Apparently the Lakers coaching staff is thinking like some commenters on this blog have been — they want to consider Lamar Odom coming off the bench this year. And apparently Odom is game for the idea, making a sort of Manu-like role for himself.
While I’ve been in the “let’s start the big five and see how they mesh before we decide it won’t work camp,” I’ll admit that Odom coming off the bench has what Ziller aptly described as “delightful possibilities.” Odom is the key to the Lakers versatility this year, and the fact that he could come off the bench and play the two, three or four gives Phil Jackson a host of match up possibilities.
But all of those possibilities hinge on one idea — Trevor Ariza has to earn that starting spot.
The question is not at the defensive end of the floor, where he will guard the best opposing two or three (or, at least switch off with Kobe on that task). To have two good wing defenders with Bynum as a backstop would make for a potentially very good defense.
I’ll say this now and it will become my mantra for this season — the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them.
The question about Ariza is on offense — can he develop a jumper to help spread the floor? He shot just 33% eFG% on jumpers last year, and 27% from three for the season (although, when he got open threes with the Lakers, that improved to the Mendoza-line number of 33.3%). Ariza is explosive, he can run with the break an in the half court he gets to the hole (he had a very good true shooting percentage last season of 59.4% with the Lakers, think of that stat like points per shot attempt, and know Kobe was at 57.6%).
But teams are going to play off him on that weak side, they are going to try to take away the two man game, they will double Pau and Kobe off of him until he makes them pay with consistency from the outside. Rumor is he spent a lot of time this summer shooting jump shots, working on that part of his game. We will see.
The bottom line is that apparently the starting spot is there for the taking. I don’t think Walton or Radman can fill the role the Lakers want (remember the mantra about defense). Ariza can, if he has worked on his game, maybe he can grab that brass ring — and as this is a contract year for him it’s a good time to grab it.
If he does, the Lakers are better and deeper and the possibilities are delightful. If not, if Odom starts, the Lakers are still very, very good. Not a bad problem to have.
There were questions about some of the Lakers signings of the last couple weeks — CJ Giles, Dwayne Mitchell, Brandon Heath and Jelani McCoy. While I’ll give a brief bit of background, know that these guys are there to fill out the camp roster. They are looking to get noticed, maybe get a D-League spot or a good international gig. They will not end up on the roster, although they can fight for the last spot. By my count, the Lakers have 13 guys under guaranteed deals (counting Sun Yue) and want to carry 14 this season. That means these guys need to beat out Coby Karl and Joe Crawford to get that spot at the end of the bench, a very tough task. Because the Lakers are loaded with vets, they are likely to take a first or second-year player for that spot, someone who can split time with the D-Fenders and be called up in case of injury.
And, after watching Karl this summer, I think it will be hard to wrest that spot away from him.
Dwayne Mitchell is the one guy who, with a spectacular camp, maybe could get that spot. He is a very quick guard who last season averaged 20 ppg in the D-League for Iowa. He showed he can shoot in the Summer League, shooting 61.9% for the Lakers. He worked hard on defense, but I thought made a lot of mental mistakes to go with his good plays. If he can eliminate the mistakes, maybe he can fit as a PG. But, he’s 26 years old, how much will he really improve at this point?
CJ Giles is a big body —6-10, 220 — out of Oregon State. He had enough talent to be recruited to Kansas and enough problems to be kicked out of that school. So he went to Oregon State, and they kicked him off the team mid-season, in part for consistently showing up late to practice. He averaged 6.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 18.1 minutes this season for the Beavs. Maybe some of the other Pac-10 honks out there have a better memory of him than I do, what I remember is that he really didn’t stand out.
Brandon Heath essentially carried San Diego State two seasons ago. His shooting percentage of 50.6% (eFG%) his senior year is not bad considering the volume he had to shoot. Last season he played in France for Entente Orlean, where I imagine he ate well, at least. This summer he played for the Clips.
Jelani McCoy is a 31-year-old, 6-11 center formerly of UCLA and the Lakers. He spent some time with the D-Fenders last season. He has an NBA championship ring from the 01-02 Lakers, when he played in 21 games averaging 5 minutes per. He looked like a guy with a lot of potential as a rookie for Seattle many years ago, but that never panned out.