Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison should make the Lakers bench much more productive. (Elsa / Getty Images; Mark…)
Soon enough, the Lakers will see whether their once unreliable bench could suddenly become a key strength.
The Lakers feature a bench this season with strong secondary scoring (Antawn Jamison), outside shooting (Jodie Meeks), playmaking (Steve Blake) and hustle (Jordan Hill). Even if the general public has nothing to judge beyond what's on paper, it's still safe to presume the reserve unit will top last season's. Then, the Lakers finished last in the NBA in total offense (20.5 points per game), 20th in shooting percentage (21.8%) and 28th in efficiency (27.2).
But as the Lakers' Oct. 1 Media Day approaches, which ingredient will prove most instrumental in improving this year's bench? I size up each candidate below.
Jamison's scoring: It took a season to find it, but the Lakers may have located a worthy replacement for Lamar Odom. Jamison has averaged 17.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in his career, and has proved capable as both a starter and reserve. Jamison's points won't just significantly enhance the Lakers' scoring output but should also produce trickle-down effects.
His teammates will receive more open looks because of increased double teams. The bench can generate more offense in transition. It will relieve pressure off tentative players such as Blake and Devin Ebanks. It could also allow Coach Mike Brown to sit out his starters more since the scoring ouput won't drop as significantly.
Meeks' outside shooting: Kobe Bryant often remarked last season that the Lakers' dynamic drastically changes when they make three-pointers. This may seem obvious considering the Lakers only shot 39.5% from the field in 2011-12 and 30% from three-point range in the postseason. But this issue goes beyond simply making outside shots. With a legitimate three-point threat, several other components fall in place. The Lakers can space the floor easier. Defenders won't immediately sag to cover Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol in the post. Steve Nash won't have too much of a burden on both nailing three-pointers and distributing. Because of these variables, it's likely that Meeks will often play alongside the starters, thus increasing his responsibility.
That also comes into play with backing up Bryant. He averaged 38.3 minutes per game last season partly because the Lakers lacked a definitive backup shooting guard. With Meeks playing partly as a starter the past two seasons with the Sixers, it's not a stretch that he could play 15 to 20 minutes per game. That would play a large part in ensuring that Bryant stays healthy and productive throughout the season.
Blake's playmaking: He has yet to prove in the past two seasons whether he'll ever amount to the three-point scoring threat the Lakers hoped he'd become. Sure, Blake showed some signs in the playoffs and may increase his 37.7% mark from the field last season. But that may not matter as much this year with the superior scoring options the Lakers have on the bench this season. That means Blake's main responsibility will entail tapping into his usual playmaking abilities. Teammates last season routinely gushed about how Blake often found players open the instant they made a cut or set a screen.
That skill-set obviously pales next to Nash's passing and pick-and-roll plays. But Blake can consistently set up teammates. That would keep the Lakers' improved bench running smoothly and ensuring a team mind-set. On a larger scale, how Blake fulfills this responsibility could also play a large part on whether Nash can limit his minutes as well.
Hill's hustle: Measuring the Lakers' reserves on their scoring output remains a tad misleading. They may not play as many minutes as other bench units because of the Lakers' vastly superior starting lineup. Brown will also likely play some of his reserves with the starters, which would decrease their scoring chances.
That's where someone such as Hill comes into play. The Lakers won't need him to score much. But whether he's starting in place of Dwight Howard as the latter rehabs his back or plays with the reserves, Hill will have to provide plenty of hustle plays on defense, on the boards and in going for loose balls. Fulfilling that responsibility will relieve the Lakers' stars from having to perform the dirty work. Hill's job description also appears to be the most easily transferable among various lineup combinations.
Verdict: He may not lead the bench in scoring, but Meeks' three-point shooting will play the most significant variable on the Lakers' overall productivity. That glaring weakness prevented the Lakers from fully maximizing their inside threat and punishing teams that doubled on their stars, such as Bryant, Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Nash, a career 42% shooter from three-point range, brings that element too. But the Lakers need another reliable option since Nash will spend most of his time setting other teammates up.
You've read my take. Now what's yours? Vote in the poll below!
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