Everybody knows about the Lakers' stars, here are the reasons the Lakers will be an even better team this year.
Artest for Ariza
The most obvious difference in this year's Laker team will be the play of Ron Artest. The small forward spot was occupied last year by a quick, athletic Trevor Ariza whose focus on team defense resulted in turnovers and often complete disruption of the opponents' offensive schemes.
Artest is a much better individual defender who won't be in the passing lanes as much as Ariza was but will stifle the opposing wing scorer on the outside and whose strength in the post will prevent even strong post players like Carmelo Anthony from having much success down low.
Expect fewer turnovers and transition baskets as Artest does not have the kind of court speed and quickness that Ariza brought to the table. This will be more than made up for by Artest's superior half court offensive skills.
Artest will struggle early in the season as he makes a transition from primary scorer to third or fourth option. During his career Ron Artest has had seasons when he has shot as high as .412 from the three-point line. In his role with the Lakers expect him to get a lot of open looks at threes as defenders collapse on Laker post scorers.
Bynum Breaks Out
The big story early in the season will be the play of Andrew Bynum. With few opponents his size to defend him Bynum will have a field day offensively with his usual array of turnarounds, hooks, and alley-oops. So far in the preseason he has been dominant inside.
Gasol just finished playing for Spain in the FIBA European Championships where he helped his team win a gold medal. The Lakers will go to Bynum early in the season to preserve Gasol for the last half of the season.
Andrew Bynum is a player whose offensive success will lift his overall game. The early season success he will have will earn him lots of key minutes late in the season and even in the playoffs as his defense improves.
The one key element in Bynum's success is going to be his ability to avoid injury. Two major knee injuries in two years are good reason to question Bynum's durability. The Lakers will be very careful with Bynum late in the season, possibly limiting him to 30 minutes a game to save wear and tear on his knees.
The Laker Bench
Last year the Laker bench scoring suffered severely as both Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic struggled with their shots. Lamar Odom's stellar play was the main reason the Laker bench still remained one of the best in the league while Luke Walton and Shannon Brown both provided steady play with an occasional flash of brilliance.
Mid-season acquisition Adam Morrison made little impact at all.
This year the Laker three point specialists Vujacic and Adam Morrison will look to redeem themselves.
Morrison has the misfortune to play behind Ron Artest, Luke Walton, and occasionally Lamar Odom. This is essentially Morrison's last chance to prove that he can make it as an NBA player but he will get few opportunities.
Look for him late in the first quarter of games early on. If he doesn't hit some shots when he is in he won't be on the floor by mid-season.
Sasha Vujacic can be valuable as a pesky defender but his true value is as a shooter. A streak shooter with a quick release, Vujacic can be a game changer. Unfortunately its been over a year since he has been hot. Vujacic will shoot early and often in the season and re-establish himself as a shooting option off the bench.
The most intriguing battle will be between backup guards Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown. Brown has a huge advantage being a better defender with good offensive skills. Farmar is a more natural point guard with better ball handling and passing skills but his poor defense can be a liability.
The competition between these two young guards for playing time will greatly benefit the Lakers. Both of them will see a lot of time as the aging Derek Fischer struggles to defend some of the quicker guards in the league.
While other contenders have tried to improve themselves through the addition of free agents and the draft, the Lakers are counting on the improving play of Andrew Bynum along with the resurgence of bench players like Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, and Shannon Brown.
The result for the Lakers will be a team that is even stronger inside than last year with devastating outside shooting from Artest and Vujacic. All of this is, of course, in addition to the incomparable play of Kobe Bryant whose game will open up even more as there will be no one to double off of.
With no serious rivals in the Pacific division and big questions surrounding the Spurs and Mavericks the Lakers will overwhelm the Western conference this year. Last year the Lakers finished the season with a record of 65-17. This year the Lakers will seriously threaten the NBA season best 72-10 record set by the Chicago Bulls in 1995-1996.
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