Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the Los Angeles Lakers Under the Microscope
As of Monday, Nov. 29, the Los Angeles Lakers are still, without a doubt, one of the elite teams in the NBA.
It's hard not to be when you boast the services of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and many more excellent NBA players.
Even though the Lakers have lost their last two games and are just 6-4 in their last 10 games, they still lay claim to the second-best record in the Western Conference. And incidentally, the second-best record in the entire league as well.
Los Angeles could be well on its way to a third straight NBA Finals title.
Let's take a look at how each player on the Lakers' roster has contributed so far this season.
Andrew Bynum has yet to play this season, as he continues to rehab the knee on which he had offseason surgery.
Unfortunately, Phil Jackson had hoped for Bynum to be back by now. He is worried about the extra stress that has been placed on both Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol.
Bynum participated in his first full-contact workout this past Saturday and hopes to return in the next three weeks.
When he does, the Lakers will receive a big boost.
So far this year, Sasha Vujacic is having the worst season of his seven-year NBA career.
He has spent more time than any other Laker on the bench this year, only receiving 5.6 minutes per game to get rid of the bench's splinters. Honestly, from the way he's played, it wouldn't surprise anyone to hear that he actually has been spending time on the court removing splinters.
He certainly hasn't been doing much else.
The shooting guard is only averaging 2.3 points per game in his limited time. He's only collecting 0.2 rebounds per game and has turned the ball over more times than he's dished out assists.
Vujacic is averaging 0.6 turnovers and 0.4 assists per game.
Finally, Vujacic is shooting a dismal 31.8 percent from the field. Phil Jackson knows what he's doing by leaving him on the bench.
No. 18 does play good defense, though, and is fully capable of shooting down almost any opposing guard for brief spurts. And he gets to go home to Maria Sharapova.
So there are a few positives.
Derrick Caracter may not be playing much this season, but he does give the team an infusion of youth and potential.
Right now, Caracter can contribute most by learning from the many veteran players on the Lakers and building his skill set for when he gets a chance to play extended minutes.
The rookie from UTEP has received plenty of opportunities to watch and learn, as he's playing just 6.9 minutes per game.
When he's been on the court, though, the forward hasn't been that bad. Caracter is averaging 2.5 points and 1.4 rebounds per game so far this year in his 14 appearances.
He has shown eventual double-double potential when he's been on the court for 10 minutes or more. Caracter has reached the 10-minute benchmark five times this season and is averaging five points and 2.67 rebounds in those games.
Luke Walton has been plagued by the injury bug for pretty much this entire—albeit short—season.
But when he's on the court, he's been a massive detriment to the Lakers so far.
In the nine games in which he's appeared, the Arizona product has logged just 7.1 minutes per game. The Lakers would have been better off if that number was even lower.
In those short appearances, Walton has had time to launch 14 shots. Only one has found the basket.
Now, it was a three-pointer. But still, 7.1 percent from the field is just awful.
This now marks the fourth straight season in which Walton has gotten worse. When healthy, he's bound to pick it up a little bit.
But the depth of the Los Angeles team shouldn't allow him too many opportunities.
The 21-year-old rookie from West Virginia is in the same boat as Derrick Caracter.
He sits on the bench, waiting behind Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes on the depth chart. So he has many opportunities to watch and learn.
Devin Ebanks has appeared in just eight of the Lakers' 17 games so far. He has played an average of 7.6 minutes per game in those appearances.
His one shining moment so far has been a 15-minute cameo against the Golden State Warriors, where the 6'9" forward scored seven points, grabbed five rebounds (including four offensive boards), and blocked a shot. Other than that, he's been rather pedestrian.
Ebanks is only shooting 32 percent from the field, so he'll have to pick that up significantly to have any shot at more playing time.
The Lakers' backup center, Theo Ratliff, played in eight games before his injury.
In those eight games, he received just 8.4 minutes per game and wasn't awfully productive in them.
Ratliff was contributing just 0.3 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game.
But now Ratliff will be out for roughly four to six weeks as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery that was undergone to perform a partial meniscectomy on his left knee.
Now that Bynum hasn't come back as expected, the Lakers are left very thin at the center position. They will have to play Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom much more than they originally anticipated.
Shannon Brown has been a shot in the arm for the Lakers this year off the bench.
He's only playing 18.9 minutes per game, but he's making them count in a big way.
Brown's percentages are quite good for a guard: 48.6 percent from the field, 47.5 percent from the three-point line, and 91.3 percent from the charity stripe. All of that has resulted in an average of 10.9 points per game.
The point guard also went through a ridiculous hot streak from the beginning to the middle of November. Over the first 12 games of the month, he averaged over 12 points per game and made a remarkable 25 of his 49 three-point attempts.
But Brown contributes more than just scoring. He steals, blocks a few shots, pulls down a few boards and provides the team with energy.
You can be sure that he'll come up with at least one highlight-worthy play each game.
Steve Blake lays claim to the backup point guard role on this Lakers team.
Yet in my opinion, he should lose some playing time to Shannon Brown.
Blake has played 19.6 minutes per game this season and hasn't really done all that much. He's only shooting 38 percent from the field and contributing just 5.3 points per game.
As for the assists, they're well off his career numbers. Blake is dishing out just 2.2 dimes per game.
One thing he does well though is shoot the three-ball. Blake has made 24 of his 52 attempts this season, including more than a few big shots.
Most recently, he nailed two three-pointers, his only points of the game, against the Chicago Bulls that turned out to be the game-sealing shots in a 98-91 win.
Matt Barnes was asked to be the sixth man this year for the two-time defending champions.
He has produced accordingly.
Barnes is playing 21.6 minutes per game off the bench and has contributed in every aspect of the game.
His defense has been spectacular at times, and he's scored 9.2 points per game with great shooting percentages (49.1 percent from the field, 44.2 percent from three-point range, 74.2 percent from the line). He's dished out 2.3 assists per game and he's gotten both steals and blocks.
Barnes is also fully capable of having breakout games. Take, for example, his Nov. 19 performance in a 112-95 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The 6'7" small forward hit all seven of his shots, including five three-pointers, and knocked down all five free throws.To top off those 24 points, Barnes also contributed six assists, two steals and seven boards.
Not a bad player to have coming off your bench.
The 36-year-old point guard may not be putting up the greatest counting stats this year.
But he's still contributing in a large fashion to the Lakers' success. He is, after all, the team's starting point guard.
Derek Fisher is averaging only 7.9 points, 2.8 assists and 1.8 rebounds this year. But he doesn't really need to score all that much on a team with Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant.
Instead, Fisher's job is to manage the team and avoid turning the ball over. He's done that, averaging less than a turnover per game.
He also provides veteran leadership on the team. We all know he's someone that Kobe trusts.
Ron Artest is predictably having trouble scoring this season.
After all, it's not like he's one of the team's primary scoring options.
Artest is generally asked to contribute in a major way on defense. He is, without a doubt, one of the league's top shutdown defenders. T
That's partially reflected in a statistical sense by his 1.7 steals per game.
However, the small forward is having a little bit of trouble gelling with the rest of the team. Likewise, he is struggling to completely get along with Phil Jackson.
We'll see how the season plays out, but the Lakers need to avoid an Artest blowup.
What can be said about Kobe that hasn't already been said?
The guy's just amazing. He never slows down.
The intensity he brings to each and every game—that drive and desire to be the best—is just astounding and absolutely unmatched across the league.
His numbers are down a bit from last season's totals, but they're still remarkable. Bryant is averaging 26.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game.
That's despite the fact that he's shooting just 43.3 percent from the field, his lowest percentage since the 2004-2005 season.
If anything, Kobe is going to get better as the season goes on. The Lakers are limiting his minutes more than they have in the past in the hopes of keeping him healthy for the inevitable deep playoff run.
The Black Mamba can strike at any time. He's just a player you can never take the night off against.
Through 17 games, it's safe to say that Lamar Odom has enjoyed his role in the starting lineup while waiting for Andrew Bynum to return from knee surgery.
He's having one of the best seasons of his career.
Averaging 15.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, the 31-year-old Rhode Island product has been simply outstanding.
A lot of this is due to his lights-out shooting. In his 11th season in the NBA, Odom is shooting a career-high 57.8 percent from the field.
Impressively, this has all been while dealing with a sprained thumb. Odom will only get better when he's fully healthy.
Pau Gasol for MVP?
While that used to be a crazy notion—there's no way that anyone could win the MVP award while playing next to Kobe Bryant—it's not out of the realm of possibilities if Gasol keeps this up.
I remember watching the NBA Finals against Boston with a few friends last year and discussing how many players on the court would be in the Hall of Fame.
We agreed that Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, possibly Derek Fisher and possibly Rajon Rondo would make it.
But Gasol created a controversy. We just couldn't agree on his merits.
This season has changed that so far, as he's averaging career-highs in points, rebounds and assists with 21.5, 20 and 4.1 per game, respectively.
When the Lakers' chant of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" echoes from the rafters of the Staples Center this season, there may be confusion about who it's referring to.