Are The Lakers’ Off-Season Upgrades Enough for a Championship?
Here we will analyze how the Lakers’ roster stacks up with the other three top contending teams.
Although it would be nice to see Dwight Howard’s combination of athleticism and strength abusing the likes of DeAndre Jordan (Clippers) and Kendrick Perkins (Thunder) in the Western Conference next season, as of right now, the Lakers still have Andrew Bynum.
Last season, Bynum wasn’t exactly consistent when facing other top teams, but he definitely had an All-Star season nonetheless. He always has a bit of trouble against position defenders like Kendrick Perkins as well as high-flying shot-blockers such as DeAndre Jordan, but with Steve Nash at the helm, Bynum won’t have to go 1-on-1 as much this season; he will have to simply focus on finishing at the rim and his conditioning.
As for the rest of the team, the Lakers still have arguably the most skilled big man in the league in Pau Gasol. Although Gasol wasn’t utilized last season the way he previously was in the triangle offense, again, the addition of Nash should greatly add to Gasol’s involvement and comfort level. At the end of the day, the Lakers will once again have a physical size advantage against every other team in the league.
Additionally, the Lakers’ big men often were featured early on during games and were supposed to be the focal point of the offense last season, but that didn’t always work out. In turn, teams adjusted defensively and put pressure on the Lakers, and mainly Kobe Bryant–the team’s only ball-handling play-maker–making it hard to execute the game plan. Once again, however, the addition of future Hall of Famer Steve Nash should greatly change this approach and he will likely be the bridge between the back-court and front-court.
The size advantage for the Lakers against both Western Conference opponents (Thunder and Clippers) should come to fruition this season, mainly due to the brilliance of Steve Nash. We expect that Blake Griffin will be much better next season, but hopefully Andrew Bynum will have improved once again after having another injury-free off-season to get better. Similarly, against Oklahoma City, the Lakers’ big men should have an easier time as well; even against tough defenders such as Perkins and Serge Ibaka.
As for the Miami Heat, they can’t generate the size to match up with the Lakers in the post. Chris Bosh is a good player, but Gasol is still the most skilled big man in the league in my eyes, and the Heat would have nobody to stop Bynum, either.
That brings us to the small forward position. With the Heat having LeBron James, the Thunder having Kevin Durant, and the Clippers having Caron Butler, obviously the Lakers are at a disadvantage here. However, Metta World Peace may not be the offensive force he once was, but his defense remains among the best in the league. Having a guy like World Peace, whose job is to strictly bother the opponents’ best players, is a great asset to have.
As for the guard positions, the Lakers arguably have the best back-court in the league. When it comes to the shooting guard position, especially against those three teams, I would still take Kobe Bryant over any other two-guard in the league when it comes down to the playoffs. Dwyane Wade is obviously the most capable shooting guard next to Kobe, but knee injuries have seemingly hampered him as of late (although he had knee surgery this summer). Kobe obviously has lost a step after all the years and mileage, but he still manages to be in the “best player on the planet” conversation year in and year out.
The point guard position is where things get a bit complicated. The Miami Heat don’t have an All-Star point guard, but they still won the most recent championship. The Lakers, however, were sorely in need of a point guard last season and picked up one of the best in the world. The other two teams (Clippers and Thunder) basically have the top two point guards in the western conference, but the Lakers managed to pick up Nash, who would be considered the third or fourth best in the same conference (along with Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs). Even at 38 years-old, however, Nash can still compete at a high level and on many nights can be the absolute best in the league.
The beauty of this pickup, though, is that the other two teams are basically run by their point guards and those guys are integral franchise players for their respective teams. Nash on the Lakers is simply a huge addition to an already solid team. The Thunder obviously made it to the Finals last season, but the Clippers made it just as far as the Lakers did. The Lakers, on the other hand, had won championships without an elite point guard, but as the system changed and the team aged a bit, the need for a solid point guard was imminent. Now that they have Nash, the possibilities are endless.
Basically, if the Lakers made it to the second round of the playoffs two years in a row with just one play-maker–who would rather spend his time scoring instead of play-making, obviously–imagine what they can do with one of the most picture perfect point guards in NBA history.
It doesn’t end with the starters, though. Almost equally important to a team these days is the quality of reserve players. The Lakers seriously lacked depth off the bench last season, but as we detailed before, have made significant improvements this off-season.
The Heat have shooters, the Clippers have versatility, and the Thunder have James Harden–the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. So, what do the Lakers have? They have a solid, but sometimes inconsistent point guard in Steve Blake, a veteran scorer in Antawn Jamison, an athletic, young forward in Jordan Hill, and upcoming talent in the forms of Andrew Goudelock, Devin Ebanks, and Darius Morris. Comparatively, the Lakers’ bench doesn’t quite stack up with the talent level of, say, the Clippers. However, I feel that the Lakers needed certain roles filled, and they definitely did that.
Additionally, where other teams may have strength in numbers in the forms of guards and wing players, the Lakers should have a size advantage off the bench in solid players such as Jamison and Hill, and can flip the script and use that to their advantage.
The Lakers will have to be very careful in whom they choose to backup Kobe, though, because teams that have multiple guards who can make plays and score such as the Clippers and Thunder will make it hard on the Lakers once again. Plenty of times Kobe ends up guarding the opposing team’s best point guard as he’s done in the past with the likes of Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul in the playoffs. The problem now is that those guys’ teams have other guards that can hurt the Lakers (James Harden for the Thunder and Chauncey Billups and/or Jamal Crawford for the Clippers) , so shutting down the lead guard isn’t going to fully solve the problem. Steve Nash has never been known as a great defender, and Kobe will be extremely hard-pressed to keep up with some of those quick guards in a seven-game series without much help.
The positive thing here, however, is that in the playoffs most teams typically go with an eight, or possibly nine-man rotation, and the minutes generally shorten for reserve players. In that case, the Lakers, to me, have the best starting lineup in the whole league and would just need their bench to maintain leads at the very least. As for their bench itself, the Lakers may not have the best second unit in the league, but if they can fill that one last hole with a dependable backup to Kobe Bryant, they will be just fine.
So far, management has filled two of the three major needs for the Lakers this off-season, and done so by spending minimal money while bringing in savvy, game-ready veterans; which should greatly help the Lakers in the upcoming season. With Jamison in the lineup, the Lakers once again have that punch off the bench much like they did with Lamar Odom in the past, but now they also have an All-Star point guard to go along with it. Next season will definitely be an interesting one, but the Lakers should definitely be able to compete with anybody come June 2013.
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