LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 14: Matt Barnes #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots 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)
For the first time this season, a reserve is our Lakers' Player of the Week. During a week in which the Lakers went 3-0 against the Raptors, Hawks, and Suns, it was improved bench play that allowed the Lakers to cruise to two easy wins (could have been three), and give the sense that this squad is making strides.
It feels as if these Lakers are slowly coming around. Mike Brown seems to be figuring his team out, and coming to a rotation he feels comfortable with. This consistency in minutes and roles has led to better play from the back-ups. Largely due to Steve Blake's return, the bench has improved enough to give the Lakers some semblance of balance.
The largest benefactor of Blake's return has been Barnes. With a point guard who pays attention to cutters, Barnes has been able to excel at doing the only two things he should focus on, running and rebounding. He's finding opportunities in transition due to his ability to find the right seam on fast break chances. Also, he's been great a finding cuts in halfcourt offense, which lead to wide open lay-ups and drives. Steve Blake may have trouble making simple entry passes to Andrew Bynum, but he's doing just fine rewarding Barnes' hustle. When those cuts aren't leading to lay-ups, they're creating opportunities for easy putbacks off rebounds. The three-pointers we wanted Matt to stop shooting? He's only shooting them when he's wide-the-f-open and has to. On defense, he is what he is. He has some trouble at times, but it isn't for lack of trying. He plays as well as he can, steals lazy passes, and hustles for loose balls.
Even with the uncertainty of what this roster will look like as the trade deadline approaches, and in spite of their lack of quality wins, these Lakers are starting to gel. They seem poised to make a run due the bench's increased reliability. No matter who's on the floor with Kobe, Pau, or Andrew, the rest of the Lakers have to make the defense accountable for them in order for the offense to improve. Matt Barnes has been successful taking advantage of his opportunities for the past two weeks now, leading to the Lakers feeling comfortable enough at back-up small forward to send Devin Ebanks to the D-League for reps. Let's hope Matt's play puts enough pressure on Metta World Peace to take notice. How Matt is playing is how MWP should be playing. I imagine Coach Brown's conversation with Ron Ron mentioned this.
With Kobe being Kobe, Pau being aggressive, and Bynum looking like an All-Star at times, any impact from the bench can help put this team over the hump, and on the road towards real improvement. Whomever that bench will consist of for the rest of the season, we should know for sure soon. For now, they're getting better and I'll take comfort in that. Congrats Matt.
Here are his stats for the week:
9.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals in 21.3 minutes per game. He shot 10-of-19 for 52.3% from the floor and 2-of-3 from three for 66%.
Highlights after the Jump....
- Raptors vs. Lakers 2/12:
- Hawks vs. Lakers 2/14:
- Suns vs. Lakers 2/17: