Swapping Starters

Darius Soriano —  December 16, 2011

With many still focusing on the deal that wasn’t, then the one that was, and now waiting for the one that might be, it’s easy to forget about the guys that are actually here. This isn’t to say new players won’t be brought in – the Lakers have until the end of the day to use the trade exception from the Sasha Vujacic trade and have a year to use the TPE obtained in the Odom trade – and it’d be foolish to think Mitch isn’t still working the phones trying to fill out the rest of the roster. But with the season rapidly approaching, the emphasis on what the team looks like now should move front and center while wistful thoughts of what it could be recede to the background.

Plus, trading or signing players aren’t the only ways to change a roster around. Deciding who plays, how much, and when is also pretty important. And while fans wait for roster upheaval, the coaches are looking at ways to maximize the players currently on the team.

With that in mind, reports have surfaced that  Metta World Peace will move to the bench in favor of Matt Barnes running with the starting group. This is no small news as MWP has been a fixture in the starting line up nearly his entire career, though his move to a reserve role could be beneficial to the Lakers.

He’ll have more responsibility as a “leader” on the 2nd unit and will not have to share the ball as much with high usage, high need players like Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum. Relegating Artest to the corner to shoot spot up jumpers or giving him the occasional post touch doesn’t maximize the skill set of a player who over the span of his career has been a pretty dangerous offensive player. As he’s aged his effectiveness has waned, but the complexities of the Triangle and his struggles with fully grasping all the read and react actions certainly aided his decline offensively.

This isn’t to say the rosiest outcome is the only possibility. Giving MWP more free rein in the second unit could very well bring out some of the offensive traits that had Lakers’ fans concerned when he was originally acquired. The ball stopping, suspect shot taking wing player that Sacramento and Houston weren’t sad to see leave. I’m optimistic this won’t be the case as MWP has grown as a player in the past two seasons in LA – saying and doing the right thing more often than not.

Peace’s move, though, is only one half of this equation. Barnes will now find himself running with the first group and this should benefit his game and the Lakers. Barnes is more a natural low usage player who excels off the ball as a cutter and in going to the glass on offense. His instincts are to move into open space, and that quality will serve the first unit well when Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum draw the lion’s share of the defensive attention in half court sets.

Where Barnes will make an even bigger impact is in his ability to run the floor. Per Synergy Sports, 18% of Barnes’ shots came in transition (compared to only 11% for MWP), where he made 66% of his baskets. We all remember how often Barnes would receive a pass streaking ahead of the defense and with Brown emphasizing early offense and “attacking the shot clock”, Barnes can thrive as a lane filler looking for easy baskets. It remains to be seen if the rest of the starting group – who seem more comfortable playing a slow down game – will fully take advantage of dimension Barnes will add, but with the coaches preaching a sped up pace I’m cautiously optimistic they will.

The area where this swap may not go as well is on defense. MWP remains a top level defender. Per Synergy, he was the one of the elite wing stoppers in the NBA, allowing .62 points per play in isolation (26th in the league) and .80 points per play in spot up situations (2oth). Despite his slowing feet, MWP still has tremendous defensive instincts, poking the ball with regularity and showing great ability to close on shooters in a timely manner. And while Barnes is no slouch on D, his numbers aren’t close to MWP’s in these categories.

Whether this defensive drop off proves to be too large to compensate for other benefits on offense and on the backboards remains to be seen. But I do envision a net positive here. MWP should find a greater comfort zone playing on the 2nd unit (as well as operating in a scheme that’s more natural to him), and Barnes should fit in well with a group that doesn’t need another play maker, but rather someone that can better play off those that do have those skills.

Darius Soriano

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40 responses to Swapping Starters

  1. Rusty Shackleford December 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    While I find the adjustment intriguing I also shudder at the thought of the offense going through MWP when the 2nd unit is on the floor. Remeber how they struggled to score for long periods of time last season? Imagine MWP deciding to “take matters into his own hands” and try to be a volume scorer . . . At least Mike Brown won’t be so reluctant to call time outs.

  2. For those of you looking for something positive..

    The last time there was a lockout, this was the team that won it all:

    – Led by two 7-footers (ages 33 and 22) who had a great all-around game.
    – Started a 33-year old point guard.
    – Started an intelligent scorer on the wing who could score well without relying on his athleticism.
    – Their most productive big off the bench was a 24-year old power forward who stood 6’8?.
    – As a team they shot 33% from behind the arc and barely 70% at the free throw line.
    – Had experienced role players on the bench who had been in the league long enough to know their roles.

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/SAS/1999.html

    Let’s give this team a chance before we bury them.

  3. Darius, you know I’m going to proudly don my “Matt Barnes Will Kill You [now as a starter]” shirt. Great for Barnes, and hope MWP has really bought into being a sixth man. Also, been hearing some great things about Ebanks (from Kobe) but from other observers about his grasp of the offense, transition play, etc. That is definitely great to hear.

    Any word on how our rookies have been faring?

  4. This move obviously helps the second unit offensively as Artest despite what some people pretend to rememener the last coupes years was very effective with the offense running through him. Unfortunatley it will definitley hurt the first teams defense.

  5. I love this move for two reasons. First, last year’s starting unit was just old and slow. Barnes brings at least some pace and as Darius mentions, he is a good cutter. (Unfortunately, the Fisher piece remains a huge problem in terms of speed.) Second, not only does this allow MWP to play more to his offensive strength, saddling him with leadership responsibility will push him to be better. The thing I saw in him the last two years is that he was always trying to fit in. He wanted to be a team guy. He may not have figured out the triangle, but he never had the ‘I’m gonna get mine’ attitude some were concerned about. I think Brown will be a great coach for him.

    The Caracter injury is really unfortunate. I was really hoping to see how he had developed. I expect a better year from Blake and from Ebanks. McBobs will be a good fit.

    A key issue this season is going to be depth and minutes. With such a tight schedule, Brown’s going to need to get a lot of minutes from some of the other guys. I am with pretty much everyone else thinking the Lakers need another serviceable 1 and a 5 (unless McBobs can do fill in there).

  6. If the player formerly known as Ron Artest has not bought into coming off the bench as a sixth man, he’s doing a goo d job of pretending he has. From little bits and pieces of interviews from both Yahoo and ESPN, he said all the right things about how he’s looking forward to more responsibilities on the floor, taking on a leader role for the second unit, that sort of thing. So if he’s not pretending this attitude, great. He wasn’t really effective in the triangle offense, and he strikes me as the type of player who will play better simply from believing that he’s able to contribute more now.

    And if he is pretending, then… well, people tend to become what they pretend to be, right?

    (Side note: I had no idea how sad I was about the loss of basketball until it came back to me. I’m all giddy like a little school girl over here:) )

  7. This move has less to do with our starting unit’s speed, and more with the fact that the bench would have no legitimate leader with LO gone. Brown’s Cavs always played slower than most teams in the league (http://espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/teamstats/_/sort/paceFactor/year/2007) and he didn’t even have two seven-footers to wait for in order to run his offense through them. So yeah, this is more about bolstering the second unit rather than adding speed to the starting one.

  8. Igor @ 2: “Let’s give this team a chance before we bury them.”

    I love it! And couldn’t agree more.

  9. So – in the first paragraph of this post, there is mention of the Sasha V TPE and whether it will expire.

    This will probably expire and will show everyone that we are interested in dumping salary and also how worthless these things are (meaning we got nothing for LO).

    What time does it expire exactly? does it expire on Miami Heat eastern time, or LA Clipper western time?

    One thing for certain – the Lakers are on the clock.

  10. baron davis has cleared waivers.

  11. I’m gonna miss Lamar Odom. He gave the Lakers so much. It’s the shame that Mitch Kupchack tried to ship him off for Chris Paul. that would have been a very bad deal. You never trade big for small.

  12. Some people are real downers on this board….

  13. I think this is a good move. I like Mike Brown’s assertiveness and that he is implementing his own vision for the team. I like MWP’s atitude toward the move. I remember seeing an interview with Kobe in which he said that TAFKARA puts a lot of pressure on himself and so perhaps he’ll loosen up and let the game come to him and be the most important sub. I think he’ll thrive in the position and Barnes’ nose for the ball will finish up a lot of hoops. He has a lot of energy and he’ll do great. I still want more depth on the team but I’m not gonna be a whiny Laker fan. A lot of fans would kill for some of the players on our team so I’m very happy optimistic for them. I do think that the LO move was done a bit rashly, but we do have cards to play and there’s no reason that we can’t get a good return on the MLE. Anyway…it’s just ridiculous to just whine about the shortcomings on our team when many teams are much worse off.

  14. Yes, let’s use Sasha’s TE on any player possible just so it doesn’t go to waste and prove that Lakers aren’t dumping salary. Doesn’t matter how crappy the player is or if he’ll fit. Use it NAO! *sarcasm*

  15. @Jeremy

    You are right. The end of the basketball world must be near according to some of the comments being posted.

    I am reminded of a post from Craig a couple of weeks ago. In it, he basically reminded us that no one really knows how things will shake out. Great young teams don’t always turn the corner (think of Portland from a couple seasons ago). Old teams don’t always die when we think they should. In February of 2010 who thought Boston was going back to the Finals with an ailing Garnett while they were dropping games left and right? Lo and behold the playoffs came and they cut the “King’s” heart out. They nearly did it to Kobe (again) as well.

    The point is the Lakers don’t look like *the* team right now. But they don’t need to. They just need to focus on fine tuning their machine. For now, we just have to wait and see how it goes. I am willing to give Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak, and Mike Brown a chance to try to make it work. Personally, I’d love to see the “glamour boy” LA Lakers take a 2004 Pistons approach and kill teams with gritty defense and ruthlessly efficient offense.

    I have rooted for this team too long to start panicking now. Those last two banners haven’t even started to collect dust yet and fans are already losing their minds.

  16. JANERO PARGO was released!!!! I hope Mitch has his offer sheet ready to go!

  17. Apparently Bynum and Kobe were the standouts at the scrimmage which is no surprise as they are considered to be our best players. And I want this to be the first and last time we mention Kobe’s divorce on this site as it has nothing to do with basketball. The only person it would effect is obviously Pau Gasol as he is very sensitive on and off the court. How often will we hear Pau is struggling on the court because he is having a hard time dealing with Kobe’s divorce?

  18. Speaking of swapping, Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce….I Hear Kris Humphries is available Vanessa.

  19. i think a bench role will showcase MWP’s versatility. against athletic units, he can play the 4; against traditional units, he can play the 3.

    he can post up opposing 3s and create mismatches and open looks for guys like kapono, blake, and mcbob.

    against opposing 4s? he can at the very least bring them away from the basket, or try to run them off screens.

  20. Oh. Just heard about Kobe’s divorce. FYI, there are other sites (the gossip ones, I’m sure) that will be all over it. If you’d like to discuss it, I suggest you go there. Strongly suggest it, actually.

  21. LA times reports Kobe and wife filed for divorce. Looks like they already have a property and custody settlement agreement, so clearly this has been in the works for quite some time.

    I feel bad for his little girls. I’m sure this is terribly hard for both of them. I hope they all manage to get through this.

  22. T. Rogers,

    I’m with you there -especially your last 3 sentences.

    At this stage, I just want to see the ball hit the hardwood.

  23. johnhollinger John Hollinger
    Fairly shocked. Also, his back may have just miraculously healed. RT @WindhorstESPN Baron Davis has cleared amnesty waivers.
    30 minutes ago     

    If he was faking the back injury this is a no brainer for the Lakers. We would have the bad NBA starting PG we have always been asking for.

  24. Definitely agree that Baron Davis would be a great pick up. With the triangle gone, the Lakers will need someone to take some of the ball handling stress off of Kobe to help keep his knees. He’s certainly no Chris Paul, but Boomdizzle couldn’t hurt.

  25. If B.Diddy’s disc problems are real, his career is done. He would be another Luke on our roster.

  26. Smart move.
    We lost Odom & Brown and that gaves us a lot from the bench (most for the time).
    Artest has to show that fighting spirit to the bench and get it working, whilst we also have a Power Forward/Centre issue.
    I also think Barnes was better last season…
    We still need to use that trade exception, and do something. Unless we have Howard & Paul booked for next year, but I doubt Paul went to the Clip without preparing a contract extension.

  27. We have a real point guard problem that a lot of people aren’t talking about. But if we don’t take a shot at getting baron, arenas and/or Aaron brooks (in march) I’m going to be pissed.

  28. Hollinger said yesterday that there was an “0.01 percent chance” that no one claimed Davis.

  29. Pau says hi to the fanbase on Twitter:

    paugasol Pau Gasol
    Here you have a picture of me jumpimg on the floor at today’s scrimmage! Thanks for the amazing ovation! #Lakersfans
    7 minutes ago

    He will get a HUGE welcome on the 25th.

  30. I just hoope Kobe’s divorce will not turn his head around…

  31. Anyone go to the scrimmage today and wants to share a firsthand account?

    Here’s the lakers.com write-up if anyone hasn’t seen it yet http://blog.lakers.com/lakers/2011/12/16/lakers-intrasquad-scrimmage/

  32. Hollinger’s shocked because he used numbers to get to his conclusion and it failed.

    Pau deserves a huge ovation.

    Signing Baron Davis is intriguing, but I still get flashbacks to 04 Payton. No, we’re not playing the triangle, but I wonder how much penetration/blow-by ability Davis has left. I highly doubt he stayed in great shape throughout the lockout. But it’s definitely intriguing, if he’s really healthy and Kobe/Mike Brown can whip him into shape.

    But I’d say it’s more likely Davis goes to the Knicks. They need a PG as badly as we do.

  33. @ 28, I wouldn’t touch Arenas with a 10 foot pole. He had like one of the 3 worst fg percentages of all time last year. I don’t think he’s what we need at this point. I’m good with Brooks, but yes it would be March before we saw him and if I’m not sure would Phx still hold his restricted rights?

  34. So much buzz on Ebanks right now. But where does he play? Seems like Barnes will start, with Metta off the bench. Does Ebanks play the 2 off the pine? Or will he play the 3 with Metta playing the 4? A friend of mine was there and confirmed that he looked great during the scrimmage, and buffer. Would like to see him get some run.

  35. Was at Galen today,and most of the reports I`ve read are accurate. Ron and Walton were shooting too much, and Goudelock and Morris not enough. McRoberts is high energy but needs to take shots within the offense,instead of just throwing something up. Barnes was shooting with confidence from the corners. Watching Goudelock and Green warmup; they just don`t miss.Too bad Green`s head has never caught up with his body.

  36. No worries on the divorce. Stern is vetoing it for basketball reasons and taking over as Kobe’s and Vanessa’s marriage counselor.

  37. I swear this will be the only post I make on Kobe’s divorce and I can’t help it:

    1. If you thought Tyson Chandler got paid, wait till you see Vanessa Bryant.
    2. Stern will veto that divorce citing #basketballreasons

    ============================

    I like the move as it allows our team to distribute the talent. Seems like everyone is doing this now with SA keeping Manu healthy that way and taking control, with OKC doing a heck of a job using Harden with the same approach. If indeed Artest is fine with such a move, then I laud him coz that is probably the best move to do.

    Our bench needs a jolt with Lamar now a Maverick. Ron will actually thrive with this role since its most likely that he becomes the team’s best offensive weapon when the 2nd unit comes in. Barnes is a very effective cutter and role player but 1 thing I disagree with ya’ll is that Barnes’ D is actually very solid. While we all agree that he is no Ron, the benefit will be greater than the cost.

  38. Darius, what happens now to the Sasha’s TPE, is it gone for bad? Financially, it was luxury tax avoidance because it doesn’t add salaries in absence of a player to be paid. On Basketball POV, Lakers still need a defensive PG and facilitator. We can’t expect Fisher and Blake handle those job against young, nimble PG’s. I think this is the Lakers Achilles heel, good if Morris can also run with the veterans or make Kobe as a temporary PG.

    With regards to Kobe’s divorce, we have nothing to add or deduce to their personal decisions but I’m worried about the psychological effects on Kobe on the basketball court as another form distraction thinking of his children & a new life as a single person. Will it affect the Lakers, only time will tell. On the brighter side, now that he and Vanessa are separated, I’m sure the Bryant family will rally to his support. I noticed how they get detached from their son after the marriage to Vanessa in 2001.