("What went wrong this season?" is the question we get the most from fans at Silver Screen & Roll. The 2012-2013 team had championship expectations, but a convergence of worst case scenarios kicked down LA to the the fringes of playoff contention. In this post series, we'll be taking a look at just what went wrong with each part of the Los Angeles Lakers this year, how it affected the organization and if this could be a problem going forward. Check out our first examination from yesterday on the guards right here)
C Dwight Howard: 76 games, 76 games started, 6 missed (for injury) 17.1 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 1.4 apg, .578/.167/.492
PF Pau Gasol: 49 games, 42 games started, 32 missed, 13.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, .466/.286/.702
PF Jordan Hill: 29 games, 1 game started, 52 missed, 6.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.4 apg, .497/.000/.656
SF Metta World Peace: 75 games, 66 games started, 7 missed, 12.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, .403/.342/.734
F Antawn Jamison: 76 games, 6 games started, 9.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.7 apg, .464/.361/.691
F Earl Clark: 59 games, 36 games started, 7.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.1 apg, .440/.337/.697
SF Devin Ebanks: 19 games, 3 games started, 3.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.5 apg, .329/.273/.786
C Robert Sacre: 32 games, 3 games started, 1.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.2 apg .375/.000/.636
What went wrong with the Lakers bigs?
Howard and Gasol didn't learn how to play with one another for five months.
Or perhaps, Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni couldn't figure it out until it was too late. Either way, what most thought would be a fluid transition with one of the game's best shut down defenders and most versatile bigs turned out to be clunky and awkward.
Of the 13 two-man combinations that spent 900 minutes or more together, Howard and Gasol settled in as having the lowest offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) at 103.5--the season average was 105.6. Of course, this isn't a perfect metric by any means, but the Lakers didn't grab more a higher percentage of rebounds (51.1% versus a season average of 51.2%) and gave up 16.4 TO a game (15 was the season average).
Just watching them, it was clear that Gasol wasn't being used as efficiently as possible. He often set up on long-range jumpers, shooting from 16 feet or more almost as many times as at the rim. In fact, Pau took 1 more 3-pointer this year in 49 games than he did in 65 games last year. To make matters worse, Howard had his worst offensive season by almost any metric, and was taking away the low post touches that Gasol excels at.
By the time the spring came around, it was clear that MDA had found some sort of formula to playing the two together. Their efficiency jumped from 100 points per 100 possessions in January to 107 in March in 8 games. With Kobe, Blake and Meeks doing work from the perimeter, Gasol and Howard were able to play off each other in the mid and low posts respectively. Credit Pau for a lot of work here--his playmaking in March and April was key. In 13 games during that stretch, he doled out more assists (72) than in the 20 games before it (70).
Without injuries keeping the Lakers big man tandem off the court while limiting them physically while on it, it's hard to imagine that they couldn't have been effective sooner.
Like everything in the Lakers universe this season, injuries took their toll
Even when they played, the bigs weren't healthy. Howard played the entire 2012-2013 campaign recovering from back surgery that he allegedly came back from "5 to 6 months early". To make matters worse, he suffered a tear in the labrum in his left shoulder, causing him to miss six games and further limiting his effectiveness. As mentioned, Howard had a horrid offensive season and seemed to regress as a post scorer. Dwight shot 70% at the rim, as opposed to 74% he's shot the three years prior. That might not seem like a gigantic difference, but for a player like Howard who takes between 500 and 600 shots at that distance (and 3/5 of his total FGA), it ends up being a gigantic net loss.
Gasol missed a career-high 32 games, taken out with a deadly cocktail of knee tendinitis, a plantar fascia tear and a concussion. Pau's mobility was hampered all season, which combined with aging into his mid-thirties, helped limit his legendary offensive touch until the spring.
The starters weren't the only ones. Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace and Jordan Hill all got slammed hard by the injury bug. Jamison was least affected out of the bunch, suffering a slight tear in his wrist that necessitated a Tuesday surgery. 'Tawn wasn't noticeably hampered by the injury, or at the very least didn't show it much in his offensive game. The former Ron Artest remarkably only missed 7 games all season long even though he tore his meniscus in his left knee. MWP had a much better 2012-2013 than the previous two years, but wasn't the same disruptive defensive player after the knee injury.
Losing Hill for essentially the season was undoubtedly a huge and underrated setback for a Lakers team that needed his energy, rebounding and defense off the bench, especially with Pau and Dwight ailing. On paper, Jordan's contributions don't look game changing, but considering that one of the hallmarks of the 2012-2013 team was a lack of athleticism and length, losing the forward was a big blow. If not for the January emergence of Earl Clark, this could have been a much, much worse situation.
The lack of progress from Devin Ebanks
Speaking of length and athleticism, on paper was there anyone more suited to the attributes the Lakers so badly needed than Devin Ebanks? The third-year man is a rangy, 6'9" small forward, with a nice looking stroke and the requisite strength and athleticism to be a scheme-wrecking defensive presence. More importantly to the Lakers, he was young and cheap, and showed flashes of his potential towards the end of the 2011-2012 season. Could there be a more perfect solution to what ailed the team?
Sadly for the Lakers, Ebanks turned out to be a complete zero value add on the basketball court. With World Peace struggling offensively past the new year, Jamison struggling with his defense since the early nineties and Hill seemingly out for the season, there couldn't have been a greater need for Devin to break through. Unfortunately, Ebanks proved he wasn't suited to the task--he couldn't hit a jump shot or more importantly, defend his position in a leaky Lakers perimeter defense.
All offseason long, we'll be talking about how badly the Lakers need a defense-minded small forward who can hit an open jumper. Devin Ebanks could have solved several problems this year, but instead just added to them. His failure to live up to even the most modest expectations were an unspoken but critically important setback.
Overall, many issues from the Lakers big men could be settled next season with better health and an already burgeoning chemistry. As long as Dwight re-signs and the team keeps Pau, the two would have another 82 games to build upon the impressive spring stretch they had. Hill's presence, as well as continual excellence off the bench is key as well, especially in the way he often energizes what could be a sluggish, aging group of players.
However, if the Lakers do not find a solution in regards to an athletic, defense-minded small forward, they're in big trouble. Metta World Peace will be 34 this November, and while he's still a very intelligent, capable defender, the Lakers will need a younger, quicker wing to handle opposing 3s on the wing and in the post. Earl Clark, if re-signed, fills some of these needs and has plenty of room to develop defensively, but might not be a long-term solution. GM Mitch Kupchak will need to make an extremely shrewd, cost-effective move to acquire a player in his mold without trading away one of his star players.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino