LOS ANGELES LAKERS
By John Frascella
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Despite the season-ending injury to emerging, young center Andrew Bynum
, and the poor postseason play of Pau Gasol
, Sasha Vujacic
, and Jordan Farmar
, Kobe Bryant
was able to carry the Lakers on his back en route to a Western Conference title in 2008. Bryant was particularly dominant in the series victories over the Nuggets and Spurs, but was held in check by the Celtics' tenacious team defense in the finals.
In Phil Jackson's triangle offense, the Lakers looked like an offensive juggernaut toward the end of the regular season. With Gasol added to the mix, the pressure was off Lamar Odom
, and the enigmatic forward was able to settle into a role as the team's No. 3 scoring option. Derek Fisher
provided a steady, veteran presence at the starting point guard position, and Vujacic, Farmar, and Luke Walton
worked as key reserves.
This offseason Los Angeles lost energetic power forward Ronny Turiaf
to Golden State, but the vast majority of the Lakers' core remains intact. The team's frontcourt production possibilities appear endless with the three-headed monster of Bynum, Gasol and Odom. All signs are pointing to another successful season for the "Showtime" boys. If they can keep Bynum healthy, Bryant has a clean shot at his first ring in the absence of Shaquille O'Neal
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
With Gasol, Odom and Bynum at his side from the outset, expect Bryant's minutes to dip a little this year – he'll have plenty of help with the scoring load. Over the course of the past three seasons, Bryant's minutes dropped from 41 per game, to 40.5, to about 39. The Lakers are a deep team and "The Zen Master" will want to protect the injured pinky of Bryant's shooting hand. He'll be at about 37 minutes per contest.
Bynum played a little over 28 minutes per game before going down last season, and with the Lakers' crowded frontcourt, he'll probably drop below 28 this year. Bynum is one of the most talented youngsters in the game, but the Lakers will be wary of his injury and look to keep him fresh and unscathed. Expect around 26 minutes a night.
Gasol will log about 33 per game, Odom 35, Fisher 26, Farmar 22, Vujacic 18, and Walton 20. Small forward Trevor Ariza
will battle Vladimir Radmanovic
and Walton for playing time off the pine, though one of the three could eventually be promoted to the starting lineup if the Odom/Gasol/Bynum situation creates too much of a logjam. Chris Mihm
and the newly-acquired Josh Powell
will share time behind the big boys up front.
Bynum is an intriguing option this year because of his big-time finishing and shot-blocking ability. He and Bryant displayed beautiful on-court chemistry during the first half of the '07-08, forcing some to draw the inevitable comparisons to O'Neal. However, despite early reports that Bynum has recovered nicely from his arthroscopic knee surgery, potential owners must consider the possibility of another physical breakdown. If he stays healthy, Bynum will be good for 15-16 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks per game. His talent suggests even better production, but the presence of both Gasol and Odom will limit Bynum statistically.
The former Clipper was signed to fill the vacancy left by Turiaf. Powell will bring energy and rebounding off the pine, but extremely limited fantasy value. He shouldn't be touched in drafts, unless Bynum or Gasol goes down in the preseason.
Once the Lakers' starting center, Mihm's plethora of injuries have taken away from his offensive impact. He has decent finishing ability, but is buried behind too many guys to consider drafting.
He played center in Bynum's absence, but returns to his natural power forward position this year. Gasol is one of the better passing big men in the league, and his soft touch helps him to a free-throw percentage above 70. Bryant did an excellent job spoon-feeding Gasol after his arrival, and Gasol should be good for 17-18 points per game this season. His rebounds will continue to decline to somewhere around 7.5 per night.
A risky selection this year. Odom has always been one of the most versatile forwards in the game, but may not fit well alongside Bynum and Gasol. The Lakers' defense failed them in the finals, so Bynum and Gasol – the rim protectors – will be cemented in their starting roles. Odom's the one on shaky ground; he'll likely begin the season as Jackson's starting small forward, but will have to knock down the three with some consistency to hold off Radmanovic, Walton, or perhaps a smaller lineup including Vujacic.
"The Space Cadet" is always a nice source of threes, but is always something else, too: inconsistent. Unless he earns the starting small forward spot, Radmanovic should be a last-round pick or free agent in most formats.
A good passer and decent three-point shooter who has little to no value because of Odom, Radmanovic, and Ariza.
An aggressive defensive player with a propensity for highlight-reel dunks, but the competition for minutes in the Laker frontcourt makes Ariza a long shot to produce on a regular basis.
The best player in the NBA is not necessarily the best fantasy player. Bryant's certainly a top-five pick, but his finger injury and slowly decreasing minutes are concerns. Bryant will be one of the league's top three or four scorers, and may see an increase in assists with Bynum and Gasol around for an entire season. Bryant's three-point attempts have declined slowly, but he'll still hit close to two per game. No. 24 is getting a little older, and the Lakers are a lock for the playoffs, so he may take some nights off.
Fisher is a high-percentage shooter from both the foul line and three-point arc, and should also get about three assists per game. As far as fantasy point guards go – though he's a starter – Fisher is somewhere near the bottom of the "draftable" list. Farmar and Vujacic are around, and Bryant likes to handle the ball as well.
This third-year man could eventually overtake Fisher as the Lakers' starting point guard, but the necessity to make such a change isn't there. Farmar is quick with the ball and proficient beyond the arc, but Fisher would have to be completely out of the picture for him to thrive in fantasy circles.
The self-proclaimed "Machine" is an absolute sniper from distance. Vujacic was seemingly automatic from behind the three-point stripe in the regular season. He offers little other than treys and occasional scoring outbursts, however.
It's difficult to call the likes of Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, or Odom "sleepers," so Ariza is what we call a "deep sleeper." He's a better all-around player than both Radmanovic and Walton, and will likely earn more minutes than them in the long run. If he sees a boost in time, Ariza will be a source of steals, occasional threes and blocks, and a high-field goal percentage – especially considering his position.
Bynum's presence will hurt Gasol's production, particularly because the 21-year old is already a better rebounder, shot-blocker, and stronger finisher than the veteran Spaniard. Gasol has the softer touch, better-free throw percentage, and passing ability, but Bynum may already be his equal as a two-way player. He may even be better.
Article first appeared on 9/30/08