LA Lakers: Breaking Down Chatter Surrounding Training Camp

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LA Lakers: Breaking Down Chatter Surrounding Training Camp
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Get the scoop on all the latest scuttlebutt from Lakers camp.

The rumor mill is churning with dozens of reports trickling out of Los Angeles Lakers training camp each day (usually with the same quotes sprinkled in).

We've done the hard work for you and separated the wheat from the chaff. Here's the early scoop on the big stories so far:

 

Open Competition for Starting Power Forward

Mike D'Antoni has already named Pau Gasol his starting center, which means the power forward job is wide open.

According to ESPN LA's Dave McMenamin, D'Antoni is looking at a wide range of players including Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill, Wes Johnson, Shawne Williams and Ryan Kelly.

Employing simple some logic, we can pare that list down even further.

For starters, throw Kelly out. The second-round pick has yet to take part in camp due to a foot injury he's been rehabbing all summer. There's just not enough time for him to get back on the court, get in game shape, learn the system and adjust to the speed of the NBA game. 

Williams we can also remove from consideration. His best season as a pro came under D'Antoni, but other than that brief spell he's been a below-average to downright bad NBA player. Being out of the league last year means he must get re-acclimated to the NBA's level of competition.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Chris Kaman is one of the frontrunners to start in the Lakers' frontcourt next to Pau Gasol.

As much as D'Antoni loves to play small-ball, Johnson isn't a good fit at the 4. He can't guard the position nor hold his own on the boards the way Shawn Marion did in Phoenix, and his offensive game is too weak to make up for those deficiencies.

That makes it a two-man race between Kaman and Hill. Both are making around the same money ($3.5 million for Hill, $3.2 million for Kaman) and are in contract years.

Hill should get the edge as the better fit next to Gasol.

While Kaman is the more proven NBA commodity — he was an All-Star as recently as 2010 and has posted PER's above 15.0 in each of the past four seasons — he's also a high-usage, low efficiency player.

Kaman ranked 32nd out of 48 qualified centers in true shooting percentage and 37th in assist rate, while using five percent more of his team's possessions than Gasol did.

Teams will also be able to make hay by putting Kaman in pick-and-roll situations, a play he is ill-suited to defend. My Synergy Sports had him 110th in the league in points per possession against pick-and-rolls.

He would be better utilized coming off the bench, where he can soak up possessions and function as a primary offensive option with the starters out.

Hill, on the other hand, is the complete opposite — a low-usage player whose game complements Gasol's game. He is a monster on the boards, finishing tops in the league in offensive rebounding rate among players who appeared in at least 20 games.

He's also a much more capable defender than Kaman, with the mobility and athleticism to handle pick-and-roll coverages. 

Here's a great piece by SB Nation's Drew Garrison breaking down Hill's impact on defense.

Plus the Hill-Gasol combo already has a successful track record. In the 164 minutes the two spent on the court together last season, the Lakers outscored their opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com (Subscription Required).

During that time the Lakers' defense was stellar, holding opponents to 96.8 points per 100 possession, a mark just about on par with Indiana's league-leading defense.

 

L.A.'s Point Guard Depth Could Help Keep Kobe Bryant's Minutes in Check

I've mentioned this previously, particularly in relation to Jordan Farmar, but now Steve Blake is talking about spending more time at the 2 as well. 

From Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:

"It's up to coach, whether it's playing more minutes at shooting guard or more point guard, that's something we just don't know yet," said Blake at media day Saturday at the Lakers practice facility. "We haven't even gotten in our first day of practice yet."...

"I would expect to play quite a bit of two, especially while Kobe is hurt," Blake said.  "As the year goes on ... [I'll be] open to moving around positions.""

The Lakers struggled when Blake and starting point guard Steve Nash took the court together last season, getting outscored by 2.9 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com (Subscription Required).

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Jordan Farmar could get a lot of run at shooting guard in 2014.

Despite playing at what would have been a league-high pace, L.A.'s offense sputtered to league-average efficiency while their defense sunk to the level of the 23rd-ranked Detroit Pistons.

Blake himself played worse next to Nash than he did on his own, shooting just 36 percent from the field and averaging under nine points per 36 minutes.

Enter Farmar, who, when last seen in the NBA in 2012, was playing the best ball of his career alongside Deron Williams with the New Jersey Nets.

Farmar posted the highest PER of his career by far that season, with a true shooting percentage that ranked fourth in the league among all qualified point guards.

He shot a blistering 47/44/91 (FG/FT/3-PT) en route to averaging a shade under 18 points and six assists per 36 minutes playing equal time at the 1 and 2.

The ability Farmar has to operate as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker alongside a full-time point guard can open up L.A.'s offense and inject a dose of scoring punch into the Lakers' lineup off the bench.

 

 

Still No Timetable on Bryant's Return

Before the Lakers can turn their attention to limiting Bryant's minutes, they have to get him back on the court.

To that end, L.A. still has no timetable for his return.

Bryant is optimistic about his recovery though, per ESPN LA's Dave McMenamin:

""Everybody was really concerned about this injury, and so was I, but the procedure and the therapy right afterwards and things like that really got me ahead of the curve," Bryant said. "So, it feels like the hard part's over.""

It feels like at this point Lakers fans think of the Black Mamba as superhuman and naturally assume he'll be ready to go shortly into the season, if not on opening night.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
The Lakers will try to stay afloat in a killer Western conference while Bryant is on the mend.

As ridiculous as Bryant's recovery times have been throughout his career, Achilles tears are no joke; they've derailed many NBA careers, as this enlightening piece from Deadspin describes.

Chauncey Billups had the same injury in February of 2012 at a similar age (he was 35 at the time), and although Billups isn't on Bryant's level physically he was out essentially for a year and had zero impact when he was on the floor last season.

It's possible that Bryant will be out of action until Thanksgiving or even Christmas, and if that's the case the Lakers may have to dig themselves out of a pretty large hole to make the playoffs — no small feat in a loaded Western conference.

Additionally, it's unknown what lingering effects the injury will have. Billups clearly isn't the same player anymore, and Elton Brand was robbed of his explosiveness when he tore his Achilles several years ago, tragically cutting his prime short.

The Lakers fervently hope Bryant shows his penchant for coming back quicker than Wolverine and beats this injury like he has beaten so many others in the past.

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