As much as the initial win against the Clippers stepped up expectations for the year, rightly or wrongly, it is important to keep the first three games in perspective. This Laker roster was supposed to be thoroughly annihilated by these three opponents, all of which very well could be part of the West's top four. The team's lack of depth and talent, especially without Kobe Bryant, would be exposed as the team simply wouldn't be able to compete. And in one of the games against Golden State, this was the case, as a combination of tired legs and the aforementioned talent gap came to a head.
This wasn't the issue tonight insomuch as it was one of execution. Mike D'Antoni is still sorting through eleven players in the rotation to find the combinations that work the best and it is clear that there are some groupings that work much better than others. As a result, we got uneven results from both the starters and the bench, although it is becoming increasingly apparent that members of the latter need to have their roles expanded. At the same time, while there might be frustration against D'Antoni for his personnel choices, it is still only game three in a long season. If D'Antoni is continuing to trot out the same ineffective lineups in a few weeks, the opprobrium towards him can start to gain some justification, but as he displayed last year, he is not adverse to adjusting the rotation based on what is happening on the court.
- Jodie Meeks -- Meeks clearly spent the offseason doing nothing but practicing his handle and driving at the rim since his slashing ability is leagues better than last year, when essentially every possession in which he put the ball on the floor was a huge waste. He now has displayed a pretty decent finishing ability at the rim and even broke out a floater for one of his scores. As part of a high tempo bench, he has put these newfound skills to good use in transition and as a secondary creator on the wing. While the Lakers' other new additions have gotten a lot more (deserved) attention thus far, Meeks has nicely rebounded from a down year and firmly established his spot in the rotation.
- Jordan Hill -- The most quizzical of D'Antoni's decisions was to not play Hill until the fourth quarter, presumably to see how Chris Kaman performed with the bench. Hill quickly made the case that he should have been playing for the entirety of the game, as his presence on the offensive boards and overall effort were as impressive as we have ever seen from him. The Spurs' interior defenders were simply incapable of either keeping off the boards or fouling him in order to do so and on a night on which missed shots were the norm, Hill's presence could possibly have had a large impact. D'Antoni noted after the game that the rotation has to be adjusted to get both Kaman and Hill significant minutes, so hopefully this situation will be rectified in the near future.
- Wesley Johnson -- Following a series of poor games, Johnson rode his momentum from last game and might have found his ideal spot in the rotation in the process. The experiment of putting Johnson at the four wasn't at all an unjustified line of thought: he had received Shawn Marion comparisons for his play in college and his athleticism, length, and shooting were thought to lend themselves well to a stretch four role in certain cases. And to be fair, he displayed some potentially fearsome potential as a roll man, covering huge swaths of space whenever he caught the ball and finishing ably. The value of Johnson on the wing was shown on defense, however, as he just engulfs wings with his size and quickness; his block on Kawhi Leonard down the stretch was one of the best defensive plays of the season. In order for Hill and Kaman to get the minutes they deserve in the rotation, Johnson very well could be seeing more minutes there in the future.
- Nick Young -- The "Swaggy P" quips on Twitter are still fun to throw about, but Young hasn't done a whole lot to lend confidence to the notion that he deserves his spot in the rotation. His shooting and playmaking have been erratic to say the least and his lack of focus and slight build are serious concerns on the defensive end. This isn't to say that there isn't a niche that Young could fill on the team, but it's probably not as the starting three man, especially with Henry and Johnson emerging as better solutions. In the past, D'Antoni's offense has afforded a lot of freedom for bench scorers to do their thing alongside a free flowing unit and Young currently looks constrained by a slow and deliberate starting unit. Moving him to a bench role might end up being a better way to utilize his skills in a productive fashion.
- Steve Nash -- It is sad that this might be the end of Nash's illustrious career, painfully trying to be effective on a team without championship aspirations. There is little doubt that the man is trying his hardest to reverse the effects of Father Time, but he simply isn't being effective in the spots that he has based his career around. He's missing open shots, committing careless turnovers, and being even more of a turnstile on defense than he usually is. The Lakers acquired Jordan Farmar at least in part to plan for this eventuality and it appears to be coming about sooner than most ever imagined. Nash certainly isn't going to be moved at this point or anything similar, but if this state continues, one wonders whether he sees retirement as a better choice than laboring on in his current state.
- Shawne Williams -- If the presence of three bench guys above and three starters here doesn't point to who has been effective for the squad so far, not much else will. Whereas Young and Nash just have to worry about where in the rotation they will be placed, however, poor play on Williams' part carries with it the very real risk that the Lakers might cut him due to his non-guaranteed contract. Williams simply hasn't been effective in just about any phase of the game. His professed strength in his spot-up shooting hasn't manifested, nor has the defensive skill he presented in the preseason. Given that he's the biggest impediment to two of the Lakers' top five or six players more minutes, Williams very well could be the first rotation causality of the year.