Monthly Archive for June, 2008

Player Capsule: Kobe Bryant

Contract Status: Under contract

As the Lakers ascended to the top of the Western Conference standings in 2007-08, Kobe elevated his status as the NBA’s top player, winning his first Most Valuable Player Award in what was arguably his best season to date. While Bryant began the regular season with a 45 point assault against the Rockets in a performance that was indicative of the scoring load he’s had to carry for the past three years, #24 ended it as the best all-around player in the game. Over the course of the season’s 82 games—of which the guard played in every one—Bryant averaged a team-high 28 points to go along with six rebounds, five assists and nearly two steals. Although the MVP didn’t treat fans to as many big-scoring nights this season—mainly because the team didn’t need him to—Kobe erupted for a season-high 53 against the Grizzlies on March 28.

With the emergence of Andrew Bynum as a secondary scoring option and the mid-season acquisition of former All-Star Pau Gasol, Kobe excelled at letting his teammates find their games, as evidenced by the Lakers’ 109 points per game average. Looking ahead to next season, Bryant will no doubt continue his growth as a team player, now with even more options as Bynum and Gasol will finally share the court together as Lakers. His role on the team will essentially remain the same next season, but Kobe will likely see even more open looks with two dominant big men on the block.

Player Capsule: Derek Fisher

Contract Status: Under contract

While the internal improvement of the Lakers’ younger players and the trades for Gasol and Ariza certainly boosted team morale amid an injury-riddled season, Derek Fisher’s steady leadership and lethal outside shooting were instrumental in helping L.A. reach the NBA Finals. Returning from stints as a Warrior and Jazz, the 6’1” guard was fourth on the team in scoring with nearly 12 a game, on an impressive 41% from beyond the arc and 88% from the charity stripe.

Heading into next year, Fisher will likely once again start out the season as the team’s starting point guard. In 2007-08, Derek played over 27 minutes per game at the position with Farmar nabbing the other 20 or so. With the veteran one year older, the split might be a little more close to equal next year. Still, there are no signs of any major slow-down in Derek’s game as the twelfth year guard out of Arkansas-Little Rock played in all 82 games, even after it was revealed that he was playing with a partially torn ligament in his foot.

Player Capsule: Pau Gasol

Contract Status: Under contract

Gasol’s mid-season trade to Los Angeles not only re-energized Kobe and the and the entire Lakers franchise, it also resulted in arguably the best overall play of the Spaniard’s career. While Pau’s numbers in L.A.—19 points and eight rebounds per game—were virtually the same as his stat line in Memphis, Gasol stepped up his game down the stretch for the Lakers, helping to lead them to the number one seed in the Conference. Obviously feeding off of the diverse offensive games of Bryant and Odom, Pau boosted his shooting percentage to over 58% as a Laker, up from an already respectable 53% as a Grizzly.

After fitting in almost seamlessly into the Lakers’ triangle offense, Gasol will once again be tasked with adjusting his game, this time to fit alongside that of center Andrew Bynum. However, the shift in position from the five spot to a much more natural power forward should help Pau’s game grow even more since he won’t be asked to guard the likes of Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett anymore. Moreover, look for Gasol to improve his big-game play after his first real extended run in the playoffs.

Player Capsule: Lamar Odom

Contact Status: Under contract

Perhaps no Lakers player benefited more from Bynum’s growth and Gasol’s arrival than Lamar Odom. Misplaced as the team’s second scoring option behind Bryant for most of his Lakers tenure, the team’s suddenly bolstered offensive weapons allowed Lamar to slide into a much more comfortable role as a third scorer. On the season, the versatile forward averaged 14 points and a team high 11 rebounds per game, while shooting an impressive 53% from the field.

While Odom has developed a reputation as a second half of the season player, Lamar shifted into an even higher gear when the Lakers acquired Gasol—a trend that continued all the way until the end of the season and into the playoffs. With Bynum returning to fortify what will likely be the tallest front court in the NBA, the onus on Odom to score will be even less next season. Similar to Pau, Lamar also just completed his first deep playoff run—an experience that should bode well for the Rhode Island alum next season.

Player Capsule: Andrew Bynum

Contract Status: Under contract

Prior to his season-ending knee injury on Jan. 13, Bynum was well on his way to having a breakout season, garnering league-wide acclaim after his eye-popping 28 point, 12 rebound performance in the Lakers’ Christmas Day victory over the Suns. In 35 games—25 of which he started—Andrew averaged over 13 points and 10 rebounds per game, while providing the team with a desperately needed presence inside. Even more unfortunate for Andrew, it looked like his monster game against Phoenix was merely foreshadowing the high level he would play at during the season’s final four months. Before the injury, the center was averaging over 17 points and 12 rebounds per game in January, garnering well-deserved Most Improved Player of the Year buzz.

With a hopeful clean bill of health to start the season, Bynum will look to pick up right where he left off last season. Even though the team has changed dramatically since he last donned the purple and gold jersey, the Lakers will look for Andrew to assert himself down on the low block as the team’s primary interior defender. In the Finals, Gasol’s lack of physicality in the post was exposed, but this shouldn’t be a problem for Bynum, who will likely draw the defensive assignment against opposing teams’ best interior players. Moreover, Andrew’s help defense will also prove critical for L.A. as the team advanced all the way to the league’s largest stage without a true shot blocker.

Player Capsule: Jordan Farmar

Contract Status: Under contract

After a productive rookie, Farmar came into training camp before last season in the best shape of his life, ready to show off his new-and-improved game. Jordan played in all 82 games, averaging nine points and three assists as the leading scorer off the bench for the Lakers. Specifically, the UCLA alum made great strides in his outside shooting game as he nailed an impressive 37% of his shots from beyond the three point line. Additionally, Farmar was also one of the key vocal leaders on L.A.’s much-improved bench.

While Fisher will likely start the season at the point guard spot, Jordan should see a marginal increase on his 20 minutes per game average from 2007-08. After appearing to lose his confidence a bit in the team’s earlier playoff series against the Nuggets and the Jazz, Farmar sprung to life as a pivotal player in the Lakers’ five game series victory over the Spurs in the Conference Finals. His improved play didn’t go unnoticed either as Coach Jackson often elected to partner the guard with Vujacic during clutch time in the playoffs—a trend that could continue next season as well.

Player Capsule: Sasha Vujacic

Contract Status: Restricted free agent

After years of being labeled an “11:00 a.m. shooter” by teammates and coaches, Vujacic finally provided the long range shooting proficiency the Lakers thought they were getting when they first drafted the guard nearly four years ago. In 18 minutes of play, Sasha averaged a career-high nine point per game, while shooting 44% from the field and a deadly 41% from beyond the arc. However, Vujacic not only ignited the Lakers’ offense off the bench, but also its defense as the pesky guard was tasked with defending some of the league’s preeminent point guards and shooting guards. Similar to fellow bench mate Farmar, Coach Jackson showed incredible trust in Sasha down the stretch of the season, often sliding Kobe into the three spot to accommodate Vujacic’s clutch shooting.

If Sasha and the Lakers are able to reach an agreement on a new contract, Vujacic’s role as an energetic sixth or seventh man will likely remain the same. With Kobe firmly entrenched at the shooting guard spot and the Fisher/Farmar tandem working well at point guard, Sasha will once again be relied upon to fill in the gaps at either position. Assuming his stellar outside shooting wasn’t a one year aberration, Vujacic’s two biggest concerns heading into next year are improving his decision-making skills and overall consistency.

Player Capsule: Ronny Turiaf

Contract Status: Restricted free agent

During stretches last season, Turiaf was arguably the Lakers’ most reliable player off the bench as the forward-center averaged seven points and four rebounds in 19 minutes of play. However, after Bynum went down with injury, Ronny was forced to play as an undersized center until the team traded for Gasol. The shifting of positions limited Turiaf’s game on both ends of the floor as he was often matched up against players that were much larger and taller than he. Still, only so much blame can be extended on the former Gonzaga player as Ronny was easily the Lakers’ most reliable big man off the bench.

If Ronny is back with in the purple and gold uniform next season, he figures to benefit greatly from the return of Bynum at the five spot. While he’ll no doubt be relied upon to back up Andrew from time to time, Turiaf should see more playing time at his much more natural four spot. Last season, Ronny came into camp with an improved outside shot—even drawing comparisons to Horace Grant. However, this offseason, Turiaf would be wise to work on his rebounding game after averaging only 1.4 a game in this year’s playoffs.

Player Capsule: Trevor Ariza

Contract Status: Player option exercised

Acquired in the November trade that sent Maurice Evans and Brian Cook to Orlando, Ariza blossomed as a backup small forward for the Lakers before breaking his foot shortly after the New Year. After coming to the Lakers, the L.A. native averaged almost seven points and four rebounds per game while showing jaw-dropping athleticism as evidenced by his Dunk-of-the-Year candidate leap over Grant Hill in the Lakers’ victory over the Suns on Christmas Day. However, where Trevor most took advantage of his athletic prowess was on the defensive end as Coach Jackson immediately entrusted the forward with guarding some of opposing teams’ most prominent wing players.
With Ariza expected to be back with the Lakers after returning from injury during the Western Conference Finals, L.A. has a logjam at the three spot with Radmanovic and Walton also occupying the post. However, neither player is particularly adept at defense so Ariza figures to see a lot of playing time next season as the team looks to improve its overall defensive game. His role could expand even more if the improved stroke from outside that he showcased during the playoffs continues into next season.

Player Capsule: Vladimir Radmanovic

Contract Status: under contract

After a disappointing first season with the Lakers, including an ill-advised snowboarding injury, Radmanovic finally showed glimpses of why the Lakers signed him to a five-year deal prior to the 2006-2007 season. Vladimir averaged over eight points per game to go along with four rebounds, while shooting an impressive 41% from behind the three point line. As the team’s starter at small forward, the 6’10” Radmanovic provided much-needed spacing in the first half of the season with the Lakers’ new inside-out game courtesy of Bynum. While Vladi’s consistency wavered a bit in the final months of the season and especially during the playoffs, his sophomore campaign was dramatically better than his first with the team.

With Bynum returning next season, shifting Gasol to power forward and Odom to small forward, Radmanovic’s days as a starter for the Lakes are over, at least for the time being. However, that might prove to not be such a bad thing for the forward as he has struggled to meet the expectations of fans and coaches in his first two seasons in L.A. While there isn’t much concern over his outside shooting, Vladi needs to improve on the defensive end if he hopes to see anywhere near the minutes he saw as this season’s primary starter at the three spot.