Best-Case, Worst-Case Scenarios for Every LA Lakers Starter in 2013-14
There may be something to these new-look Los Angeles Lakers.
Down Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, Los Angeles' starting lineup will look vastly different come opening night. And there have never been so many questions as to how far the starting five can carry this team.
After losing two of the most vital components, few expect the Lakers to contend the way they have, or have been supposed to over the years. This convocation is largely considered a stopgap, a means to get the Lakers to the summer of 2014, its treasure trove of free agents and nothing else.
But the Lakers wouldn't be the Lakers if there weren't expectations laced with potential panic mixed into their immediate outlook. People still want to know what this group is capable of and how they plan to succeed.
Or, in some cases, how far they're going to fall.
Best Case for Steve Nash: Father Time Who?
Spin it however you like, Steve Nash looked old last season.
The point man spent the better part of the last decade defying the laws of age, before succumbing to it in his first year with the Lakers.
Now 39, one doesn't expect it to get better. Injuries are supposed to become more frequent, his jump shot will appear jagged as opposed to silky smooth and he'll need to wear eyeglasses to continue dropping dimes.
Only this is Steve Nash we're talking about, the only almost-40-year-old who has us believing his regression to the birthday mean was an anomaly.
A little more than a year ago, it was a 37-year-old Nash who carried a nearly irrelevant Phoenix Suns faction toward playoff contention, keeping them in the postseason hunt for much longer than they should have been. If anyone is capable of returning to a nightly double-digit assist man, it's Nash.
Remember, he wasn't even that bad during the 2012-13 crusade. Plagued by injuries, he still managed to dish out 6.7 assists a night and nearly joined the 50/40/90 club for the fifth time of his career.
Still operating within the ever-familiar blueprint Mike D'Antoni lays out, while also free from the offensive uncertainty Howard poses, the Lakers are justified in hoping Nash can be a little more 2011-12, and a lot less 2012-13.
Worst Case for Steve Nash
Continued bouts with injuries won't bode well for Nash.
He could come out and put up similar numbers for the 2013-14 season and that would be fine. Anything extra he provides would be a luxury. Los Angeles was never expecting him to carry the team the way he did in Phoenix.
The only way Nash can meet or even exceed expectations, however, is if he's on the floor. For 16 years, that wasn't a problem. His presence was a foregone conclusion.
Then came Year 17.
Nash missed 32 games last season, setting a new career high in absences. Or should I say career worst?
Previously, he had never missed more than 26 contests in a single season, and last year marked just the third time he failed to appear in 20 or more games.
Performance has never been his issue. When he's on the court, he's going to successfully set up his teammates and drain open treys. Durability has never been an overwhelming conflict either. But now it is.
May his shins be healthy and his exclusion from the lineup not become a familiar sight.
Best Case for Kobe Bryant: He Continues to Be Kobe Bryant
Nothing about Kobe Bryant makes much sense these days. Then again, it never has.
Less than six months removed from a ruptured Achilles, there's already talk of the Black Mamba returning in time for the preseason.
If the Lakers have their way, these type of phenomenons aren't going subside. Kobe will continue to shoot, continue to score, pass on occasion and validate the notion that he's an alien.
How else was he able score more than 27 points a night last season? Or carry the Lakers in general? Or knock down two clutch free throws after suffering what can be a career-crippling injury?
Mortals have limits, but Kobe knows no bounds. Even in injury he's somehow managed surprise us, to seemingly foil any and all odds stacked against him.
Continuing his steady assault on age and the detractors that come with it would be so Kobe. And Kobe being Kobe is all the Lakers have ever needed.
Worst Case for Kobe Bryant: We Find out He's Human
What if Kobe is (gasp) not immortal?
It's a harrowing concept to say the least. Given all he's done, and all he's still attempting to do (six championships), acknowledging that he'll be anything less than the Kobe we've seen over the last 17 years is unsettling.
Age is one thing to overcome; injury is another.
Fully recovering from a ruptured Achilles is something completely different from any other injury Kobe has ever experienced or played through. He himself admitted that he's not immune to self doubt, that he has to continually ignore such thoughts that traipse their way into his brain.
For nearly 20 years, we've been able to count on him to circumvent such limits. His mind and resolve have always been greater than the physical impediments that stand in his way.
Pushing 35, there's no telling if the natural regression of age will (finally) trounce his will. We know how Kobe is, so we say it won't.
But it might.
Best Case for Nick Young: Efficiency Becomes a Part of His Vocabulary
Nick Young will never stop shooting, which often means he'll never stop missing.
Swaggy P is shooting 42.7 percent from the field for his career, and has never posted higher than a 44.4 percent clip over an entire season. And in each of the last three years, he's failed to connect on more than 41.3 percent of his attempts.
Next to a selflessly elite playmaker like Nash and fellow chucker like Kobe, the hope is that Young can become more conscientious of his shot selection and, therefore, a more economical scorer.
Really, that's what the Lakers need more than anything. Young has shown he can score (17.4 points per game during the 2010-11 season), but Los Angeles needs a more restrained version of the volume shooter who has spent the last six years aggravating the hell out of analytics gurus.
They need a complementary scorer, not an unapologetic gunner.
Burying at least 45 percent of his field goals would be a great way to show he's turned over a new, subdued trigger finger.
Worst Case for Nick Young: Clashing with Kobe
Kobe and Young need to effectively coexist, or the Lakers aren't going anywhere.
This isn't to say they're destined for a series of locker room clashes that wind up coming to blows. It's more about their chemistry on the court, the absence of which could lead to one of the confrontations we just alluded to.
Should Young fail to understand his place in the food chain with Kobe in the lineup, there are going to be some serious problems in Hollywood.
Obviously (we hope), he's not going to come in and demand control of the franchise. He's not Dwight Howard, in that he doesn't carry himself with the same air of entitlement, nor is he has skilled.
Transitioning to a third or fourth offensive option is where the problem could lie.
The Lakers value his scoring, but on the condition that he excel as a role player, someone who capitalizes off spot-up opportunities more than they do isolation sets.
Failure to acclimate himself to such a part, followed by an attempt to revert back to what's comfortable (iso) gives the Lakers a pair of scorers who complement each other about as well bright lights and Howard do.
Best Case for Jordan Hill: Poorer-Than-Poor-Man's Kenneth Faried
Rebounding. That's what Jordan Hill is known for. Incidentally, that's all the Lakers need.
Painting a picture of Hill as anything other than a situational success is impossible. He's not a deft scorer and though some would have you believe he's a tenacious defender, he's not that either.
Which is fine. Los Angeles doesn't need him to score. That's what Pau Gasol, Kobe, Young and Nash are for. Stout defensive sets aren't expected of him either. He plays for Mike D'Antoni, after all. Outfits coached by him are defined by their lack of defense, not commitment to it.
All the Lakers need from Hill is rebounding, especially on the offensive end, where he finished with the highest board-crashing rate in the league last season.
Hill appeared in just 29 games last year, but still, on a team that houses both Kobe and Swaggy P, shots are going to clang off the back, front and side of the rim. Becoming known as the guy who cleans up those misfires is the standard our dreadlocked friend will be held to.
Outside of grabbing rebounds and creating second-chance scoring opportunities, the Lakers could use his athleticism in general. They're not built to run, but Hill can be a threat in the open court, provided he can actually catch the ball.
Emerging as someone capable of playing next to Gasol as an under-the-radar asset who can handle starting at the 4 slot is as good as it could possibly get for Hill entering his second full season in Los Angeles.
Worst Case for Jordan Hill: Hip Problems
Just like they need Hill to rebound, the Lakers need him to be healthy.
Los Angeles' roster isn't exactly brimming with aggressive rebounders and can then ill afford to be without Hill for long stretches at a time.
Not that Hill will be the unheralded MVP of this squad. The Lakers simply can't do without the extra boards he brings down, much like they had to last season.
Hill missed most of the year courtesy of an injured left hip. Riding the surgically repaired back of Howard, the Lakers finished fourth in rebounds per game (44.8). No such safety net exists anymore.
Superman took his rebounding prowess to the Houston Rockets, leaving Hill as the most dangerous glass-crasher Los Angeles currently houses. If he's injured and unable to play or log extensive minutes, the Lakers are screwed.
More so than last season, they'll depend on his movement as well. When he clears out of the post to let Gasol go to work, his ability to push the bill on the offensive glass is then predicated on his ability to move freely.
An impaired hip, or injury of any kind, impedes Hill's skill set considerably and all but guarantees he won't have the type of impact Los Angeles doesn't just want, but needs.
Best Case for Pau Gasol: Plays Center Like It's 2010
Gasol can still play. To be more specific, he can still dominate—at center.
Last season, in what was considered the worst one of his career, Gasol posted a PER of 22 at the 5 slot. Since joining the Lakers, he has routinely excelled as the center, like in 2009 and 2010, when Los Angeles won back-to-back championships and Pau spent most of his time as the leading tower.
Duplicating such an individual performance shouldn't be written off.
As a center, Gasol has an advantage over just about everyone he'll square off against. He can stretch the floor with his shooting like most bigs can't, post up like most can and jumpstart the offense better than some point guards.
In the age of three-point heaving power forwards, Gasol also isn't suited to man the 4 full time. Three-point daggers aren't out of the question, but asking him to live on the perimeter stifles his versatility, and is part of the reason why he struggled so mightily next to Howard.
His outside shooting should be a luxury, not the lone crutch he is tasked with leaning on. Being allowed to execute from different areas of the court, like he will be next season, opens up a slew of possibilities.
All of which the Lakers will explore, hoping that Gasol returns to 2010-esque form in the process.
Worst Case for Pau Gasol: A Repeat...of 2012-13
Injuries drove Gasol close to irrelevance during the 2012-13 crusade. Or so we'd like think.
Organic reversion is a risk you run when you spend more than a decade in the NBA. Age doesn't just lead to injuries, it diminishes an athlete's capacity to play overall.
For all the Tim Duncans, there are plenty more Jermaine O'Neals who begin to fade in the twilight of their careers.
We don't know if Gasol is at that point just yet. Riddled by injuries and playing within in a system that didn't cater to his strengths, we'd like to believe he's finally in position to return to form. Just like we want to believe mortality won't ever thwart Kobe.
And yet, we can't know for sure. Gasol's struggles could have more to do with ebbing abilities than injuries or schematic misfits.
Assuming it doesn't, ignoring the battle with a torn plantar fascia that aided in him missing 33 games last season isn't an option either.
Lingering and recurring injuries are all too common in big men. Any setbacks pertaining to the legs, knees or feet, which are responsible for carrying the weight of our favorite behemoths are noteworthy. And they may never go away.
Ask Amar'e Stoudemire. Or even Joakim Noah, among others. They'll be one of the first to explain how "100 percent" can become a foreign concept.
Absolute worst-case scenario, Gasol will be forced to surrender to the limitations he was unable to escape last season.