Kwame and Lamar

Kurt —  March 27, 2006

As Kobe has shown some fatigue in the last few weeks (his true shooting percentage has dropped from 55.4% on the season to 51.7% the last 10 games), the Lakers have still played well thanks to Lamar Odom — finally coming around like Laker fans and front office had hoped — and Kwame Brown coming around like no one expected. As CTDeLude said in the comments yesterday, “Who is this Kwame and where is the body of the old one?”

It’s the improved play of those two that not only means the Lakers are going to the playoffs, but also poses questions about the future makeup of the team.

Here are the questions that must be plaguing the Laker front office, like it did the Wizards’ front office before: Has Kwame turned the corner? Can he keep up this play consistently?

In the last 10 games, the much-maligned Brown has played pretty well. He is shooting 68.3% over that span, exactly what you want from him in that he doesn’t shoot much (11.1 points per game) but is efficient when he does it. Also, his defensive rotations have seemed better. He was solid man-on-man in the block since the start of the season but struggled with rotations early, and while not perfect, it’s better. In the last 10 he has pulled down 13.5% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor, right at his season average (which would make him 20th in the league in rebounding among centers, and it’s a number better than Lamar Odom’s 11.6% rate in the last 10 games).

Here’s what has to be running through Mitch Kupchak’s mind: If you thought Kwame could do this night in and night out, and if you thought Andrew Bynum could be a steady backup every night next year, it allows you to consider dangling one of the few tradable assets the Lakers have in Chris Mihm.

I don’t think we can get carried away here and make that step. No way we can say after 10 games Kwame has become a quality center, or is better than Chris Mihm, who has been consistent for a couple of years now. Kwame played half a good season a few years back, only to flop the following year (he started with a broken foot but never fit back in the team, but I’ll just say that Wizard insiders told me plenty of stories that have led me to be suspicious of his mental strength). He’s got a long way to go to prove he can do it consistently. But a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a few steps.

As for Odom, he finally seems to be comfortable in the initiator role. In the last 10 games he is shooting 68% (eFG%), he is driving to the hole and being more aggressive on the offensive end. You can argue he’s been a better all-around player the last 10 games than Kobe (statistically, if you use something like Tendex, a PER-like stat based on per-possession used at the wonderful dougsstats, it’s true). That you can even have that conversation shows how far he has come.

If he solidifies into the initiator role, it allows the Lakers to really focus this off-season on getting a defense-oriented point guard and another quality big for the baseline (plus add depth). While Odom’s name will get mentioned in trade deals, at this point I’d only give him up for the kind of player who makes the Lakers instant contenders.

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On an unrelated topic, I made a few comments the other day about NBA blogs and the recent piece in Sports Illustrated. Then Tom over at Sactown Royalty went and said it far better, and also expressed the frustrations and admiration I have with and for Bill Simmons as well. If the topic interests you, it’s worth the read.

Kurt

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