5 Ways for LA Lakers to Pick Up Scoring Slack from Kobe Bryant's Absence
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Presuming that Kobe Bryant being a 27-point per game scorer is at least a few months away, the Los Angeles Lakers must find a way to make up almost one-third of an offense that last season averaged just over 102 points en route to making the NBA playoffs as a seventh seed.
To say it won't be easy would be the understatement of the week.
No one can really replace Bryant, who not only scores a lot of points but is also known as one of the fiercest competitors and best closers in the game.
For the time being, the Lakers and head coach Mike D'Antoni need to figure out how best to make use of the more than 20 shots per game that No. 24 averaged. Expect to see more players involved in the offense.
Even though the Mike D'Antoni-led Lakers never quite incorporated his signature "seven seconds or less" offense last season, the team still had 94.4 offensive possessions per 48 minutes, sixth-highest in the NBA, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
The offseason brought a handful of free-agent signings who fit the mold of the athletic, uptempo offense D'Antoni so embraces. Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson, Elias Harris, Marcus Landry, Shawne Williams and Xavier Henry join Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake and Steve Nash as perimeter guards and wings who will succeed if the offense flows and the shots drop.
If nothing else, the first few preseason games have shown that this Lakers team will be an entertaining one, capable of scoring big points in bunches.
Henry, for instance, dropped 29 in his Lakers debut last week, and already the 6'6" shooting guard is being compared to such superstar PGs as James Harden of the Houston Rockets. That may be pushing it, but Henry does appear to be a wild-card star-in-the-making for L.A.
Now is the time when players can make their mark on the Lakers offense. L.A. still may not break the 40-win barrier this season, but there could be new stars who emerge in Bryant's absence. Let's see if they have what it takes to keep the buckets coming while Kobe watches and waits.
Pau Gasol: A Healthy Pau Will Add 4-6 Points to His Average
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Only a class act like Pau Gasol would put up with a coach who benched the All-Star center and spent most of the season trying to change the way he played the game.
D'Antoni has never liked two bigs in the paint at the same time and had trouble figuring out that Gasol needed at least 12-14 touches in the post in order to be effective. He certainly has changed his tune this year.
With Dwight Howard's backdoor departure to Houston, the Lakers have seen the light and moved Gasol back into the center position where he belongs. After undergoing knee surgery this summer, Gasol was forced to rest and recuperate and has come to training camp with more energy than he has shown in several years.
As Steve Nash told Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com when asked about Gasol:
He’s going to be very central to what we do. He’s somebody that we want to run the offense through a lot -- get him in pick-and-rolls, get him on the post, get him on the elbow -- and have him involved and be a threat as much as possible.
If Laker fans have been wondering what happened to the Pau Gasol of those 2009 and 2010 championship teams, they should pay attention this year. If he stays healthy, the old Gasol will be back. He's already showing it during the preseason.
Before last year's disaster of 13.7 ppg on 11.8 shot attempts, Gasol averaged 18.8, 18.9, 18.3, 18.8 and 17.4 points for the Lakers on 12.3-14.1 shots per contest from 2008-2012. This season, D'Antoni wants Gasol to be a focal point, realizing that the big man is critical to the team's offensive production.
He'll be in his kind of natural (role), that of being a playmaker and a facilitator and a scorer when there's no double teams. And he'll be able to control the pace of the game a lot more, which is what he's more comfortable doing.
He's back! With Kobe on the bench, Gasol averages 19 points per game on 13-15 touches. He looks and plays like the Gasol of old, even if he is a little older.
Nick Young: He's Done It Before and Is Primed to Do It Again in Purple and Gold
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Nick Young is living the dream—the big dream of playing for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. And he has a golden opportunity to take over a big chunk of the Lakers offense while Kobe Bryant rehabs from his Achilles injury.
Young is a streak shooter in every sense of the word. He'll definitely pick up the scoring slack while Bryant waits to come back, but he won't always look pretty doing it.
After the first four preseason games, Young's 13.3 points per game is tied for team honors with Xavier Henry and Pau Gasol. What jumps out is that he is only shooting 38 percent from the floor, 29 percent from the three-point range.
Young's last outing was a 4-16, nine-point dud of a game against the Denver Nuggets this week. He goes hot and cold, but that seems to be OK with coach Mike D'Antoni.
Per ESPN.com, D'Antoni thinks Young is a great fit for the Lakers' shorthanded offense:
He's going to have leeway. That's what he does. He scores. If you don't give him leeway, you shouldn't play him. When he's on the floor, you have to respect his talent. He's coachable and wants to play the right way. He will. But he's one of those guys when he gets on a roll, he puts up a lot of points. You ride him when he does and try to watch him when he doesn't. But Nick is going to score a lot of points for us.
A former USC Trojan and 2007 first-round pick of the Washington Wizards, Nick Young has never really developed an all-around game. He is not really considered a go-to shooter based on his career shooting percentage of just under 43 percent.
At the same time, Young has never been afraid to take shots, and his 37 percent, three-point average is not bad, especially for a guy who twice in his career (2010 and 2011) hoisted up close to 15 shots per game in about 30 minutes per contest with Washington.
Until Bryant returns, Nick Young will do his best impersonation and give the Lakers some extra juice on the offensive side of the ball.
Young averages 14 points per game on 38 percent shooting and 12 shots per game in 26 minutes of playing time. After Bryant returns, it will be difficult to imagine the two of them on the floor at the same time.
Xavier Henry: A Budding Star Draws Comparisons to Ariza, Clark and Harden
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This kid can flat-out score the basket and, if brought along wisely, may inject another 10-12 points per game for the Lakers offense.
A lottery pick (12th) out of the University of Kansas in 2010 with the Memphis Grizzlies, Henry had a forgettable rookie season. He averaged just 4.3 points and played just 14 minutes per game.
Henry spent the next two seasons in New Orleans, where he averaged 16.9 and 12.5 minutes per game respectively. He averaged 5.3 and 3.9 ppg in the last year of his rookie contract.
In the three preseason games he has played, Henry looks more like the confident former Jayhawk freshman who averaged 13.4 points on 46 per cent shooting and 42 percent from beyond the arc. Averaging 17 points per game, Henry is attacking the basket and has gone to the free-throw line 26 times (he's made 21).
There's a bit of James Harden in Xavier Henry in the way he attacks the basket. His jump shot has also been impressive.
Playing without a guaranteed contract, Henry is hungry. The Lakers may have found themselves a nugget who, up until now, has been overlooked.
Remember Trevor Ariza? Earl Clark? Say hello to Xavier Henry.
Henry plays early and often, averaging 22 minutes and 12 points per game in the early part of the season. After Bryant returns, D'Antoni will have to figure out how to keep the physical Henry off the bench. He has the potential to be a high-impact player in the league.
Chris Kaman: Versatile Big Man Will Complement Gasol Much Better Than D12
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The sixth pick in the 2003 NBA Draft (by the Clippers), Kaman parlayed a couple of good seasons into a big $55 million contract extension and was an All-Star for several seasons before being traded to New Orleans as part of the Chris Paul deal in 2011.
Kaman has averaged as much as 18.5 ppg for a season (2009-10) and is a 49 percent career shooter. He is a traditional center who is not necessarily suited to a D'Antoni system, but is nonetheless thrilled to be playing for the Lakers and called this the best training camp he has ever participated in.
Via Mark Medina of InsideSoCal.com, Kaman says:
I just want the opportunity to play. I think coach D’Antoni is a very fair guy. He lets everybody have an opportunity, and then you need to do well to keep getting opportunities. This is the best training camp I’ve ever had. He’s an awesome guy. He’s a players coach. I don’t know how he ever gets fired anywhere. I have a lot of respect for him.
Much to the surprise of even D'Antoni, Kaman and Pau Gasol have played exceptionally well together during the first four games of the preseason.
Pau Gasol is likewise thrilled with the play of Kaman, telling Medina: "He’s not just a big guy who will be in the middle of the lane operating in the post or the elbow. So his versatility, knowledge of the game and his unselfishness really helps our combination work well."
Chris Kaman averages double figures (between 10-13 points per night) as the Lakers make good use of their new Twin Towers.
Jordan Farmar: Not Afraid to Attack the Rim
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While Steve Nash becomes more and and more of a facilitator, backup point guard Jordan Farmar has the opportunity to score some big points for the Lakers with his speed and aggressiveness.
D'Antoni's point guard-oriented system is an ideal fit for the Los Angeles native, Farmar. After a year in Turkey, Farmar jumped at the chance to come home and play under a system that preaches uptempo, go-to-the-rim style offense.
According to NBA.com/Stats, Farmar is among the best PGs at penetrating to the hoop. During his last year in the NBA with New Jersey (2011-12), Farmar scored 29.2 percent of his points at the rim. That compares to Steve Nash who, during his last Most Valuable Player season in 2006, finished at the rim 24.4 percent of the time.
Additionally, Steve Blake made just 9.3 percent of his shots from the rim last season, while Nash was better at 17.7.
Farmar has a tremendous opportunity to gobble up minutes and points playing for D'Antoni and the Lakers. A career 43 percent (37 percent from beyond the arc) shooter, the 26-year-old Farmar averaged a career-best 10.4 ppg with the Nets two years ago in 21 minutes per game.
Jordan Farmar will take minutes away from Steve Blake, who could even be traded if the Lakers can get a first-round pick in exchange. Farmar should see at least 15-20 minutes per game at the start of the season and have ample opportunity to break down defenses with his aggressive play. He could easily average 12-13 points in his Lakers return.