LA Lakers Season Preview

13 10 2008

My NBA Pacific Division preview begins with the LA Lakers:

LA Lakers

2007-08 Standings 57 – 25, 1st Western Conference

2008-09 Predicted Record 65 – 17, 1st Pacific Division, 1st  Western Conference

Projected Starting Five:  Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher

Sixth Man:  Lamar Odom

The midseason addition of Pau Gasol catapaulted the Lakers to the top of the Western Conference. With a full season with the Lakers they should be primed to return to the Finals.

The midseason addition of Pau Gasol catapaulted the Lakers to the top of the Western Conference. With a full season with the Lakers they should be primed to return to the Finals.

Despite starting the season in a fugue of discontent with Kobe Bryant openly musing about going elsewhere, last season the Lakers came within two wins of the NBA title. The Lakers were better than anyone expected, Kobe won the MVP trophy for the first time, the Lakers finished top in the West then in the playoffs they rolled through the West until the Finals. Where they hit the Boston Celtics and were summarily hammered. Sure they won two games but there is a reason people talk about it as a “six game sweep”. The Celtics never felt threatened and the fairytale ended.  Kobe and Phil Jackson have to wait to claim their first post Shaq titles.

One of the main reasons the Lakers were so good was the inspired play of their centres. Until he got injured Andrew Bynum showed his almost unlimited potential, then once he went down the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the hapless Memphis Grizzlies and he put the Lakers over the top. This year both players should be fit and Gasol will slip across to the power forward position. This will force Lamar Odom to the small forward slot creating the most intimidating front line in the league, or more likely, Odom to the bench with Trevor Ariza or Vladimir Radmanovic to start.

The other key reason why the Lakers were, and project once again, to be so good was in their bench. The Lakers are scary deep. Probably only the Portland Trail Blazers can rival them for depth and depth in youth. When you can bring Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar off the bench you’re blessed, when you add Odom as the potential leader of the second unit you’re scary.  

To my mind there is a big worry hanging over the Lakers and that is Kobe. While LeBron James has overtaken him as the game’s best player, Kobe is the MVP and there is no one else you would rather have taking the final shot in a game. However Kobe played for much of last season with a damaged pinky finger. He then played right through the playoffs before winning a gold medal in the Olympics. That he played at such a high level is a testament to his skill, passion and ability but will that take a toll this season? Sooner or later the injuries and wear on his legs will catch up to him.

Despite this the Lakers begin the season as one of the big favourites to win it all. They have a blend of experience and youth with assets that they can trade if needed. They also have the deadliest endgame assassin in the league. Expect them to roll deep into the playoffs.

Coach:

Phil Jackson is arguably the greatest coach in NBA history, equal first with Red Auerbach in NBA titles as coach with 9. Which made last season’s NBA Finals so puzzling. Jackson was comprehensively outcoached by Doc Rivers, a man who until the Finals were over, was regarded in some quarters with derision. He’ll be out to prove that last year was a fluke and claim title number 10.

Bench:

The Lakers are blessed with a deep and dazzling bench. If, as expected, Lamar Odom slots into the bench crew the Lakers will be able to field one of the scariest second units in the game. They can score points aplenty though the one criticism that perhaps can be levelled at them is that if Trevor Ariza starts the game there is no defensive game changer amongst them.

Star Player:

Kobe Bryant is arguably the premier player in the NBA. Just as well that he plays in LA, the city of the stars. On any other team Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom would be the featured players but LA is all about Kobe, Kobe, Kobe.

Team MVP:

How Andrew Bynum comes back from his knee surgery will dictate how far the LA Lakers will go. Bynum gives them a physical menace in the paint, teams have to respect both his offence and defence and this frees up time and space for the remainder of the Lakers. The Boston Celtics showed that without Bynum the Lakers have a soft centre. Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett bullied them at will in the Finals and Bynum is needed to counter the more physical teams.

Final Prognosis:

Along with the Celtics the LA Lakers are favourites to return to the NBA Finals. A lot depends on the health of Kobe, if he can have another season of sustained excellence then the Lakers could well be the last team standing. 

 

You can find an index of past Previews here.

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