Yesterday against Dallas the Lakers made a fourth quarter run â€” +13 â€” with an interesting lineup: Kobe, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Jumaine Jones and Devean George. This is a lineup of guys essentially all the same height, between 6â€™6â€ and 6â€™8â€, something Isaiah Thomas might love. Yet it was a group that was able to defend (even Nowitzki) and pass the ball around, two things we have seen little of this season. On the flip side, it was guys Laker fans have high hopes for in Caron Butler (-16) and Chris Mihm (-18) that held the team back for a night. Iâ€™m not advocating this new lineup as a starting five, just pointing out something that shows this team has the depth to be successful.
With this Laker team we are all watching the games and looking ahead: Can Sasha grow into a good NBA player? (The last two games his defense has been much better, heâ€™s only 20 and with continued work he can become a competent defender. A more consistent jumper would be a nice thing to develop, too.) Are Butler and George part of the long-term future of the Lakers or just the best trade bait? (Can they be both?) Will Slava ever see the court and was his signing Mitchâ€™s biggest error?
This team can be turned around, if you want to see what just the right player can do check out tonightâ€™s opponent, Golden State. They were bottom feeders who brought in Barron Davis to create one of the leagueâ€™s best backcourts and they are 16-10 since.
When healthy, there is no question Davis is one of the best points in the league, what has worked in the Bay Area is that he has paired well with Jason Richardson, who can use his quick shot to take advantage of Davisâ€™ passing skills. In the last 10 games Davis has averaged 28.6 points per 48 minutes, 12.5 assists and 2.9 steals (both also per 48). Those assists have raised a number of players scoring averages â€” Mickael Pietrus has jumped from a season average of 22.48 points per 48 to 27.4 in the last 10 games.
By the way, since we all hear a lot of “Why didn’t the Lakers get Davis?”, I donâ€™t think Davis and Kobe could have blended their games any better than Kobe and Odom. All three of those players like to have the ball in their hands to start plays and two guards who both want the ball all the time is a recipe for disaster. That was moot though, I don’t think the Lakers had what New Orleans wanted in a trade.
Golden State will join the Lakers in the hunt for an inside presence this off-season â€” Adonal Foyle is not the answer (but he is pretty expensive and under contract through 2009). Get any help inside and they are a team poised to be much better next year. That is one of the big challenges in the West â€” Minnesota, Golden State, the Clippers and the Lakers all should be better next year and be playoff contenders. The East, while it has some good teams at the top, is simply not as deep.
Weâ€™ll see how Sashaâ€™s improved defense stacks up against a very good back court tonight in the Bay Area. Weâ€™ll see if a same-size lineup gets on the court tonight, and what it can do.