Lakers.com reflects on the team’s tremendous ’07-’08 campaign, doling out its end of the season awards.
Most Improved: Andrew Bynum
Prior to his knee injury mid-way through the season, the Lakers phenom was well on his way to a breakout season, carving his place as one of the NBA’s best up-and-coming big men. Although his averages of 13 points and 10 rebounds for the season are more than solid, #17 improved each month prior to his injury, capped off by his outstanding month of January in which he put up over 17 points and 12 rebounds a game. With no signs of slowing down any time soon, who knows where his numbers would have ended up this season had he not missed the final 46 games.
Most Surprising: Sasha Vujacic
Even though he was heading into a contract year, few experts or fans had any reason to expect much from the Slovenian guard. Once labeled an “11:00 a.m.” player by Coach Jackson, Sasha has shredded the title this season, finally becoming the sharpshooter the Lakers thought they signed four years ago, putting up nine points a game on 44% shooting from beyond the arc. Whereas only a season ago, Vujacic was one of the last men off of the bench, it is now not uncommon to see Sasha playing critical minutes as a key part of the Lakers’ rotation.
Most Disappointing: Luke Walton
With Odom injured at the start of last season, Kobe desperately needed a teammate that could help keep the Lakers afloat in the über competitive Western Conference. Enter: Luke Walton. For most of last season, the forward was arguably the second best player to don the purple and gold, finally combining his widely discussed basketball IQ with a vastly improved offensive repertoire. However, this season has brought on one disappointment after another for Walton as injuries and a lack of confidence have derailed much of the momentum he established last season. On the year, Luke is averaging only seven points and four rebounds.
Best Overall Play: Trevor Ariza, Lakers vs. Suns, 12/25/2007
Every season inevitably brings a wealth of highlight-reel plays, but few reach the level—quite literally—of Trevor Ariza’s monstrous dunk over Grant Hill in the Lakers’ Christmas Day victory over the Phoenix Suns at STAPLES Center. Taking off from what looked like 15 feet out, the Lakers’ own human high-fly act absolutely posterized Hill and garnered league-wide attention for his hops.
Honorable Mention: Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Lakers vs. Heat, 2/28/2008
Already up big at home against the helpless Miami Heat, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton and Lamar Odom teamed up to provide one of the most electrifying, Globetrotteresque plays of the season.
Best Overall Performance in a Single Game: Kobe Bryant, Lakers vs. Mavericks, 3/2/2008
With Gasol in the mix for L.A. and Jason Kidd wearing Mavs blue, the early March battle between the two Western Conference titans was arguably the most thrilling home game of the year for the Lakers. As usual, Kobe’s late-game heroics stole the show with Bryant scoring 22 of his 52 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to finish off Dirk Nowitzki and Co.
Honorable Mention: Lamar Odom, Lakers vs. Mavericks, 4/4/2008
31 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for Lamar in what Coach Jackson described as one of his top two or three games as a Laker.
Best Overall Performance: Kobe Bryant
Although the NBA has yet to crown its Most Valuable Player for this season, there’s no doubt in anyone this side of New Orleans’ mind that #24 is the most worthy recipient. While Kobe has his typically stellar averages of 28 points and over six rebounds per game, Bryant has shown incredible poise and leadership this season, uniting a Lakers squad that has been ravaged with injuries. For 82 games, the superstar guard has been a desperately needed steadying force, keeping Bynum at bay amidst incredible hype and aiding in Gasol’s almost seamless adjustment to the Lakers’ lineup.