The Los Angeles Lakers have now completed most of their preseason schedule and the start of the regular season is less than a week away. After seven games, we are beginning to get an idea of what to expect from certain players on the Lakers roster, almost enough of a sample size to allow us the opportunity to grade the Lakers at this stage of the offseason, 0-7 preseason record and all.
Some players used the preseason to showcase their refined game, while others clearly took advantage of the preseason schedule to to work out a few kinks in their arsenal.The end result was a mixed bag, with some standout performances and some underwhelming ones alike.
Key New Players: B-
The newest Lakers additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard were two offseasons that are difficult to evaluate at this stage. Nash appeared to be probing the majority of his preseason minutes to get a feel for his new teammates and offense. The end result was Nash taking very few shots and averaging only six points per game and four assists per game in 22.7 minutes.
Dwight Howard has only appeared in one preseason game with the Lakers but that one appearance was a memorable one. Howard registered 19 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in his lone preseason game, giving Lakers fans a glimpse of what is to come with monster dunks, blocks and aggressive rebounding.
Antawn Jamison will be looked upon to be the Lakers' sixth man this year, but the early results of his role with the Lakers have left much to be desired. Jamison has failed to reach double digits in scoring in any of the seven preseason games and has struggled to find his shooting stroke so far. To his credit, Jamison has played the majority of his preseason minutes strictly with second- and third-stringers, so his looks at the basket will improve by playing with a more balanced lineup.
Returning Players: B+
We already know what to expect from Kobe Bryant at this point, and the 2012-13 preseason was no different. Bryant was his usual aggressive self on offense (20.4 ppg in 26.8 minutes in five games). What is most impressive is Kobe's .500 percentage from the field and .417 from the three-point line, is that he got a lot of open looks courtesy of Nash and the Lakers' improved ball movement.
It's unlikely Kobe will be able to maintain these percentages in the regular season, but the five-game sample size for Bryant should have fans encouraged for an improvement over his 2011-2012 percentages (.430, .303 from three-point range).
Pau Gasol has been solid in the preseason for the Lakers, posting 13.2 ppg and 6 rebounds in 30 minutes a game. Gasol was noticeably passive at times while allowing his teammates to get their rhythm, but Gasol was stellar when he chose to be more assertive, like his 17-point, eight-rebound, four-assist game against the Clippers Wednesday.
The most impressive returning Lakers player not named Kobe Bryant had to be Metta World Peace. World Peace is noticeably slimmer and quicker, thanks to losing more than 20 pounds before the season. World Peace has averaged 10.7 ppg in the preseason while knocking down .343 from thee-point line. Some of World Peace's attempts may have come in moments that he wont be taking in the regular season, but his ability to shoot the three-ball will be needed when the games begin to count.
Bench and Role Players: C-
The weakest link of the Lakers continues to be their bench. Although the additions of Jamison, Jodie Meeks and the return of Jordan Hill should be positive ones, the preseason results have been subpar at best during the preseason.
Jamison's struggles have already been noted above. Meeks is locked in a battle with Devin Ebanks for backup shooting guard minutes, a battle that Ebanks had the advantage in earlier in the preseason. Meeks has been better during the last couple preseason games when he has been given an opportunity to play and may have earned his spot back. Ebanks has shown enough improvement to earn minutes as well.
The most pleasant surprise from the preseason may have been Robert Sacre, the final pick of the 2012 draft. Sacre filled in admirably for Dwight Howard throughout the preseason. Playing with the starters will do wonders for Sacre's confidence, giving the Lakers a backup center they can rely upon to spell Dwight Howard when needed.
The remaining rotation bench players haven't done much this preseason worth noting. Steve Blake has struggled to get the offense of the Lakers second string going, and Duhon hasn't fared much better. Blake will most likely win the backup point guard job by default.
It's difficult to evaluate the Lakers offense and defense with a major part of both only playing in one preseason game (Dwight Howard). When Howard was on the floor, the Lakers looked good on both ends of the floor. Howard appeared to have chemistry with both Bryant and Gasol, and his connection with Nash will come over time.
With Howard as the defensive anchor, the Lakers will be able to be more aggressive jumping passing lanes as Howard was able to block four shots and pull down a ton of defensive rebounds. Without Howard the Lakers were more conservative, implying a more basic game plan. Metta World Peace was a lot more active defensively and appears to be regaining his trademark lockdown form, thanks to his offseason conditioning.
Although the Lakers have lost all seven of their preseason games, their record should be of no concern to fans. The Lakers approached the preseason looking to accomplish specific things: remain healthy, develop chemistry and establish roles.
The Lakers appear to have accomplished two of the three things; the only outstanding one being health. Jordan Hill is nursing a herniated disc in his back, while ESPN reports Kobe Bryant will sit out the remaining preseason games with a strained foot. Both are expected to be ready by opening night October 30 against the Mavericks.
Considering that the Lakers have yet to play a game with their complete roster available due to injuries or rest, once the rotation shrinks and the starters play the bulk of the minutes, the Lakers will be putting the pieces together for a successful 2012-13 campaign.