Beast or Burden: Waiting for Help

March 6, 2012; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum (17) is defended by Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace (6) in the second half at The Palace. Detroit won 88-85 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

A pair of depressing losses has done much to kill the confidence the Lakers had after a solid win against Miami last Sunday, but it is not inconsistent with our analysis of the team we thought had turned the corner and was ready to contend. The Lakers' win against Miami was largely in part due to the solid effort of the Lakers' bench, which usually turns in decent performances at home, and the superb play of Metta World Peace, who normally is a rather large liability for the Lakers. Take both of those things out of the equation and the Lakers dance on the edge of a knife every night depending on the play of their big three. Add in a few very poor games from Kobe Bryant and you find the Lakers dropping two games to a pair of bottom feeders. There really is that big of a gap between this team's highest potential and lowest depths. The schematic necessities aside that make acquiring a point guard all but necessary, what the Lakers seek in the trade market is more consistent producers that reduce the utter reliance the Lakers have on the big three any given night, and it is likely that such help is coming. The win against Minnesota was endearing, particularly for the way the team clawed back from a big deficit, but effort problems were visible even there.

Beast

  • Andrew Bynum -- One of the two players who kept on plugging away despite the rampant turmoil this week, Bynum turned in one of his best performances of the season against Detroit, putting up 30 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks while holding his counterpart in Greg Monroe, one of the league's best frontcourt players, to a measly two points. And mind you, he's doing this with no point guard to feed him for easy buckets consistently, no spacing, and the worst excesses of a certain franchise superstar. His performance against Washington cut down on much of that luster and was a step back in regards to his ability to deal with double teams and move the ball out from the post, but he definitely was the Laker who put his best foot forward so far this week. He proved that by dissecting Minnesota's frontcourt to the tune of 26 points, and while his defense on Nikola Pekovic was far worse than the solid effort he put forth in the previous meeting against the Wolves, he generally acquitted himself well. We can only imagine Bynum's level of dominance with a certain Chris Paul feeding him buckets. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to punch something.
  • Pau Gasol -- And we wonder why the offense runs better when Pau touches the ball more. Against Detroit, Pau followed the lead of his frontcourt partner with a 20 point, 10 rebound, six assist, and four block performance that only reminds us of the innumerable things he does well for this Laker squad. His synergy with Bynum has vastly improved, with both getting the ball to each other on high-low action and their interior passing has approached the levels that Pau enjoyed with Lamar Odom in the '08-'09 season. They almost pass too much to each other at this juncture, trying to sneak some slick bounce passes through a defense that can flood the paint with impunity due to the ineffectiveness of the perimeter players surrounding them. Again, he and Bynum are figuring it out despite defenses being able to bring enormous pressure against them since the starting lineup basically plays 3-on-5. Good stuff.
  • Josh McRoberts -- Well, the upside of losing is that the team feels that changes are necessary. That showed itself against Minnesota, as McRoberts replaced Troy Murphy in the rotation and made a clear statement that he should have stayed in the rotation. His passing helped grease the wheels of a usually moribund second unit, his cutting was rewarded with some nice passes from Steve Blake, and in general, his activity had a clear impact on the court. What he lacks in spacing ability -- his outside shooting is merely mediocre, not terrible, and he really should shoot once in a while to keep the defense on its toes -- he makes up in all other phases of the game. Whether the team was showcasing him for a trade or not, he showed that he definitely one of the team's better players. Should the squad actually acquire a point guard without giving up McRoberts, his impact will only be more prominent.
Burden
  • Kobe Bryant -- There is no problem with Kobe shooting. On a squad with terrible offensive options outside of the big three, it's a necessity. The flip side of that coin is that Kobe has to choose his spots and shoot from where he can be successful. From the elbow, above the free throw line on curls, going baseline, and post-ups are all places that fit this description. Beyond the three point arc is not, especially when Kobe shoots nine threes in a game, nearly all of them ridiculous chucks a few feet behind the line, and this is an unacceptable result for a player shooting a pathetic 27.7% on threes this year. His crunch time execution has gotten so bad that it is almost comical at this juncture. The fadeaway three that Kobe sent up off the catch with six seconds left against Detroit in overtime -- maybe he thought there was 0.6 seconds left? -- was a picturesque example of this. He rectified the bad taste in our mouths by ending up with a solid line against Minnesota, although his first half performance looked much like the Kobe that struggled against Detroit and Washington. With a home date against the Celtics coming, let us hope that the better Kobe rears his head that afternoon.
  • The non-big three roster -- If you want a bigger culprit for the Lakers' two losses this week, however, take a look at the rest of the roster. Against Detroit, players not named Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum scored thirteen points. They followed with a better 33 point showing on Wednesday, but also got obliterated by Washington's reserves. There really isn't much to say. Steve Blake is a mediocre point guard, Andrew Goudelock is still a rookie dealing with increased attention with teams, Matt Barnes plugs away efficiently but not consistently, and Troy Murphy has seemingly forgotten what made him such an effective player in Indiana. Metta World Peace defends decently but has reverted back to being an anemic offensive threat. Derek Fisher is as terrible as ever. We had hopes that the rest of the roster was turning it around after a statement win against Miami and combined with a few trade acquisitions, this would vault the Lakers right back into the title conversation. This might still happen, but the performances thus far this week certainly have not been conducive towards instilling confidence. If anything, the only good aspect is that it might have dispelled any notion to the front office that this roster can make any noise in the playoffs without attempting to fix a highly depressing supporting cast.
  • The Lakers' road record -- For a "veteran" team who has been there and done that, the road woes of this squad are baffling. The crowd at Staples certainly isn't that much of an advantage, but the bench appears to thrive on what they must perceive as a bustling home audience. The Lakers had turned in a solid win against Dallas and a respectable showing before fatigue set in against OKC before the All-Star break, so to see them proceed to drop consecutive games to bottom dwellers simply defies explanation. Yes, the non-big three roster really is that terrible and all, but there's no rhyme or reason for their struggles away from home.
  • And on that note, a hefty (dis)honorable mention will go to the front office should they decide not to fix these problems. There still is a healthy amount of time left until the deadline and there hasn't been even one trade consummated for any squad, so there's no immediate cause for concern, but needless to say, there has to be a trade or this squad isn't going to make any noise.
Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.
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