2010-11 Season Preview: Forwards
On paper, the 2010-11 Lakers should be even better than the team that won the NBA title in each of the past two seasons.
Wait … how is that possible?
It’s not like a team can do better than winning a championship, of course, but it certainly can play better basketball along what Phil Jackson often refers to as “the journey.” Whether or not motivation can be drawn from what Jackson says will be his last season as coach, the one in which he searches for his remarkable fourth three-peat, remains to be seen.
But an obviously improved bench, a potentially better team vibe and better health could quite tangibly lead to improved basketball. More specifically, free agents Steve Blake and Matt Barnes couple with rookie Devin Ebanks to boost the pine crew, a more veteran team than last year’s has a better chance to focus only on the court, and other than Andrew Bynum (likely out until the end of November at the earliest), it’s a healthy group of Lakers. More wins could result, but will the regular season be more about “playing the right way” towards victories, or simply trying to get to the playoffs as fast and as healthy as possible?
To delve more deeply into the roster, we looked inside the box score for each player, summarized detailed individual scouting reports from assistant coach Jim Cleamons and offered an X-factor pertaining to all 14 players on L.A.’s roster.
Below are the forwards.
Box Score & More
The Spaniard, who made his second straight All-Star team and was named to the All-NBA Third Team despite missing 17 games, averaged 18.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.74 blocks on 53.6 percent shooting in the regular season and 19.6 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.09 blocks on 53.9 percent shooting in the playoffs.
- 8 – Gasol’s scoring rank in NBA history amongst international players, with 12,192 points, an average of 18.8 per game. Ahead of him? Hakeem Olajuwon, Dirk Nowitzki, Detlef Schrempf, Steve Nash, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic.
- 40 – Double-doubles for Gasol in 2009-10 in 65 games.
- 91.7 – The Lakers’ playoff winning percentage since acquiring Gasol in February of 2008. That’s 11 series wins and two championships to just one loss, in the 2008 Finals to Boston.
“Why wouldn’t you think he is the best all-around big man in the league? He’s one of the most skilled players in the league regardless of size. I tell my friends all the time that he should have more touches. Simply put, he does good things when the ball is in his hands. That’s the type of player you want to have the ball, because teammates will cut harder knowing they have a better chance to get the ball back. These are the things that promote good team chemistry, because even if you didn’t get it back, it was because he made a better basketball decision. That allows you to keep working.”
X-Factor = SKILLS
Cleamons had this one pegged once again, as Gasol’s skill set is simply unfair for a legit seven-foot big man: he can score with either hand from any angle down low; his jump shot is pure out to 18 feet; he can put the ball on the floor and drive right or left; he has a hook shot with either hand; he goes up-and-under; he can finish through contact; he makes free throws … and so on. Meanwhile, Gasol has increasingly used his size to impact games defensively (particularly late in games), holding up just fine one-on-one with Orlando’s Dwight Howard in the 2009 Finals, and blocking a career playoff high 2.1 shots in the 2010 playoffs. With the “soft” questions that stuck to both Gasol and Odom after L.A.’s 2008 Finals loss now firmly answered to the contrary, it’s tough to find any holes in the Catalan’s game.
Box Score & More
Odom averaged 10.8 points and 9.8 rebounds with 3.3 assists in the regular season, playing in all 82 games while starting 38 times as Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum missed 17 games apiece. Odom high-stepped up his averages up to 9.7 points, 8.6 boards and 2.0 assists in the postseason, and was impactful defensively throughout the season.
- 13 – Months Odom’s been married to Khloe Kardashian; Odom regularly appears on her family’s show on E! (“Keeping up with the Kardashians”).
- 717 – Career games it took Odom to reach 6,000 rebounds and 3,000 assists, the 8th fastest of any player in league history.
- 1,021,201 – Twitter followers for L.O., by far the most on the Lakers.
“I think he’s gotten stronger as a player, but with his (summer spent playing in the World Championships), he has to continue to take care of himself so he doesn’t get worn out. He’s been a little more active, a little more aggressive, both of which I like. But in general, you just gotta love L.O. He lays it out there, and no matter how much he does, people always want him to do more. I just smile at that. We know he’s going to come play when it counts, that he’s going to get us all-around production. He gives us as coaches a great deal of flexibility because he’s a natural mismatch. Fours are too slow, threes are too small, and as he’s gotten older, Lamar realizes how he needs to play. He plays the two, three, four … whom are you going to put on him? It’s a problem for opponents.”
X-Factor = THE GLUE
As Cleamons said, “Guys just like Lamar … he’s a wonderful teammate.” In fact, it’s not just teammates and coaches that like Odom, but also the team’s staff and even the media (he was nominated for the Magic Johnson Award given by the Pro Basketball Writers Association), typically a tougher crowd to win over. Why does his personality actually matter to the Lakers? With Odom’s light-hearted, gregarious disposition, he finds a way to connect with every player on the roster from Kobe Bryant to Derrick Caracter, at once keeping the team together and loose through the toiling season. In Odom’s case, “The Glue” could refer to his role on the actual basketball court due to his ability to play all five positions and contribute across the board statistically.
Box Score & More
He averaged 11.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 steals in the regular season, and 11.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals in a postseason in which his primary responsibility was on defense.
- 1 – Championship ring earned by Artest, but that’s not stopping him from auctioning it off for charity upon receiving it.
- 20 – Points scored by Artest in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, during which he also hit a crucial three-pointer with a minute left in the game and added five steals.
- 35.5 – Artest’s shooting percentage from three-point range last season. Not bad, but still a five-point dip from his 40.0 the previous season.
“I think Ron will be more comfortable because he’s more familiar with what we do and how we do it. We don’t really look at numbers, because it’s a total game, and overall I think Ron did very well last year. Sure, you wish some time he’d make more jump shots, but I think he’s going to be more productive this year. I can’t think of any other player you’d rather have to play one-on-one defense in the NBA for what we do and how our team has been constructed. His on-the-ball defense and the pressure he puts on with his hands is just very good.”
X-Factor = STATE OF MIND
During his introductory press conference with the Lakers, Artest boldly declared that if the team did not defend its 2009 title, blame him. The St. John’s product carried that weight while struggling at times on offense throughout the season, but nonetheless managed to step up when he was most needed in the playoffs by: holding Kevin Durant 13 percent below his regular-season field-goal percentage; providing perhaps the play of L.A.’s playoffs by tipping in Kobe Bryant’s air ball to win Game 5 against Phoenix in the Western Finals; scoring a season-high 25 points in the clinching Game 6 against Phoenix; and finally appearing to be the only Laker not affected by the intense pressure of Finals Game 7. Then came the celebratory (to say the least) postgame press conference and a great summer in which he reveled in newfound positive attention. Artest’s happy, loose state of mind has carried into the preseason, during which he’s played much more comfortably on offense without losing any of his trademark defensive edge.
Box Score & More
Starting at the three for Orlando, Barnes averaged 8.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in 25.9 minutes per game. In the playoffs, his minutes dipped slightly to 23.3, in which time he averaged 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds.
- 8 – Teams upon which Barnes has played in his nine-year career (Clippers, Kings, 76ers, Knicks, Warriors, Suns, Magic and Lakers).
- 28 – Touchdown catches during his senior year at Del Campo High in Sacramento, to lead the nation as an All-American. His brother Jason plays wide receiver in the Canadian Football League.
- 36 – Barnes’s career-high scoring output (1/03/07 @ Memphis).
“Matt is a competitor. I think that he will help us in our defensive schemes because he wants to play, he wants to prove himself and he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s worked to be where he is as a pro, and he sees that better days are ahead of him. He wants more success … and he’s a good fit. As he becomes more comfortable in our system, he’ll expand his game as the year goes on, and as he does he won’t have to rely only on a jump shot but can work into the offense in other ways.”
X-Factor = BENCH STOPPER
L.A. already has the luxury of boasting two of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders in its starting lineup in Artest and Kobe Bryant. But with the offseason acquisition of Barnes, Mitch Kupchak got a player who took that role for Orlando, a team that boasted the league’s second-best record. In other words, there will rarely be a time in which at least one of the Artest/Bryant/Barnes combo isn’t on the floor, quite a defensive luxury for Phil Jackson.
Box Score & More
Walton, bothered throughout the 2009-10 season with a bad back, managed only 9.4 minutes in 27 games played, averaging 2.4 points and 1.4 assists. He appeared in 16 playoff games, averaging 6.0 minutes per game.
- 3 – Players in Pacific 10 Conference history to leave with 1,000 career points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists, including Walton. Also the number of father-son combinations to win the NBA title (Bill and Luke Walton, Rick and Brent Barry, Matt and Matt Jr. Guokas).
- 11.4 – Points per game averaged by Walton in 2006-07, when he played 33 minutes per game, adding 5.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Since then, his minutes have gone down yearly to 23.4, 17.9 and 9.4.
- 55 – Games Walton missed in 2009-10 due to a pinched nerve in his back. He tweaked his hamstring in preseason, but says his back feels “great” so far.
“Luke knows how to play. We talk about Pau Gasol being a facilitator, but if Luke has the ball in his hands and you’re open, you better be looking for it. If it’s not there, it’s because he saw something that wasn’t on, like a quarterback that saw a linebacker coming across the middle. He’ll just tell you he’ll get you next time. Luke’s bigger than what you think he is, so he can handle some smaller fours and threes, and he’s going to make something good happen with the ball in his hands.”
X-Factor = FACILITATING
It’s Walton’s biggest strength, the thing that makes Phil Jackson wish he were healthy enough to play with his second unit. But will Walton be healthy and effective enough to earn regular minutes on perhaps the league’s most crowded wing with Bryant, Artest and Barnes occupying minutes? In fairness, the University of Arizona product has been unable to contribute much in the past few seasons due to various injuries centered around his back. But teammates enjoy playing with Walton, who has always been a pass-first player thanks to growing up playing games with shot hungry older brothers. In addition to his pass-first nature, Walton has the height (6-9) to see over the top of most passing lanes, and has demonstrated the type of basketball IQ that can develop growing up with a Hall of Fame dad, allowing a relative mastery of Jackson’s triangle offense … if he can just get onto the basketball floor.
Box Score & More
The 20-year-old Ebanks played two seasons at West Virginia, averaging 11.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 69 games. Ebanks was named to the Big East All-Rookie team as a freshman and to the All-Big East Third team as a sophomore.
- 3 – Lakers from Queens, New York City, on the roster, including Ebanks (Ravenswood), who grew up just minutes away from Ron Artest (Queensbridge) and Lamar Odom (Jamaica).
- 16 – Career double-doubles for Ebanks at West Virginia, as he led the Mountaineers in rebounding in each of his two seasons.
- 51 – Years passed between West Virginia’s last NCAA Final Four appearance in 1959 (thanks to Lakers legend Jerry West) and 2010’s trip to the National Semi Finals.
“I think he’s going to grow. We all like his length, his ability to get out and run. Young kids always have a lot of energy, and we’ll probably need it in some games. He’s big enough to play some four and usually three, but I also think he’s athletic enough to play against some big twos if we want to go to a funky lineup.”
X-Factor = YOUTHFUL EXUBERANCE
It’s been a few years since the Lakers have had an impact rookie, with apologies to Sun Yue (2009), and not a single rookie last season. Due in part to L.A.’s finishing at or near the top of the league standings for the past three years, you have to go back to 2006-07, Jordan Farmar’s rookie year, to find a notable contribution. And despite Ebanks falling all the way to No. 43 in the second round, early indications are that his length, athleticism and ability on the glass from the wing may force Phil Jackson into playing him despite the presence of Ron Artest, Matt Barnes and Luke Walton on the wing.