First Quarter Report Card Grades for Each Member of Los Angeles Lakers

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIDecember 12, 2013

First Quarter Report Card Grades for Each Member of Los Angeles Lakers

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Even though the Los Angeles Lakers only have a 10-11 record and are on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, plenty of key role players have helped the team tread water with great play, which has earned them passing report card grades in the process.

    The Lakers have faced a great deal of adversity in 2013-14. Kobe Bryant recently returned from an Achilles tear he suffered in April, Steve Nash has played just six games all season due to nerve root irritation and Pau Gasol—while he has appeared in every game—has been playing through a strained foot.

    Mike D’Antoni has done an admirable job with an injury-riddled roster, and the bench-play has been nothing short of phenomenal—the second unit leads the league by scoring 47.8 points per game, according to Hoops Stats.

    This clearly isn't the best Lakers squad in franchise history, but they do play with plenty of grit.

     

    Note: All statistics used in this article are accurate as of Dec. 12, 2013 (prior to games played).

End of the Roster

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    The following players haven’t made a huge impact considering they’ve played just 107 total minutes this season. They may earn more playing time due to an assortment of injuries, but let’s just say they won’t make many fantasy basketball rosters moving forward.

     

    14. Ryan Kelly, PF

    Ryan Kelly, the rookie power forward out of Duke, has played only seven minutes for the Lakers. In that time, he’s knocked down two of three attempts from long range.

    He’s showcased an ability to spread the floor as a big man, but Mike D’Antoni has shown no intention of playing him regularly.

    Kelly is averaging 30.9 points and 10.3 rebounds in 36 minutes per game. This is why it can be such a misleading statistic.

     

    Grade: Incomplete

     

    13. Robert Sacre

    Robert Sacre has played eight games for the Lakers this season (two starts) and has actually put up respectable stats when given court time.

    In 24 minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacre finished with 12 points (on 5-of-8 shooting), seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.

    In 17 minutes against the Sacramento Kings, he scored 11 points, grabbed five rebounds and added two blocks.

    He’s been buried on the Lakers depth chart, but he’s showed that he can make an impact when given an opportunity.

     

    Grade: B

12. Shawne Williams, SF/PF

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    It’s bizarre thinking back to the beginning of the season when Shawne Williams was starting games instead of Jordan Hill, but that was the state of things in Lakerland.

    The 27-year-old has played 19 games (six starts). In those 19, he’s averaging 5.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.

    Unfortunately, Williams hasn’t been the model of efficiency on offense. He’s shooting just 33.8 percent from three-point range and a paltry 37.4 percent from the field overall.

    Additionally, the Lakers forward is racking up 3.1 personal fouls per game in just 19.2 minutes per game. That’s not ideal.

    Finally, his player efficiency rating of 9.8 joins only two players on the roster (Steve Nash and Elias Harris) in terms of not cracking double digits.

    His ability to rebound the ball has been helpful, but that’s been the only true positive.

     

    Grade: D+

11. Wesley Johnson, SG/SF

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    As a diehard Phoenix Suns fan, let me just say that Wesley Johnson’s play in 2013-14 has been completely mind-boggling.

    Last season with the Suns, Johnson shot a lowly 40.7 percent from the field, which was a career high. From three-point range, he shot just 32.3 percent, meaning that he made fewer than one of three attempts from downtown.

    The former fourth overall draft pick has completely flipped the script with the Lakers this season. His 44.8 percent shooting clip from beyond the arc is not only more than 12 percentage points higher than it was for Phoenix last season, but it also ranks him No. 16 in the NBA.

    Additionally, his field-goal percentage overall is up to a career-best 43.7 percent. Oddly enough, he’s shooting a lower percentage inside the arc (42.9 percent) than he is from deep (44.8 percent).

    And while Johnson isn’t the best defender out there, he’s averaging 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per game thus far.

    Granted, his player efficiency rating of 13.0 is below league average, but he’s been vastly improved compared to a season ago.

     

    Grade: B+

10. Chris Kaman, C

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Chris Kaman hasn’t received any minutes recently from head coach Mike D’Antoni despite being cleared to play after suffering a back injury, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

    As McMenamin points out, this draws parallels to last season when D’Antoni did not see eye-to-eye with veteran forward Antawn Jamison, which led to a verbal altercation between the two.

    To be fair, D’Antoni loves running an uptempo style and has received plenty of production from Jordan Hill in the frontcourt. As a result, Kaman has become the odd man out by happenstance.

    Kaman hasn’t played in nine straight games and last appeared in a Nov. 17 win over the Detroit Pistons (he played just five minutes).

    The big man is averaging 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, but it may be a struggle for him to climb back into the rotation.

     

    Grade: C

9. Xavier Henry, SG/SF

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Although Xavier Henry has been wildly inconsistent this season, he’s also had some impressive performances.

    The 22-year-old set the tone for the Lakers' second unit in the season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers. He finished with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting while adding six rebounds. The second unit as a whole wound up with a whopping 76 points.

    Henry has scored in double digits just eight times in 21 games played, but he’s shooting 45.5 percent from two-point range and 44.7 percent beyond the arc. His efficiency from all over the court has been a huge boost for the Lakers in the early going.

    Henry has earned a reputation as a bit of a wild card because fans don’t know if he’ll score 24 points or four points on a game-to-game basis. With that said, the Lakers would be in a lot of trouble right now if they hadn’t signed Henry last summer.

     

    Grade: B+

8. Jordan Farmar, PG

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Where would the Lakers be without Jordan Farmar?

    The 27-year-old point guard has been the engine of the team’s league-leading second unit this season. With him, the Lakers are 9-8; without him, they’re 1-3.

    The Lakers will have a really tough time winning games now that Farmar is set to miss approximately four weeks after tearing his left hamstring, per Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated.

    Farmar has scored points (9.2 per game), grabbed rebounds (2.9 per game) and dished out assists (4.4 per game). On top of that, his player efficiency rating of 18.0 ranks him second on the team.

    He’s played with an air of confidence we’ve never seen from him before during his NBA career. Lakers fans just have to hope he plays up to this standard when he returns from injury.

     

    Grade: A

7. Jordan Hill, PF/C

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    In addition to boasting a team-leading player efficiency rating of 20.8, Jordan Hill’s PER ranks him No. 25 in the NBA among qualified players.

    The former University of Arizona Wildcat cracked the 20-minute barrier just once through the Lakers’ first eight regular-season games, but he’s been a huge asset for Mike D’Antoni’s rotation with added minutes since then.

    He’s posted a 21-point, 11-rebound outing against the New Orleans Pelicans; an 18-point, 15-rebound performance against the Denver Nuggets; and a 24-point, 17-rebound outburst against the Detroit Pistons.

    He’s back down to averaging just 17.5 minutes per game in December, which has led to lower numbers, but the full body of work from Hill speaks for itself.

    He’s been the Lakers' only reliable big man throughout the 2013-14 season.

     

    Grade: A

6. Steve Blake, PG

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Steve Blake is, without question, the most under-appreciated player on the Lakers roster.

    First, he had to pick up the slack with Kobe Bryant sidelined. Then, he had to ramp up point guard duties when Steve Nash went down. Then, Jordan Farmar got hurt, leaving Blake as the only healthy point guard on the roster.

    The injury-prone point guard kept pace for a while, but now, he’s expected to miss six weeks with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

    As if leaving the roster with zero healthy point guards isn’t enough, Blake had been experiencing his best statistical season since 2008-09 with the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Through 21 games (all starts), Blake was averaging 9.8 points, a career-high 7.7 assists and a career-high 3.3 rebounds per game. He was also shooting 40 percent from long range.

    It’s just a shame that Blake suffered such a severe injury because he truly was playing great basketball while under a great deal of pressure.

     

    Grade: A

5. Nick Young, SG/SF

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Nick Young experienced a very rocky start to the 2013-14 campaign. Through his first nine games, he shot 7-of-25 from three-point range (28 percent) and failed to make more than one triple in any of those contests.

    “Swaggy P” turned his shooting woes around in mid-to-late November, but he’s shooting just 22.2 percent from downtown in December.

    It’s been an up-and-down season for Young, but overall, he’s scoring 14.3 points per game, which ranks him third on the team.

    Shooting a career-low 33.3 percent from distance isn’t ideal, but he’s balanced that glaring negative by shooting a career-high 48.5 percent inside the arc this season.

    Young is a streaky outside shooter, though, so maybe he’ll turn things around from the outside moving forward.

     

    Grade: C+

4. Jodie Meeks, SG

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Jodie Meeks has become one of the most proficient scorers in the NBA because he’s knocking down the three-ball and finishing strong at the rim.

    In addition to draining 45.6 percent of his threes (tops on the team among qualified players), Meeks has made 41-of-66 (62.12 percent) of his shot attempts within eight feet of the basket, according to NBA.com.

    As a matter of fact, Meeks’ shooting efficiency has been so good he actually ranked No. 14 on a list of the best “pure shooters” in an article by B/R’s Adam Fromal.

    Whether or not the 26-year-old will sustain his hot hand remains to be seen. Nevertheless, he’s been great so far.

     

    Grade: A

3. Steve Nash, PG

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Steve Nash has been a shell of himself since leaving the Phoenix Suns to chase a championship ring with the Lakers. Last season was a bump in the road, but this season has been an utter catastrophe.

    The former two-time MVP played just six games before shutting things down due to nerve root irritation, which has caused pain in his hamstring and lower back. He’s still not sure when he plans to return.

    “I don’t know,” Nash said according to a Dec. 8 article by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. “I had three good days of practice and I could play right now, but we don’t really have any confidence that it’s sustainable.”

    It’s hard not to feel bad for Nash as his body continues to betray him.

    He posted a player efficiency rating of 6.8 through six games played. That was the worst PER on the team and ranks him No. 305 out of 324 qualified players.

    It's impossible to grade a guy who has been devastated by crippling injury.

     

    Grade: Incomplete

2. Pau Gasol, PF/C

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Many fans look at Pau Gasol’s production this season and claim that he’s underperforming (and that’s true relative to his salary of more than $19.2 million).

    However, these are the stats we should come to expect based on Gasol’s numbers last season.

    Here are the comparison between the Spaniard’s 2012-13 campaign and the numbers he’s posted so far in 2013-14:

    2012-13: 33.8 minutes, 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.2 blocks, 46.6 percent field-goal shooting, 28.6 percent three-point shooting, 70.2 percent free-throw shooting.

    2013-14: 30.3 minutes, 14.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.2 blocks, 41.7 percent field-goal shooting, 33.3 percent three-point shooting, 75.7 percent free-throw shooting.

    In fewer minutes this season, Gasol is averaging more points and rebounds per game. His 41.7 percent shooting from the field is atrocious, but he shot exactly 41.7 percent in the month of November last season before improving.

    Although Gasol has been vastly mediocre, he’s still leading the Lakers in points and rebounds. Perhaps it’s just time to lower expectations for him across the board.

     

    Grade: C-

1. Kobe Bryant, SG

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Kobe Bryant has played in just two games thus far after returning from an Achilles tear. The Lakers are 0-2 in those games.

    In addition to grading himself an “F” in his return—he eventually elevated his grade to a “D”—Bryant didn’t believe that his presence could hurt the team’s chemistry in the short term, saying, “It’s not like we were gangbusters before,” per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

    Head coach Mike D’Antoni took exception to that comment, per McMenamin.

    I have to disagree with that. We were 6-2 in the last eight (games before Bryant’s return) and I thought we played extremely well, winning three (in a row) on the road. …So, that’s not quite right. I’m really proud of what the guys did.

    It was totally unwarranted for Bryant to dismiss the performance of his teammates, who performed far above expectations given the circumstances. Thus, D’Antoni defended his guys who have been taking the court night-in and night-out.

    Obviously, it will be a process for Bryant to return to his usual form (if he ever does). He hasn’t shown the same explosiveness, playing mostly below the rim. He played well in a loss against the Phoenix Suns, finishing with 20 points, but he had nine points (on 2-of-9 shooting) to go with eight turnovers in his return against the Toronto Raptors.

    Bryant’s play certainly hasn’t warranted an “F” or “D” grade, but it’s hard to raise his report card much higher—even though he’s returning from a devastating injury.

     

    Grade: C