LOS ANGELES LAKERS PREVIEW 2011
State of the Franchise
In Lakerland it's always been about winning rings, and if the Lakers hope to contend for the franchise's 17th title, and perhaps more importantly Kobe Bryant's sixth, they'll have to make some tweaks to the roster. This offseason, the Lakers hired new head coach Mike Brown to replace Phil Jackson, who retired after the team was bounced in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. Brown will abandon Jackson's triangle offense and run more post-up and pick-and-roll sets. He'll attempt to use Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol the same way David Robinson and Tim Duncan were used when Brown was an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs. Commissioner David Stern vetoed a three-team trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers with Pau Gasol going to the Houston Rockets and Lamar Odom going to the New Orleans Hornets. Odom was so distraught after nearly being dealt that he requested the Lakers follow through on their plans to trade him. They obliged, sending him to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Dallas' 2012 first-round pick and a trade exception. To replace Odom, the Lakers signed Josh McRoberts, a solid role player but certainly not someone who can be expected to produce at the level Odom did last year. A more likely source to replace Odom's production will be Bynum, who hopes to finally remain healthy for an entire season. Gasol and Bryant are among the most skilled offensive players in the league at their positions, but it will be imperative that they remain healthy throughout the crammed schedule of the shortened season. Derek Fisher, Steve Blake and rookie Darius Morris will battle it out for minutes at point guard, but only Morris has the upside to be a difference maker. And he is currently third on the depth chart. Due to a lack of depth at power forward, the Lakers' bevy of small forwards will have to occasionally play out of position, most notably Metta World Peace and Luke Walton. Matt Barnes, Devin Ebanks and newly signed Jason Kapono will all get minutes at the three. Ebanks and Barnes are known for their defense, and Kapono is one of the league's best sharp shooters.
Playing Time Distribution
Bynum has never averaged more than 30 minutes per game, but that should change this year without Odom in the frontcourt rotation. Look for him to be in the 32-36 mpg range, while fellow big man Gasol should be at the 37 mpg he has averaged in each of the past three seasons. Bryant saw his minutes dip to 34 per game last year in an effort to keep his knees healthy. Since the Lakers are so shallow at shooting guard, Bryant could be asked to play a little more this year, despite all of the back-to-back games on the schedule. Look for something in the 32-38 mpg range for Bryant. Fisher and Blake should each be in the 18-24 mpg range at point guard, with Morris getting four to 10 mpg. With the gaps in the roster at the four, McRoberts should see 18-24 mpg, with Caracter getting 10 mpg once he is healthy. World Peace came to camp out of shape and had a sharp drop in production last year, but he should still see 22-28 mpg playing some three and filling in at the four. Barnes will get 20 mpg at small forward and could even play some at the two when Bryant is getting a rest. Walton should get 10-16 mpg at the three and occasionally he will move to the four. Ebanks and Kapono will also see time at small forward, logging 20 mpg each.
Andrew Bynum: Bynum worked all offseason to get himself into the best basketball shape of his life, losing 10 pounds and strengthening his core and the muscles around his knees after working with renowned boxing trainer, Freddie Roach. He also added an array of post moves during the offseason, including a Dream Shake, in addition to working to improve his free-throw shooting. Bynum could be a real fantasy difference maker this season. Over the past four years, he's shot 58 percent from the field while averaging 13.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. His points, rebounds and blocks should all increase this season as he moves into more of a prominent role in the Lakers' new offense. If this is the year Bynum is able to stay healthy, the Lakers may not miss Odom for long.
Pau Gasol: Often thought of as the most offensively skilled big man in the game, Gasol can be a fantasy stud when he's going well, which he was last year during the regular season. In last year's playoffs, however, Gasol went into the tank, averaging 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 42 percent from the field. Gasol has an impeccable body of work over his career that suggests his playoff stretch last year was just a slump at the worst possible time. During the regular season last year Gasol averaged 18.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game and shot 53 percent from the field. Expect similar numbers this year, especially with coach Brown's desire to play through his bigs.
Josh McRoberts: McRoberts is not a stiff, as some might think, but he's not going to produce much in the way of fantasy numbers either due to a lack of playing time. He averaged 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per game for the Indiana Pacers last year. Expect a similar output from McRoberts this year.
Metta World Peace: The player formerly known as Ron Artest made it well known to reporters that he drank a lot of martinis this offseason once it appeared there might not be a season. In addition, coach Brown said he noticed that World Peace came to camp out of shape. In any other situation this would mean that World Peace would be looking for a new team or at least see a reduction in minutes, but the Lakers lack depth to the point that it's conceivable he could still get close to the 29.4 mpg he averaged last season. Just don't expect World Peace to do much with those minutes. Last year he averaged just 8.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game, both career lows.
Matt Barnes: A jack-of-all-trades, Barnes will do the dirty work for the Lakers, but he offers little upside. Last year he averaged 6.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 19.2 minutes per game. Those numbers should increase slightly, because he will see a few more minutes in Odom's absence and with World Peace on a steep decline. It's possible that he could offer value in deep leagues.
Luke Walton: Walton might see more minutes this year than his skills would normally dictate just because of the Lakers' lack of depth. Last year, Walton shot 33 percent from the field and averaged 1.7 points, 1.3 boards and 1.1 assists in nine minutes per game. Even with more minutes, Walton is unlikely to be relevant from a fantasy perspective.
Devin Ebanks: A potential sleeper in deep leagues, Ebanks will have plenty of opportunities this year. He's probably a better player than World Peace and Walton at this point, and if his minutes reflect that, he could offer value because of the defensive numbers he should produce. Don't judge him by his numbers from last year, because he only played 118 total minutes. Bryant has said that Ebanks has more of an offensive game than people know and has compared him to Trevor Ariza, so he could offer production in every category. Someone other than Bryant, Gasol and Bynum will have to put up numbers this year. It could be Ebanks.
Jason Kapono: The best three-point shooter on the team, Kapono was signed shortly before the season to help stretch defenses to open up the post game for Bynum and Gasol. Kapono is a career 44 percent three-point shooter. If he can reach the levels he did five years ago, when he shot 51 percent from long-range, he'll be an asset for the Lakers, but not for most fantasy purposes since he is purely a specialist. It's possible he could have value in very deep leagues.
Derrick Caracter: Caracter is possibly the only other legitimate post player on the team besides Bynum and Gasol. Unfortunately, he will miss the first four to six weeks of the season after undergoing surgery to remove torn cartilage in his left knee. When he returns, his role will be limited.
Kobe Bryant: Bryant says the experimental knee procedure he underwent in June was a success, and without Odom, he will likely feel even more of a need to carry the team on his back. This year, he lacks a competent backup who can spell him for significant minutes, which was Shannon Brown's role last year. If Bryant can stay healthy, he'll likely put up similar numbers to the 25.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game he averaged last season.
Derek Fisher: Fisher's game has always been fine for the Lakers but bad for fantasy. Last year, he averaged 6.8 points per game, his worst scoring average since the 1999-00 season. He also added only 2.7 assists per game last year, not exactly big-time for a starting point guard.
Steve Blake: Blake has had decent years in the past, but last year was not one of them. He struggled to fit into the triangle offense, averaging just four points and 2.2 assists per game last year. There's room for improvement but not enough to make Blake a viable fantasy option in most leagues.
Darius Morris: A rookie out of the University of Michigan, Morris has a chance to get minutes based on who's ahead of him on the depth chart at point guard. However, it's hard to imagine him being a key contributor this year.
Andrew Bynum: Bynum is a legitimate seven-footer who says he's added an array of post moves this offseason. There is a risk in taking Bynum because of his injury history, but if he can remain healthy, this will be the last year Bynum will be available for a bargain price. He has the potential to swing a fantasy league.
Kobe Bryant: The only players on the Lakers with significant fantasy expectations this year are Bryant, Gasol and Bynum. Of those three, Bryant is the most likely to be a bust, simply because of where he will get drafted and the uncertainty over how his body will hold up playing 66 games in 124 days. If Bryant remains healthy, he should be fine, but that's a significant if for a guy who will get drafted where Bryant traditionally does.