If you follow the Lakers Nation, then you already know this report card isn’t going to be straight A’s.

The purpose here is to take an in-depth look at the secondary players in addition to our team play to find our strengths and weaknesses as of now. Kobe is less of a concern because we all know he can play and it’s still pre-season so you can’t really expect him to play at his peak. Besides, whether he will or should be traded is an entirely different subject.

Most winning teams are greater than the sum of their parts. Our Lakers, on the other hand, are actually less than the sum of their parts. The team cohesion is so lacking that we’re actually better on paper than we are in person.

Since I’m as optimistic as possible, let’s begin with the good. Our second unit has played extraordinarily well throughout the pre-season. This unit, led by Jordan Farmar, shows tremendous energy on the defensive end and a lot of spirit in their up tempo strategy. The driving factor is Farmar, because he has emerged as our greatest playmaker. In one year we’ve gone from terrible Smush to a solid playmaker in Jordan.

The other development that has helped the second unit is Andrew “Socks” Bynum. His strength and conditioning regimen over the summer have shown up in pre-season. There have been several times where he has successfully fought through a hard foul on the way up for a dunk. His speed up and down the court has improved noticeably as well.

Finally and quite surprisingly, Brian Cook’s defense has improved. I’m not sure how it happened and I’m not confident that it will continue, but Cookie has made a noticeable effort to play team defense. He still wouldn’t be my choice to guard on isolation, but he has played fairly solid help defense lately. Any improvement from Cook, especially on defense, deserves an ‘A’ for effort.

To contrast, our team needs significant improvement in numerous areas. Since defense is the key, we’ll begin there. The team currently lacks defensive cohesion. There have been many times where help defenders get lost in the rotations. While this occasionally happens to every team out there, the Lakers haven’t practiced enough to know in advance where everyone will rotate in common situations. This aspect of their defense should continue to improve, and the players are putting forth effort out there. Because of the effort and the likely improvement over time, it’s less of a concern that it ordinarily would be.

The Lakers, as a team, are failing to rebound adequately. Upon watching our last game in slow motion, it’s quite apparent that our players give up their superior rebounding position because they watch the ball. While watching the ball does allow a savvy rebounder to anticipate the bounce, in the Lakers’ case, they aren’t shutting out the opponents at all nor are they “anticipating” the bounce. On offense they aren’t fighting for position and on defense they aren’t denying position of the offensive players. This problem is happening across the board, including Kobe. Though it’s true that Lamar Odom is our best rebounder, on the whole, rebounding is a team function. When three defenders have inside position, getting 90% of the rebounds should be a matter of physics… block the offensive players and create as much space between yourself and the rim. If all three players inside do this, there’s almost no way, other than the occasional hard bounce, that the ball doesn’t land in our hands. This needs to be improved immediately, and there’s no excuse not rebound.

The Lakers running game is abhorrent right now. This is especially true when Farmar is not leading the break. Our players lack space and the proper angles to attack, which in turn, allow lesser numbers to defend the basket. This is one big reason why the first team hasn’t faired well. Again, this issue should improve as Lamar Odom returns and while Jordan and Drew soak up a bulk of the minutes.

Several Lakers players are actually playing out of position offensively. Even though I gave Brian Cook an A for effort, his new position, playing in the pinch post, is a disaster. He cannot pass the ball and he cannot create off the dribble. Yet, he’s been playing this high post position. Second, Kobe has not been playing this position, even though he’s a natural at it. The times when Kobe has had a scoring outburst, it has been from the high post. The high post player must be able to create shots and pass out of a double team or a pick and roll.

Several of our players are a step slow right now. This includes Vlad, Mihm, Brown, and Fisher (Kobe is a different story all together). I haven’t seen enough of Walton to give you a positive answer, but I’d probably throw him in this group as well. I expect Mihm and Brown to improve somewhat over the next two months. I also think Vlad will come around more once the season starts. Fisher is a trooper and he’ll bring way more to the table than his on court performance.

For those of you who are Critter watchers, he’s a natural 2 guard at this stage. I don’t expect him to run the PG position any time soon. He will likely play more swing and perhaps the high post depending on the defense. Give him a few months and he will become a significant contributor.

All in all, what we’ve seen is not promising. We’re not even into the season and we’re already limping in. It will be harder to move up the playoff seeds this year than it was last year. After all, the Warriors came on strong after they made a huge trade as did the Nuggets. Houston was injured half the season. Having said this, we are a solid 8th seed and my prediction is that we’ll finish the season winning more than we started, which might be enough to push us higher should the standings finish closely as they did last year. I truly believe we will have a season opposite of last, and if this team comes together and avoids injuries, they can potentially advance into the second round on a hot streak. That’s what I’m hanging my hope upon.

Still, it is just pre-season and it’s a little early to forecast the end.

  • fatty

    Tim-4-Show,

    Like you I wish we had more answers than questions, this late in the preseason. Our core group has not been able to practice as a unit and it shows. Now it looks like our Core doesn’t play toghether for another two weeks.

    By the end of Nov, I think we’ll have a decent picture of the Lakers. That’s important, because PJ has been tagging the first month to his extention plans.

    We play 16 games: 9 home and 7 away

    We will be slow out of the gates, with the injuries. Some other teams will have similar problems. I think a slow start will be very frustrating for Laker fans. Preparing myself for some early, stink up the place losses.

    Those crucial first 16 games. 7 wins, 9 losses – Then a nice turn around in December.

    Think Positive! lol

  • PHANTOM

    looking at the schedule we can easily go 5-15 the first 20 games. just imagine how kobe will feel then? the drama should be entertaining at least!!!

  • kyler_hay

    [Comment ID #15357 Will Be Quoted Here]

    or 15 and 5

  • Tim-4-Show

    Though I’d typically prefer finishing the season strong over starting it strong, the Lakers franchise is at a pivotal moment in time. Just as you bloggers have pointed out, a weak beginning to the year will hurt us in several ways:
    1. Fan unrest
    2. Kobe’s displeasure
    3. League perception that we’re desperate
    4. Possible self-destruction through team wide lack of confidence
    5. PJ’s contract extension

  • MILO

    [Comment ID #15353 Will Be Quoted Here]

    Well yea it’s definately a though schedule, but they did beat everyone of these teams last year so now that almost everybody is healthy we should be able to pull of some win’s.So im not worried about the schedule, my main concerne is will Kobe stay or not???And im definately with you on the thinking possitive, we’ll be ok!!!

  • MILO

    I just got done watching a video of the Lakers practice from yesterday and it looks to me like Phil and Kobe are tired of all these lame interviews.As a fan you stop and dream about how cool it would have been to be a profesional ball player, but dam the media dont give these guy’s a break.I mean i could just see Phil telling them f-u-c-k i’ve answered these same questions time and time again.GET THE F-U-C-K OUT OF MY FACE FOR A DAY OR TWO PLEASE!!!

  • fatty

    Milo,
    I saw the same interviews. Some of those questions were pretty lame. PJ and Kobe both had the same reactions.

    “Do you think the Lakers played badly last night?”

  • lakerluv

    I think this team is in trouble from watching them in the prseason. Their defense is horrific. I am not sure if PJ knows how to coach defense. This is three years now and I have seen nothing when it comes to defensive improvement. I think these guys are thinking about the triangle to much and forgetting to play the type of defense needed to be competative. I say scratch the triangle and play an offense that doesnt make players look like they are a deer lost in headlights. An offense that any free agent can come in a make a contribution. An offense that most of these players have ran before. This will allow them to consentrate on the defensive end. Defense wins championships. When you have a player like Kobe, you can score anytime you want. I am sick of watching players have to think everytime the ball is thrown to them “hhmmm, where is the rock supposed to go next. OH crap the shot clock is down to 5, wheres Kobe.” I guess I am a little frustrated in the progress of this team.

    “LAKER FO LIFE”

  • BEC

    One of the biggest reason why we look good on paper is because we are expecting more from our players than they can actually contribute. We can hope and pray that Lamar becomes aggressive and becomes a “pippen to our jordan”, but its been 8 years and he has yet to change, hoping he gets better is just false hope.
    One of the shocking things I see on a consistent basis, is the lack of fundamentals from most our players, no one drops to the level of the ball when kobes in isolation or driving to the basket, no box-out on rebounds, proper rotation on defense, slow and weak cuts are made, and so on.
    Talent doesnt win games, proper execution of offense and defense is what wins games.
    The only way we can pass the first round is if we place in the top tier of the western conference, but thats not likely, impossible really. With this team there is no way we can beat the Spurs, Suns, Mavs, or Houston in a 7-game series, Kobe can win two but not four. I find it hard for us to even beat denver or utah. Unless we make some midseason trade, i think we’re guaranteed another first round exit. Even an improved Bynum still lacks the experience for us to really be a force and even a miracle improvement from Lamar wouldnt be enough.
    To many questions are in the air though, we’ll have to wait and see, but I find it hard to be optimistic about this team.

  • MILO

    [Comment ID #15380 Will Be Quoted Here]

    Well to be honest i also think that the Lakers are playing a little better when Kobe is not on the floor.The thing is that they are used to having Kobe do everyhting, last year it seemed like it was Kobe all by himself.But yea they were awfull against the Jazz but even the elite teams have bad night’s like that.It must be very intimidating to play alongside the best player in the world (kobe).That i think is the reason why they mess up here and then because they are thinking to much, especialy now that Kobe called them out.But in the end players like Walton,Vlad,Farmar,Critt, even Sasha are going to step it up.They know that LO is out and him being one of the Key players, the 2 in the 1-2 punch alongside Kobe has made them realize that they have to step it up.So they should be fine…

  • Michael_23

    Hey guys what do you think about this? The season Kobe opts out, he decides to sign for less money with the Lakers. The leftover money Lakers have can be used to sign up big free agents.

    It’s like what Shaq did with the Heat. What I don’t get was Shaq demanded more money at J. Buss but then 1 year later asked for less money from the Heat to sign free agents.

    What do you guys think?

  • http://ld2k.com LD2k

    What a pic of those three… :(

  • jt24

    Michael_23

    That’s what I’ve been thinking. Kobe could easily cut his paycheck down he don’t need all that money anymore especially now when it’s all about winning for him. I think deep down he wants to stay a laker for life no matter what he says and this is a way to make us a contender again very soon. All we have to do is get trough these couple season, add some good new peaces next offseason when kwame and cook are out (my god if they get re-signed!) and then go after a major fa who fits in our system when/if Kobe makes that cut. We all know Kobe still has few prime years left in him and if he wants to win as a laker this could be the way to do it. Of course the FO needs to get those deals done…

  • Tim-4-Show

    LD2K,

    That’s a sick new video you made. I love it, the audio with the flashes to different players, and the Jim Buss clip is absolutely brilliant. Total genius!

  • mplakers

    how can you give an A to Cook? is that grade on a bell curve? an A for Cook for effort is equivalent to a D for effort for Derek Fisher. Fisher could be sitting on the bench cheering his teammates on and Cook can be on the floor for 48 minutes and guaranteed Fisher will do more to try and win the game than “Brain Cooked Brian”. Oh and by the way here are some people the Lakers passed up in the 2003 NBA Draft when they nose-picked this freaking loser.

    24th pick: Brian Cook
    25th pick: Carlos Delfino
    28th pick: LEANDRO BARBOSA
    29TH PICK: JOSH HOWARD
    31st pick: Jason Kapono

  • ab4sure

    [Comment ID #15413 Will Be Quoted Here]

    Carlos Delfino…glad they passed on him. Didn’t about 27 other teams pass on those also. We all can knit pick on almost every draft, and every team and the decision. They also have drafted fairly well with Farmar, Critt, Bynum, Walton and Turiaf both 2nd round picks so some perspective is needed in judging the draft picks.

  • mplakers

    you’re right about farmar, critt, bynum, walton, and turiaf but, my point is…who was the knucklehead who thought that brian cook was better than the ones I listed above????

  • ab4sure

    Every GM makes a bad draft pick, it is like a rite of passage.

  • daboss1848

    Sorry mplakers . . . Cook was highly touted coming out of college.
    Cook was invited to the Green Room, so apparently somebody wanted to take him in top 20 – - Hollinger’s pre-draft Report

    Cook led the Fighting Illini in rebounding in each season. He was the co Big Ten Freshman of the year. As a senior in the 2002-2003 season, Cook led the Fighting Illini in scoring with 20.0 points per game, and received the Chicago Tribune Silver Basketball as the Most Valuable Player of the Big Ten Conference. That same season, Cook was named Second-Team All-American by The Sporting News, and Third-Team All-American by the Associated Press, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, and The Basketball Times, as well as Big Ten Player of the Year and First-Team All-Big Ten by both the coaches and the media. Cook left Illinois as the school’s third all-time leading scorer with 1748 total points, at an average of 13.2 points per game.

    FROM ESPN (draft night grades):
    Los Angeles Lakers
    Round 1: Brian Cook, F, Illinois (No. 24)
    Round 2: Luke Walton, F, Arizona
    They got two very talented, veteran college players who should step right in and contribute. Cook is a good fit in the Lakers’ system. He’s got a lottery-pick game and if he can convince Phil Jackson to actually play him, he could replace Robert Horry. Walton is the smartest player in the draft and you know what Jackson thinks of smart players. He could end up playing point forward for the team in year one.
    Grade: A-

    Hindsight is always 20/20

  • http://hzmdesigns.com hZm

    Cook was highly scouted.

    Coming out of college he was known as a post guy. I guess he decided to completely change his game out of nowhere.

  • mplakers

    bottom line…brain cooked brian sucks and whoever scouted him and bragged about him was either a fool or got fooled…either way it doesn’t bode well for s supposed expert.

    on a side note…i was at a cal state northridge game last year versus east washington state and both mitch and jerry west was there! some guy wearing dwade’s number 3 on the east washington team looked impressive scoring 33 points in attempting to bring his team back from a 20 point deficit. i got jerry west’s and mitch’s autograph and months later i find out the number three guy’s name. RODNEY STUCKEY. i bet the lakers were going to draft him if he was available instead of critt.

  • fatty

    mlakers,

    I’m not able to argue too much with you about Cookie.
    But Tuesday, we will be starting two players that were drafted in the 2nd round. Most 2nd round guys don’t make a roster, and these are starting and deserve too. Both Mitch picks.

    Add Fisher, I believe a 2nd round pick(West) and we have done pretty well. Cookie is on my must trade list. Some guys just don’t adjust well in the NBA. When he was picked he was highly taughted.

    I’m not a Mitch fan, butI would give him a B for drafting over the last seven years.

    Thanks for sharing the Northridge story. That would be cool to meet West and Mitch like that.

  • Sasha Cohen

    Hey!…Thanks for the nice read, keep up the interesting posts..what a nice Tuesday . Sasha Cohen