Remember when the Lakers were terrible at point guard and small forward? Oh, how times have changed. In a month and a half, they acquired Ramon Sessions and with him, have a dynamic weapon at the point that they haven't had since Nick van Exel. At small forward, Metta World Peace has played his way into shape and finally looks more like the Ron Artest that was once the best player on three different teams in Indiana, Sacramento, and Houston. Matt Barnes? He could be considered the Lakers' most consistent player this season.
With their small forwards playing so well, the Lakers have gone 3-1 in Kobe Bryant's time off due to a shin injury. While both players have definitely been afforded more minutes and opportunities with the ultra alpha-dog missing time, their uptick in play has been slowly building for weeks now. Now that he's in shape, MWP has transformed into the offensive weapon that used to carry teams. Was his crappy start of the season really due to an injury that prevented him from being in shape?
The explanation World Peace provided to reporters, including The Times' Mike Bresnahan and ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin, sounds simple. Nerve damage in his lower back last season made it difficult for him to move. He couldn't completely fix it until this season, since the NBA lockout forbade him to work with the Lakers' training staff. That caused him to arrive at training camp out of shape. World Peace said he felt so limited that he considered retiring.
This might seem puzzling for Lakers fans, because they've never seen World Peace like this for the past three seasons. He usually looked lost in the offense. A good shooting night appeared to happen by luck. His typically strong defense proved a mixed bag in offsetting his offensive weaknesses.
World Peace's sudden emergence doesn't look impressive just because he's scoring more. It's the way he's doing it. He's taking on-balance three-point shots and jumpers. He has shown speed when he attacks the basket. He seems focused.
And just when you think Matt Barnes couldn't be any better than he has been, he gives us a 24-point, 10 rebound effort off the bench. He remains the one guy on the bench that the Lakers can rely on night in and night out to help them when the starters take their rest. He hits his threes, he plays D, hustles, rebounds, and runs the floor. I've already given him two POTW awards and he just keeps getting better. I'm running out of words for him.
Then there's Andrew Bynum.
This kid...he's one hell of a roller coaster. He mesmerizes us with his great play, then he'll do something so mind-bogglingly immature that we aren't sure if he'll ever be a guy that can carry a team on his back as the leader. It's beginning to look like that is an aspect to him we just might have to deal with, as frustrating as it is. He'll chirp at the refs and get kicked out games without a care in the world, then he'll grab 30 rebounds against the Spurs and dominate the game so effectively, that you wouldn't realize that 1) Kobe missed the game, and 2) The Spurs were the hottest team in the NBA. Then he follows up that performance by scoring another 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting.
In case you all forgot, when Andrew Bynum is playing like this, the Lakers are awfully tough to beat. You couldn't possibly watch what he did against Tim Duncan and San Antonio and not think about the defensive juggernaut Lakers that ran through the NBA for a stretch last season.
And when the Lakers are rocking and rolling on D, you can be certain Andrew Bynum is leading the party. The epically talented, endlessly mercurial center controlled the game from beginning to end. His 30 rebounds put him on a list with some of the all-time greats: in Laker history, only Kareem, Wilt, Mikan and Elgin hit that number. And with his galaxy-wide wingspan he transformed the Spurs' offense into an entirely perimeter-based operation. (As a team the Spurs made 35 percent of their two-point shots.) In style and impact, Drew's performance brought back memories of his electric run after the All-Star break in 2011, when the switch got flipped in his head and for about a month he destroyed every opponent who ventured into his lane. Not the lane... his lane.
And now, in spite of everything the Lakers have been through this season, they seem in position to go deep into the playoffs if these trends continue (and if Kobe's injury doesn't prevent him from returning). In fact, Metta World Peace has been playing so well, that if he keeps this up, I'll go as far to say that the Lakers have the best starting five in the NBA. If someone else on the bench can match what Matt Barnes is giving the team, a championship might not be far off. Times sure have changed...
This week was too tough to call, and I'm afraid I'm just not smart enough to decide for all of us. So, let's take a vote.
*UPDATE: Metta World Peace wins. This is kinda his 2nd POTW.