Archives For Player Review

Los Angeles Lakers' Derek Fisher shoots over Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo during the fourth quarter in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Los Angeles, California June 17, 2010 .  REUTERS/Mike Blake  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

In 1996, there is no way the Lakers could have known that they were drafting a future five time NBA Champion, the future president of the player’s union and one of the most stand-up guys in all of sports. Considering Derek Fisher’s roller coaster season, the Lakers still don’t know exactly what to expect from their point guard in 2010.

For Fish, it was one of the more forgettable regular seasons of his career. He recorded his lowest scoring average since the 99/00 season, assisted at his lowest rate since his rookie season and had the worst shooting percentage of his career — yet he continued to start over the likes of Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown. He played in 82 games for the fifth season in a row and finished the season as an NBA champion for the fifth time in his career. The story line that loomed over his head like a personal rain cloud this season weren’t any of these things, but how we reacted to them as the season treaded along. It was more than obvious that Fisher’s physical capabilities were on the decline, and we (yes, myself included) made sure that the blogospehere knew it.

National columnists, beat writers, online journalists, bloggers and those who simply comment on blogs relentlessly stoned Fish with our words that berated the decline of his shooting, passing, jumping, running and intelligence for the better part of the 82 game season. These are the rated G versions of the comments made about Derek Fisher’s game.

* “Fisher is beyond awful, and cannot even outplay opposing reserve guards.”

* “Maybe because we know it’s beating a dead horse at this point (no offense Fish) but it’s kind of amazing how we always step around the pink elephant that is our PG situation. It boggles the mind how we could have just opted not to address this massive Achilles heel at any point in the off season before the trade deadline. We couldn’t at least go the Smush Parker route and sign a d-leaguer for the minimum? Mustafa Shakur. Morris Almond (who’s actually a SG/SF but could at least knock down a 3). Just sayin’”

* “The tempo is set by each team taking it to the hole in the dike, Fisher. When teams get out to big leads it is almost always penetration up the middle and wide open shots. This latest yelling match with Sasha and Shaw may even shorten are already talent short bench. I don’t even want to see what Brooks does to Fisher tonight and Paul after that. It is very tough to win 4 on 5. They other 4 guys have to play great games to carry around the caboose. This game they were too tired and could not recover from the defensive liabilities of Fisher. To beat the Lakers you do it with speed, youth, doubling Kobe and attacking our hole in the dike. Every scout in the league has figered it out. Except Phil that is. The legend of D Fish is now haunting me. I think it might be the ghost of Smush Parker!!!!!!!!!!!”

* “Another Laker game, another poor shooting night from Fisher. The man knows how to talk good game but doesn’t play that way.”

* “The rate at which Derek Fisher fails makes me want to punch through walls.”

* “And for those who complain stop with the Fish bashing. Not as long as he continues to hurt this team and make a mockery of the point guard position.”

* “Someone mentioned it in the game thread, but it bears repeating because I’m just flabbergasted. Fish’s 13 shots were more than Lamar, Drew, Pau, or Artest took. All of those players shot more than 50% from the field tonight. That is simply unacceptable. Fish should be one of our LAST options on offense.”

Not one of these comments came from a non-Lakers fan – giving credence to the saying, with fans like these, who needs the Celtics? I was even included in that bunch, and I’ve been one of Fisher’s biggest supporters throughout the years. It was hard not to blame all that was going bad on the aging point guard, and we used him as a way to justify the Lakers sub-par play down the stretch. But we all know, that it wasn’t JUST Fish as evidenced by the Lakers post season run. Yes, Fish picked up his game in the post season, but so did the whole team. Andrew Bynum was better, Farmar and Brown were better, Gasol was better and Kobe was MUCH better. This was a Lakers team that was awful for many of their games past the all-star break, not a point guard.

The thing is, Fisher is one of the most dedicated basketball players in the league. He understands the game, he understands his teammates and he understands his coach. The Lakers run a system that allows him to be effective without all of the physical abilities that some of the better point guards in the league have, and it takes an extremely intelligent and dedicated basketball player to take full advantage of that. In his exit interview, Fish addressed how much hard work he puts into making sure he can go out and give the Lakers everything he has night in and night out:

“It’s a lot of sacrifice. On one of those hot days in the summer when you could be at the park with the kids or, you know, going to lunch with your wife, a lot of times I’m working out. A lot of times I could be sleeping in or staying out late, I’m doing the opposite and it’s worked out well. I feel like I’ve made an investment more than giving something away. … Every year I just keep pushing the envelope to find ways to keep myself in the best possible shape and condition in the event that I do need to go all the way. With our team, it’s not always required of me, but I’d rather be prepared to play 38 minutes and carry a heavy load even though that’s not what I really have to do.”

Considering his career, saying, “it’s worked out well” is an understatement. Not only is he a five time NBA Champion, but he has some of the most memorable moments in recent Lakers history, including scoring 11 for the Lakers in the last nine minutes of Game 3 of the NBA Finals to give the Lakers a much needed 2-1 lead over the Celtics. It seemingly happens every year with this guy. No matter how many times Derek Fisher has been counted out, he’s left a positive stamp on the season – and it’s hard to be mad at that.

“For me it feels good to come through no matter what had been or was said throughout the regular season. To be honest I don’t know if I’d like it any other way. Part of the reason why I’m here is because of what I was told I couldn’t do … in high school, in college, that’s what I’ve heard my whole basketball career basically. I guess I’ve developed an ability to just kind of let that be what it is and let people say what they have a right to say.”

-Derek Fisher

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SEASON REVIEW:

Andrew Bynum’s progress during his first five seasons in the league has been a tale of two cities for the Lakers. The 2009-10 season was no different as the center once again showed promising flashes of his enormous potential, while also disappearing for long stretches. At this point in his career, that is essentially become Andrew’s M.O.—tease fans with moments of brilliance when he’s been able to stay on the floor, then miraculously find a way to become invisible or at best, irrelevant, at other times.

On the season, Bynum’s averages were virtually equal to 2008-09 as he boosted his scoring average a point to 15, while pulling down 8.3 boards a night. The big difference for Andrew was in games played, where he managed to play in and start 65 games, despite giving Lakers fans a gigantic scare when he missed a series of games in March due to a strained achilles tendon. The 65 games was a dramatic improvement over the 35 he played in 2007-08 and 50 in the following season. In fact, for Andrew, his most significant area of growth last season was arguably his relative ability to stay on the floor. Regular playing time breeds consistency and that has been one of Andrew’s largest problem areas the past few seasons.

Health issues aside, Bynum surprised many fans and critics by unveiling a newfound attitude and sense of maturity last season. Even after suffering debilitating season-changing injuries each of the past two seasons, Andrew maintained a positive outlook when he hurt his achilles tendon—a devastating injury for many athletes—just as the team was gearing up for another playoff run. Not only that, once he did return just in time for Game 1 against the Thunder, he showed little drop-off, putting in a reassuring 13 points and 12 rebounds in that first game back from injury. The excitement was short-lived though as Andrew suffered a slight tear of his meniscus in Game 6 of the same series, dramatically decreasing is mobility for the rest of the title run. However, like a true champion, Bynum persevered, throwing together a timely 17 point, 14 rebound performance in Game 2 against Utah and an even bigger 21 point, seven block outing in Game 2 against the Celtics. Through it all, the center showed a level of passion and grit that was previously absent from his game and earned a lot of respect from teammates, critics and fans.

PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:

Andrew certainly posted higher totals during the regular season (especially during the first month of last season when he looked like a sure-fire All-Star), but his gutsy (and underrated) 39 minute, 21 point, seven block, six rebound effort in Game 2 of the Finals was by far his impressive, revealing performance to date.

NEXT SEASON:

Measuring Andrew’s success five years into the league is still a somewhat difficult, not to mention, divisive task. On one hand, the still incredibly young 22-year-old continues to provide sneak peaks of the type of dominance that has entered his name into the discussion of the league’s top centers. On the other, he’s neither completed an entire NBA season, nor shown the ability to maintain his performances night in and night out. Luckily for the Lakers and Andrew, they still have time to figure those kinks out. Without much roster turnaround expected until at least the season after next, the Lakers still won’t need to rely as heavily on Andrew as an option A or B on offense, though he has certainly shown that he has the potential to be that type of force.

Looking ahead to next season, one of the largest contributions Bynum can make is simply staying on the floor. Andrew was a difference-maker on defense in the playoffs, even when limited by injury. His size and length are invaluable to the Lakers as a last line of defense and when he’s at the top of his game, the forum blue and gold are virtually unbeatable. With Kobe, Gasol, Artest and Odom in tow, the Lakers have shown that they can surive—and still flourish—without a monster scoring night from Bynum. However, they need every bit of the seven footer’s still evolving defensive game against presumed NBA powers like Oklahoma City, Boston, Orlando and Miami.

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The Lakers own human high-fly act Shannon Brown is next in line as FB&G continues its player reviews from the past season. Be sure to check out Phillip’s post to watch Brown’s complete exit interview.

SEASON IN REVIEW:

“This time was the first time I went into training camp and really knew what was going on as far as my role a little bit,” said Brown after his exit interview. “Last year I wasn’t with the team the whole time, this year I was. It was great. You build friendships, you build family, you build bonds. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Whereas Shannon’s all-around contributions largely came as a surprise following his mid-season trade to the Lakers in 2009, this season was all about stability, improving his consistency, defining his role and most importantly, living up to increased expectations. With those goals in mind, it’s safe to say that Brown had a successful season by backup guard standards and proved that his 2009 play was no fluke.

ShanWow saw a dramatic increase in his minutes to 20.7, up from under eight minutes last season and 13 during the 2009 playoffs. He also posted the best offensive averages of his career, with 8.1 points per game and 2.2 rebounds. Moreover, Shannon showed that he was mostly a reliable backup for either guard position. From the Lakers perspective, that’s about all they can ask for of Brown considering he is primarily playing behind a superstar like Kobe.

Although Shannon proved why he is a valuable rotation player, his inconsistency mirrored that of the team’s entire bench last season. With the Lakers coaching staff shortening the Lakers rotation for the playoffs, Brown found himself on the bench more, with his minutes decreasing to 14.7. Part of that is due to the natural increase in playing time for Bryant and Derek Fisher, but it also speaks to Shannon’s still-evolving decision-making skills on the court. In spite of his sometimes erratic play during the 2010 Finals run, Brown provided a huge spark in closeout games against Oklahoma City and Utah, averaging 11 and 12 points respectively.

Shannon’s insatiable appetite for scintillating dunks and seemingly endless energy has been one of the most exciting facets of the Lakers’ past two title teams. In many ways, I think this is what ultimately hurt Shannon more than anything in his disappointing dunk contest appearance. Like Kobe, Brown is more a jaw-dropping in-game dunker, which in my opinion, is a much more valuable skill set to have than the creative costume faire we’ve see at the past few All-Star Weekends. After the viral “Let Shannon Dunk” campaign, his lackluster performance in the dunk contest was definitely a lowlight of last season, but I don’t think it’s indicative of much of anything as far as his play with the Lakers is concerned (a point he clearly drove home in his best performance of the season, below).

PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:

Feb. 16, 2010—Starting in place of the injured Kobe Bryant, Brown showed that he’s more than just flash and dunks, scoring a career-high 27 points and and pulling down 10 rebounds to help the Lakers defeat the Golden State Warriors 104-94.

NEXT SEASON:

Shannon said it best himself during his exit interview: “I made progress. My first two and a half years I really didn’t play that much. This year I did. I’m steady making progress. As long as you get the time on the floor, it’s going to work out for the best. Basketball is my life, I think about it all the time, sometimes to a fault, and I couldn’t be happier about being a champion for the second time in a row.”

In the same interview, the Lakers guard also said that his main offseason goal was to focus on becoming more of a basketball player and not just an athlete. I think that’s exactly the right mindset for Shannon to adopt looking ahead to the 2010-11 season. We know all about his aerial acrobatics by now and streaky three-point shooting, but I suspect that Brown has a lot more in his bag of tricks. For starters, he’s shown signs of becoming a very strong defender—particularly against larger guards. If he wants to continue to get regular playing time in what is shaping up to be a tremendous defensive squad, he’ll need to really hone in on this area. Shannon also needs to continue to work on his decision-making skills, especially with the Lakers adding another reliable hand at guard in Steve Blake to go along with two of the most intelligent players in the league in Kobe and Fisher.

All of these issues point to his ongoing battle with consistency—something Brown said he will look to improve upon next season. “That’s a major part of winning,” said Brown. “Our bench has to come out and be able to produce and continue to make the team better when the starters on our the bench.”

After agreeing to return to the Lakers for a chance at a three-peat, Shannon appears dedicated to improving his play this offseason. He also displayed a great deal of self-awareness in re-signing with the Lakers instead of opting to join a team offering more money. Shannon clearly recognizes the special opportunity this Lakers team has this season and where he fits into the master plan. At the end of the day, that is precisely the mentality you want from your eighth or ninth man.

As a special bonus, take a look at this awesome video featuring Shannon’s top 10 career dunks.

Jan. 18, 2010 - LOS ANGELES, United States - epa01994839 Los Angeles Lakers DJ Mbenga of the Congo (L) and Orlando Magic Dwight Howard (R) battle under the basket during late action in Los Angeles, California, USA, 18 January 2010. The Lakers beat the Magic 98-92.

FB&G continues is player reviews for this past season with DJ “Congo Cash” Mbenga.  For a link to DJ’s exit interview, check out Phillip’s post from right after the season concluded.

SEASON IN REVIEW:

Last season the Lakers only carried 13 players.  And of those 13 players, DJ Mbenga was either the Lakers 12th or 13th man on any given night depending on match ups or how Phil was feeling on that day when deciding which player would be inactive.  When the Lakers roster was completely healthy, DJ would often suit up but would only see playing time in blow outs or as a random spark off the bench when Phil (seemingly) felt his big body could make a difference in that particular game.  So, when considering all of these factors it’s actually a little tough to gauge how good a season DJ actually had.

Statistically, Mbenga had the type of season you’d expect from a 3rd string Center and 5th big man.  In his 49 game appearances (a career high, by the way), he averaged about 2 points and 2 rebounds a game.  He shot a relatively low percentage from the field (46.6%) and was pretty bad from the foul line, making only 9 of his 19 attempts on the season (47.4%).  So far, this is exactly what we should all expect from DJ considering his role and what was asked of him on the court.

Putting his stats aside for a moment, I can easily say that I liked how DJ worked to improve his game in this past season.  He started to show better range on his jumpshot and looked more comfortable overall on offense.  On defense, while he still went for the blocked shot too often for my tastes, he did serve as an impediment to guards that drove to the basket and was as active as ever on that side of the ball.  His rebounding rates were average at best (and that’s being kind) as his want to block shots moved him away from prime rebounding position on the defensive side of the ball.  But overall, he showed some improvement from the completely raw player that joined the Lakers as a mid season pick up three years ago.

That said, I really wouldn’t call this season a success for Mbenga.  While he played in a career high 49 games, his minutes per game and per 36 minute production actually fell from his previous seasons in LA.  Plus, even though both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum missed 17 games (giving an opportunity for the 3rd string Center to get more run), Mbenga was often passed over for minutes by Josh Powell as the the Lakers elected to go small with an Odom/Powell front court for many nights where their big man depth was tested (or play whichever big man was healthy heavy minutes to compensate raither than playing DJ more).  Not to mention the fact that when Andrew Bynum suffered his torn meniscus during the playoffs, Phil actually deactivated DJ for a few games and instead dressed Adam Morrison, citing the fact that after he sustained a couple of eye/head injuries during practice that DJ was not as tuned into the action as he needed to be. 

PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:

Considering DJ’s lack of burn over the course of the season, it’s not that easy to find a game in which DJ truly had an impact performance.  However in an early April contest against the T’Wolves, Mbenga did have his season high in points (11) while also grabbing 2 offensive rebounds and blocking 2 shots in 14 minutes.  Based off the highlights, you can see that he moved well off the ball, showed some diversity on offense, and defended the rim well.

NEXT SEASON:

DJ has yet to sign on with another team and his return to the Lakers is pretty much out of the question after LA signed Theo Ratliff to a one year deal.  And with DJ reportedly looking for more minuteson whatever team he plays for next year, his return would have surprised me even if the Lakers hadn’t signed Ratliff.  However, wherever DJ plays next year I wish him well.  He’s a marginal NBA player, but he’s a legit 7’0″ big man in a league that covets size and I’m sure he’ll find a gig by the time NBA training camps begin.  So, thank you for the contributions DJ and nothing but the best to you.

Jan. 13, 2010: Los Angeles Lakers forward Luke Walton during an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX Los Angeles defeated Dallas 100-95.

FB&G continues is player reviews for this past season with Luke Walton.  For a link to Luke’s exit interview, check out Phillip’s post from right after the season concluded.

SEASON IN REVIEW:

By any measure, Luke Walton had a disappointing season.  He suffered through a campaign marred by injuries and – when healthy – inconsistent minutes that saw his effectiveness drop from useful to nearly inconsequential on many nights.  For many fans of Walton’s game (like myself) this was a disconcerting year and I’m sure a very frustrating one for Walton himself.  Every player wants to be on the court and for a player like Luke – one that has basketball in his blood – it must of been tortuous to be relegated to spectator status as often as he was this past season.  And Luke was mostly a spectator this season.  He only played in 29 games and saw the court for an average of 9.4 minutes (the lowest of his career and down from 17.9 just last season) in those games that he did play in.

But by all statistical measures (and I’m sure the injuries played a part in this), Luke really didn’t deserve to play many minutes this past season.  He posted career lows in nearly every statistical category.  And while it’d be easy to equate his statistical lows with his reduced minutes, his stats across the board fell in his per 36 minutes averages as well.  Basically, Luke just wasn’t that effective when he saw the court.  Sure, his innate feel for the game and his passing ability were still on display.  And there were many times throughout the season (especially when Ron or the back up guards struggled to run the offense) that fans called for a return of Walton to help facilitate a better flow to the Triangle.  But, as an individual threat, Walton just wasn’t the same guy.  Gone were the effective post ups while operating from the hub of the Triangle.  And his knack for finding creases in the defense for easy buckets underneath also diminished.  This led to his career low in FG% and in his FT rate, and ultimately made his game even more one dimensional (a passer/set up man) than what it’s been in the past.  In order to be a real threat on the floor, every player has to show enough of a well rounded game where he can be a threat from both an individual standpoint and within the team concept.  This past season, Luke just couldn’t do enough as an individual threat to earn floor time.

However, this isn’t to say that Luke didn’t contribute this past season.  As I mentioned, he still did have his moments as a facilitator of the Lakers’ offense.  There were several games this season when Walton’s passing and knowledge of the Triangle helped stimulate the stagnant sets the Lakers were running.  Also, and maybe even more of a help, were Walton’s contributions on the sideline.  While Luke rehabbed his bad back, he often sat in on the coaches meetings and charted plays during the games.  This allowed him to be a part of the team and aid the coaches by giving them insight on some of things that he was seeing from the sideline.  And while some may scoff at how important this role is, Tex Winter often filled this same role for Phil Jackson and gave his honest opinion on what the Lakers were doing on the court and what could be done to improve.  And given Luke’s familiarity with the Triangle, filling this role really was an aid to the team while also giving Walton a sense of worth with this group (something that is quite familiar to Phil if you’ve read Sacred Hoops).

PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:

For a guy that only averaged 9 minutes a game, it’s tough to find a stand out performance.  However, if I had to choose one game where I think Luke really made an impact, I would choose game 3 of the Finals against the Celtics.  In this game, Walton played a playoff high 13 minutes and was second on the team (behind Odom) with a +13 on the night.  And while his stat line was modest (2 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist), Luke played a very good all around game on both sides of the ball.  In typical fashion he ran the offense flawlessly by moving the ball around the court and consistently hitting the open man helping the Lakers break down the Boston D.  And on the other end of the court he played spirited defense on Paul Pierce by bodying him up and forcing him out of his sweet spots and to where his help was waiting.  Luke may not have been the difference maker in this game (that honor goes to Derek Fisher), but in a crucial contest where the Lakers were looking to take back home court advantage Luke played very well and helped secure a much needed win.  And with Ron Artest struggling mightily in this game (23 minutes, 2 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, -13 on the night), Luke’s timing in having a good game was also quite important.

NEXT SEASON:

Going into next season, there are more questions than answers about what role Walton will play with the team.  By all accounts, his injured back is a real issue and there may be tough decisions ahead on whether or not Walton can even suit up for the team next season.  But don’t take my word for it, take Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak’s:

It’s not your run of the mill type back problem. We don’t know where it’s going to end up. He’s a gamer and he loves to play. He wants to be a part of the team, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get back on the court. That’s a positive, to have the kind of player that’s motivated to get well. That’s not always the case…The most important thing is that Luke make the correct decision for his life, not for basketball.  The aging process of a healthy athlete is difficult enough as it is. So we counsel Luke, and our trainers do, to try to keep the big picture in the forefront of any decision. But like most young players they want to play. Sometimes they don’t [listen.]

And based off some of the moves that the the Lakers have made this off-season, you can see that contingencies are in place in case Luke can not play.  The Lakers have inked Matt Barnes to be the primary back up to Ron Artest – the role that we’re accustomed to seeing Luke filling.  The team is also in negotiations to bring back Shannon Brown who, while not a SF, is a guy that often plays SG with Kobe sliding up to play small forward.  Lamar Odom also made comments in his exit interview that he’d like to play more SF next season.  And the Lakers drafted Devin Ebanks, a promising prospect that will primarily play SF.  So, realistically, the Lakers may have 5 players capable of playing SF on next season’s roster not counting Walton.  And if all 5 of those players do see minutes at the position (which while not likely, is still possible), that’s quite the log jam of players at a position that Walton sees all of his minutes at.

Whatever next season brings for Luke, I think we can all agree that we wish him the best and hope he has a full recovery.  Yes, his contract is one that is easy to complain about.  And sure, Walton’s limited offensive aresenal (outside of his passing/play making), questionable defense, and injury history make him a whipping boy of sorts for many fans.  However, I’ve always viewed Walton as a player that helps more than he hurts when he’s healthy enough to play.  His feel for the game and his ability to run the Lakers sets give him a value to this team that he likely wouldn’t have with another outfit.  And while that may not appease those that dislike Luke’s game or question his ability as a player, it doesn’t change the fact that Walton is a player that is quite useful when he’s right.  And while I’m not sure we’ll see that player next season, I’m hopeful that he makes a decision that is best for him and his long term health.  If that’s on the court, great.  If it’s not, then I can say that I was a fan of his game and hope things work out for him in whatever is next for him.