There have been pros and cons thus far in the Lakers pre-season. Their 0-3 record reflects the ups and downs of the Lakers performance on the court as a whole. Yes, it is the pre-season and total judgements of how the team is performing absolutely should not be made solely based on these games. Dwight Howard has yet to suit up in purple and gold, which will dramatically change the offensive and defensive landscape of the team.
What Laker fans have seen thus far is a dramatically improved and spry Metta World Peace, a Kobe Bryant who is not afraid to drive the ball and get to the charity strike and a brief glimpse of what Steve Nash will do for the team as far as creating easy opportunities. However, the big question mark that has fans talking has been the lackluster performance from the bench so far three games into pre-season play.
The bench was a source of focus for Lakers’ management this summer as last season’s bench was statistically the worst offensive second unit in the league. We all know that Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and Steve Nash are not getting any younger and their minutes need to be closely watched and managed in order to get the best performance out of each player, which didn’t occur last season.
Antawn Jamison was signed to add offense to the bench. Jodie Meeks was signed to add outside shooting to the team. Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks were each re-signed to add defense, youth and athleticism to the second unit. Chris Duhon, Earl Clark, Andrew Goudelock, Darius Morris, Darius Johnson-Odom, Robert Sacre, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Greg Somogyi, Ronnie Aguilar and Reeves Nelson are all using their minutes to prove their worth and where they could fit into what will be the permanent roster come October 30th.
So far, the Lakers’ second unit as a whole has not made the impression that fans were expecting. The bench’s performance has played into the hands of critics. For example, ESPN’s John Hollinger isn’t too optimistic about the changes that Mitch Kupchak made to the bench this summer. Hollinger recently wrote:
Lakers’ supporting cast has to play a lot of minutes, and that cast still isn’t very good. Meeks answers the need for shooting and Jamison will provide some points (for both teams), but their best bench player from a year ago (Barnes) left, and they still have replacement-level or worse situations at backup point guard (Blake/Duhon) and backup small forward (likely Devin Ebanks). Their best sub at this point is probably Jordan Hill, but even he pales in comparison to the third big man on most rosters.
However, there have been absolute standouts that have turned some heads (in a good way) that could lead to a full-time roster spot at the end of the month. This includes Robert Sacre, who was the Lakers’ second pick (60th overall) in the 2012 NBA Draft. Sacre has averaged 7.7 points and 5.0 boards in 22 minutes per game. Personally, as of right now, it would truly surprise me if Sacre wasn’t signed by the Lakers as his position and style of play would be a true asset for the Lakers.
Chris Douglas-Roberts has also put together some nice games, averaging 5.3 points in 8.7 minutes per game. If he continues to perform the way he has, a roster spot could absolutely be his to lose. Devin Ebanks and Antawn Jamison seemed to shift up a gear in last Saturday’s pre-season game against the Utah Jazz with nine points in 19 minutes and nine points in 22 minutes respectively. This is a positive sign for the Lakers as Jamison will inherit the role of the outright leader of the bench and Ebanks will be given a bigger role on the team (in the two and three spot) than he has in the past two seasons with LA.
Of course fans are disappointed with the type of play that the bench has put together at this point. I am right there with those that feel this way. The bench is an X-factor for any team in the league, in the regular season or post-season. As stated before, four of the five starters are getting up there in basketball years and the miles are adding up. A consistent surge from the second unit will be a necessity to ensure that the entire starting line-up is 100 percent come playoff time when rotations shorten.
However, I am not ready to write the Laker bench off as it is simply way too early to do just that. We are just one week into the pre-season and two weeks into training camp. Besides a couple of players, the reserves are comprised of mostly new additions. Fans and critics must give them time to sort everything out and to get comfortable with one another and with the new spotlight that is a very new experience for most of them. Let’s not forget that even the starters are still learning an entirely new offensive system in the Princeton offense, which was not utilized last season.
There is no question that the Lakers are much improved off the bench this season. Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss did the job of responding to needs that were present for the last two seasons. The main reason why we have seen a better performance on the court from the starters (besides the incredible talent), is because their veteran experience in the NBA has resulted in almost automatic chemistry. The young and rather new bench simply needs more time to create what the starters have an early jump on.
That is why pre-season and training camp is so vital. We just need to remain patient. It will come.