When the Lakers let Earl Clark walk and amnestied Metta World Peace, their intent was to save money from this year’s squad and be in the prime position for next summer’s frenzy. In the meantime, however, they set the roster back talent-wise, leaving the squad without a true small forward on the team. While the team made some signings of youngsters and veterans, none of them were true small forwards, leaving a big question mark on the position for the upcoming season.
As is, the Lakers small forwards look as such: Nick Young, Kobe Bryant, Marcus Landry, Wes Johnson, Xavier Henry, Elias Harris, and Shawne Williams. By my count, that’s three natural shooting guards (Young, Bryant, Henry), one stretch forward (Williams), and three completely unproven youngsters (Landry, Johnson, Harris). With a roster already over capacity (assuming Ryan Kelly is signed), it’s unlikely the Lakers will look elsewhere to fill the hole at small forward, meaning they’ll have to make due with what they have. And what they have isn’t pretty.
First there’s Bryant, who spent time anywhere from the point guard to the small forward in stretches last year. While it didn’t directly cause his injury, Bryant and the Lakers know they’re flirting with disaster if they rush him back or strain his body in any manner this season. He’ll play some small forward this year out of necessity, but not long amounts, and not against the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and other elites.
Next you have Nick Young, who will likely see the most minutes of anyone at the position. According to 82games.com, Young saw just 3% of his team’s total minutes at small forward, or roughly 98 minutes of game action at small forward last year. For the Clippers two seasons ago, he saw 393 minutes at small forward, but still just 12% of the team’s minutes. Bryant alone saw 787 minutes at small forward last year, 24% of the Lakers total minutes. In theory, the position doesn’t necessarily matter much, especially considering small forwards and shooting guards have similar responsibilities, at least offensively. But small forwards have a bigger responsibility rebounding, are required to guard bigger, more physical players, and take more of a physical beating night in and night out.
The unproven group of Johnson, Henry, and Williams are unproven, hence their low prices this off-season. Johnson sported a 10.3 PER, Henry a 7.6 PER, and Williams a 4.9 PER his last year in the NBA. The odds of any of these guys being the solution to the small forward problem would be a stretch, to say the least. The idea of them being a low-risk signing is intriguing, but they’ve been journeyman players for a reason. The same can be said about Landry and the rookie Harris. Both possess intriguing skill sets, but neither seem to have the solution themselves.
What does this mean? Well, it’s hard to say. MDA has made it work with stretch fours like Williams, Landry, or Harris in the past. You need not have to look further than Channing Frye or Jared Dudley to see recent examples. In the same regard, he’s utilized three guard line-ups in the past. In 2007-08 with the Suns, D’Antoni’s 3rd most-used 5-man unit featured Steve Nash, Raja Bell, and Leandro Barbosa, all guards. With players like Nash, Bryant, and Young as options, this seems most likely and, possibly, most reasonable.
In their quest for a superstar in 2014, the Lakers have short-changed themselves in 2013. How they deal with this problem will go a long to forecast their success overall in the season.