I know what you’re likely thinking: “Everybody has to step up in Pau Gasol’s absence–especially Dwight Howard.”
Or, if you’ve been living under a rock, you may be thinking: “What happened to Pau Gasol?”
If you answered the latter, the answer is that Gasol has a torn fascia in his foot and will be likely sidelined for at least six weeks.
If you indeed answered the former and that’s what you were thinking, you’re absolutely correct, but that’s the obvious answer.
There is absolutely no question that Dwight Howard will have to find a way to contribute despite his shoulder injury (torn labrum) and establish himself as a true leader for the Lakers.
As for the rest of the team, I feel that a number of players have already stepped up since Kobe Bryant’s shift to a more facilitating role, but the one guy who will have to take on a new challenge and responsibility is Metta World Peace.
Here are the averages over the past seven games (excluding Dwight, Steve Blake, and Metta World Peace, whose averages include four, five, and six games, respectively) for the main contributors to the team:
Metta World Peace
As you can see, the balance between the Lakers–most notably the forwards–has been quite impressive.
Earl Clark has stepped up quite a bit on both ends of the floor since he exploded into the rotation while emerging as a legitimate player in this league, and Antawn Jamison has produced relatively consistently offensively for the Lakers.
However, you may also notice that World Peace’s shooting percentage has dipped from his season average of 40.6 to just 31.1. Similarly, his three-point efficiency has also dropped from 34.9 to 31.1–which mirrors his field goal percentage over the same seven-game span.
So, besides those numbers, why am I singling out Metta World Peace above everyone else and feel that he has to be the guy to step up in Pau Gasol’s absence?
Well, here’s why:
In a previous four-game stretch–the one in which Earl Clark emerged–the forward rotation of Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, and Earl Clark proved to be highly effective in Gasol’s absence. Earl Clark’s versatility seemingly allowed the Lakers to actually play Jamison more minutes, and the Lakers were granted an entirely different dynamic.
Here are the numbers for each of those three players during that stretch (in which the Lakers went 2-2):
- Metta World Peace: 13.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 1.5 assists
- Antawn Jamison: 13.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals
- Earl Clark: 12.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.8 blocks
UPDATE: Since this article was written, the Lakers laid an egg in Boston. Let’s just forget that happened for the time being (sigh).
However, with Dwight Howard not at full strength due to a lingering shoulder injury, I believe the onus falls on World Peace to at least bounce back to the level of play in which he exhibited during that stretch alongside the other two forwards, if not excel in these these three areas: defense, offense, and leadership.