Throughout this week our incredibly talented writers have put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) in an attempt to preview all aspects of how our beloved purple and gold will look this year. The focus has been qualitative in nature. Today we change gears and move to a quantitative preview as we predict the stat lines for each Laker and the team as a whole.
The method I used to predict the following stats was to focus on each player's per-minute production. Once I determined how I feel each player will perform per minute, I then divvy up the season's minutes amongst the players. Some final checks and balances are made to ensure that the minutes match up to 66 games (plus a few overtimes), that each position has the same number of minutes, and that the final team statistics are still reasonable.
With any statistical prediction there are certain caveats and qualifiers that apply. The following predictions assume no further roster changes are made, whether they occur via trade, acquisition, or amnesty. Should any major changes be made then these predictions should be discarded quicker than David Stern can say "basketball reasons". Additionally, I am not making any predictions for serious injuries. Now that I have attempted to cover my butt, should I miss these predictions worse than a Metta World Peace step-back three, let’s go on to the stats.
We begin with the non-rotation bench players.
I am not projecting any meaningful minutes for our favorite whipping boy. It would not surprise me if he retires due to his debilitating back condition. Even if Luke does try to play out the remainder of his contract, he no longer warrants many minutes as there are easily four other small forwards on this roster who are better than he is.
Like Walton above, minutes won’t be readily available to Caracter. It doesn’t help that he will miss the first 6-8 weeks of the season due to an injury. Even when he returns, it would be tough to move him up the depth chart enough to play significant minutes. He also faces the risk of being released should the Lakers find a player worthy of the Odom trade exception and need to clear a roster spot to complete the acquisition.
The bulk of Goudelock’s minutes will likely come during garbage time. He is primarily a shooting specialist but the Lakers recently acquired Jason Kapono who is an even better shooting specialist who can back up Kobe Bryant. Goudelock has the potential to be a solid contributor in the league, just not this year for the late second round pick. Now the main bench rotation players.
Kapono will likely see spot duty when the Lakers need three-point shooting. He is one of the best three point shooters in the league but he is a huge liability on defense. He should only see time when Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are both in the game to provide help defense. The big caveat though is that, should the Lakers acquire Dwight Howard during the season, then Kapono would likely benefit the most and could thrive with the defensive player of the year protecting his back.
Morris is the Lakers’ other rookie, but unlike Goudelock he is not playing behind one of the association’s best players. Given that the Lakers had the worst point guard rotation in the league last year, there should be plenty of opportunity for Morris to see the floor. I am projecting him as having the highest assist rate on the team but he will struggle mightily with turnovers as most rookies do. Even though he has the most potential of any of the point guards on the roster, don’t expect him to earn the starting gig this year. I think Steve Blake will have a bounce back year, but Morris should supplant Fisher as the back-up point guard by the end of the season.
With the loss of Phil Jackson and the triangle offense, I see Fisher’s minutes being reduced significantly. He is likely worse than both Blake and Morris at this point in his career as he can’t shoot as well as Blake and can’t create shots for others like Morris can. While Fisher remains a solid spot-up three point shooter, he has been unbelievably poor everywhere else. His incessant desire to hoist pull-up 20-foot jumpers and his inability to finish layups in traffic led to him making only 37% of his two-point field goal attempts last year. This will be the year that Fisher officially loses the starting job.
Metta World Peace:
Mike Brown has already decided that Metta is no longer the starting small forward and, thankfully for the Lakers, Metta appears to be comfortable with his new role. His declining athleticism has led to reductions in many statistical categories over the last few seasons, particularly rebounds and assists. The biggest contribution he could make is to continue to play tough defense off the bench and be a spot-up three point shooter from the corners.
Ebanks was a pleasant surprise last year as a rookie drafted in the second round. He significantly outplayed the other back-up small forwards, but Phil’s steadfast position of not playing rookies saw many of his minutes go to Walton. Phil is now out, so opportunity is now in for Devin. He has already earned the admiration of one Kobe Bryant. He will likely see time as a back-up shooting guard and small forward. If he does prove himself to be Trevor Ariza 2.0, he may end up being the starting small forward by the end of the year. One of the keys for Ebanks is going to be developing a three-point shot and to continue to crash the offense glass.
McRoberts is an injection of youth and athleticism into an aging Lakers team. He can shoot from outside and loves to slash to the basket and finish above the rim. He hustles non-stop and crashes the glass every time he is on the floor. He won’t be able to replicate what Odom provided as the back-up power forward last year, but it won’t keep him from trying. The stat to watch with Josh is his three-point percentage. He has improved every year in the league and last year he shot over 38% from deep. If he can jump up to the 40% plateau, he would be a huge asset to a Lakers team that struggled to shoot last year.
Murphy was a low-risk/high-reward signing. He was consistently a 15 and 10 power forward with 40% shooting from threes. Last year he saw his stats plummet. It is hard to tell how much of the decline was due to him or the situations he was put in with new roles on different teams. If he can bounce back close to his 2009 numbers the Lakers would be ecstatic. I think he will. Look for him to put up decent rebound numbers and three-point shooting in the limited time he has as a back-up.
Finally, the starters.
I am predicting a bounce-back season for Steve Blake. I believe that taking a traditional point guard and slotting him into the triangle offense that doesn’t require the point guard to do traditional things was a detriment to his game. Playing in a more traditional role should help Blake thrive. He has been one of the better shooters in the league for years and has never been hesitant to shoot until last season. I expect that he will revert back to form and provide the Lakers with a much improved contribution from the point guard spot.
Look for Barnes to produce similar results as last season. He is a high energy slashing small forward. The biggest and most underrated aspect to his game is his shot selection. He very rarely shoots long two-point jump shots. He takes primarily threes and lay-ups and as a result produced an effective field goal percentage equal to Pau Gasol’s last year. He will now be the starter which will help provide some athleticism on the wing with a unit that certainly needed it last season.
This is the year that Andrew Bynum puts it all together. With Odom gone, it is a much bigger drop-off in talent when Bynum leaves the game now and as a result I see Bynum getting a sizeable increase in minutes. The increase in minutes should result in Bynum being close to an 18 and 11 player. It will be the type of performance that will land him a starting position on the All-Star team for the West. Last season Bynum reduced his turnovers and improved his assists. This trend will need to continue this year because one of Bynum’s biggest weaknesses offensively is that the ball tends to stick when he gets it. The Lakers finally have competent three-point shooters on the roster and it will be up to Bynum to recognize double teams and kick the ball out to the open shooters quickly and accurately.
Gasol has been the definition of consistency since arriving in Los Angeles. Each season he has put up almost identical statistics. I am projecting more of the same this year. I do expect him to play slightly less per game due to Bynum being healthy and decent back-up players the Lakers have acquired.
Last season Kobe saw his minutes decrease as the Lakers tried to preserve him for the playoffs. His scoring did not drop as dramatically though because Kobe offset the reduced minutes with an even larger focus on scoring when on the court. His field goal attempts per minute were higher than any year since the Smush Parker era. This year I am projecting even fewer minutes and also a reduction in the rate of shots he takes as Bynum becomes a bigger focus on offense. Many of his other statistics will also see a decline due to his decreasing athleticism. Kobe will still be one of the best players in the league but I don’t see him putting up another 25-5-5 season again.
Combine all of those statistics and the final team stats look like this:
The Lakers are projected to be a slightly better team offensively as a result of improved shooting, primarily from behind the arc where they placed 17th last season. The Lakers should attempt roughly the same number of threes as last season but connect on a higher percentage due to the personnel that is now taking them. Look for the Lakers big three of Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum to carry the bulk of the scoring while the rest of the team all chips in here and there.
On the boards, the Lakers were a top 3 team in rebounds per game last season. This season they should finish atop the league. Even though they lost one of the better rebounders in Odom, they were able to replace him with two very capable rebounders in Murphy and McRoberts. Replace Metta, who can’t jump over the line painted at half-court, with Barnes and Ebanks and there is a big upgrade in rebounding at the small forward position. Blake and Morris are too an upgrade over Fisher in the rebounding department.
The Lakers are likely to see a reduction in the number of steals per game due to reduced playing time for Metta and the continued decline in Kobe’s athleticism. However, the Lakers should see an increase in the number of blocked shots with Bynum’s increased minutes and the upgrade in athleticism from guys like McRoberts and Ebanks.
Turnovers are a bit tricky to predict. The Lakers should see an increase as more minutes are given to younger less experienced players. Offsetting this increase though is the reduction in the number of turnovers from Kobe. Kobe had a very high turnover rate last year as he was asked to create almost all of the offense for the Lakers. In a traditional offense more will be asked of the point guards who have been less turnover prone. The impact of the prior should outweigh the later and the Lakers should see a slight increase in their turnovers per game.