Best Under-the-Radar Options for LA Lakers to Upgrade Pathetic Bench
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The Los Angeles Lakers need a bench upgrade. Big time.
A weak bench obviously isn't the worst of the Lakers' problems. They still have to worry about where Dwight Howard's going to be playing, how to deal with a precarious salary cap situation, whether Kobe Bryant will recover fully from injury and if Mike D'Antoni's system will fit with the team's roster.
Lots of problems in Los Angeles right now.
The bench is the one problem that the Lakers actually have control of, though, so that's what we'll be focusing on here. Los Angeles isn't exactly flush with cash—it only has a mini mid-level exception and the veteran minimum at its disposal—so the team is going to have to dig deep to find valuable, cheap players to reload with.
Darren Collison: Restricted
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Darren Collison is a restricted free agent, but the Los Angeles Lakers should give him a hard look anyway.
Most people still remember Collison from his rookie year on the New Orleans Hornets, when he filled in for an injured Chris Paul for 37 games and averaged a surreal 19 points and 8.6 assists per game on 51 percent shooting from the floor, per The Two Man Game's Ian Levy.
Collison excels in transition, not in the half court. He's a horrible pick-and-roll guard, but his outstanding speed and quickness make him nearly impossible to defend in the open floor. You can't stay in front of a guy with this kind of speed.
To really succeed, Collison needs to find a team that will let him get out and run, making the Lakers offense (top five in pace this season, per Basketball-Reference) a perfect fit.
Steve Nash is incredible, but he's too old to be getting 30 or 35 minutes night-in and night-out. Anytime Nash needed a breather, Collison could be let loose with the sole intention of recklessly attacking the basket and causing havoc in transition.
What Collison did with the Hornets was no fluke. He just needs to find the right spot for his talents. And Los Angeles could be that spot.
Ronnie Brewer: Unrestricted
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Ronnie Brewer may not be the perfect fit for “D'Antoni ball,” but he's a proven vet who can defend like crazy, and that should be enough for most Los Angeles Lakers fans.
Let's get the bad out of the way first. Ronnie Brewer can't shoot. Like, at all. He didn't play all that much last year, but if you look at two years ago when he was with the Chicago Bulls, you'll see that he put up some truly awful shooting percentages.
In 2011-12, Brewer shot 60 percent at the rim but under 40 percent (usually well under) from every other area on the floor, per Basketball-Reference. Those aren't great numbers in an offense that stresses shooting.
Still though, Brewer can score with decent efficiency off of cuts and in transition, per Synergy Sports. And as was mentioned earlier, he's a fantastic defender who can guard multiple positions.
In 2010-11, when the Bulls established the best defense in the league, they gave up 8.2 less points per 100 possessions when Brewer was on the floor, per 82games.com, the same defensive difference that existed between this year's top-ranked Indiana Pacers and the 22nd-ranked Toronto Raptor, per Basketball-Reference. Brewer has that kind of defensive impact.
Jump-shot purists aren't going to love Brewer, but he'll make life difficult for opposing wings on the cheap.
Martell Webster: Unrestricted
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The Los Angeles Lakers lacked a truly consistent wing shooter last season, and unless they want to see a lot more of Metta World Peace lobbing up threes (they don't), then they'll have to go after one in free agency.
And this season, Martell Webster is probably the best wing shooter on the market.
Webster's not really an off-the-dribble creator, but he can also score coming off screens and he's sneaky good in transition, which just so happens to be really important in a fast-paced offense like the Lakers'.
To be fair, Webster does have one big red flag—his injury history. Webster's only played two full seasons in his eight-year career, and he's played under 50 games in two of the past three years. The Lakers already seem to have a pretty injury-prone roster, and it's hard to say if they'd be willing to bring over someone who's been banged up in the past.
Health issues aside, Webster's great outside shooting and solid perimeter defense (he blew away opposing wings in PER, via 82games.com) would make him a great fit for the Lakers, so they definitely should consider taking a flier on him.
Dorell Wright: Unrestricted
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It might be tough to convince Dorell Wright to sign for a discount, but he'd be a perfect fit if the Los Angeles Lakers were able to lure him over.
Wright is a big forward whose natural position is at the 3, but he can play the 4 in small-ball sets and would be a sizable upgrade over Antawn Jamison. Wright hit over 37 percent from three this season, a really impressive percentage considering that he was taking 7.3 threes per 36 minutes, per Basketball-Reference.
Wright can't really create off the dribble, but he's a smart cutter and would be one of the Lakers' top wing defenders from the get-go. He does struggle against bigger, stronger 4s, but he's significantly better than Jamison defensively at this point in their careers, per 82games.com.
The icing on the cake is that Wright isn't a particularly high-usage player (just 19 percent this season, per Basketball-Reference). He does most of his damage in catch-and-shoot situations, where he can absolutely light it up. Wright doesn't try to do too much and would have no trouble fitting in with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Francisco Garcia: Team Option
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Garcia's a great role player, and if the Rockets weren't chasing after max players this summer, they'd almost certainly have picked up his option. This is a good opportunity for a team like the Lakers. Garcia projects to do the same stuff that Dorell Wright or Martell Webster would with the Lakers—shoot tons of threes, defend and potentially play the 4 in smaller lineups.
Garcia's a plus defender (he far outstripped his counterparts in PER, via 82games.com), and more importantly for the Lakers, he's a terrific spot-up shooter. In his time with the Rockets last season, Garcia hit over 41 percent of his spot-up threes, per Synergy Sports, and could finally provide Steve Nash with a sharpshooting wing to play with.
As an added bonus, Garcia proved with the Rockets that he can excel playing fast-paced basketball and go head-to-head with the NBA's best wings. He was fearless going up against Kevin Durant in the playoffs and had a few big games to boot.
Elton Brand: Unrestricted
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Part of the reason the Los Angeles Lakers played so poorly last season stemmed from the fact that Mike D'Antoni's offensive system didn't fit his personnel.
D'Antoni's system embraces big men who can shoot jumpers, and it forced Pau Gasol to play 15 feet from the basket to provide spacing for Dwight Howard. Gasol's not bad from mid-range, but it's not his strong suit.
Gasol's one of the best back-to-the-basket big men in the league and a superb passer from the low block. He belongs down low. Elton Brand, on the other hand, could thrive in the role Gasol played last season.
Brand's a solid mid-range shooter (44 percent from mid-range in 2011-12, per NBA.com) who could provide some spacing to an offense that desperately needed it last year. He's also an above-average defender for his position and surprisingly good on the boards, snagging 22 percent of all available defensive rebounds last season, per Basketball-Reference.
The Lakers didn't have a really strong pick-and-pop guy for Steve Nash to play with last season. Brand could excel there and even play inside in a pinch—he ranked 33rd in the league in post-up situations last season, per Synergy Sports.
Brand's 20-10 days are long, long behind him, but he could provide the Lakers with some much-needed frontcourt depth.
Zaza Pachulia: Unrestricted
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Zaza Pachulia is another big who could help fix the Los Angeles Lakers' spacing issues. Pachulia doesn't have the upside of some of the names on this list, but he's a proven commodity and brings two important skills—rebounding and a mid-range jumper—to the table.
Last season, Pachulia pulled down 11 rebounds per 36 minutes and posted a 13.5 percent offensive rebound rate, putting him in fairly elite company, per Basketball-Reference. He can't hit threes, so he doesn't completely open up the floor, but he did hit 49 percent from mid-range this season. That should give the rest of the Lakers bigs plenty of room to operate down low, per Basketball-Reference.
There are some downsides to Pachulia—he doesn't play great defense, and he's coming off a pretty serious surgery, per The Associated Press (via USA Today). But he'd fit in well with the Lakers' smaller lineups and could provide top-shelf rebounding off the bench. Plus, who doesn't want to root for a guy with a name like “Zaza"?
Chris Andersen: Unrestricted
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The Miami Heat will probably do everything within their power to retain Chris “Birdman” Andersen, but if they don't, the Los Angeles Lakers should go after him. Aggressively.
Andersen is easily the best role-playing big on the market this offseason. He's a strong rebounder and an even better rim protector—the Heat were significantly better defensively when he was on the court, per 82games.com. But what makes Andersen really intriguing is his potential impact on the Lakers offense.
Andersen was a surprisingly key cog in the Heat offense this season. Surrounded by playmakers like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Andersen became an efficiency machine. He ranked as the third-best pick-and-roll roll man and the seventh-best cutter in the league last season playing in a minimalist role similar to what Tyson Chandler does for the New York Knicks, per Synergy Sports.
Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are outstanding playmakers in their own right, and they could absolutely put Andersen in good spots to score. This would be a great pickup on both ends of the floor.