The Preview: The Team
LA is an improved team from last season. The defense is going to mesh a bit and the offense is still formidable. There are more offensive weapons on this team than we've been accustomed to seeing from LA. Lurking under the surface are rumors of Kobe's exodus, Phil's retirement, and several people fighting for their futures on the team contribute to a turbulent core. This could be exciting or the team could implode. I'm going to say that it will be closer to the former. Bold projection: LA will win 49 games, earn the 5th seed.
Point Guard: Position Grade (D+/C-)
LA's look at the PG spot improves just slightly from last season. Fisher is a much better fit for the triangle and Kobe Bryant than Smush Parker was. Fisher, however, is aging. In his prime, I'd be happier about Fisher, but as it is, I see this as only a very slight improvement over last season. Luckily, the Lakers have a deep, talented pool of Point Guards behind Fisher. I expect only Fisher, Farmar, and Crittenton to play PG as their sole positions, but Farmar and Crittenton both show good work ethic, good athleticism, and they are going to be impressive in another season and a half. Look for significant improvement by season's end (LA could see a C rating at PG next season if things go to plan).
Derek Fisher: Fisher knows the triangle, is a solid ball-handler, isn't afraid to get to the line, can hit the outside shot, and plays with all out passion. He lacks in foot speed and is aging. Projection: 10.3 points, 3.2 assists, 2.0 rebounds.
Jordan Farmar: Farmar has made good strides during the offseason. He is probably the best playmaker on the team, is a pass-first PG who can run an offense. No offensive slouch either. Respectable defender who will get better with seasoning. Projection: 6.2 points, 2.6 assists, 2.1 rebounds.
Javaris Crittenton: JC is an athletic specimen who will be instant offense off the bench. He may be a very special player in the makings, but he will not see heavy minutes and will likely struggle as a rookie. May play some D-League ball. Really a combo guard. Projection: 2.9 points, 0.7 assists, 0.6 rebounds.
Shooting Guard: Position Grade (A+)
Kobe is back and is still the best. This season he is backed up by two experienced triangle guards. Evans is the more tough-nosed, enforcer-type while Sasha is tenacious but still a bit scrawny. Both can hit the outside shot and provide solid minutes while Kobe catches his breath. Sasha can also initiate the offense while Evans does not have the skill but can get the job done at the Small Forward position for stretches because of his bulk and power.
Kobe Bryant: Discontent players generally worry me, but Kobe is inhuman. He will put up monstrous numbers again, will play better defense, and will benefit from an improved supporting cast.. Projection: 29.8 points, 5.5 assists, 5.7 rebounds.
Mo Evans: Evans is comfortable defensively, works hard against opposing scorers. He has a respectable outside shot, is quite aggressive. Will fill a valuable niche for the Lakers. 4.5 points, 0.6 assists, 1.3 rebounds.
Sasha Vujacic: Sasha has improved in both of his previous seasons. This preseason has seen him take it to a different level. While it won't be a huge year, this is Sasha's time to find his role. He will work hard on defense and will spread the floor with passing and threes. Projection: 4.5 points, 0.5 assists, 1.9 rebounds.
Small Forward: Position Grade (B+)
Lamar Odom likely returns to the Small Forward position, with Luke Walton (one of the most improved players of last season) and Vladimir Radmanovic backing him up. With one borderline all-star and two solid 5th starters/6th men at the SF spot, it rivals for the deepest position on the Lakers. Still no good defender at the spot, but Odom's size intrigues me.
Lamar Odom: When healthy, Odom continues to put up an array of stats that few in the league can match. A good ballhandler and good passer, Odom only lacks the blessings of health and tenacity. Projection: 16.7 points, 4.9 assists, 10.1 rebounds.
Luke Walton: Walton's transformation over the last season and the '06 playoffs has been remarkable. Offensively, he is a sparkplug for the triangle and has developed an offensive repertoire. His defensive liabilities continue to be his biggest problem. Projection: 8.0 points, 3.9 assists, 4.0 rebounds.
Vladamir Radmanovic: Not what LA fans envisioned, but Vlad is surprisingly athletic, a solid ballhanlder, decent vision, good outside shooting. Without the weight of being asked to be a starter, Vlad should stay healthy and hit shots off the pine. Projection: 6.8 points, 1.2 assists, 3.1 rebounds.
Power Forward: Position Grade: (C+)
With Odom at the SF spot, LA should have their first legitimate PF (who wasn't 100 years old) playing in the spot in a long while. Brian Cook provides sharpshooting and experience as a backup, and Odom, Walton, Radmanovic, and Mihm/Kwame can all fill in at PF when necessary.
Ronny Turiaf: If Ronny can cut down on the fouls while still playing physical defense, he will blow people away with how much he produces despite being a 2nd round pick. Turiaf, Fisher, and Kobe in the lineup give LA as much heart as anyone in the league. Projection: 9.0 points, 1.6 assists, 6.0 rebounds.
Brian Cook: At this point in his career, Cook is what he is: a good to fantastic outside shooter who works hard in spurts. Not a defender, but his offensive skills can spread the floor like few PFs in the league. Projection: 7.2 points, 1.0 assists, 3.7 rebounds.
Center: Position Grade (B-)
Is LA healthy? If so, the deepest Center rotation in the NBA. None of the players are stars as yet, but all have started at least half of the games they have been available to play over their last season.
Andrew Bynum: Blew up last season, but still has a long way to go. A bit soft at times, but has fantastic hands, a well-developed offensive game, a nice release, and can block shots incredibly well. This is the year LA fans should expect to be rewarded for the lottery pick. Projection: 10.8 points, 1.6 assists, 8.1 rebounds.
Kwame Brown: Kwame has emerged as a fantastic passer from underneath. His man defense is the best of the Centers on LA. Still shows flashes of tremendous strength and athleticism. Injuries a concern. Projection: 8.8 points, 2.0 assists, 6.6 rebounds.
Chris Mihm: Injuries have slowed Mihm and his lack of desire to add bulk detracts from what he could be. While he is foul prone and is dominated by better Centers, Mihm has been a serviceable starter in the NBA. Solid shotblocker, good offensive Center. Projection: 7.7 points. 0.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds.