Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, and Los Angeles Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss recently discussed his team’s off-season acquisitions, affirming those decisions to have addressed the weaknesses of the team. The apparent shortcomings of these Lakers team have been the inconsistent bench productivity beyond Lamar Odom, point-guard rotation, and stability at the center position. In response to such a dilemma, Buss signed Orlando Magic’s Matt Barnes, and veterans Steve Blake and Theo Ratliff. With the newly signed additions to the Lakers’ roster, they are poised to make a fourth straight NBA finals appearance, and possible three-peat.
Before assessing the improvement of the Los Angeles Lakers, it is important to discuss the productivity of their key reserves within the previous three years with respect to Wins Produced:
Although the Lakers have a formidable starting rotation, and front-court, the same could not be said of their bench. The only positive season the young Lakers bench was capable of assembling peaked in 2008, and since has declined despite maturation. To begin, in his 2008 campaign, Jordan Farmar was seemingly positioned to take over the point guard duties for the Lakers, but after a major knee surgery, he has not produced in the same fashion during the regular season. The most peculiar reserve is shooting guard, Sasha Vujacic, a player that invented himself as a sharpshooter with the Lakers. Although Vujacic posted a career high .437% in three-point field goals in 08, his true shooting percentage has consistently declined within the three years, along with almost every other major statistical category. While Vujacic did have minor injuries throughout his 2010 campaign, neither guard saw his productivity diminish as much as Walton, as his unfortunate season was plagued by injuries that often rose concerns about his future. Without Walton, Phil Jackson was not only forced to play Ron Artest excessive minutes, but also shifted Brown and Kobe Bryant unnaturally to the forward position. Worst, D.J. Mbenga, Adam Morrison, and Josh Powell offered very little in each regular season, almost costing the Lakers additional wins. In short, the Bench Mob was quite productive during their 07-08 season, but has since reach lows.
Nevertheless, with the departure of Jordan Farmar, and Shannon Brown playing little as a point guard, it is plausible that Steve Blake will be first off the bench in reserve for Fisher, a player looking to reduce his regular-season minutes as he enters his 15th NBA season. As reports suggest Walton may miss most of the 2010-11 season, the singing of small-forward Matt Barnes is essential to improving the Lakers, as he will probably be employed behind Artest and play substantial minutes.
The table provided is important to illustrate two aspect of the recent acquisitions of the Lakers’ roster. First, both Blake and Barnes offered more in 09-10 for their respective ball clubs than Artest and Fisher, so the Lakers have indeed found respectable reserves. Second, with such mediocre WP/48, both Artest and Fisher logged in an immense amount of minutes, so for the success of the team, it will be important for Barnes and Blake to actually take minutes away from the starters at their positions. Moreover, these players compliment the Lakers’ triangle offense and defense. Considering Blake has averaged a three-point field goal percentage of 41% in his last three seasons and Matt Barnes was ranked third in small forwards for rebounds per 48 minutes, the Lakers will ultimately receive a consistency they have not sustained in previous seasons.
Employing such productive players, the Lakers have possibly found effective resolutions for their weaknesses. Both new players will noticeably improve the bench of the Lakers, and will strengthen the stability of the roster as well. Although nothing was mentioned about veteran Theo Ratliff, it is with expectations of Andrew Bynum’s ever-improving play that Ratliff’s services will be limited. Truly, the return of the Bench Mob.
Life Without Kobe Bryant?
Kamenetzky Brothers’ Land O’ Lakers blog on ESPN Los Angeles suggested the following:
- Even without Bryant, the Lakers still would have talent, size, and coaching
- The Lakers would win 52 games
- A Western Conference Finals appearance would be plausible, but reaching the NBA finals wouldn’t
I have previously noted that much of the Lakers’ success can be contributed to the front-court rotation of Gasol-Odom-Bynum, and with the newly assembled bench, as constructed, the Lakers would absolutely win at least 52 games. Although Kobe Bryant is an aging player who has shouldered three knee surgeries, within the last two post seasons, he has increased his production by an average of 24.6% from what one observed in the regular season. How he was capable of doing such a thing is uncertain, nor is there evidence to conclude he can do this always; however, without Kobe Bryant the Lakers really wouldn’t win in the NBA Finals, much less reach it either.