L.A. Lakers' Most and Least Improved Players of the Season
Despite a season filled with bitter disappointments thus far, the Lakers have maintained the strong belief that only time and the return of Steve Nash can solve their woes.
Although the Lakers' past two wins against the Washington Wizards and the Philadelphia 76ers may have boosted the morale of the team, there is no doubt that their sub-.500 record has brought doubt and uncertainty to their championship aspirations.
In terms of their roster, the Lakers have had various players perform up to their expectations as well as some players who have failed to do so.
With a roster that does not truly fit Coach D'Antoni's offensive system, the Lakers need to maximize their talent and modify their system in order to have any shot at making a real playoff push.
This list includes some of the biggest underachievers on the roster as well as players who have maximized their talent thus far.
Least Improved: Antawn Jamison
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Initially struggling in Mike Brown's system, Antawn Jamison's luck turned around when Mike D'Antoni became the Lakers' new head coach.
However, after a decent start in which he utilized his three-point range to effectively stretch the floor for D'Antoni, his output has significantly regressed.
In his last three games, Jamison has averaged one point and three rebounds per game. Furthermore, Jamison has only averaged approximately 13 minutes per game.
Jamison was expected to be a scoring punch off of the bench.
Despite the fact that he isn't a conventional post presence, his array of unorthodox layups and his jump shooting ability should have made him a decent scoring threat against most second units.
It seems as if Jamison's age is showing. With his inability to shoot the three-point shot as consistently as expected, his poor defense and rebounding ability have forced D'Antoni's hand.
Averaging only 31.2 percent from three-point land, the marksman has lost his greatest strength. Therefore, his weaknesses are no longer masked.
With D'Antoni starting to experiment with using the player formerly known as Ron Artest as an undersized power forward, Jamison's minutes could continue to dwindle if he doesn't produce in the opportunities that he is given.
Least Improved: Pau Gasol
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Despite the fact that Pau Gasol had been playing in a system where he wasn't the perfect fit, there is no denying the fact that Gasol isn't the player that he once was.
Though the majority of his problems could be attributed to the style of play as well as his ongoing issues with knee tendinitis, there is no doubt that Gasol's production has fallen off the face of the planet.
Averaging 12.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and shooting 42.0 percent from the field, this has been the worst statistical output of his career.
Furthermore, Gasol had struggles conforming to a Princeton offense that had been a perfect fit for a player with his abilities in the post.
Afterwards, the shift from the slow-tempo style of the Princeton offense to D'Antoni's offense caused further confusion in terms of conformation for Gasol.
Though he has a proficient jump shot, he isn't a jump shooter by nature. Thus, Gasol's style of play isn't a match for what D'Antoni needs from the four spot.
Every position on the floor other than the primary big man is required to stretch the floor to allow Dwight Howard to operate. Thus, Gasol is going to have to rely more on his jump shooting and his passing.
However, a glimmer of hope still remains. Kobe Bryant insists that Gasol needs more touches in the post. Perhaps more emphasis in the post will help him become more comfortable using the other facets of his offensive arsenal.
Least Improved: Dwight Howard
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Dwight Howard is a beast, and there is no denying that Howard is the most dominant force in the NBA.
Averaging 18.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, two assists, one steal and close to three blocks per game, Howard's numbers are almost identical to his career averages.
Despite his consistency, there are two main reasons why Howard has failed to impress thus far.
Though he is putting up excellent defensive numbers, there is no doubt that his recovery from back surgery has made him a step slow on the defensive end.
However, in terms of his mobility, he appears to improve every game and should continue to be a defensive juggernaut.
Still, his regression at the charity stripe is rather alarming.
Shooting 49.8 percent from the line, Howard has become a terrible hindrance to the Lakers in terms of clutch offense and missed opportunities.
The two knocks in his offensive game throughout his career have been his post game and his free throw shooting. However, a physical specimen such as Howard can still score his points using brute force rather than relying on a variety of post moves.
The only way to truly guard against Howard's dominance is by sending him to the stripe. The one way he could counter this strategy is to make his free throws.
Thus far, Howard has been unable to do so at a consistent clip, which is hurting the entire team.
Most Improved: Metta World Peace
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After a decent initial season and two subsequent, sub-par seasons for the Los Angeles Lakers, Metta World Peace came into this season in shape and ready to contribute.
Averaging 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from behind the arc, World Peace has become a good supplementary offensive player to Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.
Furthermore, because there wasn't a lockout to distort the players' timeline, World Peace's conditioning has been pristine and this has allowed the man to regain some of his former defensive prowess.
Though he isn't the defender he was back in Indiana, World Peace still remains one of the premier perimeter defenders in the league.
His return to form on both ends of court have been one of the few positives in a season mired with insecurities and uncertainty for the Lakers franchise.
Most Improved: Jodie Meeks
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After a slow start under Mike Brown, Jodie Meeks has been an excellent contributor for Mike D'Antoni's Lakers.
Although his eight points per game are right around his career average, Meeks is averaging 14.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in his last five games.
Furthermore, in his last 10 games, Meeks has shot an excellent 44.1 percent from three-point range.
The Lakers expected a guard with the ability to shoot open jumpers and play excellent perimeter defense, and Meeks has done just that.
Although his skills were mitigated under Mike Brown, playing under Mike D'Antoni has allowed Meeks to flourish on both ends of the court.
Furthermore, his continual improvement over the course of the season shows that he has the potential to become even more efficient and productive than he is right now.
His 25 points against the Washington Wizards and the 12 points he produced against the Philadelphia 76ers during the Lakers' two most recent wins show that he has the ability to put up big numbers playing off of superstars like Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.