This must be the collective sentiment of the Lakers’ fan base as a whole. Since joining the Lakers this past off-season, Antawn Jamison has been nothing short of disappointing so far this season. However, last night in the Lakers’ 106-98 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Jamison finally broke out of his slump and contributed an efficient night off the bench.
With starting power forward Pau Gasol struggling from the field (6 points on 3/8 shooting), coach Mike D’Antoni turned to Jamison off the bench. Jamison, a career 19 points per game scorer, responded for the first time this season with an efficient game on both ends of the floor. Despite fouling out towards the end of the game, Jamison finished the night with 16 points on 7/11 shooting, 7 rebounds (5 offensive) and a blocked shot. Although the 16 points were a welcomed sight, his 5 offensive rebounds were even more impressive.
Playing Jamison at the power forward position for most of the night, with Gasol on the bench, was certainly an effective call by D’Antoni. Jamison looked much more aggressive at power forward than he has in the back up small forward role. With Gasol struggling of late, don’t be surprised if you see Jamison playing more at the back up power forward position. His ability to stretch the floor (2/5 from 3-point range last night) and play at a faster tempo will be key in D’Antoni’s “run and fun” offensive scheme.
Having Jamison at the power forward position instead of small forward comes with its disadvantages however. So far this season, the back up power forward has mainly been 6’10” PF/C Jordan Hill. In last night’s loss however, Hill played only 4 minutes and was a complete non-factor. The Lakers certainly need Hill’s ability to rebound and keep possessions alive, but playing Jamison behind Gasol could limit Hill’s opportunities.
With today’s league being more guard heavy, it is especially difficult to use a four big-man rotation efficiently. For the Lakers, with their All-Stars of Gasol and Dwight Howard, this four-man rotation is even more difficult. Finding enough minutes for all four big men is key, but with the amount of older players on the roster, it would make sense to play both Hill and Jamison more at the power forward position. Limiting Gasol’s minutes and playing him at center, his more natural position, when Howard rests is vital for the Lakers’ long-term success.
Coach D’Antoni must continue tinkering with rotations until the right rotation is found. The rotation that makes the most sense right now is playing Jamison with Howard and Hill with Gasol. One of Gasol or Howard should be on the floor at all times regardless, but this rotation will bring out the best in both players.
For the first combination, Jamison complements Howard well on offense by spacing the floor with his three point shooting ability. Jamison is also a willing passer who can create opportunities inside for Howard, both in the pick-and-roll and on the block. On the defensive end, Jamison’s defensive deficiencies will be minimized by Howard’s great help-side defense. This combination will especially be useful when opposing teams play small lineups because Jamison can match up well with hybrid SF/PFs. On the contrary, when opposing teams play big lineups with Jamison on the floor, Jamison’s ability to shoot and get to the basket creates a mismatch on the offensive end.
Now with the other combination of Gasol and Hill, Hill’s inside scoring ability and offensive rebounding will complement Gasol well. Gasol excels both in the post as well as on pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations. Having Hill on the other block to occupy interior defenders can open up the opposite side for Gasol. Once starting point guard Steve Nash returns, this combination will be deadly because of Nash’s ability to run the pick-and-roll effectively. Nash can also effectively probe the interior defense and find cutting teammates. Once he returns, Hill’s slashing abilities will come to fruition more often which will also draw in the defense, opening up Gasol for more open mid-range jumpers.
Despite the advantages of these rotations, if Gasol keeps playing subpar basketball and the combination of Howard and Gasol continues to sputter, a change to the starting lineup may eventually be made. If Jamison is able to sustain this great play from last night, D’Antoni may be forced to replace Gasol with Jamison in the starting lineup. Jamison’s 16 points and 7 rebounds off the bench are promising, especially if he can bring that to the Lakers on a consistent basis. If Jamison continues to play the sixth man role off the bench for the Lakers, he will need to be a consistent scoring threat night in and night out.
For the future, with Gasol and Howard having struggled playing together in this new system, it will be interesting to see what changes are made. With the Lakers front office passing over 11-time champion coach Phil Jackson, it will fall on Mike D’Antoni to get the Lakers’ talented frontcourt playing better basketball. Jamison’s break out game and recent flashes of solid play will be key in doing this and for the Lakers’ success as the season wears on.