Assuming the Los Angeles Lakers are able to overcome their regular-season struggles and limp into the playoffs, they'll be no more than a first round exit.
The Lakers are just not a well-constructed basketball team. Even on paper, they don't appear to have the talent most people expected them to have.
Putting aside the chemistry and system issues for the time being, the Lakers have gotten weaker at almost every position.
Although Steve Nash is a clear upgrade offensively to his predecessor, Ramon Sessions, Nash is a much greater defensive liability and his injury woes at the beginning of the season validate preseason concerns regarding his durability.
An even greater concern than Nash's defensive liability is the lack of depth at the point guard position. Though Steve Blake is a decent backup, his injuries have kept him on the bench, and the backup spot is currently being manned by the aging Chris Duhon and Darius Morris.
At the shooting guard position, Bryant continues to be the only consistent offense threat on this roster. Scoring 29.8 points per game on a career-high 47.5 shooting percentage, Bryant has focused on being efficient and effective on offense while facing some slippage on the defensive end.
Although the Black Mamba is still averaging 1.5 steals and five rebounds per game and is by no means a defensive liability, he hasn't been able to truly lock down his man for the past two seasons.
Aside from Bryant and Metta World Peace bringing a measure of consistency on both ends of the court, the power forward and center spots have seen significant downgrades.
Despite Dwight Howard being hailed as a major upgrade on both ends of the court, his lingering back injuries and recent labrum tear have rendered him a shell of his former self. Although he is still putting up big numbers, he has had to pick his spots and isn't the game-changer he was in Orlando.
Although there may still be a chance for Howard to regain his Defensive Player of the Year form once his injury woes are dealt with, Pau Gasol may be an entirely different story.
Plagued with injuries and playing under two systems this season that both disagree with his skill set, Gasol may not be as productive as needed even if he gets his legs back under him. He is playing with a lack of energy and confidence due to his struggles this season.
To put the proverbial icing on the cake, the Lakers bench no longer has a creator such as Lamar Odom to initiate any sort of offense. In fact, the bench has been a problem ever season since Odom's departure, and not much has changed this season.
The key contributors off of the bench are all slashers or spot-up shooters. Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Earl Clark, Jordan Hill and even Steve Blake to an extent are all players who cannot create their own shot. With that kind of roster, there is no way the Lakers bench can generate their own points effectively. That is why the Lakers score only 26.8 bench points per game, which is fourth-worst in the entire league.
With such a deficient roster, the only way the Lakers could make a run is if they utilize a system that minimizes their weaknesses and maximizes their strengths.
However, Mike D'Antoni's system is not the right match for this dysfunctional roster. Although the Lakers have a number of very solid shooters, Dwight Howard's pick-and-roll prowess has been overrated until this season.
Despite Howard's physical dominance and girth, he isn't a player who is comfortable with constantly creating for himself and for others via the pick-and-roll.
Though a player like Amar'e Stoudemire isn't Howard's equal in many facets of the game, his decisiveness in attacking the rim out of the pick-and-roll made him the perfect match for Nash.
Ironically, the Lakers' best pick-and-roll player is Gasol, who has had his role in the offense mitigated by D'Antoni to allow for a Nash and Howard pick-and-roll tandem.
With an aging roster and an overrated amount of talent, the Lakers will struggle to even make the playoffs unless D'Antoni is willing to make adjustments to his system.
Stats are accurate as of Jan. 15, 2013.
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