5 Steps L.A. Lakers Must Take to Establish Championship Identity
Though the Lakers are off to a less-than-flattering start to the regular season, the talent on their docket alone is enough to indicate this team can make a title push. Everything they've done over the last six months, from trading for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to hiring Mike D'Antoni, has been geared toward making it so.
But right now, names are all Los Angeles has. It doesn't have the chemistry or execution levels necessary to consistently live up to expectations, to lay the groundwork for a championship dynasty.
That, however, stands to change. It has to. The Lakers are too talented to dwell within the confines of mediocrity.
Yet reality will not change on its own; the Lakers have to reverse it themselves.
And the only way for Kobe Bryant and company to assume that championship worthy identity is to correct what has become an ever-growing accumulation of tactical misdoings.
All stats in this article are accurate as of November 23rd, 2012.
Force Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard to Become More Aggressive
Mike D'Antoni's offense is not going to yield the impressive results it usually does if Los Angeles' big men do not help compress the defenses with their scoring.
I'm talking to you, Dwight Howard and Paul Gasol.
While neither big has been horrible, they've been nothing short of capricious. One minute both will be feasting on offense, and the next, they've disappeared.
Howard has attempted 12 or less shots in seven games, while Gasol has accomplished the same injustice five times. More troubling than that, four of those times came in the same contest.
In other words, on four separate occasions, Howard and Gasol have combined for less than 24 shots. That's an absolute joke, especially for two All-Stars who boast career averages of at least 18 points per game.
Now, it doesn't take a genius to see that has to change. If Los Angeles' big men aren't consistent sources of offense, defenses will be able to readily defend its shooters. If the Lakers shooters are covered, their offensive production diminishes.
And from there, as the Lakers struggle to score from both the inside and out, winning a championship becomes implausible.
So, before the Lakers can establish a championship identity, they must first get Gasol and Howard to establish a stronger offensive one of their own.
Acquire an Additional Shooter
I'd like to say Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace are enough, but they aren't.
Though Bryant and World Peace are combining to shoot 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, Mike D'Antoni's offense dictates there be more than two consistent shooters available.
Darius Morris has shot 42.9 percent from deep, but as a sophomore, he's a wild card. So the Lakers need more.
And just like I'd like to say Bryant and World Peace are enough, I'd like to say Jodie Meeks and/or Antawn Jamison provide the answer. But they don't.
Both players have been underwhelming in limited action and neither is converting on more than 28.6 percent of their three-point attempts.
This means the Lakers will have to take their search outside of the organization, where Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports they are already showing interest in exiled Utah Jazz member Raja Bell.
Whether Los Angeles ultimately acquires Bell or lands another available assassin, it doesn't matter. It just needs to acquire at least one other perimeter threat to keep opposing defenses honest.
Not to mention their championship hopes afloat.
Replace Steve Blake with Darius Morris
Injuries have rendered the Lakers' point guard rotation problematic, but that can change upon Steve Nash's return.
Provided Los Angeles plays Darius Morris in favor of Steve Blake, that is.
Morris remains inexperienced, but with a quicker first step, superior athleticism and an increased awareness on the defensive end, he also remains the better option to backup Nash.
Blake has been less than impressive, even before his bout with abdomen injuries. He's averaging just 5.1 points and 3.4 assists in 26 minutes per game. His 9.23 PER is also nothing short of embarrassing.
While Morris' PER only stands at 9.46, he's proven to be more of a threat to score on offense with 6.6 points per game in limited action and is shooting a far better 40.4 percent from the floor compared to Blake's 35.3.
Rarely do contenders boast the likes of essential neophytes, but within a fast-paced system like Mike D'Antoni's, athleticism reigns supreme in the backcourt.
Which means Morris, not Blake needs to assume the role of Nash's understudy.
Find a Defensive Balance
Mike D'Antoni's teams have never been known for their defense, but this Lakers squad has to be.
Los Angeles cannot waste the defensive talents of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace in favor of a dominant offense. It has to find balance on the other end of the ball. And that entails ensuring each and every player on the court is committed to getting back on defense.
To date, the Lakers are allowing the eighth-most points in the paint per game with 42.8. Even more troubling, however, is their giving up 16.8 fast break points per game, fifth-most in the NBA.
That can't happen.
By making a concerted effort to get back on defense, even after a missed shot opportunity, the Lakers ensure that points in the paint and points in transition do not come as easily.
Once they do that, the wins will begin to pile up, confidence will be at an all-time high and immediate contention will be well within reach.
Continue to Milk the Black Mamba
At the age of 34, Kobe Bryant is having a career season and for the Lakers to establish a championship identity, that can't change.
The Black Mamba is averaging 27.3 points, 5.2 assists and 5.3 rebounds on a career best 53.1 percent shooting from the field. He's also shooting a career-high 41.8 percent from downtown.
Some will undoubtedly believe that Bryant will eventually taper off. After all, he's old, dinosaur-esque even. He's going to have to come back down to earth eventually, right?
As long as the Lakers continue to put the ball in his hands and embrace Mike D'Antoni's philosophy, this version of Kobe isn't going anywhere.
Which means everything, because regardless of how many stars the Lakers stash away, there is but one face of the franchise; there is just one player who can will this team toward another championship.
That player has always been, and continues to be, Bryant.
And if the Lakers want to make a case for themselves as legitimate contenders, no one—not D'Antoni, not Dwight Howard, not Steve Nash himself—can forget that.