The Lake Show is in the process of rounding back into form. It has taken a little while for Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash to gel and play as a confident unit, but they seem to be hitting their stride as we turn our calendars to a new year.
In all fairness, Nash has only played in six games so far and only four under new coach Mike D'Antoni, Dwight appears to still be recovering a bit from offseason back surgery and Gasol has dealt with sore knees.
At the same time, the Lakers have only one expectation every season: to win the NBA Finals. Anything less will be a disappointment to players, fans and management.
It is at that standard that the Purple and Gold are always evaluated, which makes it easy to see why they can get crushed by their own hype.
As we head into a brand new year, each player's value to the team becomes a bit more clear.
The following rankings combine how successful each individual on the Lakers active roster has been so far, as well as how much they will mean to the team moving forward.
All stats are accurate as of December 31, 2012.
Earl Clark is on the end of the bench and not advancing any time soon. He’s seen the floor in only nine of the Lakers 30 games and averaged only 4.1 minutes in those appearances.
Clark got a few minutes of playing time in a blowout win against Portland at home and did not waste any time hoisting one up on his first look at the basket. Don’t expect any major contributions from the 24-year-old small forward the rest of the way.
Beat off the dribble by Steve Novak?
Devin Ebanks appeared to have promise at times during the 2011-12 season, even earning a starting role for 12 games. This year, he has fallen quickly from the Lakers' grace due to off-the-court issues and poor shooting (31.1 percent on the year).
Now he occupies the end of the bench with the likes of Earl Clark, trapped firmly behind Metta World Peace at the small forward position.
Possibly the NBA's best cheerleader.
Robert Sacre has become most known for his sideline antics, cheering on his teammates in a flamboyant and quite entertaining manner.
Sacre does not see the floor much, but keeps the bench in high spirits and is a quality teammate for more important members of the Lakers squad.
2012 Averages: 20.0 minutes, 7.2 points, 4.5 rebounds
Perhaps the most surprisingly low ranking on this list is that of offseason acquisition Antawn Jamison.
Despite displaying explosive scoring ability in limited minutes, Jamison’s role has been reduced to nearly nothing. He is a defensive liability better suited for a team that lacks scoring threats.
At this juncture of the 2012-13 campaign, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni seems to have ruled out the possibility of Jamison being a major contributor to the Lakers’ strategy. Antawn has not seen the floor in the last five games after playing in the team's first 25.
2012 Averages: 22.8 minutes, 4.1 points, 3.7 assists
Chris Duhon has seen significantly less playing time since the return of Steve Nash.
While at one point the former Duke Blue Devil was the starter, he has now been passed on the depth chart by second-year point guard Darius Morris.
As of late, Coach D’Antoni seems to be favoring Morris as the second guard, and Morris has responded by elevating his play.
As long as Nash is healthy, Duhon will remain in a limited role.
Meeks with the ball beyond the arc, as per usual.
2012 Averages: 28.9 minutes, 8.3 points, 2.1 rebounds
Jodie Meeks has to be thrilled that the Lakers chose Mike D’Antoni to replace former coach Mike Brown.
D’Antoni’s fast-paced, high-octane offensive style favors a pure shooter like Meeks, who has a quick trigger finger and does not hesitate to pull up from beyond the arc.
However, Meeks is only shooting 37.3 percent from deep this season, which must improve if he wants to become a more integral part of the Lakers offense.
Jodie is a solid defender who brings consistent energy, but is basically a hired gun with the simple role of draining open looks. Until he does so at a higher rate, Meeks will be the seventh or eighth man on D’Antoni’s depth chart.
2012 Averages: 18.5 minutes, 5.0 points, 2.1 assists
As a Michigan fan, I’m a bit partial toward Darius Morris. While I’m rooting for him to succeed, I had my doubts about his NBA ability when the Lakers drafted him in 2011.
In 2012, I have been consistently surprised with his improvements on the court. D-Mo has filled in adequately in Steve Nash and Steve Blake’s absence, run an efficient fast break and earned the trust of Mike D’Antoni.
At the ripe age of 21, Morris has a unique opportunity to learn from one of the game’s best while being supported by all-star talent at every position on the floor.
His stock may drop a bit as the season wears on and the Lakers shrink their rotation, but at this point, Morris has proven to be a quality situational defender at the guard position and deserving of crunch-time minutes.
Offensive rebounds and clean-up baskets for days.
2012 Averages: 15.6 minutes, 6.1 points, 5.6 rebounds
I do not have enough positive things to say about Jordan Hill. He is easily the hardest-working player on the floor, crashing in for offensive rebounds and playing tenacious defense.
The Lakers coaching staff would be wise to increase Hill’s minutes, as his energy and attitude on the floor infuse the team with a fighting spirit and sense of youthfulness that is otherwise absent.
Hill’s numbers do not jump off the page by any means, but his improved shooting percentage—48.5 percent compared to last season’s 46.7 percent—will be increasingly important in D’Antoni’s offense.
The emergence of Jordan Hill in 2012 as a key reserve for the Lakers could be a defining feature of the team moving forward in 2013.
2012 Averages: 33.6 minutes, 13.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.0 blocks
Pau Gasol is the most controversial player on the Lakers roster, partly because of his inconsistency in Steve Nash’s absence.
While many fans screamed for a trade, Pau battled sore knees and a slow adjustment to a new system.
Before looking into the big man’s inconsistency, it is important to remember Gasol’s skills, especially his passing ability and soft touch around the rim. His numbers do not reflect a man with on-court problems, but Lakers fans have increasingly large expectations from the Spanish stud.
His scoring numbers do not have to be explosive because of the talent around him, and it has clearly taken Pau a good chunk of the season to adjust to his modified role.
Now the seven-footer is draining threes and seemingly enjoying the game again, much to opponents' chagrin.
Despite some early-season struggles—which in my humble opinion have been blown out of proportion—Gasol will be an extremely important feature of the Lakers game plan moving forward.
Even Carmelo has a tough time scoring over Metta.
2012 Averages: 34.8 minutes, 13.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.6 steals
Ron Artest has finally turned a corner, fully embracing his name change. The man once infamous for his involvement in “Malice at the Palace” has seemed to learn how to channel his intensity on the floor. Give a lot of credit to Kobe Bryant for helping to tame the beast.
Now that his focus is solely on basketball, Metta is shouldering a considerable load on both ends of the floor for the Lakers. Whether he comes off the bench or joins the star-studded starting five, World Peace’s energy lifts the Lakers as much as any other player on the squad.
D’Antoni has been able to employ Metta at both the small forward and power forward positions in 2012. This allowed the new coach to create a few different and effective lineups that afforded big men Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard rest when necessary.
The most important feature of Metta’s game is his lockdown on-ball defense. He is stronger than most anyone at either the 3 or 4 and quick enough to stay in front of nearly all attacking scorers. With Dwight behind him for help defense, World Peace will continue to shut down the opposition’s best scoring threat.
2012 Averages: 35.9 minutes, 17.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 2.0 assists
If you're a Lakers fan, the most concerning part about Dwight Howard's 2012 efforts was that he refused to sign an extension during the regular season.
Forget the fact that he still does not appear to be 100 percent explosive when going up for dunks and rebounds. Also forget the fact that his free-throw shooting—despite marked improvement as of late—leaves much to be desired.
Howard is starting to get comfortable in Los Angeles, mixing well with his new teammates and growing into Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offense.
Dwight is a presence in the middle of the paint, altering if not blocking shots and hauling in most errant shots that clank off the rim. His offensive skills are constantly improving, but the fact remains that he does not need to be the sole source of offense for this Lakers team.
Due to his dominating physical stature, Dwight possesses the ability to control the flow of every game. The Lakers will continue to add to his responsibilities as he grows more healthy and the season wears on.
2012 Averages: 31.0 minutes, 9.7 points, 7.7 assists, 2.8 rebounds
Steve Nash's importance to the Lakers cannot be measured by statistics. He's only played in four games since Coach D'Antoni became the team's leader, and his on-court presence is palpable.
With Nash on the floor, the Lakers have better rhythm and pace, smarter decision-making and are less prone to stagnation on either end of the floor. He keeps them focused and helps them better prepare for opponents.
Nash makes everyone on his team better, from the practice court to the bench huddles to late-game pressure situations. He uses his small frame effectively to set screens off the ball, distributes the rock on target in transition and even seems to have Kobe's attention with the game on the line.
Without their starting point guard, the Lakers have proven to be a bit flat. Fans and coaches are hoping that Nash never has to miss another beat in 2013.
2012 Averages: 38.7 minutes, 30.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.5 steals
Kobe Bryant is an animal.
How does a guy entering his 17th season average over 30 points per game?
The Black Mamba is leading the NBA in scoring at the age of 34 and almost single-handedly kept the Lakers afloat during their early-season turmoil.
Beyond his dynamic scoring, Bryant has helped the Lake Show remain poised during a coaching change, kept a poor start in perspective and even run the offense like a point guard in Nash's absence.
Although he is prone to getting exposed on the defensive end by quicker guards, Kobe more than makes up for it with veteran leadership, hustle, intensity and, of course, buckets.
He is on the floor for nearly the entirety of every game—and will be going forward.