Los Angeles Lakers 2006-2007 Season Preview: Point-Counterpoint
Each season brings a blank slate for thirty teams in the NBA. The bottom feeders receive a new hope, a chance to start again. The elite teams from last season also have to start again, for better or worse. While some teams will rocket their way up the standings, making huge improvements from last season, other teams will make meteoric descents. This is the way the NBA is, with free agency, a small pool of position players, and a large pool of applicants. Teams can change their stripes in the blink of an eye. With all this parity in mind, I present LA's 2006/07 Two Extremes: Point-Counterpoint, along with a Hegelian Synthesis of the two theses.
Point: LA won 45 games last season, improving by 11 wins on the way to reaching the playoffs after a one year hiatus. Thus, they're a prime candidate for a playoff team.
Counterpoint: LA was embarrassed in Game 7 by a Phoenix team that was clearly superior, both mentally and physically. And Phoenix couldn't make it to the big dance, so LA is nowhere near a championship team. The playoffs will be a struggle.
Synthesis: LA did win 45 games, did make the playoffs, and was one rebound away from a second round berth. But the Lakers have not addressed their most glaring weakness: the PG spot. The NBA is not a video game. Players do not all come in to the season more motivated, bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter. Some are slackers. Lakers fans cannot bank on every position being slightly improved so the PG deficit can be concealed by other positions. PG remains a huge question mark.
Likewise, expect some teams to be healthier than they were last year (most notably Houston). In the same breath, other teams will not all be the same or better as they were last season. As a result, and given LA's youth relative to other clubs, I expect them to improve slightly more than most other teams. A 49 win season is not a stretch if Kobe Bryant is healthy. That's good enough for a 4th or 5th seed.
Point: LA has made offseason moves that will shore up the rotation, add scoring punch, and solidify the defense.
Counterpoint: LA brought in a redundant soft tweener Forward; a PG whose last NBA game was played in May, 2004; and a 28 year old G/F who is now with his fourth team in his four seasons. They blew it.
Synthesis: Vladimir Radmanovic makes Lamar Odom the PF with very little doubt. Vlad's strength is outside shooting, but he is a competent passer and ballhandler as well. Shammond Williams could see anywhere between zero and 20 minutes per game. He looks to be in fantastic physical condition, but no one has seen him against NBA competition in some time. Mo Evans only has to be a good bench player. And that's precisely what he is. He can hit the outside shot, rebounds well, and plays solid defense. He has also been on a team that went to the ECF against the eventual NBA Champions. In other words, he has solid playoff experience. LA's bench is now infinitely better than it was two season ago, can now probably consider itself a middle of the road bench. That means LA doesn't lose so much when the starters come off the court. That's huge.
Point: Kwame Brown and Andrew Bynum are beasts. Their mere size makes them defensive presences. Turiaf has also shown a lot defensively. Add in Mo Evans and Jordan Farmar, and LA will be bringing home at least five All-Defense Awards this season. Shaq and Zo who?
Counterpoint: Kwame is always hurt; Bynum, Farmar, Evans, and Turiaf are all bench players. Odom can't defend PFs because he's too small or SFs because they're too fast. Kobe spends too much energy on offense to defend effectively. Smush Parker was humiliated and abused during the playoffs. Finally, Radmanovic is just like Odom.
Synthesis: LA's defense was 15th in Points Yielded per game, 12th in FG% allowed, and 9th in Total Rebounds Allowed per game. These are all excellent building blocks considering all of our players are "matadors" as some say. That huge question mark wearing #1 still remains in the starting lineup, but expect LA to be improved at all other positions, albeit slightly. The big lift will come, I think, from the bench. LA is able to field a second team of solid defenders at the SG (Evans), PF (Turiaf), and C (Bynum). Despite many detractors, Sasha Vujacic (PG) performed admirably for stretches last season. With a bit of team cohesion, some fresh blood, I expect LA to be around 8th to 12th in all of the above categories. That in itself would have given LA another handful of wins last season.
The Preview: The Team
LA should feature an offense, defense, and bench that are all at least average. That coupled with an explosive scorer and a solid outside shooter (or two) should give LA somewhere in the vicinity of 49 wins. That would likely give LA a 4th or 5th seed.
Point Guard: Position Grade (D)
There is a bit of a logjam at PG, with absolutely no one deserving of the starting spot based on past indications. It will be interesting to see how Phil Jackson distributes minutes, but I would wager that on any given night, at least three players (Smush Parker, Shammond Williams, Sasha Vujacic) should be mentally prepared to get the start. Each offers a different skill set, but none are more than adequate defensively.
Smush Parker Smush's biggest problem is his mental frailty. He needs to get some confidence and competitive fire. Projection: 11.4 points, 3.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds.
Shammond Williams Williams seems fast, fiery, and a solid outside shooter. He also seems like someone who invests little defensively. Projection: 5.7 points, 2.3 assists, 1.5 rebounds.
Sasha Vujacic Sasha needs his shots to fall...in game time. His tendency to disappear offensively really outweighed his defensive contributions, which, while solid at times, were rarely sustained. Projection: 1.8 points, 0.9 assists, 0.8 rebounds.
Jordan Farmar If things go according to plan, Farmar will be the PG for years to come. It just won't happen in 2006/2007. He's young and raw. Projection: 2.9 points, 1.1 assists, 0.7 rebounds (very limited action).
Shooting Guard: Position Grade (A+)
When you have Kobe Bryant on your team, you feel good, but Kobe's knee surgery has some Lakers fans chomping at the bit. Hopefully, he'll be at full strength for the regular season. Brought in to back up Kobe, Mo Evans seems a competent all-around player who gives Kobe the best backup he has had in years.
Kobe Bryant Just let him get healthy, then watch him load up the stat sheet and take over games in the clutch. Projection: 32.1 points, 5.4 assists, 5.9 rebounds.
Mo Evans Needs to hit the outside shot consistently, work hard defensively. He seems up to the task. 6.3 points, 0.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds.
Aaron McKie McKie needs to be bought out or he needs to get healthy immediately. If healthy, he can contribute as a veteran stabilizing force. Projection: Uncertain.
Small Forward: Position Grade (C+)
Los Angeles's most crowded position a season or two ago is now streamlined. There's a bit of everything at this position except for a strong defensive player.
Vladamir Radmanovic Flat out, a good shooter. Should thrive offensively with Kobe on the court. Must make a difference on the defensive end. Projection: 12.3 points, 2.0 assists, 5.3 rebounds.
Luke Walton 12 Points, 6 boards, and 1.7 assists as a starter in the playoffs showed what Luuuuuke can do for LA. Projection: 5.8 points, 1.2 assists, 2.2 rebounds.
Devin Green May not make the team, but seems like a prototypical SF in the triangle. Just doesn't have those talents developed to the proper level as yet. Projection: 1.9 points, 0.4 assists, 0.9 rebounds.
Power Forward: Position Grade: (C+)
LA can't really put the Power in Power Forward. Odom is obviously emotionally crushed, Turiaf is young, Cook is soft, and Kwame doesn't seem to have the ability to play PF. This could become a problem for the Lakers as the season wears on, Odom's conditioning is tested.
Lamar Odom One of the most underrated (by LA fans) players in the league. He does it all offensively, and is competent defensively. Projection: 15.6 points, 5.6 assists, 10.0 rebounds.
Ronny Turiaf Ronny is one of the most loveable guys on the planet, showed a great knack for getting to the FT line, blocking shots. Could be an emotional leader by season's end. 4.3 points, 0.7 assists, 2.6 rebounds.
Brian Cook Vlad Radmanovic at the PF spot. A tremendous shooter who seems to make all the wrong choices. Should have worked on his defense and strength this offseason. Worked on speed instead. Projection: 3.6 points, 0.4 assists, 2.1 rebounds.
Marcus Douthit Likely finished with LA (like he ever started). An intriguing prospect who has just never delivered. Projection: Uncertain.
Center: Position Grade (B-)
The center of attention? After Kobe, probably. LA has a nice mix of defense and offense at the Center spot, mostly in the form of two huge athletes. Chris Mihm, if healthy, could be the best 3rd string Center in the league.
Kwame Brown Here's hoping Kwame can even approach Phil Jackson's goals of 15/10, while playing better rotational defense. Projection: 8.3 points, 1.1 assists, 6.4 rebounds.
Andrew Bynum He's huge, he's exciting, and he's so young it's scary. At this point, however, he's almost pure potential. It's not until next season that we should start worrying. A strong performance would be reason to believe Bynum is special. Projection: 3.6 points, 0.5 assists, 2.9 rebounds.
Chris Mihm Showed that he could be a starting Center in the NBA. Injuries and Kwame Brown have forced him to the backup role. He seems a team player, should do well in the role. Would not be surprised to see him starting because of injuries or otherwise. Projection: 8.8 points, 0.9 assists, 6.3 rebounds.