Breaking Down the LA Lakers' Biggest X-Factors for 2013-14
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The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping for a successful 2013-14 season. In order for that to happen, they will need certain players to step up.
There is already some trepidation revolving around Kobe Bryant’s return from his ruptured Achilles. But after taking an in-depth look at the history certain players with this injury, it seems as though we should expect the superstar to return and play at a high level.
Thus, we will assume that Bryant will still be the Lakers’ best player in 2013-14. Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, both of whom are borderline elite players at their positions, will flank him. It stands to reason that Nash and Gasol will play up to their capabilities and produce fairly close to the same level as their previous seasons.
Consequently, the coaching staff as well as the fans have a clear idea of what to expect from the team’s top trio. In addition, the other returning players from 2012-13 will be utilized in the same manner heading into 2013-14.
That essentially means the expectations are fairly low from the returning role players given that they played within their talents and were not huge difference-makers.
Steve Blake and Jordan Hill were average backup players, and Mike D’Antoni was forced into leaning on them more than he anticipated due to injuries to his starters. Their increased minutes did not exactly benefit the Purple and Gold, since they are replacement-level players and the guys tasked with spelling them were subpar.
NBA.com tells us the Lakers were statistically decent with Blake on the floor, whereas things fell apart with Hill. Indeed, the Lakers were outscored with the big man patrolling the paint in 2012-13, which is consistent with his 2011-12 showing.
The remainder of the returning reserves consists of Jodie Meeks and Robert Sacre. Meeks was brought in to space the floor with his three-point shooting, but he was only slightly above average on this front with his 35.7 percent conversion mark from long range.
He had very little else to offer, which is on par with Sacre. The big man is a big body who is on the bench in the case of emergencies (foul trouble, injuries, etc.) and even then, there is a strong likelihood he will not play. He played a mere 203 minutes in 2012-13.
That leaves the Lakers with a fairly small list of X-factors heading into the 2013-14 campaign, and they are all new guys.
After collecting back-to-back titles in 2008-09 and 2009-10, Jordan Farmar left the Los Angeles Lakers. He opted to return during the 2013 offseason and will give the team some stability at the point guard position.
Farmar loves to push the ball in transition and is also a good pick-and-roll player. He is an average shooter from long range. He's a decent playmaker as a point guard.
He can help maintain a fast pace with the second unit and some of the starters, which is crucial in Mike D’Antoni’s system. It is worth noting he will probably be the Lakers’ third lead guard behind Steve Nash and Steve Blake.
That may not sound like much, but in the event the Purple and Gold lose either one of those players due to injury, the team will have a quality backup to spell the incumbent starter.
Given the way the roster is constructed, Farmar will get some minutes during the 2013-14 campaign, but they will come mostly in blowouts or as a result of injuries and foul trouble.
His contributions will be minimal, which in turn means he will not have a huge impact on the standings.
Dwight Howard spurned the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2013 offseason and signed with the Houston Rockets during free agency. Los Angeles then set its sights on Chris Kaman, who will likely back up Pau Gasol.
Kaman has demonstrated throughout his career that his offensive repertoire offers some diversity. He is a good post-up player who scores with both hands around the basket.
Also, he is a good jump shooter, which allows his teams to use him as a floor spacer from mid-range. He will be a great option for the Lakers in a reserve role because he will be able to attack interior defenders and manufacture high-percentage shots.
Kaman will also get his fair share of pick-and-rolls in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Indeed, after struggling to pair Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol on the court in 2012-13, the Lakers seem destined to only play one big man on the floor at a time.
Thus, the coaching staff will probably rely on small-ball lineups and feature the former Dallas Maverick when he is on the court.
Kaman is not without his faults, though.
The center is turnover-prone and does a poor job defensively of anchoring the paint. He is slow on rotations and does not deter opponents at the rim. This explains why his teams have consistently been outscored when he is on the floor, per NBA.com.
Given that D’Antoni is not exactly the league’s premier defensive guru, it is fair to assume that Kaman will play around 20 minutes per game to ensure the big man is not costing the Lakers victories. That has been the "modus operandi" of most of his coaches during his 10-year career.
The Lakers will need him to play well in 2013-14 if a postseason berth has any chance of becoming reality. That will mean playing him in favorable matchups against poor interior defenders and surrounding him with players who possess a good grasp on the defensive schemes to limit the bleeding.
Even as a reserve, Kaman brings some positives because he gives the Lakers some scoring punch in the paint. If he is great on that end, the Lakers will be as well.
Nick Young is the best swingman on the Los Angeles Lakers not named Kobe Bryant. That makes him the starting shooting guard almost by default with Bryant sliding over to the small forward position.
Young’s career 37.4 percent three-point shooting mark will be a welcome addition for the Lakers in 2013-14. His presence will stretch the floor and give Steve Nash and Bryant room to operate in the pick-and-roll.
In the event teams rotate off Young, he is proficient enough from long range to make them pay. In addition, he has displayed the ability to beat defenders in one-on-one situations. Synergy Sports tells us he converted 46.9 percent of his isolation shots in 2013-14.
Young favors squaring up his defender, beating him off the bounce with a series of dribble moves and then launching a contested jump shot. To his credit, he has shown the ability to convert these types of moves despite the difficulty involved.
It is worth noting, however, that his shot selection is often questionable. He has a habit of holding the ball, sizing up his defender and then launching a contested jumper.
In the pick-and-roll, he is often quick on the trigger when he feels he might get a slight opening for a jumper. Trailing defenders typically recover and contest his shot. Have a look at the video below:
With a bit more discipline and a better grasp of opponent tendencies, Young can flourish and become an explosive scorer with the Lakers. He is a good ball-handler and also a decent passer when his open options flash to the ball.
That means the former Philadelphia 76er can handle a few ball-handling duties and even orchestrate some screen-and-rolls (both as a screen setter and ball-handler) with his teammates to spring either him or other Lakers free. Glance below to get an idea of what it looks like:
D’Antoni will probably entrust his starting 2-guard with an autonomy he has not enjoyed since his days with the Washington Wizards. The coaching staff prefers a fast-paced offense, which will benefit a trigger-happy Young.
The Lakers offense will likely revolve around Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Bryant. D’Antoni will need his role players to justify their minutes by making shots and scoring the ball, a job that Young will surely enjoy.
Other than Nash, Bryant and Blake, Young might be the closest thing to a pure shooter on the Lakers roster. That alone will earn him some minutes and scoring opportunities.
His play on that side of the ball will be crucial in 2013-14 because he is a subpar defensive player. The Purple and Gold will be vulnerable defensively with Young on the floor, and consequently he must play great offensively to mitigate that.
The success of the Lakers will hinge on it.
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