After Matt Barnes injured his knee in Friday’s game vs the Suns Hornets, Phil Jackson stated that he wasn’t optimistic about the injury. Turns out that Phil was right. It’s now been confirmed that Matt Barnes is going to need surgery on his injured right knee after an MRI revealed a torn lateral meniscus.
So what does this mean for the Lakers? While the recovery timeline can vary (and we’ll know more about that after the surgery is performed) we do know that Barnes is out the lineup and the team must continue on without him.
Obviously, this will be an issue. Barnes, despite being a reserve, has been the Lakers most productive small forward this season outpacing Artest in most statistical categories per 36 minutes while also having a higher PER. Barnes has also played very good defense holding the man he’s guarding to below league average PER when playing both small and power forward. Besides the production, though, where Barnes has really helped are in his hustle and athleticism. On a team that isn’t stacked with quickness or great athleticism on the wing, Barnes provided just that with his slashing and ability to fill the lane while running the court. Not to mention he’s been an integral part of the Lakers’ rotation, playing nearly 21 minutes a game.
And with Barnes out, those minutes will need to go to another player and the hope will be that the production will be replaced by whoever fills in.
The first (and easiest) way to try and replace Barnes will be with more Ron Artest. After all, Ron’s already getting the majority of the SF minutes each night (playing about 27 mpg), so an extra 5-8 minutes a night shouldn’t be too much of a problem for a guy that does keep himself in good physical condition. Plus, Ron would probably appreciate the extra run (though obviously not under these circumstances). In recent weeks, Ron has mentioned that he’d like to close more games – a role that Barnes (or Shannon) often fills as the second wing next to Kobe. And in a way, this “opportunity” may be just what Ron needs to get back on track and find some rhythm with his game. Last year, Ron often played without a viable back up and while his offense wasn’t any better than what he’s shown this year his focus and defense did have a bit more bite to it. Maybe with Matt out and with more minutes available to him, Ron can fall back into last year’s role and find a bit more comfort in his game.
The other obvious way to fill in for Barnes is to play that Kobe guy more. According to the fine folks at Land O’ Lakers, Kobe has stated that he’d have no problem taking on more minutes so it’s easy to imagine Kobe getting an additional 5-10 minutes a night as a SF than he’s had so far this season. Mind you, this doesn’t mean that Kobe will actually play 40-43 mintues a night (I expect Kobe to still be in that 33-38 minute range), but it does mean that more of his minutes will be at SF with Shannon Brown likely being the guy whose minutes increase the most.
As for the other options, unlike last year, Luke Walton is healthy and available for more run. In the past couple of games he’s been shooting the ball better and his feel for the offense hasn’t diminished at all while he’s been receiving DNP-CD’s. Walton is the least skilled defender of all the Laker wings, but he’s surely good for 5-10 minutes a night of trying hard on that side of the ball while still bringing his Triangle know-how. Where the Lakers can get some defense on the wing is in rookie Devin Ebanks. It’s been reported that the Lakers will recall Ebanks from his D-League assignment with the Bakersfield Jam so there’s always a chance that Phil turns to the rook for a short burst now and again as a guy to play tough D or infuse some athleticism and quickness into the lineup. Ebanks is probably the least likely player to be thrust into action (I see garbage time minutes and lots of practice time in his future, but not a lot of meaningful court time) but the young man does possess a solid skill set and has proven ready to play when Phil has called his number this year.
In the end, Barnes being out is a blow to the Lakers but not an insurmountable one. Small forward was a position (along with PG) that was giving the Lakers low-ish production and that was with Barnes’ contributions. So while the team may suffer some with him out it’s tough to say that it’s going to matter a great deal considering the team wasn’t relying on that position for stellar play each night. A combination of more Ron, some Kobe and Brown, and Luke should be enough to get this team what they need from the position each night. All that said, get well soon Matt. The team will need you for the stretch run.