When I turned 7 years old, I went to Chuck E Cheese to celebrate my birthday. As one of my fondest childhood memories, I’ll never forget that birthday party. All my friends came, we pigged out on all the pizza we could eat, I got an awesome cake and tons of gifts, and I got to play all the games I wanted. That last point is key here: I loved playing arcade and parlor games as a kid. And that day, there was literally a beer pitcher filled with those copper looking tokens for me to run wild with. So, I filled my pocket with them and played every game I could to get a bunch of tickets that I’d later use to scoop up a bunch of goodies from their toy counter. Those crazy super balls that bounced a hundred feet in the air, a nerf hoop, a frisbee, all that stuff. I’ll never forget it.
One of my favorite games to play was whack-a-mole. You know the game, right? There’s that giant padded mallet and you smash down on these little toy moles that peak their heads out from the holes in the top of the machine. I loved smacking those moles in the head and watching the tickets stream out of the machine as a tally of my success. It was so much fun.
Yesterday, after the Toronto game, I got to thinking about that game I loved so much as a kid. And I realized that the Lakers season has become a big game of whack-a-mole. Only now that I’m an adult, that game’s not so much fun anymore.
You see, this Lakers team has issues. Their point guards aren’t productive, their small forwards can’t space the floor, their bench can’t score consistently, and their back up big men either don’t play very good defense (Murphy) or are too limited offensively to get any playing time (McRoberts). When you add in a big three that can’t play perfect every night, this team just can’t get out of its own way to win consistently.
And while the coaches are trying to address any one issue to the point that you hope it’s solved, another issue just seems to pop up. The return of Steve Blake is a perfect example. When Blake came back, the Lakers got another solid, ball handling guard to soak up minutes and help steady this team. Against Boston he played crunch time minutes in the 4th quarter and overtime and helped organize the Lakers offense while playing solid defense. By no means did Blake’s presence mean the Lakers PG issues were solved but he was part of the solution.
But, when Blake came back it meant that Andrew Goudelock moved back to shooting guard rather than getting his minutes at back up point guard. You see, while Blake was out, Goudelock thrived as a ball handling guard that could attack at any given moment because he had the ball in his hands at the beginning of every possession. His scoring provided needed bench production and his ability to create off the dribble in the P&R compromised the opposing defense and helped create open shots and offensive rebounding chances for his teammates. But now that Blake is back, Goudelock’s production has once again dipped and more resembles what he was giving the Lakers early in the year; production that found him on the bench and out of the rotation before Blake got hurt. And now that Goudelock’s play has suffered, the Lakers’ bench production has suffered too.
This is just one example of what’s been going on with the Lakers this season, but there are several more. The Murphy/McRoberts combination is another – during Bynum’s suspension, both back up big men were producing at a level that had Mike Brown on board with a 4 man rotation at PF/C once Bynum returned. However, now that Bynum’s back (and beasting on most nights), Brown has had issues sticking to that plan and is only playing one big man a night – Murphy. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the things that McRoberts is good at – providing energy, finishing at the rim in the half and open court, providing physical defense – weren’t Murphy’s weaknesses or if Murphy’s strengths – spacing the floor, defensive rebounding – weren’t things that McRoberts doesn’t do as well. But since that’s the case, whenever Brown plays one, a new deficiency pops up and must be dealt with.
I could go on with examples of Ebanks’ youth and inexperience, Barnes’ mostly good but sometimes spotty defense, and MWP’s offensive game but I think you get the point. The Lakers have several holes and on any given night one problem might seem solved only for another to pop up and put the game in jeopardy.
And so the season goes on, one big game of whack-a-mole. Except today, when the Lakers actually do play a complete game, we only feel relief and don’t get a shiny new nerf hoop to take home. Sometimes I wish I was 7 again.