Out of Bounds with Jason Riley

About a year ago, I was dating a girl that told me I had the emotional aptitude of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.

Wait, you have seen Terminator 2?

For the record, those are the kind of man statements that you should file away with other gems like maybe try eating a little less or invite your really hot friend to come out with us tonight. A narrative of the Connor, Terminator relationship dynamics will only prove her point. It will end as badly as Len Bias’ NBA career. Just trust me on this one.

We, the people of The Lakers Nation, certainly aren’t lacking in the emotional department. We are closer to the Tom Cruise on Oprah side of the fence. Eleven games in, and Twitter has been on fire with enthusiasm, and a little bit of rage. After a Lakers’ loss, you can expect more F-bombs than a Christian Bale rant; after a Lakers’ win, everyone gets Hannah Montana/Nickelodeon happy. I love the passion of my Lakers’ Twitter Fam, and it’s a shame the Lakers’ don’t play with that same energy every time they take the floor. Here are some of my favorite emotional Tweets from this past week:

SexyLakrLuva: Kobe that reverse was so orgasmic… (sh**) (sh**) (sh**).
SmoothCrimina24: If we don’t win, I’ma be level 10 pissed! I’ll be on 1,000 suicide watch.
Maytal: U all forgot how much Jordan the little bi*** used to tell of the refs, so Kobe has to sit back & stay quiet, not really, fu** that sh**.
RRiles: Kobe seriously makes my whole life better!! Thank you Mr. Bryant!
Mamba24MVP: I hope Artest pops him in the face when the ref has their back turned and he goes down right away and we dunk on them.

(If you’re not on Twitter, you’re really missing out on some fun.)

Before we get too carried away on the many emotional waves of the NBA season, let’s step back and take a look at where we’re realistically at.

The Lakers are 8-3 through their first eleven games. As TLN’s Bobby Roshan referred to earlier this afternoon, the Lakers season has taken on the persona of the Simpson’ sisters – Pre-Twinkie Jessica at home against the Suns and Hawks, Pre-Surgery Ashlee at home against the Mavs and on the road in Denver. Surprisingly, their 7-3 start to the season has looked as good as or better than half of the last ten NBA champions:

99-00 Lakers (7-3) (67-15)
00-01 Lakers (6-4) (56-26)
01-02 Lakers (9-1) (58-24)
02-03 Spurs (6-4) (60-22)
03-04 Pistons (6-4) (54-28)
04-05 Spurs (8-2) (59-23)
05-06 Heat (6-4) (52-30)
06-07 Spurs (8-2) (58-24)
07-08 Celtics (9-1) (66-16)
08-09 Lakers (9-1) (65-17)

Most importantly, they have done this without their second best player, Pau Gasol. Six teams have raced out to a better start than the Lakers. How would that change if they had been missing their second best player?

Phoenix – Amare Stoudamire.
Atlanta – Josh Smith.
Boston – Kevin Garnett.
Denver – Chauncey Billups.
Cleveland – Mo Williams.
Dallas – Jason Kidd.

Realistically, is there any chance another team in the NBA wins 8 of their first 11 after encountering the setbacks we have?

  • Best player (Kobe Bryant) strains his groin.
  • Second best player (Pau Gasol) hasn’t played.
  • Biggest off-season acquisition (Ron Artest) hasn’t found his rhythm.
  • Sixth man married a Kardashian in the off season. Is there any way he’s emotionally stable and focused?
  • Wildly Inconsistent bench production and rotations.

Having said that, here are some serious points of concern for the Lakers:

Aside from Kobe Bryant and Shannon Brown, the Lakers have been playing with the intensity of a Larry Johnson goal line carry. This is really nothing new for this Lakers’ team. We saw it on multiple occasions last season (17-point loss in Portland, 15-point loss in Houston) and have already seen the worst of it (I hope) this season (26-point loss in Denver). Last year, the Lakers were able to kick up the intensity and get the job done in big games. By all indications, they will be testing the on/off switch again this season.

Lamar Odom.
Rather quietly, Lamar Odom’s production is way down. He’s shooting 42% from the floor, 29% from downtown and 58% from the free throw line – all of which are on pace to be Laker’ career lows for him. His minutes are up (35mpg), but his scoring is down (9ppg). In all fairness, Lamar seems to thrive with the second unit when Pau Gasol is in the starting lineup. Let’s just hope that’s the only reason Lamar looks like Kirk Cameron’s career right now.

Ron Artest.
Ron Artest doesn’t look entirely comfortable in the triangle just yet. 44% of his shot attempts (48/109) have been from three, where he’s shooting a pedestrian 35%. He’s had some solid games (20/6/5/4 @ OKC; 22/6/3/2 vs. HOU) and some equally forgettable games (3/3/3/2 vs. DAL; 5/3/1/1 vs. PHO). Fortunately, we aren’t looking for Ron to post big offensive numbers. His biggest contribution is going to be on the defensive side of the ball, where he has looked about a step slow. He has twice as many fouls (28) as he does steals (14). As Ron gets comfortable and into the flow of the season, I expect his efficiency will dramatically increase. Of all the Lakers early season concerns, this concerns me the least.

Derek Fisher/Jordan Farmar/Shannon Brown.
The Lakers are struggling at the point guard position (again). D-Fish (32% FG, 26% 3FG) and Jordan Farmar (35% FG, 35% 3FG) haven’t been able to find their shot. Shannon Brown has certainly provided Sportscenter with some impressive material, but not a whole lot else. Defensively, Derek is looking his age and Jordan seems to have a hard time staying in front of anyone. Opposing point guards are easily breaking us down with penetration and putting a lot of pressure on our rotations. This is definitely something to keep an eye on; I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

Kobe Bryant’s Durability.
I love the development of Kobe’s game this season. As Chris Manning wrote a couple of weeks ago, he has taken the same step that Michael Jordan did late in his career. His footwork is flawless and his strength is deceptive. The only downside to this is the increased contact and physical play that comes with more catches in the post. How will the wear and tear of banging with the bigs affect him over the course of 82 games? We know that Kobe can play (and dominate) through aggravating injuries. Will that eventually catch up with him? Only time will tell.

So far, the Lakers are exactly who we thought they would be: A team with historical potential that is using the first half of the regular season to find themselves.

We saw this coming, we did.

As the year wears on, we can count on having some nights where the Lakers look unbeatable, and other nights where they look more lost than the current season of One Tree Hill. While we enjoy the unpredictable emotions that come with each regular season game, we can’t forget that NBA championships aren’t won in November. Just ask last years’ Boston Celtics (Started 27-2, Lost in 2nd Round), the ’07 Dallas Mavericks (67-15 in the regular season, Lost in the 1st Round) or even the ’94-95 Houston Rockets (47-35 in the regular season, Won NBA Championship).

The Lakers have 71 regular season games left to progress into the dominate team we know they can be. And come June, we will barely even remember what happened in November.

I have received some Tweets/Emails/Messages asking me why I haven’t been writing lately. While I haven’t written a column for TLN in a few weeks, it’s not because I haven’t been writing. I have been working on a book (my second one) and I have a deadline of Christmas to have the first draft completed. I’ll be able to release some more details about it in the next month or so. My columns may be sporadic between now and then, but I think the book project will be something that all of you will enjoy. Thanks for asking where I have been, I’m glad that some of you out there enjoy reading my writing enough to miss it!

  • Short Dog

    When the shit hits the fan the Lakers will come out Champions. Bottom Line.
    Lakers #1

  • drive-for-16th


  • http://www.violetkanian.com violet

    i love this… you broke it down very well. lamar’s part really sticks out.. he needs to step it up, but like you said, hes better with the 2nd unit. lets see if it helps tomorrow against the bulls. Ps. love the subtle khloe shot ;)

  • KING

    Good Read :)

  • atomicpunk

    perfectly said.As long as we show some more energy on defense,rebounding and loose balls we will dominate.
    Lamar needs to start leading by example..period. His head is not into it,to me anyway.

  • WifelovesLuke

    “Defensively, Derek is looking his age and Jordan seems to have a hard time staying in front of anyone. Opposing point guards are easily breaking us down with penetration and putting a lot of pressure on our rotations. This is definitely something to keep an eye on; I don’t see it changing anytime soon.”
    Good job, Jason…..you just gave more fire power to the “trade Farmar / bench Fish” crowd. Damn, now we have to listen to more of their whining!!

    1-2-3 Ring!!

  • http://yahoo Woodyz01

    I’m thinking @ 32 points tonight.