LOS ANGELES LAKERS
By Adam Eichstedt
The offseason featured a marquee "trade" as forwards Trevor Ariza and Ron Artest, formerly of the Rockets, exchanged teams via free agency. Though Ariza proved his worth defensively in the postseason, the overall team defense certainly will remain one of the best in the league. The frontcourt rotation of Artest, Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Luke Walton should make interior scoring extremely challenging for Lakers opponents.
Offensively, questions remain on how Artest will fit in with Jackson's triangle offense and with quality scorers who need consistent touches for L.A. to win. Often seen as a heavy dribbler and stubborn with the ball in tight situations, the forward will quickly need to realize (and may need reminders throughout the season) that this is Phil and Kobe's team. Regardless, the Lakers looked well stocked for another championship run.
The health of Bynum and Artest will be the determining factors in floor time for the bigs. A healthy Bynum should get closer to 33-35, provided he remains out of foul trouble. Gasol and Odom's time should remain much the same, with the Spaniard around 35 and the aging Odom just under 30. When the Lakers need to go big, expect Bynum to get the first jump in minutes and for Odom to possibly drop a few.
Artest should log a solid 35, minimum, especially now that he doesn't face ejections for guarding Bryant. That should leave 20 for Walton, who could see an increase during blowouts. Left to pick up some garbage minutes will be Adam Morrison, Josh Powell and Shannon Brown, who should each see upwards of 10 per contest.
Andrew Bynum: High expectations exist this season for Bynum, whose production level always coincides with his health. With additional minutes in 2009-10, he possesses a higher fantasy value. The fifth-year pro showed improved strength and skill in the post last season, as he seems to have figured out what it takes for success as an NBA big man. With that said, a focused Gasol and aggressive Artest may cut into some of his numbers, both offensively and defensively.
D.J. Mbenga: The Congo native has appeared in nearly 50 games for the Lakers, with few minutes coming during critical junctures of a ball game. Much the same should be expected this season, especially considering the already deep front line.
Pau Gasol: Not many players have had a better 2009 than Gasol. He followed up one of the best postseasons of his career with a fantastic showing at the Eurobasket tournament, leading Spain to its first gold medal and taking home MVP honors. The ninth-year pro should put together another solid season, one that could see an improvement in his offensive numbers, as opposing defenses will be hard-pressed to find ways to account for all of L.A.'s weapons.
Ron Artest: The Lakers signing of Artest further imprinted the target on their backs as the team to beat in the league. Long known for his defensive prowess, Artest performed admirably for the Rockets in 2008-09 trying to make up for the losses of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. His offensive game has steadily improved throughout his career, making him a very solid pick in any fantasy league. However, the question this season will be how much of a hit his offensive production takes as he shares the floor with Bryant, Gasol, Odom and Bynum. Health has also been a factor during his 12-year career. Artest has played in at least 65 games just six times, only two of which have come in the past six seasons.
Lamar Odom: The veteran saw his numbers fall off during last year's championship season. Odom's per game averages for points (14.2-11.3), rebounds (10.6-8.2), assists (3.5-2.6), and minutes (37.9-29.7) all dropped from 2007-08. Age and nagging injuries have certainly slowed the versatile forward, who may begin to rely more on his outside touch, especially if/when Jackson goes with a bigger lineup. That means his fantasy stock may fall further, but do keep an eye on certain matchups as the season rolls on.
Luke Walton: A heady player, Walton's numbers continue to dive from his best season in 2006-07. Walton will see the floor even less this year behind Artest, but his passing and outside shooting are always assets to the Lakers.
Adam Morrison: Morrison's pro career has sputtered since his much-heralded college days ended. A torn ACL set him back significantly following his rookie season. He still remains a defensive liability, and until that improves, won't see the floor time he might deserve offensively.
Josh Powell: This season will mark the first time in Powell's career in which he begins the season in the same location where he ended the last one, which won't translate into much value for the team.
Kobe Bryant: The Finals MVP remains a top-five fantasy option despite declining numbers in every key offensive (points, rebounds, assists) and defensive (steals, blocks) category, as well as minutes. The good news is Bryant continues to shoot a very good percentage for someone who takes upwards of 20-25 attempts a game. As one of the league's top players, those looks shouldn't decrease despite the recent additions or improved players around him. Bryant has always been his best when attacking the rim, which many around the team expect him to do more often in 2009-10, especially if the other guards and Artest shoot well from deep. One last point to keep an eye on, if L.A.'s man-to-man defense improves like it should, expect Bryant to see an uptick in steals, as well as a high-percentage fast-break buckets.
Derek Fisher: The vast amount of offensive firepower around Fisher makes him a rather undesirable fantasy pick, even though he's the starting point guard on the best team in the league. He averaged just 3.2 assists and less than 10 points a contest last year. He will lose additional time to Farmar this season, as well as some typical PG touches to Bryant and Artest.
Jordan Farmar: Best known for his shooting touch, there is reason for concern after Farmar's field-goal, three-point and free-throw percentages all took a hit in his third season with the Lakers. He should still see increased playing time while working to become the team's starting point guard in the years to come. If he can regain his stroke and show the ability to consistently find the right guy in the triangle, there may be reason to add him late in some fantasy leagues.
Sasha Vujacic: The sixth-year pro remains a true role player for Jackson and the Lakers. Minutes are limited due to the talent ahead of him; however, consistent long-range shooting and hard-nosed perimeter defense may result in some extra opportunities. If and when that happens, there could be some reasons to consider snatching Vujacic off the wire as a reserve.
Shannon Brown: An aggressive attacker towards the rim, Brown shoots a high percentage from the field and has shown a decent long-range shot from time to time.
Article first appeared on 9/30/09