When the Lakers made their surprising run to the Finals in 2008 and won back to back championships in 2009 and 2010, a major key to their success was the play of their bench players.
In Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown, and (to a lesser extent) Josh Powell, the Lakers had a nice mix of veterans and young players that changed the tempo of the game whenever they took the floor. Nicknamed the Bench Mob, this group loved to push the ball, break away from the Triangle offense, and play more frenetically to unnerve their opponents. They weren’t the most consistent bunch and they had their share of ups and downs, but overall they were mostly an asset to team that heavily relied on the methodical manners of their first unit.
However, in the past two seasons the bench’s play has suffered. Beyond Lamar Odom’s stellar 2011 campaign that earned him the Sixth Man of the Year award, the Lakers’ bench has under-produced. The young legs of Farmar, Sasha, and Brown were replaced by those of veterans like Steve Blake and Matt Barnes. Lamar Odom’s trade led to signings like Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy.
None of these moves really worked out and the only player remaining from that bunch going into the upcoming campaign is Steve Blake (who looks to regain the form that had the Lakers pursue him in the first place).
This off-season the Lakers have looked to remedy their bench issues in hopes of reestablishing a reserve unit that can impact the game when the starters leave the floor. They’ve brought back Jordan Hill to be an energy big, signed Antawn Jamison for his scoring punch, and picked up Jodie Meeks as a back up to Kobe who can space the floor and produce points in bunches.
In order to maximize this group of reservers, however, the Lakers must also determine an identity for them. But when looking at this group and their disparate skill sets, it may not be that easy. Consider the following:
- Antawn Jamison is a scorer at heart that has been defensively challenged for most of his career.
- Jordan Hill, meanwhile is a defensive minded big man who’s shown little on offense beyond his stellar work on the offensive glass and ability to convert shots at the rim via putbacks and spoon fed assists.
- Jodie Meeks is a quality scoring threat but not a ball handler by nature nor someone that’s proven to be a shot creator for himself or teammates.
- Devin Ebanks is a slasher with a limited jumper and ball skills. He’s a fine defender and rebounder but has shown he can be mistake prone in defensive transition as the last man back.
- Steve Blake is mostly a spot up shooter who has good set up ability but not a lot of creative skill off the dribble to threaten the defense.
At first glance, these pieces do not really fit together as a cohesive unit and maximizing them when playing together will prove a bit difficult. Do you tell this team to push the ball to capitalize on the skills of Ebanks and Hill? Do you run more half court sets that can take advantage of the shooting Meeks and Jamison offer?
And what of the defensive issues? During the aforementioned period of the Bench Mob, the Lakers’ reserves were a ball pressure team that tried to disrupt the flow of the game via extended defenses. They’d pick up ball handlers full court, throw out a half court trap, and flash strong side zone principles to flood driving and passing lanes. The current group of Lakers’ reserves don’t possess a singular type of player to pull off a dedicated approach in that manner.
Much of these concerns can be mitigated through various lineup combinations and substitution pattern that Mike Brown decides on as his core rotation. However, there will still be times where up to four reserves will be on the floor together at the same time and there will need to be a plan in place to optimize their production when they’re not flanked by multiple starters.
In recent campaigns, the Lakers’ bench hasn’t had much direction beyond “lean on whatever key starter(s) they shared the floor with”, but to be successful next season that likely won’t be enough. And with the additions of Jamison and Meeks, the Lakers now have two players with starting experience who can be looked to as producers of offense more often than the players they’re replacing from last year. A group identity beyond ‘role players playing next to starters’ would certainly help, here.
While the Lakers have had as impressive an off-season in recent memory by adding star players and excellent assistant coaches, it’s looking more and more like this campaign will be shaped by some of Mike Brown’s smaller, yet still key decisions. And while we all look to the Princeton O or a revamped defense led by Dwight as the difference between a championship or an early exit, don’t forget how important a role the Lakers’ bench has played in the recent seasons when the team was most successful.
Mike Brown will need to remember this fact as well and plan accordingly.
Great post. FB&G has been on fire all off season. And I love it because I love talking hoops. Best sport in the world.
It’s real tough to see what style of play is better suited for Lakers bench. Last year Meeks and Jamison were on teams with PG’s that pushed the pace. Throw in Ebanks and Blake who can also get up court quick a fast paced 2nd unit would seem to work. IF Dwight is playing w/ 2nd unit Brown can run some of the 1in/4out offense. Still have to make Dwight comfortable.
On the other hand Blake, Meeks, Jamison have made a name off being able to knock down shots. Playing with those floor spacers would be a perfect scenario for a big and fits the type of roster Jordan had in Washington.
I definitely don’t think Brown will give Blake the freedom to choose what plays to run like he will with Nash. The Princeton based on the video that was posted a few posts ago fits the bench imo. Not too many 2nd units will be disciplined enough to guard it.
david h says
darius: we get it. we got a questionable bench (but much more interesting and talented than last year’s edition) and a questionable head coach in brown. what’s intriguing is how the season unfolds based on what we know about the players and what we don’t know about the head coach’s ability to maneuver the moving parts in a winning way.
only time will tell but let’s be sure to point out whatever flaws we see as the season progresses and encourage whatever positives we see as well.
that’s what we do here at forum blue and gold, correct?
Go Lakers !
Excellent recap of the challenges Mike Brown faces in creating effective player rotations and smart substitution patterns to optimize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of his key bench players. Based on the current roster, I see the Lakers new depth leading Mike Brown to a 10-player rotation.
Integrating four new players – including future HOF superstars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard who’ve never played on a team where they were NOT the #1 offensive option for their team – with a veteran championship core led by Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace is going to give Mike Brown the opportunity of a lifetime to rise above media and fan expectations and carve his own legacy.
It’s going to be interesting seeing how team develops. In a way, Dwight missing a couple of weeks might actually make it easier for Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant to work out any issues about who has the ball. Introducing the Princeton offense could conceivably also be easier with a skilled playmaker like Pau Gasol at center rather than Dwight Howard. And with Jamison and Hill, the Lakers have the front court depth to still get off to a great start even without Dwight, especially with a full camp in which to prepare.
I think Blake is going to quickly settle any issues about who is going to get the 18 minutes per game at point when Steve Nash is on the bench. Duhon and Morris will not be factors. I would still prefer the Lakers to bring in somebody explosive like Barbosa but hopefully Blake will regain the form that led the Lakers to sign him as a free agent. At any rate, I see Blake and Meeks both getting solid 12-15 minutes per game backing up Kobe and Steve to minimize injuries and make sure both are fresh for the playoffs.
In the front court, we are likely to see the Lakers also start out with a four man rotation of Dwight, Pau, Antawn, and Jordan rather than the three man rotation of last year due to the added depth. This will give Mike Brown greater flexibility than he had last year, especially with Jamison’s ability to get his own shot and put points on the board. Ironically, I would not be surprised to see Pau Gasol regularly start to shoot 3-pointers, especially from the corners. With Dwight’s quickness, the Lakers offensive rebounding off missed 3-point shots should improve dramatically. We are going to shoot more 3’s then last year.
Small forward is the wild card position both for the Lakers starters and bench. As the only starter not headed for the Hall of Fame once their career is over, Metta World Peace is going to get a lot of wide open shots as teams double team other starters. How accurately Metta shoots and how effectively he defends may determine how far this team goes as much as any other factor. Similarly, how much his primary backup Devin Ebanks progresses this year will also have great impact. The Lakers are hoping that Ebanks can develop into a solid backup for Metta and the team’s third outstanding perimeter defender. If he doesn’t, that will force the Lakers to have to give small forward minutes to Bryant and Jamison.
For me, the big question is whether Mike Brown expands his rotation to include the 10 players I’ve discussed above or whether he starts to narrow the rotation down to eight or 9 players, which has been the norm for previous Lakers teams. If Blake and Meeks play well, then we will have a four player guard rotation. If Jamison and Hill play well, then we will also have a four player forward rotation. That leaves the key question of whether we end up with a 9 or 10 man rotation up to Devin Ebanks. If Devin can elevate his game to the next level this year, then the Lakers will have a 10 deep rotation.
Dave M. says
LT makes a spot-on observation about Devin and a 9 vs. 10 man rotation. He’s definitely a wild card this season.
Caught a Hollinger video clip today; along with the inevitable passive/aggressive KobeTweaking, Hollinger said the Lakers’ bench is “still terrible” even with a “100 million dollar payroll” and that Lakers fans should be worried.
I disagree with him; I don’t think it will be a great bench, but I don’t think it will be “terrible” either.
P. Ami says
This bench has a chance to be special in many ways. There is nobody of the quality of LO, but then LO was a starter in all but name. We currently have the best 4/5 tandem in the league. I’ve had a difficult time thinking of a team with a better combo coming off the bench then Hill and Jamison.
Meeks, Blake, Morris, Ebanks, and whoever else may form the bench, aren’t big name guys but they will share an advantage that Hill and Jamison will enjoy. Between Kobe, Pau and Howard, opposing teams will be in the penalty very early in games. So, there will be plenty of opportunities for all players to get points on the line. More importantly, the bench will be playing against teams trying to avoid fouls while playing their 2nd and 3rd string players more minutes then they normally would.
The thing I think will be a great advantage for this team is that, aside from Howard and Artest, the rest of the starters likely to play in crunch time are playmakers and high quality free throw shooters. So, while guys like Pau, Kobe and Nash handle the ball and find the best option, Howard can be available to make quick plays close to the basket and put back offensive rebounds. Old Mother Hubbard has a cupboard full of poison for the rest of the league to choose from.
Clearly Kobe is the venom of a mamba.
From Wikipedia- “Spanish fly” is claimed to have aphrodisiac properties, as a result of its irritant effects upon the body’s genitourinary tract, and can result in poisoning if ingested.
Anybody have a problem with Pau as Spanish Fly? This works especially since Pau has often been called that part of the anatomy the powder is applied to.
Any thoughts on what poison the rest of the starters might be?
Baylor Fan says
My only concern is backup point guard. Blake and point guard should never appear in the same sentence. He cannot drive to the basket and he cannot defend pick and rolls. My hope is that Morris develops into a credible one or that Duhon decides he needs to have a career year.
There is so much talent among the starters that they will need to play with the backups to be able to get enough shots. I do not see this Laker team going with the “bench mob” approach. It will be more mix and match to maximize the abilities of the big four.
Magic Phil says
I never considered LO as part of the “bench mob”. LO was a starter disguised as a bench, like we see a lot in the NBA (Ginobli, Harden, Jason Terry). Actually, the LO-Pau combination was what gave us 2 championships.
The bench-mob from 2009 was basically Farmar on inspired nights, Shannon, Luke Walton without back problems and Sacha hitting at least 37% from the arc. That’s the bench-mob.
This scenario didn’t happened again on 2010. But we still won. And Sacha’s “clutch” FT on game 7 were cool, but the bench mob was not there.
Because of the starters’ ages and different physical limitations, the bench players need to be versatile enough to mesh with whoever happens to be on court at the time. The best planned rotations may have to go out the window, especially late in the season. Hopefully M. Brown will use fall camp time wisely and maximize opportunities for the backups to develop chemistry with each other AND with the starters.
Our bench back then was young and capable. Don’t quite remember when Luke was injured, but pre-injury he was more reliable than Odom, even.
Farmar was a good enough talent, and Sasha was pretty long and pesky on defense while also able to keep defense honest. Important too was that Kobe kinda trusted Sasha to shoot. Jamison might get that trust, but not sure who else would on our bench.
We’ll have to see what happens, but I think Hill and Pau would be decent enough to spell Howard, Jamison could come in for Artest if Dwight is still on the floor, and Blake could come in if we have both Kobe and Pau out there.
Surely this must have been noticed and pointed out already, but the solution to 90% of the Lakers problems is to move Pau in the second unit and Jamison in the starting five.
– Jamison can space the floor for Howard
– Pau can be the focal point of the offence for longer stretches
– MWP can guard most PF
All 3 players will feel more involved and thus will produce better.
Luiz André says
If Pau is moved to the 2nd unit the 6th Man of the Year Award can be given out before the season even starts.
I don’t believe that will happen. Its a nice fit, and the discussion about the best front-court combo has been brought up here before. I agree that Jamison-Howard is a good fit. Hill-Pau as well. But having both Pau and Howard out there benefits everybody, including themselves. Pau has more space to work with, due to teams being overly worried about closing spaces with help defense around Howard. That means better shots and more assists for Gasol with more dudes open, being the incredible passer he is. Its just mind boggling to think about a half-court offense centered around Gasol working from the high post: Howard on the low post, Kobe using MWP’s screens (who then sets up for corner 3’s) to get open anywhere on the court and Nash holding back for a three. There is absolutely no defense in the NBA today ready for this matchup if this team lives up to the hype.
That’s not even mentioning the variations and mismatches that can be setup, exploiting Nash’s dribble-drives, Kobe and MWP’s post game, Gasol’s superb effectiveness close to the basket, etc.
I think Brown will eventually settle on a 10-man rotation, no matter how badly Ebanks pans out. If Kobe and Jamison both cover leftover minutes at the 3, that leaves some minutes open at the 2 and the 4, and hopefully someone steps up to avoid giving Bean’s knees more time than they should handle. I’m also looking forward a little to seeing Jamison at the 3 so we can go big again like with LO-Gasol-Bynum, which was simply too much for teams to handle.
Nash-Meeks-Jamison-Gasol-Howard. Not much of a defensive crew, but the shooting should be amazing.
This bench group is poor on average defensively, but with a few “what-ifs” coming true, they could still be a lot to handle. If Meeks turns out to be as good as advertised at shooting, backup 2 is finally not a hole for the first time since trading Eddie Jones, when some guy named Cody Fryant or something came off the bench.
The other big if is the PG position:
We need to see if Duhon has anything at all left in the tank. I think his absurdly high 3PT % is an anomaly–all the way back to his days at Duke, Duhon was a classic no-mistakes point guard that could just not hit a jumper to save his life. I’m skeptical he’ll provide anything more than 4 ppg and few turnovers.
Blake needs to come back to shooting form and at least be a threat from the 3-point line to keep defenses from collapsing off him when he’s in for Nash. He doesn’t need to average more than 5-6 ppg in his limited minutes, mostly he needs to hit open threes to keep opposing defenses honest. And he should never play any minutes at SG, he gets eaten alive.
And we need to see some growth from Morris/Goudelock and finally determine if they’re NBA players or not. DJO should see some preseason time too. This team has a lot of PGs, only three will make the team. Ideally it’s Nash/Blake (because he’s under contract and more expensive to buy out)/the best out of the young guys. Maybe keep Goudelock in addition since he can play some SG too.
The other big X-factor to me is Earl Clark. He seems like a classic Mitch “throw-in to the trade that turns out to be the actual steal”, like Shannon Brown and Trevor Ariza. Sounds like he’s had an up-and-down career so far, if he can stabilize a bit and learn to play, he could be an Odom-style (STYLE, not talent) mismatch on the floor as a 6’10” shooting SF. Run a little of the SVG offense with Howard with Nash/Kobe/Clark/Jamison/Howard, or sub in Goudelock and Meeks to give Howard a lineup composed of him and bench he can use like Orlando did in their Finals year.
The players, as they stand now, are sort of average, but the matchup potential they offer could make them play like more than the sum of the parts. Keeping four starters on the bench and keeping (or extending) leads will win a lot of games in October through March, and the rest the starters would get will help them win games in May and June.
I think the lakers bench this year will add a lot of options to tweak the line up for varius situations. Previously our bench was expected to lean on the starters in the game. This bench will be expected to produce while paired with the starters. I’m not expecting them to come in on mass like the bench mob very often.
Mike Brown can ensure a Lakers championship by having Kobe read this everynight before bed…
I like the idea of moving Pau to the second unit. For him to be super effective, he needs to work from the low post. I think his game is tailored for the low post. Look how his scoring average suffered last year when he was asked to play the high post.
Edwin Gueco says
Welcome LT, what took you so long to come on FBG board? I know, you’re just waiting for the Andrew’s move. Next will be Jon K.
Bench Mob, Championship whatever….it all now boils to reality. Talents is there but how about chemistry, motivation and coaching? This is NBA, whatever players you’ve got, they need to jell as Lakers not from their past performance. Let’s reserve judgement after the first 20 games or when Howard gets back into his game.
You guys always trying to throw my guy Pau to the wolves. lol. He’s not coming off the bench this season. It’s up to Jordan to find a way to make them both effective when paired together. Jamison and Howard combo will get plenty PT.
Mike Brown can ensure a Lakers championship by having Kobe read this everynight before bed…
Matt Moore is just a Haterboy, Aaron
–a guy who is all emo about Kobe but pretends to be analytical. Again, I could give examples all day.
Incidentally, Hollinger is claiming that Marc Gasol is a great defensive 5–said Memphis allowed 4.9 PPG fewer with Gasol on the floor.
zach in san diego says
Hey, You forgot Trevor Ariza!
My favorite bench mob player and one of my favorite Lakers of all-time (wish he was still here, even tho I like Metta). Trevor was a big energy guy, developed his 3pt shot, solid defender, and could cut really well.
Miss you TA3!
Ariza was a starter. I remembered Luke said to Phil that he will likely need to be in the bench than to be a starter because he was so effective in that unit. Sacrifing his starting line-up to Trevor.
Man, miss those guys, if only Farmar will be Nash substitute this season.
Magic Phil says
@22 – the cool thing about those guys, Trevor and Farmar, is that they’re truly Lakers fans. Both grew up in LA and when you are a fan, you play better.
zach in san diego says
You’re right, he did start. I just always remember those lobs Farmar would throw him of the bench. And Phil’s nickname for VladRad “space cadet”. Fun teams. Remember how good our ball movement was with the Gasol/Odom front line? So great watch
I’m sure they will create their “identity” on the court, but I am going to take to calling them “The Specialists”.
It would be totally $tupid to sit the Lakers 4 HOF’s (Nash Kobe Pau DH) all at the same time and let the 2nd unit play all at the same time for stretches. Even the dumbest coach would start the 4, then always find a way to keep at least two (Nash/DH, Kobe/Pau) combo’s from the late 1st-early 4th quarter. The bench guys roles will be to complement the 2 man big 4 combos that are left on the floor. For Nash/DH combo, 3 spot up shooters are needed at SG (Meeks), SF (Metta? Ebanks?) PF (Jamison). Just let Nash and DH work the high P&R and let Steve N. freestyle a little bit and work his magic in finding DH at the rim and the three other shooters in their spots. For the Kobe/Pau combo, more defense, toughness and rebounding are needed PG (Blake), SF (Ebanks, Jamison?!) PF/C (Hill). Let Kobe and Pau work the post (High and Low), maybe even have Meeks at SG and Kobe at SF (for small ball matchups), and have Hill hustle for extra possesions, putbacks or the like. Maybe try out Duhon at PG with Kobe so there is a faint hint of a slashing option in Duhon. Either way, I’m excited as heck to see this roster start the season! Go Lakers!!!
the machine should return he brings energy to the bench… go lakers!!!
Slap Dog Hoops says
I would not go that far. Sure the bench has improved leaps and bounds from last season, but there are still some kinks in it. To start off, the second unit is anchored by a 36yo Antawn Jamison who has probably seen his best years slip by. He has proven to be a defensive liability and has lost a lot of his quickness on the offensive end forcing him to take jumpers.
The rest of the bench is not really worth mentioning. Steve Blake has been a bust for the Lakers thus far. He was supposed to be Derrick Fisher’s replacement as the starting point man, but still has not lived up to expectation. He’s not that great of a defender either. The rest of the second unit should primarily be considered as X-factors at best.
Jordan Hill has shown glimpses of potential; however he still quite raw. the same goes for David Ebanks. Jodie Meeks was not as impressive as many have claimed as he only shot .409 from the field last season while averaging a little over eight points per game–not too reliable or efficient if you ask me. Add that with the declining game of Jamison and the disappointing steve Blake and the Lakers do not look so invincible, do they?
Nonetheless, they will still be a welcomed improvement than last season, that’s for sure. can’t wait until opening tip off.