Pau Gasol finally made his return to the Lakers’ starting lineup Tuesday night, after missing the past eight games with knee tendinitis, but that was not the only change in the Lakers’ rotation.
Metta World Peace:
Along with Gasol returning to the starting lineup, Coach Mike D’Antoni decided to move Metta World Peace to the bench. According to D’Antoni, after the Lakers 101-100 win over the Charlotte Bobcats, he hopes to bring World Peace off the bench for the remainder of the season:
I want [World Peace] to play the four. … For us to have a different team, a different look, he has to play the four. If he starts at the three, then once I get him to the four, it’s too many minutes for him and he needs rest.
Positives: With Gasol back in the starting lineup, the Lakers become much deeper and bigger in the frontcourt. Moving a guy like World Peace to the bench, a starter for most of his career, brings stability to the bench and gives World Peace an added advantage at the power forward position. World Peace, one of the strongest Lakers, has the unique ability of guarding multiple positions on the floor.
By making World Peace the backup power forward, D’Antoni will be able to exploit mismatches on the offensive end, as shown by his 17 points matched up against the slower defender in Byron Mullens. World Peace, when playing the 4-position, also spaces the floor with his ability to shoot from three-point range as well as his ability to draw opposing defenders away from the key. World Peace, who is not a prototypical power forward, has better foot speed and quickness than most typical power forwards. He will thus use this advantage to penetrate and get by bigger, slower defenders who match up with him.
Negatives: Moving World Peace to the bench, as sort of a “super-sub,” creates a gaping void in the starting lineup. When playing against teams like Oklahoma City, Miami, New York and Memphis, Kobe Bryant will be forced to guard those teams’ best perimeter players in the beginning of games. In the past, World Peace has taken the assignment in slowing down guys like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay to begin games. With World Peace now on the bench, Bryant will have to exert more energy on the defensive end by being forced to match up with these prolific scorers. On nights where the Lakers play teams like these, D’Antoni may need to consider starting World Peace in an attempt to match up better defensively.
With World Peace moving to the bench as a full-time sixth man, D’Antoni must now find a permanent replacement in the starting lineup. It seems after their win over Charlotte, D’Antoni has settled on moving Bryant to the starting 3-position and putting Jodie Meeks as the starting 2-guard:
You have Dwight, you have a 7-footer in there, so we can go small. I think it puts Jodie Meeks out there, it [gives] Kobe more area to operate. [Meeks] has a little pop to his game, both offensively and defensively,” said D’Antoni. “He spreads the floor, always a 3-point shot waiting to happen. I think he’s playing extremely well; he’s a good player.
Positives: Placing Meeks in the starting lineup gives the Lakers yet another consistent three-point shooter once point guard Steve Nash returns. Meeks is averaging 8.4 points per game and shooting 39.3% from three-point range this season. With Gasol and Dwight Howard occupying the inside, having Meeks on the court with them will further stretch the floor to give the bigs good operational areas inside. His consistent three-point shooting will also keep opposing defenders honest, giving Bryant and Nash more open driving lanes to the basket.
Meeks has been bringing great effort and energy off the bench, as well. This season, as is evident seemingly every season, the Lakers’ starting group comes out lethargic at times. Starting the game with Meeks on the floor will give the Lakers an instant spark plug and should give the team faster starts. Meeks seems to have a never-ending motor, which will allow him to stay on the floor for extended minutes.
Negatives: Meeks is listed at a generous 6’4” and as hard as he plays, opponents may look to post him up on the block. Meeks is a stronger defender than he is given credit for, but his small stature could be an issue when guarding starting shooting guards. The same issue with Kobe having to guard bigger small forwards could also apply to Meeks and force over-rotations on the backside of the Lakers’ defense. If opponents do choose to isolate Meeks and exploit his lack of size, the Lakers may need to bring an extra defender to help.
Devin Ebanks, Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill:
Ebanks: With World Peace moving to the bench, small forward Devin Ebanks got the start against Charlotte. Ebanks, who has played decently over the past few games, only played a total of 5 minutes Tuesday night. He was quickly replaced in the lineup by World Peace, and later Meeks, and seems to be out of the rotation now. Ebanks could see some minutes at the backup small forward, however, but with World Peace now on the bench, it seems his role will be reduced to an emergency player if other players get into foul trouble.
Jamison: For most of the season, Antawn Jamison has served as the backup power forward behind Gasol and even moved into the starting lineup with Gasol out. Now, as World Peace assumes that role, it looks like Jamison will be out of the rotation. Jamison registered his first DNP-CD this season against Charlotte, after being a solid scoring threat off the bench for most of the season. It seems like going forward D’Antoni has resorted to a three-man frontcourt rotation of Gasol-Howard-World Peace. This rotation has also hurt Jordan Hill’s prospects of seeing the floor as well.
Hill: Along with Jamison, Hill seems to be the odd man out in this new rotation. His energy and rebounding have been key to the Lakers early success, especially while Gasol was injured. D’Antoni expressed his disappointment in making Hill the odd man out in this new situation:
I hate it for Jordan Hill right now, because a little bit, he’s the odd man out. He doesn’t deserve it, he’s played well and he’s a good player.
Despite D’Antoni’s admiration for Hill, it seems like Hill’s role will be decreased in much the same way as Jamison. Both players are talented assets for the Lakers but with D’Antoni’s desire to spread the floor and play World Peace at the backup four-position, it seems they will only see the floor in the case of injuries or foul trouble.
Both players deserve to be on the floor, as D’Antoni alluded to, but if the Lakers really want to space the floor effectively, their roles will be greatly reduced. They may see spot minutes occasionally, if the Lakers lack energy or need a scoring punch, but as consistent minutes go, they may be out of luck.
The Nash effect:
Going forward, D’Antoni’s slightly unorthodox rotations will either hurt the Lakers or help them. The key, as it has been since D’Antoni’s hire, will be Nash’s return and how effectively he can assimilate the Lakers into D’Antoni’s system. Nash reportedly hopes to play this Saturday against the Golden State Warriors, but the Christmas Day game against the New York Knicks looks more likely.
As his return inches closer and closer, it seems that D’Antoni is prepping his rotations to get them ready for Nash’s return, and to maximize the team’s collective efficiency with Nash running the show.