Archives For lamar odom

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Part deuce of our look at key stats for the upcoming season focuses on the bench corps. In case you missed it, check out our post on the starters too.

Lamar Odom: O/U 30 games as a starter
Fisher and Bryant are used to receiving props for their durability, but Odom proved that he belongs in the Lakers iron man conversation too after playing in all 82 games in 2009-2010. As the starting center on Team U.S.A. this summer, Lamar entered training camp this week with only a few weeks of rest. His load figures to be even heavier to start the season now that Bynum is out for at least the first few weeks, leaving Odom as the go-to starter. The Lakers have been able to weather his inconsistency as a sixth man the past two seasons, but will especially need Lamar to elevate his game while Andrew heals. Going off of Bynum’s own timeline, Odom is a virtual lock to start the first 15-20 games of the season. The Lakers can only hope it stays around that number and far away from the 38 games he started last season.

Sasha Vujacic: O/U 37% three-point shooting percentage
Sasha fell out of favor with Lakers coaches and unfortunately, back into the “practice player” label too as he only connected on 31% of his three-pointers during the regular season–down from his career average of 37%. Here’s hoping his much-improved performance in the final two rounds of the playoffs is more indicative of his play this season.

Luke Walton: O/U 70 games played
Luke was largely a forgotten man in last season’s championship run after appearing in only 29 games due to a pinched nerve in his back. Heading into 2009-2010, Walton’s troublesome back remains a bit of a ticking time bomb for the Lakers. Though they’ve proved that they can win without him, Luke’s expert knowledge of the offense is an undervalued commodity on a second unit that will be lacking triangle wherewithal. If his back holds up, it’d sure be nice to see him play close to a full season.

Matt Barnes: O/U 38% three-point shooting
The Lakers expect stellar defensive tenacity and intagibles out of Barnes, but they also need him to spread the floor from the three spot, similar to the player he’ll likely be subbing for the most—Artest. Matt shot 32% from beyond the arc during the regular season in 2009-2010, but improved to almost 38% during the playoffs—a trend that L.A. is hoping continues this season. Barnes proved himself a capable, if unspectacular offensive player during recent playoff runs with the Warriors and Magic, but finding consistency in his outside shooting will go a long way toward shoring up L.A.’s second unit this season.

Steve Blake: O/U 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio
Blake has been quietly dropping bombs from three point land for years now, hitting 40% of his treys last season (23rd in the league). However, equally important to the Lakers’ success this season will be his ability to lead the offense in a way that his predecessor Jordan Farmar never quite mastered. Blake ranked 13th in the league last season with a 2.97 assist-to-turnover ratio and could do a lot worse than replicating that number this season. Early reports out of training camp from Coach Jackson and Kobe indicate that Steve is already taking control of the team, which bodes well for next season.

Shannon Brown: O/U 2.5 assists
After a sub par regular season and playoff run for Shannon, his second full season with the Lakers is all about the other tricks in his bag. For starters, he can improve his nearly 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio—an ugly stat that is unfortunately mostly consistent with his inconsistent decision-making. When Brown first joined the forum blue and gold, there was preliminary talk about his ability to potentially supplant Fisher as the team’s starting point guard, thanks to his ball-handling and the strong potential he showed as a man-to-man defender. He obviously isn’t the answer the team is looking at the one spot anymore, but he remains a vital spark plug in the 20 minutes or so he plays off of the bench.

Theo Ratliff: O/U 1.5 blocks
Ratliff was a shot-blocking fiend during his prime and will be asked to recapture some of that magic as the Lakers’ third-string big man. With Andrew missing the first month of the season, Theo moves one rung up the ladder. At this stage of his career, Ratliff is a bit of a one trick pony, but his specialty—blocking shots—is something that L.A. despertaely needs from its second unit.

Derrick Caracter: O/U 275 lbs
So far, so good on the Derrick Caracter weight watch as the the versatile forward entered training camp in compliance with the team-mandated weight clause. The Lakers will certainly keep a close watch on his conditioning throughout the season, and if he sustains his motivation, he could get some quality burn even in Coach Jackson’s notoriously anti-rookie regime. The odds of this happening, of course, also depend on the collective health of Walton and Bynum.

Devin Ebanks: O/U 1.5 steals per 40 minutes
It’s difficult to pinpoint a stat for a player who isn’t expected to see much time on the floor this season, but I, along with the Lakers, view Ebanks as a potentially very strong defender in the same vein as Trevor Ariza. For that reason, it would be great to see him channel the former Lakers forward as a go-to defender on the wing, agile enough to guard some of the league’s larger point guards, but still sturdy enough to do battle with the NBA’s elite small forwards.

In Praise Of Team USA

Darius Soriano —  September 13, 2010

ISTANBUL, TYRKEY. SEPTEMBER 13, 2010. USA's Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom (L-R front) hold up the trophy as the US team celebrate their 81-64 victory over Turkey in the final of the 2010 FIBA World Championship at Istanbul's Sinan Erdem Dome. (Photo ITAR-TASS/ Roman Kruchinin) Photo via Newscom

Yesterday, Team USA did what many thought they could or would not do – they won the FIBA World Championships Tournament and cemented their status as the best basketball playing nation on the planet.  The American team defeated host nation Turkey 81-64 and cruised to the title by playing the type of pressure team defense and Kevin Durant fueled offense that carried them the entire tournament.  A hearty congratulations to the U.S. team.

This is a team that earned our respect for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost is the fact that many actually picked a different nation to claim this title.  With the U.S. not returning a single player from the 2008 Olympic gold medal team, many saw a young, inexperienced team, that lacked size and leadership.  Many labled them the B-team.  But, as Kevin Durant tweeted after the game: “B-team huh?? Haaaaa we got it done…US, seat pleasant, dc, oklahoma city…we did it for yall..GOLD MEDALIST”. 

Secondly, they played a brand of team basketball that many were unsure they could actually play.  Guys that many may see as second (or even third) tiered players that are asked to carry their NBA teams on most nights, abandoned any selfishness and contributed to wins by playing to their individual strengths that can sometimes be dormant when they put on their NBA jerseys for their respective teams stateside.  I mean, watching Andre Iguodala become a defensive and rebounding force while eschewing taking shots for the betterment of the team? Rudy Gay doing the same?  Eric Gordon hustling on defense to the point that he caused shot clock violations almost single handed?  Sure these players have shown in flashes that they are capable of playing this way, but to show a nearly complete committment to playing the role(s) that the coaches envisioned for them on a nightly basis was a great treat.  The fact that their perseverance was rewarded with the ultimate payoff only reinforces what the U.S. is capable of doing in international competition – regardless of the make up of the roster.

Below are a few notes on some of the players with some random thoughts gleaned from the gold medal game and the tournament as a whole:

*Kevin Durant is a monster.  I suppose you could say that we knew this already and that this is no revelation.  However, his performances in the elimination portion of the tournament were exceptional.  Not only was his scoring fantastic (99 points combines in the final 3 games) but his defense and rebounding were top shelf too.  Plus, his ability to raise his game in the big moments was just fantastic.  It seemed like any time the U.S. needed a big bucket, Durant was there to put the ball through the hoop.  Whether by driving to the hole, showing off his impressive handle and mid range game, or by bombing away from long distance, Durant continued to prove he’s as dynamic an offensive player we have in the world while also showing a great understanding of “the moment”.  Some players that show that they’re the former never quite prove to be the latter, but Durant is both.  What a talent.

*As far as explosive guards go, I don’t know if there is one better than Russell Westbrook right now.  Sure, there are more complete PG’s (Paul and Williams immediately come to mind) and there are better floor generals (Nash, Rondo) but Russell is the type of guard that can get you out of your chair in an instant.  His quickness, strength, and athleticism combination is unmatched (even by Derek Rose) by any other point guard and measuring these traits for a “pound for pound” argument, I would say he’s right up there with some of the best athletes in the entire league (yes, even Lebron, Wade, and Howard).  And sure his jumper needs some work and he can be a bit out of control at times, but focusing on the things he struggles with means you’re missing the point with this player.  Westbrook is just a fantastic young player that will only continue to grow and get better.  The sky is the limit for him.  (On a side note, you notice the first two players I’ve mentioned play for the Thunder? Yikes.)

*I already mentioned Iguodala, but he deserves even more praise.  His rebounding and defense were top notch the entire tournament and the self-less way he played deserves recognition.  And while his size and physique (you saw his Karl Malone arms, right?) sometimes had him miscast as a defensive stopper against some of the smaller, quicker guards in this tourney, his overall play on that side of the floor was stellar.  Add that to the fact that he willingly moved the ball and really only looked for his shot in transition situations and off hard penetration showed me that he’s also extremely coach-able and understanding of what winning basketball is.  I know when he goes back to Philly they’ll ask him to be the do it all scorer/playmaker for his team, but I shudder to think of what he could be playing next to an elite scorer like Durant where all you asked him to do defend, rebound, and slash off the ball.

*Quietly, Lamar Odom did exactly what he was asked to do and did it well, overall, for this U.S. team.  Yes he showed that his inconsistencies can be as great as his talent level, but in the end he battled hard in the medal round and once again proved his worth to a winning team.  The man just does all the little things well and it was very nice to see him step up in the second half of the gold medal game to help turn a semi-contested game into a contest that wasn’t that close down the stretch.  Whether it was rebounding, bodying up bigger offensive players, starting the American’s fast break with pin point outlet passes, or slashing into the open space for either finishes or to make the extra pass on offense, the man filled a bunch of roles for this team and deserves his credit as a World Champion twice over (FIBA and NBA) in the same year. 

*On a not so positive note, I was not that impressed with Chauncey Billups in this tournament.  While he showed good presence as a floor general by aligning his teammates in the half court offense, he also often broke off too many possessions to fire up long range jumpers early in the shot clock.  I know that Billups has long been a fan of the “dagger” three pointer that can salt away the hopes of the opponent, but in the last few games I thought he went for these shots too often and did so in situations where it was not required.  I thought his defense was good, but that it wasn’t to the level of Westbrook and Gordon. 

*Lastly, on a confused note, I’m not sure why Kevin Love didn’t play more.  Without a representative (be it Coach K or anyone else) commenting on it, I would assume it had to do with the want to always have the most athletic team on the floor at all times that saw Love’s minutes decrease.  But, for a guy that rebounds and passes very well while also having some range on his jumper to only see one minute of game time in the gold medal game?  I just don’t get it.  When Turkey was really giving the U.S. fits in the first half with their zone defense, I really thought a Love/Odom front court with Durant, Westbrook, and either Billups or Gordon would have been a great line up to try out.  But alas, Coach K kept the T’Wolves’ big man glued to the bench.

World Championships Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  September 6, 2010

Brazil's Tyson Chandler (R) drives past USA's Lamar Odom in the first quarter during their FIBA Basketball World Championship game in Istanbul, August 30, 2010. REUTERS/Murad Sezer (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

The FIBA World Championships may have started over a week ago, but really the tournament is just beginning.  The group stage is now over and the teams have started the NCAA style win or go home portion of the championships.  We’re now at the point where any slip up will mean an early return flight.  And for Team USA, it’s time to really prove if they have what it takes to compete at the highest level even though many have labeled them underdogs and the “B” team.  A few thoughts on the road ahead for this particular group.

*Today’s match up versus Angola really shouldn’t be a test at all.  With memories of the original 1992 Dream Team floating in my head, I recall what Charles Barkley said when that juggernaut faced the west African nation – “I don’t know anything about Angola, but I know they’re in trouble”.  In the past 18 years, not much will have changed.  The US will field an infinitely more talented team with advantages all over the court.  The US will surely use their pressure defense to create turnovers and generate open court offense.  We’ll likely see plenty of dunks from Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durnat, and every other Team USA player (save Billups and Curry as I’m not sure they can dunk).  I expect a 25+ point win and that will be that.

*But beating an overmatched Angola team isn’t really what this tournament is about.  Despite the US coming in as an underdog to Spain, it’s about winning the entire thing.  And in order to accomplish that, Team USA will have a tricky road to navigate.  While the match ups aren’t set in stone, the U.S. will likely face Russia in the next round and if they advance into the semi-finals a rematch with Brazil or a date with long time foe Argentina awaits (neither of which would be a cake walk).  In the Finals either Spain or host nation Turkey will be waiting for whoever comes of out the bracket the U.S. hopes to control.  Basically, if Team USA wins this tournament, they will have earned it against some very strong competition.

*Speaking of strong competition, the team that looks the best right now is probably Turkey.  Kurt explains over at Pro Basketball Talk:

The USA may prefer Spain right now. For two reasons.

One is Turkey has proven to have the best front line in the tournament. They start Omer Asik (coming to the Chicago Bulls), Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee Bucks) and Hedo Turkoglu (Phoenix Suns). Then they bring in soon-to-be Celtic Semih Erden.

Turkoglu had not impressed through the group stage of the tournament but broke out in a big way against France scoring a game high 20 and hitting 4 of 7 from deep. Basically 2009 in Orlando Turkoglu showed up. If he does that will be hard for everyone else to stop. Meanwhile Ilyasova has averaged 15 points and 8.2 rebounds a game through the tournament and is hitting 56 percent of his threes.

Basically the undersized USA would have to take on a long, skilled front line — Turkey’s strength is the USA’s weakness.

I know depending on a consistent Turkoglu isn’t exactly money in the bank, but Turkey is the host nation and will have all the fan support they’ll need to put on a major run to win this thing.  And with every other major contender missing some of their best players (besides a watered down U.S. team, Nene, Pau, Ginobili, and several other NBA players are missing from their respective teams), Turkey may just put it all together.

*In one of these games Lamar Odom is going to need to put on one of his classic performances to put the U.S. team over the top.  It won’t be needed against Angola and probably not even Russia.  But it would be nice if LO gave one of his vintage “wow, this guy really is good” performances against either Brazil or Argentina or in the Finals (should Team USA advance that far).  This tournament has been mixed bag for Odom as he’s shown flashes of his all court game but never quite put together a complete performance.  Lakers fans know better than most that he’s got it in him to do something special.  Will he show the rest of the world?  I think we’re all hoping to see it.

*Lastly, I’ve not seen as much of these championships as I would have hoped.  I DVR the games and watch the U.S. team, but I have not gotten to see as much of the other countries as I’d like.  However, as with the regular season there are some great writers and sites doing some fantastic work covering the tournament.  Go check out what The Painted Area is doing on a daily basis.  Visit NBA Playbook for break downs on plays, offensive and defensive sets, and individual players.  Follow the updates from John Schuhmann on his twitter page with everything that he’s writing about this tourney.  Really, you can’t go wrong following these folks.

USA's Derrick Rose shoots during his team's FIBA Basketball World Championship game against Croatia in Istanbul August 28, 2010.   REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT SPORT BASKETBALL)

After Team USA’s recent win over Brazil, it was hard to remain optimistic about their chances to bring home the gold. The Brazilians were able to expose Team USA during long stretches on both sides of the basketball before dropping a game for the first time in these FIBA World Championships.

Both teams got out to hot starts with Team USA scoring 18 points on 12 possessions in the first 6:40 and Brazil scoring 17 points on 13 possessions in the same time. We expected the US National team to be this efficient on the offensive end with their athleticism, but they’ve been winning their games because of their defensive prowess, and haven’t allowed opposing offenses to be as efficient as the Brazilians were on the whole first quarter and the better part of the second half. The Brazilians – namely Marcelo Huertas – lived in the paint in the first half. Brazil’s first five field goal attempts, all good, were in the paint. Their sixth field goal attempt was a wide-open three pointer after a penetration and kick out. Their next six field goal attempts after the three-pointer were in the paint. Of Brazil’s first 12 field goal attempts, 11 were in the paint, and one made three-pointer because the point guard got in the paint. To end the first quarter, Brazil hit three straight three pointers and Tiago Splitter was found for a wide-open dunk.

Brazil was able to pick Team USA apart for most of the first half, scoring 46 points on 43 possessions, giving them an offensive efficiency rating of 106.97 for the half. Brazil ran a plethora of screen and roll sets and back screens off of the ball, allowing Huertas to run amok the American defense, living in the paint and finishing with six points and five assists in the first half. Huertas’ propensity to get into the paint at will didn’t just propel their offense, but it helped slow down Team USA’s offense. The Brazilians certainly didn’t score on every possession, but a lot of their misses came in the paint, reducing the amount of long rebounds that get Team USA in their coveted transition game. When Brazil did take shots behind the arch, they hit them at a 63 percent clip. Team USA had to play a large portion of the game in the half court.

While Team USA did have some very good stretches of offensive basketball (a 150 Ortg for the starters in the first quarter), they struggled mightily in the second half. Team USA was able to stymie the Brazilian offense by trapping hard on their high screen and roll sets, but weren’t really able to put a good offensive stretch in the second half. Of their 42 second half possessions, 11 ended in turnovers and nine more ended in missed shots around the rim, 20 wasted possessions. Team USA had ball movement problems, recording only eight assists for the game (compared to 15 for Brazil). Kevin Durant was able to score effectively, but the rest of the team struggled for most of the second half – especially the second unit. With at least two reserves on the floor, Team USA had an offensive efficiency rating of 76.92 compared to an offensive efficiency rating of 100 when at least four starters were on the floor (these number aren’t counting an absolutely awful fourth quarter for both teams, which forced me to tweet, “4th Q numbers: 18 pts, 9TOs, 9 missed layups/tips, 10 missed 3s and 10 minutes of Lamar Odom looking lost” – and yes, those were the numbers for both teams combined).

What the Brazil game taught us is that Team USA can be beat by their opponent repeatedly getting into the lane, limiting their time in transition, and shooting a high clip from behind the arch. Brazil played Team USA perfectly in the first half, and went into the break with a 46-43 lead. And as bad as they played in the second half, they were able to turn Team USA over enough to finish the game only one possession away from a victory. The US National team is going to have to move the ball much better than they did against Brazil. There were too many possessions where shots were taken off of one or fewer passes. Also, Team USA’s second unit leaves much to be desired. Russell Westbrook has had shaky confidence entering games, and has had to gain that confidence as the game progressed. Turnover problems start with the point guard, and if Westbrook can’t hold onto the ball, it’s going to continue to be rough for Team USA to keep their play consistent for 40 minutes – which they’re going to need to do when the Worlds begin the elimination rounds. Team USA has today off, but plays again Wednesday against Iran.

Odom the Olympian

Jeff Skibiski —  August 25, 2010

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USA Basketball finalized its 12-man roster for the 2010 FIBA World Championships yesterday afternoon and as expected, the Lakers’ Lamar Odom was selected as one of its representatives. Odom will be joined by Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay, Chauncey Billups, Danny Granger, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Stephen Curry, Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler and Andre Iguodala. The 12 players who will compete this summer will join a narrowing pool of players with which USA Basketball will choose from when filling out its 2012 Olympic roster.

“We play professional basketball for a living,” said Odom, summing up his decision to play for Team USA this summer in a great feature from ESPN LA. “We come out and we represent our country with pride. This is something we do just for pride. We playing for the names on the front of our jerseys.”

Odom’s willingness to slap on the Team USA jersey, after three consecutive grueling trips to the NBA Finals, offers a great deal of insight into his character and motivation as a basketball player. To some, the chance to play for your country on one of the world’s largest stages is a no-brainer, yet several of the league’s top players chose to remain on the sidelines for this summer’s World Championships. Some had legitimate injury reasons (Kobe), while a lack of commitment by others was more confounding (Dwight Howard). The Lakers forward could have looked at this offseason as a time to rest up for the Lakers’ historic three-peat bid, saving himself from potential burnout or injury. Instead, Lamar jumped onboard without the slightest hint of hesitation, eager to to take the first step toward redeeming Team USA’s loss in the 2004 Olympics—a team on which his solid play received almost universal acclaim. Odom has been criticized in the past for his wavering motivation, but his dedication to Team USA has never been questioned.

As previously noted by Darius in last week’s Mailbag, Lamar’s selection has potential implications for both the forward and the Lakers this season, as well as for the 11-year veteran’s legacy. On a U.S. team seriously lacking in the size department, Odom was used as the team’s starting center against Spain earlier this week. Though that’s not a role he’ll be asked to fill in L.A. (barring catastrophic injuries to the Lakers’ entire front line), the experience should prepare Odom well for when the forum blue and gold will need him to join Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum on the court for Coach Jackson’s seldom-used “bigs” lineup.

That works both ways too, as Team USA’s reliance on Lamar to provide desperately needed muscle inside could open the door for Phil to use him in a dramatically smaller lineup against run-and-gun teams like the Suns and maybe more urgently, the Thunder. Neither of these possible roles are anything new for the Lakers’ versatile assassin or the Lakers, but the opportunity to observe Odom in a different context as part of Team USA is nevertheless an interesting one.

More than anything, I think that Odom will benefit the most from his more symbolic role with this year’s Team USA squad. As the de facto veteran sage, Lamar will be entrusted to do something he’s struggled with at times during his L.A. tenure—lead. Though Team USA has up-and-coming stars like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose to take on the scoring burden during crunch time, it is the Lakers forward who has been through it all before as a starter on the 2004 Olympic squad. As such, he’ll be relied upon to help the set tone for Team USA in a tournament where most experts are actually picking them to place second or worse. The early returns have been mostly good for Team USA too, as Lamar produced a 12-point, 9-rebound performance against Spain earlier this week. He followed it up with a less than stellar game today in 18 minutes of playing time (zero points on one field goal), but his team still managed to blowout Greece, 87-59.

Overall, the experience should prove invaluable for Odom as he’ll not only be asked to serve as a locker room presence, but also as a consistent leader on the court too. While Lamar willingly accepted a new role as sixth man prior to the 2008-09 season, he hasn’t always shown himself as a reliable force off the bench, night in and night out. Against increased competition from teams like Spain and Greece, he’ll have to be consistent if Team USA hopes to prevail. As is the case with the Lakers, Odom is indisputably a key X-factor for Team USA, even in this differing role. With a replenished bench that now includes newcomers Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, the Lakers will similarly need Lamar to serve as a steadying force. Whether or not the forward can pull from this newfound leadership mentality and apply it toward next season is certainly one of the Lakers’ more intriguing plot lines heading into the 2010-11 season.

“We want him because of his versatility,” said Jerry Colangelo, about why he coveted Lamar’s presence. “He can be effective playing five minutes or playing 25 minutes. It’s not about 12 superstar players. It’s about finding the right components to make up a team. He fits the bill. He was valuable to us. We didn’t just pick him because how he plays, but because of who he is.”

After 11 NBA seasons, Lamar has still never been selected as an NBA All-Star, but now owns two NBA rings that I’m guessing hold a lot more weight for the Queens native. Next up: Olympic Gold Medal.

“I would love to go back and be able to redeem myself and win a gold medal, but more, I would love to go back just to play for USA again,” said Odom.

Looking ahead to what promises to be a challenging World Championship tournament, it is clear that Lamar’s priorities as a basketball player have shifted. While there is no guarantee that he’ll be an Olympian when the team carves out its 2012 Olympic roster, Lamar’s selflessness and commitment to Team USA’s endeavors prove that he’s worthy of the title either way.

Forward Thinking

Darius Soriano —  August 20, 2010

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In recent weeks, the topic of the “positional revolution” has become a hot topic amongst basketball thinkers.  It started with a thought provoking post by Drew Cannon at Basketball Prospectus and has been expanded upon by more thought provoking entriesby Rob Mahoney at The Two Man game.  The concept is a simple one (at least my cliff notes version is): as basketball players become more skilled and are able to perform multiple (and varied) tasks on the basketball court, the confines of traditional positional labeling is becoming too constraining.  And as players evolve, so does the game they play and thus conventional thinking about players’ position(s) can then become obsolete.  A perfect example of this is Dirk Nowitzki as he’s a sharp shooting, ball handling big man that is called a Power Forward but really performs (offensive) tasks on the court that are quite similar to what we traditionally see from Shooting Guards or Small Forwards.  The Mavs run the offense through Dirk at the high post and use him as a ball handler in P&R situations.  However, on defense he falls into a more traditional role as he defends big men and rebounds at a very good rate.  Obviously, Dirk is an extreme example, but he’s not alone in his diversity as a player and his break from traditional roles typically assigned to a player that is labeled a specific position.

And this brings me to our Lakers as others have chimed in on the evolution of the game that we all love – including Kobe Bryant.  During a media session at the World Basketball Festival at Rucker Park in New York, Kobe spoke about the evolution of the game and the influence of international players on the NBA.  An excerpt from an Austin Burton’s entry at Dime Magazine:

Kobe said the influence of international players in the NBA has helped create a “hybrid” culture, where players of all sizes possess skills in all areas and can conceivably play any position on the floor.

“That’s the one difference I’d like to see us kind of shift to,” Kobe said.

This vision of five basketball players, devoid of traditional positional constraints, passing and cutting and posting and shooting and dribbling with equal aplomb, is near.  The concept of players assuming a definite position on the floor and sticking to that role is fading away like one of Kobe’s jumpers, as a new age of hybrids begin to take over the game.

Over at FanHouse, Matt Moore has been following the conversation started by Cannon and expanded by Mahoney and also picked up on what Kobe was saying, adding this:

It’s not surprising that Bryant would lean towards this kind of approach. After all, he himself is not only willing, but voracious in approaching any position on the floor. You could tell Kobe “go guard Nene with one arm” and he’d make a go of it (and Nene would likely walk away wincing a bit, even if he won the war). But the meaning is very relevant. This is one of the greatest basketball players and minds on the planet saying that essentially, the goal should be not only for us to get away from traditional positions, but eventually to homogenize personnel to be able to play within any construct we have. It’s a bold idea, since all of our previous constructs are devoutly built on the idea that a player is defined by what he can and can’t do. Removing limitations from the equations leads us to a new kind of basketball nirvana, where Andrea Bargnaniis not a problem because he’s not a 5, and Tyreke Evans is simply regarded as being of the “awesome position.”

And over at TrueHoop, Kevin Arnovitz is also exploring Kobe’s comments and adds that one reason Kobe (and other members of the Lakers) may be more open to this line of thinking and flashing multi-faceted skills is because of the system that they run:

There’s a reason the Lakers have “a lot of versatile talent that evades convention.” It’s because the team features an offense that de-emphasizes traditional positions in favor of function. In the triangle offense, Derek Fisher — the nominal point guard — acts as a spot-up shooter in the confines of the half court (particularly in corner sets) far more often than he does as a distributor. The wings in the triangle are often the trigger men, and the Lakers can maximize Bryant (their shooting guard) in the post without disrupting the sequential flow of the triangle.

Kevin takes the words right out of my mouth (though he said them much better, of course).  When you look at the Lakers’ roster, there are several players that defy classic models of “positions” in basketball.  Whether we’re talking about Kobe or Fisher, Odom or Gasol, the Lakers have a roster of players that are expected to perform roles within a system that don’t always cleanly match up with the roles of their labeled position.  As Arnovitz points out, Fisher is not a “point guard” in the classic sense as he’s not necessarily a primary ball handler or initiator of offense (though he does perform these roles).  For a more extreme example, look at Lamar Odom.  When LO is in the game, he’s often used as a facilitator of offense and a primary ball handler – all as a “power forward”.  And while he does find himself in the post on occasion, he’s used much more frequently as a creator of offense in isolation sets from the top of the key or as a slasher off the ball that slides into open space when others (Kobe, Pau) draw the opponents defensive attention.  None of these acts are ones that are usually assigned to a team’s power foward.

Even on defense, the Lakers don’t often stick to traditional roles.  For example, as the WCF against the Phoenix Suns progressed, the Lakers started to switch the Amare/Nash P&R where Gasol (or Odom or Bynum) then got matched up on Nash for long stretches of Phoenix’s offensive possessions.  The Lakers’ big men then became defenders of one of the best PG’s in the game and were expected to keep him out of the paint and contest his shots in space.  Meanwhile, Nash’s original defender either rotated to the diving big man or switched to another player on the wing as the Lakers’ rotations took hold and every player was expected to show enough versatility to potentially guard any player on the court.  Other examples of the Lakers defying positional labels on defense are Kobe being switched onto PG’s like Rondo and Westbrook while Fisher guarded SG’s like Ray Allen and Thabo Sefalosha.  Even during the regular season when Kobe sat out injured against the Blazers, rather than starting Shannon Brown (as would typically occur), Phil Jackson decided to start Lamar Odom (with Fisher, Artest, Bynum, and Gasol) so that LO could match up with Andre Miller (a PG that excels at posting up).

There are countless other examples of the Lakers’ philosophies on offense and defense promoting the concept of a position-less team – Kobe as a primary post up player, Gasol as a wing player making entry passes, Ron Artest guarding PG’s, etc – but the overall point is that this is a concept that bears watching in the coming years.  Players are becoming more diverse and we may indeed see that players are filling “roles” on teams (creator, rebounder, etc) rather than being expected to perform the duties typically associated with a specific position on the floor.  And if this does indeed occur, I do believe the Lakers – at least as currently constructed – will be a team that will excel in this type of classification of players as they’re already implementing these concepts into their everyday style.

More Mailbag!

Darius Soriano —  August 17, 2010

Lamar Odom tries to shoot around a reporter's microphone while being interviewed at a U.S. national basketball team practice in Las Vegas, Nevada July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Laura Rauch (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

It’s time for another installment of the FB&G mailbag.  If you’d like to submit a question, click here and fire away.  Thanks again to everyone that has sent in questions.  Here we go…

When Phil Jackson retires, does that mean the end of the Lakers’ championship window? After all, the all-powerful team has been struck down a notch and the HEAT has garnered a year of experience for themselves. As a Laker fan, it is the season after this that has me most worried.

-Anonymous

I think losing Phil Jackson will be a blow to the Lakers.  However, I would not say that the Lakers championship window would “close” based solely off the fact that Phil would no longer be the coach.  Because, while extremely important, there are many other factors that go into winning a championship besides coaching.

At the top of that list is talent and, even without Phil as the head man, the Lakers will still have one of the best rosters in the league when Phil departs.  Just when looking at the Lakers top 5 players – Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Odom, and Artest – you have the makings of a championship roster, even if we’re talking 3 years from now.  And this only references talent that is in house and on the court.  When you look at Mitch Kupchak’s recent ability to build a championship team by drafting well and winning trades, it’s easy to forecast the Lakers continuing to build a strong roster even as the team ages – especially when considering the market advantages the Lakers possess by being based in Los Angeles and the brand advantage they have of being one of the most storied organizations in all of sports.

And while I agree that there are fast rising teams around the league (Miami, OKC) and traditional powers from the past few seasons (Orlando, Boston, Spurs) it’s still unknown how those teams will develop and grow over the next few years.  Will the new collective bargaining agreement be an impediment to building upon their already impressive rosters?  Will the Heat and Thunder respond to heightened expectations and beat back the pressure in a manner that leads to them dominating the league?  I don’t pretend to know the answers to the these questions nor do I want to cast doubt on either of these teams.  But in the end, I believe the Lakers will be right there battling for the title for seasons to come.  And as a fan, that’s really all I can ask for.

Do you think that with the recent additions of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake that the Lakers get into the top 10 in 3 point shooting?  I know these past few years the Lakers have not been a great perimeter shooting team (for example, when facing the zone defense vs. Phoenix in WCF).

-Daniel

Considering the Lakers tied for 23rd in the NBA in 3 point FG% last season, if next year’s Lakers were to jump into the top 10 would seem like a miracle.  However, it’s actually not that far fetched.  Consider the following:  last season the Lakers shot 34.1% from behind the arc, making 532 of their 1,562 attempts.  As I mentioned, that ranked them 23rd in the NBA in 3 pt. FG% (tied with Minnesota).   Denver was the 10th ranked team in the NBA, shooting 35.9% on their long ball attempts.  Using this past year as a template, the Lakers would have only needed to hit 33 more three pointers on the same number of attempts to raise their percentage to 36.2% – a percentage which would have ranked them 9th in the NBA right above the Hawks.

Now also consider that this past season both Kobe and Derek Fisher shot below their career averages by shooting 32.9% and 34.8% respectively (compared to 34% and 37.3%) and were well below their averages from the season before (35.1% and 39.7% respectively).  So, if Kobe and Fisher revert anywhere close to their career averages, the Lakers should be a better three point shooting team next season overall considering that combined, Kobe and Fish took about one-third of the Lakers attempts from deep.  Then, when you replace Farmar with Steve Blake and consider the possibility that Ron Artest will be more consistent from three point land next season and you have the ingredients for a major jump in three point shooting accuracy.

This isn’t to say that I’d call this particular Lakers’ team a great shooting team.  Nor am I guaranteeing that all the things I mentioned earlier are sure to happen or are even likely (I could see Kobe struggling from deep again and/or Fisher continuing his regression as a shooter), but the potential for a big jump in three point accuracy is there for this team.  And in the end, I do believe that the Lakers will shoot better to the point that if they aren’t in the top 10, they’ll be right on the cusp.

I understand that Shannon and Sasha have different weaknesses and strengths.  But why did Sasha fall out of favor with Phil and the coaching staff and not get any burn last year while Shannon got a lot despite a regression in his game?  Is it a personality issue?  Is it because Sasha got almost the entire 09 regular season to show what he had and Phil finally lost patience? 

If that was the case, was last year’s regular season the same principle applied to Shannon?  He had a great 09 playoff run so coaches gave him the entire 10 season to work through his game like they did with Sasha in 09. 

Will Shannon be on a tighter rope this year and the coaches looking at him and Sasha equally?  Or does Sasha’s personality bother the staff so much that he’ll be glued to the bench unless there’s a huge separation between him and Shannon.

-Jason/Chownoir

Not being in the locker room or in the practices, I can’t speak to any potential personality issues that exist between Sasha and the coaches.  And while Sasha did have that spat with Brian Shaw that earned him an extended stay in Phil’s doghouse, Sasha’s minutes were sporadic at best to that point in the season.  So, I believe that Sasha’s shorter leash has been based off his experience in the league and specifically his tenure on the Lakers and in the Triangle offense.  Essentially, Sasha should been better tuned into how the coaches wanted him to play and acted accordingly.  The fact that he still made the same mistakes that he’s been making for several seasons all while not bringing the consistency as a shooter that earned him time in 2008 led to a diminished role and a lower tolerance of his mistakes.

Meanwhile, this past year was Shannon’s first full year with the team.  To be fair, he was still learning his role and was still feeling out the Lakers’ sets.  And while Shannon made plenty of mistakes too, those could easily be explained away by his relative inexperience in the Triangle at a time when the Lakers coaches were (seemingly) imploring him to explore more facets of his game.  Personally, I was frustrated at times with Shannon’s decision making, but along the same lines, players do not improve if you don’t give them room to fail and then learn from those mistakes.

All that said, I do believe this season will be the litmus test for Shannon and that there will be greater expectations on him to perform well and do so within the confines of his role.  I think the coaches will be less patient with him and that he may too find himself glued to the pine if he doesn’t “play the right way” by making the correct reads and moving the ball in the manner that every player is expected to do.  Remember too that Shannon saw his minutes greatly reduced in the Finals when he made several defensive mistakes against Ray Allen while struggling on offense himself.  Phil then turned to Sasha as a defensive presence against Allen and the Machine performed well in his limited minutes.  So next season, even though Shannon just got re-signed and Sasha is reportedly on the trading block, I believe this competition may be more open than a first glance suggests.  I think that Shannon definitely has the upper hand as he’s the more athletic player, seemingly takes coaching better, and has more upside as a contributor on both ends of the floor.  But, that doesn’t mean that Sasha can’t/won’t have a role if he’s on the roster and next season may prove to be the year that the Machine makes his way back into the rotation.

For the last 3 years the top of the West has been in a constant state of flux. We’ve faced 3 different teams in the WCF, and the first 2 (San Antonio and Denver) have both failed to win a playoff series the following year. That trend looks likely to continue with Phoenix losing Amar’e.  With all that said, who do you see emerging as the main threat to the Lakers’ conference supremacy in 2010/11? I think Portland and Houston will be very dangerous IF their big men are healthy. What’s your take?

-Joel

I think the easy choice in who will truly challenge the Lakers are the Thunder.  The argument is easily made that, besides the Celtics, OKC gave the Lakers the stiffest challenge of any competitor and that with the experience they’ve gained and the continued growth of Durant and Westbrook that they’ll make a major leap next season and be a team that makes the conference finals.

However, the team that I’m probably most high on is the Houston Rockets.  In a recent post at TrueHoop, I mentioned why I believe Houston has a chance to step up and challenge for the #2 spot behind the Lakers and I’m not wavering in that belief.  Yes, a lot will depend on the health of Yao and Kevin Martin.  And as I mention in TH piece, I’m skeptical about the individual defense of Aaron Brooks, Scola, and Brad Miller.  However, when it’s all said and done I think their combination of top notch talent (I truly respect Yao Ming and think he has a tremendous impact on both ends of the floor), role players, and coaching will take them a long way this season.  Plus, I really like the acquisition of Courtney Lee in the Ariza trade.  While I love Trevor and think he’s getting a bit of a raw deal in the analysis of how he played last year, I think Lee is a great combo guard that will bring some of the guard skills that Ariza lacked.  I also think he’s a versatile enough defender that he can play some PG against the CP3/Deron/Paker/Nash/Westbrook’s of the world that Houston doesn’t always need to close the game with Brooks or Lowry while also being able to play next to either of those guys if the line ups dictate it.  Mind you, I don’t think Lee is some sort of star, but he’s another very good role player that will compliment the games of Martin and Yao very well.

(With Lamar Odom joining Team USA for the World Championships this Summer) Do you think the wear and tear will affect Odom come the season? Will he get the training camp jitters out now or will he be bringing in a new sense of discipline this year?

-Travis

There’s always the concern that playing for Team USA will wear Odom down.  He’s not the most durable player to begin with (though he’s been much better in recent seasons) and there’s surely a chance that he could end up suffering during the season from tired legs or just feel the affects of playing summer ball at the World Championships.

All that said, I think this is a great thing for Odom and will serve him well in preparing for the upcoming season.  Based off his tenure in the league, Odom will be a leader on this team and that will require a focus and discipline that should help him when the Lakers pursue their third straight championship.  I also think playing some Center in the international game is a good prep for his role on the Lakers as it will require that LO rebound and defend the paint while also moving well off the ball when teamed with explosive guards and wings.  Plus, just as with the Lakers, Odom will come off the bench for Team USA so there will not be a big change in his current role in LA.  Really, outside of the injury/fatigue risk, this should really help Odom in getting ready for the upcoming season and I’m really happy that he’s getting the opportunity to play.  I’m a firm believer that nothing get’s you ready for a season quite like playing with other excellent players and Odom will get that chance with this group.  And while the most talented guys won’t be on this particular U.S. team, this should still be a beneficial experience for LO and one that helps the Lakers.

More Mailbag!

Darius Soriano —  July 17, 2010

Los Angeles Laker Pau Gasol smiles during a team practice at the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Boston, Massachusetts June 12, 2010. The 2010 NBA Finals resumes June 13 when the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers meet in Game 5 in Boston, Massachusetts June 12, 2010.  REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Since I had so much fun answering the last set of questions that came in, here are a few more that were collecting dust in my inbox that I’ll drop my two cents on.  Again, if you’d like to send in a question (or more) for a future installment of the mailbag, click here and fire away.  Here we go…

The Lakers have been blessed w/ some of the best centers (Kareem, Wilt, Shaq, Mikan) to ever play the game. 2 of the top 3 two guards (Kobe & West). The best point guard in history in Magic. And hall of famers (top 50 all-time mo less) at small forward in Baylor & Worthy. However when it comes to the 4 spot, the power forward, our all time best read like this: post prime Bob MacAdoo; super sub Robert Horry; solid role players Happy Hairston, A. C. Green, Kurt Rambis, Rudy LaRusso; early era Vern Mikkelson; Clyde Lovellette anyone?  Yes I know Pau also plays the 5 spot, however as Andrew Bynum (boy would I love to one day include him on the all-time Laker great centers) continues to blossom, Pau will spend more time at the 4 spot.  I’ve been a Laker fan most of my life, since 1965, as a young lad of 13. Given all of that the question remains: is Pau Gasol the BEST POWER FORWARD to ever play for the Lakers?

-Big City Sid

This is an interesting question because as you point out, the Lakers have been blessed to have some all time greats at every other position save PF.  When I’ve built the All-Time Lakers team in my mind, I’ve often cheated and slid Baylor up or moved Kareem down to PF to fit in guys like Shaq or Kobe (or West) and make sure they made the team.  That said, Gasol is quickly earning a place on this list as all-time Laker and could easily be seen as the best PF to ever play for the franchise considering his talent level and what he’s accomplished so far.  I mean, in his three seasons with the Lakers he’s been a major contributor to a team that’s been to 3 NBA Finals and won 2 championships.  In the past two playoffs, he’s stepped up his game in a major way and had some huge games in contests that were quite important.  In the most recent NBA Finals against the Celtics, many pundits touted him as the MVP of the series as he had some very strong games both scoring and rebounding and averaged 2 blocks a game (with a high of 6 in game two).  The man has clearly established himself as one of the top players in the league and I happen to think that he’s the most complete big man in the game when you consider all facets to his game.  So at this point, I’d have to say yes – Pau Gasol is the best PF to ever play for the Lakers.

Do you think that the higher than anticipated cap will make the Lakers more bold in pursuing free agents like Matt Barnes and Raja Bell or will it just be used to lessen the distance between the Lakers and Fisher in their quest to make a deal?

-Arta

I don’t think the higher cap will influence the Lakers spending this off-season.  Because even though the cap is higher by a a couple of million dollars, the Luxury Tax threshold only went up by $500K.  So really, the Lakers aren’t looking at any significant savings when looking to bolster their roster.  I mean, the Lakers paid the highest luxury tax bill out of every team this past season ($21.43 million) and because the tax threshold stayed relatively flat, I don’t think the higher cap means much.  However, Dr. Buss has shown that he’s very much willing to spend money when building a championship team and he’s allowed Mitch Kupchak to offer the types of contracts that lure players to LA in hopes of winning that elusive ring.  So, whether it’s Raja Bell or some other role player, I think the Lakers will still look to fill out its roster with quality players and that they’ll spend in line with what they did last season.  And to summarize the Lakers payroll/cap situation right now, there is (approximately) 81.7 million allocated to Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Artest, Sasha, and Walton for next season.  Reports have been that Steve Blake signed a contract that will pay him 4 million a season for 4 years and that Fisher’s deal will pay him 3 million a year for 3 years.  That would put the Lakers payroll at nearly 89 million for 9 players.  When you add in rookie contracts (say, 1 million combined for both rookies next season) that pushes the total to 90 million.  Also note that the Lakers have 1.75 million remaining of their mid level exception and will likely look to sign at least one veteran big man at the mininum (an amount that will vary based off the service time of the player). If the team spends the rest of the MLE and does sign a veteran for, say 1.3 million, that would push the Lakers’ payroll up to approximately 92 million.  A number that compares to last season’s 91.4 million.

Do you feel signing Kyle Korver and Lou Amundson would be a great addition for the back to back defending champions?  I feel the Lakers need a solid 3 point shooter who can come off the bench when Kobe sits down and I feel Sasha hasn’t been as consistent as we had hoped.  Korver is a hard worker who has a great shot and plays good defense.  Secondly, I feel Amundson would be a perfect fit in purple and gold.  A shot blocker, high energy player coming off the bench has always been a huge hit in Los Angeles.  Turiaf and Madson are examples of that.  Do you feel there are two better players for the money the Lakers could acquire this off-season.

-Buck

Even though Kyle Korver has been signed by the Bulls, I posted this question because I think it speaks to the remaining Lakers needs quite nicely.  I still think another shooter and another big man that could defend and rebound – even if they’re only asked to play limited minutes – are a must.  If looking for an effort/energy big off the bench, I’m actually hopeful that second round pick Derick Caracter can provide that spark.  We’ve recently touched on his progress shown in Summer League, but he’s shown good rebounding instincts and has been very active in the games that I’ve seen.   Not to say that I don’t like Amundson, but he’s a bit undersized for the Lakers and lacks some of the polish that the Lakers like in their PF’s.  He’s got a questionable jump shot and is most effective as a screener in the P&R and a guy that fills the lane in the open court while crashing the class in the half court.  So in the end, I don’t like him as much for the Lakers system.  So if the Lakers are still looking to grab an additional big man for their roster – as I believe they are because they can’t just rely on Caracter – the usual names of  Kurt Thomas, Joe Smith, Craig Smith, Nesterovich, Brad Miller, etc are all still out there.  I see some of those guys as better fits than others, but as a 4th or 5th big that won’t see too many minutes you could do a lot worse than any of those guys.  As for the shooter, I was hopeful the Lakers could sign Raja Bell to fill that role.  Unfortunately (at least in my eyes) he signed a more lucrative contract to go back to the Jazz and the Lakers may now look to fill their open spot on the wing by bringing back Shannon Brown.  Brown may not fill the role as a long range threat, but he does have the athleticism that many fans crave for this team, has shown improvement in his jump shot, and now has nearly two years of system knowledge that goes a long way in determining playing time.  If looking for a shooter though, a name that is still out there is Rasual Butler.  While not necessarily a player in the Redick mold (career 3 point FG% is 36.3%), Butler shot 39% the season before last and is a guy that I’ve always thought of as a gamer – though that’s probably influenced by some of the big shots he hit while with the Hornets.  Other “shooters” that are still available as free agents are Eddie House and Roger Mason Jr., but House is really a PG (not a lot of minutes at that spot after Fish/Blake) and Mason is really a SG that had quite the down year last season.  So, I wonder if any of these options are really better than Brown.

I truly value Lamar’s role on the team, I want us to keep him for the length of his contract and if he’ll eat more broccoli instead of candy, the sky is the limit.  But I still have these concerns: why does he get so many frustrating, momentum-swinging charges, why does he throw the ball away on so many length of the court passes, and why does he miss so many key defensive rotations late in games to allow dagger open threes? And don’t the coaches work with him on this?

-Mike

Another relevant topic after Jeff’s recent player review on LO.  Many who follow this site know that I’ve been one of Odom’s biggest supporters over the last few years and while I understand the frustration with some aspects of his game, I think fans need to adjust and appreciate Odom for what he does well rather than nitpick the things he doesn’t or focus too much on his mistakes.  That said, while I think some of faults pointed out are exaggerated, I do recognize his flaws as a player.  Odom is the type of ball handler that doesn’t change direction well when he’s made up his mind – hence the charges.  And since penetrating to either create a shot for himself or a teammate is such a big part of his game, I think we see this more often with him than we do with other players.  I also think he’s a player that is consistently looking for the play that gives the Lakers a true advantage (it’s one of the traits that makes him a play maker in the Triangle) and it’s why he’s always looking up-court for the “homerun” pass that will get the Lakers a quick bucket – a play that works a fair amount too, by the way. As for the defensive lapses, I think Odom’s natural instinct is to protect against the drive and hence the leaving of shooters behind the arc.  However this same instinct to help is what made Odom such a natural fit for the strong side zone scheme the Lakers employed during their 2009 title run.  His ability to recognize the penetration (as well as his ability to recover back to the weak side after showing help on the strong side) by using his length and defensive range was vital to this scheme and it was all aided by his desire to be a helper in a way that maximizes his skills.

This isn’t to make excuses for Odom as I’m often frustrated by these same flaws in his game.  However, when looking at LO objectively and in the big picture, I can think of few big men that would fit on this particular Lakers team better.  Odom is a player that moves well off the ball and thus can take advantage of the attention that Pau, Kobe, and Bynum draw.  He’s a very good rebounder and is excellent at turning defensive rebounds into transition baskets going the other way.  He’s a “stretch PF” that has a play making mentality and it allows him to be an offensive initiator while also giving space to the Lakers main offensive threats to operate.  Not to mention he’s the consumate team player that consistently looks to make the play that helps his mates, doesn’t have an ego that demands that he get a ton of credit, and is always preaching that the team needs to play the right way in order to be successful.  He could easily be a starter on countless other teams but he accepts his role on this team and helps it win at the highest level.  I can understand that others want a more consistent player and that Odom’s game can be the personification of an up and down season where the highs are fantastic and the lows are frustrating.  However, I think we can all agree that he helps this team a great deal and that his presence has helped earn back to back championships.  And for that, I’m very grateful to my favorite candy eating southpaw.

Certainly Ron Artest’s effect on the Laker defense was substantial – the proof is in the product.  Would you say the improvement in our defense was more manifested in a) Artest’s individual defense vs. Ariza/Walton/VladRad (in descending order) or b) his ability to make his teammate’s defend better in terms of establishing a defense-oriented mindset and setting an example or others to follow?

kehntangibles

I would say it’s more a product of Artest’s individual defense and, specifically, the type of defender that he was.  Obviously Walton and RadMan weren’t what we’d call good defenders so we’ll leave them out of the discussion.  However, Ariza was a good defender, but his expertise came more in the form of ball denials, anticipation in the passing lanes, and an on ball defender in the P&R (remember his performance against Turkoglu in the 2009 Finals).  But, Artest is a different type of defender and one that is better suited to consistently producing stops in the half court.  Ron’s strength allowed him to push offensive players further from the hoop when making the catch.  His quick hands meant that the Lakers got more deflections and on ball steals.  His bigger body meant that players could not as easily drive by him without getting knocked off their dribble while his long reach was able to produce a lot of steals with his poke away move when offensive players actually did get by him.  So, I would say that his more well rounded defensive game served the Lakers very well over the course of the season and that compared to his predecessors, the improvement that Artest offered correlated to better team success.

I should add, though, that a healthy and more-committed-to-defense Bynum also helped the Lakers defense a great deal.  After playing in only 50 games in the 2009 season (while returning for the playoffs), Bynum played in 65 contests this season and was definitely more focussed on protecting the paint than he’s been in the past.  So, when you combine the presence of Bynum paired with Gasol and add a defender of Artest’s quality, I think the results are the top 5 defensive outfit the Lakers were able to field this past season.