Grading Every LA Lakers Starter in 2012-13
There was plenty of blame to go around for the historically disappointing Los Angeles Lakers in 2012-13.
But the cast of characters eventually led by a trio of head coaches—first Mike Brown, then Bernie Bickerstaff as a stop-gap solution before Mike D'Antoni was installed for the long haul—looked a lot more like "The Replacements."
The blame game grabbed hold of nearly everyone in the organization, as the preseason champs turned postseason chumps in a matter of four games.
But all of the criticism in the world couldn't carry the same ferocious bite as the pervasive parasite better known in sports circles as the injury bug.
Fourteen different players started at least once. No one saw action in more than 78 games, and only five were able to crack the 60-game mark. L.A.'s marquee starting five (Nash, Bryant, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Howard) started just seven games together on the season, falling short each time out.
Where these Lakers will fall in the annals of sports disasters remains to be seen. Safe to say it will hardly be an enviable position, though.
So, where exactly did things go wrong? The front office and coaching staff didn't help matters, but here's how each of the 14 starters fared on the year.
Notable Numbers: 6.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 15.8 MPG
No. of Starts: 1
Jordan Hill is a far cry from the typical forward D'Antoni prefers to employ. His shooting range doesn't extend out of the paint, and he doesn't have the handles to create offense away from the basket.
That being said, his infectious energy and hustle blends well with any system. He's not afraid of collecting a horde of scrapes and burns in pursuit of the basketball.
His numbers don't jump off the chain, but considering his role heading into the season (second big off the bench), he did everything he was asked to do. And they were on the way to improving, as he averaged 10.6 points and 7.4 boards in the final five games of a regular season cut short by a hip injury on Jan. 6.
Throw in his 49.7 field-goal percentage and nearly nightly block, and this was probably as good of a performance as could have been expected from the fourth-year pro.
Notable Numbers: 1.3 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 6.3 MPG
No. of Starts: 3
When he wasn't challenging Golden State Warriors rookie Kent Bazemore for the best sideline entertainer award, Robert Sacre was busy racking up frequent Greyhound miles shuttling back and forth between the Lakers and their D-League affiliate Los Angeles D-Fenders.
No trip was more famous than his early January journey from the D-League to the starting five (via Fran Blinebury of NBA.com), a move necessitated by a particularly harsh rash of injuries that forced Howard (shoulder), Gasol (concussion) and Hill (hip) all to the sidelines.
His three-game stint as a starter pitted him against three playoff clubs: the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. He logged nearly 25 minutes per game over those contests, averaging 6.7 points on 36.0 percent shooting, 3.0 boards and 2.0 blocks (via Basketball-Reference.com).
The 23-year-old rookie is still very much a work in progress, and it's unclear how much time the Lakers should invest in Mr. Irrelevant 2012.
Notable Numbers: 3.4 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 10.4 MPG
No. of Starts: 3
The Lakers' lack of speedy, athletic players on the perimeter was evident throughout the season, and no doubt hurt by the disappearing act of Devin Ebanks.
A November arrest on suspicion of DUI (via Mike Bresnahan and Andrew Blankstein of the Los Angeles Times) did the lion's share of the damage to his playing time, and his woeful shooting percentages (32.9 from the field, 27.3 from three) did the rest.
D'Antoni tried giving him a shot, though, with a fleeting three-game tryout as a starter in the middle of December but nixed the experiment less than five minutes into the third game.
Whatever defensive gains Ebanks could bring to the table, his offensive limitations plagued an already damaged system.
He's now a free agent and in dire need of a change of address.
Notable Numbers: 9.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 21.5 MPG
No. of Starts: 6
In theory, Antawn Jamison stood to the gain the most from D'Antoni's hiring.
A stretch forward with a diverse set of offensive skills, his defensive deficiencies figured to be overlooked in a system headquartered on the offensive end of the floor. But his inconsistent shooting performances landed him in D'Antoni's doghouse, only to be thrust back into action when his frontcourt mates began filling the trainers' room.
His green light clearly flickered throughout the season, and the 36-year-old no longer had the quickness to beat defenders off the dribble.
He was a non-factor by the time the playoffs rolled around (7.3 points and 1.8 boards during the San Antonio Spurs' four-game sweep of the Lakers), but a March wrist injury that never healed could have been part of the problem (via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times).
He came to L.A. in pursuit of that elusive championship ring, but the free agent may be closing his career elsewhere.
Notable Numbers: 2.9 PPG, 2.9 APG, 17.8 MPG
No. of Starts: 9
Don't let the picture fool you. There weren't many reasons to smile for Chris Duhon during his first season in L.A.
A throw-in in the four-team, 12-player deal that landed Howard in L.A., Duhon planned on battling Steve Blake for the right to back up Nash.
When Nash fractured his leg in the second game of the season, Blake was called upon to man the point-guard duties. But after Blake went down shortly thereafter with a torn abdominal muscle, Duhon found himself in an unexpected battle with sophomore Darius Morris.
Neither player grabbed hold of the job, and Duhon was jettisoned to the end of the bench when Nash and Blake returned to action.
Duhon posted the third-worst defensive rating of his career (111, via Basketball-Reference.com) and had a sub-40 field-goal percentage for the third time in the past four seasons.
Notable Numbers: 7.9 PPG, 35.7 3PT%, 21.3 MPG
No. of Starts: 10
Jodie Meeks' responsibilities were clear when he signed a two-year contract with L.A. last summer. The cash-strapped Lakers needed the streaky shooter to provide instant offense off the bench and spread the floor with his perimeter shooting.
Judging by that criteria, his season was far from a success. He was mediocre from long range and a liability when he strayed inside the arc (career-worst 38.7 field-goal percentage).
His scoring numbers only highlight his year-long battle with inconsistency. He poured in at least 15 points in nine different games (topping out with 24 against the Washington Wizards in Dec. 14), but failed to reach five points in 22 games.
Defensively he emerged as an above-average option on the perimeter, but that may not have been convincing enough for L.A. to pick up his $1.5 million team option for next season.
Notable Numbers: 7.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, 26.1 MPG
No. of Starts: 13
Steve Blake's first two seasons with the franchise were a resounding disappointment. After securing a four-year, $16 million contract in the summer of 2010, he stumbled through two of the three worst shooting seasons of his career (35.9 field-goal percentage in 2010-11, 37.7 in 2011-12).
But the former Maryland star enjoyed somewhat of a bounce-back season, despite battling injuries throughout the year. His 42.2 field-goal percentage was the third-best mark of his career, and his 42.1 three-point success rate ranked as his second-highest.
When Bryant was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, Blake promptly responded with 23.5 points, 6.0 boards and 5.5 assists in the final two games of L.A.'s playoff pursuit.
A hamstring injury in Game 2 against the Spurs closed his campaign, but his performance this season should build hope for what he can accomplish in the final year of his deal
Notable Numbers: 4.0 PPG, 1.6 APG, 14.2 MPG
No. of Starts: 17
Morris, like Sacre, split his service time between the parent club and its junior varsity squad. And, like Sacre, he was forced into starting duty during his stay with the Lakers.
On the positive side, he brought speed and athleticism to a perimeter group severely lacking in both. He flashed an ability to find his way into the paint and emerged as one of the more reliable backcourt defenders for the Lakers.
But his decision-making left plenty to be desired (1.6 assists against 0.9 turnovers per game). And his field-goal percentage bordered on atrocious (38.8).
There's a chance he's a low basketball IQ point guard or a shooting guard incapable of consistently knocking down shots.
But he's still only 22 years old and should be worth another year-long glance on a minimum contract.
Notable Numbers: 7.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 23.1 MPG
No. of Starts: 36
Earl Clark didn't exactly start from the bottom. In fact, the Phoenix Suns made him a lottery pick in 2009 (14th overall) thanks in large part to his combination of size, 6'10", and skill.
But there were plenty of low points in his first three seasons split between the Suns and the Orlando Magic, who shipped him to L.A. as part of the Howard trade.
He's not quite here yet, either, although he showed signs of putting it all together this season. Forced into action by way of L.A.'s undermanned frontcourt, Clark averaged nearly a double-double (12.2 points and 9.0 rebounds) over a 19-game stretch from Jan. 9 to Feb. 12 (via Basketball-Reference.com).
He tapered off down the stretch, and there's certainly reason to be concerned with a four-year pro hitting the rookie wall. But his limited exposure during those first three years left him more closely aligned to rookie status than most of his draft peers.
After attempting just 15 threes prior to this season, Clark launched 104 of them in 2012-13 and connected on 35 of them (33.7). If he can add the perimeter stroke as a consistent weapon, he could be a valuable commodity moving forward provided both the free agent and the coach are still around next season.
Notable Numbers: 13.7 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 33.8 MPG
No. of Starts: 42
Perhaps more than any other player during his five-plus seasons with the Lakers, Gasol has had a prolonged firsthand glimpse of the ups and downs involved with suiting up for one of the league's most storied franchises.
But this season was particularly painful to endure. Not only had the 7'0" Spaniard once again drawn the ire of Lakers nation, but he had also lost the confidence of his coach—a new face in the equation asking the big man with slick post moves and a high basketball IQ to drift out to the perimeter and add a three-point shot to his arsenal during his 12th season in the league.
Miscast and misplaced, Gasol stumbled to the worst statistical season of his career. He registered a career-worst 16.7 player efficiency rating, the first time since his rookie year that he'd slipped below 20.4 (via Basketball-Reference.com).
By the time D'Antoni embraced the interior strength of his roster, it was far too late to salvage the season.
But that epiphany did allow Gasol to finally thrive, as he tallied three triple-doubles in his last seven games.
Whether that's enough to keep him draped in purple and gold, helps facilitate a trade or gives another team reason to scoop him up after a potential amnesty remains unclear.
Notable Numbers: 12.7 PPG, 6.7 APG, 32.5 MPG
No. of Starts: 50
Nash's campaign was decimated by injury, and his 39-year-old body looked unable to withstand the rigors of the 50 games he played.
Considering he has two years left on his current contract (and $19 million still headed his way) it was certainly a frightening development for his new franchise.
Often moved away from the ball by a suddenly pass-happy Mamba, Nash struggled finding his niche in a D'Antoni system that had at one-time bolstered back-to-back MVP honors for the point guard.
Still, he made strides later in the year as a secondary distributor and lethal three-point threat (43.8 percent). Howard never fully committed to the pick-and-roll looks that D'Antoni's scheme is built around, which negated Nash's creativity to a degree.
Those expecting to see the MVP-level Nash were sorely disappointed, but those anticipating diminished returns given his age and NBA mileage didn't have too much to complain about.
Metta World Peace
Notable Numbers: 12.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 33.7 MPG
No. of Starts: 66
There are two certainties in the very uncertain world of Metta World Peace: He's going to leave it all on the floor, and he's going to frustrate someone.
Whether that frustration comes from his defensive assignment or the Lakers' faithful is always a guessing game.
He tried, too hard perhaps, to give this team a perimeter presence by launching a career-high 412 three-point attempts, only the second time in his 14-year career that he's eclipsed 300. Considering that he connected on just 34.2 percent of those looks, it was a bit of an unnerving development.
He also looked to make an imprint at the defensive end but couldn't compensate for a lost step in dealing with the athletic specimens flooding the small forward spot in today's league. His 106 defensive rating was the second-worst such mark in his career (via Basketball-Reference.com).
He's a potential amnesty candidate over the summer, but the real test could be his ability to hold on to his starting spot if he can stick with the franchise.
Notable Numbers: 17.1 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 35.8 MPG
No. of Starts: 76
Anyway you slice it, Howard's Lakers' debut was a resounding disappointment.
He struggled just as much with the mental demands of life in his new surroundings as he did with the physical rigors of an 82-game schedule, which is saying something considering he rushed back from back surgery and battled a nagging shoulder injury for more than half of the season.
But those classifying his campaign as a colossal collapse are badly misguided.
He kept himself in the discussion of the league's premier defenders, leading the NBA in boards and finishing as its fifth-best shot eraser (2.5 blocks per game). He gave L.A. a reliable interior scorer pouring in those 17.1 points on 57.8 percent shooting from the field.
His free-throw struggles (49.2 percent) limited his offensive chances, and his unsightly departure from the season-ending loss in Game 4 was just another sign of the tremendous room for improvement he has in terms of maturity.
That won't be enough to stop a host of teams breaking out their checkbook in pursuit of the unrestricted free agent, and the Lakers must follow suit to keep him on board.
Notable Numbers: 27.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 38.6 MPG
No. of Starts: 78
Bryant was often the lone shining presence in this dark chapter of Lakers' lore, pouring his heart and soul into his refusal to witness a wasted season before 34-year-old body finally broke down in a late-season clash with the Warriors.
His magical moments were too numerous to keep track.
There was the five-game stretch at the end of January when he channeled his inner distributor and dished out 11.2 dimes a night. Or his back-to-back 41-plus-point, 12-assist outings in early March when all hope of a playoff berth seemed lost. Or the 45.5 minutes he averaged over his final seven games of the year (via Basketball-Reference.com) that perhaps both saved the Lakers' playoff hopes and squandered any chance of advancing past the opening round.
He was, at times, L.A.'s best scorer, creator, playmaker and perimeter defender. His scoring, assists, rebounds (6.0 per game), field-goal percentage (46.3) and free-throw conversion rate (83.9 percent) all topped his career averages.
A lengthy rehab process now lies ahead of him, but it's time to put that ridiculous amnesty talk to rest.