With the departure of Dwight Howard during the offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers were tasked with restructuring a team to tide them over until next year's free-agency period. While the expectations were definitely lowered after Superman left, the Lakers have done a good job of building a competitive team.
Defense has never been an emphasis for Mike D'Antoni throughout his career. This incarnation of D'Antoni's Lakers is no different. However, with a group of versatile guards and a duo of offensively gifted big men, the Lakers should still be able to score the basketball effectively.
The Lakers' offseason success can be graded based on three things: their performance in the draft, the performance of their offseason acquisitions and their performance in their preseason games.
Drafting Ryan Kelly 48th overall in the NBA draft, the Lakers were able to acquire a big man who can spread the floor for them.
Able to return from a foot injury for three of the Lakers' last four preseason games, he was able to show off a pretty decent shooting stroke. While he won't likely see more than garbage minutes, his ability to shoot will certainly generate some opportunities for him from a coach who values big men who are able to create spacing.
Hitting two of his six three-point attempts and all five of his shots from the free-throw line, Kelly may be able to see some time at the end of games if the other team has to continuously foul to stop the clock. However, given his limited offensive repertoire and relative lack of athleticism, Kelly won't be more than a potential role player for the Lakers this season.
Despite his shortcomings, the positives he brings to the Lakers at the 48th pick of the second round far outweigh his limitations as a player.
The Lakers have acquired a multitude of very dependable role players to fill in for Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark and the other players who left L.A. for one reason or another. The players who stand out the most are Chris Kaman, Xavier Henry, Nick Young and Jordan Farmar.
Although Shawne Williams may be the incumbent starter at power forward due to his ability to shoot the three-point shot, Chris Kaman and Pau Gasol should see the majority of the minutes at power forward and center.
Despite his skills being mitigated by a constant slew of injuries, Kaman has showed toughness and offensive versatility during the preseason. While gastroenteritis sidelined Kaman for the final preseason games, his performance prior to that showed that he was the Lakers' best rebounding presence.
Able to shoot the jumper, score in the interior and set good picks, Kaman's presence on both ends of the court will be vital for the Lakers to establish some semblance of an interior threat.
Nick Young and Xavier Henry are young athletes who can run the floor, shoot the ball and create for themselves—and potentially for others. With the ability to attack defenders with their ball-handling skills and shoot open jumpers, Young's and Henry's versatility should keep the Lakers competitive on offense.
Both have shown this versatility over the course of the preseason.
Young has scored in double digits in all but three of the preseason games while never scoring fewer than nine points in any of those games. Although Henry wasn't as consistent as Young, his 29 points against the Golden State Warriors show that Henry can go off on a scoring tear at any moment.
While Young has the more proven track record as a scorer during his career, Henry should still see a lot of minutes due to Steve Nash's health situation and Kobe Bryant's ongoing battle to return from his Achilles tendon injury.
Perhaps the most important offseason acquisition the Lakers made was for Jordan Farmar. Young and Henry may be more potent scorers, but Farmar could prove to be way more valuable if Nash has to miss a considerable amount of time during the season.
Farmar is a proven scorer who has showed off his ability to hit the open shot or drive into the lane during the preseason. Scoring in double digits in all but one of his preseason games, Farmar's 20-point effort against the Utah Jazz showed off his range as well as his ability to score in the paint.
His ability to score the basketball while also creating for his teammates and facilitating via the pick-and-roll or the drive-and-kick make him a very good substitute for Steve Nash.
Winning four of their eight preseason games, the Lakers were able to define and improve their rotation and the players' roles.
While they started off with a slower pace, they picked it up as team chemistry developed. Scoring at least 10 fast-break points during their last three preseason games, the Lakers were able to establish a good pace to their offense.
Despite losing Howard, the Lakers were actually decent on the defensive end.
They were able to hold four of their eight opponents to under 100 points. This included both the Denver Nuggets and the Golden State Warriors, best known for their uptempo scoring style. This achievement aside, their biggest weakness on the defensive end was stopping teams from scoring in the interior.
Superman's absence may be the biggest cause of this.
Although teams definitely do hold back during the preseason, there is no reason why the Lakers can't continue to play decent interior defense if Kaman and Gasol are healthy enough to control the paint. Neither of them can protect the rim like Howard can, but they both have considerable size and take up a lot of space in the lane.
Dribble penetration should be containable because the Lakers have a lot of young guards who can compete and keep up with the other athletes in the league.
Other than Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar and Kobe Bryant, once he returns, the Lakers' perimeter players are still quite green defensively. However, their length, quickness and athleticism should make up for their inexperience to a degree.
The Lakers definitely won't be one of the top defensive teams. However, they have the potential not to be an embarrassment either.
One of the few benefits to Steve Nash's limited schedule is the fact that Jordan Farmar is a superior defender. Point guard defense has been a weakness for the Lakers since Derek Fisher's days in the purple and gold. Farmar's return should see an upgrade in that particular area for the Lakers.
FINAL GRADE: B