Beast or Burden: Changing Fortunes

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

The Lakers emerged from a tough stretch of four games in five nights with a 2-2 record and the performance of the team was night and day in their last two matchups against Memphis and Dallas.

We have discussed at length the past few weeks about the necessity of a coach being able to sell his system to his players, one of the more important delineations of the differences between Phil Jackson and Mike Brown, as well as Brown and Mike D'Antoni. That many of the Lakers' ancillary players appear to be flourishing is testament to this facet. For the first time in more than year, however, we have the benefit of a coach in D'Antoni actually adept at not only the aforementioned skill, but of making the proper adjustments to adapt his system to his players, as we went from two straight games of awful production from the Lakers' frontcourt to a very respectable output against Dallas. This is only D'Antoni's fourth game on the job and he has disproven, at least at the moment, that he is wedded to the specific kind of system he ran with Steve Nash in Phoenix.

Ultimately, coaches put their players in positions to succeed through ideal personnel groupings, using them in the correct spots on offense, and managing their minutes. As the common refrain goes, you build your system to complement your players, not the other way around. This was Brown's error and the fact that D'Antoni was capable of making the necessary changes might strike one as a simple change, but it is an important one. The end result has been that essentially everyone, from the starters to the bench, are being involved in the flow of the offense and the highly egalitarian scoring distribution against Dallas is what you want to see from an offense supposed to rely on the ball constantly moving to the open man.

Beast

  • Antawn Jamison --Jamison finally emerging as an offensive threat has coincided with his moving to the four, which appeared to be his obvious position to everyone involved save Mike Brown. Working closer to the basket, Jamison can take advantage of his unorthodox shots around the rim and especially his adept cutting, something he did time and time again against Memphis and Dallas. He also has demonstrated good passing ability, as a number of plays have worked due to his passing from the block or even the top of the key as he has hit other cutters and shooters. Most shocking, however, was his defense in the past two games, as his supposed weakness was nowhere to be found. He played very serviceable defense against Zach Randolph, a player you would expect to decimate Jamison, and his rotations were almost all on point against Dallas, a game in which he nabbed fifteen rebounds as well. Needless to say, if Jamison can play extended minutes as a key frontcourt backup, it's a huge boon for the team's bench, a unit that is rapidly turning itself into a genuinely positive part of this Lakers squad.
  • Metta World Peace -- Did we put him in a time machine and get back the Ron Artest from Indiana? What is remarkable about MWP's return to form as an offensive threat is that not only is he hitting his shots from outside -- shoot with his feet set! -- but he is an active threat off the dribble, especially against smaller defenders. And we might see this more often since opposing teams almost always switch the better defender of their two starting wings onto Kobe, leaving MWP with the lesser matchup and one he can almost always bully on the way to the rim, as we saw against O.J. Mayo in the Dallas game. We certainly shouldn't expect him to shoot as well for the rest of the year, but that he is contributing more consistently on offense is a significant change from last year.
  • Jodie Meeks -- Meeks continues to be an utter disaster as an attacker off the dribbler, as his lack of hops and so-so handle have contributed to a rash of turnovers. Whenever he gets it on the catch, however, his quick release and lack of inhibition with regards to shooting make him ideal as a specialist off the bench and for the most part, the good he has provided has more than outweighed the bad. As a result, the bench has been able to key a lot of offensive runs due to the threat of hot shooting and aggressive defense, as both Jamison and MWP have been a big part of the latter aspect. For his part, Meeks won't resemble a stopper anytime soon, but he competes on that end and certainly isn't a liability.
  • Chris Duhon -- We really might as well say that the bench as a whole has played well since they were the main reason the Lakers were even competitive against Memphis and they helped in expanding the huge deficit in the Dallas game. Duhon has played a role in the aforementioned shooting threat the bench has brought forth and as long as he isn't being asked to create off the dribble, he has played like an acceptable point guard backup. Yes, he's the worst of the Lakers' four point guards, but the mere fact that we are getting positive results from Duhon has kept the offense running. Probably hasn't increased his trade value to alleviate the backcourt glut once Steve Blake returns, unfortunately.
  • Kobe Bryant -- By the extraordinary standards he has set for himself this year, Kobe had two pretty miserable games, although they still are fairly impressive for a guy who has to initiate the offense every time he comes down the floor. Even when his shots aren't falling, Kobe keeps on attacking the rim, something that has gotten him to the line and helped to keep his efficiency up. Ironically, given how well Kobe is shooting from behind the arc and his rash of three-point attempts last year, it wouldn't hurt Kobe to turn a few of his long twos into threes for the natural efficiency increase. The rash of turnovers Kobe gets into from time to time will also hopefully be alleviated when the Lakers' point guards come back.
  • Honorable mention goes to Darius Morris, who continues to acquit himself well as the Lakers' starting point guard. To demonstrate his impact, you only have to look at opposing point guard production whenever he checks out of the game, as his defense has played a big part in stymieing the opposition's offensive flow. On offense, Morris' proclivity for missing easy layups is irritating, but his general comfort coming off the pick-and-roll only gets better game to game.
Burden
  • Pau Gasol -- Pau rebounded nicely from his horrid and borderline pathetic performance against Memphis, and credit him for responding in the Dallas game when D'Antoni made the appropriate adjustments to get him closer to the rim. Granted, Dallas' post defenders are a generally miserable lot and Pau didn't have to chase Dirk Nowitzki around as he had to do in the past, but the effort was clearly there when it certainly was absent the night before. The sequence in Pau was on the left block and then went baseline, countered back towards the lane, and twisted towards the lane once more with a baby hook was classic Pau and we need to see a lot more of that when he gets his opportunities.
  • Dwight Howard -- As poorly as Dwight played against Memphis, his defense against Marc Gasol was acceptable and he never really stopped trying on that end, a clear an indication as any of the difference between Dwight and the last Lakers' big man to occupy the five spot. In that regard, the Dallas game was probably Dwight's most impressive defensive outing yet, as he completely owned the interior, switched onto smaller players on the pick-and-roll, and covered huge amounts of space. Dwight also displayed that like MWP, he possesses lightning fast hands, stripping the ball away a number of times and ending up with five steals. The full scope of Dwight's offensive game, however, will likely not be realized until Nash returns, but D'Antoni got him rolling to the rim much more in the Dallas game than the night before. At this juncture, it is fairly clear that Dwight's turnover problems, especially in the post, make it difficult for him to solely operate on the block, so ensuring that he is involved elsewhere on the offensive end is essential to get the optimal utility out of him.
  • Devin Ebanks -- Ebanks' short cameo in garbage time is just proof of how far he has fallen in the eyes of the Laker front office, as not only did he come into the year penciled in as the Lakers' primary backup at small forward, the Lakers let arguably their best bench player last year in Matt Barnes go due to their confidence in Ebanks' potential. He still may very well turn into the player Mitch Kupchak and co. believe he could during the summer, but he clearly has to solve his maturity issues to do so.
Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.
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