Beast or Burden: Death from Above

Ah, that was better. We got a game that turned into a brutal slugfest, which only worked to the advantage of the established team, the one that has braved fights far more intense than this one, and wasn't going to be fazed by an up and coming Clippers team, even one headed by a competitive maven like Chris Paul. The Lakers got into the Clippers' heads and turned their energy against them, brilliantly done by Metta World Peace, who did his best Scottie Pippen impression -- sans the efficient scoring -- on the court and played one of his best games of the year. Under this veneer of Lakers toughness, however, was a simple and undeniable fact: they shot better. Those painfully wide open shots? Downed. Those opportunities that will make or break the team come April? In the net. We can talk about offense balance, Kobe taking up too many possessions, other players being passive, and so forth, but the bottom line is that people have to make shots to space the floor, and for once this season, the Lakers obliged. With that in mind, let's move forward into this week's risers and fallers.

Beast

  • Andrew Goudelock -- Small surprise then that the best shooter of the bunch gets this spot, no? Goudelock finally put together the game we expected out of a player who more than deserved the moniker "Jimmer-lite" for his play at the College of Charleston, and whose range was so ridiculously long Kobe Bryant would be envious. Before this, Goudelock had been tentative, never a great sign for a rookie, and seemingly unwilling to embrace that simple role the team drafted him for: put the round ball in the net and get his team three points. He is simply too good a shooter -- and we mean too good a shooter, look at this clip -- to be doing something like that. And while his role certainly isn't that of the go-to guy at Charleston, it at least served him to be looking for his shot, and that was what he did against the Clippers. He was decisive off the dribble, showing a nice floater that could be a nice part of his game if defenders chase him off the line, and he showed an excellent complement to Kobe Bryant and the other starters due to the inevitable attention they demanded on the floor. Quite simply, if he keeps this up, he will definitely get minutes, and life will only get easier for Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol if suddenly lanes are open to them due to a sweet-shooting guard on the perimeter.
  • Pau Gasol -- The presence of a shooter might not have mattered for Pau against the Clippers though, as he clearly was a man on a mission. Having challenged the team dynamic to place him on the perimeter, he claimed that he was a force to be reckoned with in the post, the absence of that part of his game for a good year notwithstanding, and unlike the talk of most players, he backed that up with some vintage Pau play throughout the game. He attacked the rim aggressively, still got a few jumpers, and showed a couple beautiful fakes in the post that are part of the Pau we all know and love. Just as there is no question that the offense works much better when Pau is distributing from the high post, so it is when he demands so much attention from the defense due to his multifaceted scoring ability. We still have to work out the Gasol-Bynum relationship so that both benefit each other in their scoring attempts and gain enough synergy to work off each other, but that can wait until the team has more than one (!) real practice under their belt. There is still a long way to go before the playoffs start, and more than enough time to make Pau and Drew more than the sum of their parts.
  • Metta World Peace -- Fire. Enthusiasm. Energy. MWP brought all of those things against the Clippers and it was refreshing to see after he appeared so lifeless in previous games this season. Save for the start of the season, where he seemed to embrace his role of leader of the bench unit, MWP was tentative, disengaged from the action of the offense, and hardly playing with the spark that has defined his defensive play in recent years. In this case, he so outplayed Matt Barnes that he relegated him to a mere ten minutes while MWP stood at the spearhead of the Lakers' effort against the Clippers' attempts to intimidate. He directed the offense, got in the face of any Clipper who dared to mess with any of his teammates, and provided an infectious energy on defense that stymied a normally very efficient Clippers offense. If he can distribute the ball as well as he did against the Clippers, he'll earn his rotation minutes, and perhaps dissuade the Lakers against consigning his contract to the amnesty clause in the off-season.
  • Honorable mention to Andrew Bynum, who stayed fairly consistent despite his frontcourt partner finally taking a bigger chunk of the offensive pie, and he made the two biggest plays of the game in his layup off a Kobe pass and his sick block of DeAndre Jordan to close the game. He still needs to provide more energy even when he doesn't get the ball and those rebounding numbers could use some work, but the increased rest should aid him. Against a Milwaukee team without Andrew Bogut and a Minnesota team with Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic, he should produce this weekend.
Burden
  • Troy Murphy -- We all know he wouldn't defend well, but at least thought that Mike Brown would wean some effort out of him at that end. Whoops. Meanwhile, he's been far from the double-double guy he was in Indiana, barely being involved in the offense besides pick-and-pop action. Granted, the Lakers should run more of it, especially to create space for other players, which is the whole reason for having Murphy, but he is dangerously on the verge of playing himself out of the rotation. On a team desperate for shooting, having a big with a nice stroke -- only in the results mind you; Murphy's shot is flatter than your girlfriend's chest -- is a nice addition, and there's no reason for this to happen. Yes, he's getting less touches than he did in Indiana and it is understandable that he is a bit lost as is everyone in the offensive execution right now, but he simply isn't performing, and that's a problem. The 20 points Derrick Caracter put up in the D-League the other night on his first playing night after injury -- and thus not being at full game-speed -- are a pretty ominous harbinger for Murphy of the person coming for his minutes if he doesn't turn this around soon.
  • Darius Morris -- Well, that experiment ended pretty quickly. Morris was far too erratic during his brief NBA playing time to secure a hard spot in the rotation, and never really got into a nice rhythm in the offense. If Goudelock usurps his role in the rotation, it would do him a lot of good to get some D-League seasoning, where he doesn't have to have the proverbial Damocles' sword hanging over him at all times and will be less afraid of making mistakes. There is no denying the great court vision and passing skill he possesses; he simply needs to learn how to make those plays happen in the pros. If he showed anything, it was that he has the real makings of a pretty good defensive player: he moves his feet well, uses his length to bother shots, and generally doesn't get taken out of position. That probably earned him some minutes from Mike Brown and will in the future.
  • Matt Barnes -- That cutting will still be valuable and it is doubtful that Barnes loses his rotation spot like he did at the start of the season, but MWP's performance was a pretty big statement on how the dynamic in the small forward hierarchy has changed. If Pau is going to be aggressive in the post and attack the rim more often, that removes much of Barnes' utility from the floor and instead enhances those of players who can space the floor, of which Barnes emphatically is not a member -- and neither is most of the roster at the moment, but I digress. He has definitely had some excellent performances this year and is without question the Lakers' best player at leaking out on the break, but a statement from him that he rather enjoys his starting spot is in order if he wants to keep it.
  • (Dis)honorable mention goes to Jason Kapono, mainly since Goudelock has made Kapono utterly irrelevant if he can continue even a smidgen of his shooting performance against the Clippers. Shooting specialists who can't shoot are as useless as they come, and my cry for Elijah Millsap is still fairly strong, folks.

Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.

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