Our wait is nearly over. Tomorrow night the Lakers begin their pursuit of a third consecutive championship. There is no better time to be a fan of the Lakers and in a league that has reshaped itself in the hopes of dethroning the champions, this season promises to be as exciting as any we’ve seen in the past 20 years. But with the dawn of a new campaign upon us, there are questions to be asked and thoughts on this group to be hashed out. And with that, we present our season preview. Rather than give a standard preview of the team overall, we took the approach of looking for answers to questions that interest us. So without further ado, here were some of the pressing topics on the mind of me, Phillip, and Jeff as we look at the 2010-11 season.
The Starters Rule, But What About The Bench?
For several seasons now the Lakers have been a top heavy team. With Kobe, Gasol, Odom, Bynum, and last season’s addition of Artest, a roster was created that, on paper, is one of the best assembled since Jordan’s Bulls. And with this much talent, it’s easy to see why Lakers’ units that used any combination of 3 or more of these players generated excellent plus/minus numbers. Regardless of who the opposition throws out there, they’re going to struggle to contain that group. But, even with the dominance of these players, the Lakers still didn’t play to their capacity as a team. And while some of that was injury based and even more of it was due to complacency, the reason for not playing better was due to the lack of consistent production from the bench.
The Lakers look to change that this season. With the additions of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, the Lakers have filled in the cracks the reserves showed last season. Plus, these two players fit right in with the style of play that the starters exhibit. Some may argue that this isn’t the best formula – the argument says that by having a running bench the Lakers change the tempo and that difference throws off the opponent – but I don’t buy that. Last season I wrote that I was hoping for the bench to play more like the starters because that consistency from unit to unit would mean better execution, and thus better results. Well, this season, we’re surely going to get that duplication from the reserves. And what I thought would occur last season will be delayed and deployed during this one. The Lakers bench will be slightly less effective version of the starting group and with that will come what we haven’t seen in nearly 2 full seasons – a bench that can control the game, hold or extend leads, cut into deficits, and limit the starter’s minutes. As we’ve seen this preseason, the presence of savvy veterans that play smart, tough basketball will be a welcome addition to a team that has had to push its starters too long in games that should have been more easily won. Second units around the league will no longer have the opportunity to bait the reserve guards into long jumpers early in the shot clock or careless drives to the hoop. In fact, they’ll see the opposite – steady, consistent play with a focus on execution.
Another Leader Is Here
The addition of Steve Blake–a starting caliber point guard–should help stabilize one of the Lakers’ long-term problem areas heading into the 2010-2011 season. Incumbent starter Derek Fisher’s 43% shooting from the field (50% from beyond the arc) in eight preseason games was actually an improvement over his shooting figures from last season, though you can’t really place too much stock in anything this time of year. For most of 2009-2010, the veteran guard’s shooting was anemic at best, yet Derek still managed to come up with a bevy of clutch baskets come playoff time. With newcomer Blake quickly picking up the offense during L.A.’s eight preseason games, talk has begun anew in Lakers Land about how long it will take him to replace Derek in the starting lineup. It’s not as if Fisher’s job is in jeopardy; regardless of who begins the game on the bench, expect each to play around 21-25 minutes per game. If anything, Blake’s steady play should provide some much-needed relief for Fish, which will help keep him fresh for when the Lakers need him most in April, June and May. Aerial acrobatics and streaky shooting aside, Steve Blake is everything former backup one Jordan Farmar was not—reliable, selfless and most importantly, consistent. He’s not a player who’s going to dazzle you night in and night out, but instead one that knows his role intimately and rarely plays outside of his abilities. He is also a dramatically better shooter than his 39% preseason shooting would lead you to believe. Though Blake will likely see ample playing time with the starters too, his savvy veteran presence should go a long way toward grounding what is shaping up to be the Lakers’ deepest bench since the 2007-2008 season.
Closing Out Games
When one thinks of the last few minutes of a Lakers game, Kobe Bryant instantly comes to mind. The guy is absolutely brilliant in end-of-game situations. However, we’re not concerned with Kobe right now, but more concerned with who should compliment Pau Gasol in the frontcourt. Should Lamar Odom close out games, or should it be Andrew Bynum. Now, this isn’t exactly the most pressing question to be asked at this point in the season considering Andrew Bynum isn’t seeing any game time any time soon, but as the season progresses, this becomes an important issue.
I’ve always felt that a Bryant-Odom-Gasol gives the Lakers the best possible offensive trio because of the way Odom and Gasol work together from 17-feet and closer. Post passing is at a premium in this league, and the Odom-to-Gasol or the Gasol-to-Odom connections are as good as you’re going to see. However, having Andrew Bynum out on the floor is going to help Gasol out on the defensive end. The NBA is currently in a transition from trying to bring in players to run the run-and-gun offense that has been so popular the last 5-6 years and following the Lakers model of size and length.
Take a look at teams like Portland (Marcus Camby, Fabricio Oberto, Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla and LaMarcus Aldridge), Dallas (Brendan Haywood, Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki and Brian Cardinal), San Antonio (Antonio McDyess, Tiago Splitter, Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair), Houston (Yao Ming, Brad Miller, Jordan Hill, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes and Jared Jeffries), Orlando (Dwight Howard, Marcin Gortat, Rashard Lewis, Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass), and of course, Boston (Kendrick Perkins, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis) have considerable size, and all of these teams are just following the Lakers model.
It isn’t going to be easy leaving Odom out to close games every night with Andrew Bynum sitting. Gasol is much more effective at the power forward position, and he only gets to move to that spot with Bynum (or, to a lesser extent, Theo Ratliff) on the floor. I do believe that Odom will get a lot of close-out minutes, but Bynum has to get the lion’s share, especially as we get closer to the playoffs. Not only because of the increased size across the board, but because it’s time for Bynum to start taking his game to another level.
You Remember Our Motto, Right?
From our earliest days of youth basketball, we learn that “defense wins games, free throws win championships.” For the Lakers, it’s the other way around. In Game 7 of the NBA Finals the Lakers were awful from the free throw line (67.6 percent), but only allowed 79 points. This season, the Lakers are going to have to do much of the same. The offense is going to come and go, but defense is a matter of effort.
This season, the Lakers defensive philosophy will continue as it did last season – they’ll overly aggressive on the perimeter, funnel penetrators to the bigs, close out on three point shooters and foul as little as possible. With the addition of Matt Barnes, the Lakers hope to not lose a beat on that end of the floor when either Kobe or Ron Artest take a breather. Barnes, as you’ll remember from his days of defending Kobe, is another physical perimeter defender who fears no offensive player. Much like Artest, he takes pride in shutting down the opposition’s best perimeter scorer. Considering how well Bryant and Artest played together, I see Barnes fitting right in, and even improving a defense that finished fourth in defensive efficiency rating a season ago.
I expect to see a lot more of their usage of the strong size zone this year. The Lakers like to force the ball handler to one side of the floor and have their big men step into help side. Because of their length, skip passes become difficult, penetration lanes become less plentiful and three point shots are harder to get off. In fact, teams shot worse from behind the arch against the Lakers than they did against any other team in the NBA. If they’re not in their strong size zone, they’re straight up man-to-man. Because of the Artest-Barnes-Bryant trio, they have the personnel to match up with any backcourt while having the size up front with the Gasol-Bynum-Odom trio to give any big man problems. What I’m trying to say is, if this defense plays the way it should, it’s a defense that will win them another championship.
It’s A Long Season, Stay Patient
I could write a doctorial thesis on how the marathon of an NBA season is often over valued when judging what teams will have post-season success. This isn’t to say that the regular season means nothing – that’d be a dumb thing to say – but I am saying that you must look at more than simple wins and losses or even point differential when coming to any conclusions about the 82 game campaign each team embarks on.
Last season showed that more than anything else, the regular season is important as a bridge to the playoffs. Both the Lakers and Boston showed that regular season success, while important, is only one part of the preparation for a long post-season run. Health is just as important. Developing chemistry and establishing roles for the players is key. Building momentum can come in the form of a winning streak, but it can also come in the form of having everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction as a like-minded unit. Once that occurs, if all things fall into place, the ultimate prize will be within reach.
I bring all this up because this season will be filled with peaks and valleys. Like every other season that we’ve observed as followers of this team, there will be moments where hope is low and where the frustration spawned from suspect results will dominate the mind. Do not succumb easily to these feelings of doubt. The NBA title will not be decided on Christmas Day or on the Grammy Road Trip. These are just steps in the process and must be separated out from the larger goal at hand. Enjoy the journey and understand, again, that it is a long one. Championships aren’t won in a single game during the regular season, but over the long haul the lessons learned from the cumulative will prepare the players (and the fans) for the bigger prize.
Dave M says
This is an incredibly insightful look into the near future although I didn’t see anything about Sasha’s coming rise-to-glory (cut short by a tragic brow-grooming accident at the line).
Gr8 Scott says
I can’t believe the season is almost here, but I can believe that we’ll continue to get the same thoughtful writing that is a trademark here among the many articulate contributors. This is the best Lakers site for true insight – bar none. Darius, Philip and the rest – keep up the great job and I look forward to the chance at a third straight championship. Regardless of what happens, let’s enjoy the journey. Go Lakers!!
Wow… the season hasn’t even started and you are already in mid season form. I have to say you were pretty brilliant in predicting the biggest question of the season. Most likely Kobe and Andrew get healthy (after all that is what happens) and in his late 30’s Fisher is OK with getting the AC Green treatment of starting games but giving way late in favor of a younger veteran player (this time Blake instead of Horry). The real question will be if Jackson can keep a healthy and prime Bynum on the bench come winning time when statistically he has greatly out performed Odom the last three years. At the ends of games size, defense, and rebounding are at a premium and that is exactly what Andrew brings the Lakers. People forget that before Andrew hyper extended his knee in Game 6 he was closing out games for the Lakers that series as Odom was really struggling against OKC. Of course that story wasn’t getting any play because Kobe was looking so bad on that knee and by the time Kobe was healthier Bynum was playing on one leg, no longer on the floor down the stretch. What makes your write up so unusual is most writers predict the season with todays story lines… but you are predicting tomorrows story lines to go along with tomorrow’s results. Smart and well done.
Anyone know if the ring ceremony will be posted online anywhere? I will be able to catch the second half of the game, but not the first half or the festivities before that.
I would not be at all surprised if this Laker team wins between 55 and 60 games and has some slumps during the season.
You have to think of this Laker team as coming off THREE Championship series in a row (not back-to-back championships).
Mitch was smart to infuse the Bench with new blood (Blake, Barnes, Ratliff – the rooks), because the Lakers are going to need additional energy to get through the regular season.
I would not be surprised at all if they lost to Houston tomorrow night.
I would not be surprised at all if there are a rash of doomsday articles about “What’s wrong with the Lakers?” as they sit, stuck in the 2nd or 3rd seed after a seemingly lackluster season.
I would also not be suprised if they’re throwing another parade next June.
Remember: it’s a LONG season. There are going to be a lot of downs to go with the ups. They will right themselves for the playoffs and they will be facing Orlando, Boston, or Miami in the Finals no matter how bad their regular season was.
After the 1st preseason game, I received this text: “What’s wrong with the Lakers?”
I love the traditional FB&G call for calm. As fans, we definitely get caught up in the emotion of the moment (often on a quarter-by-quarter basis!), and easily lose sight of the big picture. I think the goal for all of us this season should be to not fall for that trap, and keep the whole season in mind, rather than a 12 minute block where we’ve let a guy like Craig Smith get 12 & 6!
On a happier note, here in Australia I get to see the ring ceremony and the opening game of the season in full. Beautiful. Already got the DVR primed & ready for action.
i for one am excited about this season as i have any before it for a long time. i think the lakers have the depth, experience, and intangibles, but beyond that is that this team simply has the highest ceiling of any of the recent laker teams. i think of last year’s baseline plus:
1. artest looks + odom look lively- they look like they will both improve on last year’s performance and are in mid-season form already.
2. i have zero concerns about kobe+gasol rounding into shape. fisher at this point is a known quantity.
3. blake should keep the triangle running while the starters sit. barnes to me is all upside- his baseline is defense+intensity, upside is finding his 3pt stroke.
4. phil, despite hatred for rookies, can’t keep ebanks on the bench- i loved his comment that he’s got to find mintues for him either @ SF/PF/SG.
5. bynum is all upside- he’s been so injury-ridden, either he’ll continue to play well, if unreliably (which is the default- and team still won two rings), or he’ll finally put together that magical 20/10 all-star season everyone has been looking for, which will mean this team will just simply dominate.
6. caracter+ratliff > powell+mbenga
this team will be a work in progress, esp first half of the season but when it’s done cooking (kobe+bynum healing, new guys), they’ll go on a ridiculous run to make us all feel better.
Health, health, health and then more health.
I don’t think, on paper or otherwise, anyone has what it takes to beat us 4 times in 7 games if we are all healthy.
Also, our versatility would make Don Nelson drool with the kind of oddball lineups he could throw out there. Too bad (or thankfully) we have PJ at the helm, but there’ll be times when the situation demands for really odd lineups and that’s when we’re going to have the most fun…
now let’s get this season started! 2k11 does not give the full satisfaction of a Lakers team doing a beatdown. Let’s GO LAKERS! clap clap clap clap clap!
Since the game’s on TNT, will we have to search for a random online feed, or does TNT always air their games online? I seem to remember them showing games on TNT Overtime, but I couldn’t remember if that was a free or paid service since I never used it. Anyone know?
i’d like to see our Lakers evolve into a truly well-oiled killing machine, a la the Rodman-era Bulls, which had a perfect balance of superstars, specialists, and role players.
Right now I feel we’re a good team, mainly because of our star power. But I feel we can be a great team, because of our role players.
Michael Brand says
>and following the Lakers model
>of size and length.
I’m not sure they are copying as much as trying to compete.
I love how Hollinger disregarded the Lakers and Celtics as title contenders at the end of last regular season, because of their late season slump. He needs to read Darius some more (and not be so dependent on statistics). There are more things out there than number of wins/losses and point differential.
weaksauce — and now he picks miami to win it all.
Good post and some great comments.
I am curious to see if the ‘disease of more’ infects the team. Can Kobe dial back his shot attempts? Are there enough shots and minutes to go around?
It will also be interesting to see how the Fisher/Blake combination plays out. Despite some of the comments last year, I don’t think Farmar was an upgrade over Fish. This year I think Blake will be outplaying Fisher. I doubt Phil will start Blake and I am sure both Blake and Fish will act with class, but it will be a wierd dynamic.
Darius Soriano says
I’ve updated the Fantasy League post with some new information. There are a handful of spots left in a second league.
Theo Ratliff is flying under the radar and I think is going to contribute more, in more ways, than people might think.
Dude brings the hardhat and lunchbox to every game. 12-15 mins of solid D and free’ing up everyone but Bynum to play their natural position? This is goooood!
p.s. – i can see Fish having no problem with Blake starting and him finishing 😉
Craig W. says
People seem to forget that Theo Ratliff started a bunch of games last year and played heavy minutes. I don’t want him to have to do that this year, but he isn’t ready for a rocking chair just yet.
reading the post a second time made me realize something.
wasn’t it the strong SIDE zone?
not that it isn’t fitting to be called the strong SIZE zone since that’s what we’ve got, but still 😉
Dave M says
harold – I read that too and chuckled. It’s better than the weak size zone though.
The NBA offers a free test week of the online league pass, at least for non-US viewers. You should be able to find it at http://www.nba.tv
I’m not sure though whether the LAL-HOU game will be on there because of those strange restrictions and black-outs, but it’s worth a try.
Haven’t posted for a while but I’ve been checking in… stoked that the season is finally starting again. I really hope that Bynum can get and stay healthy – I think ppl might forget how good he really is when he’s on top of his game. And he turns 23 years old tomorrow!
I’m gonna miss most of the games cuz I’m in Hong Kong and working at a bank (but I’ll be following)… you guys don’t know how lucky you are to be in the right time zone!
John Morris says
Hoochie Mama! My mind was racing like I was a kid on Christmas Eve last night. This is going to be a fantastic season.
Looking ahead I’m very interested to see the bench this season. My hope is that Blake will keep the offense doing what it should be and not playing rec-league ball. Also, Barnes’ defense should help the 2nd unit keep it’s intensity when the starters are resting. Another thing I saw from him during the preseason is how hard he hits the offensive glass.
I love the rookies. Ebanks seems to be excelling earlier but I’m a Character fan. I want him to turn into the glass-eating maniac the Lakers have needed for years; kind of like an upgrade from Glen Davis.
This is why I’m such a bad football/baseball fan: the 49ers are in a real bad spot and, while I haven’t given up on them, I’m about to. Then the Giants are in the World Series! I can’t believe it but still all I can think about is the NBA and this Lakers team destined for glory.
God bless the Lakers!
Whats impressed me the most this preseason is the length of Lamar Odom…
Darius Soriano says
Still a few spots left in the FB&G fantasy league. Updated for the 2nd time…
Travis Y. says
The second unit this year is going to be steady and intelligent.
The greatest difference for the 2nd unit is that they all got paid this offseason. There are no lingering thoughts of, “will I or won’t I be getting paid.” Everyone has been taken care of and is on board to be selfless on this journey to the trophy.
Last year Farmar was looking for the slightest indication that the offense was awry to break from the system. Shannon was showing a lot of progress but it seemed like Farmar did not want to share the ball with him. Consequently, the chemistry of the 2nd unit suffered.
Our entire team will be focused and going into June I think our health will be even better this year. Want to know why? We have extricated the cancer that is selfish basketball.
Looking forward to the beginning of a thousand steps.
I said it for 2 years straight and im guarenting it again.
Another 3peat baby!!!
Boston sux, Boston sux!
Yes, I definitely meant strong side zone haha! We had a short time to put this together and I obviously didn’t do a great job editing my work. Either way, thanks for pointing that out, and for future readers, note that it is “strong side” not “strong size”.
Been waiting for this one for 5 months. This season definitely has the potential to be my favorite NBA season ever. The number of storylines is incredible. I am just praying for health for the entire team. This team healthy and focused is unbeatable.
The Lakers might be a little sluggish out of the gate, but I expect to see them rounding into form once Bynum and Kobe are healthy sometime in late December-early January. Our SF and G depth is awesome this year. Steve, Sasha, Shannon, Matt, Luke, and Devin will be critical in keeping the old-timers legs fresh. I predict that Ron-Ron will have a much smoother second season. Seems to be in a great place mentally.
I see this season as being a huge one for Pau. If he is able to be “the man” this year, it will solidify his place among the all-time Laker greats. It won’t be blasphemous to mention him among the Captain, Wilt, Shaq, and Mikan. He will be worthy of that praise.