Beast or Burden: Courting Despair

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

With the Lakers now 1-4 and last in the Western Conference, one has to seriously wonder as to the source of the team's execution and effort problems and sooner or later, figure out who has to take the fall for the team's woes.

We have reached the point at which the usual excuses simply don't cut it anymore. The box score for last night's game disguises the fact that it was a minor miracle that the Lakers were even in the contest given their complete lack of urgency on both ends and absolutely pitiful shooting performance. There are bad shooting nights and then there is 4-23 from behind the arc, which just brings forth a new level of futility to the forefront. And these were wide open looks that the Lakers simply couldn't convert, all the while the player they signed to be their designated marksman in Jodie Meeks sat on the bench enjoying the festivities. It would be one thing if the team was trying to get into their offense -- which mind you, has been simplified to the point where many of the mistakes the team is making are those of sheer laziness; hello, terrible entry passes -- and doing their best to play active defense on the other end. We can forgive a missed rotation, an untimely cut, or a wayward pass. We cannot forgive refusing to run back on defense, not getting into the offense early in the clock, and the aforementioned awful entry passes that were emblematic of the Lakers' overall effort.Des

Generally in sports, when you have a fairly systematic lack of heart and passion from your team, you trace it back to leadership. If the team does not believe in what the coach is espousing, they simply won't try that hard, as Kevin Ding of the Orange County Registrar more or less outright stated in an article today. That upper management has had to come out and openly back their coach is in and of itself a dire sign of his prospects; essentially, improve or else. The players have said all the right things about believing in the system and such, but actions speak louder than words and their current play reflects it. And this does not even get into Mike Brown's specific failures as a coach, the rotation most glaring among them, which are compounding the overall issue. The Lakers have six consecutive home games over the next two weeks to right the ship, or there probably will be changes. How the players perform will be a significant indicator as to which direction they want the team to go in.

Beast

  • Kobe Bryant -- Motivation is never in short supply for Kobe, luckily, as he attempted to will the Lakers back into the game last night by basically taking advantage of Utah's foul happy defense as he always has and going straight at the rim. The bigger issue was where was this version of Kobe the previous quarters? In a game in which the Lakers were absolutely miserable offensively and surviving by the skin of their teeth, Kobe was surprisingly passive, trying to ignite an offense that never really took off. If there is a criticism of Kobe in this regard, it is that he is too binary in his decision-making: giving into the flow of the offense or going gangbusters on his lonesome. As we saw in the Pistons game and countless others, there is a happy medium between playmaking and scoring within the flow of the offense, part of the reason we thought the Princeton offense would benefit him tremendously. You can't complain given that Kobe was one of the few players who actually performed last night, but this criticism is relevant, as was his six turnovers, which the team simply can't deal with right now.
  • Dwight Howard -- Apparently Dwight's proclivity to being stripped in the post is something that dates back to his Orlando days per our friends at Orlando Pinstriped Post, as he lost a ton of balls in the interior when he wasn't going to the line after getting mugged by Utah's frontcourt. On that note, his poor free throw shooting manifested in a bad way last night, but at this juncture, we simply have to accept this as part of his game we have to deal with. Thanks to years of Shaquille O'Neal, this is okay. What is not is Dwight's lack of recovery and foot speed on defense, which took a step back after some exquisite defensive sequences in the Detroit game. His so-so rebounding numbers are another worry, as without the full benefit of his tremendous hops, he's simply getting beat to the ball too many times when he should be utterly dominating the interior. This is a process for Dwight since he can't be the same player until he is back to full strength, but some better fundamentals would help here too.
  • Jordan Hill -- Hill's ridiculous rebounding proficiency continues to amaze, as he gets to the ball through a combination of athleticism and sheer effort. He outrebounded Howard despite playing nearly fifteen fewer minutes, an amazing statistic. Hill takes his lumps on defense since he's not disciplined in his pick-and-roll coverage and help responsibilities, but you can never really deny that the effort is there. That Brown has paired him more with Howard than Pau Gasol, whose skill and finesse-based game pairs better with Hill's lunch pail game, hasn't helped his productivity, but again, he is the Lakers' best reserve and it isn't even close.
  • Honorable mention to Metta World Peace, who despite a gruesome shooting night, was definitely trying out there. In the first quarter before his percentages tanked, MWP was actually keeping the Lakers in the game and as ill-advised as some of his adventures on offense were, they were better attempts than some of the other drivel the team ran. It wasn't his fault either that Brown had the bright idea of playing him at the two against Utah's wings, who are the exact type of offensive player that MWP has trouble covering. MWP thrives against straight-up isolation players against whom he can use his strength and quick hands; with players who run off screens and get open for jumpers, he has a much more difficult time and that was essentially all he faced last night.
Burden
  • Antawn Jamison -- At this point, Jamison represents the worst of both worlds in regards to our expectations of him. Not only is he worse than we imagined, he is being played out of position in such a blatantly obvious manner that we don't know the degree to which it has hamstrung his game, besides the fact that continues to defy explanation why Brown believes that he can be a wing at his age. Jamison is not helping matters by being invisible on offense, rarely taking advantage of the opportunities given to him or making any attempt to create offense. Brown has tried to take advantage of his size against most wings by posting him up, but his repertoire of flip shots has been rather ineffective around the rim. And naturally, he was roasted alive on defense by Utah's wings, who went by him like a turnstile. The notion that Jamison, who is a downright pitiful defender at this stage in his career, could provide even somewhat adequate resistance there is laughable and Brown seems to be the only one currently indulging in this line of thought. Really, the issues surrounding Jamison, both those in his control and beyond, are a microcosm of the team's issues and an awful lot of them point back to Brown.
  • Steve Blake -- Well, we had to have a regression some point down the line. It wasn't that conceivable that Blake could keep up his solid level of play, but for him to fall flat so badly against Utah was rather startling. Solid on defense for essentially the entire season, even against the likes of Chris Paul, Blake was positively annihilated by Mo Williams everywhere on the court, whether on post-ups, drives to the rim, or a simple failure to keep with him going around a screen. On a night in which Utah's frontcourt players were mostly kept in check, Williams helped keep the Jazz offense running and Blake was simply found lacking in this regard. On offense, it was not necessarily the missed threes, which happen from time to time, but the hesitancy that has seeped back into his game, analogous to when he first arrived in L.A. The instance that best illustrates this was when Blake caught the ball with a wide open three, pump faked (!), allowed his defender to close in on him, and ended up passing to Gasol in the corner for a three. For the past few games, that lack of decisiveness had been missing, and Blake will need to excise it again for him to return to being a serviceable rotation player.
  • Pau Gasol -- Part of the issues with Pau are schematic, insofar as like last year, he is not getting touches near the basket as to optimize his effectiveness. That noted, we still need him to knock down those midrange jumpers that he at least nominally hits at a very high rate. Yes, they are not ideal and all that, but like last year, Pau catching the ball at the elbow for a jumper is one of the offense's best release valves and his inability to nail shots from there is depriving the offense of a very useful fallback option. On defense, Pau was decent in straight-up post defense, but he really seems to be lagging in his help and pick-and-roll coverage. We're not expecting him to be a world-beater like Dwight on that end to any extent, but he has been an above average defender for most of his stint in L.A. and that needs to perk up a little. The subpar rebounding numbers would be one area that he could concentrate on, the presence of rebounding mavens Howard and Hill notwithstanding.
  • Mike Brown -- What is there left to say at this point? We gave Brown a break on the rotations last year because the bench was a giant flaming pile of garbage and relying on the starters was really the only way to get wins. Funky things like Matt Barnes at the two were acceptable since the other options were as bad or far worse. Now it has approached the point of comedy: the notion that a "big" lineup can have an outsized defensive impact in a league that has made a significant move towards smallball lineups, speed, and shooting. Now, we obviously run a "big" lineup with our starting five, but the talent jives there -- or at least, it does on paper -- such that it ends up being an advantage for us. They succeed not because they are big, but since they are good. Assuming that a Blake-MWP-Jamison-Hill-Dwight lineup can succeed since they are "big" despite having no spacing is the height of foolishness. As noted above, the issues surrounding Jamison at the three and the other problems it impacts are an instance of the mismanagement that really can't be tolerated any longer.
  • (Dis)honorable mention to Darius Morris, who like Blake, regressed after a pair of respectable performances against the Clippers and Pistons. Unlike most of the guys on the roster, Morris does have a ready made excuse in that Salt Lake City is a tough, tough place for a young guy like Morris to try to run an offense he barely looks familiar with, but we have to note his struggles as well. In lieu of the more controlled game he had broken out, he was back to dribbling to no reason and turning the ball over in a bad way. About the only positive play he had was a bucket and one because he was cherry picking. If that's the best thing we can remember about you on the next day, you had problems that evening.
Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.
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