With the Lakers about "100 games under .500", Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash out for the season and the team having little to play for from here on out, it's obvious that night to night, this squad is just not quitting. They might be outgunned and outmanned against nearly every single opponent, but regardless of the final score, there's almost always no question about this team's high level of effort every night.
That being said, there's no doubt that the season has still been a disappointment and with it, some of the team's players. After all, we're looking at the worst season in Los Angeles franchise history, aren't we?
Out of everyone on the roster AND leaving out injury matters, who's disappointed you most up to this point? Who did you expect far more from when the season started?
Wow, this is a tough question if you are leaving out injuries and the way they have ravaged this Lakers roster. Honestly, if we are leaving out those players who have gone down with injuries, who can you even say has disappointed? Maybe I just had lower expectations than most, but out of the remaining players on the roster who have not been continually hampered by injuries that sapped their effectiveness even when they were playing, there is no one that has really disappointed me in terms of how they have played relative to my expectations.
However, if I have to pick someone, I am going to go with Chris Kaman. I assumed he would be fairly washed up when he signed, as his last 2 coaches (Rick Carlisle and Mike D'Antoni) have evidently concluded as well. He had spurts of effective offensive play when called upon, but his defense left a lot to be desired. That has kind of always been the scouting report on him, and thus he did not disappoint in that way to me. How he did let the franchise down though, was in his lack of professionalism. The Caveman has always been candid with the media, which can be a good thing, but you have to know that the Lakers brass, like the Mavericks last season and the Hornets two years ago, could not have appreciated him openly undermining the coaching staff and complaining about playing time. Kaman seems to just have a lot of confidence in his game that those in a playing time decision making capacity just do not agree with at this point in his career. This was especially disappointing earlier in the year when the team was playing with so much heart and togetherness regardless of the adversity that continually dropped in their path.
This is a fascinating question primarily since it obviates the need to take the easy road out and just point to either Steve Nash or Kobe Bryant, blaming injuries all the way through. That's really been the story of the Lakers' season, as their stars have failed to get on the court, and while the successes of the Lakers role players have been impressive, they haven't really been sufficient to drag the team out of the cellar of the Western Conference. Perhaps that's a good thing considering how many have distinguished themselves in extended minutes as possible retention candidates and the obvious implications of the Lakers' draft position, but I digress. The essential issue at hand for this question is that you have to parse through a roster in which expectations were nonexistent for the grand majority of these players and they thoroughly surpassed them. The likes of Xavier Henry, Kendall Marshall, and Wesley Johnson weren't exactly viewed as rotation players before the season and although we may have to wait until next year and the creation of a more competitive team to truly bear out whether this is the case, the results at the moment are promising.
As a result, we have to consider the players that came into the year with high expectations and have failed to properly live up to them without having injury being the primary culprit. For yours truly, that limits the available candidates to three: Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, and Jordan Hill. All three of them were supposed to be part of a frontcourt rotation that, along with Kobe and Nash, would carry an otherwise underwhelming team, something that simply hasn't materialized. If anything, the play of the team's point guards and wings has been more notable this season, especially from a standpoint of whom to retain going forward. In any case, Pau's much ballyhooed full ownership of the block has helped his offensive output, as his 19.77 PER attests to, but his defense has been so putrid as to almost entirely negate the value of having him on the floor. A similar situation exists for Kaman, who has brought similar strengths as compared to Pau with less pronounced weaknesses. And while his lack of minutes have partly been due to a quirk of roster construction -- the team obtained another center when it already had three guys to man the position -- and Mike D'Antoni's shifting rotations, he hasn't exactly lived up to his offseason billing either.
The real disappointment, however, has to be Jordan Hill, who was prognosticated to not only be a key part of the rotation at the four, but a potential core piece the Lakers could keep around into the future. And for a glorious seven game stretch in November in which he averaged 15 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game on a 60.1 TS%, he appeared to be fulfilling that promise. He was such a factor on the boards on both ends that D'Antoni more or less had to play him and his solid fit as a roll man along with his burgeoning post game appeared to be all but cementing himself a place in the rotation. Needless to say, this success evaporated once it became apparent that Hill didn't possess the capacity, whether due to a lack of stamina or his playing style engendering nagging injuries that slowed him down, to play at this level for extended minutes over the course of a season. That's not a bad thing and there are certainly worse things than being a bench energy big with high efficiency and one elite skill (offensive rebounding), but we thought that Hill could and would develop into something more than that.
And the Lakers are dealing with the fallout of having no one in the frontcourt except for Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre as retention candidates going forward because of the above three failing to meet expectations. None of them are worth the cap flexibility the Lakers would have to sacrifice to retain them, hence why the team is in a bit of a pickle insofar as fixing the frontcourt next season goes. The team has essentially undergone a complete reversal from the summer, when they had a nonexistent wing rotation and too many frontcourt options, to basically the opposite as of now, and while it's hard to blame someone like Hill for how things turned out, it's the reality of the situation for the Lakers at the moment.
The Great Mambino
Leaving out the injuries, this is an extremely tough question to answer. For the most part, almost every healthy Laker exceeded expectations this year, which I suppose speaks to the talent on the floor to begin with. Everyone, from rookie Ryan Kelly to 10 year veterans like Steve Blake made significant strides in the absence of All-Star players like Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
However, if I had to pick one player that's been a disappointment, it'd have to be Wesley Johnson.
Part of this is the stark comparison to everyone else on the roster. The key to any one player's success this season was going to be because of injury and a relative dearth of talent, the Lakers were going to have to play guys that hadn't quite succeeded for whatever reason. In that context, Xavier Henry, Kendall Marshall and Kent Bazemore have never looked better. Even veterans, like Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks hit career-high levels of performance simply because the offense was running through them, rather than being ancillary scorers next to either Bryant or Nash. In comparison, Johnson's relative lack of measurable progress is quite stark. I'm not sure that we're seeing Wes make the same type of jumps we've seen from Marshall, Henry, Blake, Jordan Farmar, etc.
Moving more to the numbers, Johnson is largely the player he's always been, but playing a career high 28.7 mpg. Looking at his Per 36 Minute stats, he's not doing anything differently, really. Aside from his overall shooting marks (which are about 3 to 4% higher) and shot blocking, Johnson is more or less performing at the same levels he's been his whole career. He's still a decent rebounder, an inconsistent and streaky three-point shooter and a very disappointing defender considering his natural gifts. It's the fourth year of his career and he's 26 years old. He's been given the most free reign he's ever had to take over games and blossom with his athleticism and natural skillset. However, I still don't know what Wesley Johnson really excels at. He's a decent defender who's lateral quickness is surprisingly lacking, which affects his ability to recover in the interior. Johnson is a good shotblocker but isn't particularly useful considering his natural position. God forbid he be given any time to actually think about what he's going to do with the ball on offense if he gets the opportunity-Wes routinely bungles plays when having to take an opponent off the dribble or create his own shot.
Given the most minutes of his career and a full year of health, you'd think that he'd build up the continuity and comfort in such a free flowing system to harness his innate abilities. However, at the end of the year, Johnson is still a guy who's a role player on one of the worst teams in the league. There is no way that he could ever be in a good to elite team's playoff rotation, especially with his limitations on offense and continuing disappointing performance on D. He'll most likely be a Laker next season, but the days of holding out that he'll be a long-term fixture in the league are over.