As of Thursday morning, at 11-8 the Los Angeles Lakers are in eighth place in the NBA, stuck in the rear view mirror of the Houston Rockets, the Utah Jazz and even (hold your breath here) the Los Angeles Clippers.
Make no mistake this group of Lakers are in serious trouble. Teams from across the league have exposed their weaknesses on both sides of the floor. And unlike earlier in the season when the Laker faithful prayed the return of Andrew Bynum would resolve every flaw the team has, it looks like these problems are here to stay.
Why? Because the Lakers off-season additions haven’t been able to balance the subtractions the management made.
Before the season began, Bill Simmons predicted the Lakers would finish in 8th place this year, his reasoning being with the premature departure of Lamar Odom, the Lakers’ fourth best player besides Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum suddenly becomes Josh McRoberts.
At one point in time, about a year ago now, the Lakers actually had a bench they could rely on for production. The bench-mob featured the likes of a shooter by the name of Sasha Vujacic, the high-flying Shannon Brown and last year’s Sixth Man of the Year, Mr. Lamar Odom.
It’s laughable, really, who those three impact players have been replaced with. Now I’m forced to hold my breath whenever one of the starters is taken out of the game. Metta World Peace’s 11 points against the Pacers Sunday was the first time since January 8th when a member of the Peace Corps hit double digits.
I was baffled by Mr. Simmons’ bold projection for the Lakers when the season first began, but now reality is beginning to sink in: a team with Kobe, Gasol, Bynum and Odom is a million times better than Kobe, Bynum, Gasol and the loveable Josh McRoberts.
Heading into last night’s matchup with the Clippers, Kobe (30.5 ppg) was averaging more points than the top three scorers amongst healthy reserves by himself (World Peace averaged 5.5 a game, McRoberts came in at 3.7 and Darius Morris is good for a 3.6). Mo Williams, arguably the Clippers’ best offensive weapon off the bench, accomplishes the same thing, with 14.5 points a game.
This is where the Lakers miss Lamar Odom more than ever. Consistency from your reserves is one of the most underrated assets in the NBA, which is what Lamar provided when he was in a Lakers uniform.
When opponents do their homework to play against the Lakers, a roster that used to strike fear into 29 other teams is now a shell of its former self.
A lot is wrong with the Lakers right now, while their defense is ranked third in the league statistically, it doesn’t mean much when they’re scoring at a rate that couldn’t beat an elite college team.
The Lakers are currently 20th in the league in field goal percentage; having only reached the century mark just once in 19 games. And you might want to cover your eyes here, they’re also last in the league from beyond the arc, even after shooting 50 percent on Wednesday night.
This is all a result of the Lakers having let productive players walk out the door for nothing in return. The Lakers now have zero playmakers other than Kobe Bryant, thus the Lakers only seem to win when the Black Mamba goes off for a bunch of points. As good as Gasol and Bynum are, both of them require Bryant and the other guards to put them in positions to score.
Essentially, what defenses can now afford to do is clog up the paint and pray the Kobe system doesn’t infuse Kobe with another throwback scoring performance. Lest we forget, Odom could do a little bit of everything, including hit the three-ball. As could Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic.
In a desperate attempt to create more space on the floor for the posts to operate, Gasol has taken it upon himself to do so. He’s taken 11 three pointers already this season, equating the amount he took in his first four seasons in the purple and gold.
Maybe this will all work itself out. Maybe this disgraceful offense is merely a transition phase between the Zen Master’s triangle and Mike Brown’s post-orientated offense.
Until Kobe and the boys figure this out, the Lakers are in danger of manifesting Mr. Simmons’ prediction as a lower tier team in the west.