To the surprise of no one, the Lakers lost yet another game. This time they fell victim to the Memphis Grizzlies, losing 106-93. Dwight Howard left the game when he apparently re-aggravated the injury in his shoulder that kept him out one week. Instead of harping on how pathetic, disinterested, and disappointing the Lakers are, which has become a staple of this blog, lets take a look at all the key members of this Lakers organization and give them a grade.
Kobe Bryant: B
Kobe has easily been the best, most consistent player the Lakers have had this season. Kobe is scoring at an efficient level, shooting above his career FG and 3PT % marks. As a leader, Kobe has fallen short. He hasn’t had the ability to rally this team and play with some heart, which all great leaders are capable of. This team isn’t lacking the talent to compete, like some of Kobe’s post-Shaq teams; they are simply lacking in effort and desire. Although it has improved recently, Kobe has been atrocious on the defensive end. He routinely watches his man run to an open spot and hit a wide open jumper, without even pretending to put a hand in his face.
Steve Nash: C+
Although Nash’s numbers look appealing (10.9 points, 8.6 assists, 2.8 rebounds and shooting 51% from the field, 40% from beyond the arc, and 96% from the free throw line), he has been disappointing for the Lakers. When Mike D’Antoni was hired and reunited with Nash, most fans assumed we might see some of that old “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns magic that the two had combined for. What we have seen isn’t anything remotely similar. Nash might finally be starting to show signs of decline. His inability to quickly turn the corner on pick-and-roll situations has completely hampered the Lakers ability to exploit defenses. His defense hasn’t been as bad as pundits may lead you to believe, but his age make it so he cannot keep up with younger point guards. He has been good, but good isn’t what was expected out of Nash.
Pau Gasol: C-
Looking at Gasol’s numbers would tell you that he is clearly having a terrible year. This cannot all be attributed to Gasol, as Coach D’Antoni has routinely stationed Gasol 18+ feet away from the basket. Now maybe I’m not watching the same film as Coach D’Antoni, but I would say this is a gross misuse of Gasol’s talents and abilities. The blame isn’t completely placed on one or the other, but regardless, Pau isn’t the same player as during those championship years.
Metta World Peace: B+
Metta has been one of the lone solid contributors for the Lakers this year. He is playing at a much higher level than he has in the past two seasons. His shooting, while not great, is much improved over the past two years. Without fail, Metta is one of the few Lakers who gives it his best effort night-in and night-out. If the rest of the team had the desire and cared like Metta did, the Lakers would not be in their current predicament. He has also been shifted from being a starter to the 6th man, from SF to PF and hasn’t complained one bit. Metta is a worker through-and-through.
Dwight Howard: B-
For all the vitriol spit his way, Dwight Howard has still been one of the top 5 centers in the NBA. He leads the league in rebounding, still turns away 2.5 shots a game and alters many others. For any other player, this would be excellent and worthy of praise. But this is Dwight Howard, a player many considered to be the 2nd best in the NBA behind LeBron as recently as two years ago. He was expected to make the Lakers a top 5 defense by himself. Now it isn’t fair to judge Howard on the same scale as the Howard who propelled the Magic to NBA finals, as he is coming off serious back surgery. Dwight does deserve a ton of credit for playing, even when it has been clear he isn’t close to his former self. We had originally heard Dwight might not play until the New Year, so having him in the lineup for game one of the season earns Dwight some extra points. If this is the best Dwight Howard the Lakers are going to get, giving him a 5 year $100 million extension seems like a risky proposition. But if the Lakers believe Dwight will get back to the “old Dwight” (which I think he will), the contract is well worth it. Derrick Rose and Dwight both had their devastating injuries occur with a couple months of each other. Rose has yet to play a game this season and Dwight has played in 39. Dwight isn’t awarded nearly enough courtesy in terms of his return from a traumatic injury is the point I’m trying to make.
I thought of trying to grade the bench players individually, but it was far too depressing, so I lumped them in together. Jodie Meeks looked good for a while, then he found himself on the short end of D’Antoni’s rotation. I will again start the #FreeJodieMeeks campaign, because regardless of his low shooting percentage, he is one of the Lakers few reliable 3 point shooters and that is what Coach D’Antoni wants on the floor. Jordan Hill was one of the Lakers best players before suffering a hip injury that required season ending surgery. Earl Clark has become a strong player for the Lakers, but is very shocking that he now starts instead of Pau Gasol. A player who is a journeyman and only just showed flashes of talent is starting over an All-World PF/C. Mind-boggling. Antawn Jamison was supposed to bring some consistent scoring to the Lakers off the bench, but in all of Coach D’Antoni’s wisdom he sparingly uses Jamison, even when the offense is struggling. The rest of the bench has been pathetic, Chris Duhon is seeing far more playing time than anyone is comfortable with, and Darius Morris, who is shooting below 40% from the field is seeing significantly more action than Meeks, who at least serves a purpose in the D’Antoni offense.
With apologies to Bernie Bickerstaff, the Lakers coaching has been horrendous. Coach Mike Brown was fired after 5 games, and the hiring of Mike D’Antoni is on pace to be one of the biggest failures in recent memory. D’Antoni has forced his system on a team that wasn’t designed for his system. A good coach should be willing to change and adapt, something that D’Antoni will not do. It isn’t just based on the small sample size of games with the Lakers, it stretches back to his days with the New York Knicks. When Bernie Bickerstaff was the interim coach of the Lakers, he basically told them to go out and play, do what comes naturally. And the Lakers succeeded, resulting in Bernie having the highest win % of any Lakers coach in history (5 games coached, but still). With as much talent that has been assembled, it would seem to make more sense to let them play based around their strengths than to play them in a system they don’t fit.
Mitch Kupchak: B+
Mitch did a good job of assembling this team. He managed to snag both Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. He was pursuing and had a near agreement with Phil Jackson to become the coach of the Lakers. He signed Antawn Jamison for a veteran minimum salary, signed Jodie Meeks to a team friendly 2-year $3 million deal, and re-signed Jordan Hill to another team friendly 2-year $8 million deal. Earl Clark was landed in the Howard deal and has proven to be a very capable NBA talent. All of these were smart and savvy moves. But in the end, he isn’t the one with the final say.
Jim Buss: D
Jim Buss does deserve credit for landing Nash and Howard, both huge moves. But he deserves to be blasted over his handling of the coaching situation. Jim Buss clearly didn’t want Mike Brown heading into the season, and stubbornly waited for him to fail to fire him; instead of doing it before the year began. Jim Buss also led the faux pursuit of Phil Jackson. He was also the one who decided it best to tell Phil at midnight he wouldn’t be coaching the Lakers. He misled the public purposefully, so that he could at least say, “we tried.” His support behind Mike D’Antoni is misguided, and is simply a case of him digging his heels deeper into the sand. I agree that D’Antoni shouldn’t be fired, first of all it would be fiscally irresponsible, but I don’t think he has earned the front offices unwavering support. D’Antoni expects players to change for him, and yet he isn’t expected to return the courtesy to the players he has. Pau Gasol is not a perimeter player, and never pretended to be. Just because Gasol can hit a 20 foot jumper doesn’t mean his game is designed around 20 foot jumpers. The fact that Jim Buss and Mike D’Antoni apparently agree on using Pau in this manner is enough to give Buss a failing grade.
The Lakers (17-25) next game is at home Friday versus the Utah Jazz (23-19).