NBA PM: Lakers Bench Better, Still Average
The Los Angeles Lakers made significant changes this offseason. The acquisitions of both Dwight Howard and Steve Nash may be substantial enough to help the team back to the NBA Finals.
The bench was upgraded with Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, but the Lakers’ reserve core still remains the team’s biggest weakness.
In the starting five, Metta World Peace has been the least consistent over recent years, but a dedicated offseason has resulted in a lighter body and increased foot-speed.
It remains to be seen how Pau Gasol and Howard will fit together in the paint. The departed Andrew Bynum was more of a true low-post center compared to Howard, who excels within the pick-and-roll.
Gasol and Howard may blend better, but Gasol’s face-up jumper will be tested and while last season it was steady, it faltered throughout the postseason.
Both Kobe Bryant and Nash aren’t young, but they have been among the best at their positions through the last decade. Nash’s ability to hit the open shot, in addition to his true point guard skills, makes him a natural fit.
At times Bryant will dominate the ball as he’s prone to do but equally he will find himself with opportunities off the ball, on the weak side as a target for kick-outs. There he should be able to play to his natural strength as a scorer.
Defensively, Nash is sub-par but Howard has greater mobility than Bynum to help in rotation. With an improved Peace, the Lakers should be able to outscore their opponents on most nights while putting up at least a reasonable fight defensively.
Of course, that starting group won’t play 48 minutes a game. If Lakers head coach Mike Brown chooses to pull out five starters, his bench is going to struggle to hold leads.
Steve Blake, who has quickly recovered from a minor foot injury, is a solid backup point guard. Chris Duhon has shown through his career the same, although not in recent years. Neither can run a team like Nash.
Meeks and Devin Ebanks are options on the wing, but Meeks has to show he fits into this group and Ebanks needs to do more than score at a low but efficient rate without showing consistency defensively.
Jamison can swing between either forward position but if he’s not scoring, does he bring enough else to the table?
Jordan Hill is struggling through a herniated disk. While he isn’t expected to need surgery, can physical therapy do more than make the problem asymptomatic? In other words, is he at greater risk for a single play popping out his back even further?
Can young players such as Earl Clark, Darius Morris, Robert Sacre, Darius Johnson-Odom, Andrew Goudelock, Greg Somogyi, Reeves Nelson and Ronnie Aguilar, some fighting just to make the team, really help on a championship team?
Invite Chris Douglas-Roberts has shown over two games that he may be worth a greater look. It may be difficult for the Lakers to make a spot for him, but he comes in with a greater sense of poise than a typical rookie or second-year player.
The Lakers have improved their bench, but leads will remain precarious unless Brown finds a workable rotation that relies heavily on two to three starters on the court at all times, at least in close games.
Chris Duhon with a Lot to Prove
With eight seasons behind him, point guard Chris Duhon has landed on the Lakers, his fourth team in the NBA.
Duhon, along with Earl Clark, came to L.A. as part of the massive Dwight Howard trade via the Orlando Magic.
“The whole situation was a circus in itself, but obviously you know something had to be done,” Duhon said. “I kind of anticipated being traded and it’s fortunate that I was able land in a nice spot here in L.A. I’m just going to try to make the most of this opportunity.”‘
Through his first four years in the league with the Chicago Bulls, Duhon averaged almost 4.5 assists a game. While he needed to work on his shooting, he was above average defensively.
Duhon’s best season was as a starter with the New York Knicks in 2008-09, when he averaged 11.1 points per game, 7.2 assists and shot 39.1 percent from three.
His numbers dipped the following season, but the Orlando Magic willingly gave him a four-year, $15 million deal (in which the final season just $1.5 million is guaranteed). It was a contract they’d quickly regret as Duhon put up career lows in nearly every category.
Last year was moderately better, especially from three-point range where he shot 41.9 percent on 119 attempts.
“I think the last couple of years I haven’t played the best basketball that I know I’m capable of,” Duhon said. “That’s why I kind of rededicated myself this summer to getting my body in shape.”
The new Laker refused to blame has lack of production in Orlando on anyone but himself.
“I just wasn’t at that place mentally. I wasn’t at that place physically,” Duhon said. “That’s why this summer I just went back to the basics.”
Was there something specific he can point to? What was his reasoning on what appeared to be a lack of motivation?
“I can’t. It’s just something that you kind of lost in a period of time and then you kind of point at different things, trying to figure it out,” Duhon said. “Really you just have to look yourself in the mirror and get your act together.”
The Lakers are hoping they’ll have a rejuvenated Duhon this season, although L.A. is stacked with depth at the position with Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Darius Morris.
The drop off from Nash to just about anyone else is going to be significant. The Lakers will back him up via committee, but the incumbent Blake is more likely than Duhon to get the majority of the minutes.
Still, Duhon hopes he can find a role that can help the Lakers this season.
“Just be a guy, an energy guy off the bench, coming in and bringing a defensive presence at the point guard position,” Duhon said. “Offensively, especially with us running the Princeton (Offense), I feel as though I’m a guy who makes great decisions.”
If Duhon can bring anything close to last year’s efficiency from long range, Mike Brown may need to find a spot for him.
“With the talent that we have around us, it’s going to open up shots,” Duhon said. “I’m feeling really confident and really good right now.”
Preseason games are difficult to judge by but through two games, Duhon has yes to make a shot on four attempts but he’s logged just 18 minutes in total (often with camp invites and other young players trying to find their way, instead of playing with veterans).
Duhon has a lot to prove after the last few seasons. Given that the $3.75 million has a relatively light guarantee, he’s going to have to show he’s worth close to that next year.
At this early stage before the season and typically until some-20 games into the year, the trade market is quiet. The team has depth at the position, so later in the year Duhon could be used as bait (although his value is strictly financial at this point).
It may be more likely that the Lakers prefer to have his semi-guaranteed salary come off the books after the year, but Duhon still has an opportunity to prove he can help an NBA roster.
Can Darius Johnson-Odom Stick with the Lakers?
Coming into camp without a guarantee, Darius Johnson-Odom is trying to make it to opening night with the Lakers.
Drafted 55th by the Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers paid about $500K for the rights to Johnson-Odom. An athletic guard, the question is height. Can he fit in the league as an under-sized, 6’2 shooting guard?
“I think that’s the biggest upside for me, for a guard of my stature, is my athletic ability,” Johnson-Odom said. “I think defense is going to be my main objective for this team, to help this team win a championship. I think for me, it’s to come out as an impact player on defense.”
Height may have been the main reason Johnson-Odom was still available at 55.
“In college, I had to guard guys 6’6, 6’7. I had to guard one through three, so it doesn’t really matter to me,” Johnson-Odom said. “I’m going to guard the ball.”
Another difficulty is existing depth. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant, who will get the lion-share of the minutes. Additionally, Coach Brown has toyed with Devin Ebanks and newcomer Jodie Meeks as Bryant’s primary backup. Ebanks (and Bryant at times) may play small forward but there’s clearly a glut of guards in L.A.
Johnson-Odom isn’t a point guard and the team already has four, so even if he was able to make the roster, minutes would be scarce.
“A lot of guys kind of know what kind of competitor I am, what kind of fierce player I am,” said Johnson-Odom at the challenge.
The Laker guard has welcomed the opportunity to learn from Metta World Peace, another player who prides himself on his ability to play defense. Of course Peace is 6’7 at about 250 pounds.
“I think it’s a will to win. I want to win. I want to be here. I want to play at this level,” Johnson-Odom said. “I’m going to have to do the little things that other people aren’t doing to be to be noticed, to make that impact.”
The early results haven’t been conclusive. Johnson-Odom got just six minutes in the team’s preseason opener and didn’t play on Wednesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Rosters need to be cut down to 15 before opening night and the Lakers are already carrying 13 guaranteed contracts on their books.
I’d like to take a personal moment to let the loyal readers of HOOPSWORLD that I’ve been afforded the opportunity to blog for the Los Angeles Times, covering the Los Angeles Lakers.
The transition will take place over the coming weeks but know that HOOPSWORLD will still provide incredible coverage of all things Lakers.
I’ve been with the site for about ten years and I’ve watched it grow from not much more than an idea to the best NBA destination on the web.
The good news is that I’ll remain a part of the HOOPSWORLD family. My responsibilities will shift, but I’ll still be able to contribute regularly to the site.
I want to take a moment to thank Steve Kyler and Bill Ingram for amazing support and vision through the years; as well as our crew of talented, hard-working writers who I have been privileged to work with to date . . . and will continue to work with moving forward.
Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @EricPincus, @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNBA, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.