State of the Franchise: Los Angeles Lakers
March 31, 2011 Leave a comment
For all the hoopla that has been made about the Los Angeles Lakers this year, from how old the team looks to the this team can’t repeat as champions, they seem to be doing just fine. However, one has to admit that the championship window for this squad does have a time limit on it, and that clock doesn’t have all that much time left on it.
Looking at the team this season, the stars are putting up numbers you would anticipate at this point in their careers. All-world talent Kobe Bryant is putting up his routine 25.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists every night. Center Pau Gasol is averaging his typical double-double of 18.9 points and 10.3 rebounds. Rotating between the sixth man position and the starting forward spot, Lamar Odom is having a fine season, posting 14.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and doing everything this team needs from an experienced veteran. Odom does so much of the small things that signify Phil Jackson’s offensive rhythm that he may be this team’s most valuable player this year.
Young center Andrew Bynum continues to struggle with a variety of knee injuries that sidelined him for the first few months of the season this year. When he’s been on the court, Bynum has been a force to be reckon with defensively and has shown flashes of his potential offensively. He had a season-best 22 point, 15 rebound performance earlier this month against the Dallas Mavericks, and his presence inside will serve as the ultimate difference between the Lakers getting back into the NBA Finals and being sent home early from post season play. For the year, he’s averaging 11.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. But, in his last eight appearances, Bynum is up to 12.4 points and 13.6 rebounds. The healthier he gets, the better the Lakers look for a long playoff run.
If there is a huge difference between this year’s team and last year, it is the production from their role players. In 2009-10, forward Ron Artest provided shut down defense on some of the top scorers in the league, while posting a decent 11.0 points. While Artest is still providing strong defense along the wing this year, his points per game have fallen to 8.5 and isn’t filling out the stat sheet like he used to, averaging about three rebounds and two assists.
But, it’s not just Artest. Last year, the team was able to lean on the likes of point guard Jordan Farmer to run the offense off the bench. But, Farmer upped with the New Jersey Nets in the off-season, and the team attempted to replace his minutes by signing Steve Blake to a four-year deal. However, Blake hasn’t performed to the level the Lakers were hoping, and his minutes have begun to dwindle. On the year, Blake is averaging only 20 minutes of action a night, while posting 4.2 points and 2.1 assists. With Blake’s low production, the team has turned to guard Shannon Brown in the hope of picking up the slack on the second unit. But, Brown has under performed to a point as well, as he hasn’t been able to improve on his breakout season from one year ago. He still is averaging a solid 9.0 points in 19 minutes of action a night, but he isn’t as much of a distributor as Phil Jackson would like.
Luckily, in the triangle offense, you don’t need a dominant presence at point guard to succeed. The Lakers rank 12th in the NBA in assists per game, all while having only one player averaging more than four assists a game (Kobe Bryant). With the veteran presence on this roster and the experience of winning multiple championships, this team is poised to make another run for the Bill Russell Trophy. As long as Kobe Bryant is playing at an elite level (which he is) and Phil Jackson is at the helm, nobody should doubt the Lakers at any point in time and think they can’t win it all.
They have. Multiple times. With this core group. So, if I were you, I wouldn’t listen for a second when ESPN analysts talk about this team being old and unable to keep up with the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Chicago Bulls. They have too much guile and might to fall that easily. In order to be the champs, you have to beat the champs.
Until somebody does that, the Lakers will remain the NBA powerhouse franchise.