They rolled in. At a pace that mortals should not be able...
Purple and Gold 2012-2013 Season Preview
The New York Yankees of the hardwood have met and exceeded off-season expectations. Should we be so surprised? Since moving to Los Angeles in 1960, the Lakers have once again done what they are known for doing — perpetually adding to the list of all-time acquisitions in the history of the NBA, year after year.
The Lakers have brought into the fold the star power of the biggest off-season prize in big man Dwight Howard, as well as one of the most respected and decorated point guards in the history of the game in Steve Nash. Los Angeles has once again struck big and has made the biggest series of offseason splashes in recent NBA history.
Moreover, when you add in bench-strengthening additions like Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon, this off-season could be graded even higher than all-time great Laker off-seasons, meeting or exceeding when they brought in the likes of Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar in 1975 or Shaquille O’Neal in 1996.
When you take into consideration this year’s epic additions, and then throw into the recipe mainstays like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta-World Peace, Jordan Hill and Steve Blake, what do you expect the overall dish to taste like? Some are saying an NBA championship favorite, others are saying a huge chemistry problem. I argue as objectively as I can that it is honestly someplace in-between.
While Dwight Howard not seeing a lot of preseason game action due to his recovery from a minor back procedure and Kobe missing the last week of practice and games in the preseason obviously isn’t going to help to build early-season chemistry, don’t think for a second that this team not gelling early means that they won’t end up gelling at some point in the new year, when games start to matter.
Howard recovering from surgery at the outset will predictably stunt the growth process, but let’s take a look at what will ultimately make that process flourish.
Point primarily to the Princeton offense. The first cousin of the Triangle, both are based in similar principles: spacing, ball movement, movement without the ball and player versatility. Both feature many series of 2-man and 3-man games and like the triangle, the post is the hub of the offense. This is and will be the perfect compliment to a roster that includes above average passing big men like Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, as well as Hall-of-Fame-level facilitators like Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. The main benefit to consider is that the Princeton system brings structure to an offensive gameplan that last year, looked like a complete mess.
How will it all come together? How will each piece fit and what can we expect from each separate personality in the process of building what is paramount – team chemistry? Below is an in-depth look at each player who looks to contribute this upcoming season:
The addition of more high-end stars leaves the door wide open for Kobe to trust his teammates at a new and unprecedented level. Steve Nash now being in the back-court means Kobe doesn’t have to have the ball in his hands the majority of the time when it matters most — namely, at the end of the shot clock and at the end of quarters and games.However, the biggest and most salient factor when considering Kobe’s season outlook boils down to one simple and evident change that will have to occur for the better: less shots and a higher field goal percentage.
Kobe won’t have to hoist as many bad shots as he has had to in the recent past. Steve Nash will get him better shots. And if Bryant can be assisted by Nash within the confines of the Princeton offense by cutting to the basket on rubs and back-cuts for easy lay-ups, as well as get more open shots on the perimeter, his ego will hopefully be satisfied.
All of us Lakers fans and haters alike can at least agree on that simple fact: Bryant does have a huge ego to satisfy, no matter how his overall skills may have eroded (or not eroded at all in his mind) from their peak some five years ago.
All of this considered, Kobe’s minutes will more-than-likely be curbed and managed with the addition of the most capable scoring backup he has ever had behind him at shooting guard in Jodie Meeks. Less wear and tear during the season means more energy come playoff time. In Lakerland, having the most available to you come playoff time is all that matters.
Finally, Dwight doesn’t have to be the man. And although the public and media’s perception during his holdout/re-sign/holdout might suggest that he feels like he needs to be the man, I argue that his loose and playful personality points to something different. It points to a level of humility and that he has no problem being ‘one of the guys’ and contributing to a champion in any way, shape or form that he can to help the team reach the ultimate goal.
He has learned in failures past that it takes more than himself to win it all. This is the reason he came to Los Angeles. Yes, his offensive game in the post needs further development. Yes, his free throw percentage needs to improve. But one needs to also consider that the man will turn only 27 years old in December. There is plenty of room and time to improve over the next few years. We may have yet to see Howard’s peak.
There is no question in any argument that could be presented that his presence as a defensive force in the middle is a factor the Lakers haven’t had since Wilt many eras ago. Yea, you heard me Kareem and Shaq. Howard will be a strong anchor in the middle for a defense that has lacked one basic element in recent years past…. a strong anchor in the middle. There will be no more free layups lines for guys like Durant and Westbrook. Dwight will have opportunities for defensive and offensive rebounds galore.
His calling card on this squad will be limiting the opposition to one-and-done’s on the defensive end and feasting on put-backs around the basket on the offensive end. The size of his impact in the paint on both ends of the floor will be just as big as the smile you will see on his face all season long. Dwight and Hollywood will be a great match for years to come.
Quick, go back to “The Showtime Era.” How long ago was Magic dishing out dimes like nobody’s business? 20-plus years ago? This was the last time the Lakers had an ultimate facilitator. And now they have one again, finally.
Nick Van Exel, Sedale Threatt, Ron Harper, Derek Fisher, Smush Parker or even Ramon Sessions you could never honestly tag as great or even good ‘facilitators.’ Not only is Steve Nash this, but he is one of the best facilitators this league has ever seen.
While he is getting up there in age, his conditioning and ability have not diminished much at all. Nash is one of those rare athletes where body is even more of the ultimate temple come the late 30′s towards the end of his career. His ability to retain his conditioning and skill given his growing age is at the same hall-of-fame level that his uncanny passing acumen and dead-eye shooting ability has always been.
So what is Nash’s outlook with this group? Simple – to get everyone theirs. The Princeton offense is predicated on reading the defense and taking what they give you. This charge, along with managing what is truly a juggernaut offense is the task that Nash has been chosen to achieve. Who better than the most unselfish point guard the NBA has seen in the last decade-plus to tackle this assignment? With all the offensive talent that surrounds him, Nash could eclipse an assists per game average of 12 and beyond.
Gasol’s role looks to be very similar to what it was last year. While both Pau and Howard are in the game, Gasol’s 15-20 foot game will be his primary niche. A lot of those shots, when missed, will be followed in by Howard around the rim. When Howard leaves the floor and Pau remains, look for Gasol to take his game down low. This becomes the perfect, simplistic inside-outside game plan for the game’s most diverse big man.Pau’s passing ability will only be heightened in this new Princeton scheme, and having another 7-footer to tower with Howard on the defense end will only make the front line more formidable. Some may think Pau is the odd man out in this new scenario. Rest assured, his complimentary contributions will be just as important as anyone else’s when it matters most in the end. Be ready to call him the unsung hero this season.
While World-Peace isn’t what he once was on the offensive end, his defensive prowess remains. Metta’s role on this roster should be one main focus night-in, night-out — lock down the opposition’s best wing player defensively. Period. One goal. A tunnel assignment.
I believe a personality like World-Peace can thrive in a simplified situation such as this. And as long as the voices of Kobe Bryant and Mike Brown keep him focused, his toughness will be irreplaceable, given that Bryant, Nash and Gasol are average to only above-average defenders at best at this point in their careers.
If his team needs him to hit an outside shot or contribute garbage points around the basket, we all know Metta can do that in spurts, but I truly believe a simplified approach to Metta’s game and role on this team will get the most out of his unique talent.
Oops, I forgot to mention regular therapy sessions once a week, if not more. Toss that in there. Stay in your shoes Ron-Ron.
Scoring off the bench was one of the biggest holes the Lakers had to fill this off-season to get back to a championship level. Antawn Jamison highlights a much-improved bench in 2012-13. Jamison is one of those swing forwards that can replace Metta World-Peace at the 3 in certain situations or Pau Gasol at the 4 in other particular situations. Defensively he may be a liability, but that’s not why Los Angeles brought him in. They brought him in to score. And score he can. In many ways. Those who haven’t seen Jamison’s game will be thrilled with his go-to move – a sneaky, almost strange-looking finger-roll game around the basket. Jamison is instantly a 6th man of the year candidate.
Jordan Hill is returning from a herniated disc injury and should be ready to go for opening night. Last season he surprisingly emerged from the bench as the go-to replacement at power forward when Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum needed a rest. The Lakers wisely re-signed the hustling garbageman for less than a mid-level exception — two more years and a reasonable total of only 7 million dollars. Hill’s knack and fast-twitch muscle fibers that slither and leverage both defensive and offensive rebounds cannot be understated. And if his most recent ailment doesn’t nag, there is nothing that says he can’t duplicate and even improve upon his key role off the bench from last year’s campaign.
Jodie Meeks looks to be the 8th man behind Kobe, and as Bryant’s minutes slowly diminish, Meeks appears to be more than capable as an ideal second team scorer at the off-guard position. A product of the lottery farm known as the University of Kentucky, Jodie comes over to Tinseltown from Philadelphia where over the last two seasons, the now 25-year-old averaged a solid 9.5 points in 26.5 minutes a game off the Sixers bench.
The Lakers scoring in the late 1st and 3rd quarter – early 2nd and 4th quarter portions of the game will be made or broken by how consistently Jodie can put the ball in the hole. For what Meeks can potentially bring to the table for only $1.5 million a year over the next two years, Mitch Kupchak has a lot of pats on the back to come. And I’m not even kidding here – #20 might end up being my favorite Laker this season when its all said and done. I love these types of key role players.
All through camp Steve Blake and Chris Duhon have battled for the 9th man spot backing up Steve Nash at the point guard position. Blake began camp recovering from a foot injury where he punctured his foot walking over one-way tire spikes in a parking lot (Clint Barmes breaking his collarbone “lugging deer meat” thinks that is one of the most ridiculous non-field injuries in recent memory).The punchline injury Blake suffered non-withstanding, Los Angeles brought in Duhon to challenge Blake’s shortcomings at this position. While Blake boasts a slightly better outside shooting eye from beyond the arc, Duhon’s defensive intensity might be exactly what the doctor ordered given the diminishing defensive skills of Steve Nash.
Hailing from the floor-slapping defensive juggernaut of Duke, Duhon’s defense gives the Lakers something they haven’t had in a very long time – a force that can potentially check and keep up with the elite offensive point guards the NBA now glorifies. Look for Duhon to slowly steal minutes from Blake at this position as the season matures.
Devin Ebanks and Chris Douglas-Roberts will compete for the 11th man position on the roster. Major injuries aside, best-case scenario for these two backup wing players will be limited contributions, aside from pushing starters in practice and trying to impress coaches for future opportunities. Both will be able to dress for the game, unless there in an injury on the front line and rookie Robert Sacre needs to fill a hole.
Guards Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris, as well as aforementioned rookie 7-footer that was drafted this past April out of Gonzaga, Robert Sacre, look to begin this season as the 13th, 14th and 15th men. Joining them on the practice squad could be Darius Johnson-Odom, Reeves Nelson and an injured Earl Clark, who they also acquired in the Dwight Howard trade.
All opinions considered, detractors will point to a preseason that is without a win for the Lakers. Are we actually giving credence to a preseason record, and are we willing to speak it in the same sentence with postseason chances 6 months down the road?
Since when did what happens in October have anything to do with what happens in April and June given a roster loaded with playoff veterans such as this? One thing I can say about preseason Lakers talk – I’m utterly amazed at the naivete of the notion that a preseason record of a team that is made up like this one matters.
Given the infancy of the group as a new team, this new offense, the feeling-out process that needs to take place, and how the elite talent this team possesses played literally a fraction of the minutes in the preseason that they are going to play in the regular season and playoffs makes the idea that the preseason record matters down right silly and fundamentally empty. You’d think the Lakers were the Charlotte Bobcats! They must be in for a season in which their win total will tally only in the teens!
These things are for sure – for this loaded group, zero preseason wins equals exactly this: 50-55-plus wins, a Pacific Division title, a top 3 playoff seed or higher, and a barometer of the Western Conference Finals. Anyone who reads more into a preseason record in the NBA, where the final score means close to ultimately nothing, is only fancying him or herself as a glass-half-empty contrarian.
As far as the Lakers on-television issue is unfolding, the whole Time Warner Sportsnet dilemma on the precipice of the regular season is now partly resolved for San Luis Obispo-County fans. Those of us that are Charter subscribers now have access to the network that will carry every single one of the Lakers’ non-nationally televised games. Those of us that are Direct TV subscribers are still unfortunately out of luck at this time – but keep the faith, these two sides will ultimately come to a compromise and the Lakers will be live and in color for all local fans in the very near future.
As the excitement builds, the story of the 2012-2013 NBA season will be a must-see, be you Laker-fan or Laker-hater. And that is the beauty of a team like the Los Angeles Lakers – the polarization. You either love them or hate them. There is no in-between. They are always a topic of conversation no matter what side of the fence you may dig your heels into, because the majority of NBA fans strongly stand on one side of the barbed wire or the other.
Talking time is over. Watching time is now!