Mar 21, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers point guard Ramon Sessions (7) shoots over Dallas Mavericks guard Rodrigue Beaubois (3) and power forward Brandan Wright (34) during the fourth quarter at the American Airlines Center. The Lakers defeated the Mavericks 109-93. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE
A sign of any good player is that the flow of the game completely changes when he enters the game: he demands increased attention from the defense, provokes new schemes, and opens opportunities for his teammates. A point guard who can shoot from range, run the pick-and-roll, accelerate into the paint, probe the defense, make pinpoint passes at top speed, and finish at the rim is one such player. That is why Chris Paul is having such an impact...oh, excuse, me, Ramon Sessions is having such an impact with the Lakers right now. Sessions certainly isn't Chris Paul by any measure, but he looked awfully like him in the game against Dallas, as the difference between him and Steve Blake was as clear as night and day. All of the Lakers' struggles on offense seemed to evaporate on the spot as soon as Sessions got the ball in his hands and began attacking Dallas' defense -- one of the best pick-and-roll defenses and overall defenses in the league mind you -- with gusto, looking like he was the one who had been with the team since day one, not Blake. The notion that Sessions could get even better as he develops more synergy with the team has to be a comforting thought to any Lakers fan.
- Ramon Sessions -- The "should Sessions start?" question has been hashed out by nearly the entire Lakers' blogosphere, with interesting arguments made for both sides. Regardless of how it ultimately plays out, it is clear that Sessions should be playing at least 30+ minutes a night, or at the very least, as much as any other member of the big three. It would not be wrong to compare Sessions' role to that of Rajon Rondo's on the '07-'08 version of the Celtics as the fourth wheel that made the rest of the roster work, besides the fact that Sessions can shoot and is better than Rondo was then. There still are a handful of issues to iron out, particularly how he works with and off Kobe, but the Dallas game indicated that the two can work together, and if Kobe's post game comments are to be taken at face value, they certainly will make a game effort to do so.
- Pau Gasol -- It is hard for a big man to have a better shooting night than the one that Pau had against Dallas, in which he swished jumper after jumper, most of them barely inside the arc. It was especially endearing to see him develop some nice synergy with Sessions on pick-and-roll sets as an easy release whenever Sessions probes the defense off the pick. It is likely too much to expect him to shoot as insanely well in future games, but Pau seems to have moved onto a fadeaway jumper as his primary weapon in the post and it looks fairly reliable. On the other end of the floor, however, Pau has looked pretty miserable this week. His effort on the boards was horrible, he took bad angles on his normally excellent pick-and-roll hedges, and looked indifferent at best on defense. As a result, the hypothesis that a more engaged Pau would come out from the trade deadline due to his newfound peace of mind looks fairly unfulfilled, although there is a long way between now and the playoffs for him to turn the ship around.
- Kobe Bryant -- Well, that is quite a drastic turnaround from the Houston game, during which Kobe was -- rightfully -- excoriated for taking the ball out of Sessions' hands after he spent nine straight possessions obliterating the Rockets. Rather than that, he was acting as a screener for Sessions, finding him open on the perimeter, and acting as a good two guard should. Instead of isolation plays, he was coming off multiple screens, and in general, making the offense flow off his actions. There still were minor blips, such as Sessions dropping a nice bounce pass into a lane he thought Kobe was going into after setting a screen, but those get worked out via time and practice. Needless to say, if this Kobe and Sessions show up every game, the Lakers are going to be awfully difficult to beat, and no doubt Kobe is feeling at least some of what he was missing with Chris Paul.
- Honorable mention goes to Matt Barnes, who has usurped Andrew Goudelock's minutes in the rotation. Given how well he has worked off both of the Lakers' point guards, it is an entirely justifiable change, and Barnes has looked especially rejuvenated playing next to a point guard who can push the pace in Sessions. It is an open question whether Barnes can retain his accuracy from three-point range even with all the open shots Sessions is gifting him, but if he can, he adds a hugely important fifth wheel to the Lakers' offense that has been previously lacking.
- Steve Blake -- Blake's regression to his overly deferential self from last year, particularly his lack of confidence in his shot and his own game, has been one of the downsides of the Sessions trade, as he has failed to adjust to playing mostly with the starters. Perhaps it is the fact that Blake looks especially bad next to a solid point guard in Sessions, but it also is noticeable when one can consider every minute Sessions is not on the floor as detrimental to the team. A fair argument for Sessions starting is so Blake can return to the bench role has shown a degree of comfort with this season and no longer has to worry about how and where his minutes are going to come. If you assume that Sessions works well with whomever is on the floor -- as there will always be a big on the floor who can run the pick-and-roll with him -- then getting a somewhat productive Blake in lieu of the present version of him could be considered an overall benefit.
- Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy -- Both have been frankly awful. They offer almost no presence on the boards, Murphy's jumper is unreliable, and the energy McRoberts displayed at the start of the season seems to have evaporated. For a guy who at least displayed some range on his jumper in Indiana, McRoberts has especially been a disappointment, as outside of alley-oop passes and the occasional putback, he hasn't provided a whole lot to the offense. The arguments for them playing instead of Jordan Hill, a solid rebounder with athleticism, some elements of a post game (!), and a lot of energy, grow slimmer game by game, especially as the Lakers get pounded on the boards. Sure, he might be behind in terms of the playbook or whatnot, but he can impact the game through sheer energy, and that's what the team needs right now.
- And that ends our list for the day. One could complain about Andrew Bynum's underwhelming game, but he dealt well with Dallas' aggressive double and triple teams and showed a nice fadeaway jumper that normally is Pau's domain. Some lapses on defense notwithstanding, he played some solid individual defense against Dirk Nowitzki in the second quarter, and when defenses begin to shade more to Sessions on the perimeter, room will open up for him down in the post. The addition of a real point guard certainly isn't a panacea for the team's problems, but it has moved towards solving quite a few of them.