Wesley Johnson has been playing power forward successfully for the Lakers. It was projected he would be a stretch-four in a small ball line up. He compensates lack of strength against bigger opponents with quickness, activity, and team defensive rotation for weakside shotblocking.
A follow-up article was done in mid-December to reflect his early success found here.
Still, he can’t play all 48 minutes on the floor. Ryan Kelly does a great job coming off the bench with perimeter shooting and surprising shotblocking as well. But, with over twenty games to go, Mike D’Antoni is going to follow through with his offensive philosophies and has a limited time period to show it can be successful. Yes, the Lakers have had an incredible amount of injuries this season, but, Mike D’Antoni may be on a short leash.
Another player who could get away with playing power forward is Xavier Henry. The Lakers are loaded with wing players with varying talents. Jodie Meeks and Nick Young love to play along the perimeter to set up their shots. MarShon Brooks tries to do everything 18′ and in. Bazemore is floating between small forward and shooting guard for playing time that is well-earned. It leaves Xavier Henry out of the loop, especially coming off of a critical injury.
Still, of the wing players, he’s the strongest. He’s a natural small forward and is able to check bigger defenders. He may not block shots to the degree that Wesley Johnson can, but he can still provide the same kind of activity, energy, and quickness to defend the position adequately. Unlike Wesley Johnson, he’s able to attack the defense off-the-dribble. Defenses set up, ready for him to drive to the basket, and he ends up right at the cup. It would be nice to see him convert at a higher rate within 5′, but no one should really be complaining about a player who is taking so many shots in the paint. His three-point stroke seems better adjusted with less of a hitch as well. While he is a reluctant 3-point shooter, he has hit 100% of his four 3-point attempts in the past three games. For the year, he’s shooting over 38% behind the arc.
The Lakers have the worst defense in the league. They give up over 106 points per game to the opponents, and it has only been worse with the upgraded speed on the floor. Defense isn’t a priority, as the Lakers have given over 60 points at halftime in 4 of the past 5 games. What the Lakers can do defensively is force turnovers. Since Jordan Farmar’s return, Wesley Johnson, Farmar, Henry, Brooks, and Bazemore have been flying out in transition. Admittedly, the Lakers have been getting over 20-30 points in transition the past couple of weeks. They struggled with this aspect of the game all season. Henry isn’t the greatest man-defender, but he does an excellent job of anticipating and deflecting passes. It helps he has a 6’11.25″ wingspan. So many times this year, he’s been in the scramble of a loose ball, anxious to flood the lanes for a dunk. He’s a free safety out there.
Mike D’Antoni seems perfectly okay with having Gasol as the center and running four guys with guard speed around him. Henry deserves playing time. Perhaps he can find a different way to excel at the power forward position.