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The Lakers: How Far They've Come, Individually

So, it's been a long road since the onset of this season, and along that road much has occurred. Injuries, shooting slumps, hot streaks, team-wide lethargy. A plethora of things have happened. So, now, while we're bored off our asses waiting to get back to basketball - I'm thankful for the rest to our players, but this break is mind-racking, and it is pathetic that simply due to TV contracts, a series where one contestant advanced well after we did starts before our series - it seems as good a time as any to look back at the members of this Los Angeles Laker squad and take a look at their progression (or regression) throughout the season. It shall certainly be an intriguing exercise to examine how individuals have performed in comparison to preseason expectations.

This piece shall also take a look at what can be expected from players from now until we either win, or go home. This section shall be brief, as it is essentially fortune-telling, and not something that can be any form of specific.

Andrew Bynum

Drew. Bynomite. Whatever you want to call him. At the onset of this season, he was dominant. There was a while when he was arguably our best big man. Then Pau Gasol returned, and Drew's touches and role in the offense slowly decreased, until his season numbers were only a slight improvement from last season. There was talk about how he and Pau can't coincide on one team, that they were too similar in style, or that they lacked chemistry. Soon enough, as they actually gained experience in playing games together, they started combining to dominate teams. Witnessing this, we were all salivating at the prospect of them both entering the postseason fully healthy.

Alas, it was not to be, and Bynum injured his Achilles tendon, missing the end of the regular season. Many were apprehensive to see how he returned from his injury, but he came back just as good, having a strong series against OKC. In the process of doing so, however, he injured himself once again. This time, a hyperextended knee aggravating and extending a meniscus tear. Bynum, determined to not miss any more games due to injury, has been determined to play through the pain, and has even done so effectively. Games One and Two against Utah were pretty dominant, and at one point he garnered a career playoff high 13 boards... in ONE HALF.

But then, his injury started getting to him. The swelling increased, the pain increased, his mobility decreased. This was evident in Games Three and Four of the Utah series, and has been further confirmed by ESPN Los Angeles. Andrew's ability to come back strong in this series is questionable, especially with Phoenix's run-and-gun pace. In this series, his minutes will be down, and his production will correspond. All we can look towards now is that in the Finals (provided we make it there), where he shall be more needed against the likes of Dwight and Perkins, he will have become accustomed enough to the pain to be effective.

Pau Gasol

This kid. Sidelined with a hamstring injury around the beginning of the season, and then struggling in terms of effectiveness before injuring his other hammy, many of us were frustrated with Pau Gasol for much of the regular season. Even after he came back from the second injury, there was a long period where his effectiveness was hampered, inconsistent or nonexistent. Increasing many fans' ill-will towards him at this time were his notorious demands to get the ball more, delivered through the media. At the time, even when he did have the ball, he was playing atrociously, and many were angered at his arrogance in asking this, with the mentality being that if he wants the ball, he needs the play to back it up, which he simply wasn't delivering at that point in time. But then, he exploded. He ended the regular season on an absolutely dominant tear, averaging around 24/13/5/2 in April. In the playoffs, he's maintained this ridiculous level, putting up 21/13 for the whole playoffs and 23.5/14.5 in the second round. He's been far and away the best big man of the playoffs, and one of the best players in the playoffs overall.

There's no reason to expect Pau to regress. Amare is the toughest matchup he's faced so far in the playoffs, and arguably the best offensive player Pau will face even if the Lakers advance to play the likes of Dwight Howard or Kevin Garnett.  However, Amare is no Pau. He's an excellent off-ball cutter and finisher and partners with Steve Nash to produce the deadliest screen-and-roll offense in basketball. He's quicker and more athletic than Pau. But he doesn't have Pau's size or skillset. And then Dwight and Rashard.. well, just refer to last year. KG and Perkins? You don't think Pau doesn't remember the jeers of him being 'Pau Gasoft' after the '08 Finals?

Ron Artest

Crazy Pills. That nickname has largely proved false, so far. Ron's been a bit odd, but far from crazy. He's actually fit in great, personality-wise. The only thing that's been crazy about Ron is his crazy-good defense. Kevin Durant will attest to this. At the beginning of the season, Ron's plantar fasciitis slowed him down and caused issues, but Ron dropped weight and received treatment, and then proceeded to string together some of the greatest defense, both in terms of individual lockdown and disrupting entire opposing offenses, you will ever see. The fact that he was not selected for the All-Defensive Team is, in a word, pathetic. The only issue with Ron was his slow uptake of the intricacies of the Triangle offense, but even that is a non-issue now. If only he could break out of his shooting slump...

That's the only question left with Ron, really. His defense isn't going to regress, and in fact it's not going to be strongly tested, any more. No LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony to go up against, just Jason Richardson and then possibly either Paul Pierce or Vince Carter. Kevin Durant was his toughest matchup in the postseason, and he performed admirably. Now, all that's left is for him to break out of his shooting slump.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant's season has really mirrored that of the Lakers. He started well before training camp, notably when he sought out all-time great Hakeem Olajuwon for tutoring on his post game. When the marathon of the season started, he was more than eager to put this to good use, absolutely decimating opponents on the low block. He was unstoppable, leading the NBA in scoring at over 50% from the field. He was an MVP frontrunner. The Lakers were dominant. All was bliss.

And then, the injuries came. The finger, the shoulder, the back, the knee, the ankle, the tendon, the flus. Bit by bit, they chipped away at Kobe's god-like play, until he actually started missing games for the first time in years, around the All-Star Break. And even after resting, he couldn't return at anything even resembling his regular level of effectiveness. He closed out the shooting with a streak of sub-30% games, leading many to openly wonder if Father Time was getting to him, and he was finished.

And then the playoffs started. This is Kobe Bryant. It goes without saying that Playoffs + Kobe Bean Bryant = a hell of a lot of scared and frustrated coaches and defenders. 32 and 6 on 52% shooting for the Jazz series? Yeah, that's Kobe. He only goes up from here. The Suns, the Celtics, the Magic. None have a true defensive specialist of the caliber to slow Kobe down. He wants that ring. Get in his way at your own peril.

Derek Fisher

Terrible, terrible, terrible in the regular season. Worst starting point guard in the league, statistically (after Chris Duhon lost his starting spot). A weakness against every team, one who always had the Lakers on the back foot defensively; and screwed them over with his PUJITs and WALITs offensively. He couldn't even hit the three at a respectable rate like he did last season. He was a detriment, he was atrocious. He was thirty-five. But Phil stuck with him. Didn't start Farmar or Brown, didn't influence Mitch into looking for a trade. He stuck with Fish, in a way that confused the hell out of many.

Then the playoffs came around, and made us all look like fools. Those WALITs became three-point plays, the PUJITs daggers. His three-ball, ugly all season, suddenly morphed into rainbow money. Simply put, he showed us why he's survived in this league for 14 years. Hell, even his defense became passable. He's still too slow to ever return to being a good defender, but his footwork and physicality stopped Deron Williams from going apeshit on him. This is money time, now; this is what Fisher lives for. He only goes up. If we make the Finals, he defends Ray Allen - a crucial matchup; or Jameer Nelson, a quick point guard of the type that gives him fits. Somehow, I'm not worried.

Lamar Odom

Worst season of his career. By far. Lows in everything. Yet... in him lies the key. To regurgitate the old cliche, when Lamar Odom plays well, Los Angeles cannot lose. He can be anything he wants, do anything he wants on the court. But he doesn't. We know this, we're used to this. But we know that he also has a tendency to show up right when we need him most. Which his why his injury scares me more than any other on the team. His shoulder becomes useless  from time to time. There's no warning, no way to avert it. It just happens. Let's hope that, when he's needed, it doesn't.

Shannon Brown

Consistent inconsistency. Arrogant skill. He takes shots like he's Kobe Freaking Bryant. Yet, there are nights that he'll make them like he's Kobe Freaking Bryant. He still can't handle the ball effectively, pass well, execute an entry pass, run the offense correctly, etc.... but he can make shots when we need it. Sometimes. Other times, he'll drive half of us towards suicide.

Jordan Farmar

Shannon Brown's smaller, whiter twin. Jordan Farmar has a better handle, is a better passer, and a better dribble penetrator. He's had more experience with the Triangle and can run it relatively better. He's not as athletic as Brown. But, the two words best suited to describe him are the exact same ones that apply to Brown. Consistent inconsistency. He has the talent. Maybe not the talent best suited to this system, but talent to be one of the better point guards in this league. Some games, it'll seem like he could be an All-Star, some day. Others, you'll be one more bad shot away from picking up your shotgun and driving down to Staples.

Sasha Vujacic

Sasha of '10 = fail.

Sasha of '08 = significant role-player, even the x-factor in some scenarios.

What keeps hope alive is that Sasha still sometimes shows glimpses of '08. Now, if we play Boston, it shall certainly be interesting to see if he curls up again, or is out for revenge.

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