Archives For Player Review

General Thoughts On The Season

Nick Young was brought in this summer during the whirlwind of reclamation signings made by the Lakers this past summer as they tried to put a competitive roster together. The signing was on the heels of Kobe’s Achilles exploding, the team being swept out of the first round and Dwight Howard jumping ship for Texas. After a summer in which the Lakers felt they put a roster together that would compete for a championship, they were scrambling to put one together that might compete for a playoff spot, and Swagnificant P was one of the main signings that highlighted the summer.

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Many wondered how Young would fit in with this Lakers team, and considering the contract that Young was offered this year, Young contributed much more than what his contract was worth. Young averaged 22.8 per 36 this year, completely bought into his sixth man role and ostensibly gave Lakers fans a guy they could collectively root for. If nothing else, the Nick Young experience was awfully fun this season. Plenty of off the cuff post game quotes, the bad shots were often hilarious (see above) and the made shots flit down the hard wood, hunched over, with three fingers almost scraping the floor. In a year when the Lakers set a franchise low in wins, you have to take your wins when you can, and Young was definitely a win this year.

Strengths And Weaknesses

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With no real timetable for the return of Kobe Bryant, Young was largely brought in as a guy who could create his own shot — for better or for worse — when the offense got into a bit of trouble while Bean rehabbed. Young’s role was slated to change once Bryant got back, however this original plan really never got going as planned. Young began the season struggling in a starting role and was moved to the bench just a few games into the season, and there was an immediate jump in the quality of play. Young was afforded a little more freedom and was opposed by lesser defenders on the opposing teams’ reserves. While the starting lineup was in constant flux, Young continued to come off the bench and close out games on the nights he had it going.

Along with many of the point guards, Mike D’Antoni turned what may have been considered a weakness into a discernible strength. Young had, and still has, a stigma that is of a guy who is going to take a lot of bad shots outside of the rhythm of the offense. While there was still a lot of wild, ridiculous shots taken by Young, his shot selection was much improved from previous years. Young recorded career highs in TS%, eFG%, USG%, offensive efficiency and PER. Young cut down on the percentage of mid-range jumpers he jacked up this year (.354 of total attempts from 10-23 feet this season compared to .455 for his career). On the flip side, Young shot .555 of his shots either right at the rim or behind the 3-point line.

While it doesn’t really mean much on a team as terrible on the defensive end as it was this year, that side of the ball wasn’t exactly his strong suit. There were stretches when Young came up with some key defensive stops, but Young struggled defending in isolation and didn’t always have the greatest rotations (who did). Early in the year, with the team (relatively) healthy, the Lakers were able to extend their defense to 3-quarters court, and Young was able to excel in those situations. Young helped force turnovers and get the team in transition. However, Young really struggled defensively in transition and in the half court.

Most Memorable Moment

Tough to find a starting point here. Tough to find an ending point, too. Young was only here for a year and the amount of comedy, joy, fun and excitement he brought can’t be bottled up into a single moment. Young’s 360 missed layup is as memorable as the celebration of the missed 3-pointer. Both of his 40-point games were as memorable as the previous moments (one in a loss, the other in a win that they needed to lose). I think my favorite moment may have been his celebration with Pau Gasol after Pau drilled a corner three late in the 4th quarter in a win over the Timberwolves. In the last two seasons, we haven’t seen too much joy come from The Spaniard, but Young brought out nothing but pure happiness from a guy who hasn’t seen a lot of it.

 

Overall Grade And Summary

B+ (Graded on a curve for terrible season)

Nick Young ended up doing a whole lot more than what he was initially asked to do this season. He was brought in to become a secondary scorer off the bench once the team got healthy. The team never gained full health and Young was the team’s primary perimeter option on most nights, the team’s sixth man, the spark, and overall feel good story (he was not the only feel good story). What was surprising was that he was much more willing to make the extra pass than what was believed going into the season. Not sure if that’s coaching or Young’s reputation being worse than he actually was, but it was a positive that wasn’t expected this year.

An interesting tidbit about Young’s season with the Lakers: he passed up Kobe on the all-time list of 4-point plays. Young now has 10 for his career to Kobe’s nine. Under normal circumstances, Young’s grade probably would have been a little lower, but he exceeded many expectations in many ways and it was a positive individual year for Young. Because of his player option, it’s likely that he won’t return next year, and he’s definitely earned whatever contract is thrown his way this summer.

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.