Beast or Burden: Flipping the Script

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 14: Andrew Goudelock #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates after making a three point basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center on February 14, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 86-78. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Monday's game was a profoundly atypical one for this year's iteration of the Lakers and it wasn't due to the painful-on-the-eyes stretch down the middle of the game during which both teams couldn't buy a bucket. The fact that the Lakers are a top heavy team has been one of the main talking points in discussing the overall roster: a fantastic top three and a steaming pile of garbage that surrounds them. Against Atlanta, however, that narrative was flipped. The bench unit moved the ball with decisiveness, attacked Atlanta's reserves, and indeed, got the Lakers the leads they would hold for most of the game. Meanwhile, the return of the starters, the thing that has kept the Lakers in games for the grand majority of the season, lost the Lakers their leads as the ball stuck on the perimeter and the offense stalled. Needless to say, it is easy to call this a fluke on the part of the starters, who will likely perform better against Phoenix tonight after a full week of rest, but if this is a turning point for the bench unit, as Mike Brown has seemingly settled on a consistent rotation, then that only bodes well for this team's prospects.

Beast

  • Andrew Goudelock -- No player embodied the bench's overall effectiveness like Goudelock, who has arguably become the team's best perimeter threat besides Kobe Bryant. A big time scorer at the College of Charleston, Goudelock appears to be channeling that same mojo, as he's provided an efficient scoring presence off the bench that the team hasn't had so far this season. He combines a lethal shooting ability with a nice floater in the lane that makes him a threat on the perimeter and on the drive, and there's no doubt that he has a scorer's instincts. In a sequence emblematic of this, Goudelock ran a pick-and-roll with Troy Murphy, forced Atlanta to switch former Laker Vladimir Radmonovic onto him, sized up Radmonovic and nailed a three right in front of him after faking that he was going to drive. Needless to say, if this continues, it will relieve a lot of the pain from the team not getting J.R. Smith -- although it was never a very real possibility -- and make Gilbert Arenas a more and more implausible solution. While fellow rookie Darius Morris needs a lot more seasoning, Goudelock has risen to the challenge the team drafted for him for, and Mitch Kupchak deserves a lot of props for selecting him in the second round.
  • Andrew Bynum -- That was more like it. Bynum utterly dominated an Atlanta frontline that lacked Al Horford and Jason Collins, evoking images of the Bynum that started the season rather than the one that struggled on the Grammy road trip. He fought for deep post position, used his massive frame and strength to bully his man under the basket, and looked crisp and clean on his post moves. The team's baffling inability to get him more touches aside, this is the Bynum that needs to show up for the Lakers to have a real shot at extended success this season, and he was the only one of the big three to put forth a consistent and solid performance on Monday. With three days off, he should be licking his chops against the Suns' frontline and Marcin Gortat tonight.
  • Metta World Peace -- He answered his critics to say the least. After a tussle with Mike Brown over his style of coaching, MWP backed up his rhetoric and showed up to play against Atlanta, sinking two (!) threes and providing a presence on offense, although his defense on Joe Johnson was lackadaisical at times. To Brown's credit, he seemingly resolved whatever tension was present in a straightforward manner -- his "If was really a stats guy, you wouldn't be playing" line is most notable, other than the intriguing tidbit that he uses Synergy like most of the basketball blogging world -- and MWP responded to that outreach. With Devin Ebanks sent to the D-League -- and hopefully Darius Morris shortly to follow -- Brown clearly has stated who will be manning the three for the Lakers for the foreseeable future, and we will see if MWP rewards Brown's faith in him.
  • Honorable mention goes to Steve Blake, who shows the disparity between he and Fisher game after game. He works decently well on the pick-and-roll, makes nice passes on things other than alley-oop attempts, and best of all, keeps his feet behind the line. As noted several times in previous columns, one of the best decisions Brown has made this season is to give Blake the lion share of minutes at the point, and it appears to be working out well for the team.
Burden
  • Kobe Bryant -- Maybe it is fatigue or similar, but Kobe played miserably recently, scoring 24.6 points per game on 37.1% shooting. Against Atlanta, his jumper looked dead, he had little to no burst, and was a big reason the starters looked lifeless offensively. That the Lakers still pulled out the win is testament to how well everyone else, especially the bench, played, but needless to say, Kobe either has to adjust something in his stroke or start working more in pick-and-roll action to get his teammates the ball in good scoring spots when his shot isn't falling. One guess is that with his wrist apparently healed, he has to readjust his shot back to what it normally looks like, hence nearly all of his shots falling shots, but either way, he simply needs to play better. Obviously, this will definitely happen, likely starting tonight against a Phoenix team that has struggled to cover him, but it shows how much else has to go right for the team to win without its best player performing up to the level we expect him to.
  • Derek Fisher -- I am quite literally devoid of new ways to express how bad he has been, particularly given how well Blake and Goudelock have played. If you want one way to quantify his awfulness, he has a 42.3 TS%, which is completely pathetic for a supposed shooting specialist. He has little to no utility in an offense that needs its point guards to run the pick-and-roll and distribute the ball, and at this point, it should be painfully clear that the triangle was the main thing sustaining Fisher's career the last two years. To add insult unto injury, Fisher has a player option for next season that he is almost certainly going to exercise barring a trade to a rebuilding team or retirement, and going forward with Fisher logging significant minutes at the point is not an endearing thought.
  • Rather than force a selection here (i.e. Gasol for his so-so shooting night despite impacting the game in a lot of different areas), I will end at this point, which only emphasizes how well the non-Kobe/Fisher parts of the team played against Atlanta.

Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.

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