On Monday, Rick Bonnel of the Charlotte Observer tipped us off that this was coming. And today, Marc Spears of Yahoo! confirmed that earlier report. When Antawn Jamison returns from his trip to Italy, he will sign with the Lakers for one season at the league minimum.
First and foremost, at this price, Jamison is a fantastic bargain. The quality of player that is typically nabbed for a minimum salary contract is low. There’s normally little expectation that he’d be a rotation player, much less one that can be depended on to contribute nightly. The Lakers know this well from some of their recent acquisitions using this exception (Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono are examples from last season) and have suffered from depending on them to fill real needs.
With Jamison, though, the Lakers have grabbed a player that can come in and instantly bolster their bench production. This was a hole that needed filling and the Lakers addressed it by grabbing one of the more accomplished players still available at this stage of free agency. Jamison’s stats from last season – 17 points and 6 rebounds in 33 minutes – show he’s still quite capable of contributing at an above average level (as does his 16.1 PER) and he instantly becomes the Lakers best bench scorer.
And, make no mistake, this is exactly what he’s going to be asked to do. His reputation as a boost to any offense is well earned, evidenced by the fact that last season the Cavs were 11 points better per 100 possessions when Jamison was on the floor versus when he was on the bench. Though his overall field goal percentage was the lowest of his career, his three point percentage was right in line with his career average. Most important, though, he provided a stabilizing force for the Cavs as a player that could hit spot up jumpers and still create shots for himself with his nifty in-between game that’s been a staple of his arsenal his entire career.
These are the same strengths he’ll bring to the Lakers, though without the constant pressure of having to be a go to player. Jamison can now do what he does best – spot up, make smart cuts, and finish off the open looks his teammates create for him. Add him to lineups that feature any combination of Kobe, Nash, Pau, or Bynum and Jamison bolsters the offense instantly. He’ll give those guys more space to work by occupying defenders and can serve as a capable outlet that can be depended on to make the right play when they give up the ball to him. His turnover rate his historically low and he ranked first in the entire league in points off open jumpers last year.
Where there are concerns, however, are on defense. Just as Jamison helped prop up the Cavs offense, he helped drag down their defense. The Cavs were 8 points worse per 100 possessions when Jamison was on the floor and is ability to lose his man off the ball and get beat while guarding it was pretty bad. And while his rebounding isn’t quite at that same lowly level, he posted his lowest total rebound rate in a decade. As a comparison, he had a lower defensive rebounding rate than Matt Barnes, while playing almost all his minutes as a PF compared to Barnes playing mostly SF and SG. Considering the responsibility bigs have in Mike Brown’s defensive schemes, playing Jamison will come with its issues on that side of the ball.
There’s some hope here, though. When Jamison was paired with Anderson Varejao, his defensive rebounding rate and defensive efficiency metrics all improved. The hope is that if Jamison can be paired in the front court with a very good defensive big, he can respond similarly to what he did by playing next to Varejao. In Bynum and Gasol, the Lakers should be able to provide Jamison that partner. And, with some encouragement from his coaches and higher nightly stakes in swapping the Cavs for the Lakers, maybe Jamison will put forth a bit more effort on that side of the ball and produce results that go from bottom of the league bad to simply below average. Of course, time will tell if this is wishful thinking or not but he will be put in an environment where success is more possible.
Regardless of how the defensive issues play out, the Lakers will get better because of this signing. They’ve added a true offensive threat to a bench that ranked dead last in scoring last season. They’ve added a player that aids in lineup versatility; a player that can work off the strengths of his more talented teammates seamlessly. With Jamison on board they’ve shored up a weakness and have effectively replaced one of their lesser performers with an above average talent. And they did it via a minimum contract. You rarely get this good a player for that price and for his offense alone, he’ll be more than worth it.
*Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com