10 points per game again simply won’t fly if this team wants to win an NBA championship.
Jamison, Meeks, Duhon and Blake are all capable three-point shooters, so that should be a skill they lean on moving forward. This isn’t to say that the second unit should just jack up shots, but if they get good looks, the bench players have to knock them down.
Nobody expects this second unit to “wow” anyone on either end of the court. Nevertheless, Jamison has the offensive pedigree to keep games close when the starters rest (which will be a necessary occurrence given their age and injury troubles) and Meeks can play a steady all-around game at times.
Even playing mediocre basketball off the bench will be a huge improvement from a season ago, but this bench is off to an extremely rough start.
In the Lakers’ first preseason game against the Golden State Warriors (yes, I know, preseason – but bear with me), the bench surrendered a 35 to 0 scoring run.
ESPN’s John Hollinger had a bit of fun on Twitter, backing up his stance that the Lakers bench will be an issue this season with that statistic.
The Lakers were outscored in the third quarter of that game, 37-10. Second unit or not, that’s unacceptable.
In 17 minutes of playing time, Jamison scored just three points and had a plus/minus differential of minus-20. Hill’s plus/minus was minus-13, and he grabbed just three rebounds in 20 minutes.
Meeks, who is known for his defense, had a plus/minus ratio of minus-25 in just 11 minutes of playing time. Duhon came in at minus-21 in only 10 minutes of play time.
For a “revamped” bench, those numbers are alarmingly negative. Using the excuse that the Lakers second unit played against Warriors starters isn’t a valid argument; that’s something the bench will have to do all season long. If Jamison, Meeks and company can’t compete against opposing starters (or at least prevent a ridiculous 35-point scoring run) the Lakers’ championship aspirations may fade away.
Again, it is preseason, but there’s a certain sense of pride in performing well regardless of the setting. That performance should hurt the pride of the Lakers bench players.
There’s still plenty of time for the second unit to improve and work out the kinks, but in a team sport like basketball, the starters can’t do it alone.