When you can count in your midst one of the two best shooting guards in NBA history, lack of wing depth shouldn’t be very high on the concern scale.
But that’s precisely what the Los Angeles Lakers face in the weeks leading up to the start of the NBA season.
Hot on the heels of his 36th birthday, Kobe Bryant—a pair of season-ending injuries to his detriment—is no longer the peerless force of a decade ago. From here on out, his game will be defined more through guts and guile than sheer athletic grace.
For L.A. to stand the slightest chance of crashing the Western Conference playoff party, Bryant needs a supporting cast capable of shouldering the playmaking load.
Sadly, the Lakers’ summer shopping spree has thus far yielded little more than flotsam on the fringes.
Just how desperate are the 16-time NBA champs? According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, L.A. recently conducted a workout for a slew of agents, including Daniel Orton, Dexter Pittman, Toney Douglas, Ben Hansbrough, Malcolm Lee and, last but not least, former No. 2 overall pick and basketball bon vivant Michael Beasley.
Such summer trials are anything but rare occurrences, of course. Still, all it takes is a fleeting glance at the Lakers’ depth chart to grasp how dire the situation is—particularly on the perimeter.
Beyond Bryant, the only wing one could reasonably expect to start for more than half the NBA’s teams is Nick Young, whom the Lakers recently re-signed to a four-year, $21.5 million tender, per Amick.
Coming off a season in which he tallied career highs in points, true-shooting percentage and overall player efficiency, Young is, by all accounts, a fine piece to have. Even if the deal’s length and largesse feel a bit extreme.
Still, Young’s importance hasn’t been lost on his legendary teammate.
“Kobe puts more pressure on me,” Young told InsideSoCal.com’s Mark Medina in a recent interview. “Ever since he gave me that phone call, I’ve been in the gym every day.”
More encouraging still, according to NBA.com (requires subscription), the duo of Young and Bryant registered an overall net rating of plus-4.4 over 82 minutes this past season.
Small sample size aside, concerns their somewhat redundant playing styles seems, at this point, premature, to say the least.
All the same, you can’t expect the two to log 48 minutes every night—Bryant because of wear and tear, and Young because no coach has that kind of patience. And certainly not Byron Scott.
After Bryant and Young, the drop-off is stark and steep, especially in the wake of Jodie Meeks' departure.
Between them, Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson entered the NBA steeped in scalding-hot hype. Save for a few stretches last season, however, neither has come remotely close to actualizing it.
And while 6’5” rookie combo guard Jordan Clarkson possesses plenty of promise, his NBA game is nothing if not a raw work in progress.
At 25 years old, Beasley—who arrived NBA-side as a seeming lock to fulfill his otherworldly potential—certainly could chart a second act as a serviceable, if not spectacular, rotation player.
Even if he somehow manages to graze that ceiling, Beasley will essentially be a carbon copy of Johnson and Henry: players capable of authoring nice offensive stretches with little to nothing to show for it at the other end.
Indeed, Eye On Basketball’s James Herbert underscored precisely this point in his dispatch on the Beasley workout:
For Los Angeles, though, signing Beasley would be a curious move because head coach Byron Scott wants to be a defense-first team. The Lakers lack good defenders, so you'd assume they'd want to fill out the last couple of roster spots with guys who have a history of playing well on that end of the floor.
Scott, whom the Lakers hired on July 28 after months of speculation surrounding who would replace the deposed Mike D’Antoni, certainly has his work cut out for him on the firepower front.
Those looking for a statistical silver lining to L.A.'s glaring lack of wing depth, consider: Based on net production by position, the 2 and 3 were actually the least woeful last season, per 82games.com.
At the same time, a proposed change to the team's offensive approach could make that relative strength a crippling weakness sooner than later.
During his introductory press conference, Scott acknowledged his playbook would be heavily informed by the Princeton offense, a system predicated on precise passing, cutting and playmaking. Playmaking the Lakers—beyond Steve Nash and, to a lesser extent, Jeremy Lin—simply don’t have.
Of course, when you’ve got an all-time great at your disposal, even the most ironclad creed is bound to have caveats, as Scott all but admitted when he told CBS Los Angeles' Jim Hill, "I am looking forward to having Kobe as a guy that I can turn to and say, 'Let's get the ball to this guy, and he can make things happen.'”
And so it is that the Lakers, with boundless cap space one year away and only a marginal shot at making the playoffs, are poised to peer past their glaring weaknesses in lieu of the most sensible temporary fix: lean on Kobe Bryant.
Even in an era when the shooting guard position is perhaps the weakest it’s ever been, L.A.’s dearth of wings will be one of the more familiar refrains in a stage play that—like many dramas—isn’t headed for a happy ending.