Off-Season Catch-up Guide
2012-13: Shooting 43.8 percent from three and 92.2 at the line, Nash made 49.7 percent of his field goals, barely missing his all-time NBA record fifth career 40/50/90 season.
Preseason: Battling a plethora of ailments, Nash played 18.4 minutes per game.
"Frustrating" is the simplest way to describe the Lakers tenure thus far for the former two-time MVP point guard, who simply hasn't been able to get fully healthy. After a broken leg and back/hamstring/hip issues derailed his 2012-13 season, Nash struggled to get to 100 percent through constant rehabilitation in the summer, only to subsequently deal with troublesome ankle and neck issues in the preseason. He described himself as "Not great, but good enough to go" heading into the season opener, and his taking at least some games off seem an inevitability.
When he's right physically – and if/when that will happen is really the big question – Nash at 39 can still deconstruct a defense with the best of them, masterfully running the screen/roll to the delight of his big men. In the meantime, he can at least fall back on what remains one of the NBA's best shooting strokes, helping to spread the floor as defenders know they can't leave him for a moment. Undeniably, his presence on the floor does encourage sharing of the ball and positive energy. One-on-one defense has never been a primary strength for Nash, but he understands coach Mike D'Antoni and assistant Kurt Rambis's team concepts, and works hard on the perimeter. Of course, he'll get beat off the dribble, but with NBA hand check rules, Derrick Rose couldn't guard Derrick Rose, and big men will be relied upon to help.
2012-13: Blake canned 42.1 percent of his three-point field goals, 13th in the NBA.
Preseason: After an uncharacteristically bad shooting slump in the middle of the preseason, Blake broke out in style when playing alongside the starters in the finale, draining all seven of his field goals (5 of 5 three-pointers) to lead L.A. with 19 points in a win.
If you ask opposing NBA front office staffers and coaches, Blake's one of the league's consistently underrated players, a fact he proved last season especially when needed down the stretch. Blake averaged 12.6 points, 5.3 boards, 4.0 assists and 1.0 steals during the April playoff push while serving as the guy coach Mike D'Antoni showed film of to his team when trying to emphasize how to play defense. Being among the league's top three-point shooters was key as well, and is part of the reason Blake will likely start at the shooting guard slot until Kobe Bryant returns from injury.
Playing alongside Nash won't always take the ball out of Blake's hands, as Nash is equally adept at spotting up on the weak side, as he did often when Bryant ran screen/rolls with Pau Gasol in 2012-13. Blake can bring up the ball, run screen/roll himself or just initiate the offense and spot up. The U of Maryland product is tough, but may still need help if matched up against bigger 2 guards (e.g. Joe Johnson or James Harden), and the Lakers already have plans in place about where and when to trap or switch. He can also switch over to take quicker point guards should Steve Nash be struggling in a matchup. Even when Bryant returns, Blake does enough things well to find a way to get on the court.
2011-12: In his last NBA season, Farmar shot 44 percent from three-point range, before playing in Israel and Turkey and developing his all-around game running a team.
Preseason: Averaged 5.0 assists per game in 23.3 minutes to lead the Lakers, while shooting 50 percent from the field.
One can make the argument that nobody played better than Jordan Farmar in Lakers training camp, despite his missing half of the team's games after straining his calf in the preseason opener. Just 26 years old, Farmar possesses the elite athleticism he showed when he left the Lakers after back-to-back titles, but has added a much-improved floor game and a just-as-much-improved understanding of his role within the team.
Farmar's current marching orders are to run the Lakers' young, fast, athletic second unit (Farmar, Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Hill/Chris Kaman), one that showed flashes of being dangerous in the preseason. His versatility on offense is key, as Farmar can push the ball in transition, finish at the rim, hit three-point and mid-range jumpers in addition to effectively running screen/roll and finding shooters. The Lakers simply didn't have that off the 2012-13 bench. Like Steve Blake, he'll find a way to stay on the floor even when Bryant returns.
2012-13: In his 17th year, Bryant finished an impressive 69.7 percent of his shots at the rim, according to NBA.com, among the best percentages of his career.
Preseason: Bryant did not participate in a single practice drill, ramping up his Achilles rehabilitation only to running on the court and set shooting.
No bigger question mark exists for the Lakers than when Bryant will return from rehabilitation on the left Achilles he tore last April. What should be less of a question mark is how Bryant will fare on the court once he's announced as a starter.
Bryant is arguably the NBA's most skilled player, someone who can do everything with the basketball, with his footwork and through his knowledge of the game. Should the two-time Finals MVP lose something in athleticism, one can expect Bryant to compensate with his skill set while he improves physically … at least on offense. Defensively, where he's inevitably slipped in recent years while expending more energy on the other end, Bryant will need more help out of new Lakers wings like Wesley Johnson and Nick Young (whose defense, if not his ability, is another question). The bottom line: the sooner Bryant's back, the better the Lakers will do.
2012-13: Meeks made 122 three-pointers (third on the team) and 89.6 percent of his free throws (second).
Preseason: Speaking of triples, Meeks sank 11 in the preseason (tied for first).
The University of Kentucky product came to the Lakers prior to the 2012-13 season known as a shooter. He flashed his quick release and shot 35.7 percent from three, a decent number close to the league average, but not what he or the team had in mind. To earn significant minutes, Meeks may need to raise that average into the 40's, since the signing of Jordan Farmar and Nick Young and emergence of Xavier Henry in training camp makes for a more crowded backcourt than last season. Meeks will also need to improve his ball-handling and finishing at the rim, especially in transition with an athletic second unit promising more opportunities.
An area Meeks exceeded his reputation, on the other hand, was defense. He battled and scrapped consistently, enough to earn his coach's praise; that's always a good argument for playing time. Opponents with big wings tried to post Meeks at times, but the Lakers don't mind having teams go away from their typical offensive sets, and can always counter with a trap.
2010-13: In three NBA seasons, Henry shot 40.3 percent from the field and 28.9 percent from three in limited minutes with Memphis and New Orleans, including just 12.5 in 2012-13.
Preseason: Forget all that? Henry dropped 29 points in the first preseason game, then shot 44.3 percent and 54.5 percent from three with a team-high 45 free throws attempted (15 more than the next player) while scoring 11.9 points in 20.9 minutes.
Easily the biggest and most pleasant surprise of L.A.'s preseason, Henry went from an afterthought as a free agent signing … to having a chance to make the roster … to potentially earning a spot in the actual rotation. Particularly with Kobe Bryant on the mend, Henry is the team's best at getting to – and finishing at – the rim (5.6 free throw attempts per preseason game).
The major knock on Henry coming into the season was his inconsistent shooting stroke, but (http://blog.lakers.com/lakers/2013/10/21/henry-finds-his-stroke/) with a simple adjustment aided by L.A.'s assistant coaches of tweaking his release point, Henry's proven to be a capable shooter with three-point range. His athleticism on defense and in transition has been an additional bonus for a team lacking in those areas in the previous season. The question from an individual standpoint isn't how Henry will fit into the team, but whose minutes he might snare due to his (surprise!) production.
2012-13: Young put up 16.0 points per 36 minutes for Philadelphia last season, playing 24 minutes per game mostly in a bench role.
Preseason: Young attempted 90 field goals, 15 more than the next player.
He's always been able to score. Back in 2010-11, Young averaged 17.4 points per game for Washington, which doesn't just happen in the NBA. Subsequently, he saw his production drop a bit since coming off the bench for the Clippers and Sixers. But with a green light under Mike D'Antoni, Young capably scored 13.1 points in 24.4 minutes as the starting small forward in the preseason, and is L.A.'s most talented shot creator on the perimeter with Bryant still out.
Swaggy P's never been much of a passer, averaging only 1.0 career assist, but his new coaches think he's capable of improving in that aspect, and he did share the ball at least relatively better through an average of two assists per game (and a team-high four in a win over Utah). That said, he's still in there to score, and that'll be his primary mission especially until Bryant returns. The Los Angeles native's ability to get out in transition and finish is another improvement from what L.A. had on the wing last season. Young has defended about as well as he'd passed the ball in previous seasons, another area in which his coaches will be asking for more. To his credit, the effort was there in the preseason, and his long body (6-7, 210 pounds) can prove a deterrent with better understanding of team rotations.
2012-13: After being traded to Phoenix, Johnson averaged 12.9 points on 46.2 percent field goals and 3.1 rebounds in eight April games.
Preseason: After missing much of four games (foot strain), Johnson played well in the reserve power forward slot, helping lead L.A. to consecutive preseason wins while contributing across several categories.
No player received more praise from the coaching staff and his fellow players after a month's worth of workouts in September and the first week of training camp than Johnson. But a left foot strain kept him out of much of the preseason, until he was able to flash some of what the locker room was excited about in back-to-back wins over Utah in the final two tune-up games. Labeled with the "bust" reputation for his lack of production in three seasons in Minnesota and Phoenix, Johnson said he feels "freed" under Mike D'Antoni, able to focus on what he does well. Long and rangy at 6-7, 215, Johnson's what his coaches think can emerge into a problem for teams when used in the power forward spot, even if he's undersized against certain teams. They think his abilities – from bursting up and down in transition to cutting hard to the hoop after setting a screen and rebounding on both ends of the floor – are very well suited to L.A.'s intended way to play.
Though he possesses a good release, Johnson has not been a consistent shooter in the NBA, which was part of his problem in his first three years. If he develops that aspect of his game – no guarantee for any player – his value increases exponentially. But in the meantime, the rangy athleticism alone gives the Lakers something they sorely lacked in 2012-13, and should keep Johnson a regular part of D'Antoni's rotation. If those on the true inside of the team are excited about what he's been doing, there's room for optimism that his game translates to courts around the NBA.
2010-11: Shot a career-high 40.1 percent from distance under Mike D'Antoni in New York.
Preseason: Blocked six shots during the preseason, second on the team behind Pau Gasol.
A Mike D'Antoni favorite from a year together in New York, Shawne Williams was signed over the summer to compete for a roster spot, but has impressed the staff enough to potentially earn a starting spot alongside Pau Gasol in the frontcourt. With the rare combination of being able to shoot the three (40.1 percent in his last full NBA season) and defend opposing bigs (Williams is 6-9 with long arms and a good base at 230 pounds), he's in line to play the stretch four position.
That's not to say that Chris Kaman, or even Jordan Hill could start at times in a big lineup alongside Gasol, or Wesley Johnson could get some starters minutes at the stretch four, but at season's start, Williams is in the best position to hold the spot down. His presence alone amongst that group can really give Gasol room to operate in the low post, while still being able to take on tough defensive assignments. And ultimately, D'Antoni thinks the roster is better suited to playing unconventionally, and with more versatility. Williams hasn't played in the NBA for over a year-and-a-half, but says he's back in basketball shape and ready to roll in the opener.
2012-13: Hill averaged 13.0 rebounds per 36 minutes, among the best rates in the NBA.
Preseason: Led the Lakers with 48 total rebounds, averaging 6.0 in 15.9 minutes, and had his best success as the reserve center in an ultra-athletic line up.
Hill played in just 29 games in 2012-13 before a hip injury required surgery, allowing him to come back unexpectedly but only sparingly in the postseason. Primarily serving as a backup four to Gasol, Hill gave the Lakers energy and athleticism off the bench. His per-36 minute numbers averaged out to 15.2 points, 13.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.
The Arizona product spent part of the offseason rehabbing his hip, while also working on his shooting stroke. With Kaman sitting out the final two preseason games, Hill played the five in L.A.'s smaller, athletic second lineup, a role that pleased the coaching staff. In limited minutes, he gave what the Lakers expected of him: energy and rebounding. The major question mark for Hill will be in what line ups he's utilized, but his activity on defense and the glass can make it hard to keep him off the court.
2012-13: Showed himself to be an elite mid-range shooter for a big man, hitting 51.4 percent from 15-19 feet for Dallas, per NBA.com/stats.
Preseason: Converted 51.1 percent of his field goals, including a 7-for-7 outing in Beijing against Golden State, before missing the final two games due to gastroenteritis.
A 10-year NBA veteran, Kaman averaged 10.5 points and 5.6 boards in Dallas. Known to be able to use both hands effectively around the rim and hit the mid-range jumper, Kaman slides right into D'Antoni's system with his ability to operate both in the key and on the perimeter on offense.
One question mark entering the preseason was how well Kaman and Gasol would play alongside each other. The two, however, displayed an instant on-court connection, and Kaman proved to be a complimentary piece opposite the 7-foot Spaniard. He led the Lakers in field-goal percentage and rebounds in the five preseason games he appeared, before missing the final two with gastroenteritis. Depending on how D'Antoni chooses to use Hill, Kaman might be the primary backup to Gasol at center, or he could find himself in the starting lineup on some nights.
2012-13: Gasol averaged 17.5 points on 51.3 percent field goals, 12.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.3 blocks in April.
Preseason: The Spaniard measured himself in preseason games, sticking right around 25 minutes per game, but still led the team in scoring and blocks while doing a bit of everything.
While the Lakers have yet to get an answer on Kobe Bryant's return, the best news they've gotten of late is that Pau Gasol feels healthier than at any point of the past few seasons. Furthermore, after willingly deferring to try and accommodate Andrew Bynum and then Dwight Howard for the past three seasons, Gasol will again be the featured big inside, the role he occupied during three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. GM Mitch Kupchak said he expects Gasol – who rehabilitated from a knee procedure all summer – to be an All-Star once again, and Mike D'Antoni said he remains the NBA's best offensive big man.
Gasol can run a team from the high post (note the 6.6 assists per game last April) or the low block, where he boasts the NBA's best moves and can still capably find teammates over his shoulders. Like Kaman, Gasol does have a tendency to pop out for jumpers on screen/roll action, while the offense could at times be aided more by a hard dive to the rim. Defensively, Gasol's been a strong protector of the rim at times, but struggled in that aspect in the past season in particular while dealing with foot and knee ailments. The Lakers will need him to improve in that area, with nobody on the roster as capable as he. Until Bryant gets back, it's his team.
2012-13: In three starts due to a pile up of injuries, Sacre averaged 6.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.
Preseason: The Gonzaga product grabbed a team-high eight rebounds in the team's second preseason contest vs. Denver.
Sacre proved to be a serviceable backup during his rookie campaign, particularly when all three Lakers bigs went down with injuries in early January. In the preseason, he showed improvements made over the summer with his athleticism as well as his jump shot, showing some range out to 18 feet.
He remains behind Gasol, Kaman and Hill on the depth chart at center, and playing time will likely be minimal, unless the injury bug strikes. But the Lakers can afford to have him gain experience with the D-Fenders again this season, where he started seven games in 2012-13. Since being drafted, Sacre's been a favorite teammate of his fellow big men in particular, as he always pushes them in practice with a mix of competitive energy and positivity.
2012-13: Grabbed 7.4 rebounds per game as a senior at Gonzaga.
Preseason: In a limited sample size (70 total minutes), Harris shot 50.0 percent (7 of 14) in seven preseason appreances, one of three players to shoot 50 percent or better (Chris Kaman, Jordan Farmar).
Elias Harris averaged just 11 minutes per game during the preseason, but showed signs of why the Lakers signed him as an undrafted free agent. At 6-8 and 240 pounds, Harris has excellent NBA size, and can play multiple positions. The German native will likely have an opportunity to continue to hone his game with the Lakers' D-League affiliate, the D-Fenders, with several veteran players ahead of him on the senior squad's depth chart.
2012-13: Shot 42.2 percent from three during his senior season at Duke.
Preseason: Hit two three-pointers in his first NBA action vs. Golden State in Beijing.
It was difficult for the Lakers to get a complete picture of Kelly's game over the summer as the second round pick missed all of summer league as he continued to work his way back from offseason foot surgery. Drafted in part because of his ability to space the floor from the power forward slot, has shown off his range in practice. He appeared sparingly in three preseason games (33 total minutes), and should get a chance to develop with the D-Fenders; regular season minutes for the Lakers will be difficult to come by in year one.