2008-09 Season Preview: Small Forward
The goal for the 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers is clear, simple and explicit: win the NBA title. Every team in the league, of course, aims for the championship, but few truly have the players to leg out the seven-month journey.
L.A. has those players.
We took a look position-by-position at each Laker based on what was done last season, what the numbers say, what assistant coach Jim Cleamons explained and what you can expect from a fantasy perspective.
When he’s on, Lamar Odom is one of the best players in the NBA, which he showed in 2007-08 by playing some of his best ball of the year in the playoffs. Yet even while dominating throughout the Western Conference playoffs and posting double-doubles in 3-of-6 Finals games, Odom’s effort and occasional lapses were widely criticized. For the season, Lamar put up 14.2 points on a career-high 52.5 from the field, 10.6 rebounds (7th in the NBA), 3.5 assists and nearly a block and a steal in 39 minutes per game. Those are borderline All-Star numbers for the fourth pick in the 1999 Draft. His versatility is obvious in that we could put him in any one of four positions in this preview.
6: NBA players who averaged more boards per game than Odom: Dwight Howard; Marcus Camby; Tyson Chandler; Tim Duncan; Al Jefferson; Emeka Okafor. Obviously, Odom’s the only small/power forward in that mix.
22: Odom’s career-high rebound total, which came against Golden State on March 23 last season. Lamar notched a 10-16-10 triple-double that same month in Minnesota.
34: Odom’s career-high in points, done twice (most recently against Phoenix in 2006), an interesting testament to his unselfish nature.
728: Points Odom needs to score to reach 10,000 for his career.
“Lamar is just multi-talented. You don’t know what he can’t do because he does so many things well, but he disappoints you when he doesn’t do things as well as you want him to do. You always want him to do well because Lamar has such a wonderful heart. He’s such an unselfish person that sometimes you have to tell him to be a little bit more selfish, because, for example, when he takes the ball to the hoop and the defense is playing his passes so much, he has the best shot.”
Ranked No. 46 on ESPN’s top 190, Odom is expected to drop off in production due to his possible sixth man role, and because players like Pau Gasol, Vladimir Radmanovic and Trevor Ariza will eat minutes at the four and three positions. But keep this in mind: even if Odom comes off the bench, Phil Jackson is putting him in early, and he’s putting up numbers immediately. Like Gasol, Odom can shoot, pass, rebound, block and steal, and it would seem that he’ll be given a great deal of latitude with a very effective Lakers second unit. In short, when he’s on the floor with Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza and Sasha Vujacic and the Lakers are flying up and down the court, Lamar’s going to straight fill up the box score. Plus, knock on wood, he doesn’t get hurt. The point? He’s more valuable than you think.
In 65 games with 41 starts, Radmanovic put up 8.4 points, 3.3 boards and 1.9 assists in 22.8 minutes a game, nailing 94-of-234 (40.6) to rank 40th in 3 point shooting in the NBA. Vlad missed 17 games due to various injuries, including an ankle sprain and strained right calf, and played both the small and power forward positions. His shot trailed off a bit in the playoffs when he hit just 37 percent from three, and his 21 turnovers looked poor alongside 31 assists.
2: Countries listed after Radmonovic’s name (Serbia and Montenegro) in many media guides and publications. This is wrong. Montenegro declared its independence from Serbia on June 3, 2006, and was recognized by the United Nations. As such, Vlad is from Serbia, and Serbia only.
12: Draft position by Vlad-Rad in the 2001 NBA Draft, as Seattle took him before trading him to the Clippers in exchange for Chris Wilcox in 2006. Radmanovic signed with the Lakers as a free agent on July 12, 2006.
1,862: Threes hoisted by Radmanovic in his seven-year NBA career.
4,446: Career NBA points by the 6-10 forward.
“Vladi could be such a wonderful basketball player, but people only think of him as being a scorer. I think the pleasant surprise this training camp is that he’s doing a lot of different things to help the team at both ends, and I want that to continue. The major focus has been on his offensive ability to shoot the three ball, but he is very good defensively, he understand rotations and he’s active. If he can keep improving on the little things so his game is more complete, he’s a wonderful addition to what we do.”
If Radmanovic holds onto his starting spot in L.A.’s rotation especially, or manages 20 minutes a game, he’ll have some value as a deep bench player thanks mostly to his three-point shooting. Especially in a lineup featuring Kobe, Pau and Bynum, Vlad’s going to be getting a lot of wide-open looks. He’ll grab you a few boards (3.3 last year) while he’s on the floor, but won’t notch a ton of assists, steals or blocks.
An early-season acquisition (Nov. 20) from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans, Ariza appeared in 24 games for the Lakers to average 6.5 points, 3.5 boards and 1.5 assists and 1.08 steals in 18.0 minutes. However, some of his most pointed contributions came on the defensive end, as the 6-8 fifth year pro out of UCLA is among the most rangy, wiry and athletic stoppers in the league. Ariza missed the final 44 games of the regular season with a fractured right foot, though he did play sparingly in the Western Conference Finals and Finals.
4: Career high for steals in a game, a number Lakers.com is predicting he’ll surpass this season.
50.7: Shooting percentage for Ariza last season on 69-of-136.
53.1: Shooting percentage in the 2008-09 preseason, in part due to several transition layups and dunks. Ariza’s also swiped two balls a game and scored over 10 points an evening.
210: Listed weight for the skinny Ariza. He is 6-8 and all, but still…
“Trevor’s injury last year held him back, but he’s showing our fan base that he’s athletic, he has a nose for the basketball at both ends of the floor but especially on the defensive end because he’s sneaky quick and he has wonderful anticipation. He is a good finisher as long as he’s under control – he has to know when to take the ball all the way to the basket and when to pull up for his jumper when the defense takes away his line to the hoop. Sometimes they build a fence, and when they do, don’t barrel through the fence, stop and shoot over it. He only needs more game experience to keep getting better.”
Ariza is one definite sleeper candidate both for the Lakers’ coaching staff and for potential fantasy owners. As he’ll probably start the season on the bench and his minutes are uncertain, you don’t need to draft him, but keep a watchful eye on his minutes over the season’s first few games. On the other hand, he’ll likely be asked to focus at least in part on defense and in transition, so his shooting percentage and steals will be great, but you probably won’t get too many points, assists, boards or threes.
In 74 games and 31 starts for the Lakers, Walton put up 7.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 0.81 steals in 23.4 minutes of action. With his solid understanding of the triangle offense and strong passing skills, Walton’s a player that Phil Jackson seemed comfortable putting into most situations. He averaged 6.0 points, 2.6 boards and 2.0 assists in 16.8 minutes per postseason game.
17: Points scored in the fourth quarter against Seattle last season on March 21, on 8-of-8 shooting. Walton added five boards and four assists that night.
23.5: Minutes averaged in the preseason to lead the Lakers.
33.3: Three-point percentage for Walton last year, a number he’s been working hard to improve for the 2008-09 campaign.
837: Career assists for the Arizona grad.
1,000: Career rebound grabbed by Walton against Seattle on Feb. 24.
“Luke has a high basketball IQ and a wonderful feel for it. He and Lamar are like two peas in a pod in some ways as they think pass when they should be thinking shoot first sometimes. Our teammates have to understand that every now and then you have to get them to look at the basket, which is going to open up everything else. Take your open shots, because we know you like to move the ball – we won’t think you’re selfish if you take a few shots when you should.”
Walton has value when he gets enough minutes, but that’s going to be tough this season.