End of Season Report Card: Power Forwards

 —  May 11, 2005

This is the fifth in a series of season wrap-up posts for the Lakers (we’ve already done team management, point guard, shooting guards and small forwards).Players in this post will be listed this way: Kobe Bryant (23.8/15.1/+2.8). Those numbers are: the player’s PER, his opponents PER for the season at his primary position, and his +/- averaged for 48 minutes. I stole this listing idea from Knickerblogger, and get the stats from his site and 82games.com. While none of these statistics is perfect, together they give a pretty good indication of what a player meant to a team.

It’s a question you ask yourself after particularly disappointing movies — was the acting that bad or were the actors miscast and lacking direction?

That’s the nagging question left about Lamar Odom (17.65/17.6/+1.9) after this season: Is he not as good as the flashes he shows, or was he just miscast and misdirected in whatever the Laker offense was this year? Odom’s numbers weren’t bad at all, he shot 49.6% eFG% and scored 1.08 points per shot attempt, both numbers that were up from his “breakthrough” year in Miami the year before. On top of that, he averaged 11.3 rebounds per 40 minutes with a rebound rate of 15.9% (percentage of available rebounds grabbed while was on the floor), both the highest numbers on the Laker and up from last year.

Many Laker observers, myself included, think Odom was better suited to the three than the four, but he played inside well — 52% of Odom’s shots came from within 15 feet and he shot 58% on those. His PER while playing the four this season was 19, while when he played the three it was 16.8. Overall, his numbers were better when at the four, although part of that was due to teammates around him and the situations in which he was asked to play the three.

More importantly, Odom could not begin to provide the defensive play the Lakers needed at the four. Opponents shot 48.1% against Odom when he played the four and scored an average of 19.1 points per 48 minutes. Odom’s win shares this year were 12, down from 22 last year (although due to injury Odom only played 64 games this year, that said his win percentage was down 16%).

While Odom’s numbers were good, his game never meshed with Kobe’s — both wanted the ball on the perimeter so they could penetrate. Odom had the lowest percentage of the offense run through him in his career (19.7 usage rate, down from 22.6 last year). He never seemed comfortable on offense, deferring to Kobe. That is, until Kobe went out and Odom stepped up his aggressiveness and played well. Overall, I give Odom a C.

If a coach can find a way to make Odom and Kobe mesh they could be a powerful combination — and the next coach may have to, as Odom’s contract makes him hard to move. He is due $11.5 million next season and that escalates each year through 2009.

Part of the problem the Lakers (and Odom) had at the four is they had no good option behind him.

First there was Brian Cook (14.42/15.8/+8.7). More than any other Laker, Cook’s basic numbers can be deceiving — if next season our back up four shot 50.9% (eFG%) and put up a +8.7 (per 48 minutes) I’d be thrilled. And we need to give Cook credit, the Lakers were better with him on the floor than off.

The problem was Cook was a power forward in name only, TNT’s Steve Kerr at one point in the season called him the “tallest shooting guard in the league.” Cook was rarely near the basket — 47.2% of his shot attempts were three pointers, 82% of his shots were jump shots outside of 15 feet (and he had to be assisted on 92% of those shots), he drew fouls on just 2.8% of his shots, and his rebound rate was 11.2 (percent of rebounds grabbed while he was on the floor, a very low number for a four). He averaged one blocked shot per 40 minutes played, meaning he was not the defensive intimidator needed inside.

Cook’s ability to hit the three point shot made him a favorite of Rudy T. early in the season, but in the triangle he looked lost and his minutes dropped. If the next coach is looking for a four to pull opposing defenders away from the basket, Cook’s the man. Otherwise, he needs to be more of an inside player or be used as the backup small forward (which is a bad idea, he can’t defend the quick threes in the league).

The other backup four was Slava Medvedenko (12.12/14.4/+0.7). Due to an injury prior to the start of the season Slava was behind the learning curve in Rudy T.’s system and saw very few minutes early on in the year and played only 423 minutes all season, the fewest since his rookie year.

While his minutes were down, his averages per minute shooting numbers were similar to previous years — he averaged 18.7 points per 48 minutes (exact same as the previous season), his eFG% was 45.5% (compared to 44.1%), and his points per shot attempt was 0.98 (0.96 last season). Slava’s rebounding numbers were down, his rebound rate fell to 10.5 from 13.3 last season.

Slava’s defense is notoriously poor, but his oPER of 14.4 for this season isn’t bad. However, it was 16.3 last season and 23.2 the season before that — either Slava is becoming a good defender or the limited minutes he played this season against mostly the end of the bench guys masked his deficiencies. I think it’s the latter.

What’s wrong with Slava is not so much his game — it is what it is — but the $3 million per year he makes. That is way too much for what he brings to the table. Slava, maybe more than any other Laker, is hoping Phil Jackson comes back because Jackson did a good job of putting Slava in situations where he could succeed.

The four is one place the Lakers need to upgrade this off-season, one of the two glaring holes (along with point guard). Odom may be able to play the four, but then you need an All-Star center and defender behind him, and I don’t see that coming. Mitch has his work cut out for him this off-season to plug this hole.