At his introductory press conference, Mike D’Antoni was asked how he could maximize the bench.
One of the Lakers’ offseason signings, 14-year veteran Antawn Jamison, was expected to largely bolster the second unit. However, while only seeing 16.5 minutes of court time, he had averaged just 4.3 points and 3.6 boards, while shooting 37.5 percent from the floor in the team’s first 10 games.
“It was difficult,” Jamison said of trying to find his role with the team in the beginning of the year. “I knew what I was dealing with when I was getting in. We all were trying to figure out the scenario that we could help out the team as much as possible.”
Fellow offseason acquisition Jodie Meeks was in a similar predicament. The former Kentucky product saw the court sporadically, sitting out two contests, while receiving five minutes or fewer in two others.
Signed primarily to space the floor and help a team that ranked 25th out of 30 teams in 3-point percentage a year ago, the career 37 percent 3-point shooter had converted on just 5 for 20 from deep.
Despite the second unit’s struggles in the early part of the season, D’Antoni maintained the bench would be fine.
Now, the results are showing.
In the team’s 122-103 win against Denver, Jamison scored a team-high 33 points on 12-of-19 shooting (5 for 10 from deep), to go along with 12 rebounds, and Meeks tied a personal record with seven 3-pointers. The two became the first pair of Laker teammates to score more than 20 points in over a decade since Kobe Bryant and Nick Van Exel had 25 and 20, respectively, against Utah in 1998.
Under coach Mike D’Antoni, both his subs’ numbers have gone up, especially for Meeks, who had his coach’s vote of confidence since Day 1.
“I told him the only time he needs to shoot is when he touches the ball,” D’Antoni said of Meeks during his introductory press conference. “That’s what he does. He’s not in the league because he can drive and dish – that’s not him.”
And that’s exactly what the fifth-year guard has done since the 61-year-old coach started roaming the sidelines. He’s averaged nearly nine points, while shooting almost 52 percent from the 3-point line (15 for 29), and 50 percent overall from the field (18 for 36) in six contests.
“(I’m) getting consistent minutes and I’m playing with more confidence,” Meeks said. “Coach D’Antoni gives not only myself but the whole team confidence to just shoot when you’re open.”
For Jamison, his numbers are up, too – to 12 points and six boards per game, while shooting at a 55 percent clip from the floor (29 for 53).
“D’Antoni’s done a great job of giving me confidence to go out there, compete and giving me some minutes to make something happen,” he said.
Along with Meeks, Jamison’s playing time in the last four contests – 27, 30, 23 and 33 – have coincided with three of his highest-scoring games of the season, including his performance against Denver and a 19-point, 15-rebound outing at Dallas.
“They’re guys that can spread the floor,” D’Antoni said of Jamison and Meeks. “They can shoot it extremely well. They could be two major parts that we need to keep developing, just give them space, let them go and play.”
Jamison has seen more time at small forward as of late as well, D’Antoni subbing the 6-foot-9 forward at the halfway point of the first quarter in the last three games, to play alongside Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard for stretches.
“Both (Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol) demand so much attention,” Jamison said. “They put so much pressure on the defense and now I’m starting to understand that with Pau I can do this, I can do that, and with Dwight what my role is as well – and we’re starting to get a rhythm.”
That rhythm has also been aided by the play of Chris Duhon, who has served as the backup point guard to starter Darius Morris since Steve Nash and Steve Blake have remained sidelined. The Duke product has posted 22 assists to just three turnovers in six games since D’Antoni took over, and notched a season-high eight assists against Denver.
“That’s what we need, especially guys coming off this bench,” Jamison said. “We need to set a tone and set an identity of what we’re going to do.”
It seems they’re headed in the right direction.