Los Angeles Lakers: 5 Players Who Need to Step Up in 2011-12 NBA Season
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Now that the NBA lockout appears to be over, we can focus on what fans really want to talk about: season previews, on-court chatter and, for Lakers fans, how to forget about last season’s disappointing exit in a four-game sweep to Dallas.
The Lakers are in regrouping mode because 2011-12 could be either a last stand or a team in transition. With Mike Brown as head coach, the team will have a greater emphasis on defense, but the pieces he is working with are either still sharp or need to be fired up.
Kobe Bryant still had an All-NBA-caliber season last year, although you can debate whether he should have been on the first or second team. There’s no doubt that Bryant will continue at that level in 2011-2012, as he is healthy after offseason knee surgery.
Lamar Odom had possibly the best season as a reserve (14.4 PPG), capped off by him winning the Sixth Man of the Year award while setting career highs in field-goal and three-point percentage. His key will be to remain consistent.
Derek Fisher will be counted on for his usual leadership, but you can expect him to be rusty after spending the offseason front and center at the negotiation table.
If the Lakers are to make one last run at an NBA title, here are my five players who need to take their games up a notch.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
When the Lakers started stumbling after winning 16 out of 17 games after the All-Star break, Pau Gasol’s declining play was a big factor. Despite being named to the All-NBA Second Team, he disappeared in the postseason and watched his brother Marc steal his shine.
All of a sudden, the rumors of Gasol being soft reappeared. As the No. 2 option on the Lakers, his reputation took perhaps the biggest hit, and justifiably so. It was an embarrassing performance by one of the league’s best big men, and he needs to redeem himself big time next year.
What Gasol needs to do in 2011-12: Get ready for a bigger role, as he and Bynum will be the focus of Mike Brown’s offense. He needs to regain his consistency and be inspired by his brother’s play for Memphis. He has to be driven from day one to show why last season’s ending will not define him.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
I’ve already stated my case for why Bynum has intense pressure on him for next season. After he serves his five-game suspension for his foul on J.J. Barea, here’s what the 23-year-old must do next year.
Prove his maturity by showing his dominance on the court. If you want to be seen as a leader, you do it by establishing why you are a top-five center in the league. With Mike Brown’s offense focusing on him and Pau Gasol, this is his time to show why he will be the future of the team.
Of course, this is all depending on how healthy Bynum can be, always a concern given his sketchy knees.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Another great signing last offseason, Matt Barnes was hampered by a knee injury that kept him out of most of the second half of the season. His output afterwards was limited in the postseason.
His summer was mostly filled with news about him being ejected from a summer league game and ending his relationship with reality TV personality Gloria Govan. It’s not the best news you want to hear heading into an important season for Lakers fans.
What Barnes needs to do in 2011-12: First of all, stay healthy. The Lakers need his defense and toughness to improve because he is one of the team’s better perimeter defenders. Like Ron Artest, his role will increase with Mike Brown, so it’s time to show an increased commitment on the defensive end.
Metta World Peace
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
We love the man formerly known as Ron Artest for his personality and charity. We’ll celebrate him winning the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award last year because it was a true reversal of a man who was reviled for his role in one of the NBA’s worst moments.
But taking a closer look at his 2010-11 numbers, World Peace must be criticized for career lows in scoring and rebounding. He looked heavy on the court at times, and while he played well during the first round of the playoffs, he almost disappeared against Dallas.
What Peace must do in 2011-12: He must slim down and show that he’s committed to being as ferocious on the court as he is on Twitter. I don’t expect him to score much, but he has to be smarter in his shot selection and be one of the lead figures in Brown’s defensive schemes.
Harry How/Getty Images
One of the more underrated free-agent signings last year, Blake was signed to provide toughness, ball-handling and reliable shooting.
But he struggled with the triangle offense, and outside of a few sparks here and there, he was almost invisible before he came down with chicken pox during the first round of the playoffs.
What Blake needs to do in 2011-12: He’ll benefit from Mike Brown’s less restrictive offense, but he needs to find ways to be more productive since he’ll be taking up most of Fisher’s minutes early on.
While he did shoot a respectable 37.8 percent from long distance, he needs to make his presence known as a reliable backup.