“Another disappointing week in the books for the Los Angeles Lakers.” This seems to be a recurring theme for the season.
After a promising 2-0 start to the week, the Lakers finished this past week with a 2-2 record; a record that will simply not cut it for the 17-23 Lakers. The Lakers started the week off with solid wins against Cleveland and Milwaukee, but ended the week in discouraging fashion with losses to Miami and Toronto, thus adding to their current 5-game road losing streak.
Forward Earl Clark continued his surge towards becoming a mainstay in the Lakers’ rotation, while both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol returned from injury. The returns of the two big men failed to help the Lakers climb out of their rut, however, as the Lakers ended the week right where they started, six games under .500.
Take a look back at the changes in the Lakers’ stock values and the impact the players should have going forward:
Earl Clark (SF/PF) : Clark, 25, continued his stellar play this week and proved he was not a “fluke.” Clark’s energy and effort, both off the bench and in the starting lineup, have been a huge lift for this inconsistent Lakers team.
Over the past four games, Clark averaged 9.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, and 3.0 apg in 29 minutes per game. Clark started at power forward for the Lakers vs. Cleveland, Milwaukee and Miami, but came off the bench against Toronto.
Clark’s game against Toronto was the main reason the Lakers had a chance to win the game late. Clark registered a very active double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, on 6/10 shooting from the field. Clark’s high activity level and his ability to snatch offensive rebounds (6) were key to keeping the Lakers in the game.
Coach Mike D’Antoni’s “run and fun” system works the best with a “stretch four” player playing power forward. Clark, being 6’10”, certainly fits the bill. If he can continue to produce and bring energy off the bench, Clark could seriously push Gasol for the starting power forward position.
Clark, the 14th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, has been an end of the rotation type player for much of his career. In Los Angeles, however, Clark has seized his opportunity with the Lakers’ recent injuries, and has finally been able to show all the hard work he put in this season.
Expect Clark to keep receiving ample playing time, as long as his energy and effort continue to be there on a consistent basis.
Dwight Howard (C) : Howard had a solid week after returning from a torn labrum injury in his right shoulder. Howard returned against Cleveland and had back-to-back monster performances vs. Cleveland and Milwaukee.
Despite having a solid start to the week, Howard was ejected in the 2nd quarter against Toronto for picking up his second technical foul. Over the past week, Howard averaged 17.8 ppg, 12 rpg, 1.3 apg, and 1.8 bpg on an efficient 71.8% shooting.
Howard’s two exceptional performances, 22 & 14 vs. Cleveland and 31 & 16 vs. Milwaukee, were a big reason why the Lakers won both of those games. Howard’s activity level has also improved on the defensive end since returning from injury.
For the Lakers to be successful going forward, they have to give the ball to Howard in the post early. As evident in the Lakers’ two wins, getting Howard going early yields success for the remainder of the game. With Howard getting early touches, he seems to become even more active on defense on the help-side and on both defensive and offensive glasses.
Howard will continue to recover from off-season back surgery but he needs become the Lakers’ defensive captain, quickly. Howard’s defensive presence has been there some nights, but it must become a consistent part of the Lakers’ attack every night if they want to make the playoffs.
Along with the need for Howard’s superior defensive presence, Howard must start making his free throws at a higher percentage. This need was particularly evident when Howard missed two key free throws down the stretch of the game against Miami, which could have led to a Lakers win.
Howard was also selected as a frontcourt starter on the 2013 Western Conference All-Star team this past week.
Pau Gasol (PF/C) : After missing six games with a concussion, Gasol returned against Miami. Gasol came off the bench vs. Miami in which he registered 12 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists on 4/7 shooting in just 24 minutes.
With his solid performance against Miami, Gasol was re-inserted into the starting lineup in the following game. Gasol followed up that solid offensive game with another one in Toronto. After Howard was ejected, Gasol became the Lakers’ offensive focus in the post. Gasol finished the game with 25 points on 10/15 shooting, but only had 5 rebounds.
Gasol’s ability to score in the paint has been a consistent part of his offensive game, but the Lakers need much more from their 32-year-old Spaniard. Since returning to the Lakers’ lineup, Gasol has only grabbed 9 total rebounds in two games. The Lakers need Gasol to be a much more consistent rebounder for them going forward.
Despite two decent games offensively, Gasol continues to struggle this season. Gasol is averaging career lows in points (12.2), rebounds (8.2) and field goal percentage (42%). If Gasol wants to continue to start for the Lakers, rather than come off the bench as D’Antoni has toyed with recently, he must become more consistent on both ends of the floor.
Continue keeping an eye on Gasol as the NBA Trade Deadline nears (February 21st), although there has been little reported interest in the Lakers’ 7-footer thus far.
As a result of this change in defensive scheme, Bryant limited the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving to just 15 points on 7/15 shooting. Bryant also contained Milwaukee’s reigning Eastern Conference Player-of-the-Week, Brandon Jennings, to just 12 points on 4/14 shooting.
Bryant’s defense on opposing guards was key in the Lakers’ success on the defensive end. Going forward, Bryant must continue to set the tone on the perimeter defensively because it trickles down to the other players on the floor.
With Bryant taking on a bigger task defensively, his efficiency on offense has suffered. Over the past four games, Bryant has shot just 43.3% from the field, despite scoring 25.5 ppg. In the Lakers’ two losses, Bryant shot a dismal 31.6% and forced a season-high 32 shot attempts against Toronto.
It seems that with Bryant taking a larger role defensively, his energy on offense has been negatively impacted. Bryant is constantly short on his jump shots and has settled from the perimeter more than he had earlier in the season. Bryant still leads the league in scoring (29.7 ppg) but his FG% is now down to 47.4% on the season.
After the Lakers’ loss to the Raptors on Sunday, Bryant was quoted as saying, “My legs are a little tired out there, and it’s been impacting my jumper, making it short at times.”
If D’Antoni continues putting Bryant on the opposing team’s best guard defensively, Bryant must make the adjustment on offense. The Lakers will not win many games with Bryant forcing 32 shots or shooting 31.6% from the field.
After the loss to the Raptors Sunday morning, Bryant took the blame for the Lakers’ recent struggles:
With Bryant expending more energy on the defensive end of late, he needs to find his teammates more often and get them going early. Doing this early in games should lessen the offensive burden on Bryant, in particular.
Bryant was also selected as a backcourt starter on the 2013 Western Conference All-Star team with a league-leading 1,591,437 fan votes.
Steve Nash (PG) : Nash had a decent week both scoring and assist-wise, but turnovers and defensive lapses plagued him. Nash has helped bring some consistency to the Lakers’ point guard position this season, but he needs to shoot the ball more for the Lakers to be successful.
Over the past week, Nash has averaged 3.3 turnovers per game along with 10.8 ppg and 9.0 apg. At age 38, Nash is averaging 32.8 minutes per game this season. That number will hopefully decrease once backup point guard Steve Blake returns from injury.
In the last four games, Nash has only shot 45.5% from the field, an uncharacteristically low shooting percentage for him. Still, Nash continues to get open looks when Howard or Gasol is doubled inside, so he must continue to shoot with confidence. If Nash is even more aggressive with his own shot, it could open up the floor even more for his teammates.
In the game against Miami, Nash looked relatively helpless against the Heat’s trapping defense. The Lakers continued to run high pick and rolls, even after the Heat made it clear they were focused on stopping them. In this instance, the Lakers should have made an adjustment; this adjustment falls on the “floor general”, Steve Nash.
If D’Antoni continues to fail to make adjustments late in games, like he has on numerous occasions this year, Nash must take it upon himself to read the defense and make the necessary adjustments. Nash should have directed Gasol to the high post to relieve the pressure, instead of continuing to run high pick and rolls that were rendered ineffective.
Along with making late-game adjustments, Nash needs to start the Lakers half-court offense sooner in the shot clock, especially against athletic teams. Too many times the Lakers’ offense starts around the 10-second mark and the ball becomes stuck on one side. Nash should make sure the Lakers take advantage of the entire shot clock by moving the ball from side to side when he crosses half-court.
Since Nash is the emotional and floor leader, his improved play and on-court direction will prove paramount in turning this season around.
In this past week, Nash also continued his streak of made free throws (26/26), and remains a perfect 100% from the free-throw line on the season.
Metta World Peace (SF/PF) : Despite being torched by Heat F LeBron James, World Peace has played consistently over the past week. World Peace averaged 11.3 ppg and 4 rpg while shooting 42.9% from the field and 35% from three-point range in that period.
Although World Peace has not been as efficient as he was earlier in the season, his averages are still a welcomed sight from the supposed “fifth option” of the Lakers. The Lakers need even more from the 13-year veteran, however, especially on the defensive end.
World Peace’s defense on LeBron James in the Lakers’ loss to the Heat was poor, to say the least. World Peace allowed James to become comfortable early in the game and let him become both a playmaker and scorer, simultaneously. In the future, World Peace must take away one of those two abilities to be successful against the league’s top scorers.
The Lakers need World Peace to return to being a “lock down” defender on the perimeter. Most of the Lakers recent struggles have come on the defensive end of the floor. World Peace has done little to help those struggles and the Lakers’ collective defense this season, posting a 105 Defensive Rating*.
World Peace has had his best season in Los Angeles so far this season, but the Lakers dearly need him to return to being a defensive force. World Peace, Bryant and Howard need to come together and create some defensive cohesion.
* Defensive Rating = an estimate of the number of individual points allowed per 100 possessions; a good DRtg is below 100.
Antawn Jamison (PF) : Jamison has played inconsistently since becoming a major part of the Lakers’ rotation. The problem with Jamison is that you never know what you will get from him on any given night. Jamison could go off for 30 points one game, then the next game he could only get you 5 points.
Jamison had a high last week of 16 points in the win against Cleveland, in which he made 4/5 three pointers, but he also had a low of 5 points against Toronto, where he went 2/6 shooting from the floor.
Jamison’s role on the Lakers is certainly not to play defense or rebound, instead it is to score. Unfortunately, Jamison has yet to become a consistent scoring threat off the bench for the Lakers this season. A player with a career average of 19.2 points per game has become a player with an average of only 7.7 points per game.
Although Jamison is playing fewer minutes and receiving fewer opportunities with the talent around him, the Lakers need him to become more consistent from the floor. With Jordan Hill now out for the season, the Lakers will need both Jamison and Clark to become consistent to bolster the bench.
Jamison’s averages of 10.8 ppg / 5.8 rpg / 1.5 apg on 50% shooting in the last four games is just not enough production from the Lakers’ “best” bench scorer.
Chris Duhon (PG) : Duhon continues to be the Lakers’ backup point guard, but also continues to have little impact off the bench. Duhon takes care of the ball (only 1 turnover in his last four games), but does little else to help the Lakers.
The Lakers’ main backup for Steve Nash, Duhon, has only scored 4 points in the last four games. Duhon does get ample playing time (21.5 mpg), but he does little else besides initiate the offense.
When Duhon does shoot, however, he is only shooting 40% from the field and 37.5% from three-point range. As a result, Duhon has become a glaring liability for the Lakers. As much as a “bust” Steve Blake has been for the Lakers over the past few years, he is clearly needed to give them some type of production from the backup point guard position.
Darius Morris (PG) : It seems that Morris has now been relegated to just an emergency guard. Coach D’Antoni made Morris the main backup at the shooting guard position earlier in the week, but now with two straight games of only 5 minutes of play, Morris seems to have an even smaller role.
Morris played well against Cleveland, registering 14 points on 5/9 shooting, but has only scored 5 points over the past three games. Morris’s athleticism is something the Lakers can surely use and take advantage of, but D’Antoni seems confident in leaving him on the bench.
Robert Sacre (C) : With Howard and Gasol returning from injury, Sacre’s role has also been reduced. Sacre, despite playing 18 minutes in the win against Cleveland, has only played a total of 12 minutes over the last three games.
Despite playing solid while filling in for the injured big men, it now seems like Sacre will only see the floor if Howard or Gasol get into foul trouble or become injured again. Like Morris, Sacre looks to be in the same situation as an “emergency big man.”
Jodie Meeks (SG) : Meeks is now glued to the bench. Despite once being a consistent three-point threat for the Lakers, D’Antoni has chosen to leave Meeks on the bench. Meeks has not shot well from behind the arc in the past few weeks, and has yet to get a real chance to revive his shooting ability.
It looks like Morris is now the official backup shooting guard, although even Morris is rarely given a chance. Meeks can certainly be a great asset off the bench, because of his ability to stretch the floor, but as long as D’Antoni is the coach, it seems that Meeks will remain glued to the bench.
Steve Blake (PG) : Blake began the week playing three-on-three games at practice. Blake has fully recovered from his abdominal surgery, but is now dealing with a groin issue. He is expected to receive a cortisone shot in his groin on Sunday, however, which will hopefully speed up the recovery process.
The Lakers are optimistic that Blake will be able to return to the lineup within the next 1-2 weeks. His return would be a welcomed sight for the Lakers’ bench, especially with Duhon’s poor play of late.
Notes: SF Devin Ebanks has not played in a game since January 11th against Oklahoma City. Ebanks, 23, is averaging 3.6 ppg and 2.2 rpg this season, but has only played in one of the past 13 games.
Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers battle Chicago, Memphis, Utah and Oklahoma City over the next week.