The Lakers are now 2-3. A couple of losses were close, particularly against San Antonio, but the fact remains that there are some talent gaps in the line up. Mike D’Antoni’s philosophy is predicated on speed, effort, hustle, and energy. While that makes up for a lot of deficiencies and can increase offensive field goal percentage, there is nothing stable about this Laker team. So far, the identity has been built around the bench, which executes D’Antoni’s offense so well, that they’re among the league leaders in bench points and have already beaten a record in total bench scoring since 1988. Remember that 1988 Lakers team? That team was stacked. This team? Not so much.
While Laker fans may be desperate for wins, we are all aware of the big question. What Kobe Bryant are we getting back? He has always been a cold-blooded scorer, a go-to guy late in the 4th. When the offensive play breaks down, he can bail the team out with no time on the shot clock. This team needs those elements desperately, but it doesn’t fix critical issues on the team. What else can Kobe do?
What fans can look forward to is the emergence Xavier Henry. He’s the player that sticks out like a mid-1st round pick. Tall, athletic, aggressive, good wingspan, and a knack for getting to the hoop. He has a foundation of tools to build upon. Right now he’s sticking to what he’s most comfortable with; pull up jumpshots, step-back jumpshots, and a crossover getting to the basket. He has the dexterity and aggression that can make a decent NBA player into an NBA starter. Imagine what going against Kobe in practice can do? Footwork can be improved. A post up game can be developed. A more definitive touch from the perimeter can be matured.
Mike D’Antoni can also be given more options. Ever notice how much more energy there is on the floor when Meeks, Henry, and Wesley Johnson are out there? They use their length, quickness, and intensity to flood the perimeter and double team post players immediately. They disrupt passing lanes on post entry passes and get out into transition. Nash hasn’t looked like himself, but would it be so bad if Bryant ran the point with the mentioned guards? Everything becomes switchable on defense. Shooters become easier to cover. Matchups on the perimeter are easier to blanket. Offensively, there are more creative options. Kobe can still run the pick and roll. More importantly, he can park near the painted area and become the post player with three surrounding shooters. Essentially, this could become a late 4th quarter play with Bryant as a go-to-guy. Gasol has had a few chances, but still doesn’t completely look like himself, but at least when the tempo slows late in the game, the team can run a familiar offensive set.
Player development behind the scenes would bode well for the careers of current Laker players, and may add depth for the roster long-term. With erratic tempo control, an inability to get shots wanted, and inability to get key defensive stops, it’s easy to see why Laker fans don’t expect a championship this season. Kobe himself can’t bail this team out of this one. What he can do is create a championship environment for younger players to carry as he heads toward retirement. Hopefully, that means at least one more championship run. But for now, it’s best for the team to improve their skills, improve their health, build the right culture with familiar faces, and try to set things up for one more run.