With the Los Angeles Lakers one week away from starting out the season, we asked some of the FB&G contributors to answer a few questions in our first installment of 3-on-3.
Jeffrey King: I don’t think Lamar’s departure will have too drastic of an effect on Kobe, but I do see a possibility where Kobe could wear down as the season progresses. While we’re no longer using the triangle, Odom was one of the primary ball handlers and distributors in the offense, and his absence will only place more burden on Kobe in these areas. This will only be further exacerbated if Steve Blake continues to struggle or if the Lakers don’t acquire an impact point guard.
Emile Avanessian: Immensely. An unintended benefit of the lockout is that it provided Kobe Bryant with a greater opportunity to rest his achy knees (and whatever else is sore) than he’s had in some time. Odom’s departure totally negates that. Now Kobe must not only navigate his body through a brutal schedule, he will be called upon to do so as the Lakers’ only creator on offense.
J.M. Poulard: With Mike Brown on board, it’s more than likely that the Lakers will run a more classic offense (although parts of the Triangle will remain), which will require the guards to assume a lot of the ballhandling duties. Derek Fisher, Steve Blake and mostly Kobe Bryant will consequently be relied upon to get the team into the offense and to deliver the ball to scorers. Odom’s absence means that Kobe will have more heavy lifting to do as far as creating scoring opportunities for himself and others.
2. Andrew Bynum asked last season for a bigger role on offense with the team. With the reigning 6th man of the year now in Dallas, should the Lakers lean more on the center?
Jeffrey King: With Odom gone, Bynum will almost certainly be asked to play more than the 27.8 MPG he averaged last season, while still missing 28 games. While 24 of those were at the beginning of the season, Bynum still missed random games in the middle of the season due to wear and tear. Without Odom, the Lakers absolutely cannot afford to have Bynum missing random games, and he must play more minutes than in the past. So the question isn’t really whether the Lakers should lean more on Bynum on offense (and defense), the question is whether Bynum can handle the extra burden. Adding Josh McRoberts helps in some regard, but if the Lakers don’t acquire a backup C, Gasol will have to make up the 18 MPG at C.
Emile Avanessian: For the good of both this season and the future of the franchise, yes. Jim Buss has long proclaimed that Bynum is the future of the franchise, and paid him accordingly. Flashes of incredible dominance, to say nothing of his role in two championships and three conference titles in four years justified the team’s decision to refrain from swapping Bynum for Jason Kidd. The Lakers are now at another crossroads with their gifted young center.
With a condensed schedule, an aging Kobe, no Lamar Odom to step in where needed and a $16+ million decision looming next summer, it’s time to determine once and for all if Drew is a franchise cornerstone in the NBA.
J.M. Poulard: With Odom now in Dallas, part of the offensive burden should immediately fall on the shoulders of Bynum; but given the condensed schedule it’s possible that reducing his minutes and thus his workload may be a necessity for the team to make it to the postseason with any type of health.
Thus, it may behoove the Lakers to rely on rotation players such as Metta World Peace, Devin Ebanks, Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Josh McRoberts to name a few during the regular season to help carry the load. There will be nights when things look ugly but as long as they make it to late April with a healthy team, the strategy will have served its purpose.
3. Are the Lakers talented enough as presently constructed to win the West?
Jeffrey King: While I believe the Lakers are talented enough to win the championship, I do not think talent is the way to predict whether they’ll win the West in the regular season. With such a compressed schedule, depth will be the best predictor of regular season success, in my opinion. As presently constructed, the Lakers have two below average PGs, a below average backup SG, and no backup C. So no, I don’t believe the Lakers have the depth and youth to match teams like the Thunder and the Grizzlies.
Emile Avanessian: Technically yes, though I’d be reluctant to wager on them doing so. The Lakers’ top three still compares favorably with any trio in the NBA. However, as presently constituted, the remainder of roster lacks the quality to stack up against the best in the West.
Dallas goes at least seven (and up to nine) deep with quality NBAers – and Dirk is still Dirk. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City boasts not only one of the league’s best 1-2 punches, but great size and defensive prowess in both the front- and backcourt. Finally, last year’s sleeper, the Memphis Grizzlies, features the conference’s best front line and an ever-improving Mike Conley at the point.
Are the Lakers capable of winning three playoff series, presumably two of them against members of this group? Sure, but it’s an incredibly tall order with virtually no room for error.
J.M. Poulard: Although the positions are different, the Lakers are a mirror image of the 2010-11 Miami Heat. Indeed, they will have three players that will carry the bulk of the load for the team but once we get past the big guns, we’re not entirely sure what the supporting cast will bring. Nonetheless, there is enough talent on the team to make the NBA Finals and possibly win it.
The one area of concern mind you, is that much like the Heat last season, the 2011-12 Lakers are not built to sustain injuries, which are more than likely to occur during a shortened season. Ultimately, expect health to determine not only the seeding but also the team’s ability to advance in the postseason.