As noted several times in these columns and most poignantly by Chris in an excellent piece yesterday, the roster outside of Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol -- and Matt Barnes, the solitary "average" piece -- is quite terrible.
Of course, there have been a litany of explanations for this. A combination of the lockout, a shortened training camp and limited training camp has slowed the implementation of Mike Brown's system, and in retrospect, Brown deserves some serious props for making things work with a highly flawed roster, including no real point guard, a complete lack of spacing, and three primary players who can only operate effectively from the high post downwards.
As we have noted in numerous trade topics, one upside is that even a modest upgrade to this situation such as a Ramon Sessions or Michael Beasley would have a significant impact on the team's overall performance and this has not changed despite the team performing well of late. The other side of this coin is that the team noticeably perks up when one of its players at a position of weakness, whether at the point, the three, or a bench player, decides to perform well.
A not unreasonable argument is that some of the players on the roster, whether due to greater comfort with the offense or simply getting into game shape, will constitute a source of internal improvement over the final half of the season. As previously stated, this does not blunt the need for a trade, especially for a legitimate pick-and-roll point, but it offers another source through which Lakers fans may have some optimism in.
- Metta World Peace -- The player that best demonstrated this Sunday afternoon was MWP, who might have had one of his best performances in a Laker uniform. He showed up in some ways we would expect, namely as a disruptive and punishing defender on LeBron James as well as a source of spacing, but also a scorer on the wing the team has lacked for quite a long time. MWP showed the full breadth of a game he likely hasn't displayed in full force since the name on the back of his jersey was Artest and the front had "Kings" in big letters. He went down into the post to bully smaller defenders, was sinking fadeaway jumpers, and taking his man off the dribble. MWP himself attributes some of this to a nerve problem in his leg that has cleared up, but whatever the reason, the effect of having an effective two-way threat at the three was displayed during the Heat game as the Lakers emerged with a long sought victory. If he continues at this level or even half of it, really, then the Lakers can look for a great deal of similar wins in the future.
- Kobe Bryant -- Perhaps Kobe should keep the mask Rip Hamilton style? He certainly looks good in it, as on Sunday, he eviscerated a Miami defense that features two superb defenders in Shane Battier and Dwyane Wade. He shot over them, went around them, and otherwise put up a display of dominance we have come to expect of him. When Kobe mixes efficiency with his superb skill set, chooses his spots, and surgically dismantles a defense, he is at his height. That was the case against Miami, but he also brought forth the intensity on defense, as he checked Wade for a good portion of the game and put his work in, staying in front of him and doing a good job of maneuvering him into help. The typical Kobe ignoring of corner shooters and baseline cutters aside, Kobe put his fingerprints all over the Lakers' victory and has been at the heart of the Lakers' solid play after the All-Star Game. If the front office obliges him with a real point guard, we can expect him to keep this up for quite a bit longer.
- Andrew Bynum -- If there was a game to see the maturity of Bynum's defense, this was one of them. With a trio of center matchups in Joel Anthony. Juwan Howard, and Dexter Pittman he could blithely ignore on defense without major repercussions, Bynum effectively walled the paint off from Miami's perimeter players, tallying four blocks and thirteen rebounds as he backed up a solid perimeter defensive effort from Kobe and MWP in their own right. His help was generally apt and timely and he has done a solid job of using his length to bother players on drives or shooters coming off picks. On offense, he displayed a game that has also showed a rather amazing amount of development as well. Before this year, Bynum had rarely dealt with double teams due to the balance and nature of the triangle, was suddenly barraged by them to start the season and understandably had issues in dealing with them. Now, he scouts out the double, feels it coming, finds open shooters, re-posts if necessary, and has made some sweet bounce passes to passing cutters. There was one point in the Miami game when he was triple teamed on the baseline, never lost his cool, and hit Barnes in the lane, where he drew a foul. That didn't happen with the Bynum to start the season. We can nitpick Bynum's game all we want, but it's clear that his dedication to improve is beyond reproach at this point. Add a jumper out to 18 in the offseason, Drew.
- Honorable mention goes to Steve Blake, who had another generally good game managing the offense. He was moving the ball well, making prompt passes, and appears to have developed quite the rapport with Matt Barnes on cuts, especially in the open floor. And this is with a guy who is really a backup point -- two points, six assists, two rebounds, and two steals is a nice line for a setup guy, but it's not anything to write home about either. In other news, Ramon Sessions has averaged 13.7 points on 50% shooting in three games so far this month.
- Derek Fisher -- Is there anything left to say about Fish? He did get a technical against Sacramento, which is notable. Would think that as a leading member players' association, he gets some leeway there, especially since Fish has one of the game's best, "That was a foul? You called a foul on me?" faces. Appropriate considering that he was held to a largely ineffective 19 minutes against Miami due to foul trouble.
- Troy Murphy -- Murphy tries. Give him that much. He has worked his ass off on defense this year and Brown deserves credit for getting what has been a big defensive liability in his career to do so. Makes you understand why a team like Golden State would have liked him if he could have gotten some real defensive effort out of Monta Ellis, David Lee and the corpse of Andris Biedrins. His shooting is just too inconsistent, especially for a specialist who is getting wide open looks in the Lakers' offense. He even airballed a three from the top of the key on Sunday with no one within ten feet of him. It's not really a scheme or system thing at this point -- a guy on the court for shooting threes and has been historically good at doing so should be hitting the kind of shots that Murphy gets on a regular basis. For all the talk about getting Michael Beasley to add some scoring punch at the three, one could argue that he would have a much bigger impact replacing Murphy's minutes at the four.
- No third option or dishonorable mention this time around. Pau Gasol played a generally good overall game and was the victim of some of All-World defense by LeBron when the Heat went small. With no ballhandler capable of running a pick-and-roll to get LeBron off him, there wasn't much that Gasol could do. Hopefully he enjoys a pair of soft matchups this week against Detroit and Washington before dealing with Kevin Love, who has been on a roll lately, on Friday.