Coming into Sacramento on Thursday, the new Laker starting five (Smush, Kobe, Walton, Cook and Bynum) have played a total of 16 minutes together this season, over four different shifts. The results: They scored 31 points shooting just 46.3% (eFG%); they gave up 38 points and let opponents shoot 57.4%; the lineup took 70% of its shots as jump shots but let opponents get 44% of their shots in close to the basket; they were outscored in three of the four stints.
Of course, that is just 16 minutes of time. More importantly, what will be the biggest factor for the next couple weeks is which Andrew Bynum the Lakers get on any given night. When Drew had the starting job the first weeks of the season he had very good games (Chicago) and games he didnâ€™t seem to be on the court (Toronto). He played like a 19-year-old, motivated and focused some nights and daydreaming the next.
Both Kwame and Bynum have played good defense â€” the Lakers have a defensive rating of 104.7 (points per 100 opponent possessions) when Bynum is on the floor and 105.4 when Kwame is playing (both better than the overall Laker team average). Bynum is grabbing 17.6% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor, Kwame 14.6%. Bynumâ€™s length helps him grab those boards.
But two things are different when Kwame is on the court compared to Bynum, one measurable, one an observation.
First, when Kwame is playing the Laker offense has been better, to the tune of 5.2 points per 100 possessions. Or, look at it this way: When the regular five starters (Smush, Kobe, Walton and Odom) are paired with Bynum they outscore opponents by 1.1 points per 48 minutes, but put Brown in with them and its 4.5 points. Itâ€™s not shooting; their shooting percentages are almost identical (55.9 for Drew, 56.1 for UPS). The difference is in how the offense seems to flow with them â€” Kwame has about 16.8% of his possessions end in an assist while 15.7% end in a turnover, but for Bynum it is 12.6% assists and 18% turnovers. Itâ€™s not a lot, about one more turnover per game, but itâ€™s a sign of what happens.
The observation is that Kwame has become fairly consistent. He still has bad games (see Charlotte) but those are fewer and father between. Bynum is a 19-year-old roller coaster who seems to get up for the challenges but can slack off in games where he doesnâ€™t see that challenge.
One other thing we canâ€™t overlook is that Brownâ€™s injury will mean more time for Ronny Turiaf â€” when he was paired with the regular starting four they outscored opponents by an average of 44 points per 48 minutes. Turiaf makes some young mistakes as well, but the energy he brings is infectious and the second unit should thrive with him in there playing more minutes.
Hopefully the time on the bench and the chance to prove himself again will spark Bynum and keep that fire lit for a couple of weeks. We need it, because two weeks without two starters â€” and a few tough games â€” is going to be a very challenging stretch.