Los Angeles Lakers: 10 Things We've Learned About Kobe Bryant and Co. So Far
The Los Angeles Lakers are off to a fast start, and they don't look poised to slow down any time soon.
The defending champs are looking to repel any doubt that they are not the favorite to win the title for a third year in a row, and they are doing so by absolutely decimating teams at will.
They are off to their best start, at 7-0, since starting 11-0 in the 1997-98 season, one in which they went on to lose in the Western Conference Finals to the Utah Jazz.
This team, however, is a better coached, and a more veteran team, and it is looking to have a monumental season.
With their blazing start, the Lakers have removed any doubt that Kobe Bryant may be slowing with age, or that they are no longer the favorites to win the title.
So, here are 10 things that we have learned about Phil Jackson's reigning champions.
They Are The Classic Michael Jordan Style Team
This team has Phil Jackson's fingerprints all over it.
It isn't like his teams after the first three-peat with the Lakers, when Kobe and Shaq were both superstars, and he couldn't make them coexist enough to win a championship.
It isn't like the team in the years following the Shaq-Kobe years, in which Kobe had to be the dominant superstar every night or the team would lose.
This team is just like all of the other teams that Phil Jackson won championships with.
He has a team assembled that has a headline superstar, a perfect compliment sidekick for his superstar, along with another borderline All-Star and five-to-seven more role players who are capable of forming a strong team with few weaknesses.
He has gone from the Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen/Horace Grant, to Jordan/Pippen/Dennis Rodman, to Shaq/Kobe(formidable sidekick)/Glen Rice(and then Derek Fisher), and finally Kobe(unabashed leader)/Pau Gasol/Lamar Odom trios.
This team has the same blueprint as each of the last 11 teams that have won titles for Jackson, and those seemed to have worked out well for him.
They Look Like a Team
Whether you found their ring ceremony on opening night against Houston to be incredibly fake, or a rare act of friendship shown by Kobe Bryant and the rest of the team, there is one thing that cannot be denied about these Los Angeles Lakers: They play as a team.
They look like they enjoy playing basketball together, and now that none of the major starting pieces are transitioning into their role with the team, they seem to be a big cohesive unit on the floor.
In recent years, Bryant had to be the focal point of the offense, peaking in 2005-06, when he averaged over 27 shots a game. In the first seven games this season, Kobe is averaging only slightly over 16 a game, and he is slowly starting to shed the talk of him being a ball hog.
Along with Bryant's more selective shooting, they are distributing the ball remarkably well. They rank fifth in the league with 24 assists per game, in the process getting everyone involved in their offense and looking like a unit, rather than a crew.
They Are Dominant
Though it is just a small sample size at only seven games, there is one thing that is evident: They are better, by a lot, than a majority of the league.
In the past decade, the only team to go a full season outscoring their opponent by more than 10 points a game is the 2007-08 Boston Celtics.
The Lakers are currently outscoring their opponents by 13.6 points per game. The Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic are the only teams averaging more than ten points more per game than their opponent.
It is still early, so the odds are that this will eventually level itself out. But it is still quite impressive as it stands now.
It May Still Be Too Early to Judge
While they have played excellent basketball for the first two weeks of the season, it is still probably a bit early to draw conclusions about this team. But it is not too early to speculate.
They have played only two teams with records above .500, against Portland (5-3) and Golden State (4-2), while playing two teams at .500, and two teams who currently sit at 1-5.
They have played against some weaker teams so far this year, but let's not make too much of this folks. They are still NBA teams and they should still be able to put up a formidable game against any other NBA team.
They Knock Teams Down and Keep Them Down
In the 28 quarters that the Lakers have played this year, they have scored more than 25 points in all but four of them.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, they have eleven quarters in which they scored 30 or more points.
This type of play makes it so the opponent cannot have a bad quarter against them, or they will be hard pressed to force a rare bad quarter out of the Lakers in turn.
When they get leads, they are able to pull away or sustain. They have a killer mentality that refuses to let their opponent have any hopes of getting back into a game.
They have only been outscored by more than two points in four quarters all year, making it increasingly difficult for teams to pull away or come back on them.
Their Offseason Pickups Are Working Nicely
The Lakers had a much more subtle offseason than they have had in past years, They picked up Matt Barnes from Orlando and Steve Blake from the Clippers, both of whom would be just role players on the team.
Barnes is a guy who is skilled enough to be good in the NBA, but he also has a hard-working attitude that makes him better and he helps out his team immensely.
He has been pretty good at everything, averaging nine points, six-and-a-half rebounds and just over two assists per game, all improvements over his numbers from last season.
Steve Blake has also filled his role and learned the triangle offense quite quickly. He is becoming a formidable backup point guard for the Lakers. Oh, and his 50-percent shooting from beyond the arc isn't hurting much either.
Kobe Is Fine
Kobe Bryant may be an aging guard with too many minutes on his knees, one of which just had surgery by the way. But he is still the same old guy that he has been for the past decade.
While he has had his minutes limited to see how his knee reacts to full-scale NBA play, he has still been shooting the ball as good as ever, and he is continuing to play solid, hard-nosed, Kobe Bryant-style defense.
He has shown that he can still pump out an excellent performance at will, as he racked up a triple-double against the Kings last Wednesday, scoring 20 of his 30 points in the first half to go along with 10 rebounds and 12 assists.
I think it's cool to take his word that he is currently 100 percent.
Pau Gasol Is The Best Big in The West
You can joke about his fiendishly scruffy neckbeard, his googly eyes, the goofy way that he shoots free throws, or the fact that he looks like Emperor Kuzco, the llama from The Emperor's New Groove. But Pau Gasol is easily the best big man in the west.
Whether it is because he is complimented by Kobe being his leader and Lamar Odom being another great distraction is beside the point. In that system, Gasol is the best big man in the Western Conference.
He is third in the league, and first on the team, in Player Efficiency Rating, at 28.77, and he is just behind Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
Along with his ever-expanding ability to score, Gasol is also gobbling up rebounds as easily as ever, grabbing nearly 11 boards a game, and he is even growing as a distributor, dishing out five assists a game.
They Can Threaten The 1995-96 Bulls
The big debate over the summer was whether or not the Miami Heat's trio in South Beach could challenge the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls record of 72 wins in a single season at some point.
Well, the debate should have turned to whether the Lakers could do it this year.
As of right now, they are 7-0, a mere 65 wins away from the sought after 72-win plateau, and they are looking as though they could smash any opponent into the ground.
They are playing with a determination that will give them a chance to win every game they play in, as they have shown the ability to come back, like they did in their season opener against Houston. And they have shown that they can beat their opponent into a pulp, as shown in nearly every other game they have played this season.
Now, in reality, they are not cut out to be a team that would win 72, as the core of their team is over 30 years old, and will likely start to wind down in production as the season drags along.
They will, however, have to be recognized as a threat until they do slow down.
They Are Going to Be Hard to Dethrone
The Lakers have sent a message out to the rest of the league.
They have plowed through the first two weeks of the season without a loss, and they are showing to the young teams that are forming, or being plastered together, that they are still the kings of the NBA.
They have come out quick in this season to silence any doubt that may still be lingering, and they have taken the spotlight away from Miami, Orlando, Boston, and Oklahoma City and put it on themselves. They are still top dogs in the league.
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