The Lakers have continued building, or regressing, on their six-game losing streak this past week. Despite losses of Dwight Howard (torn labrum), Pau Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (bone fragments in hip – Out for the Season), the emergence of forward Earl Clark has been a pleasant surprise.
Since last Sunday, the Lakers have suffered losses to Denver, Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, all while giving up 116 points per game in that stretch. Taking those past performances into account, the following is a look at the stock changes for the Lakers going forward:
Earl Clark (SF/PF) : Clark’s emergence in the past three games has been the lone bright spot for the Lakers during their six-game losing streak. After losing the entire Laker front-court against Denver, coach Mike D’Antoni turned to Clark to fill spot minutes at the forward position in the subsequent game against Houston.
Clark responded with a decent performance of 5 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists in 21 minutes off the bench. The next night, in San Antonio, Clark was again thrusted into the Lakers’ rotation. This time, Clark had a coming-out party as a Laker in which he posted career highs in both points and rebounds. Clark, a main reason the depleted Lakers were able to make a game out of their matchup with the Spurs, scored 22 points on 9/12 shooting, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out 3 assists.
With his huge performance in San Antonio, Clark has begun drawing clever nicknames such as “Earl-Sanity” and “Clarkemonium”, among others. With his stellar play against the Spurs, Clark was placed in the starting lineup against Oklahoma City and entrusted with the task of guarding Kevin Durant.
Although Durant scored a season-high 42 points, Clark’s energy and effort were key to the Lakers’ success early in the game. Clark finished the night with a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots), but was unable to contain Durant all night.
It seems that with back-to-back solid performances, Clark has cemented himself in D’Antoni’s rotation. Clark’s unique combination of size, length and ball-handling ability make him a valuable piece in the Lakers’ rotation. With the recent news that F/C Jordan Hill is lost for the remainder of the season, Clark could become an important replacement going forward.
Steve Nash (PG) : Nash’s return from his shin injury has been a welcomed sight for the Lakers and Lakers fans alike. Although Nash hasn’t quite been the “savior” for the Lakers this season, his ability to control the pace and offense for the Lakers have been key.
Over the past four games, the Lakers have averaged about 106 points per game. This high offensive efficiency has been due in large part to the Lakers’ two-time MVP point guard. Nash’s ability to put players in the right spots on offense was something the Lakers were clearly lacking in his absence. Since Nash’s return, the Lakers are averaging 106 ppg, a step up from the 102 ppg they averaged without him. Unfortunately, the Lakers’ demise this season has not been on the offensive end, but much more importantly on the defensive end.
Nash has averaged an efficient 11.7 ppg on 50% shooting and 9.7 assists per game in the past four games for the Lakers. The Lakers, however, may need Nash to be even more aggressive on offense and look to shoot more often if Howard and Gasol remain out for an extended period of time. Surprisingly enough, Nash’s usage rate this season is at a career low of 15%. This will need to increase for the Lakers to have any future success.
* For a reference point on usage rate: Ramon Session’s usage rate for the Lakers last season was 20.5%.
Antawn Jamison (PF) : With the multitude of injuries to the Lakers’ front-line, Jamison has gotten a chance once again to be a fixture in the Lakers’ rotation. Jamison has seized this opportunity and played solid in the bigs’ absence, registering 11.3 points per game in that stretch.
Jamison has been in and out of D’Antoni’s rotation this season, but with his recent play, he may have made a case to stay in. Jamison will have heavy competition for minutes with Earl Clark though, once Howard and Gasol return to the lineup.
As for now, however, Jamison will need to continue playing solid basketball, as the Lakers need his scoring punch without their usual interior presence. Another performance, like the one he had against Oklahoma City (19 points and 10 rebounds), would be a huge boost for the depleted Lakers.
Robert Sacre (C) : With Dwight Howard missing extended time with a torn labrum, Sacre has been called upon to start at the center position. Sacre is not the most dazzling player, but his scrappiness and constant energy have been a shot in the arm for the Lakers.
Sacre, the last pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, has played decently since being called up from the Lakers’ D-League affiliate, the D-Fenders. Anytime you go from the developmental league to starting for the Los Angeles Lakers, you must be doing something right, or that team must have a lot of recent injuries (which is the case here).
Kobe Bryant (SG) : Bryant, 34, continues to have a historic season individually thus far. Unfortunately, Bryant’s exceptional play has yet to translate into wins this season for the Lakers.
Over this past week, Bryant has played considerably well without the three big men. Bryant registered averages of 26 ppg on 38.5% shooting, 4.5 rpg, 5.5 apg in 39 minutes per game. Bryant continues to lead the league in scoring at 30.0 points per game.
At his current age of 34 years old, Bryant continues to amaze and silence his critics. In fact, no guard has ever averaged over 15 points per game in his 17th season or later. Bryant has doubled that average with his 30 ppg average.
The main thing here that prevents Bryant’s stock from increasing is his defensive deficiencies. Like most Lakers this season, there have been too many defensive lapses on a consistent basis. Bryant continues to suffer breakdowns defensively, most notably in Harden and Durant’s recent offensive explosions.
If the Lakers want to turn this season around, they have to buckle down defensively, and that especially starts with their captain, Kobe Bean Bryant.
Metta World Peace (SF/PF) : World Peace is having his best season offensively for the Lakers. Along with his shooting percentage being up to 42.1%, his points per game average is at 13.8 ppg this season, compared to just 7.7 ppg last season. World Peace is finally in shape, after losing about 15 pounds in the off-season, and this has helped him considerably to start the year. He both looks and moves much quicker than he has in years past.
In this tough stretch of games last week, World Peace averaged 18.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 3.2 steals per game. World Peace had great back-to-back games in Houston and San Antonio, in which he registered 24 points and 23 points, respectively. World Peace also had 7 steals in the loss to the Spurs, something the Lakers desperately need to continue in order to have success on the defensive end.
World Peace has arguably been the Lakers’ most consistent player this season. His offensive efficiency is as high as it’s been as a member of the Lakers. Although his offense has been great, World Peace’s defense is still not what it once was. Allowing Durant and Harden to both go off last week, granted World Peace wasn’t always guarding them the entire game, is something that would not have happened a few years ago.
World Peace, along with Bryant, is going to have to turn it up on the defensive end and start leading by example if the Lakers want to have a legitimate shot at turning this season around.
Jodie Meeks (SG) : Meeks was specifically brought in to be a consistent backup to Kobe Bryant this season. Unfortunately, that has not happen thus far as Meeks has been relatively streaky.
Meeks is currently in a long slump from three-point range, extending further back than just this past week. Since Christmas, Meeks is shooting a dismal 28.6% from beyond the arc. This percentage, from the team’s supposed “most consistent three-point shooter”, is unacceptable for a team in search of a playoff berth.
Although his shooting has not always been there, Meeks does bring consistent energy and effort off the bench. His effort often seems to be contagious, especially when the starters lack energy to begin games.
Meeks can be a integral piece in the Lakers’ cog this season, but he needs to start hitting three pointers at a higher percentage. If Meeks is able to regain his confidence and consistent shooting ability, he will be able to open up the inside for the Lakers’ bigs as well as for easier drives for Nash and Bryant.
Chris Duhon (PG) : Duhon remains the Lakers’ backup point guard, but has had little impact of the bench. Duhon takes care of the ball well (only 4 turnovers in his last four games), but he does little else to help the Lakers.
Averaging 17 minutes per game over the last four, Duhon has scored a combined 10 points and 12 assists in that stretch. Sure, Nash is one of the best point guards in the league, but having a backup with that type of production is unacceptable and a liability for this Lakers team.
Darius Morris (PG) : Remember when Morris was a regular starter for the Lakers? Those days seem to be over. Even with his superior speed and ability to get to the basket, Morris seems to be relegated to the end of the bench.
Over the past four games, Morris has only played in three games in which he has averaged 12 minutes per game. In that stretch, Morris has averaged 7.3 ppg and 5 apg, but D’Antoni seems to favor Duhon as the primary backup point guard.
The Lakers could certainly use Morris’s speed off the bench in a “change of pace” type of role. His defense has been lacking of late, but if in the right role, Morris can still be a valuable asset off the bench.
Dwight Howard (C) : Howard went down with a torn labrum injury in his right shoulder last Sunday against the Nuggets. Howard has missed the last three games, but will start at center tonight against Cleveland.
With Howard out of the lineup, the Lakers have struggled defending the paint. Although not fully healthy this season, Howard’s presence in the key and as the last line of defense remains unmatched by any of his teammates.
If the Lakers want to make a decisive run at the playoffs soon, getting Howard back in the lineup will be a step in the right direction.
Pau Gasol (PF) : Like Howard, Gasol suffered a major injury in the Lakers’ loss to Denver. Gasol was inadvertently hit in the face by Nuggets’ center JaVale McGee and suffered a concussion. Gasol has also missed the last three games and will not be allowed to return until he passes the NBA’s strict concussion program.
Along with Howard, Gasol’s absence has been felt on the inside, especially on offense. The Lakers need Gasol’s facilitating ability back in the lineup to become even more efficient on the offensive end.
Gasol continues to be re-evaluated daily but is officially listed as OUT against the Cavaliers.
Jordan Hill (PF/C) : This was absolutely the most crushing blow of the past week. Hill injured his hip in the game against Denver last Sunday, but received discouraging news on Friday.
After an MRI revealed lose bone fragments in his hip, as well as a possible labral tear of a muscle in his hip, Hill will be forced to have surgery. Early estimates say that Hill will miss the rest of the season, but he will try to get a second opinion tomorrow to see if he can speed up the recovery process.
Hill’s injury is just the latest of the many crushing blows the Lakers have felt this season. Hill has been having the best season of his career and his energy and rebounding ability have been unmatched by almost anyone in the entire NBA. Hill’s 13.0 rebounds per game per 36 minutes was one of the highest rebounding marks in the league.
The Lakers will unfortunately have to right the ship without Hill’s services. Maybe the emergence of Earl Clark will soften the blow, but Hill’s value to this team is irreplaceable.
Notes: Lakers’ backup PG Steve Blake remains sidelined after abdominal surgery in November, but he expects to return to the court sometime in the next few weeks. Reserve small forward Devin Ebanks continues to be a DNP-CD in the Lakers’ box score, despite being re-signed this off-season and being seen as an “exciting prospect for the future.”
Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers battle Cleveland, Milwaukee, Miami and Toronto this week.