Over the last few years there have been two dark spots on the Los Angeles Lakers roster that have left much to be desired. The first being the dollar bin selection of point guards, which received a full on facelift when Steve Nash was smuggled from Phoenix, Arizona. The small forward position, however, remains virtually untouched.
The depth at small forward is razor thin, having to rely on the consistency of the man now known as Metta World Peace, the growth of a question mark in Devin Ebanks, and the apparent suicide mission in sending Antawn Jamison to defend out on the perimeter. It isn't ideal, but with such a top heavy roster, there were bound to be flaws on the bottom.
The association may have two "superstar" small forwards in Kevin Durant and LeBron James dominating both the headlines and the basketball court, but dangerous small forwards are lurking on every team. Ranging from the likes of Andre Iguodala with the Denver Nuggets, who makes players work on both ends of the floor, to Paul Pierce who will still score in a number of crafty ways if his defender makes a mistake, there are wing men ready to take advantage of a lesser opponent. The Lakers won't be asking for an overflow of production, if much at all, from their troop of small forwards. Just provide stability and hold down the fort, fellas. Play a sound game of basketball. Hang tight.
Metta World Peace
For all of the shortcomings one can list in regards to MWP, rarely will a lack of desire be a bullet point to discuss. Basketball is his first love going back to his days of growing up in Queens, New York and playing in the many summer leagues that he was invited to. His game isn't appealing to the eye. World Peace has an old school basketball mentality and would gladly bruise down low in the post against his defender every single possession. He doesn't even need to touch the ball, just let him outplay his match-up in a show of his basketball IQ and brute strength. Let him battle. The man loves basketball, and loves being loved, the latter being a point of contention amongst fans of the Lakers as of late.
Metta World Peace the basketball player has never added up to his Ron Artest days. Last season he averaged a career low in almost every offensive category. Yes, the 7.7 points per game, 39.4% field goal percentage, and absolutely ABYSMAL (and I mean ABYYYYSMAL) 29.6% shooting percentage from beyond the arc are cause for serious concern that he will bring anything worthwhile on the offensive end. But this isn't the same Metta World Peace that the Lakers have had on the court over the last three seasons. For starters, he has slimmed down drastically since a year ago. The last time the autobot Lakers rolled out to begin a new season, World Peace was out of shape and dragging his 274 pound frame around the floor. This year? A noticeably lean Metta World Peace has returned to the Lakers, and according to the LA Times is now down to 249 pounds. That's almost a 30 pound swing, and as someone who personally dropped 40 pounds in the past, that is a monstrous change. On the offensive end, his new physique has already shown improvements across the board. Through the preseason he is averaging 9.5 points per game on 43% shooting and 35% from deep. He has been engaged, and his mix of quickness and strength have him bowling into defenders to get around the rim when the ball is in his hands. The issue with World Peace on the offensive end, however, is his decision making. In Tuesday's game against the Utah Jazz, there were at least two instances where MWP simply tunnel visioned once the ball got into his hands, leading to a disruption in the flow of the offense, and going so far as to wave off Steve Nash who was begging for the ball to reset the offense. Partner the mental lapses he falls victim to from time to time with his marginal offensive ability and it's very clear why he is at the bottom of the pecking order on the offense.
However, his defensive prowess is right near the top for the Lakers, and having the best defensive player in the league in Dwight Howard along with Mike Brown, a defensive-minded coach, will give MWP a great environment in which to thrive. World Peace is far and away the best defender the Lakers have on the perimeter, but his strength also gives him the ability to defend the post effectively (per Synergy he held opponents to 34% in post-up possessions). Overall, Metta allowed .82 points per possession, holding opponents to 37% shooting, leaving him ranked at 147th overall in the league. For comparisons sake, here's a look at the Synergy numbers LeBron James put up on the defensive side of the ball last season. Players being defended by James scored .83 points per possession on 39.2% shooting, numbers that made LeBron the 166th ranked defender in the league. While World Peace didn't have the impact he did when he was considered elite on the defensive end, he still has the ability to make a difference. Metta World Peace's game isn't based solely around basketball fundamentals, he's a very instinctive player who has
faster hands than Floyd Mayweather great hand speed.
With all of the adept scorers at the small forward position, the cumbersome offense MWP provides receives a pass. On top of that, the talent surrounding him should, in theory, provide the majority of the scoring load. That, along with Steve Nash hopefully finding him in prime position to make things easy on him, should help disguise this. All things cogitated, having Metta World Peace as the fifth best player in the lineup isn't such a bad thing.
Devin Ebanks hasn't been an NBA journeyman, but he certainly has been up and down the Lakers since he was drafted in 2010. Immediately after the draft, he was assigned to the D-League. A month later, he was brought back to the team to play in spots for Matt Barnes. Another month passed and he fractured his leg, and that was all she wrote for a very unsuccessful introduction to the NBA. With a new season to look at, and a new coaching staff, Ebanks found his way into the starting lineup to begin the 2011-2012 NBA season at the small forward. Then, after having unsatisfactory results, found his way right back to the D-League. Months passed before he made his not-so-triumphant return, where Mike Brown brought him in as a reserve both at the small forward AND the shooting guard positions. He was never very impressive, and gained a bit of a cult following after a double overtime game in which he hounded Kevin Durant to a small measure of success.
One of the issues for young Ebanks was the lack of a clear cut role. He is a young player who isn't particularly effective at any one facet of the game, and without direction, this spelled disaster. His length and youth make him an average defender who can deal with lanky guys like Durant, but his lack of strength still makes him an easy target. His inexperience shows on both ends of the floor. On the offensive end, he still blows open layups, open jumpers, and hasn't shown himself to be much of a threat from beyond the arc (he missed all of his attempts in the regular season through 2011-2012). In the Princeton offense, he should find himself getting plenty of clean cuts to the basket. The onus is on him to finish once he gets to the rim.
So far in the preseason, Ebanks has played at best average, which is fine; all the Lakers need right now is solid play off the bench. His 33% from deep is an improvement over the... 0%... from last season, but still isn't an admirable number. However, his mid-range game appears noticeably improved. In 15.8 minutes per game, he's averaging 8.5 points per game on 39% shooting. Not standout numbers, but just enough to keep him floating as an early body off the bench. Another thing to note, Mike Brown has played Ebanks both as the backup shooting guard, and small forward. To go with that, Ebanks has seemingly outplayed Meeks through the preseason, which creates a bit of a logjam because of an idea that Mike Brown can't pull himself away from. Here goes...
When Antawn Jamison was brought in for the veterans minimum, it was yet another steal for the Lakers. It really is this simple- he can score off the bench. In a limited role, without the responsibility that he has had to carry through his career thus far, his efficiency should see an uptick when he's playing in an offense he knows along with finding Steve Nash passes floating into his hands.
That's all fine and dandy, really. It's a good addition. The Great Mambino detailed Jamison in his power forward preview and laid out everything there is to say in regard to his role with the Lakers as a POWER FORWARD. Yes, power forward, where he should log the majority of his minutes.
But Mike Brown went and got cutesy. He decided he could see Jamison as more of a small forward. What this does is slide Ebanks over to shooting guard and Jodie Meeks (the three point specialist that the Lakers have needed for the last three seasons) to third string shooting guard. Yes, playing 'Tawn against small forwards who will be able to bust out the Gangnam Style dance while driving right by him on the perimeter (I hope Staples Center will have it ready to fire up) seems like a great idea! While his offense off the bench will be swell, something the Lakers clearly needed to address, it's arguable whether it's worth putting him out on the perimeter to be mercilessly butchered. There will be blood. He really is that bad of a defender. Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobli spends the off-season scribing player capsules that are excellent, and he completely ethered 'Tawn in regards to his defense.
I won't cut corners -- defensively, Jamison is the worst player in the NBA. He isn't "among the worst" or "in a low class." He is the worst. He doesn't have the strength to keep his position on post-ups. He doesn't have the mobility to recover on spot-up shooters. Despite his 14 years of experience in the NBA, he still hasn't figured out how to make correct reads or correct help decisions in tense defensive situations. Driving past Jamison is about as difficult as outgaining a turtle in the 100 yard dash.
While Dwight Howard has covered up for a lot of bad defensive players in the past, I don't think any defensive player Dwight's covered for has been nearly as bad as Jamison.
This move is a headscratcher, especially when considering how much more sense the bench rotation is when Jamison stays at the 4, Ebanks at the 3, and Meeks at the 2. But that would be too simple now, wouldn't it?
The Lakers small forwards, as a unit from top to bottom, add up to be the weakest link on the roster. Which is fine. Again, this is a roster where the talent is busy hustling and bustling at the top of the Empire State Building, not down in the grimy basement. But that's the beauty of it, because Metta World Peace isn't inclined to live the lush life in luxury suites, his neck being strangled by a silk tie. He's a warrior who finds enjoyment doing all the dirty work while the rest of the guys take care of the endless, mundane, paperwork. At the end of the work day, when it's all said and done and the time has come, he'll join his comrades at the top. Ready to look out at the city that raised him and made him the man he is today. But right now, there's work to be done.
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- Statistical data taken from MySynergySports.com