Friday, October 11, 2013

Don't Look Now, But The Lakers Might Actually Have a Pretty Good Bench

The Lakers haven't had a good bench since
this guy was on the team
As we know, the starting unit for the Lakers is coming along pretty well so far during preseason. The team has tremendous outside scoring potential between  Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Nick Young. But really, it's having two very skilled big men in Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman that helps open up the floor for everybody else not named Kobe or Steve Nash.

With that said, the starting unit can't play all 48 minutes every game. Or, better stated, they can, but shouldn't try to (remember when Kobe tried to down the stretch last year? Disaster). That means the bench needs to step up and help maintain leads and cut deficits. The good news here is without Dwight Howard clogging the lane, Jordan Hill is free to man the center position, regardless of whether Kaman or Gasol or whoever is in with him, as they are both effective from as far as 18 feet. Hill's high energy, excellent rebounding ability and somewhat limited offensive skill set will be a lot better suited closer to the basket, and that's precisely where the center position will have him.

Coming off the bench along side Hill will be Mike D'Antoni's choice of Shawne Williams and Ryan Kelly. Williams is a bit rough around the edges, but his career 33.5% shooting percentage from beyond the arch will help stretch the floor and avoid any potential double teams. Williams has spent most of his time in the NBA as a Small Forward (and a Shooting Guard in his rookie season), but coming in at 6'9'', 225 pounds, he's ideal for D'Antoni's small ball lineups. Williams could bring what Earl Clark brought last season, namely versatility, with his ability to play both the 3 and the 4. Kelly has yet to suit up for the Lakers, but was an excellent three point shooter for Duke in his 4 year college career, having a career 37.9% field goal percentage from long range (41.4% for his final two seasons). In other words, stretching the floor with the power forward position shouldn't be a problem for the Lakers this year. Hill should be a solid bench piece, with good rebounding numbers and limited offense consisting mostly of lay-ups, put backs, dunks and free throws. Williams is a bit of a wild card, as he has had some inconsistent seasons so far, with a Win Share as high as 2.5 in 64 games for the New York Knicks in '10-'11, to a Win Share as low as -0.4 with the then New Jersey Nets in '11-'12.

Backing up Nash, is our old friend Steve Blake, who has greatly improved his play in the past season playing under Mike D'Antoni's offensive system, going from "Why did we sign him?" to "He could start on a bunch of different teams" in just one short season. His Win Share last season was 2.4 in 45 games played, whereas his Win Share during his other two seasons in Los Angeles was 2.8 in 153 games. This is thanks to his improved decision making, increased defensive awareness, as well as improved three point shot. And having Jordan Farmar as a third string point guard is great to have, when you factor in Nash's age and Blake's injury riddled '12-'13 season, as well as last year's reserve point guards being Darius Morris and Chris Duhon.

This leaves Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and Jodie Meeks to man the back up shooting guard and small forward slots. Henry has looked good during the preseason, getting to the basket almost at will. This has greatly contributed to his 45.5% shooting percentage in the preseason and his 13.3 point per game average. Johnson sustained a foot injury against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night, but it isn't expect to be serious and he should return to action shortly. Johnson continues to struggle offensively, shooting just 20% to start the preseason. He could be valuable should he find his stroke. I'm sure we all remember Meeks' frustratingly inconsistent game. Expect more of the same from him this year, with occasional brilliance and sometimes extremely boneheaded decisions. At the very least, he provides depth and three point shooting. If all else fails, D'Antoni may consider starting either Henry or Johnson at Small Forward and leaving Young as the primary scorer off the bench alá Manu Ginobili.

With Kobe and Gasol coming off of major surgery and Nash being the oldest player in the NBA, now more than ever, the Lakers need some good, quality bench play to help take some minutes off of their aging legs. This group may finally have what it takes.