LA Lakers Backups Who Are Good Enough to Start for Other Teams

Thomas Duffy@@TJDhoopsFeatured ColumnistOctober 6, 2013

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Wesley Johnson #11 of the Los Angeles Lakers poses for a picture during media day at Toyota Sports Center on September 28, 2013 in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Aaron Poole/NBAE via Getty Images)
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After Dwight Howard’s departure over the summer, the Los Angeles Lakers appeared to be headed for a painfully bad season.

But general manager Mitch Kupchak retooled L.A.’s roster with players like Nick Young, Chris Kaman, Jordan Farmar and Wesley Johnson, who will serve as great complements to the team’s already-established core group.

Mar 21, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Jordan Hill (27) warms up before the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. The Lakers defeated the Mavericks 109-93. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, there are no bona fide stars on the Lakers. But Los Angeles will have a strong starting lineup once the Mamba returns from his Achilles injury and has a relatively deep bench that head coach Mike D’Antoni will be quick to utilize.

In fact, there will be some players coming off the bench who are even good enough to start on other NBA teams.


Wesley Johnson

The first is Johnson, who’ll likely begin the season behind Young in the small forward rotation, via Rotoworld.

A former lottery pick, Johnson has not lived up to the immense expectations he's faced after being selected fourth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2010-11 NBA draft.

However, that’s not to say he hasn’t played well. The 26-year-old has totaled career averages of about eight points and three rebounds a night while shooting 40 percent from the field.

Johnson has started 76 percent of the games he’s been active in while playing two seasons for the Timberwolves and his last with the Phoenix Suns.

The former Syracuse standout isn’t an elite scorer, but he has the potential to become a premier defender largely due to the striking athleticism he's displayed throughout his career.

According to Synergy Sports, Johnson forced a turnover in 26 percent of his isolation situations last season—an impressive number being that LeBron James, one of the best defenders in the game, forced a TO in just 10.7 percent of one-on-one situations.

There are only a handful of elite small forwards in today’s game, and Johnson is a young player with a lot of upside on both sides of the ball. He could easily start for several teams in the NBA and might even see some time in the starting unit for the Lakers in the event of injuries.


Chris Kaman...or Jordan Hill

Gasol will start in the frontcourt—that much is known. Who will begin the season alongside of him is a different story.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Chris Kaman #9 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers pose for a picture during media day at Toyota Sports Center on September 28, 2013 in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
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D’Antoni has not announced a starting lineup yet, and he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles that the job opposite Gasol on the block is up for grabs:

Pau can play with anybody. He makes anybody look good with his passing, so, you can play him with [Hill] who is more of a runner and slasher, or you can play Kaman who is more of a catch-and-shoot kind of guy, so they’ll all blend in real well together.

D’Antoni, going into his second year on the Los Angeles sidelines, also made it clear that he wants an everyday starter.

“…I would like to have everybody know their role and feel comfortable in it,” he told ESPN LA. “Not some days start, some days not.”

Hill and Kaman couldn’t be more different, and that will will make it an even tougher competition for D’Antoni in choosing Gasol’s frontcourt partner.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Jordan Hill #27 of the Los Angeles Lakers poses for a picture during media day at Toyota Sports Center on September 28, 2013 in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadi
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Nonetheless, both players have the potential to start on other NBA clubs.

Kaman has started 510 out of 606 games over the course of his career, but his bruising skill set would be less complementary of Gasol’s post ability than Hill's improving mid-range game would be.

Undeterred, Kaman made it clear to ESPN Los Angeles that he’s liked what he’s seen playing alongside Gasol early on in the season:

… I feel pretty comfortable just in the last few days playing with [Gasol]. He's a great passer, a great play maker. He makes everybody around him better and those kind of players are hard to come by. I guess I would say, you never have to force anything when you're playing with Pau. It just kind of comes natural. He'll make easy plays and it makes everybody's jobs easier. If you ask the guards, I think they feel more comfortable with it as well. So, I think it will work well.

But after seeing how D12’s presence negatively affected Gasol last season, Hill would be the smarter start.

The 26-year-old forward averaged close to six points and five rebounds a night in 2012-13 while nearly shooting 50 percent from the field. He played in just 29 games last season due to a hip injury, but an increased workload in the coming year will more than likely result in a huge bump in production.

While it's very likely that he loses the starting job to Hill, Kaman has already solidified himself as a consistent and productive NBA player who's more than capable of starting on a variety of squads across the league.

The Lakers are a much deeper team than they were a season ago, as Johnson and Kaman (or Hill) will come off the bench despite having the capability to start elsewhere in the NBA.

Luckily for Los Angeles, though, all three of them will be wearing purple and gold in 2013-14.