LA Lakers Season Prospectus
The Lakers look to begin the defense of their title in less than a week. Before the Finals, however, are the playoffs. And before the playoffs is the grind of an 82-game season. What happens during those 82 games is often a cloudy matter, a crisscrossed pattern of variables. So what follows is one man's attempt to shed some light into the gloom: a list of players, divided into three tiers [first one only right now], featuring stat projections and notes about player development.
THE STARTING FIVE
Derek Fisher – Point Guard
Last season, Fisher did much of what was expected from him. Very nice numbers from the arc, the charity stripe, and in terms of taking care of the ball were set against a subpar overall shooting percent and shoddy defensive results. Last season looked to be Fisher's final as the starter in Los Angeles. He has once again earned that distinction, however, and enters the regular season as the main man. His minute should dip to his lowest in years, and he may lose his starting job at some point, but he will be a big part of this club.
2008/09 Projections: 10.7 ppg, 3.0 apg, 2.3 rpg
2008/09 Actual: 9.9 ppg, 3.2 apg, 2.3 rpg
2009/10 Projections: 80 games, 26.5 minutes, 8.5 points, 3.0 assists, 2.1 rebounds
Kobe Bryant – Shooting Guard
Kobe did essentially what all fans thought he would. He tightened up his game, spent a bit more time on the defensive end, improved his ast/to ratio, and obliterated any memory of the suggestion that he cannot make his teammates better. Bryant is now 31 years old, sporting a ton of mileage, but he is in fantastic shape. The ball should be in his hands a bit less this year, allowing him to devote more time to moving without the ball, defending, and rebounding. One question mark will be Kobe's outside shooting, which is something he has struggled to do well when catching and shooting, as opposed to working for his own shot.
2008/09 Projections: 26.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 5.9 rpg
2008/09 Actual: 26.8 ppg, 4.9 apg, 5.2 rpg
2009/10 Projections: 80 games, 37.3 minutes, 26.5 points, 4.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds
Ron Artest – Small Forward
Artest brings an intriguing mix of skills to the Lakers' starting lineup. He can defend, shoot from distance, drive to the rim, rebound, pass, and dribble. Historically, he has struggled in terms of shot selection and keeping his cool. Throughout the preseason, it seems he has had difficulties picking times to be aggressive. Artest makes the Lakers a formidable defensive team, but his impact on the offense is every bit as important. He may be more a distributor and open-three sniper than he has in years past.
2009/10 Projections: 65 games, 36.7 minutes, 16.3 points, 3.9 assists, 5.5 rebounds
Pau Gasol – Power Forward
Gasol has truly defied expectations since coming to the Lakers. The first question was whether he would be able to be a scoring force on fewer looks. He has, by increasing his FG% from 51% before coming to LA to 59% and 57%, respectively, in his two seasons in LA. After his rebounds dipped to a dangerously low level for a Power Forward, Gasol showed dominant rebounding last season, posting the second highest total of his career, and averaging nearly a double double. A cause for concern, however, is Gasol's lack of rest of late. Since a long playoff run two seasons ago, the Olympics, another long season, and playing for his home country during the offseason, Gasol has shown signs of wear. A hamstring injury currently has his status in doubt for the first game of the regular season.
2008/09 Projections: 18.6 points, 3.3 assists, 7.4 rebounds
2008/09 Actual: 18.9 points, 3.5 assists, 9.6 rebounds
2009/10 Projections: 73 games, 36.5 minutes, 19.0 points, 4.0 assists, 9.4 rebounds
Andrew Bynum – Center
While Bynum has put to bed any fears that he is a bust, he has struggled to answer other charges, including his history of injuries and his love of offense and seeming disinterest toward rebound and defense. He could simply take or leave a good night on the glass so long as he gets his touches. That could be a problem going forward. But after tying for the team lead in scoring during the preseason, and towering over most opposition, Bynum's offensive prowess is going to push those questions to the back of people's minds, at least for some time.
2008/09 Projections: 13.4 ppg, 1.8 apg, 9.8 rpg
2008/09 Actual: 14.3 ppg, 1.4 apg, 8.0 rpg
2009/10 Projections: 63 games, 29.5 minutes, 15.1 points, 1.3 assists, 8.1 rebounds
THE BENCH MOB
Jordan Farmar – Point Guard
Entering last season Jordan Farmar had to be thinking he was the heir apparent at the Point Guard spot for the Lakers. As Derek Fisher ages and slows, the Lakers continue to look forward to that next rock of stability, the likes of which they have had running the show for years. Yet after turning in his worst season in the league, Farmar is no longer obviously that guy. Currently pushed by a much more athletic Shannon Brown who is every bit the shooter Farmar is, Farmar has not shown the defensive capacity on a regular basis to warrant the title of starter. A strong preseason may have him licking his lips, hoping simultaneously to win the starting role for years to come and secure a longterm deal in the very near future.
2008/09 Projections: 10.4 ppg, 3.1 apg, 2.6 rpg
2008/09 Actual: 6.4 ppg, 2.4 apg, 1.8 rpg
2009/10 Projections: 73 games, 16.3 mpg, 6.2 ppg, 2.4 apg, 1.7 rpg
Sasha Vujacic – Shooting Guard
People see what they want to see when it comes to Vujacic. Some look at the decreased FG% and 3pt%, the drop in points per game, and the increased fouls thirty feet from the basket. They declare him soft, a boneheaded Point Guard who cannot create. Others see the excellent assist to turnover ratio, the knockdown FT%, the all out effort on defense, and do not terribly mind the 36% three point shooting. They declare him a guy who protects the ball, who plays hard, and who can hit the three. Depending upon what he sees, coach Phil Jackson can have a short leash with Sasha now the bench is deeper than ever. Look for good things from Sasha, as he rebounds from a slightly down shooting season.
2008/09 Projections: 8.4 ppg, 1.1 apg, 2.2 rpg
2008/09 Actual: 5.8 ppg, 1.4 apg, 1.7 rpg
2009/10 Projections: 77 games, 18.3 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 1.4 apg, 1.8 rpg
Lamar Odom – Small Forward
Odom off the bench is one of the NBA's greatest luxuries. A streaky shooter, fantastic rebounder, good ball handler, good passer, who truly creates mismatches, Odom thrived in his role off the bench and sliding into the starting lineup when needed. He added some defensive toughness and opportunistic shotblocking last season to become one of the best sixth men in the game. He will not slow down this season after signing a new contract, one that could run through to the end of his basketball career.
2008/09 Projections: 9.7 ppg, 3.0 apg, 7.0 rpg
2008/09 Actual: 11.3 ppg, 2.6 apg, 8.2 rpg
2009/10 Projections: 73 games, 30.0 mpg, 11.8 points, 2.7 assists, 7.9 rebounds
Luke Walton– Power Forward
Although Luke Walton may wind up playing more minutes than the other backup bigs (Odom aside), he will likely see his fewest minutes since his second season in the NBA. Coming off a dreadful season and facing injury concerns during preseason, Walton could find himself passed over by either Morrison or simply unable to crack the Forward rotation behind Artest, Odom, and Gasol. Surely, this is the darkest news in the history of the Walton household, at least since the 1990 season.
2008/09 Projections: 6.6 ppg, 2.7 apg, 3.5 rpg
2008/08 Actual: 5.0 ppg, 2.8 apg, 2.7 rpg
2009/10 Projections: 66 games, 16 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 2.6 apg, 2.6 rpg
DJ Mbenga – Center
Congo Cash is a curious player. He combines a great physique and incredible athleticism with almost no polish whatsoever. He has surely improved a great deal since entering the league, however, as evidenced by the eight to twelve foot jumper he developed last season. When Mbenga positions himself properly, he is a shotblocking force, as evidenced in his seven multiple block games in just 23 appearances last season (and seven in a preseason game). While no offensive force, he does have the aforementioned jumper and the ability to stuff the ball even in traffic. Oddly, despite his athleticism he is strangely absent from the glass at both ends. Mbenga is likely to see the most NBA action of his career this season.
2008/09 Projections: 2.3 ppg, 0.2 apg, 1.6 rpg
2008/09 Actual: 2.7 ppg, 0.4 apg, 1.3 rpg
2009/10 Projections: 54 games, 13.5 mpg, 4.4 ppg, 0.6 apg, 2.2 rpg
Last year's projections: