Do the L.A. Lakers Need a Great Bench to Win the 2013 NBA Title?
Dwight's Howard's successful, earlier-than-expected return during the 2012 NBA preseason has answered some of the Los Angeles Lakers' questions concerning chemistry, because while Howard did look rusty after his extended layoff, it was hard to tell from the stat sheet.
Howard scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and swatted four shot attempts against the Sacramento Kings, but more importantly, most of his baskets came off assists from the very teammates with whom Howard is seeking to establish chemistry.
The Lakers' starting five looked pretty comfortable on the court together, and while they will still face some growing pains down the road, they have the potential to be very good, much sooner than analysts and pundits have predicted.
If Kobe Bryant's foot doesn't become a lingering issue, the Lakers will have the league's most dominant starting five before the calendar shifts to December, but has the the team's reserve unit improved enough to keep pace?
Last season the Lakers had one of the worst benches in the NBA, and after they hit rock bottom, you would think that the only direction they have to go is up.
No Laker reserve averaged double figures scoring last season, and there was no one who could bring an extra boost of energy or intensity, unless you count forward Jordan Hill, who stood out late in the season.
Lamar Odom was the last Lakers reserve that managed to average double figures scoring for the Lakers, but the team may have found someone to fill the scoring void created by Odom's departure.
Antawn Jamison may not be as versatile as Odom, but he is arguably a better scorer, and he's an underrated rebounder to boot.
Jamison averaged 17.2 points and 6.3 rebounds with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011-12, and even though his scoring average with the Lakers will likely decrease, so will the degree of difficulty of his shot attempts.
In Cleveland, Jamison and point guard Kyrie Irving were the Cavaliers' only scoring options, but in Los Angeles, Jamison will be surrounded by quite a few other players who can fill up the basket.
Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash will carry most of the Lakers' scoring burden, and the presence of so many talented offensive players should allow Jamison to get significantly more open shots than he did in Cleveland.
Jamison was the Lakers' biggest offseason addition for the bench, but signing guard Jodie Meeks and committing a few years to Hill were also signs that the Lakers are determined to improve their reserve unit from a season ago.
However, if the preseason is any real indication, then the reseve unit as a whole has a long way to go before it can be considered improved.
Forward Devin Ebanks has shown some positive growth in his game, and Andrew Goudelock has the makings of a decent scorer, but after watching most of the preseason contests, there was really nothing I witnessed that made me think the Lakers bench as a whole will have much impact in 2012-13.
Lucky for the Lakers, there's really no such thing as a second unit in the NBA these days.
Maybe there was actually a time when teams would substitute their entire starting fives in favor of second units on a regular basis, but that rarely happens now, and I would venture to say it's nonexistent in the postseason.
The impact of the Lakers reserves will be felt through the different combinations coach Mike Brown chooses to put on the court, and whether or not the team's bench has improved will be judged by its effectiveness during those situations.
It's hard to imagine any situation in which all four of the Lakers' superstar players will be on the bench at the same time, so there will be few if any instances when the collective will be asked to hold down the fort.
I'm not sure if the Lakers bench has improved greatly from the dismal unit it was last season, but I'm also not convinced that the bench matters as much this season as it did last season.
There are not many scenarios that I can envision in which the Lakers bench will be the determining factor in reaching the NBA Finals if Bryant, Howard, Nash and Gasol can stay healthy, and there are even fewer that suggest it will be the difference if the Lakers win when they get there.
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