Los Angeles Lakers Report Card: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not At the Start of 2011?

Mario GonzalezCorrespondent IIJanuary 4, 2011

Los Angeles Lakers Report Card: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not At the Start of 2011?

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    Fact: the Los Angeles Lakers are the back to back defending champions of the NBA.

    Fiction: the Los Angeles Lakers have no chance of three-peating with how well the Spurs and Heat are playing as of late.

    It's a long season, ladies and gentlemen, and let me assure you that you haven't seen the best of this Laker team yet. They may appear to be struggling when comparing records with the Spurs, Heat and Celtics, but it seems fairly normal for this time of year in my own personal opinion.

    When, in the last three years, have the Lakers not taken a break in the regular season? It's not a habit I would preach to title hopefuls, but it doesn't seem to affect the Laker game plan in the least. Complacency sets in for even the most fierce competitors from time to time, and the Lakers are no exception. The ability to survive this commonly fatal condition comes in the Lakers ability to "flip the switch" when it matters most.

    To do that, however, certain members of this team must get hot at just the right time. 

    Let's take a look at how hot these integral Lakers are at this point in the season, and where each of them will need to be in order to once again "flip the switch."

Steve Blake

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    He may not be in the starting line up, but the Lakers will need Steve Blake to be on point when they turn the corner this year.

    Steve Blake is a proven shooter who possesses a deadly long range shot and has the court vision to keep the offense flowing. Unfortunately for the Lakers, he's been in a bit of a shooting slump this season, shooting a meager 36 percent from the field.

    It's possible that he's still growing accustom to the triangle offense, and if that's the case then his numbers should continue to improve as the season goes forward.

    He's already made a few game changing shots for the Lakers this season, and he's proven to be the right guard to come off the pine for Fisher. If Steve Blake can break the slump by the time the Lakers begin their charge, he will fill one of the most important roles on the roster.

    Grade: B-

    Strength: Shooting 40 percent from long range.

    Weakness: Shooting poorly overall at 36 percent.

Matt Barnes

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    He may not look the part, but Matt Barnes is just as vital to the Lakers' title hopes as anyone else.

    Matt Barnes is integral to the Lakers this season, just as Artest was last season and Ariza was the year before. The quality that all three of these players have in common is they are hustlers. Every team needs a player on their side that can be the difference maker in tough situations.

    For the Lakers, Matt Barnes has the opportunity to be that difference maker.

    He can stretch the defense with his long range shooting ability and out work the other squad on the boards when they need the second chance. Barnes also has the ability of being an absolute pest on the defensive end. If he can create extra possessions via late game steals, he will truly come through for this Lakers squad.

    So far this year, his points per game has dropped about a point, but his shooting percentage is nothing to scoff at so far at 47 percent. Barnes just needs to be ready when the pass comes to him, and take the shot without hesitation. He's not going to have a lot of time handling the ball, so the catch and shoot game is where he will need to excel at to help this team.

    All in all, he's caught on to the team's scheme pretty well. If he can continue to knock down shots and bother the wings, he will do his part in the quest for a three-peat championship.

    Grade: B+

    Strength: Solid shooting percentage (47 percent).

    Weakness: He is known for turning the ball over at times.

Lamar Odom

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    Back to the bench, but does it really matter?

    In terms of minutes, production and morale...no.

    Does it help the Lakers in the grand scheme of things?

    Oh yes.

    Lamar Odom is the Swiss-army knife of the Lakers squad, and they are making use of every one of his tools so far this season. One of the starters, riding the pine, it really does not seem to matter in terms of production. Odom has been potent on the offensive end, gobbling up rebounds and picking up the Lakers when they are down.

    His performance thus far has left some fans scratching their heads, so let's examine the change he underwent.

    Usually when the offseason comes along, you can find Lamar at home or on vacation...eating candy. There's nothing wrong with some relaxation on your time off, but it can also explain why it usually takes him so long to find a rhythm during the regular season.

    This past offseason was different, however, as Lamar Odom spent his off days playing for USA in the FIBA basketball championships.

    He excelled on team USA and was clearly one of the reasons the US was able to take home the gold. Soon after, the regular season began. Odom has been in top form ever since the first game's tip off and it's because he kept himself in such great shape in the offseason. He never lost his natural rhythm and never allowed himself to get out of game shape.

    There is not much more that Odom could do for the Lakers, besides remaining consistent. If he can stay how he is right now, the Lakers are in great shape to make it back to the finals.

    Grade: A

    Strength: His versatility and ability to come off the bench with no ill-effects.

    Weakness: You just never know when he'll decide to disappear.

Ron Artest

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    Ron Artest has been sputtering lately, but I still hold that there is no reason to panic...yet.

    The season is in full swing now, but it looks as if Ron has yet to find a place on the offense. Make no mistake that this is because he's still looking, not because there is not a place for him. I have to admit it would be hard for me or anyone else to find a way to consistently contribute behind the likes of Kobe, Gasol, Odom, Bynum and amongst the killer Bee's.

    It must leave him scratching his head most games on the offensive end, as the only passes he gets are out of double teams. Still, he does need to find what works for himself and the Lakers, and I believe that he will.

    It all needs to start at the defensive end, with Ron disrupting the opposition more than he has so far. Great defense always leads to easy offense, so he should find some great opportunities to score or set up his teammates.

    His shooting percentage is bad (under 40 percent), but he is hitting from long range at 34 percent. Now 34 percent is nothing to be amazed by, but it's better than most players can claim who jack up too many on a nightly basis. Ron's two biggest weaknesses are instead hitting spot up jumpers and finishing lay ups.

    Two things that can be solved with some extra time in the gym.

    He's shown games of great shooting and disappeared in most others. It'll be up to Ron if he wants to join the Lakers party one of these days, as they could sure use his help.

    Grade: C

    Strength: Creating possessions off steals.

    Weakness: Finishing layups and put-backs.

Andrew Bynum

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    Andrew Bynum has not been on the scene too long this season, but he's already making an obvious impact.

    His points per game average may be low at this early juncture, but the rest of Bynum's game is starting to gel nicely. He's already back to swatting 1.5 blocks per contest and his rebounding totals climb by the game. His presence in the post is immediately being felt by both the Lakers and the opposition.

    The stats are nice and will get better, but they are not what I would be concentrating on in terms of this injury prone center.

    Have you seen how high Andrew is jumping for rebounds? For ally-oops?

    I personally haven't seen elevation like this from him in over three years and it has me very excited about how he'll play when fully in form. His return to form could not come soon enough at this point, as the Lakers seem to be in a state of shock or something.

    His shot is still a bit flat in the post, but that will come back with floor time. The big plus is that he's returned as the same daunting shot-blocking threat. I almost gave him an incomplete, but since he's completed ten games now, he gets a grade just like the rest of them.

    Grade: A-

    Strength: Jumping high, Shot Blocking, Offensive weapon.

    Weakness: Shot is flat, timing is a bit off. Nothing to be concerned with.

Derek Fisher

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    Another year older, but also another year wiser is Derek Fisher.

    His stats continue to fall each year and it's no wonder why many in Laker-land want him replaced. I, on the other hand, cannot forget the countless times he's bailed the Lakers out and saved the day.

    No matter what he produces in regular season games, I know he's going to be another guy that will refuse to give up in tight playoff games.

    Guards will continue to blow by Fisher and I will continue to cringe when it happens. This is a necessary thing to endure if you want his magic around at the end of the big game.

    That being said, Fisher is being the same player he's been for the last several years. His stats will never wow you, his speed will never burn them, but his guts will always find a way to save the game.

    Grade: B+

    Strength: Clutch factor, Guts.

    Weakness: Lacks sufficient speed to guard most opposing guards.

Pau Gasol

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    Is it just me, or is anyone else worried about Gasol's game right now?

    His stats haven't dropped off and he does not appear to be injured, so what do I mean when I say that his game just isn't quite the same? The main cause for my concern has been his field goal percentage as of late. The fourteen footers he's drained all his life seem to keep bouncing out, the hook shots look a bit flat and the free throws have not found net as often as most players would like.

    With the exception of the recent loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, this is how his games have looked lately. For the Lakers to make it back to the promised land, they're going to need the Spaniard in top form. Contrary to popular belief, they're going to need him back before the playoffs, not during.

    I'm confident that this recent lull won't cause any serious damage to the Lakers' season, but for me to be right, Gasol is going to have to snap out of it pretty soon.

    Grade: B

    Strength: His array of offensive attacks and his size.

    Weakness: Sometimes gets pushed around in the post.

Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant should not be smiling like this right now, as his Lakers are on one heck of a slump. Being the centerpiece of this franchise, it's Kobe's responsibility to get things back on track.

    Kobe's season for me resembles that of the Lakers' season thus far. You're amazed by the talent you see in front of you, but you can't help but wonder why things don't appear to be going well. Like the Lakers, Kobe is currently struggling to climb out of complacency.

    You can tell that he wants to right the course for himself and the team, but he can't seem to find the right way to do it.

    It's not that his shots aren't falling or that he's hogging the ball on offense, it seems like he's just not on the same page with the rest of the team. Kobe's motivation just doesn't seem to be translating to the rest of the team right now and that needs to change. His play may resemble his play from some of his best years, but as the leader of this team, he needs to make sure that the team is where he is mentally.

    I have no doubt that Kobe Bryant can turn this ship around and avoid the iceberg, but he sure has his work cut out for him.

    Grade: B+

    Strength: The most dangerous player in the game.

    Weakness: So far, he has not properly motivated his squad.

The Lakers (Bonus Slide)

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    Something has to change immediately in Laker-land and it has to start with these two guys.

    The body language is all wrong when the Lakers are on the court these days and it will be up to the captains to get everyone motivated to compete. Fisher and Bryant need to set an example for this rattled team before they can hope to compete for this coveted three-peat.

    When you look at the Lakers' roster, you see all the talent in the world. When you watch their play on the court, you see no heart, no motivation. They're playing like the w's are owed to them, not like they have to earn every single one of them.

    Someone has got to get them caring about their job again in the near future or they can kiss this three-peat goodbye.

    As a Lakers fan, I'm ever the optimist, but it will take more than positive thinking to turn this season around for Los Angeles. They have the talent and the tools to change this season for the better, but they're running out of time in which to do it.

    The next 15 games or so will tell us all we need to know about where the Lakers will end up this year.

    Grade: B-

    Strength: They have a wealth of talent and not a terrible record.

    Weakness: They are underachieving for a team that could be dominant.