When Dwight Howard deciding to leave the Lakers for Houston, Plan B was in full effect and management executed their contingency plan.
The Lakers amnestied Metta World Peace, acquired a few players who took less money to play for the purple and gold, and then picked up some more players prior to training camp who unexpectedly made the final roster and have even become major contributors thus far.
Wesley Johnson, Chris Kaman, and Nick Young passed over more lucrative offers to come here. An improved and grown-up Jordan Farmar opted out of his overseas contract to rejoin the Lakers. Shawne Williams and Xavier Henry went from being unknown to most Lakers fans just a month ago to becoming rotation players and Jodie Meeks improved his game significantly from last season.
Yes, the Lakers may have lost the most coveted center in the league, but Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss have transformed this team into a young, three-point shooting (39.4 percent so far), deep team.
As of right now, 11 players are averaging more 14 or more minutes per game — with Jordan Hill averaging the least.
Add in Kobe Bryant, and the team’s number of potential regulars rises to 12.
Here’s a look at the team’s depth chart in traditional terms of point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, power forwards, and centers:
Kobe Bryant (Injured)
(For the purposes of this chart, we’ll exclude players who haven’t seen much playing time and likely won’t in the near future.)
However, the team plays a versatile style of basketball where traditional positions aren’t always defined and many players often switch and play two or more positions, as you can see in the above chart. Here’s a look at the depth chart in more ambiguous terms:
Kobe Bryant (Injured)
Even with this more ambiguous chart, it’s still hard to define certain positions in Mike D’Antoni’s system. For example, although Steve Blake is a point guard, he’s currently starting as the team’s off-guard. Additionally, Wes Johnson is more traditionally considered a small forward or wing player, but will often be asked to fill the role of stretch four for this team.
Nonetheless, you have Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all capable of directing the offense. Then there is Pau Gasol doing his thing down low and in the high post along with Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill. There are a couple of designated stretch fours, with scorers, shooters, and athletes on the wings.
Essentially, the Lakers have a lot of players who are capable of producing on any given night. This doesn’t always translate into wins, however, and many of the players are unproven.
Unproven doesn’t necessarily mean good or bad, but does indicate that consistency may be an issue at first, often times when on the road or in crunch situations. However, it also means that these players may be playing with a chip on their respective shoulders and will hopefully add an edge to the team — especially given the fact that most of the players have contracts that expire at the end of the season.
Each member genuinely seems to want their teammates to succeed, and for the team to succeed as a whole. There’s a nice mixture of personality, age, and talent, which makes this team intriguing.
There are changes that need to be made in terms of finding playing time for certain players, or even shortening the rotation at some point, but the abundance of capable players is a good problem to have. Similarly, when Kobe returns, I’m sure the rotation won’t be extended to 12 and could even drop to as low as nine as the distribution of minutes might not be quite as equal as it is now. As of now, Steve Blake is currently averaging the most minutes at 29.5.
There doesn’t seem to be any discontent regarding playing time just yet, though, perhaps because no one is being left out of the rotation and adding minutes to one player could result in a “DNP – CD” for another. (Following Sunday’s game, Chris Kaman did say that he wants more minutes — alongside Pau Gasol, that is.)
So far, everything seems to be working out well. Yes, the Lakers are currently just 2-2, but they’ve shown flashes of becoming
a solid team — defeating the Clippers on opening night, playing the San Antonio Spurs tough on Friday night, and defeating the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday evening.
The one player whose minutes absolutely need to be addressed, in my opinion, is Jordan Hill. Hill is one of the Lakers’ better players as admitted by Mike D’Antoni, and D’Antoni vowed he would find him more minutes, but still hasn’t managed to do so just yet.
On Sunday night, Hill proved to be a hero for the Lakers with countless hustle plays and offensive rebounds late in the ballgame helping the Lakers defeat the Hawks, 105-103. Similarly, Hill’s OREB% is currently at an astounding 29.5 percent, which is the highest in the league among players who’ve played in more than one game this season. For edification, Hill finished fourth in the rankings last season (at 18.1 percent in 29 games), but trailed three players whose total games played added up to just 29.
Coach D’Antoni certainly likes tweaking with his lineup and style of play, and normally prefers to play with a stretch four on the floor, but played Hill alongside Pau Gasol during the crucial stretch of Sunday’s game and it paid off. Finding minutes for Hill should definitely be a priority for this team as he can efficiently contribute on a regular basis.
Nonetheless, the Lakers have something they haven’t had in a while: Depth. No longer will Steve Nash be asked to play 30 minutes on a nightly basis, or will Pau Gasol have to total the second most minutes among any NBA player, as he did two seasons ago. Moreover, with all the depth the Lakers have in the back court and on the wings, Kobe Bryant may even be able to keep his minutes low when he returns, instead of feeling the need to play heavy minutes as he did towards the end of last season.
Four games into the regular season, and it appears that the Bench Mob is back and better than ever!
The Lakers may have lost D12, but now they’re legitimately 12 deep.