Introducing the Los Angeles Lakers' Skeleton Crew
All hands are officially on deck for the Los Angeles Lakers, but if we're honest, that doesn't mean very much right now.
While this all but ensures Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace will be playing basketball eight days a week, it also dictates that Mike D'Antoni's already inconsistent rotation become even more diluted.
Down three—arguably four—key players, D'Antoni and the remaining Lakers will be forced to rely upon the services of seldom-used players in an effort to try and preserve what has become an overwhelmingly afflictive campaign.
Robert Sacre, the 2012 NBA draft's Mr. Irrelevant himself, has been called upon to fill the shoes of Howard, Gasol and Hill.
But he's not the only one.
Who are these sparsely utilized talents and what do they bring to Hollywood's cause?
No need be down on yourself for not knowing the ins and outs of Los Angeles' skeleton crew.
Because chances are the Lakers don't even know what to expect themselves.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 7, 2013.
Vitals: 6'10", 225 pounds
Years Pro: 3
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 0.9 points, 0.7 rebounds, 0.0 assists, 0.0 steals and 0.4 blocks on 33.3 percent shooting
Early Clark is Pau Gasol's hero, and he's now also one part of the Spaniard's replacement. Doing that dictates he do more than hit just a couple of free throws, though.
The not-so-versatile swingman has three-plus years of experience under his belt, yet he's only appeared in 148 total regular-season games. He's also never averaged more than 12.4 minutes per contest, a mark that stands to increase as he attempts to help fill some gaping holes for the Lakers.
Clark won't score much—like ever—but he is an extremely talented defender. His long arms were built for board-crashing, and the combination of his size and shot-blocking abilities allow him to guard anyone in the frontcourt.
At present, I'd bank on seeing Clark play some center more than anything else. Not only is he now the second-tallest active player on the roster, but he lacks the perimeter awareness one needs to play within D'Antoni's offense.
What we also must understand here, though, is that as a former lottery pick, Clark is undoubtedly looking to prove himself. There's a reason (I hope) as to why the Phoenix Suns burned the 14th pick of 2009 NBA draft on him, and that's his defense.
Los Angeles incredibly short on defense and if he can provide some stops in the post (the Lakers allow 42.7 points in the paint a night, 17th in the league), he will finally prove to have made a contribution that doesn't require he be a trade filler.
Vitals: 6'9", 215 pounds
Years Pro: 2
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 3.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.2 steals and 0.1 blocks on 31.1 percent shooting
Devin Ebanks is no stranger to being called upon sporadically. He's accepted such a reality for more than two years now.
The small forward appeared in just 24 games last season and 20 the year before as a rookie. To date, he's seen the light of 15 games this season—a career-setting pace.
In Ebanks, the Lakers have a fairly competent three-point shooter—though his current 18.8 percent conversion rate from deep doesn't show it—who can also score some in the post as an oversized small forward. He does need to become more comfortable from beyond the arc, but that's achieved over time.
He's also an excellent rebounder for his position and can even hold his own as a perimeter defender.
One of Ebanks' glaring issues is his ball-handling. He doesn't protect the ball like a wing should and must primarily be used as a spot-up shooter.
Alongside Steve Nash, that shouldn't be a problem—as long as Ebanks finds his outside touch in time for him to sink the wealth of uncontested looks he's about to receive.
Vitals: 6'4", 208 pounds
Years Pro: 3
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 8.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.1 blocks on 37.7 percent shooting.
Los Angeles' two best post scorers are now riding the pine, which means it's going to have to pick up some serious ground on the perimeter to compensate for their absence.
Enter Jodie Meeks.
Since latching on to the Lakers over the summer, Meeks has fallen in and out of the rotation. At present, though, it's safe to say he's never been more "in."
Though the shooting guard's 37.7 percent field-goal percentage is troubling, he has managed to convert on 36.4 percent of his three-pointers. With Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash set to attack the rim like they're without to high-quality big men (oh, wait), Meeks' accuracy from deep will prove to be a valued commodity.
Defensively, though, the Lakers are in trouble. Meeks is known as a poor defender and his instincts seem to fail him as soon as the opposition crosses over the timeline.
Of the three different positions Meeks has defended thus far, opponents (via 82games.com) are posting an average PER of 17.4 per 48 minutes.
Absolutely, but without three of their best defenders, the Lakers have to be prepared to outgun their adversaries on any given night.
And Meeks can help them do just that.
Vitals: 6'8", 223 pounds
Years Pro: 14
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 6.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.3 blocks on 44 percent shooting
Hey, at least you've heard of this guy, right?
When Antawn Jamison signed with the Lakers, he was supposed to contend for the Sixth Man of the Year award, not warm the bench more than Jodie Meeks.
After falling out of favor with both Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni, though, that's exactly where Jamison has found himself.
Jamison has been afforded a second chance in Tinseltown. His defense is worse than unfortunate, but he has the ability to hit the glass hard and provide some instant offense.
D'Antoni is going to use him. A lot.
Though the forward is pushing 37, we have seen flashes of the scorer he used to be this season. He's dropped 15 or more points on five separate occasions this year and it's also worth noting he put up 17.2 points per game with the Cleveland Cavaliers only last season.
Toss in his ability to drill shots from the corner (34.6 percent from beyond the arc for his career) and you have a player who embodies everything D'Antoni craves in a stretch 4.
And one who has now gone from an afterthought to the forefront of Los Angeles' game plan.
Vitals: 7'0", 263 pounds
Years Pro: 1
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 0.5 points, 0.8 rebounds, 0.1 assist, 0.0 steals and 0.3 blocks on 33.3 percent shooting
Well, Mr. Irrelevant has not only become relevant, but crucial to Los Angeles' survival.
Robert Sacre surprised just about everyone when he made Los Angeles' roster. He had a strong preseason showing—in which he developed a nice rapport with Steve Nash—and has been solid in his numerous stints with the NBA's Developmental League.
While in the D-League, Sacre averaged 11.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game en route to posting a plus-14.75. His 47.2 percent field-goal percentage is slightly low for a seven-footer, but unlike most towers, he's not afraid to step out and hit the jumper.
Hack-a-Sacre schematics will ultimately prove nugatory as well, as he's the free-throw shooter Dwight Howard will never be.
What the Lakers will value most about Sacre—even more than his quick footwork off pick-and-rolls—is his willingness to get dirty. The rookie isn't afraid to dive for loose balls, body up in the post and absorb contact in his quest to get to the rim or protect, not unlike the Howard we knew before his back surgery.
I won't pretend for a minute that Sacre is worthy of drawing comparisons to Iron Man, but there's talent to be appreciated here, ladies, gents and Lakers fans in mourning.
In Sacre, Los Angeles has an able-bodied and versatile big man who won't allow the team to become even more vulnerable defensively. If anything, his ability to fight the battles Howard can't yet fight might actually improve the Lakers' interior sets for the time being.
Yes, Sacre is still overwhelmingly coarse in his approach to the game, but the Lakers as a team have proved soft.
Becoming a boorish around the edges might prove to be just what Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill's doctors ordered.