Early-Season Stock Watch for L.A. Lakers

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 2, 2012

Early-Season Stock Watch for L.A. Lakers

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    Reports of the Los Angeles Lakers’ demise have been greatly exaggerated (and widely reported). It’s incredibly early in the season, so the Lakers are far from dead.

    But they haven’t exactly shown signs of life yet, either.

    Most of the Lakers’ early season woes—which have led the team to a shockingly poor start—are being attributed to the team’s unfamiliarity with Mike Brown’s Pseudo-Princeton offense. To put it mildly, it hasn’t worked.

    To put it more accurately, it’s been a disaster.

    Far too many of the Lakers’ “plays” seem to result in either Metta World Peace or Pau Gasol, alone and directionless, with the ball 25 feet from the basket. Steve Nash has initiated so few pick-and-rolls that he may have forgotten how by now. As a unit, the entire Laker offense looks out of sync, a step slow and generally disjointed.

    Despite all that, the Lakers are actually among the league’s top 10 teams in terms of efficiency.

    It’s the defense that’s been a bigger issue. Los Angeles has fallen into a tie for second-to-last in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Maybe the Princeton defense is to blame. Is that Mike Brown's idea, too? Can we blame him?

    However you slice it, the Lakers haven’t gotten off to the start they—or anybody—expected. But it’s not all bad across the board. Some players have shown promising signs amid the litany of Lakers who have come out of the gate so poorly.

    Let’s check out each L.A. Laker and weigh in on whether their early-season stock is rising or falling.

Steve Blake

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    If you had five chances, you still might not manage to guess that Steve Blake actually leads the Lakers in assists. But even that statistic is a bad sign for Los Angeles because it means Blake’s actually logging time on the court.

    Alas, it’s true: Blake’s 4.5 helpers per contest is the Lakers’ team high.

    A lot of that has to do with Steve Nash’s unfortunate departure from the Lakers’ Oct. 31 loss against the Portland Trail Blazers . If not for that, it’s hard to fathom how Blake would have earned any playing time after his awful season opener.

    Other than his by-default assist leadership, Blake has been absolutely dreadful—the poster boy for the Lakers’ crippling bench ineptitude. Generally speaking, Blake can’t get past his man on offense and can’t stay in front of him on D.

    In short, he’s not very good.

    Stock: Falling

Dwight Howard

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    Howard has been a real mixed bag so far. On the one hand, he’s averaging an easy double-double—26 points and 12 rebounds per game. On the other, he’s looked incredibly stiff and sometimes glued to the floor.

    Obviously, he’s not fully recovered from offseason back surgery. He’s never been this slow to rotate on defense or this earth-bound around the basket. In a way, it’s a testament to his generally underrated basketball IQ that he’s performing this well despite a clear physical hindrance.

    Howard will come around. And anyway, his stock’s going up, if only because he followed up an ugly 3-for-14 free-throw performance with a sterling (for him) 15-for-19 against Portland.

    Stock: Rising

Metta World Peace

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    What’s below a basement? The subfloor? Foundation, maybe? Well, whatever the lowest possible bottom is, Metta World Peace’s stock has crashed through it, probably on a journey to the earth’s core.

    MWP simply isn’t a viable rotation player anymore. His defense is vastly overrated and his only offensive skill seems to be dribbling into turnovers. He’s shooting 38 percent from the field with a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.

    But on the bright side, he’s playing a lot.

    Sarcasm aside, MWP shouldn’t be starting, or playing at all, for that matter. Now that he’s not a defensive stopper anymore (which he hasn’t been for a couple of seasons) his other flaws are so glaring that it’s impossible to justify his presence on the court.

    Stock: Plummeting

Jordan Hill

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    Hill, the desperately hoped-for frontcourt savior off the bench, has had two different results so far this year: mixed and terrible.

    Against Dallas, Hill made four of his six field-goal tries and pulled down five rebounds in 14 minutes. Pretty good, right?

    Of course, he missed five out of his six free throws, too.

    Against Portland, Hill’s minutes diminished and his effectiveness promptly followed suit. He missed all four of his shots, committed three fouls and turned it over twice in just eight minutes. That’s a lot of activity without any positive results.

    Hill has been a disappointment, but only if you made the mistake of expecting anything out of him.

    Stock: Falling

Steve Nash

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    Nash, formerly unable to do anything wrong, has been a major disappointment so far. Part of the blame is his, but most of it belongs to his coach.

    Nobody ever expected Nash to be a defensive force, but he’s looked every bit of his age in failing to stay anywhere near Darren Collison and Damian Lillard this year. That pair of guards made the slow-footed Nash look like a statute on D. The Laker bigs were supposed to be able to mitigate this problem, but obviously, they haven’t.

    Point guards, forever the bane of the Lakers’ defense, are torching them once again this year.

    On offense, the blame for Nash’s lack of involvement belongs only to Brown. Every Laker fan on the planet was screaming for Brown to give Nash the ball so he could run the pick-and-roll after L.A.’s opening night defeat.

    Brown wasn’t on board, though, and the offense looked just as bad against the Blazers. Then Nash banged knees with Lillard and played just 16 minutes. The only reason Nash’s stock isn’t falling is because his ineffectiveness is a product of Mike Brown’s stubborn offensive strategy.

    Stock: Steady

Antawn Jamison

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    It seems like Antawn Jamison got old as quickly as one of his patented flips in the lane gets out of his hand. Lauded as the Lakers’ scoring sixth man, Jamison has averaged just 3.5 points per game in 14 minutes per contest. That’s a huge problem, because frankly, Jamison doesn’t do anything else.

    Defensively, Jamison is a sieve. The guy has never been even an average defender, and now, he’s both unwilling and incapable of playing decent D.

    It’s incredible to continually discuss the defensive shortcomings of a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, but Jamison is representative of just how poor most of the Lakers’ supporting cast is on the defensive end. Howard can’t make up for every missed assignment, especially since he’s not 100 percent.

    Jamison’s on his last legs.

    Stock: Falling

Jodie Meeks

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    Jodie Meeks was supposed to be able to shoot, right?

    Meeks, who has never topped 40 percent from three or 44 percent from the field in his career, joined the Lakers as a prized perimeter threat. He certainly hasn’t been worth all the fuss so far.

    To be fair to Meeks, his three points per game are hard to judge because he’s averaging only nine minutes thus far. But like Jamison, Meeks doesn’t do anything else that’s even remotely valuable when he’s not scoring.

    And he’s yet another bench player that simply isn’t playing, which puts increased strain on the Lakers’ aging and/or recovering superstar quartet.

    L.A. needs Meeks to shoot threes, or at least be a threat in that department, so the offense (whether or not Brown sticks with the Princeton stuff) has more room to operate. He’s going to need minutes, if only so the Lakers can see if they missed the mark on the supposed sharpshooter.

    Stock: Steady

Pau Gasol

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    As a skilled seven-foot big, there’s no excuse for a field-goal percentage as low as Gasol's. But it’s probably fair to blame the offense for his career-worst 45 percent field-goal rate.

    Gasol constantly finds himself a long way away from the bucket, often asked to facilitate plays as the shot clock winds down. Obviously, this isn’t the best use of a player like Gasol, who has a jumper, but is best employed around the basket.

    And if the block is where Howard is taking up residence, Mike Brown at least needs to get Gasol down to the elbows.

    Gasol, the Lakers’ leader in minutes so far, is being woefully miscast as the leader of the second unit—yet another of Brown’s curious choices. Because most of Gasol’s problems this season are largely attributable to a flawed strategy, he gets a pass.

    Stock: Steady

Devin Ebanks

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    Metta World Peace’s loss is Ebanks’ gain. The third-year swingman from West Virginia logged 12 minutes against the Blazers after registering the dreaded DNP-CD in the Lakers’ opener.

    Although he put up just about the worst per-minute stats of any Laker—two points, three fouls and two turnovers on 33 percent shooting—at least Ebanks got off the pine.

    If nothing else, Ebanks gives the Lakers’ bench unit a little youth and athleticism, which are in very short supply throughout the roster. He’s never going to shoot the lights out, but he can get to the line a little and is almost certainly a better defender than MWP at this point.

    Even if it’s by default, Ebanks is on the upswing.

    Stock: Rising

Chris Duhon and Robert Sacre

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    These guys have to share a slide because they have so much in common. Neither plays, neither scores and neither is going to make any impact whatsoever on the Lakers’ season.

    Duhon is so ineffective that the totally unproductive Steve Blake has a stranglehold on the backup point guard slot, no matter how poorly he plays.

    Sacre's in the photo above, just out of frame on the bench. He might as well get his mail delivered there.

    Stock: Not Publicly Traded

Kobe Bryant

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    Bryant is averaging a team-leading 26 points per game in the early going of the 2012-13 campaign, a bright spot in an otherwise dreary start.

    What’s interesting is that Kobe’s scoring differently than he ever has, shooting a blistering 61 percent from the field and 44 percent from three. Oddly, though, he’s not getting to the line at all, which is a change likely attributable to the clunky new offense.

    Despite all the miles, Kobe is still getting it done in the scoring column. Aside from some turnover issues (which every other Laker is also struggling with), Bryant’s been surprisingly efficient.

    Of course, he's also been unsurprisingly vocal about how tired he is of all the criticism of the Lakers' miserable start. He could turn into alpha-dog Kobe at any minute, which would mercifully end the Princeton offense's brief reign of terror, but would also send the Lakers back to the one-man-show mode they're trying to avoid this season.

    Stock (and Rage Level): Rising