For the Los Angeles Lakers, the first half of the campaign has been a major letdown. This is a team many predicted would be competing for a championship at the start of the year. Instead, it will be lucky just to make the playoffs with the way things have been going.
Sitting at 17-24, LA is currently in 12th place, four games behind the Houston Rockets, who are currently occupying the last playoff spot. Nobody is doubting the Lakers' talent, but they'll need some players to step up in the second half of the season if they're going anywhere.
Right now, nothing is going right. A couple of the team's starters aren't pulling their weight. There are some key reserves who've been nowhere to be found for much of the season. Then, there's a franchise cornerstone who's seemingly left in limbo—either between starting and coming off the bench, or staying with LA or being traded.
Here are five LA Lakers players who must step up in the second half of the season.
When the Lakers signed Jamison this offseason, they were expecting to get a consistent contributor off the bench. Instead, Jamison's play has been terribly erratic.
His averages of 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game are both career lows for Jamison. The same can be said of his average of 20.5 minutes per game. But it's not as if Jamison's numbers have taken a hit solely due to decreased playing time, as his 13.1 points per 36 minutes is the worst of his career.
Jamison's had periods where he performed up to his capabilities, like a recent four-game stretch when he averaged 14.3 points, seven rebounds and two assists.
But he's also had terrible stretches, like a span of five games when he averaged 3.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and shot 22.7 percent from the floor, prompting Coach D'Antoni to make him a DNP-Coach's Decision in the next six games.
If the Lakers are to turn it around in the second half, they'll need Antawn Jamison to start giving them regular contributions—the type of production that more closely resembles his career average of 19.1 points than the current 7.5 he's posting.
Pau Gasol is clearly the elephant in the room in this one. Because of his elite play entering the season, and because he plays in Los Angeles, his poor production sticks out like a sore thumb.
In fact, he's been so bad this season that Mike D'Antoni has decided that Gasol will come off the bench for the foreseeable future, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles.
"We got to go small," D'Antoni said before the Lakers played the Chicago Bulls on Monday. "That's just the way it is. It's after he had a great game -- it's not him. I talked to him about it and he understands where we have to go and we got to do it.
"He's going to come in off the bench at the five primarily and if we can sneak some minutes in with (Gasol and Dwight Howard) both together, good. If we can't, we can't. But, we just have to do that as a team."
Gasol's current averages of 12.7 points and 43.2 percent shooting from the field are both career lows. His win-shares per 48 minutes of .097 is substantially lower than his career average of .175. And it's a far cry from the .212 he posted during his first four full seasons in LA.
Even if Gasol's minutes are going to take a hit, which they likely are now that he'll be coming off the bench, he still needs to make use of the time he's on the court. The Lakers' best chance of turning this thing around is with a productive Pau Gasol—he needs to step up in the second half.
Unlike Pau Gasol or Antawn Jamison, Dwight Howard hasn't been terrible this season. He just hasn't lived up to the lofty expectations we've come to expect from the NBA's best center. In fairness, that's largely related to Howard's ongoing recovery from offseason back surgery. But D12 will need to get back on track if the Lakers are going to turn it around in the second half.
Howard is averaging 17.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks and is shooting 58.2 percent from the field. That doesn't stray too far from the 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 57.3 percent field-goal percentage he posted last season.
The main area where Howard's lacking is on the defensive end. While his 2.5 blocks per game and 5.2 block percentage are in line with his career averages, his overall defensive performance has taken a hit. He's posting a defensive rating of 101, which is significantly higher than the 96 defensive rating he put up over the past five seasons.
His defense has really been a problem is in crunch time. During the last five minutes of games or overtime, Howard's posting a defensive rating of 119.8. In conjunction with his offensive rating in similar situations, which is 99.7, you can see that Howard's play late in games has been a problem for Los Angeles.
Steve Blake has been hurt most of the season, dealing with an abdominal tear that required surgery. He's currently rehabbing the injury but there's no timetable for his return to the court, according to Janis Carr of The Orange County Register.
Blake recently had a cortisone shot to help alleviate the pain. Once the shot takes effect, he should be ready to go. But it's uncertain when that will be.
“We don’t have a timetable, but we’ll be re-evaluated in a week and we’ll see,” D’Antoni said. “Hopefully, for his sake and ours that he’ll be back soon.”
The two primary backups to Steve Nash, Chris Duhon and Darius Morris, haven't been giving the team consistent enough production.
Duhon's averaging 3.4 points and 3.4 assists for the season in 21 minutes per contest. However, his shooting has been atrocious in the 13 games since Nash returned, as he's shooting 22.2 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from three-point range.
Morris looked pretty good at the beginning of the season, but he's fallen off as of late. Part of that is due to a reduction in minutes, but to a large degree, his woes are related to a propensity for turnovers. Through the season he has a 1.8-to-1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. That alone isn't efficient enough. Since Nash returned, he's seen his assist-to-turnover ratio plummet to 0.7-to-0.7, or 1-to-1.
The Lakers could really use a good second half from Blake. For one, he could provide the production the team isn't getting from its other backup point guards. As a side effect, this would also allow LA to rest Steve Nash a bit more, whose minutes are up a bit from last season—this despite Nash coming back from a fractured leg not too long ago.
In a way, it's probably unfair to include Steve Nash on this slideshow. He's really not playing that bad. In fact, his statistics show that he's only slightly behind the production he put up last year.
He's averaging 11.2 points, 8.6 assists and 2.7 turnovers and is shooting 51.7 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range. Last year, Nash posted 12.5 points, 10.7 assists and 3.7 turnovers and shot 53.2 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range. He posted a league-leading assist percentage of 53.1 percent last year, which has dipped to 40.6 percent this season.
While it's true that Nash's performance isn't in line with what he's done in the recent past—especially the assist percentage—the real reason he's included on the list is because of what he should mean to the team.
Remember, Nash missed 24 games during the season. And during that time, all we heard was about how everything would get going in the right direction once Nash returned. Well, Nash is back and the Lakers have gone 5-10 since his resurrection.
In fact, the Lakers went 12-12 during his absence; they have gone 5-12 in games he started. If anything, one could argue the team played better while he was out.
It was unrealistic to expect everything to turn around once Nash came back. Granted, he's a Hall of Fame point guard, and one that's also well-versed in D'Antoni's system. But as he's shown, he can only do so much.
Still, given his pedigree as a playmaker, if the Lakers are going anywhere in the second half of the season, Nash will have to do a better job.
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