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.