The L.A. Lakers' Most Surprising Players of the Early Season

Sim Risso@@SimRissoFeatured ColumnistNovember 19, 2012

The L.A. Lakers' Most Surprising Players of the Early Season

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    As a team, the Los Angeles Lakers have had some surprising things transpire in the early part of the season. The team got off to a slow start and fired head coach Mike Brown only five games into the campaign. Then, surprisingly, when faced with an opportunity to bring in Phil Jackson to replace him, the franchise opted to go with Mike D'Antoni instead.

    The same can be said of its players—some surprising things have happened in the early part of the season. Some players have played better than expected; some have played worse. Some are thriving shooting the ball while others are struggling to find their stroke. It has all led to some interesting developments as the season has gotten underway.

    Here are the L.A. Lakers' most surprising players of the early season.

    (Note: All stats reflect games played through Nov. 17.)

Kobe Bryant

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    We all knew Kobe Bryant was an excellent player entering the season—an all-time great, in fact. So the fact that he's off to a good start doesn't come as a surprise. What is surprising, however, is Bryant's efficiency through the early part of the season.

    Bryant's been known as a volume scorer throughout his career. He always scores a lot of points, but he usually gets there with a ton of shot attempts and without a great field-goal percentage.

    Since Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat following the 2003-04 season—and Bryant became the undisputed No. 1 option on offense for the Lakers—Kobe has averaged 28.8 points per game on 22 field-goal attempts per game, and shot 45.2 percent from the field and 33.9 percent from three-point range.

    This season, Bryant is still scoring a lot of points—he's averaging 26.9 points per game. But he's doing it on 17.8 field-goal attempts per game, and is shooting 53.1 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range.

    As you can see, that's a stark contrast from where he's been in recent years.

Steve Nash

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    What makes Nash's season so surprising is simply that he hasn't been on the court. He's only played in two games so far, and it was reported on Nov. 16 that he's expected to miss "at least another week" with a small fracture in his left leg.

    Despite his age, Nash has been a relatively healthy player in recent years, so it's somewhat surprising to see him on the shelf for so long. The point guard only missed four games in last year's lockout-shortened season. From the 2001-02 season through the 2010-11 season (all 82-game seasons) Nash has averaged 78.3 games per year.

    Given his clean bill of health throughout his career, it could be that Nash's leg injury is just a freak accident. The fear, however, is that at 38 years old, this could be an alarming trend of Nash's body beginning to break down from all the wear-and-tear.

Antawn Jamison

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    The Lakers brought in Antawn Jamison this offseason to fortify their bench and give them the offensive threat that's been missing from their second unit. At the time, it looked like a great acquisition as Jamison averaged 19.5 points per game entering the season and won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award in 2003-04.

    So far, Jamison's been anything but a stalwart off the bench. In fact, he's been downright terrible. He's only averaging 3.9 points per game. What's even more alarming is that he's not been nearly aggressive enough with the ball, shooting only an average of 3.6 field-goal attempts per game.

    Granted, he's only making 37.5 percent of all field goals and only 22.2 percent of all three-pointers, but the only way he's going to start finding his stroke is by shooting.

    With Jamison not being much of a defender or rebounder, he's not providing much value if he's not scoring the ball. The Lakers need him to turn that around if they want to get a decent return on their investment.

Darius Morris

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    Morris really looks like an improved player in the small sample of work we've seen out of him this season. His scoring isn't really up from what it was last year, mainly due to a slow start shooting the ball, but his ability as a distributor has really seen an uptick.

    In limited minutes as a rookie last season, Morris averaged 4.5 assists per 36 minutes. This season, he's only seen that number increase marginally to 4.6 assists per 36 minutes. Where his ability to facilitate the offense has most improved is in the way he's been able to eliminate turnovers.

    Morris averaged 4.0 turnovers per 36 minutes last season. In other words, he had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.5-to-4.0, or roughly one-to-one. You'd like to see at least a two-to-one ratio, and Morris is accomplishing that this year. So far, he's averaging only 2.3 turnovers per 36 minutes. That gives him an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.6-to-2.3.That's exactly two-to-one, which is much better than what we saw last year.

Pau Gasol

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    Entering this season, Gasol had shot at least 50 percent from the field in every year except 2003-04. He boasted a career field-goal percentage of 52 percent. This season, Gasol has seen his field-goal percentage plummet to 42.5 percent.

    The real reason for Gasol's struggles shooting the ball is his inability to convert on mid-range opportunities. From three-to-nine feet from the basket, Gasol is only shooting 16 percent. Last season, he converted 46.4 percent of those shots.

    The same can be said of his shooting from 10-15 feet—it's also horrible. He's only making 16.7 percent from that distance, compared to 43.4 percent last season.

    In shots at the rim (72.2 percent) and shots 16-23 feet from the basket (41 percent), Gasol is posting numbers in line with his career percentages. It's just that mid-range area where he's been struggling.