UPDATE: The most positive news of all has just come out via the LA Times’ Mike Bresnahan’s twitter feed. Apparently, after today’s practice, Bynum declared that he is “definitely playing tomorrow.” The long wait is (seemingly) over and it looks like game #25 for the Lakers will be Andrew Bynum’s 1st of the 2010-11 campaign. We’ll have more on this later, but for now – Hooray! Back to our regularly scheduled programming below…
Right now the Lakers aren’t playing good basketball. I could list 10 things that are troubling or that the team is doing poorly on a nightly basis and that still wouldn’t cover all the minor infractions that contribute to the lackluster play of late. On any given possession you’re likely to see a key mistake, and it seems that only luck makes it so that mistake isn’t capitalized on by the opponent (i.e. a poor rotation leads to a wide open jumpshot that just happens to miss).
However, even in a time of almost complete frustration (dark clouds even hang over the wins these days), the Lakers are a championship contender. The talent on this team hasn’t gone away, it’s merely being stretched as thin as possible and being pushed further than we all would like for it to be. Plus, the team is still doing things well, both as a group and as individuals. So, despite there being plenty of strike marks in our concerns column, here are 5 things that are positives right now with the Lakers:
1). Kobe now looks completely healthy.
Just 3 weeks ago, Kobe insisted that this was already the case and I was inclined to just roll with that as truth. But looking back and comparing his current play to what he displayed during the period where he rebuffed any media attempt to discuss his health, it’s easy to see the difference. His explosiveness has returned and the benefits – a quicker first step, better elevation on his jumper, the return of dunks to his repertoire of finishes around the hoop – are obvious to the naked eye. But more than his offense being aided, his defense has also picked up in recent games. He’s now pressuring ball handlers better and not getting beat off the dribble as easily as he was earlier in the year. His activity on that end of the floor has led to him tallying 16 steals in his last 6 games and his ability to navigate through screens and help/recover is at the highest level it’s been all year.
2). The Lakers defense is trending in the right direction.
Many people have pointed out the Lakers’ lack of ability to put points on the board of late. They’ve only tallied more than 100 points twice in the last ten games and their offensive efficiency is down to 113.1 – a mark that still leads the league, but is a major drop off from where it was early in the season. But in that same 10 game stretch where they’ve struggled to score, they’ve also been playing better defense – at least from a statistical standpoint. In that period the Lakers defensive efficiency has been 103.8. A mark that would mark them 9th in the league if they’d done this well the entire season. As it stands now, the Lakers are 10th, but have moved up from 13thin recent weeks solely on the strength of their improved D. One can only assume (or hope) that this will continue to improve when Bynum returns.
3). Lamar Odom continues to play fantastic basketball.
When LO started out the season playing at a high level, it was easy to question if it would last. Odom is not known as the most consistent player around and it wasn’t a leap to assume that his production would start to taper off once the rest of the league got into the same type of shape that he was coming off his summer with Team USA. However, that just hasn’t been the case. He continues to shoot the ball extremely well and his rebounding remains top notch. This has all led to a career high in PER and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to slow down at all. Even more, his versatility has meant that other players can fit in where they’re needed rather than trying to step outside their comfort zones to help the team. Whether he’s posting up, making his outside jumper, or bringing the ball up he’s allowing other guys to thrive simply by playing his unique game. And since I always love to give LO his due, here’s someone else pointing it out too:
4). The Lakers’ guards and wings are well rested.
Coming into the year we all had high hopes that the Lakers would have an improved bench; that the reserves would be able to relieve some of the burden that the starters had to carry last season – especially in terms of minutes played. Well, it’s going even better than I think anyone could have expected. At this moment, Kobe, Fisher, and Artest’s minutes are all down from last season. In fact, at 33.4 mintues a game, Kobe is playing his lowest average since he played 26 minutes a night in his second season. When you combine that with Fisher (full disclosure – his minutes are only fractionally down) and Artest (whose minutes are down to the lowest he’s ever averaged) and you have a recipe for the Lakers wings to be as fresh or fresher than they’ve ever been by the end of the season. This should translate to better defense as the year progresses (rather than the drop off that this team experienced last year) and overall better play down the stretch. Whether this remains to be seen is another issue, but at least it’s being set up where it’s possible.
5). The Lakers’ rookies are showing they can play.
I understand that this may come off as a bit of a stretch. I mean, Caracter isn’t playing that consistently and Phil rarely seems to trust him for more than a couple of minutes at a time. And Ebanks has only played in 10 of LA’s 24 contests and that run has mostly come in garbage time. But, answer me this, when was the last time the Lakers even had one rookie that looked like he could turn into a rotation player? Farmar? Bynum? Turiaf? Starting to see my point? Despite their limited burn and their inconsistencies, the Lakers’ rookies are showing some flashes. The strengths they showed in the summer have carried over to the regular season. There’s still a long way to go before they’re in any way dependable, but they both look eager to learn and more comfortable with each passing game that they see action. Safe to say that these guys aren’t Sun Yue’s and for a team that’s aging, some young blood in the pipeline is surely a good thing to have.
Good post, Darius. It has been frustrating to watch games of late, but it does seem more a matter of getting a player or two back and fixing correctable mistakes, than the team not having what it takes. The pieces, when healthy, there.
A point I would add on the rookies was their draft position. In that context, they really are steals.
>they really are steals
I can’t buy in to that so much, based on the contribution they’ve made to winning, which is none.
MICHAEL ZARABI aka ZERB says
bynum via twitter
Bynum: “I’m definitely playing tomorrow”
Craig W. says
The only point I want to make is to implore the fanbase not to make any excuses with regard to injuries. This team is not one of the ones with a large amount of injuries. We have two of our centers out, but there are many other teams that would simply laugh in our face if we tried to tell them about our injury problems.
I believe our problems stem from three straight years in the finals and our team leaders all being over 30yrs old. No, we are not about to fall apart, but this is a team near the end of its current window – not near the beginning.
We really need to be clicking by the end of the year, if we want a chance to repeat. There are too many teams that look to be good this year.
I don’t think I am being a pessimist, because I still believe we CAN win this thing, but any superior attitude on the part of our fans is severely misplaced. We are one of the top teams, not the top team this year.
whats his twitter name?
Darius Soriano says
I’ve udated the post with Bynum’s news. We’ll cover this in more detail in the coming days, but needless to say it’s happy time that Bynum is finally going to be back.
To be fair to Caracter, he’s also playing out of position. As fans, I’d love it if all our players could scale mountains, leap across oceans, etc., but most undersized PFs like Caracter can’t really hold down the fort in the paint. If he manages to find time next to Bynum, I wouldn’t be surprised if his play improves significantly.
As a Laker fan, the two teams I fear the most this year are San Antonio and Boston. Those two teams have the right combination of big men, small guards and wing players to negate many of the advantages this Laker team normally enjoys.
Throw in that with the current pace, both those teams would have HCA and at best I’d consider the Lakers equal going into a series with them and not a clear favorite.
Craig, I agree mostly with what you posted. The Lakers are definitely looking at a closing window, not an opening one. And even more, there are some really good teams in the league and even bad teams now have some good players. So no argument from me there.
However, I don’t think citing injuries is necessarily making an excuse. We have all completely reworked our opinions on teams like Portland and Houston because of injuries. I think most rational people have also watched Miami with an eye to the two key injuries they have sustained. Lakers, Celtics (with KG a couple years ago) and even Orlando can wonder what would have been, but for injuries. It’s not excuses, it’s reality.
The Lakers’ chances of repeating hinge on a healthy roster come playoff time. the same holds true for each of the other contenders.
any news on the lakers looking to trade for a centre? word is hasheem thabeet is on the block. wonder if theres any interest there..
Craig W. says
Yours is not a unique question. However, the Lakers are not going to invest more cash in a center – certainly not one with an overvalued contract and unable to contribute right away.
We are dancing with the girl(s) we brung to this dance, not with new partners. Now Mitch may pull another miracle, but don’t expect something like that.
Gr8 Scott says
We need to get a nice long W streak going. One game at a time, but this road trip provides the perfect opportunity to mesh together even more. I agree that Boston & especially San Antonio look good now. If they’re still playing like this (and have the equivalent winning %) in 2-3 months time, it would be tough, but not inconceivable, to see us beating both in the postseason without HCA. Bottom line – improve one game at a time, keep players rested when possible, make D the top priority and win title #17!!
He is having a fantastic offensive year. He isn’t the playmaker he was in his youth but he is a play finisher he has never been before especially from the outside. The one issue I have with Lamar is his one on one defense. I know he has never been a good one on one defensive player but this year he has been even worse. I think some of it is effort… although much of that can be explained away by all the minutes he has had to play.
Although the injury wasn’t serious… lets not forget how long its been since he has played basketball. Andrew coming back fixes most of the ills that have been ailing the Lakers but don’t expect him to be 100% for another couple months. And Drew still doesn’t give the Lakers a back up Center… lets hope Theo will be back healthy and soon as well.
In regards to the Presidential visit today. Good to see Kobe is always on top of his game, whether on the court in verbally sparring. Quick wit.
Good look for the team with the president today for the holidays. Glad to hear that Bynum is coming back tommorrow, no more excuses from all. Hopefully he shows some improvement in court awareness and LO going to the bench will help them become consistent again(did I just say LO and consistent in the same sentence).
The season definitely seems as if it is futher along than it is, long way to go to catch Celts or Spurs. One game at time, lets get it.
I agree with Aaron…
Odom’s been getting killed 1v1 on the block, even against guys like Boozer that he used to be able to handle.
And I don’t expect Andrew to play that great out of the box. If he doesn’t get 2 quick fouls in the first 5 minutes, I’ll be happy.
dave m says
Holiday wishes – for Andrew to regain conditioning, timing and strength, and remain in good health for the rest of the season and beyond. I also don’t need to see the kid going up for lobs which means, teammates – don’t be throwing it into the stratosphere, please?
I thought the Heat were in for a tough one tonight…then the Hornets decided to only score 7 points in the 4th.
Now I’m hoping the Bucks keep up the good play. They’re up 4 with 4 left.
Yeah, I have to remember to start playing Bynum now, cheers that he will be the catalyst to assist the team at this point in time, another big back in the rotation is always good, right?
The Dude Abides says
@13. Regarding big man depth, I still have a feeling that Mbenga will be back with the team. I think NOLA is going to release him and his nonguaranteed contract before the January deadline, and with our bigs in their present state, I’m betting Mitch will add one more for depth. DJ has not been getting consistent minutes the past couple weeks.
There is a reason Mbenga is not getting any playing time, dude is not that good. He is just a big body that will take up space on the bench. LA can stand pat with what they have now( Bynum coming back tonight and eventually Theo) unless something drastic happens. DC can absorb the 5 to 7 minutes Theo might( and I stress might) have gotten over the course of a game because of front court foul trouble.. There are simply not that many minutes for the likes of Theo or Mbenga with a front line of LO, Pau, Drew.
I agree wih Craig W mostly, and my overall take is that the Lakers will not be able to win it again if Bynum gets hurt. I don’t think the 40-50% Bynum “plan” gets it done this year.
The stuff about Garnett moving better is not just Boston propaganda; it is clear from the numbers and if you watch. Chandler makes Dallas better. SA is better, and then of course there is Miami. I think Orlando will make an add.
So, I think they will need Bynum near 100% for this run to happen.
The Dude Abides says
21. He was adequate enough with the Lakers. The triangle offense actually benefited him, as did the presence of Kobe, Lamar, and our other playmakers. Anyway, he ain’t coming now that we’ve got Joe Smith.