Los Angeles Lakers' Bench Needs to Step Up

Marcel SmithSenior Analyst IApril 1, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 29:  The Los Angeles Lakers bench watches the final moments of the Lakers' win over the San Antonio Spurs in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs on May 29, 2008 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 100-92.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The Lakers are the deepest team in the league when the club is healthy, but lately their bench, which was nicknamed the "Bench Mob" last season after its great year, has been extremely average at best. 

They have given up several leads or extended the deficit even more than what it was.

Coming into the season the Lakers were so deep, they were able to put Lamar Odom on the bench along with Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Trevor Ariza, Luke Walton, and Josh Powell.

That looked like the best bench in the league.  It had great offensive power, depth at all positions, and solid defense with a lot of length from Odom and Ariza. 

During the beginning of the season, the bench played pretty well, even though many of the key bench players such as Sasha, Farmar and Odom were averaging far fewer points that they were thought to do, as they simply had too much talent over opponent's benches during the crucial beginnings of the second and fourth quarters of games. 

However, once Andrew Bynum seriously injured his knee on the last day of January, the bench's play has severely declined. Odom, the best player by far on the bench, has moved to the starting forward spot.

Then the Lakers traded Radmanovic for Adam Morrison in a salary cap move, which at first forced Walton to start, then eventually Ariza.  But either way, another key bench player was moved to the starting lineup. 

So the bench's two best players, Ariza and Odom, are currently in the starting lineup and Vujacic and Farmar, two key bench players, are playing almost as bad as Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown currently are.

Sasha, who was a great long range shooter last season, is only shooting 37 percent from the field and 35 percent from the three-point line, compared to 45 percent from the field and 44 percent from the three-point line last season. 

Sasha is also averaging only 5.5 points per game, compared to 8.8 a game last season.  Since the All-Star break he is shooting a pathetic 33 percent from the field and 31 percent from the three-point line.

Jordan Farmar, who had a breakout season last year, is also mightily struggling this year.   Farmar is shooting only 41 percent from the field and 35 percent from the three-point line this year, compared to 46 percent from the field and 37 percent from the three-point line last season.

He is also averaging only 6.9 points compared to 9.1 last season. He is shooting only 39 percent from the field since the All-Star break, and his defense has been below average throughout the season—as he can't stop any penetration from opposing point guards. 

Also, Luke Walton is averaging less in all of the major statistics and hasn't made a major impact either in the starting lineup or off the bench.

Overall, as a whole the bench has been disappointing, especially lately when they haven't been able to keep any lead or at least stay close when the team is down. 

However, the big debate is what to do with Andrew Bynum when he returns from his knee injury in the next couple of weeks. I personally think Phil Jackson should have Bynum come off the bench.   Odom plays much better as a starter than a reserve, and the bench will play much better with a low-post presence as that will help open up Farmar and Sasha to get more open looks and gain confidence. 

Overall, the Lakers haven't been as sharp as they were earlier in the season, but I am not too worried as long as Bynum returns as that will greatly help the declining bench and make the Lakers too big, talented, long, and deep for any team to beat them in a seven game series. 

However, if Bynum somehow doesn't come back, or isn't close to himself when he does return, it will be extremely interesting to see how much tougher the Lakers truly are compared to last year. 

Can they win a title without major contributions from Bynum in the middle? That would put a lot more pressure on Farmar, Sasha, and Walton to perform well in the playoffs to push the Lakers over the top to win it all.