Numbers Game: Expectations For the Upcoming Season in L.A.
Kobe Bryant: While Bryant had another fantastic season in terms of output and productivity (27.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists per game), it was also one of his least efficient years (43 percent FG, 30 percent 3pt FG). Much of that can be attributed to the unprecedented amount of responsibilities/expectations placed on his shoulders (16th season), and the fact that he was forced to play 38.5 minutes per game due to the lack of a true and effective backup.
As mentioned earlier, the organization was able to do something about that issue, with the signing of free agent combo-guard Jodie Meeks. Not only will Bryant be relieved of his duties as the sole play-maker with the arrival of Steve Nash, he will be able to maximize his minutes as a true scorer, and not have to be rushed back into the game out of sheer lack of productivity from his position.
While his scoring average may dip to somewhere around 25-26 points per game, I expect the most efficient shooting performance out of him since the 46.9 percent season he had way back in 2001-02. Another significant difference should be his 4th quarter and playoff productivity. I expect noticeable improvement due to the added energy he will have saved from simply not having to shoulder such a load each and every quarter/night along the way. I’d place the over/under on huge smiles per game at 4.5 (until the playoffs and mamba-mode, of course).
Steve Nash: After Nash was acquired for the equivalent of three stale pieces of Bazooka Joe gum and pocket lint, Lakers Nation writer Elizabeth Benson encapsulated the trade best when she said (paraphrasing) essentially, the Lakers went from having sub-par productivity and shooting at point guard to having one of the greatest shooters the position has ever seen.
Nash may be 38 years-old and nursing a chronic back condition, but his 49 percent FG, 43 percent 3 point shooting and 90 percent FT shooting simply cannot be ignored. On top of being the best back-court shooter in the league, Nash remains the preeminent floor general in today’s NBA.
Am I saying he is the best point guard in the league? Of course not. There are several younger and more athletic point guards with a higher productivity rate. For this particular team, Nash is a perfect fit.
“But Jabari, he can’t guard Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and the like..” Can we put an end to that debate? Nobody can guard those guys. That’s exactly why they are supremely special individuals. Difference is, Nash can actually fire back and keep them honest on the other end. He can also manage an offense with the best of them, and most importantly, instill a sense of calm and unity within the locker room.
Bench: One of the more maligned, deservedly so, units in recent memory (last year), the Lakers have now have an above average second unit. Re-signing Jordan Hill was a nice move, as the 4th-year pro has many of the intangibles Coach Mike Brown covets in a defensive big man. He has a lively/active body, rebounds and protects the basket well, and defends the pick-and-roll better than anyone the Lakers had on last year’s roster. The additions of Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks are just what the doctor (Dr. Buss) ordered.
Jamison, a former #4 pick of the 1998 draft, will provide scoring punch (career 19.5 points, 7.9 rebounds per game) and veteran leadership. I expect a very nice 12-13 ppg and 5-6 rpg from him.
Meeks is exactly the shooter and athletic wing defender the Lakers have lacked since Shannon Brown left via free agency. Meeks put up serviceable numbers as a starter for the Philadelphia 76ers over the past two seasons, and now joins a vastly superior group of players. Essentially, it will be upon his shoulders whether he takes advantage of the open looks and thrives or simply falls into the pack, as several other players have seemed to do once joining the Lakers. I believe it will be a case of the former, rather than the latter. I expect positive things from the just-turned 25-year-old.
Devin Ebanks is a curious case. As the third man in the small forward rotation, Ebanks (understandably) found it tough finding minutes in Brown’s rotation. As the projected backup small forward, Ebanks is simply going to have to produce when given the opportunity. It is difficult to predict what type of impact players like Blake, Duhon, Morris, and Goudelock may have, as Jim Buss has already mentioned the front office may not be done making moves. Earl Clark is an interesting addition, as you can never have enough 6’10″, athletic big men. He’s very unpolished and certainly unproven, but it will be interesting to see what direction the organization goes with him.
As roster spots are an absolute premium, I’ll take the wait-and-see approach before attempting to judge Robert Sacre and Darius Johnson-Odom.
As an ardent defender of Coach Mike Brown during what was a probably a season with the most landmines a team could have to avoid, that will no longer be the case, this season. I often remarked that it is tough to ask a man to bake a cake without flour and eggs. Well, the front office went out and fully stocked the cupboards.
Whether fair or not, Brown will receive a majority of the blame if things don’t start well. I, for one, will allow things to pan out before overreacting along the way. The reported additions of Eddie Jordan, Steve Clifford and Bernie Bickerstaff to round out Mike Brown’s coaching staff are also key. While I wasn’t impressed by the offensive sets/plays Assistant John Kuester developed at times throughout last season, the addition of Nash and implementation of elements of the Princeton offense should remedy that concern. Both Jordan and Bickerstaff also have head coaching experience, and Clifford already has a relationship with Dwight Howard, having been an assistant with the Orlando Magic.
Essentially, the Lakers front office has covered just about every concern we could have had. I hope this article has done the same, as I am as eager for the start of this season as I’ve been in over a decade.