STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Lakers have pushed all their chips to the middle of the table, giving Kobe Bryant possibly the most help heís had in his 16-year career. Longtime Pacific Division foe, Steve Nash, and the NBAís most dominant big man, Dwight Howard, will join Bryant and Pau Gasol on one of the most star-studded rosters in recent league history. Howard will take the place of Andrew Bynum in the frontcourt, and Nash will shore up the point guard spot, which has traditionally been a position of weakness for the Lakers in Bryantís tenure with the team. Nash signed a three-year contract, and the hope is that Howard will re-sign after the season. While Bryant and Nash will be around for several more years, this year is probably their best shot at winning a ring together, both are still performing as if they are near the peaks of their careers. The pieces seem to fit perfectly, with Howard able to protect the paint, Nash and Gasol partnering on what could be the most devastating pick-and-roll combo in the league, and Bryant free to dominate his one-on-one opportunities with his new teammates able to punish anyone who tries to double him. There arenít many internal factors that could derail the Lakers path to a title, but one major issue is Howardís health. Heís recovering from back surgery. If that turns out to be a non-issue during the season, the Lakers are primed to make a run at the franchise's 17th NBA championship banner. Antawn Jamison was brought in during the offseason, and he, along with Metta World Peace, will round out the Lakers primary contributors. Coach Mike Brown has never had this much talent at his disposal, few coaches have, but he likes to run a half-court offense while stressing defense, and that shouldnít be a problem with this crew.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Howard has always seen around 35-39 minutes per game, and that should once again be the case. Gasol will also see just less than 40 minutes per night, with Jordan Hill backing up the starting big men and logging 15-18 minutes nightly. The Lakers desperately want to limit Bryantís playing time to 35 or fewer minutes per game. They were unable to do so last season (he played 38.5 minutes per game), as they were basically running out a three-man team, but this year you can expect Bryant to see 33-35 minutes per game. Jodie Meeks will backup Bryant and see 15-20 minutes per game. Nash should see around 30 minutes per night, while Steve Blake and Chris Duhon should each see 12-18 minutes. Expect World Peace and Jamison to see the majority of the minutes at the three, with Jamison playing some four and both players logging between 24 and 30 minutes per game. Devin Ebanks or Earl Clark could emerge as a 15 minutes per night option, but at least one of them will spend most nights on the bench. Goudelock and Morris will each see 10 or fewer minutes off the bench.
Dwight Howard: The leagueís best center is still recovering from surgery he had in April to repair a herniated disk in his back, and thereís a slim chance he might not be ready to go for the Lakersí season opener Oct. 30. In any case, he should have no problem fitting in once he takes the court. Last year Andrew Bynum averaged 13.3 field goal attempts while Howard averaged 13.4 shots, so the transition into the offense should be seamless for Howard. Last season he averaged 20.6 points, a league-leading 14.5 rebounds, and blocked 2.1 shots per game while also amassing a career-high 1.5 steals per contest. Howard also finished with a league-leading clip of 57.3 percent from the floor. The only area where he continued to hurt fantasy owners was in free-throw percentage. Howard shot just 49.1 percent from the charity stripe, which marked a career low.
Pau Gasol: For the third consecutive season, Gasol posted a double-double with 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He has an impeccable low-post game, but is varied enough to work off another big man, which came in handy whenever Andrew Bynum was healthy. With Bynum healthy all last season, Gasolís numbers didnít drop a bit. All this bodes well for 2012-13 when Gasol will line up next to Dwight Howard. Gasolís rebound rate could drop, but imagine all the open looks heíll get while opponents double-team Howard. In addition, Gasol will get to play with Steve Nash, who made Marcin Gortat a double-double producer.
Antawn Jamison: The Lakersí bench was not very productive in 2011-12, and Jamison figures to resolve that problem. The 14-year NBA veteran will back up both forward spots. Jamison was voted the leagueís sixth man of the year in 2004 when he was a reserve in Dallas. That season he averaged 15 points (53.5 percent FG) and six rebounds in 29 minutes per game. Jamisonís objective is to win a championship before he retires and will fill whatever need the Lakers ask him to.
Metta World Peace: Out of Howard, Gasol, Nash, Bryant, and World Peace, itís pretty easy to pick the member out of this starting five thatís not headed to Springfield, Mass. He will be asked to do two things, defend and shoot wide-open threes, and if he can be successful at both and he comes to camp in shape, he will see plenty of minutes. It runs contrary to the 29.6 percent clip from downtown he posted last season, but we suspect Nash will find a way to make World Peace a long-range weapon, as he has with so many others who werenít typical marksmen (Grant Hill, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye).
Jordan Hill: Hill is the Lakersí only legitimate backup post presence, and he stands to see plenty of minutes if Howard is not ready for the start of the season. Hill thrived in the playoffs last season, averaging 6.3 boards in 18 minutes off the bench, so the coaching staff wonít hesitate to give him some significant run to spell the teamís two All-Star big men.
Devin Ebanks: Last year was supposed to be the year that Ebanks stepped into an expanded role in L.A. Unfortunately the coaching staff had a short leash and opted to ride World Peace more heavily than perhaps they wanted to. Now that Jamison is also in the mix, Ebanksí opportunity has probably passed.
Earl Clark: Thereís not much room for playing time here for Clark, whose NBA career so far has been pretty lackluster. Look for him to make the team, but be primarily a towel-waver.
Steve Nash: He immediately becomes (apologies to Smush Parker) the best backcourt mate Kobe Bryant has ever had. Even at his advanced age, Nash remains one of the best passers and most efficient shooters in the league. But how will the Lakers use him? Mike Brown is famous - maybe notorious is a better word - for running an isolation-heavy offense through a perimeter player, but Nash - and Dwight Howard - are too good to stand around and watch Bryant set himself up. Knowing that, Los Angeles is adding Eddie Jordan to the coaching staff this year, and he'll be installing some elements of the Princeton offense he ran in Sacramento and New Jersey. That should play to the strengths of both Nash and Pau Gasol and prevent any drop-off in Nash's fantasy value.
Kobe Bryant: The Lakersí impressive offseason acquisitions make the Lakers formidable on paper, but the confluence of talent figures to result in a diminished role for Bryant this season. Nash has traditionally thrived with the ball in his hands while flanked by an array of spot-up shooters, a profile that Bryant might not necessarily fit, as shown by his mediocre 33.9 percent career three-point shooting mark. Furthermore, the formidable frontcourt of Howard and Pau Gasol should get its fair share of shots as well; meaning Bryantís 23 field goal attempts per game are all but guaranteed to fall. In the end, the hyper-competitive Bryant will likely remain the go-to guy during crunch time but should surrender some production in deference to the collection of talent surrounding him.
Steve Blake: He figures to be the favorite heading into camp to backup Steve Nash at the one, a role that he should thrive in. At times last season Blake was asked to do a little too much, especially when Derek Fisher was still on the team. He profiles much better as a reserve that can come in and run the offense and hit corner threes. Blakeís best fantasy nights will be those where heís running the offense late in a lopsided victory. His value is very limited now that Nash is in town.
Jodie Meeks: A perfect fit for this Lakers team, Meeks will serve as Bryantís primary backup and one of Nashís favorite spot-up three-point shooters. Last season after shooting 40 percent from downtown in the first half, he shot just 31 percent in the second half, but he should have a bevy of open looks this year, with the Lakersí weapons in the post.
Chris Duhon: He well compete with Steve Blake for the backup point guard duties, and in order to get regular minutes he will need to improve on his turnover rate (27.6 percent) and he will need to bring a defensive mentality every time he takes the floor. A travel dance wouldnít hurt either. Still, heíll be of little fantasy impact unless Steve Nash suffers an injury.
Andrew Goudelock: Last season he served as an undersized scoring shooting guard off the bench, seeing roughly 10 minutes per game. This year, heíll play even less, now that the Lakers acquired Jodie Meeks to backup Bryant.
Pau Gasol: Heís not a sleeper if he goes in the top-12, but if you can get him late in the second round or early in the third, he could pay dividends. Gasol and Nash each have a flare for Lionel Messi-like artistry with their passes and they should be unrivaled on the pick-and-roll. While others in your league are aiming for the Lakers newcomer in the post, Gasol could come at a bargain.
Kobe Bryant: Betting against the Mamba isnít wise, and thatís not what weíre doing here. Bryant is about one thing at this point Ė rings (plural). He doesnít want to tie Jordan - he wants to pass him. He knows he canít afford to kill himself every night, and now he doesnít have to. Itís not that Bryant refuses to share, heís usually just surrounded by so much mediocrity, that he feels he has no choice. Thatís no longer the case. His numbers will be fine, but someone in your league wonít be able to help themselves when heís sitting there at pick 20, donít let that person be you.