LA Lakers Players Who Must Step Up After Dwight Howard Injury

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IJanuary 7, 2013

LA Lakers Players Who Must Step Up After Dwight Howard Injury

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    The 2012-13 season just refuses to get any easier for the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Not only is the team on a three-game losing streak, but Mike Trudell of Time Warner Cable Sportsnet is reporting that not only will Pau Gasol miss at least two games with a concussion, but star center Dwight Howard will be out at least a week with a torn labrum in his shoulder. In the blink of an eye, the Lakers have lost their greatest asset in terms of size.

    Shoulder injuries are no joke, so expecting Howard back in a week is being highly optimistic. The fact of the matter is that his teammates cannot just coast and wait for him to come back, let alone expect the team to be at full strength when he does make his return.

    Instead, certain members of the Lakers need to step up their efforts in Howard's absence. Fortunately for the fans and head coach Mike D'Antoni, the roster is deep enough that certain diamonds in the rough may indeed be found.

    If said diamonds start to shine brightly along with a few other players, then the Lakers will be able to at least stay afloat until Howard comes back.

    All statistics in this slideshow are accurate as of January 6, 2013

No. 7: Jodie Meeks

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    The Lakers brought Meeks aboard as a bench shooter for this season and he has done a fairly decent job in the three-point department. Over 19.4 minutes per game, Meeks has shot 36 percent from three-point range.

    In Howard's absence, Meeks needs to be more than just someone who waits behind the three-point line for an open shot.

    Though most of his work does need to come from there, he needs to do what New York Knicks shooter Steve Novak has done this season and try to create threes off the dribble. Seeing as how Novak is shooting 44 percent from long range this season, that approach has worked.

    Meeks is still young at just 25 years old, but he holds a career three-point percentage of 37 percent. By just picking his shots a bit more carefully and working to create a shot for himself rather than just shoot willy-nilly, he can become a bigger fixture in the Lakers offense and keep the team alive while Howard rehabs his shoulder.

No. 6: Robert Sacre

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    The Lakers took Sacre with the last overall pick in the 2012 draft, but the former Gonzaga Bulldog is anything but a throwaway pick.

    He may only be averaging 4.2 minutes in 13 games this year, but Sacre has great size at 7'0", 260 pounds. With Howard out, he should see quite a bit more playing time.

    Yes, Sacre isn't exactly an elite rookie, but he managed to do good work manning the middle for Gonzaga. In his senior season, he averaged 11.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

    Those numbers aren't exactly what one would expect from a seven-footer, but the fact is that the Lakers are going to need size in the paint with Howard and Gasol gone. Sacre has it, so it's worth it to at least gamble on him to do the job well.

    He needs to do that job well and then some. The Lakers drafted him for a reason, and this is his opportunity to show other teams that they made a mistake passing on him.

No. 5: Antawn Jamison

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    Jamison signed a one-year deal over the summer to be the Lakers' sixth man and has had some good games this season.

    Against the Denver Nuggets on November 30, he scored 33 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. That's not at all bad for someone on the wrong side of 36.

    Jamison fell out of the Lakers' rotation right before Steve Nash came back from his injury, and has only just returned to the court in a very minimal role. If he is not given the chance to step up in Howard's absence, then Mike D'Antoni is cheating himself out of a talented player.

    Jamison holds career averages of 19.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, and his performances earlier this season prove that he still has some gas left in the tank.

    He also has decent size at 6'9", 235 pounds, so he needs to take full advantage of his playing time while Howard is gone, whether it's three minutes per game or 30.

No. 4: Metta World Peace

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    After being a disappointment his first three seasons with the Lakers despite helping them win a championship in 2010, Metta World Peace has thrived in the fast-paced offense of Mike D'Antoni.

    He has averaged 13.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, and has also shot 36 percent from long range.

    His role in the system is primarily that of a shooter, but Dwight Howard being out means that some of the old World Peace needs to make an appearance. This means upping the scoring under the basket as well as on the perimeter and wing, while also playing some complete lockdown defense.

    This could prove to be tough since World Peace is now 33 and no longer in the prime of his career, but he at least has to try and be more than a pest who can shoot threes. Here is a man who was so unbelievably talented before coming to Los Angeles, and his performance this season shows that he has some lightning left.

    By flashing some of it with Howard and Gasol gone, he will become all the more valuable and not a perennial candidate for the amnesty clause.

No. 3: Steve Nash

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    Steve Nash may be approaching 39 years of age, but he is still the best type of point guard. Not only is he a great passer who creates plays for his teammates and actually makes them better, but he is also a freakishly accurate scorer.

    Nash owns a career mark of 14.4 points per game, a career field goal mark of 49 percent, and has shot 43 percent from three-point land for his career.

    Nash has not been scoring as much this season, just 10.2 points to go with his 8.8 assists, but this is a time for him to shine. The Lakers brought him in because he is still one of the league's best point guards in spite of his age, and he signed a three-year deal because he knew he could still compete at a high level.

    This means that Nash must use Howard being hurt as an opportunity to go back into MVP mode. He must create his own shot, drive the lane and not be afraid to shoot a three if the opportunity presents itself.

    Yes, dishing the ball off to teammates should be first priority, but he knows D'Antoni's system well enough that he can still shine in it.

    Without a reliable big man to help run the pick-and-roll, Nash basically has two options. He can either step up his scoring efforts and help carry the team to victory, or he can dish the ball off to Kobe Bryant and hope for the best. Given his skill set, the answer should be obvious.

No. 2: Kobe Bryant

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    Per usual, Kobe Bryant has been having a great season for the Lakers. He leads the league in scoring with 30.5 points per game and has also been a great pest to the tune of 1.5 steals.

    However, despite being the Lakers' best athlete and capable of creating plays for his teammates, Bryant still makes scoring his first priority. He attempts a league-leading 22 field goals per game. Second on the team is Pau Gasol with just over half as many.

    Can anyone else see what's wrong with this picture?

    Look, I get that Bryant is an excellent scorer and he is most valuable to the Lakers in that role, but that should not be at the expense of teammates. He is so naturally good at creating plays and the Lakers have gone 12-6 in games in which he has registered five assists or more.

    That is the Bryant that needs to step on the court while Howard is injured. The Lakers will not get anywhere with Bryant constantly being in Mamba mode and looking to be the finisher even if the game is in the first half, and D'Antoni must stress the importance of sharing the ball.

    In doing so, Bryant and Nash can become a deadly backcourt tandem, helping their team to victory while also making their younger teammates better.

No. 1: Jordan Hill

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    As Trudell stated in his initial report, Jordan Hill has a hip injury and his status for the immediate future has yet to be determined. Still, if he can play, he needs to step up the most out of all the Lakers.

    Not only does Hill have great size at 6'10", 235 pounds, but the numbers he puts up when given significant minutes are borderline off the charts.

    In 18.2 minutes over his last five games, the former Arizona Wildcat has averaged 10.6 points to go with 7.4 rebounds. Per 36 minutes, he posts a highly respectable 15.2 points, 13 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.

    That said, I don't think that D'Antoni has a choice on whether or not to start Hill if he is healthy enough to play. The man is a star in the making and the work he has done with the Lakers speaks for itself. The fact that his minutes are so up and down is just ridiculous.

    Now that Howard could be out for an extended period of time, it is all the more important that D'Antoni use this young big man as much as he can. Hill is a fine low-post presence who provides excellent defense and to not use him as a regular with Howard out can and will sink the Lakers.


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