L.A. Lakers Stock Watch: Who's Rising and Falling Halfway Through Preseason?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 18, 2012

L.A. Lakers Stock Watch: Who's Rising and Falling Halfway Through Preseason?

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    As a franchise, there’s no question the L.A. Lakers’ stock is on the rise. That tends to happen when you add a pair of future Hall of Famers to a squad that was already an annual postseason participant—even if Dwight Howard (injury) and Steve Nash (age) aren’t exactly low-risk investments.

    With four blue-chippers in Kobe Bryant, Howard, Nash and Pau Gasol, the Lakers’ only hurdles on the road to a deep playoff run are injuries and chemistry. And with Nash on board, it’s hard to imagine the team struggling to figure out how to play together for long.

    But even with such a rosy outlook overall, not every stock in the Lakers’ portfolio is a winner.

    Some have underperformed, while others have shown signs of trending downward. It also bears mentioning that the Lakers haven’t exactly hedged their bullish investment in stars by spending on the bench.

    As a result, the supporting cast is a little weak, and the entire portfolio might not be diverse enough to withstand the market crash that would result from a couple of injuries to their Big Four.

    In short, a little good luck on the health front will make the Lakers a sure bet to win at least 55 games and go deep in the postseason. But it’d be unwise to call your broker until we take a look at a few of the Lakers' rising and falling stocks.

Stock Rising: Metta World Peace

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    The artist formerly known as Ron Artest has come into camp 20 pounds lighter and looking to rebound from the worst season of his career.

    World Peace admitted that he came into camp out of shape a year ago and that it cost him during the season. This year, he expects things to be different.

    In addition to being in better shape, World Peace should also benefit from what Lakers coach Mike Brown calls “an equal-opportunity offense.” The Lakers' new strategy should, in theory, mean that every offensive player can expect a more even distribution of touches.

    Halfway through the preseason, World Peace is shooting an improved 43 percent from the field, including 36 percent from three. Those numbers aren’t spectacular, but they’re clearly trending up from where they were last year.

    If MWP has his mind right—for the moment, anyway—it certainly looks like he’s physically ready to take his game back to the level it was at a few seasons ago.

Stock Falling: Backup Point Guard Position

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    Whenever there’s talk of bringing in a 38-year-old Derek Fisher to shore up your reserve point guard situation, it’s a sign that the assets you have in place aren’t worth much.

    That’s the case with the Lakers. And what’s amazing is that the position looks so weak right now that Fisher—who ceased to be a decent NBA player years ago—might actually be an improvement.

    Steve Blake has put together back-to-back abysmal seasons over the last two campaigns, with a PER that hasn’t even flirted with double digits. He can’t shoot, never gets to the basket and is now apparently cursed with terrible injury luck, too. For the uninformed, Blake cut up his foot in September by stepping on a spike strip in a parking garage.

    And Chris Duhon might very well be the worst point guard in the NBA. His PER over the last two years has been even lower than Blake’s, but unlike his backup counterpart, Duhon turns the ball over at an insane pace. His turnover rate of 18.2 was, by far, the worst figure among point guards who played at least 30 games last year.

    Steve Nash isn't a guy who can play 40 minutes per game anymore, so the backup point guard situation is a real problem for the Lakers.

    Neither Blake nor Duhon are viable solutions.

Stock Rising: Steve Nash

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    Everybody knows Steve Nash is an offensive maestro who makes everyone around him better. Of course, the other side of that coin is that everyone gets much, much worse when he’s not on the floor.

    The Lakers found that out in their first preseason contest against the Golden State Warriors. With Nash on the floor in the first half, the Lakers led the game 56-49. But Nash didn’t play in a second half that saw the Warriors go on a mind-boggling 35-0 run.

    Of course, that’s awfully anecdotal and there are way too many variables in play to attribute those two results to Nash’s presence (or absence) in the lineup. But ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh nailed down a wealth of data that shows just how vital Nash is to his teammates (Insider required). Here’s a sample:

    Overall, when the Suns toiled around the court without the calming hand of Nash, Phoenix shot a paltry 41.6 percent from the floor, which is right on par with the Charlotte Bobcats' 41.4 percent rate last season… When Nash joined them, the same teammates' field goal percentage soared to 47.4 percent, which is right on par with the league-leading rate of the San Antonio Spurs' 47.8 percent.

    Incredible, right?

    Because of his critical importance to the Lakers’ offensive efficiency, Nash’s stock is through the roof in L.A.

Stock Falling: Dwight Howard

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    It’s hard for Dwight Howard’s stock to rise when he has yet to play a preseason game. So although his outlook isn’t nearly as ugly as the Lakers’ backup point guard position, his continued absence from the hardwood means his stock is on a continuous, but gentle decline.

    Although his recovery is progressing, there’s just no way know how he’ll perform once he hits the floor—whenever that might be. If he’s ready for the Lakers’ season opener at the end of October, his stock will definitely tick upward.

    Until then, there’s no way to justify a “buy” rating here.

Stock Rising: Pau Gasol

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    Good news, everyone! Pau Gasol is happy again.

    The Spaniard’s cheerier demeanor gives an automatic boost to his stock midway through the preseason. Though he hasn’t wowed on the court so far—not that it matters—Gasol is in shape, healthy and ready to turn the page on a couple of nerve-wracking years. According to Sean Deveney of The Sporting News, Gasol said recently:

    It is hard to believe sometimes. There were times it wasn’t certain. I am happy to be here, I am happy to be here every day. It is a new season, a new adventure, a new journey.

    Still the NBA’s most skilled big man, Gasol will benefit more than anyone from the Lakers’ new free-flowing offense. With better spacing and more movement, Gasol’s elite passing talents will be on full display.

    Gasol is in the perfect situation to succeed, and now he knows he’s not going anywhere. His stock is way, way up.

Stock Falling: Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant’s stock isn’t down because he’s hurt or unhappy. It’s not down because he’s feuding with his coach or struggling to pick up the offense, either. All of that stuff is going just fine for the Lakers star.

    It’s down because he’s making some pretty questionable decisions in his dealings with the media.

    First, Bryant made waves by unequivocally calling the new-look Lakers “his team.” While that that’s debatable, saying so, and doing it defiantly, wasn’t the right move. The Lakers are full of recovering (Pau Gasol) and porcelain-brittle (Dwight Howard) egos. The only thing Bryant’s assertion did was belittle his superstar teammates.

    Unwise, Kobe.

    Following Kobe’s chest-thumping “my team” nonsense, he reached out to worldwide pariah Alex Rodriguez with an unsolicited pep talk. Never mind that the message itself was patronizing, or that Kobe was the one who leaked the word that it happened.

    The focus here needs to be on what Kobe said to reporters about the conversation. His recap of the talk with A-Rod was full of ridiculous, self-aggrandizing rhetoric and included the following gem from Kobe:

    I think really the difference is, sometimes [Alex Rodriguez] forgets he’s the best…Where, I don’t.

    Oh, and let’s not forget Kobe recently crushing defenseless former teammate Smush Parker in a totally unprovoked attack, either.

    All this goes to show that Bryant is still a petulant egomaniac, lashing out at anything that moves in an effort to compensate for the realization that he’s not the most important player on his team anymore.

    Until Bryan grows up, his stock is headed down.