The Los Angeles Lakers have a slew of established, veteran basketball players who are either in their prime or a bit past it. With that being said, they also have some players who still have their best playing days ahead of them (I am looking at you Andrew Bynum). So which members of the team are on the rise and which ones are on the decline as the team attempts to win its third straight championship?
With the addition of Matt Barnes, Walton's minutes have dropped drastically. Add in his trouble with foot and back injuries and we could see Walton retire before we see him contribute big minutes again.
However, Walton could see an increase in minutes with Matt Barnes' knee injury.
Blake is a hard player to figure out. He has not been bad since joining the Lakers, but he has not been great either. However, I would still pick him over Jordan Farmar when it comes to backing up Derek Fisher. The next few months will truly tell if Blake was a good pick up or not.
Before his recent knee injury, Barnes was arguably playing the best basketball of his career. Barnes provides the team with a scrappy, tough defender off the bench who is not afraid to crash the glass. In addition, he has clearly outplayed Ron Artest this season.
If he is able to recover from his injury in a timely manner, Barnes has the chance to be this year's unsung hero come playoff time.
After a season and a half of trying to fins his niche on the Lakers, it appears Brown has finally done so this season. Brown seems to understand the triangle offense better than ever. Outside of Odom, Brown is the Lakers most important bench player.
The team will need Brown to continue his rise come playoff time.
Thanks to his experience this past summer in the FIBA championships, Odom is having his best and most consistent season as a professional.
Fisher has been playing in the league since 1996. Therefore, time is catching up to the cagey point guard. His struggles guarding quick point guards the last couple of seasons have been well documented. Not to mention, his points per game and shooting percentage have began to dip.
However, Fisher's ability to hit clutch shots, and his championship experience often make up for his declining playing ability.
Last year, Ron Artest's struggles to learn the triangle offense were evident. He often looked indecisive and stagnant on the offensive end. However, Artest made up for it with tenacious defense, and hitting clutch shots in the playoffs.
This season, Artest's offensive struggles maybe worse than last season, and even more troubling is that his defense has been questionable at times. Throw in the recent spat with Phil Jackson, and it is safe to say this has not been Artest's best season. Artest will at least have to regain his defensive prowess if the Lakers have a chance to three-peat.
If Andrew Bynum can avoid another injury, he is absolutely on the rise for the Lakers in 2011. He is already showing improvements since returning from his injury last month. Bynum makes up for the physicality and aggression that Odom and Gasol lack. If Bynum can stay healthy, he will play a huge role in both the Lakers short-term and long-term plans.
Pau Gasol started this season playing like an MVP candidate. With that being said, after the first 15 games, Gasol seemed to get fatigued due to playing too many minutes in Bynum's absence as his hot play has cooled off.
Gasol is in the prime of his career and is the most gifted offensive big man in the game today. It still pains me when I hear NBA fans (and some Lakers fans) doubt Gasol's worth. He is the difference maker on a championship team and possible dynasty.
At this point, it is hard to say that Kobe's stock as a player is rising in 2011, especially with all of the talk of his ailing knee this past week. However, I am not going to say that Kobe is declining either. After Kobe struggled in the first round of the playoffs last season, many people started talking about how Kobe's play was declining.
However, in the next three rounds Kobe looked like the old Kobe, making all of the doubters look foolish. Whether you believe Kobe is rising or falling, he will be ready come playoff time.
So, do you think Kobe is rising or falling as the team races towards the 2011 playoffs?