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.