Continuing our series on breaking down the Lakers roster, we arrive to the position that will likely cause the Lakers most uncertainty.
First, there’s a couple things to assume. First, we’ll assume that the Lakers are going to use Nick Young more as a back-up shooting guard than a small forward. Second, we’ll assume, for now, the Lakers aren’t going to sign any small forwards. While Michael Beasley was brought in for a workout, for now we’ll conclude they go forward with their current roster.
Both players were brought in last year on minimum deals and both impressed, one more than the other. While Johnson’s athleticism is something that few players in the league possess. However, he has yet to fully harness those abilities and frustrated fans more often than impressing them. His erratic jumper offensively drove fans nuts, while his amazing displays of defense left us wowed.
Henry, on the other hand, was far more successful offensively. His versatility also got the Lakers out of a jam, as he was brought on to play point guard for a handful of games before being injured himself. In fact, taking a look at the distribution of his time at various positions is interesting. However, injuries derailed his season, playing just 12 games from December 31st on.
Coming into this season, the expectations of the two will only have slightly changed. For Henry, as of now, I have him penciled in as a starter, next to Kobe Bryant. As a result, he’ll have to draw the tougher defensive assignment.
Last season, Henry wasn’t too great defensively. He was below-average in all three positions he played and will certainly need to improve that aspect of his game. Take a quick look at his 48-minute production figures at each position, his opponent’s, and the net difference between the two.
Yes, they are ugly. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, I expect him to play at least the 21.1 minutes a game he averaged last season, likely more. But if he can’t improve on the defensive end of the court, which is likely to be a point of emphasis for Byron Scott this season, then he may not see much time on the court.
For Johnson, the solution is simple: consistency. In reality, Johnson was similarly versatile for the Lakers, playing anything from shooting guard to power forward. However, his inconsistency limited his effectiveness. Too often, he resorted to deep jumpers that he was not good at instead of driving to the rim, which he succeeded at.
Still, for what it’s worth, he had the second best defensive win shares on the team, a signal to his defensive impact.
Fortunately for Lakers fans, Johnson will likely play a far more reduced role. With a gluttony of power forwards and multiple players who will play small forward over him, Johnson will likely be one of the last men on the bench. His one saving grace is his defense, which may put him in good favor with Scott.
However, I predict Bryant will play a fair amount at small forward, and I could also see Julius Randle playing there in certain situations.
Here is my final predictions for Henry and Johnson, though:
Xavier Henry – 22 minutes, 8.5 points, 2.0 assists, 2.0 rebounds
Johnson – 10 minutes, 4.0 points, 0.5 assists, 2.0 rebounds