Despite winning another title, bench play was the biggest disappointment for the Lakers, especially since the team lacked a reliable backup point guard and small forward. Management shored up the team’s biggest weaknesses by signing free agents Steve Blake and Matt Barnes with their mid-level exception.
Blake, although not a very dynamic or flashy player, is the ideal fit for what this team requires from the point guard position; his intelligence, decisiveness, steadiness and determined play on both ends of the floor should offset his lack of explosiveness, and splitting playing time at the point will help Derek Fisher maintain fresh legs into the playoffs.
Blake is also a good three-point shooter, making close to 40% of his trifectas in his career. Blake will offer consistency and stability that the Lakers lacked when they had to put up with the erratic play of Jordan Farmar. In Matt Barnes, the Lakers add even more toughness and versatility to go along with hard-nosed defense and sheer nastiness. Barnes’ gritty play and tendency to display a mean streak tend to rub people the wrong way except when he plays for your team, in which it becomes a major asset.
As long as Barnes can keep his attitude on the floor and avoid any further off-court distractions, he should be a key contributor to this year’s title run. Also, by acquiring veteran center Theo Ratliff, the Lakers add an extraordinary shot-blocker to their bench.
Last season, the Lakers did not have any rookies on their roster. This season, they have two: Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks. Even though they are both listed at the same height of 6’9”, their playing styles are like night and day.
Caracter will remind many fans of Andrew Bynum. He’s a highly-skilled big who excels in the post and has remarkable touch around the basket. He possesses excellent footwork and surprising finesse to compliment his strong but stout frame. In fact, Caracter had a weight clause in his contract; the Lakers only gave him a guaranteed contract after they confirmed he weighed less than 275 pounds.
For Lakers fans still disheartened by the departure of Trevor Ariza, the Lakers are hoping that Devin Ebanks will remind the fans of the former UCLA swingman, with Ebanks even donning the same number 3 that Ariza used to wear with the Lakers. Ebanks’ long frame and enormous wingspan, coupled with his blazing quickness and tremendous athleticism, gives him the potential to be a lock-down defender in this league.
Guarding Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant during practices and picking up pointers from a perennial all-NBA defensive team guard and a former Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t hurt either. If either of these rookies pans out, it will be another shrewd move by general manager Mitch Kupchak.
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