The Lakers are now 7-8. They’re knocking on the door of being a .500 team. A bit more discipline on the road, and this Laker team is at the cusp of making the playoffs.
Does anyone remember last season? The season was full of hope. Dwight Howard was a recently acquired Laker. Steve Nash was brought on to implement the system and push the tempo. While the Princeton offense didn’t look like a success, I beg to differ on that opinion, Coach Brown was fired and Mike D’Antoni was brought on. Injuries plagued the team: Howard recovering from back surgery. Pau Gasol with various issues with injuries. Nash’s back continued to bother him, never mind having a leg fracture. It all fell apart when Kobe was spurring on the team late in the season, playing heavy minutes, and carrying the team to .667 play post All-Star game. His Achilles couldn’t hold it together. The Lakers were at the bottom of the league for fast break points and points off the bench. The starters melted their bodies for an early 1st round exit.
That team went from extreme optimism to the failure of dreams.
This team is different.
Most Laker fans didn’t seem too bitter about Dwight Howard leaving. Lots of new faces were added to the team. Essentially, outside of Pau Gasol as a mainstay, this is a whole new roster. Even Jodie Meeks is more aggressive off-the-dribble, more consistent behind the arc, and showing discipline with his high energy defense. No one looks the same except for Gasol, who is slowly working out the kinks of being an aggressive front-court player.
With moderate expectations, the team is overachieving. Steve Blake is a near double-double with points and assists on a game-to-game basis. Chris Kaman provided quality minutes before a sore back issue. The chemistry between Kaman and Gasol was unforeseen. Nick Young is more disciplined with his jumpshot, and his field goal percentage has skyrocketed since coming off the bench. Farmar is playing at his peak, rarely out of control, but producing tremendous numbers in limited playing time. Xavier Henry gives the Lakers someone who can attack the basket almost at will. Jordan Hill has never looked better, especially under Coach D’Antoni. Wesley Johnson broke out of an early season shooting slump, and is now bombing from behind the arc, forcing turnovers, swatting shots, and finishing every lob in sight.
This team now leads the league in points off the bench. They’re no longer rock bottom with fast break points. They may struggle to rebound or get a few key defensive stops, but the passing from the entire team has led to more open shots as a unit, and balanced scoring is the result. We never know who will step up. But we do know this team will put a tremendous effort on a game-to-game basis. The team just needed the one superstar player to calm the team down late in the game, be a go-to guy on both ends of the floor, and provide veteran savvy and calm when the games are tight.
Kobe Bryant is exactly the guy who can provide those qualities to the team. Imagine how much better they can be after he steps onto the floor?