Nuggets Expose Lakers’ Vulnerabilities

At halftime of last night’s game (Lakers at Nuggets), I got up to turn off the television and my wife asked, “What are you doing?”

“The Lakers are going to get creamed,” I explained.

“How can you say that? They are just down by two points!” she answered.

“I can say that because they gave up 58 points in the first half, and Carmelo Anthony hardly played.”

She said nothing so I continued.

“The Lakers have fallen back into bad habits. They are casual about defense, and they are on the road playing against a team that feels they have something to prove against them. They’re not getting the ball into Bynum, their advantage, or into the paint for that matter, and Kobe is obsessed with posting up his smaller defender which is what the Nuggets want instead of him driving and putting their bigs in foul trouble. Kobe’s impossible to double on the permimeter, but easy to double in the post, and who on the perimeter is going to punish the Nuggets for doubling Kobe in the post? Artest? Trust me, the second half is going to be ugly.”

Unfortunately, my wife didn’t let me turn off the TV; she wanted to see if I was going to be right so I had to suffer through it all.

At least Ty Lawson‘s dunk on DJ Mbenga made it worth it though. Wow. I don’t care what team you are cheering for, if you are a fan of basketball you’ve got to love that stuff.

As I watched the lambs march to their slaughter, I had the following thoughts about the Lakers…

— Small Forward —

The Lakers are a mess at the 3 position.

Ron Artest is ineffective on both ends of the floor. He’s a brand name, but he’s not a knock down shooter, he’s not a lock down defender anymore. He abandons the offense to over dribble, or holds the ball too long letting the clock tick away.

Luke Walton is a good passer, but just doesn’t make great choices. For instance, he dislocated his finger in the fourth quarter but insisted he could still play. Walton went back into the game, threw a turnover his first pass, and got pulled for the rest of the game. Clearly, seldom used Walton wanted playing time, even if he really couldn’t contribute for his team.

Adam Morrison has totally lost his confidence and doesn’t look like he’ll ever be a consistent force for the Lakers.

Lamar Odom is the team’s real small forward, but he is so versatile he’ll likely play more at the power forward position while Gasol covers center so Bynum can sit, or while Gasol sits.

I realize the risk, but the if the Lakers could dump some or all of these small forwards, including Ron Artest, to get Stephen Jackson, they would be no worse off than they are now, and perhaps much better off.

— Point Guard —

Point guard is the other position the Lakers are in trouble.

Derek Fisher has played surprisingly good defense this season, but last night he was totally unworthy of his minutes and was a liability on both ends of the court. Maybe at his age he couldn’t recover from a back to back with little sleep, but Phil Jackson needs to realize that when Derek isn’t playing well, he almost never steps it up later in the game, so you may as well sit him and give Shannon Brown a chance.

To me, Shannon Brown is the first call off the bench at the guard position. He is raw and makes mistakes, but no more than Farmar, and Farmar has had YEARS to learn and improve within the Lakers’ system, and this is the best he’s been able to do.

I realize Sasha Vujacic is hardly in the rotation anymore, but for all his struggles offensively, the guy is very motivated to play defense and does a good job of it. That alone would put him ahead of Farmar in my book.

The Lakers declined to renew Farmar’s contract, and that was right thing to do. Again, Farmar is usually good for a highlight each game, but his decision making is still shaky after all this experience. Shannon Brown has earned the right to be first off the bench of the guards, and it’s time to give Brown minutes and let him grow into his position the way Farmar and Vujacic had in the past.

And while we are waiting for Shannon Brown to figure out who he is in the Lakers’ system…

Make a trade for Orlando’s J.J. Redick.

No, Redick isn’t really turning heads in Orlando, but for the money, can you think of a better fit for Phil Jackson’s system than Redick? Think John Paxson, Craig Hodges, BJ Armstrong and Steve Kerr… only Redick is more athletic than any of those players and has at least the footspeed of Derek Fisher. Redick isn’t just collecting paychecks either; he keeps improving his game.

A rotation of Fisher, Brown and Redick would be solid for the Lakers at the point.

— Power Forward —

This Pao Gasol‘s job, and with apologies to Tim Duncan, Pao is the best power forward in the NBA right now. The problem is, Pao is also Andrew Bynum‘s back up…

Meaning the biggest problem the Lakers have at power forward is DJ MBenga. Because there is not an adequate backup for Bynum, the Lakers need Gasol to cover for him, and Odom to cover for Gasol, and Artest to cover for Odom…

I like DJ’s heart and his active body, but the poor guy just has no common sense on the court. If they can’t smarten him up with a lot of film and one on one instruction, then they ought to look to the DLeague for another big, active body that WILL learn quickly.

Mbenga is a good guy, but he makes me miss Kwame Brown.

Maybe the Warriors would throw in Ronie Turiaff with Stephen Jackson for Luke Walton, Adam Morrison and Ron Artest. Walton’s running and passing, and Morrison’s shoot first mentality and Artest’s toughness and name recognition should be appealing to the Warriors.

Josh Powell is an interesting player. He rebounds, he defends if you tell him to, and he spreads the floor with his outside shot. But he isn’t going to get any better if he doesn’t get experience. If Phil can trust Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic on the floor when they are messing up, why can’t he play Shannon Brown instead and give Powell enough minutes to make his mistakes and find his place?

— Conclusion —

Of course, when Pau Gasol returns, the Lakers will do better, but it won’t be because their problems have been solved, it will be because they can cover them up most of the time with a new rotation.

But imagine this rotation:

PG – Fisher, Reddick, Brown
SG – Bryant, Vujacic
SF – Jackson, Odom
PF – Gasol, Odom, Turiaff
Ce – Bynum, Gasol, Turiaff

That’s a step up from where they are now, isn’t it?

Regardless, the Lakers have real vulnerabilities, and should be addressing them.

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