Special thanks to Travis J. Rodgers for submitting his take to the Lakers Nation and giving us the rights to post it on the blog. Once again, if you have your own take and want to see it on TLN, feel free to e-mail it to us at Articles@theLakersNation.com.
Coby Karl, Joe Crawford, D.J. Mbenga, Dwayne Mitchell, Sun Yue. What do these players have in common? They have a good chance of being on the L.A. Lakers when the season starts. Well, a better chance than I have of being on the team at least. Then again, none of them are a sure thing. So who has the best chance of making the team, what roles might they see, and what does it all mean for the Lakers?
Coby Karl – “George’s Son” is a 6′5 204 pound Shooting Guard who played in 17 games for the Lakers last season, doing little other than hitting 80% of his Free Throws. He was then given ample opportunity to shine for LA’s Summer League team. The results: we saw that Karl is a gunner who takes stupid shots and gets killed on defense. Of course he didn’t have Bynum backing him up, but Karl’s performance was disappointing to say the least.
- Strengths: A sweet shot as long as he’s not thirty-five feet from the basket as he seemed to be every time he jacked up a three during the Summer League. Lots of heart.
- Weaknesses: So-so athleticism, poor decision-making, a bit green, game seems too fast for him right now.
- Outlook: Karl has the shooting ability to make a team in the NBA at present. Once there it would be a question of how long the team could stand his shortcomings. Even if his game is dissimilar to Luke Walton’s, he has the impact of a poor man’s Luke Walton (or maybe Walton last season). Not enough athleticism on defense, not enough skill on the offensive end. But while Walton has a decent post game, Karl has that jumper.
- Verdict: He will make the team because everyone is in love with him and who doesn’t love another “cerebral” (read: unathletic) player for the triangle? I’m just not convinced that he deserves it.
Joe Crawford – “The Referee” is a 6′5, 207 pound Shooting Guard. He was the Lakers’ sole selection in the 2008 Draft and looked good on their Summer League team. He showed an ability and willingness to attack relentlessly. With that skill seriously lacking outside Kobe (and Farmar and Ariza to a limited degree), Crawford may find himself a nice niche. He has an athletic build, good speed, good leaping skills. He worked hard on defense and seems to know his weaknesses. Seeing how he addresses the weaknesses through his rookie season will be key.
- Strengths: Athleticism, aggressive mindset, defensive tools.
- Weaknesses: Not a good shooter from three, only so-so ball-handling and passing skills.
- Outlook: Crawford should go immediately to the Developmental League or maybe immediately after a week of hanging out with the team and becoming comfortable with an NBA lifestyle. He needs to play the game to work on his shortcomings, but he projects to a top of the bench player who could thrive in the role of attacker off the pine.
- Verdict: He will make the team and play very little as a rookie.
D.J. Mbenga – The 7′, 255 pounder has not been offered a contract as far as I’ve heard. This is surprising because LA is light on bigs and Mbenga played well for the Lakers in spot duty last season. A solid shotblocker with good to great raw athletic power, Mbenga cannot shoot, but he does the dirty work.
- Strengths: I cannot think of many more athletic seven footers in the NBA. I’m not saying there are none, but Mbenga is incredibly fit, agile, and active. Really fit in as a high energy player last season.
- Weaknesses: Plays away from the basket too much so he does not rebound well. Little to no game outside eight feet or so.
- Outlook: Chris Mihm, the current backup Center, has had serious injury issues. Vlad Radmanovic, probably the current backup Power Forward, is not a good fit against physical players. Someone like Mbenga is needed to match up for five to ten minutes per game against the bruisers. He can outhustle people and make them work because of his athleticism.
- Verdict: I think he makes the team, and I am shocked he hasn’t yet received a contract (or maybe he has and no one knows it).
Dwayne Mitchell – 6′5, 210 pounds, and carved from granite, Mitchell wins the best physique contest until Bynum unveils his new buff bod, I guess. After posting Josh Smith-esque numbers at Louisiana-Lafayette, Mitchell has played internationally and in the Developmental League. He began dominating the DLeague last season, posting great scoring and rebounding numbers. He played incredibly well for LA’s Summer League team. In my opinion, he was the best player on the team. He is a slasher, but although he cannot hit his Free Throws, he can probably get to the line better from the arc than anyone on this team except Kobe.
- Strengths: Incredible athlete, incredibly strong, great attacker, picture perfect defensive tools, very good rebounder.
- Weaknesses: Poor ball handler, suspect jumper, poor FT shooter, doesn’t move his feet enough on defense.
- Outlook: If Mitchell makes the team, I would be giddy at the thought of him and Ariza holding down the 2 and 3 spots on the second team for defensive purposes. He needs to ride his athleticism and passion to impress by defensive work, attacking, and rebounding throughout training camp. If he does this, he’s a Laker. As many will point out, however, there are reasons he has not been in the NBA (one of those was an apparently misdiagnosed heart condition that kept him from being drafted).
- Verdict: Mitchell is best suited for playing the SG or SF spot, but the Lakers are so stacked there, his natural position counts against him. That said, defense and attacking are two skills in short supply on this team. He is a coinflip away from being off the team, it seems.
Sun Yue – The 6′9, 220 pounder from China, dubbed “The Chinese Magic,” has reportedly agreed to a two year contract with the Lakers. He has played very little for his national team, but some point to a broadly political source for that fact. He probably cannot play full time Point Guard in the NBA (lack of lateral speed) so he may find himself playing Small Forward (but there strength is a concern). So really Yue could play any of the 1, 2, or 3 spots for the Lakers. He has a decent shot, seems to hustle a ton, and has the height that makes him an intriguing Guard prospect.
- Strengths: Aggressive, tall for his position, fast in straight lines, good handles and maybe great passing regardless of position.
- Weaknesses: Lack of bulk and strength are concerns. Athleticism seems decent but little more. Not a great shooter.
- Outlook: The signing of Yue says nothing necessarily about the Lakers’ plans for this coming season. Yue is going to get a lot of exposure during the Olympics so offering a two year contract ensures that the Lakers will not watch Yue bolt for money elsewhere. He may ride the pine or go to the DLeague. He may surprise us all and play a bit. He projects to an interesting player in the mold of what Sasha Vujacic was supposed to be: a really tall player who can handle the ball and pass incredibly well. If he develops a three-point stroke like Sasha, defense would be gravy.
- Verdict: He will be on the team and wearing purple and gold at some point in the next two years.