Here’s how the Lakers depth chart looks:
PG – Derek Fisher, Steve Blake
SG – Kobe Bryant, Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic
SF – Ron Artest, Matt Barnes, Luke Walton, Devin Ebanks
PF – Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom
C – Andrew Bynum, Theo Ratliff, Derrick Caracter
Although there will probably be some slight shuffling of who backs up who and what order they come off the bench, the Lakers core is pretty much set in stone. Most of their key players are smart veterans and are done improving at this point in their careers. All but two: Andrew Bynum and Shannon Brown.
Shannon Brown is an explosive off-guard whose playing style is dependent on his elite quickness and athleticism. Although his shooting has improved and his decision-making has been getting better, his biggest contributions are with his momentum-changing dunks and high-energy plays. Shannon Brown has improved in each of his seasons as a Laker, but at 24 years of age he’s not exactly a rookie anymore. I’d like to see him becoming a more consistent shooter, make better decisions with the ball, and become a better passer. On defense sometimes he spaces out, but he has the tools to be a very effective defender. Let’s see if he can continue his upward trend in the upcoming season.
Andrew Bynum on the other hand is the biggest enigma on the Lakers roster. I wrote an article last week about how his continued development is crucial to the Lakers future title hopes. Read it here. Bynum is still only 22 years of age (23 in October), but he’s missed over 100 games in his past 3 seasons. If the Lakers are the cast of Ocean’s 13*, Andrew Bynum is Matt Damon. He’s not as big as the main stars (Kobe Bryant – George Clooney and Pau Gasol – Brad Pitt), but he has the potential. It will be interesting to see if he can stay healthy over the course of an entire season, and also whether he can produce at his borderline-all-star-level numbers over an entire season. Early in his career, Bynum took flak for being immature, undisciplined, and basically being inexperienced. But this past season, Bynum showed more maturity, patience, and did his best to please the coaching staff. This next season could truly be his breakout season as he’s poised to take on a bigger role in their championship run, just like Matt Damon in Ocean’s 13. If Andrew Bynum can stay healthy for an entire season and average close to a double-double he could be an all-star this year.
*Continuing with the Ocean’s 11 theme, here’s the rest of the cast:
Danny Ocean (George Clooney) : Kobe Bryant
Rusty (Brad Pitt) : Pau Gasol
Frank Catton aka “Ramone” (Bernie Mac) : Lamar Odom
Reuben (Elliot Gould) : Derek Fisher
Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) : Andrew Bynum
The Amazing Yen – Shannon Brown
The Malloy Brothers – Ron Artest and Matt Barnes
Basher (Don Cheadle) : Sasha Vujacic
Saul – Theo Ratliff
The Electrician dude – Steve Blake
Luke Walton, Devin Ebanks, and Derrick Caracter will fill in as the remaining characters in Ocean’s 12 and 13. Luke Walton can be Andy Garcia while Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter fight out who gets to be that one guy who nobody remembers or Julia Roberts.
Ron Artest’s first season with the Lakers alternated between disappointment and “he just needs more time.” After the Lakers playoff run and Artest went from villain to hero (with his game-winning putback and finals Game 7 performance), everybody basically agreed that despite some early struggles, in the end Artest’s presence on the team undeniably helped them win their second title. In Artest’s second season with the Lakers, I expect Artest to know his role better in the offense, be more efficient in the triangle, and he will be a defensive menace like always. However, I expect him to continue to struggle when he doesn’t get ball touches, be inconsistent with his outside shooting, and be prone to brain-farts every now and then. I also expect at least two or three random off-court incidents which may distract him (his reality show They Call me Crazy sounds promising, although I think it should’ve been called Say Queensbridge, or something with the word flagrant in it.)
On a side note, I hope “The Machine” isn’t broken again this year. Two years ago I ran into Sasha at a movie theater, at that time the Lakers were in the midst of their playoff run (where they eventually lost to the Celtics) and everybody was on the Lakers bandwagon. Additionally, everyone was on “The Machine” bandwagon. At that time I thought he was going to develop into a deadly sharpshooter and be a key contributor to the Lakers championship team. If he can regain his form this year (he averaged 1.6 3s made per game on over 43% shooting that season), the Lakers could be even more deadly and the Lakers won’t want to trade him. His defense is pesky and although sometimes knuckleheaded, it does annoy the opposing team. Let’s hope “The Machine” is on next season.