Injury Bug Bites Again, Metta World Peace Out with Torn Meniscus

Darius Soriano —  March 26, 2013

UPDATE: The Lakers released more information about Ron’s injury and recovery timetable and it’s not good:

This, of course, was always a possibility but now that it’s official it is dispiriting. Barring what would right now look to be an unlikely run in the playoffs, Ron’s season is over.

The hits keep on coming. This time, it’s the player I still affectionately call Ron who has been bit by the injury bug. As we mentioned in our game recap, Ron sat out the 2nd half of Monday’s game against the Warriors with what was being called a strained knee. Today he received and MRI in Minnesota and the news was not good:

Another in a long line of injuries this season. This one, just like the others, poses a real problem for the Lakers in both the short an the long term.

As we’ve discussed several times before, the Lakers are already thin on the wing. While the Lakers have several guards who can play on the wing (Kobe, Meeks, Blake), Ron is the only true small forward who has played any substantial role this season. He’s a vital rotation player if only because of the position he plays and the minutes he soaks up as a viable two way player. For a team that’s as top heavy and as shallow at certain positions as the Lakers, these middle tier role players who’ve earned minutes are nearly as indispensable as the big four.

Beyond the minutes, though, Ron’s also been an underrated performer in terms of how his on court performance has translated to team success. When Ron is on the floor, the Lakers’ offensive efficiency is 5.1 points better than when he’s on the bench. On defense, he has a similar impact as the team’s defensive efficiency is 4.8 points better when he’s on the floor than when he’s on the bench. These splits — especially on defense — are some of the best on the team and represent a player who clearly impacts team performance even if he’s had his ups and downs as an individual performer.

Where the team goes from here is an open question but my instinct says that we’ll see a combination of three “solutions”:

  1. More Kobe at SF in lineups that feature Meeks or Blake at shooting guard. These lineups have already been a staple this season and more of them isn’t a disruption.
  2. Earl Clark’s return to the rotation. When Clark was at his best, he was playing PF on defense and SF on defense with Ron guarding opposing bigs like Boozer, Ibaka, Al Horford, etc. Moving Clark back into the fold is also a move that does little to disrupt what the team has done in the past and would allow guys like Meeks and Blake to continue in roles most familiar to them.
  3. More Jamison at SF playing in lineups that feature the other core four. Jamison offers the weakest defense of the group but he’s also a player who has been guarding more wings lately while offering the type of offensive game D’Antoni would prefer from a “wing”.

What I don’t expect is for Ebanks or any of the other players who have been out of the rotation to suddenly be thrust into action. Whether you think those players deserve a shot or not, the Lakers are in the stretch run and fighting for their playoff lives. Asking players to jump into the most pressure packed games of the season and play contributing roles as a rotation player is a lot to ask. I’d add that every player on the bench, but especially *Ebanks and Morris, have had opportunities to play good minutes this year and didn’t do a lot to show they would be long term rotation players.

Nor do I expect the Lakers to sign a street free agent (Chris Douglas-Roberts and Donte Green come to mind right away) to try and fill this void. My position is that if the Lakers aren’t going to use guys on their own roster, they’re definitely not going to use guys off the street who don’t know the team’s system nor earned the trust of the coaching staff to become even a spot rotation player. A free agent could serve as a practice body, however, and a 10-day contract could be handed out for that purpose. But I certainly don’t envision any player coming off the street and playing minutes. Not for a coach who played a 7 man rotation on back to back nights just a week ago.

So, here the Lakers are. Without their starting SF who doubles as one of their most competitive players and best all around defenders. In a year that’s seen all but two of the Lakers’ top 10 rotation players miss time (Meeks and Clark are all that’s left after Ron’s gone down) it’s par for the course. But that doesn’t make it any easier and, considering all that the team is playing for down the stretch, the timing couldn’t be worse. Get well soon, Ron. The team will miss you sorely.

*Ebanks is a tricky player to discuss because he’s flashed solid skills in some of the games he’s played. His performance against the Knicks on Christmas comes to mind as does his performance against the Thunder last season where he flashed good defense against Kevin Durant. That said, he’s also not shown any sort of consistency in his game and has had the types of mental lapses on both sides of the ball that drive coaches crazy. He’s also had some off the court issues that, while not acknowledged officially by the team, likely play into the perception internally that he’s not yet a mature enough player to handle a full time role. I understand that fans have had high hopes for Ebanks, but the fact is that his performance to this point in his career doesn’t warrant a larger commitment to him. Especially considering what he’s actually done with minutes he’s gotten this year. 

Darius Soriano

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