Open Questions On Potential Pitfalls

Darius Soriano —  September 13, 2012

A popular thing to do right now is to openly question why the Lakers won’t win. Just ask Mark Cuban. And while I don’t agree with Cuban’s grasping-at-straws question of players “not wanting to be there”, I do understand that nothing is set in stone for a team that’s yet to practice together, much less play a game. Handing the Lakers any title beyond “one of the most talented teams” is a reach in its own right as there are still things that can go wrong with questions that need to be answered and sorted out.

So, while many are rightfully high on this group of Lakers it doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns when looking at the team. Below are X things that are at the front of my mind when taking a critical look at this roster:

  • Can Kobe and Steve Nash’s minutes be kept down? I’m not as concerned about how “old” these guys are as much as I’m concerned about making sure they don’t play heavy minutes. Last season Mike Brown showed a penchant for leaning on his best players for heavy minutes in the pursuit of wins that, in the end, didn’t matter as much as the freshness of his player’s legs.

We’ve already talked about Nash in the context of improving the players around him, but if we’re being honest we must also account for the fact that he can’t play 48 minutes to help every player at all times. His optimal minutes per game will likely hover around 30 per contest and Brown will need to find ways to maximize Nash (and the players he shares the floor with) in those minutes in order to not him down.

As for Kobe, Jodie Meeks will aid in cutting Kobe’s minutes at shooting guard. However, with the Lakers’ small forward depth chart currently consisting of Ron-Ron and Devin Ebanks, there may be a need to slide Kobe up to SF to soak up some of those minutes if either player isn’t performing up to standard (or if injury strikes *knocks on wood*). Managing Kobe’s minutes and making sure he’s not over extended will be key to how well this team plays late in the year. Getting a handle on this from the outset of the season is important.

  • Building on the question about Nash’s minutes, who will win the back up point guard job? Steve Blake is the incumbent and Brown clearly trusts him. Down the stretch of last season, Brown closed games with Blake over Sessions and at times even went to a small backcourt with Blake at SG rather than play Ebanks or Barnes in that spot. However, Chris Duhon came over in the Dwight Howard trade and Darius Morris showed signs of improvement in Summer League and is said to be working on his game a great deal in the lead up to this season.

One of these three players will need to seize the job because Nash will need his rest. None of them are perfect solutions as all possess severe flaws in their game that can make them liabilities when playing too much. However, (and this is a point I”ll make again later) it’s important that Brown decide who’s going to be his main guy and not jerk players’ minutes around. Last season Brown couldn’t decide on a small forward rotation early in the season and the uncertainty didn’t do any of those players any favors. Ebanks went from starting to never playing, Barnes went from not playing to starting to being the steady back up, and Ron went from second unit leader to first unit 5th option. Having a similar role reversal play out in the fight for back up PG minutes needs to be avoided.

  • How will the big man rotation shake out? Last season Mike Brown tried to play a four man rotation with his big men and admittedly struggled with it. At the start of the season he commented that both Murphy and McRoberts had earned the chance to play and he tried to get both on the floor in various combinations with Bynum and Gasol. Ultimately, this approach failed — for a variety of reasons I should add — and it wasn’t until Jordan Hill cracked the rotation that Brown settled on a three man shuffle that he didn’t waver from.

Next season, Brown again will enter the campaign with a group of 4 bigs that will all deserve minutes. Jamison will offer sorely needed scoring punch as a stretch PF while Hill’s defense and rebounding will fit nicely in a variety of lineups. However, Brown only has 96 PF/C minutes to dole out each night and finding the right balance will take a lot of thought and discipline. Brown may find some reprieve from this challenge while Howard is unavailable, but once he returns roles will need to be sussed out and stuck to. The jerking around of minutes can’t continue but players that can contribute positively must also find a way onto the floor to help the team and keep the players’ minutes manageable.

——–

While the list above is heavy on questions regarding Mike Brown, the reserves, and his rotations, these aren’t the only open questions. Dealing with injuries — both known (Dwight Howard) and unknown (will the Lakers stay healthy?) loom large. How quickly the players pick up new schemes, integrating Howard once he returns, and finding the right balance between structure and freelancing on offense will also need to be sorted out.

As it stands, the Lakers are a finished product on paper but a bunch of scattered puzzle pieces in terms of actual on court play. Time will tell how quickly and to what extent (if at all) they put it together.

Darius Soriano

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24 responses to Open Questions On Potential Pitfalls

  1. PG Minutes: if the Lakers don’t sign Barbosa I’m sure Morris will win that battle.

    SF Minutes: If Ebanks doesn’t develope a three point shot Jamison will take those minutes against teams that don’t have an offensive option at the SF.

    PF Minutes: Again… Jamison will only play when when he doesn’t have anyone to defend. I wouldn’t be suprised to see Jamison play a lot less than people expect. Jordan Hill is an up and coming PF in this league. From a PER stand point he has been better than Jamison for his entire career and this isn’t counting defense. Jamison’s biggest (maybe only strength) is he can generate his own offense and that’s something the Lakers have many times over. Plus he isn’t the great floor spacer people tend to think he is… The guy shoots lower than 35 percent from three. I do think there are match ups where Jamison should play over Hill but I think they will be few and far between.

  2. darius: fly on the wall is an expression one uses when they wish they were one when it came time to be in a place in an inconspicuous way. wish we were a couple of flies on the laker front office wall when discussions between prospective coach brown and mitch kupchak and jim buss were taking place last year. which of course implies what kind of salesman, i mean motivational speaker does it take to land the laker head coaching job?

    also, when one surrounds themselves w/experience; one only need be a motivating factor in order to get things done in the right way. right way, in this regard means winning an nba championship.

    like the beeping sound we hear at a crosswalk, like a buoy at sea, like a lighthouse beacon; continue to be that navigating force; to be in the ear of laker front office to help guide the motivator we call coach brown. otherwise we wouldn’t be doing our thankless jobs. money? we don’t need money, the payoff is the obvious.

    Go Lakers !

  3. One can openly question how much improvement this team’s 3 point shooting will be, who’s role is what and how fast will they mesh.

    Three of Lakers starters shot under 32% last year from three. Kobe 30% Pau 25% (He will be asked to space the floor and take 3s in the Princeton) Metta 29%. Lakers picked up players who can improve that Nash, Meeks, Jamison. Sliding Kobe to the 3 and Meeks to the 2 will help offensively but Kobe will have to guard bigger guys and he just shed 15 pounds that’ll be a struggle. If we put in Jamison means Pau is on the bench takes away our size and rebound advantage. There’s some questions as to how well better our 3 point shooting without suffering in other areas.

    Metta is the second most important player in the starting 5. He can NOT shoot 29% AND give up the goods on defense. SF is our weak spot.

    Chemistry and gelling together will take time with at least 5 new players, 3 new coaches and a new offense. The pieces can fit exactly and we can start off just as strong as the 08 Celtics or we can struggle to find our identity like the 11 Heat. I think the pieces fit extremely well and the team will gel. From day 1 when Garnett went to the Celtics all those players were committed same has to happen here. Give Nash the ball, let Eddie Jordan define your roles and communicate and be a string on defense.

  4. Eddie Jordan had Keith Van Horn and Jamison as his PFs in NJ and Washington. Those players can spread the floor and shoot 3s well. What should give us hope is Carrill described Jordan as being very capable in being able to adapt his offense around his players strengths (what Adelman gets praised for). He lauded Jordan for how well he made Kenyon better. I just hope he finds a way to have Pau and Dwight be around the paint more than out 16 ft away from the basket creating space.

    Lakers won’t lose much of a rebounding advantage with Dwight in the fold now. But I very much like a combo of Pau-Dwight over any big combo on the roster.

  5. - With the Princeton offense, and assuming Gasol gets plenty of minutes with the second unit, I think Barbosa would be a great fit as the backup PG. Barbosa might not be a true PG, but he has all the skills to thrive in this system, especially with the offense revolving around a great passer like Gasol. He can hit the outside shot, make cuts, play in transition, and even play some P&R. Im hoping Ebanks comes into camp with an improved three point shot, but even if he doesn’t, Meeks, Barbosa and Jamison would spread the floor nicely for Pau, and I can see Barbosa, Meeks and Ebanks making good targets as cutters for Pau to pass to.

    - Now that the bench issues have been addressed, my biggest concern for this season is still lack of team speed and poor floor spacing with the twin towers. Although these areas have improved, come playoff time, the strategy against the Lakers will likely be to trap Nash or Kobe whenever they initiate the P&R, pack in the paint on D, and run at every opportunity. This strategy will leave Artest and Gasol with plenty of open perimeter shots. If they can consistently hit those shots, I like our chances.

  6. Brown has to resist the temptation to play his starters big minutes if the team gets off to a slow start. How important is the overall best record? Is a top 4 seed in the West enough? Etc. They should be clear on the expectations for those goals before the season starts and not panic if Forum Blue and Golders and the talking heads go nuts and call for Mike Brown’s scalp if it takes them awhile to find their way as a team.

  7. Too many PGs, too few SFs. An injury to any one of KB, Metta, Ebanks *or* Meeks severely compromises our wing position.
    Hopefully, the FO is working to address this. Unless they plan to utilize Jamison or Clark at SF.

  8. i would be shocked if brown gives nash free rein outside of early offense.

  9. I think we can conclude Laker nation has much skepticism about Mikey Browns method and style. If we lose this season and Mikey Brown does what he has tendencies too do like ; not having a consistent rotation for role players, micro managing the offense, making his players nervous(i.e LBJ), encouraging hero basketball(i.e LBJ and Kobe who shot the most shots he had in years and the lowest percentage since his rookie year. Which was a result of Mikey Brown relying on Kobe to be a hero),and getting thoroughly outcoached in big games.

    Jimmy Buss is going to have to do with what he did with his favorite Andrew Bynum, release and fire Mikey Brown.

  10. Lakers should release Steve Blake and pickup Barbosa

  11. We can still use an amnesty, so it will be interesting to see if it will be used.

  12. chibi: Nash is smart enough. He let LeBron do it for 6 years.

    any_one_mouse: forgot about clark. Is he any good? Haven’t seen too much of him.

  13. @peter:

    The amnesty window is closed till next summer. So no possibility of amnestying Blake, or anyone else for that matter.

  14. Adding Steve and Dwight to the starting 5 clearly makes the Lakers a completely different team. Looking at the rest of the roster, it’s not clear that the makeover is yet complete.

    As #7 pointed out, the roster is out of balance: 6 pg’s and 2 returning SF’s. I’d add that we have 3 PF’s, but no true backup center. The SF shortage may be illusory if Earl Clark lives up to a defensive opportunity–and the Lakers already have a potential backup center in camp. The pg overabundance may be unprecedented. Finding the right combination of pg’s may be the key to the season.

    My own guess is that the Lakers will end up with 4 pg’s: 2 veterans and 2 youngsters, but I’m not sure who those players will be. The right combination might not fully work itself out until the trading deadline.

    The deeper problem is “chemistry” and “compatibility”–a spiritual makeover–a blend of youth, experience, and role players that know their roles.

    I still see some tweaking, but it should be interesting–maybe even fun!

  15. Howard will miss the start of camp (maybe everyone has already read that).

  16. howard missing is actually good news since at least it means he won’t be rushed back (not that I thought he would).

    Also that means that Howard has all the more reason to defer and accept a lesser role (or whatever role he’s given) since he won’t be joining the team from the get-go. Again, not that I think it would be a problem, but all the better.

    The downside is of course the lack of time to get our true starting five going and the possibility of taxing our oldest 4 members of the starting 5, but hopefully Brown will consider last season a lesson learned and manage minutes more deliberately.

  17. Since no one has mentioned it thus far I will.

    Question #1: currently Kobe is 5th on the NBA all-time scoring list with 29,484 points. Wilt is 4th with 31,419. Kobe would have to average 24.2 ppg over 80 games to pass Wilt for 4th place. How much does this mean to Kobe? (It would also put him within 900 points of Jordan for 3rd place in the following season).

    Question #2: with the offensive firepower on this team, does anyone need to average 24+ ppg? Kobe’s career average is 25.4 ppg in the regular season. The last time Kobe averaged less than 24 ppg was in the 1999-2000 season as a 21 year old playing next to Shaq on his way to his 1st NBA championship (his .468 fg% that season was the 2nd highest of his career).

    Question #3: with said firepower, does anyone on this team need to average more than 20 fga’s per game? Kobe has averaged less than 20 fga’s per game only once in the last 12 seasons (18.1fga’s in 03-04).

    Sometimes less is more. Kobe averaging less than 24 ppg and taking less than 20 fga’s pg and hopefully playing no more than 33 minutes per game could be a major factor in making this Laker team a championship one.

  18. Can we still trade? Maybe package Blake and Clark for an average SF. Would be perfect to open up minutes at the most clogged position and provide a healthy body to soak up some of Ebanks/MWP’s minutes. If not… then:

    PG: Nash 30, Blake 10, Morris 6-8, Duhon garbage (pun intended).
    SG: Kobe 30, Meeks 12~15, Goudelock/Morris garbage time.
    SF: MWP 28, Ebanks 20. Maybe a dash of Kobe here and there.
    Big dudes: Howard 35, Gasol 30, Hill 15, Jamison 12, Sacre/Clark 4 for leftovers and apprenticeship.

    And we land an honorable 3rd seed. Or I hope… push comes to shove, Brown will have Kobe/Howard/Gasol getting close to 40 minutes a game.

  19. I have to admit, I think a lot of the handwringing you see about whether Kobe is willing to adjust his game is, well, kind of comical–*since he’s already shown, repeatedly and over a period of years, that he’s perfectly willing and able to do it in what he considers the right circumstances.* (Not to suggest he’s a perfect teammate 24/7–who is?–but the idea that he won’t or can’t adjust is BS.)

    BigCitySid mentions above that the last time Kobe’s FGAs dipped below 20/game was 2003-2004. That was also the last time the Lakers loaded up with this many All-Star type talents. Coincidence? Highly doubtful. That team got to the finals, and would have had a shot to win without the injury to Malone. I doubt that Kobe has forgotten that.

  20. @BigCitySid,

    I don’t think (1) will matter much to Kobe. He’s got at least two more years – even if he averages 18 ppg, he’ll cross them both in that time.

  21. Howard and Nash are such unique talents,that I see a very different team on Off and Def when either one is off the floor.

  22. to all: most cable company providers are “franchised” and cover specific service areas. If the cable (other than time warner) or satellite provider you are currently using has not reached out to you to let you know whether they will provide laker games to you, common sense says that there are negotations under way at this time to make this happen, or not.

    the understanding here is that direct tv (satellite) provider is working w/time warner and hopefully something will be in place around oct 7th. not sure about “franchised” cable providers but a telephone call to your provider should offer some answer.

    certain that bundled packages, tiers, etc will be the jargon used to describe the reasons why there is a wait see attitude before your provider can/will make televised laker games available to you. what this always boils down to is money, divided by demand.

    thing to remember, before we bust a gut, pop a blood vessel or experience some form of stroke, take a deep breath, take several deep breaths and make that call, scream if you must.

    i don’t in any way work or am affiliated w/direct tv; having said that, if direct tv makes that contract w/time warner before my cable provider (charter cable); bye bye charter, hello direct tv.

    pass it down, pass it up, pass it sideways before we laker fans pass out.

    Go Lakers !

  23. @Aaron, so Jamison will only play when hedoesnt have to guard anyone, but you want to sign Barbosa to play and guard point guards?

  24. Realist Lakers Fan September 16, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Hey all. Im new to commenting on this post. But I have been reading F&G for almost 3 yrs now.

    I just put together something ppl might be pondering over. How many shots do players get this season.

    Lakers Last year shot on avg 80shots per game. With that said, lets guestimate how many shots per game (spg) .

    Kobe: It is likely Kobe wont be shooting less than 20 spg unless its a blowout and he’s sitting out the 4th qtr. So lets assume he still shoots around 20-22 spg. Most of which will be coming around screens to catch and shoot or spot up shooting (He had 23 spg last season).

    Nash: 9 spg last season. I think it will drop to approx 6-8 shots with the Lakers.

    D12: Last season jacked up 14 spg (which ironically is approx the same number of shots as Bynum). It is likely to be the same this season.

    Pau: 14 spg last season. will also stay around the same.

    That leaves approx. 22 shots. (taking the highest adds to 58 shots)

    I expect Metta World Peace to shoot around 5. Which leaves 17 shots for the bench. If Mike Brown goes with a 9-10 man rotation. it gives each bench player to atleast 3-4 shots each.

    So it is likely Kobe will still avg around 25-26ppg and will move up to 4th in all time scoring by seasons end.

    Remember this is taking into account that the games are close that all players get to play their usual minutes (i.e. all 4 qtrs).