The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Or in the Lakers case, the better they are, the more opponents, pundits and haters want them to fall into the fiery pit of defeat.
It’s no secret — the Lakers are good. Championship good. And for every prediction (see: Bill Simmons’ every hope) that the Ron Ar-Test will be the demise of a new Lakers dynasty, there is an even greater prophecy come true in the oracle that is Kobe Bryant (see: Bill Simmons’ hate). Though it’s true that this Lakers team begins, goes through and ends with #24, basketball is, after all, a team sport and as skilled and menacing as he is on the court, Kobe did not earn that fourth ring alone.
Lakers depth — that was what analysts last season claimed was the team’s greatest strength. At Kobe’s side were a cast of teammates with various levels of experience who, like him, simply played (or had the opportunities to play) their part through the victorious end, and play it to the maximum of their physical and, most importantly, mental strength.
Last year’s playoff performance for the younger “cast members,” however, left a lot to be desired and the previously heralded “BenchMob” (minus Lamar, who basically played starter’s minutes last season when Andrew Bynum was in foul trouble), fell under much, and well deserved, scrutiny for its relative lack of production in the title run.
Now, every analyst and beat writer point to the LACK of depth on this Lakers squad as over-rated and a liability to a team hoping to repeat as champions. If there were ANY season to prove people wrong, this season would be the closest so why not start now? The reserves certainly did their part to get the team the second best record in the NBA last year, and they filled in holes in the playoffs when necessary, but now that they have another year of experience behind them, the hopes and expectations for their recovery and contribution to a back-to-back title should be, and are, much greater than ever.
The pre-season was exciting and played out well for the reserves, but the real season started and suddenly the bench — COLLECTIVELY — could only score 7 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists against an inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder squad. There is, however, a potential for greatness on this Lakers bench, glimmers of a BenchMob bounce-back seen in the last couple of games against Memphis and New Orleans.
A rarely used player like D.J. Mbenga and erratically played big man, Josh Powell, have been summoned early to fill in monstrous roles upon the absence of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and they have taken full advantage of the faith that coaches and teammates have shown them.
D.J. blocks and rebounds like it’s a reflex.
Josh Powell, as if the Lakers needed another weapon, has been shooting the threeball like he’s been doing it for years.
Luke Walton may never be the first scoring option on a team, and he may never be an All-Star, but his passing ability and acumen trumps any weakness he may have. A decent shooter, he often finds opportunities to score by merely out-hustling his opponent to a rebound.
With a productive summer league behind him, Adam Morrison’s shooting touch seems to have returned and he looks determined to show that his third overall draft pick position was no fluke.
And tt the guard rotation; Sasha, unfortunately playing behind Kobe and sometimes Shannon Brown, has spotted and shot successfully. His stroke looks more relaxed and determined.
Shannon has plays back-up lead guard but also looks comfortable as a two guard alongside Jordan Farmar. Shannon is that player off the bench who just comes into the game ready to do any and everything necessary to win.
With everyone breathing down Derek Fisher’s neck about being old and slow (and of course we know he’s not close to being so), Jordan has looked natural and more deliberate in running the offense and finding his teammates for scoring opportunities.
The Lakers, in a manner of speaking, are stacked.
On paper, analysts say, the Lakers are a formidable team — “the team to beat,” some claim. But you don’t win Championships based on how great you look on a stat sheet. You win based on the skill, power and teamwork you play out on the court.
The reserves on any team have numerous chances each season, each game to choose their identity: be a liability or be an insurance policy. With their eyes set on a back-to-back Championship, the BenchMob should have ambitions on latter.