The Gift & the Curse of Improved Depth on the Perimeter

Darius Soriano —  August 21, 2013

The Lakers had one of the most eventful off-seasons in the entire NBA. Not only did Dwight Howard walk, but Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark will also all wear different uniforms next season. Add in the minor departures of Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, and Andrew Goudelock, and the team’s roster has once again turned over by nearly half.

In seeking to replace the players that have departed, the Lakers did well in grabbing several low cost veterans who not only have something to prove, but can provide various levels of usefulness to a team that needed a lot of every type of skill imaginable to improve the core of the roster.

The major upgrades came on the perimeter where *Metta, Duhon, Morris, and Goudelock have been replaced by Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, and Wesley Johnson. Of the four former Lakers, only MWP was a viable rotation player while the hope is that all three of the new group will see some playing time and contribute to the team’s success. But, while the new trio on the wing look to provide a solution to last season’s quality issues on the wing, they also create a new problem that will need addressing.

In a chat with ESPN LA’s Dave McMenamin, Jodie Meeks touched on it some when discussing his role on the team:

As this upcoming season approaches, all Meeks wants is that opportunity again. “In the exit interview I sat down with Coach [Mike] D’Antoni and [general manager] Mitch [Kupchak] and they just said I need to come into training camp basically hitting the ground running because we’re not sure when Kobe will be back exactly,” Meeks said.

Not that the job is automatically his in Bryant’s absence. In the offseason the Lakers signed Nick Young, a talented wing player who is a natural shooting guard but could be relied on to play more small forward with Metta World Peace now in New York. They also brought in Jordan Farmar, who can play both guard spots. And of course there are still the Steves — Nash and Blake — who will command minutes in the backcourt.

Even though D’Antoni has vowed to play an 11-man rotation next season, Meeks knows that it’s not realistic to think all six guards will get consistent playing time.

It’s that last point that sticks out like a sore thumb. Let’s face it, last season, while they had some tangible use on the floor (Morris was one of the better perimeter defenders on the team, Duhon proved to be a capable shooter), some of the guys who saw minutes on the perimeter should not have been playing. Them being in the lineup at all was due to the rash of injuries that hit the team’s back court, but that doesn’t change the fact that it would have been preferable those guys not see minutes.

Next season, though, the team shouldn’t have that problem. Of the three new signees, only Johnson has yet to prove himself as a viable rotation player, but as a former high lottery pick with physical tools to impact the game (especially defensively) he’ll be given more rope to pan out as a contributor. With Farmar and Young, both of those players are fringe starters and quality backups who, while possessing faults and holes in their games, can soak up minutes when asked.

The question, as Meeks points out, is whether there will be minutes to soak up and, if there are, how many there will be.

As McMenamin points out, the team already has Nash and Blake as key contributors. At some point, Kobe will be back in the fold and take his place as an anchor in multiple lineups. Combined, those three players will likely snatch up anywhere from 60 to 75 of the 96 minutes at the two back court positions. That number can be adjusted by sliding Kobe up to SF, but that then creates a bit of a log jam at that spot since it’s very likely that Young and Johnson will see the majority of their minutes there.

Looking ahead, this has the potential of being a real issue for Mike D’Antoni to work through. It’s easy to see the merits of why most of these guys should see floor time. Nash and Kobe are team stalwarts. Blake is coming off his best season as a Laker and took well to D’Antoni’s schemes. Farmar brings a combination of skill and athleticism that no other point guard brings. Young offers scoring punch and a very valuable skill in shot creation. Johnson has the most defensive potential. Meanwhile, Meeks, while streaky, has the best three point stroke and has shown he can knock down open shots.

Add in the fact that, regardless of what he says about an 11 man rotation next year, D’Antoni has often found ways to keep his rotation short and there’s a strong possibility one or more of these players gets squeezed on minutes and ends up with a string of DNP-CD’s. My guess would be that Johnson and Meeks are the most likely candidates for that distinction, but only time will tell. But, regardless of who its, that’s just one more variable for D’Antoni to manage in a season, even with diminished expectations, will offer plenty of hurdles to clear.

*As I’ve written before, Metta will be missed as a key defensive player who still had some offensive pop to his game. So, it remains to be seen if Young (or Johnson) can really be an upgrade to what he brought to the team. That said, MWP’s transition to more of a small ball PF was already well underway last season and, I believe if he’s not been amnestied he’d likely see more minutes as PF than on the wing. Hence, the point of an “upgrade” may be a moot one anyway.

Darius Soriano

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27 responses to The Gift & the Curse of Improved Depth on the Perimeter

  1. Personally I’m not a big Steve Blake fan. He played well last year but I’d much rather have Jordan Famar as The first back up behind Nash. I actually didn’t think Meeks got enough playing time last year. This year there are a lot of guards but still no small forwards which is strange to me and why on a basketball level losing Metta World Peace sucks( financially its understandable).

  2. Jordan Farmer is going to be the starting point guard for the Lakers before the season ends. If Jeremy Lin could thrive in a D’Antoni offense, I see great things happening for Farmer who is a better player.

  3. We will soon see if the Lakers want to tank or try and make the playoffs. If you see Farmar playing less minutes than Nash and Kaman playing more minutes than Jordan Hill you can bet the Lakers are in full tanking mode. Those are the little things that can show the true intentions of a franchise. Every FO says they aren’t tanking. Nobody admits to it. The Celtics haven’t admitted to it. The fact that a organization says they aren’t tanking is pretty much a Good indicator that they are tanking. The only teams that have announced they aren’t tanking (Lakers, Celtics, 76ers) are the ones who sure look like they are tanking.

    Of course if one is on some sort of super HGH and is remarkable a quality player this season against all odds and the lakers start winning games… I wouldn’t be suprised to see Kobe play very few minutes “to keep him healthy” or have to sit out a big church of the season due to a mysterious injury. But based on Kobe’s surgery it won’t come do that. As every player before him at best was only half the player he was before that surgery.

  4. Bottom line…The health and how much the big 3 can give the Lakers….

  5. I have a feeling the Lakers will have to make a trade. There’s just too many capable guys. I think Blake will be the one to go.

  6. Rubenowski,
    you may have something there…
    _______
    MD´A is gonna have to do a hell of a juggling act, that´s for sure.

  7. Aaron,

    I think Kobe would be effective on offense if he were playing on one leg. Its not his athleticism that makes so effective there but his perfected craft. On defense I think hes going to be slower. I expect he will slide over to SF instead of guarding quicker Guards.

  8. Blake is insurance at PH and SH. If anyone goes its Meeks if early Young and Johnson show they can play both ways. No player missed more dead wide open 3 pointers or lay ups them Meeks last year.

    Ahhh. Other then Metta that is.

  9. im still sad about metta…weird to be more excited to watch the knicks than the lakers…metta my dude

  10. “There’s just too many capable guys” Funny – I am not clear at which part of our roster you are looking, because there is no part of it, where I get that feeling : )
    Metta: Yes – very sad to see him go as well. He was part of our soul. We really only have Kobe left (unless Pau rejuvenates himself) and if he does not pull off the miraculous recovery, I do not think people realize what things are going to be like.
    Purple: “MD´A is gonna have to do a hell of a juggling act, that´s for sure.” Juggling by definition requires keeping your focus and being able to balance 2 or more things simultaneously. Let’s not expect too much. How bout focusing on one thing and getting that right. Juggling is asking for way too much.
    Keno: Your right – “Purity” is mostly only found on the East Coast. And Northeast at that. They have it in NY and AC. Not in Atlanta or Tampa. However Tampa is the number one place for something else. I also like Double Cross.
    Kobe: He could be our best offensive threat even if he were on the sidelines on a stationary bike. The issue is going to be whether we can manage the timing of Kobe’s comeback and his minutes, relative to the fact that we will be in a state of depression without him.

  11. Vasheed,

    Kobe is very skilled.. But make no mistake about it… He needs every bit of the athletisism he still possesses to be productive offensivley.

  12. I think Farmar fits the system better then Nash but, I don’t see Nash not starting. Way too much history with MDA. I do see Farmar getting a lot of minutes and Blake relegated to the bench until injuries occur or traded.

    Jordan Hill I am a big fan of but I just don’t see him fitting in the starting line up. If he does Gasol will be playing out of position. I see that as better then playing Kaman and Gasol together. However, I’m predicting Kelly will be the surprise starter as MDA looks for alternative options to starting Hill.

  13. “However, I’m predicting Kelly will be the surprise starter as MDA looks for alternative options to starting Hill.”
    —-
    With Howard and Metta gone Hill is the last of the Lakers true defensive players. He is now the best defensive player on the roster. If the best defensive player on the roster can’t start, then there is a major defect in the team’s philosophy.

  14. Funny – I am not clear at which part of our roster you are looking, because there is no part of it, where I get that feeling : )

    Yeah. What the Lakers actually have is four small guards (Nash, Blake, Meeks, and Farmar) who will expect minutes. If Kobe is available, I would not play Blake and Meeks much at all. They are NBA players and should be on a roster somewhere, but I would let Nash and Farmar split the point, more or less, and use a three-man wing rotation of Kobe, Young, and Johnson–with each of them getting about 30-34 minutes, Kobe included. If MDA wants to go small, I think that he should play Farmar at the 2.

    Since both Blake and Meeks have one-year deals, they might be moveable. But they are not guys with much value.

  15. Farmar could easily fill a Poor Man’s Barbosa role in this offense–they have an undersized quick skittery style in common, and Farmar, last I saw, was at least an adequate, if streaky, shooter.

    Honestly though, if every single thing went right for this team:

    * Young/Johnson/Hill/Farmar/Meeks all play to 120% of our mutual expectations.
    * Kobe comes back nearly as good as before and plays more than 65 games.
    * Gasol plays like 2012 Olympics Gasol.
    * No serious injuries to the top 8 or 9 players.
    * Nash rolls back the clock a few years, even if only in limited minutes.
    * Kaman plays at an efficient level–say 13/9 per 36 minutes, although I expect him to average 22-26 minutes per game (so 8 & 6.5 real-world averages would be completely respectable).

    If all that happened, even if they won 4-6 games they didn’t deserve to and didn’t throw away stupid losses in December and January, they’re probably a 6-seed, maybe a 5. Barring a major Gasol-and-assorted-jetsam for a major piece or two blockbuster/theft, that’s the ceiling.

    On the other hand, if Johnson turns out to be Ebanks 2.0, and Kobe misses serious time or never recovers fully, and Farmar regresses, and Nash can’t stay healthy enough, we’re looking at a lot of ping pong balls next June.

    It sucks, because we’re spoiled and want them to contend every single year, but it’s going to be a roller coaster of a season. But the down years in 93-95 turned into a fairly good summer of 1996. So even if 2013-14 goes down the drain, the summer of 2014 should be, if nothing else, an interesting time to be a fan.

  16. JB,

    Good post. Like I have said a few times, the Lakers are high variance/low ceiling. It is pretty easy to see a scenario such that they go about 23-59. If things go well, they will win about as many as they did last year.

  17. Also, the Lakers won 48 games in 1994/95 and 53 games in 1995/96. Those teams, put together by Jerry West with mostly low draft picks and a couple of trades, were actually pretty good and laid the foundation for the threepeat.

  18. Another thing about Kobe and the offense is him losing athleticism hurts himself therefore hurts the offense. If all Kobe can do is post up effectively, that stops the offensive rhythm and D’Antoni’s principles. Pounding the ball trying to shot over somebody rather than ball movement will hurt the team, if he loses athleticism.

  19. Robert,

    “Capable” is not the same as being a great talent. Obviously Blake, Meeks, Farmar and Young are not elite, but they can be very capable role players. My point is just that if we have four guys that can contribute at a similar rate–a rate that’s not too great–then we can afford to ship one of them out so that we can pay less taxes. And why not ship out the one with the biggest contract?

    And by the way, I think Farmar is the “most capable” one out of those four. I hope he learns from Nash.

  20. We’re all assuming that Kobe will still be the facilitator in MDA’s offense. Remember that Nash wasn’t healthy and that’s what forced Kobe to assume such a role. I can see Kobe playing off the ball (with some post ups now and then or at the elbow). He will still be able to make some back cuts when his defender turns away from him. He’ll still be able to knock down the open jumper, specially if we do a lot of Nash/Farmar-Gasol pick and roll with Kobe on the opposite side. Kobe’s defender will either sag off him to help or leave Kobe open for the jumper. Will Kobe ever average 28+? Not likely, but I can see him averaging 23 or 24 in open jumpers, post ups and free throws…

    However, I do think that our ceiling is the 4th seed not because we will be much better than what everyone else thinks but because I believe that we are overrating our opponents. OKC, SAS and LAC will be better than us. Maybe MEM as well but I believe that their frontcourt is slowing down and we have a shot at the 4th seed. But I don’t think GSW and the rest of the Western conference are that much better than we are, if they’re better at all…

  21. @Aaron, Jay A – let’s get serious, I understand the doubts re Nash since he’s been injured, but Farmar a starter over a healthy Nash? Really? I get that there are some arguments that have to be made, and I get that one can find statistical proof for everything these days, but there are some things that are just common sense.

    If Nash / Farmar will play the actual PG role on offence, I understand that Farmar could thrive in the D’Antoni offense, but could he thrive more than Nash, the one that actually MADE the offense go? Come on.

    Let’s assume Kobe goes back to the PG role he played last year, who would you want as your de-facto SG, Nash of Farmar? Neither has any hope of containing the best PGs so from a defensive perspective it’s almost a wash, and from an offensive perspective it’s not even close. Nash in a landslide.

  22. Will the Lakers hire a shooting coach? A good shooting coaching coach, like a baseball hittng coach,can help a player correct the flaws. Since the Lakers will depend on 3`s, a good hire in this area is imperative.I still worry more about he defensive end. Depending on the injury situation, scoring will be there.

  23. Adrain,
    This is just a no brainer. Farmar is in the prime of his career and his advanced numbers with the Nets were much better than Nash’s last year (Nash ranked 33rd amongst PGs offensivley). If you take account for defense (half the game) its really no contest. Did you really call Nahsh/Farmar a wash defensivley? Steve will be 40 years old this upcoming season… I would say there is a 2 percent chance Nash is better than Farmar in 2014.

  24. We’re all assuming that Kobe will still be the facilitator in MDA’s offense.

    I don’t think anyone is assuming that, actually. Also, there is pretty much no chance that the Lakers will be as good as Houston and Golden State.

    Pounding the ball trying to shot over somebody rather than ball movement will hurt the team, if he loses athleticism.

    This is not something to worry about until Kobe actually shows that he can physically play, but D’Antoni needs to adjust to his personnel as much as vice versa, if not more. And, again, the Lakers’ biggest concern, if they are really trying to win as many games as possible this year, is having a decent defense.

  25. I couldn’t agree more with this article and what seems to be LeBron’s view on how to help his legacy by moving around to the teams that would best help him get as many championships as possible.

    How LeBron James Can Fulfill His Dream of Being NBA’s Greatest Ever
    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1745816-how-lebron-james-can-fulfill-his-dream-of-being-nbas-greatest-ever

  26. T. Rogers,

    In 1991 the NY Mets assembled a team featuring Bobby Bonilla. Anaylysts had them to be a sure fire Champion. A book was written I believe called “The best team money can buy” and that team failed in spectacular fashion. It was a star studded team of players who did not mesh very well together.

    Hill is a talented player but does not fit into the teams starting line up. On a generic level the Lakers will feature 3 guys spreading the floor and 2 filling the paint. One will be Gasol the other will likely be Bryant. Everyone else on the floor needs to have range. Hill does not provide that. But let just say the Lakers feature Hill and Gasol in the paint. Then the Lakers are pushing Gasol out of the low post towards the high post. This isn’t where Gasol is most efficient but that is what Hill excels at. Grabbing offensive boards and point blank put backs.

    Hill is the most shiny square peg in a round hole world. He can make an excellent contribution in line ups that will suit his talents but not in the Lakers starting line up.

  27. rr, you’re right about high variance/low ceiling. If it’s an unlucky year, they could bottom out at 20-25 wins easily. If it’s a lucky one, probably 45-47 is the absolute best.

    I think they’ll be ever-so-slightly better than our worst fears, quite honestly. Why? Because I’ve learned over the past 17 years not to doubt Kobe. Because Nash has some pride left in his game and will want to show that last year was a fluke. Because Gasol will have the post unclogged and be able to highlight the real strengths of his offensive game. Because I think Johnson and the rest of the young, minimum-salary bench have something to prove, if not to the coaches and fans, to other teams’ GMs for their next contract. And last but certainly not least, the value of a full training camp with the coaching staff that (I believe) they’ll go to war with this year and less turmoil generally on the coaching front.

    To that issue in particular, since no one’s really a big fan of MDA around here, I honestly think that unless he’s found in bed with a dead girl or live boy, he will finish out the season as coach. The buyout of the last two years of his contract is too high, and we all can dream of Phil Jackson, caviar, champagne, and championship trophies, it’s simply not going to happen before July, if ever (personally, I think it’s 25% chance or less). If all the free-agent/trade/signing wishes come true next year and they win the lottery, pick Wiggins, then LeBron, Melo, Boogie Cousins, and a clone of 20 year-old Magic Johnson all sign for the minimum plus unlimited Jack in the Box tacos, I’d rate a Phil comeback chance as fairly high.

    Like I said before, if nothing else, it’ll be interesting.