5 Things We Learned About the LA Lakers After Week 1
With Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman playing big and the Lakers guards stretching the floor, Mike D'Antoni's system seems to be a better fit for the roster this season.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Lakers' current roster and their roster last year is the fact that player roles are more clearly defined. Even when the Black Mamba makes his return, there should still be a clear rotation and offensive pecking order.
Although four games are too few to accurately predict, the Lakers have looked like a team that can compete for a playoff spot.
The Lakers Are Speeding Up the Pace
Even without Steve Nash playing over 30 minutes per game, the bevy of capable guards on the roster has enabled the Lakers to push the pace and play uptempo basketball.
Never failing to score fewer than 10 fast-break points in any of their first four games, the Lakers have tried to take advantage of every transition opportunity afforded to them. While they have the athletes to run, they don't necessarily have a lot of dominant finishers.
Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar and Nick Young are all athletic guards who can finish in transition. While they can't finish emphatically the way Amar'e Stoudemire or Shawn Marion used to for Mike D'Antoni, they have enough offensive versatility to take advantage of the fast break.
With Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill doing well on the boards, the Lakers will continue to have a lot of opportunities to get out in the open court.
The Lakers Can Rebound the Basketball
Excluding the Los Angeles Lakers' stinker against the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers have gobbled up 46 or more rebounds in three of their games and over 50 rebounds in their two wins.
They've also showed some effectiveness on the offensive boards, winning that category in two of their four games.
This is in stark contrast to the Lakers' early season struggles with rebounding last year despite having Dwight Howard on the roster. Pau Gasol's resurgence this season has done wonders to plug up the hole that Superman left behind. Only failing to gather more than 10 rebounds once in his first four games, Gasol seems as explosive and aggressive as he was during the Lakers' most recent two championship titles.
Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill have also been major contributors on the boards. Hill's specialty seems to be on the offensive glass, as he's gathered13 offensive rebounds in the first four games.
With three big men all cleaning the glass well and all of the athletic guards pitching in by boxing out their men and hustling for boards that fall within their reach, the Lakers are a very credible rebounding team this season.
Pau Gasol Is Back
The biggest reason for the Lakers' current level of play is Pau Gasol, who is playing like he's in his prime again. Averaging 15.8 points, over two assists and 11 rebounds per game, Gasol has been active on both ends of the court.
Utilizing his trademark versatility, Gasol has been a consistent offensive force for the Lakers. Whether it's with his back to the basket, playing in the high post or running in transition, Gasol has been able to keep defenses guessing and open up scoring opportunities for his teammates.
While he isn't as lethal offensively as he was in his prime, he is making up for that by being a major force on the defensive end. Although he'll never be confused for Dwight Howard in terms of his shot-blocking ability, he is still averaging one block per game and is using his size to alter shots and clog the lane.
What's impressive about Gasol's performance thus far is the fact that he is accumulating these numbers while only playing 26 minutes per game. If Gasol can keep up this level of efficiency and stay healthy, he should produce even better numbers in key games that require more minutes from him.
The Lakers Need to Find Ways to Score in the Paint
Averaging only 37.5 points in the paint per game, the Lakers have to find more effective ways of generating easy baskets in the paint.
This is not to say they haven't been trying. Most of the Lakers' guards have the ability to slash or drive their way into the lane, and some are athletic enough to finish once they're in there. However, the lack of a truly efficient interior scorer makes it hard for them to generate easy baskets.
While Kaman and Gasol are good interior players, they do some of their best work from the high post and with their jumpers.
Despite Mike D'Antoni putting his imprint on this team, the Lakers don't really utilize the pick-and-roll the way D'Antoni used to emphasize it in Phoenix. This may be due to the personnel on this roster. Without a dynamic and athletic big man, the pick-and-roll has been marginalized.
Without the pick-and-roll as a consistent way to get the big man into the middle without him having to back himself in there every time, the Lakers don't have a lot of options in terms of interior scoring.
The Lakers do have the tools to be an effective interior scoring team, though. They already have Gasol and Kaman as capable back-to-the-basket scorers in the half court. They also have enough shooters to really space the floor and allow their guards to create dribble penetration. As point guards, Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake and Steve Nash all penetrate into the lane in order to create for others on the perimeter. However, if Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry and Nick Young can be more aggressive in using their driving lanes to score, the Lakers will have another dangerous dimension to their versatile offense.
The Bench Mob Is Back
Averaging over 55 points per game, the Lakers' bench has been sensational in the early going. Never failing to score fewer than 45 points per game, the weapons the Lakers have on their second unit are just as deadly as the ones they have in the starting lineup.
With Nick Young's recent move to the bench, the Lakers' bench has a solid group of players who fill very defined roles. While Young is the incumbent scorer on the second unit, Jordan Farmar is the prototypical point guard with the ability to pass, shoot and drive the ball. Farmar can also play uptempo basketball or set up his teammates in the half court.
Jordan Hill is very raw offensively. However, his tenacious offensive rebounding and hustle make him a very crucial garbage player on a team that needs toughness. Kaman is similarly effective on the defensive glass and can score on the perimeter or in the paint.
Jodie Meeks is a proven sharpshooter who can also slash into the lane and play tough defense on the perimeter. Although Wesley Johnson's role isn't as defined as those of the other bench players, his size and quickness make him a good finisher in transition and a lengthy defender on the perimeter.
With each of these six players playing unique roles, the Lakers' bench is full of players who can either play together cohesively as a unit or be individually slotted into the starting lineup based on matchups.