Lakers forward Matt Barnes enters the playoffs with a sprained right ankle… (Eric Gay / Associated Press )
Below is the breakdown on the Lakers' bench entering the postseason.
1. Forward Matt Barnes: For all the ongoing criticism this season at the team's small forward position, Barnes has actually remained the team's most consistent bench player. Poor outside shooting and overly aggressive fouls sometimes flare up, but it's never significantly hurt the team. Those weaknesses also pale in comparison to his other consistent strengths, including off-ball cutting, making hustle plays and slashing toward the basket. Still, it's definitely concerning how Barnes will play in the postseason. He's currently nursing a moderately sprained right ankle that Lakers Coach Mike Brown described as "serious."
So much that he doesn't know whether Barnes will play Game 1 on Sunday against the Denver Nuggets. Whenever Barnes comes back to the lineup, it's also fair to wonder whether any of the lingering effects will contribute to any tentativeness. After missing 26 consecutive games while having surgery and then rehabbing his right knee last season, Barnes' 6.7 points per game on 47% shooting and 4.3 rebounds in 19.2 minutes during the regular season dipped to 3.6 points per game on 37% shooting and 2.8 rebounds in 13.1 minutes in the postseason. That injury is much more serious, but it's fair to wonder whether it will limit him in any way. Considering the Lakers won't have Metta World Peace for the first six playoff games, the Lakers can't afford Barnes to have any dropoff in play.
2. Guard Steve Blake: Whenever Kobe Bryant touts the Lakers' good chances in winning a championship, he always rattles off the team's size, versatility and experience. But he always makes sure to add that the Lakers become a dramatically more dangerous team when they shoot well from three-point range. No one on the bench has a bigger responsibility and more of a green light to shoot those shots than Blake. But will he? Any standout performance, such as his 13-point effort last week on three-for-five shooting from three-point range against Oklahoma City, only come in spurts.
Most of the time Blake plays tentatively in both passing up shots and running the offense. By not always looking to shoot open looks, Blake's taking away his playmaking ability. By quickly picking up his dribble, his teammate's off-ball penetration often becomes useless. There's no reason Blake should play like this. All of his coaches and teammates openly encourage him to be aggressive. So he should have no shame in displaying that.
3. Forward Jordan Hill: In only a one-week span, Hill's role instantly transformed. Brown threw him into the game last week against Oklahoma City for "no rhyme or reason," but Hill took advantage of the opportunity. His 14-point performance and career-high 15 rebounds reflected his willingness to hustle inside and do all the dirty work. Hill also remained active on pick-and-roll coverages by instantly helping out. Who knows whether that's a sustainable strategy since he doesn't know the offense well and teams will probably adjust. But bringing that hard-nosed approach to defense will help the Lakers considering they've lacked that attitude for some time.
4. Forward Christian Eyenga: World Peace's suspension Barnes' injury prompted the Lakers to recall Eyenga from the Development League. if his appearance in the season finale showed anything, it appears Eyenga's got hops. We'll soon see whether he has much else.
5. Forward Josh McRoberts: As of now, Hill currently has replaced McRoberts as the backup power forward that provides hustle plays. McRoberts' fluctuating role provides one of many examples where Brown's constant lineup shuffling has stifled the reserves' development. As much as it would be nice for McRoberts to expand his shooting arsenal, that wasn't necessarily his role. So he'll have to stay ready to push the pace, dive for loose balls and crash the glass should he get back in the rotation.
6. Forward Troy Murphy: It's unlikely he'll play much. But when he does, Murphy has to knock down shots. He has no value simply passing the ball or setting screens. If Murphy hits open jumpers, the floor spacing opens up significantly. Given Murphy's low arc, it's unpredictable when his shot will fall. But when it does, keep feeding him since he's a rhythm shooter.
7. Rookie guards Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris: Brown has no intention to play either of them because of their inexperience. They just need to continue to work hard after practice and before games. That's all they'll really be able to do at this point.
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