Last year was the most disappointing Lakers season since 2007 as they just made the playoffs at 45-37 and were bounced in the first round. Worse, they lost Kobe Bryant to a torn Achilles and, while he says he’ll be back by the season opener, is still some time away from being 100 percent.
The Lakers have changed things around quite a bit, ridding themselves of Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Chris Duhon, and Earl Clark. To replace them, however, they have brought in less-than-exciting names in Nick Young and Chris Kaman. Whether they’re system fits remains to be seen but they’re certainly not the answer for the Lakers. Los Angeles disappointed last season and could very well be even more disappointing this season if their top players can’t stay on the field.
Points Per Game: 6th
Points Allowed Per Game: 22nd
Rebounds Per Game: 4th
Notable Losses: Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Chris Duhon
Nash was banged up for most of last year, leading to an unspectacular debut season with the Lakers. At 39, it’s hard to expect him to improve his 12.7 PPG and 6.7 APG from last season but Nash did shoot a very strong 50 percent from the floor and 44 percent from three-point range so that part of his game is still there. More importantly, it’s hard to expect a 39-year-old to hold up over a full season after all the injuries that plagued him last season.
Blake is also a veteran guard in his thirties who spent most of last season injured but certainly isn’t in the same league as Nash. He was called on to replace Nash often and averaged 26 MPG but just 7.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, and shot just .422 from the floor. He also shot 42 percent from three-point range which is impressive but that’s the only part of his game that isn’t pedestrian.
Farmar has had a long way back to the Lakers, the team that drafted him after his stellar performance at UCLA. Drafted in 2006, he’s gone on to play for the New Jersey Nets, Maccabi Tel Aviv, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Anadolu Efes of the Turkish League before the Lakers called this summer. He was always a bench player and an unspectacular one at that. Over five and a half NBA seasons, he is averaging 19.5 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 2.8 APG, 42.7 FG%, and a 36.7 3P%.
Shooting Guards: Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks – Grade: A if Bryant is healthy and back to his old self
Bryant is recovering from a torn Achilles and still has no timetable for a return despite saying he is aiming for the season opener. Ankle injuries can be devastating and at 35, it’s always possible that Bryant is never the same again but few people are the level of physical specimen that this guy is. Last season’s 27.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 4.7 RPG, 1.4 SPG, and his 46.3 field goal percentage is as good as it gets in the NBA and right around what we’ve come to expect from Bryant for a decade and a half. If he can rebound from this injury, and soon, Bryant could still carry this team as he has for as long as NCAA freshmen have been alive.
Meeks had some moments last season but was pretty brutal for the most part. His 21 MPG, 7.9 PPG, and .387 shooting were downright mediocre and outside of a solid 36 3P%, there isn’t much to look forward to from Meeks, especially if he has to start in Bryant’s place for an extended time.
Small Forwards: Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Shawne Williams – Grade: C
If the Lakers think Young is the answer, they have another thing coming. An occasional starter in Washington, Young started 17 of his 59 games last season and averaged 10.6 PPG and shot just 41 percent from the floor without any contributions in any other category and is a notoriously bad defender. Frankly, this feels like a bust waiting to happen unless the Lakers limit his minutes.
Johnson is a career 40 percent shooter who doesn’t offer a lot on the offensive side but that doesn’t stop him from taking shots anyway. On the plus side, he’s a very good defender and the anti-thesis to Young’s lackluster approach. He’s there for his defense and the occasional three, not much else.
Williams wasn’t in the league last year and for good reason. Last time we saw him, he played 25 games for the Nets in 2011-12 and shot 28.6 percent from the floor. That’s not passable and the Lakers will give him a shot but it’s hard to see him suddenly put it together seven years after being drafted 17th overall out of Memphis.
Power Forwards: Pau Gasol, Elias Harris, Ryan Kelly – Grade: B-
Last season, Gasol’s field goal percentage dropped from .501 to .466, his points dropped from 17.4 to 13.7, and his rebounds dropped from 10.4 to 8.6. Some people blame the bad chemistry with Dwight Howard and the injuries but at 33, he’s getting to that age where every NBAer becomes highly vulnerable to regression. Perhaps Gasol can get back to his old self but, with Mike D’Antoni at the helm, it’s hard to see him rebounding back to the Gasol we saw in his first few years in Los Angeles.
Harris is a 25-year-old undrafted rookie out of Gonzaga but one who showed explosiveness and athleticism playing in college and in Germany. At 6-foot-8, he doesn’t have the size to bang with most big man at power forward but he’s an experienced rookie and an aggressive rebounder. There’s plenty of holes in his game but he can be a force inside if the opportunity is there.
Kelly was the Lakers’ second-round pick out of Duke in this year’s draft and at 6-foot-11 he certainly has better size than Harris but isn’t a particularly exciting prospect. He’s not a great athlete and doesn’t use his size very well. He shoots a lot of deep jumpers, nailing an impressive 42 percent of his three pointers but just 45 percent of his field goal attempts. He has good shot blocking ability but isn’t a very good rebounder. It’s hard to tell if he can ever be a particularly serviceable player in the NBA but the attributes are there if given the chance.
Kaman has been slowed by injuries over the past three seasons but remains a solid player but likely not a true NBA starter. He only played 21 MPG last season but his averages per 36 minutes are as good as we’ve seen from him over the last five seasons; 18.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks. He also shot a very strong .507 from the floor last season and is a very capable defender. Hopefully he meshes better with Gasol than Dwight Howard did.
Hill didn’t play a whole lot last season but was fairly impressive when he did. His 6.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 0.7 PPG over 16 MPG translate to 15.2 points, 13 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes. His .497 shooting is very solid as well. Hill has a lot of potential if given the chance but so far hasn’t played more than 16 MPG in any of his first four seasons in the league.
Sacre barely played in his rookie season, averaging just 6.3 MPG. He showed decent ability to block shots and grab a few rebounds but hardly anything to write home about. His 37.5 field goal percentage are about as bad as you’ll find among NBA centers.
Coach: Mike D’Antoni – Grade: C
D’Antoni is a European coach and one that brings a specific system that requires very specific players. He had success in Phoenix but certainly anything but in New York. The Lakers went 40-32 under his leadership last season which is hardly impressive. This season’s squad looks even worse than last seasons, especially if Kobe Bryant has to miss a significant part of the season and/or struggles to get back to the level he used to play at. It’s hard to expect a whole lot out of this team, except a lot of three-point attempts.
Team Grade: C+