A new hope
The Lakers are in town and for the first time in a long time, circumstances have changed between these two teams. Our fair city is no longer just another pit stop on Kobe & Co.’s championship tour, but a game the Wolves are legitimately favored in some corners to win. We had a chat with the Kamenetzky brothers of ESPN LA’s Land O’ Lakers for a closer look at tonight’s matchup.
The Lakers have Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant, still as strong a Big Three as anyone’s. Why can’t they score?
To a large degree, because nobody else beyond the big three can. Take a look down the roster. Matt Barnes. Derek Fisher. Metta World Peace.Josh McRoberts. Steve Blake (when healthy). Devin Ebanks. All useful players who can occasionally put up some points, but would you really want to count on any as a reliable fourth scorer? Neither would I. They’re also largely players who need others to create for them. This is where Lamar Odom‘s really missed. He’s a proven double-digit scorer who can create his own shot, plus somebody else’s. With him in Dallas, the Lakers are limited to basically Kobe Bryant and, well, Kobe Bryant for perimeter players who can break down a defense and create off the dribble.It also doesn’t help that nobody on the Lakers is capable of hitting a 3-pointer on an even semi-regular basis. And I do mean Nobody. They’re shooting 27 percent as a team and at times, that paltry average is a chore to reach. They only take about 15 a game, which is reasonably low, but that nonetheless means by definition about 11 empty possessions a night.Even the big three has questions. Andrew Bynum is adjusting to regular double teams, and talented as he may be, he’s not a proven scorer on a game-in, game-out basis. (He’s missing often at the rim and especially the free throw line lately, which could speak to the fatigue of becoming a bigger focal point.) Pau Gasol’s role is still the equivalent of clay on a potters wheel, just like the offense as a whole. The only guy Mike Brown has truly figured out how to use is Kobe Bryant, and he’s responded well. But there’s a lot of work to be done.
The answer to both questions is “I hope not.” Obviously, you never want a player carrying such a heavy dual role as scorer/play-maker, particularly when his right lunotriquetral ligament is non-existent. The degree to which Kobe has succeeded wearing both hats is pretty admirable, if (in my opinion) unrealistic over the course of another 47 games. (Although as my brother learned, tell this to Kobe, and you’ll end up in a game of chicken.)
Unfortunately, the Lakers have operated this way in part from necessity. Between the very limited practice time as the result of a packed early schedule and the issues cited in question 1, Brown asked Kobe to carry a disproportionate weight. But I think everyone knows there’s a ceiling to the success using this as a formula, and Brown’s sought ways to alleviate some pressure off Bryant. He’s used Pau as a facilitator from the high post (which reduced scoring opportunities for El Spaniard, but again, Brown’s tinkering with an imperfect roster). Metta World Peace has served at times effectively, if too sporadically, as a point forward/bulldozer in the lane. And Blake’s return can help along these lines. As will more practice time now finally available.
Still, getting the ball out of Kobe’s hands will be a challenge for the staff, and not for the “insert obvious joke here” reasons.
There’s no question Brown’s emphasis on defense, plus his overall energy, has clicked team-wide. This is a team that plays as hard as possible on most possessions, even when very obviously gassed. As a result, the defense has been smothering at times, and extremely disruptive. Brown also demands the bigs show hard on pick-and-rolls, which has been a particular challenge for Gasol. But give El Spaniard credit. For all the talk about his dwindling numbers, his defense has often been inspired.
Many, many things, to be honest.
For starters, the Lakers haven’t been particularly good on the road this season, albeit against some good competition. No win outside of Staples can be taken for granted, much less less on the second end of a back-to-back against a rested foe. Containing Ricky Rubio will be a challenge, considering rookie/defacto point guard Andrew Goudelock will be charged with slowing Luke Ridnour, maybe even the Wolves’ second string point guard, too. The second unit in general could be problematic, as Minnesota’s bench scoring nearly doubles the Lakers’ on average.
There’s also the matter of Kevin Love, whose production against the Lakers last season dipped most notably when guarded by Lamar Odom. And LO is not walking through that door anytime soon. In the meantime, Gasol’s track record checking Love wasn’t as strong last season. This is obviously a critical assignment, and Pau will need to bring his A-Game on both sides of the ball.