The “Prop 8 Series” is over. I predicted a sweep, which was one Deron Williams running, sideways jumper with only second remaining away from happening. But the Lakers didn’t sweep the Jazz. Why? Two reasons: A.) Because the Lakers were bored and overconfident; B.) Jerry Sloan’s Jazz have a lot of fight in them. I hate the Jazz like I do blaring country music, but I have to give credit where credit is due.
While our Lakers wait for this Blazers-Rockets series to end, here are my thoughts on the 4-1 series victory over the Jazz…
Lamar Odom, Series MVP – Jazz fans have been bitching about L.O.’s yelling and theatrics on the Interwebs and Twitter. You know what, when you play like Odom did in this series you can yell, scream and get as pumped up as you want. Don’t hate!
Kobe Bryant (+45 plus-minus for the series) and Pau Gasol (+43) played well, as expected. But Lamar Odom was the MVP of this series. Odom posted a +65 plus-minus and only played 20 minutes less than Kobe and 10 minutes less than Pau.
Odom is also in the top 10 in Western Conference playoff efficiency rating (25.6) along with Brandon Roy, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Deron Williams, Dirk Nowitski, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Yao Ming. Everyone of those players is an All-Star. Guess where he ranks? Third. Billups is first, Boozer is second. Considering that he destroyed Boozer in the pivotal Game Five showdown, I’m going to go ahead and call L.O. the second best postseason player in the West so far. Statistically, only Billups has been better.
Out East, only Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Rajon Rondo have been better PER wise. Considering that King James is the best swingman out East, Howard thee best big man out East and Rondo’s 24-10-10 playoff average, yeah, L.O. has been playing lights out. That’s some elite company.
That only tells half of the story, though. Odom’s passing, cutting, rebounding, defending, court recognition and coast-to-coast ballhandling have been a joy to watch. He’s basically averaging 18 points, 11 boards, two assists and two blocks. Considering he didn’t start half the series and shares the ball with four very talented offensive players (Andrew Bynum, Kobe, Pau and Trevor Ariza), that’s a pretty amazing postseason statline.
He was simply unguardable during the series. If he continues to play like this, I’m confident the Lakers will be the 2009 NBA Champions. Very confident. No other team in the league has a third gun like Lamar when he’s playing like this. And when Bynum’s at his best Odom is sometimes our fourth option.
Trevor Ariza, Breakout Player – Ariza was the other star of this series. His +26 plus-minus only tells half of the story. He had a PER of 16, 19th best out West. That’s pretty amazing considering he’s the fourth or fifth option for the Lakers offensively, and only gets so many touches. There’s not another team in the league for which Trevor Ariza would be the fifth best player. Not the way he’s playing now. No way.
His 12 points per game are nice, but what’s really staggering is that he’s shooting 61% from both the field and the three-point stripe. The book on Ariza when he came to L.A. was that he was a athletic slasher and stopper who couldn’t shoot. So much for that. His 11 threes in this opening-round series not only stretched the floor, but they made Ariza a tough cover. Ariza can really take it to the rim, and now team’s must respect his outside shooting. Good luck with that.
Trev also averaged four assists and rebounds a game, along with a steal. But possibly the most important element of his game is the energy and excitement he injects into his teammates and the fans. He’s quickly becoming the West Coast Josh Smith. Hey, he can’t swat like Smith, but he can sure as hell shoot better.
Shannon Brown, Bench MVP – Brown was the sub of the series. He posted a +34 plus-minus in 86 standout minutes. That’s more burn than Jordan Farmar and Sasha “The Machine (Out of Order)” Vujacic played combined. He’s shooting 66% from downtown, 50% from the field and brings the toughness, size and athleticism the point guard position previously lacked. He will be needed defensively when the Lakers eventually match-up with either Billups or Jason Kidd in the Western Conference Finals.
Kobe Bryant, Killer Instinct – Kobe’s will was more impressive than his stats. His Game Four performance broke the Jazz’s back, and his late-game heroics in Game Five ripped their heart out for good. Look for him to continue to switch back and forth between facilitator and assassin effectively. He trusts his teammates, but also knows there are times where he has to step up and be the best player in the world.
Pau Gasol, Dependability Personified - The best passing big man in the game. Underrated shooter — deadly from about 16-18 in. Good help defender. Ridiculously long seven-footer. Most importantly, a top 10 player in this league. I really believe that. I now worry about El Spaniard about as much as I do Kobe, and I don’t worry about the Black Mamba at all. Pau is out to silence those “soft” comments once and for all.
The Rest – Luke Walton’s absence means more Ariza and Odom. Is that a bad thing? Not so far. Andrew Bynum will have to play much better in the next series, as he will face off either against Yao Ming or the Blazers’ two-headed monster bunny rabbit. Jordan and Sasha have been ridiculously disappointing. How many shots did Sasha miss last game? 10? 12? Josh Powell looks lost out there in his first playoff action with the Lakers. Derek Fish had a pretty steady series, but expect him to play even better now that he no longer has to deal with Deron Williams.
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with this series. I would have preferred a sweep — or at least a little more killer instinct from those not named Kobe — but I genuinely believe that at times the Lakers played down to the level of their competition because they were never truly challenged. I never once feared the Lakers losing the series, and the game they lost was the only game I thought the Jazz really had a chance in. Our Lake Show will have to play better to win it all, but I feel like they have it in them.