Biggest Improvements to Expect from LA Lakers During 2013-14 Season

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2013

Biggest Improvements to Expect from LA Lakers During 2013-14 Season

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    The Los Angeles Lakers may not approach the 45 wins they mustered during the soap opera that was their 2012-13 season, but a few new additions (and one massive subtraction) should lead to a few isolated improvements.

    Dwight Howard is gone, Kobe Bryant might never be what he was and everybody still thinks Mike D'Antoni has a lot to prove. Those are real problems that will absolutely have a negative impact on L.A.'s bottom line.

    But the team's stopgap offseason additions should shore up a couple of weaknesses while also allowing for the existence of a nontoxic locker room. After a season filled with infighting and unrest, better team chemistry could go a long way toward making an otherwise tough upcoming year bearable for the Lakers and their fans.

    Make no mistake: This season doesn't matter to the Lakers. Instead, it amounts to nothing more than the 82-game waiting period that stands between them and the 2014 free-agent class.

    This is a team that is clearly taking the long view of things. In the meantime, let's examine a few ways in which the Purple and Gold could get better in the short term.

Chemistry

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    Perhaps you heard: Howard rubbed a few teammates the wrong way last season.

    The 2012-13 Lakers disliked D12 for a number of reasons. Bryant publicly bristled at his teammate's happy-go-lucky attitude. But throughout the team, there was widespread resentment that prevented any real camaraderie.

    Put simply, many Lakers struggled with the concept of kowtowing to the childish center who checked out emotionally at the first sign of trouble. Howard disengaged from the team early, and the rest of the roster was still expected to act like they wanted him around.

    That's an ugly dynamic that doesn't exist anymore.

    Bryant will still be his typical, in-your-face self, but Howard won't be around to exacerbate No. 24's unique brand of tough love.

    Expectations are lower, world-class teammate Steve Nash should have a larger role and L.A.'s biggest distraction now plays in Houston. Chemistry can't help but be better.

3-Point Shooting

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    Let's give Howard a break. We can't blame the Lakers' substandard performance from long range last season on D12, can we?

    Sure, you could make the case that Howard's poor inside-out passing made it difficult to generate consistent spacing or good looks from the perimeter. But the real problem was that the Lakers simply didn't have enough capable shooters on the roster.

    L.A. shot just 35.5 percent from beyond the arc last season, ranking 19th in the NBA, per NBA.com.

    Assuming Nash doesn't suffer another leg fracture within the first few days of the season, he'll give the Lakers a full-season boost from long distance. In addition, new Laker Nick Young is a career 37 percent shooter from three-point land, a figure that could improve as he takes fewer shots off the dribble this year.

    And Laker re-tread Jordan Farmar hit 44 percent of his triples in his most recent NBA season.

    See that? There's room for hope this season after all.

Free-Throw Shooting

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    Well, we're back to blaming Howard again. Did you miss the feeling?

    In fairness, L.A.'s free-throw woes were entirely D12's fault last season. On the year, the Lakers finished dead last in free-throw percentage, finishing with an embarrassingly poor 69.2 percent on the season.

    For his part, Howard made 49.2 percent of his 9.5 attempts per game. His absence will single-handedly vault the Lakers back up to the middle of the pack. And with solid foul-line producer Chris Kaman slotting into most of Howard's minutes, the Lakers could find themselves near the top of the league.

    The downside here is that Lakers fans won't get to see quite so many air-balls from the stripe. That's going to hurt this season's entertainment value.

Point Guard Depth

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    Gone are Chris Duhon and Darius Morris, two players who logged a combined 1,500 minutes at the point for the Lakers last year. While it's possible that L.A. could have upped production from the position by replacing either player with convincing cardboard cutouts, it went out and got Farmar instead.

    Hardly a world-beater in his own right, Farmar at least gives the Lakers a viable option behind their first two point guards.

    Speaking of which, Nash's theoretically improved health should take the pressure off of backup Steve Blake, who couldn't shake the injury bug last season amidst increased playing time demands.

    The Lakers point guards will be better this season, largely because there's almost no way they could possibly be worse.

Offensive Flow

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    The Lakers struggled to form an offensive identity throughout the 2012-13 season. One minute they were using Pau Gasol as a facilitator from the elbow, and in the next he was occupying a clogged lane with Howard.

    Bryant waffled between being the team's primary scorer and its main assist-generator, depending on the day of the week. And Howard's refusal to run the pick-and-roll relegated Nash to spot-up duties.

    This season, Kaman and his top-notch mid-range game will happily occupy the role that D'Antoni wanted Gasol to fill so badly last year. As a result, the Spaniard will return to the block, where his interior passing and court vision will lead to much better ball movement.

    It's also possible that a potentially less powerful Bryant will rein in his aggressiveness in isolation situations, which will also lead to a more balanced, smoother attack. If D'Antoni doesn't get too creative with his schemes or force players into positions with which they're not comfortable, the Lakers might have an offense that's actually watchable this year.

    That'd definitely constitute an improvement.