Initial Report Card Grades for Every L.A. Lakers Player
It's safe to assume that no one, not even the biggest non-believer, expected the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers to only have one win after the first week of the season, but that is exactly the case so far.
A lack of chemistry, timing and consistency have the Lakers with a 1-3 record in the win-loss column. Not to mention that All-Star point guard Steve Nash is out at least a week with a displaced fracture in his fibula, so the season is off to a less than desirable start.
Luckily for the Lakers, they were able to face one of the NBA's worst teams in the Detroit Pistons Sunday, which proved to be a much needed get-right game with the Lakers coming away with a 108-79 victory.
Despite their inconsistent play, there have been a few positives worth noting in the first four games of the Lakers' season. There have been stretches when the Lakers played like a well-oiled machine before defensive lapses and the turnover woes that plagued them during the preseason left the Lakers in holes that their formidable talent alone has been unable to dig their way out of.
With that in mind, here are initial grades for each Lakers player after the first week of the season, starting from the end of the bench and finishing with the starters' evaluations.
14th Man: Earl Clark
Initial Grade: C
Earl Clark saw his first regular season action of the year for the Lakers in Sunday's blowout of the Pistons, playing a couple minutes of mop up duty in garbage time.
Clark didn't do much in his two minutes of playing time, but he did appear to move well and show no ill effects of the strained groin that has kept him sidelined for the past two weeks.
Clark does offer the Lakers some versatility off the bench with his length, athleticism and ability to play both forward positions. Once he gets back in game shape Clark should be in the mix for maybe 10-15 minutes a night, and the aging Lakers can use all the depth they can get.
13th Man: Robert Sacre
Initial Grade: C
After showing some promise while filling in for Dwight Howard in the preseason, Robert Sacre has yet to crack Mike Brown's rotation this season. The 7'0" rookie center out of Gonzaga has appeared in two of the Lakers' four games, playing a total of eight minutes.
Sacre's most significant playing time came Sunday against the Pistons and in seven busy minutes Sacre managed to score a basket, block a shot and commit three fouls and register two turnovers. Not the best showing for Sacre, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt being that it was in garbage time.
Sacre still has potential for the Lakers down the road as young seven-footers with a shooting touch like his aren't easy to find. And since he faces Howard in practice every day, Sacre shouldn't be intimidated by any other big men in the league if and when his number gets called.
12th Man: Chris Duhon
Initial Grade: C+
It's been difficult to figure out if veteran point guard Chris Duhon is already in Mike Brown's dog house or what the case is, but he has played sparingly both in the preseason and regular season for the Lakers.
Duhon's lack of playing time is especially interesting when you consider that he supposedly entered training camp competing with Steve Blake for backup point guard duties. Since that time, Duhon not only lost out to Blake, he also appears to be third string behind Darius Morris as well.
Steve Nash's injury may give Duhon a chance to pick up a few minutes of spot duty but he will need to play flawless basketball to influence the coaching staff to give him consistent run. To his credit, Duhon did dish out a few nice assists in four minutes of PT against the Pistons.
11th Man: Jodie Meeks
Initial Grade: D
Sharp shooter Jodie Meeks was supposed to be the Lakers backup shooting guard after signing with L.A. as a free agent, but that hasn't been the case after the first week of the season.
Meeks saw his most action in the season opener against Dallas, playing 13 minutes and contributing three points on 1-of-3 from the field, all three-point attempts. Since then, Meeks has played five minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers, received a DNP against the Clippers and four minutes in the Pistons blowout.
Meeks hasn't been bashful when he has gotten into the game and appears to be looking to find his range at every opportunity. They say best way for a shoot to break out of a slump is to shoot their way out. Meeks has knocked down two of his five three-point attempts on the season but has little else when he has played and appears to be losing shooting guard minutes to Devin Ebanks.
10th Man: Darius Morris
Initial Grade: B
Second-year point guard Darius Morris may currently be the best position of any Lakers reserve. With Steve Nash injured and Steve Blake starting, Mike Brown has turned to Morris as the primary backup point each of the last two games, which turned out to be his first appearances of the season.
Morris' play has been a mixed bag of sorts. For every good play Morris makes, he in turn makes an ill-advised play. This type of play is typical for young point guards, but the Lakers need less of the bad and more of the good from Morris if he wants to remain in the rotation.
In 28 total minutes over the last two games, Morris has averaged 6.5 ppg, 1.5 apg and shot .500 from the field. At 6'4" and athletic, Morris offers the Lakers a defensive presence that his fellow PGs on the Lakers roster don't, so he has a chance to remain in the mix if he can stay under control in Nash's absence.
9th Man: Devin Ebanks
Initial Grade: D+
After showing an improved shooting stroke in the preseason that earned him minutes as Kobe Bryant's backup, Devin Ebanks has lost his touch so far in the games that count. So far, Ebanks has made only two of his 11 shot attempts on the season, capped off with an 0-6 night in Sunday's win over the Pistons.
While Ebanks does offer some positives with his length and ability to guard multiple positions, his offense needs to be more consistent if he wants to keep the few minutes he has received to this point.
Jodie Meeks is pressing to regain the primary backup shooting guard role that Ebanks currently occupies, so Ebanks will need to get it going or find himself trading places with Meeks at the end of the bench.
8th Man: Jordan Hill
Initial Grade: B
Despite suffering a herniated disc in his back during the preseason, Jordan Hill has brought his usual high activity play into the regular season and been one of the few bright spots so far for the Lakers. In four games, Hill is averaging 5.8 ppg and 4.3 rpg in 12.8 minutes per.
Hill has collected at least four rebounds in three of the Lakers' four games so far, and would have scored double digits in two games if he shot better from the free-throw line against Dallas (Hill converted only one of his six FT attempts).
Hill was especially impressive against the Pistons, scoring 11 points while grabbing seven rebounds and shooting 3-of-4 from the field and 5-of-5 from the line. The Lakers will need Hill to carry his performance from Sunday into their next game against the Jazz on Wednesday for the lakers to string together their first winning streak of the season.
7th Man: Steve Blake
Initial Grade: B+
Steve Blake found himself in an unexpected position when he was needed to start at the point for the injured Steve Nash, but Blake has been solid in whatever role asked of him so far. Although he fouled out against the Clippers Friday—Blake's first start in place of Nash—Blake still contributed eight points and two three-pointers in 39 minutes of action.
The most impressive thing about Blake's game to this point has been his outside shooting. Blake has knocked down 5-of-8 from three-point range, and has hit two in each the Lakers' last couple of games. Blake also leads the Lakers in assists at 4.3 per game. Blake has also been a steal machine and is averaging two steals a game, including five against the Clippers.
L.A. needs Blake to continue to knock down threes at a high rate, limit turnovers and play the passing lanes as he has so far this season until Nash returns. The Lakers have enough firepower to withstand a week or so without Nash, as long as Blake can keep doing what he has been so far.
6th Man: Antawn Jamison
Initial Grade: C-
It's becoming apparent that veteran forward Antawn Jamison is still trying to find his place in the Lakers lineup. It also doesn't help that Mike Brown has been experimenting with rotations, leaving Jamison with few scoring opportunities, which it what Jamison was initially brought in for.
Jamison has yet to attempt more than four shots in any game this season, an alarming trend for someone who has averaged 19.5 ppg over the course of his career. Jamison has been a contributor on the glass and is averaging 4.3 rpg, but the Lakers need Jamison to be a scoring threat off the bench more than anything.
The Lakers don't have much firepower off the bench outside of Jamison, so he will need to get rolling offensively in a hurry for the Lakers to have the balance they envisioned to start the season.
Point Guard: Steve Nash
Initial Grade: C-
Steve Nash's fractured fibula against the Trail Blazers has been well-documented, but to be honest, Nash wasn't playing particularly well prior to his injury.
Nash appeared reluctant to look for his shot in the game-and-a-half before he went down, instead focusing on trying to set up teammates in the hybrid Princeton offense. The Lakers need Nash to be more of his old free-flowing self than a system point guard for them to successful.
The grade on Nash should be an "incomplete" as he has only played a game-and-a-half, but based off of his showing in those games the results weren't spectacular. Hopefully Nash comes back from the injury looking to return to the Steve Nash of old.
Small Forward: Metta World Peace
Initial Grade: B+
Metta World Peace has rebounded from a bad game against Dallas in the season opener to put together a few decent performances. Metta also appears to be determined to be a scoring threat for the Lakers this season, which may be a great thing for L.A.
After shooting 1-of-7 in the opener, Metta shot 4-of-5 against Portland and closed the week with a 7-of-11, 18-point effort against the Pistons and is now averaging 9.8 ppg while shooting .441 from the field, both improvements from last season. If Metta can continue playing at this rate, he is on pace to have his bet season as a Laker since 2009-10.
MWP has also been surprisingly nimble both on offense and defense. Metta World Peace has definitely been a bright spot in a week full of disappointment.
Power Forward: Pau Gasol
Initial Grade: B+
Pau Gasol was another bright spot for the Lakers in week one, averaging 15.8 ppg and a team-high 10.3 rebounds in four games.
Gasol started the season with a big 23-point, 13-rebound effort in the loss to the Mavericks, but only shot 8-of-19 from the field. Gasol's attempts haven't been as high in the following three games, but he has scored double digits in each and appears to be developing a nice chemistry with Dwight Howard on the block.
Gasol's versatility is a nice compliment to Howard's power post game. Expect Gasol's efficiency and assist totals to climb as the big men continue to jel together on the court.
Center: Dwight Howard
Initial Grade: A-
Even though he doesn't look 100 percent recovered from his back injury, Dwight Howard has been a force in the paint for the Lakers. Howard is second on the team in scoring at 23.3 ppg, second in rebounds at 9.8 a game and is shooting .688 from the field.
Howard has been near-unstoppable when he gets the ball on the block and isn't getting fouled. When he does get hacked, Howard's results from the charity stripe have been up and down; Howard is only shooting .519 from the line while averaging 13 attempts a night. Howard did shoot 15-of-19 from the FT line against the Blazers, so the foundation for better success is there.
Howard is still working on getting his timing back defensively and appears to be close to his former self, as he has eight blocks in the last two games. Once Howard gets his explosion and timing back, he will be a force to be reckoned with in the paint for the Lakers.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Initial Grade: A+
Even in his 17th NBA season, Kobe Bryant continues to prove that he is still one of the best players in the NBA. Kobe had the best first week of the season of any player not named James Harden after averaging 26.8 ppg in the Lakers' first four contests, including a vintage 40-point performance against the Clippers.
Kobe took on more of a facilitator role Sunday against the Pistons and was noticeably looking to get his teammates going. Kobe closed out the week with a balanced 15 points, eight assists and seven boards against Detroit.
The most impressive thing about Kobe's week may have been his efficiency. Bryant is shooting a blistering .597 from the field, .529 from three and .945 from the free-throw line.
Will Kobe continue to shoot this well? No, but it's encouraging for Lakers fans and trouble for defenses to see Bryant finding easier scoring opportunities with the new-look Lakers.
If Kobe can continue to balance his scoring with making plays for his teammates in Steve Nash's absence, the Lakers can go on a run and turn around their slow start sooner rather than later.