If Lakers Have Serious NBA Title Aspirations, They Need Better Athletes...Now
Sound the alarms.
This might not just be a cold streak or adjustment process after all. The Los Angeles Lakers may actually be in deep, long-term trouble.
After losing 114-108 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who outplayed them for a good 46 minutes on Friday night, the Lakers were exposed in one particular area of the game that could haunt the rest of their season: the athletic department.
The Lakers lack athleticism at all the wrong positions, particularly when matching up with Oklahoma City.
Chris Duhon, and eventually Steve Blake and Steve Nash, will be going head to head with Russell Westbrook. Metta World Peace is getting reps defending the 6'10'' Kevin Durant, who must have been counting open looks in his sleep.
World Peace, Duhon, Jodie Meeks, Darius Morris, Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill just aren't championship-caliber role players. And with their usage rates up because of injuries to Nash and Pau Gasol, it only makes the situation worse.
This is bad news. The Thunder aren't just some roadblock made up of scattered cones and flares. They're a damn bulletproof 50-foot wall. If the Lakers want any chance of coming out of the West, they're going to need to add some athletes to their perimeter.
Check out how easy this alley-oop is for Durant. It's a simple lob, jump, catch and dunk. There's just nothing World Peace can do as an under-the-rim defender with fading athleticism.
The Lakers have nobody to defend either of the Thunder's best players.
Chris Duhon made some shots offensively, but defensively, he might as well have been a test dummy. It's not even his fault. Duhon, along with Blake, Nash and 98 percent of the NBA just don't have the athleticism to keep up laterally with Westbrook.
Here's a frame-by-frame shot of why Westbrook presents the Lakers with such a mismatch.
On a routine half-court possession, Westbrook is jogging the ball up the court and isn't met by Duhon, who is trying to protect himself from getting blown by, until the three-point line.
This leaves Westbrook with one of his favorite shots, the pull-up jumper. Notice the room he's given to release, with Duhon, who will eventually be replaced by Nash, being forced to respect Westbrook's explosiveness off the bounce.
Westbrook sees the same level of shot difficulty while practicing alone in the gym.
And without Gasol, it's not any better up front. It may not even get better with him.
Watch Jamison and Serge Ibaka battling for a rebound. I'm surprised nobody called the anti-bullying hotline.
The Lakers just look old compared to Oklahoma City.
Their perimeter defensive isn't quick enough to withstand the electricity of opposing guards and wings. And offensively, they're overly reliant on Kobe Bryant to generate points and on Dwight Howard to get easy baskets inside.
This just isn't a group that seems physically capable of keeping up with the top teams in the West throughout a seven-game series.
In terms of improvements, you can shoot better and you can defend better, but you can't get better athletically without making a move. And with Gasol's knee tendonitis, who knows what his value is at this point.
The Lakers plan on waiting for Gasol to get back in order to reevaluate the roster, but it might be too late by then. They need to add some athletes, and they need to do it quickly.
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