Grading Every Position Heading into LA Lakers Training Camp

Thomas Duffy@@TJDhoopsFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2013

Grading Every Position Heading into LA Lakers Training Camp

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    After a wild offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers are heading into training camp and preparing to get the 2013-14 season underway.

    This past summer was filled with storylines in L.A.

    Dwight Howard abandoned the Lakers for the Houston Rockets, Mitch Kupchak completely revamped the roster, and Kobe Bryant has been rigorously rehabbing from a torn Achilles.

    But the big headlines won’t slow down, even when the team actually starts playing basketball again.

    Will Mike D’Antoni coach his way into a long-term job on the sidelines? Can Bryant come back as the same player? How will Steve Nash stay healthy?

    These questions, and probably hundreds of others, will persist from the time the ball is tipped off on opening night until the end of Los Angeles’ run, no matter how far that run may be.

    L.A. has an improved roster, and the following slides rank each position with a letter grade.

    The system used to assign each position’s grade is based on improvement from last year, comparison to the rest of the NBA (emphasis on the Western Conference) and projected contributions.

    No position is stacked with talent, which is why it’ll take a collective effort by each player on the roster—and a better year from D’Antoni on the sidelines—for the Lakers to have a chance to make some noise in 2014.

5. Center

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    When a team loses a player like Dwight Howard, the following season without him usually ends in losses, regret and lottery picks.

    However, such will not be the case with the 2014 Lakers.

    Upon D12’s departure, Los Angeles general manager Mitch Kupchak went out and signed 10-year veteran Chris Kaman to fill the team’s void at the center position.

    Kaman is serviceable at best, but he’s no Superman. He’ll likely give the Lakers what he gave the Dallas Mavericks in 2013—about 11 points and six boards a night.

    Jordan Hill will be next in line for minutes at center after having a very productive 2013 season.

    He only played in 29 games last year but averaged a solid 15 points and 13 rebounds per 36 minutes (via Basketball Reference). At 6’10”, Hill can give the Lakers added height at power forward, but he’ll see most of his minutes playing behind Kaman.

    Rounding out the center position will be Robert Sacre, who should see a bump in his minutes from a season ago (6.3 in 2013).

    Sacre is big-bodied and raw, but he’s pretty limited offensively. He should see some additional minutes in the event of injury, but Sacre will be a last resort at center.

    Kaman, Hill and Sacre don’t make for a spectacular unit, but they are a decent front line compared to the rest of the league.

    Final grade: C

4. Power Forward

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    Pau Gasol, along with two inexperienced rookies, will fill out the Lakers’ power forward position.

    After having a tough 2013 campaign amidst all of the D12 drama, Gasol is line for a huge increase in workload this year.

    Last season, Gasol finished with the lowest minutes, shot and point totals of his 12 years in the NBA. But next season, D’Antoni will need Gasol’s interior production in order for his pick-and-roll offense to thrive.

    Ryan Kelly and Elias Harris—two players with entirely different skill sets—will battle for minutes in the second-string unit.

    In his senior season at Duke, Kelly averaged close to 13 points and five rebounds while shooting over 42 percent from the beyond the three-point arc. Because he has the rare ability to stretch the floor at 6’11”, Kelly will be given a chance at a serious role in the Lakers' jumper-oriented offense.

    Harris, on the contrary, is a bruiser. He put up close to 15 points and seven rebounds in his senior season at Gonzaga, connecting on an impressive 50 percent of his attempts from the field.

    Gasol will carry the team along with Bryant, but L.A. will need either Kelly or Harris to emerge as a productive NBA player.

    Final grade: B

3. Small Forward

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    Nick Young and Wesley Johnson are enormous upgrades at the small forward.

    Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison gave the Lakers decent contributions at SF in 2013, but Young and Johnson are younger by a combined 16 years. They're more athletic, and they're superior three-point shooters.

    Although Young and Johnson are relatively unproven, both of them have the potential to break out and blossom into stars this season.

    Shawne Williams is third on L.A.’s depth chart, according to Rotoworld, and will see some minutes behind Young and Johnson. Williams is a five-year NBA veteran and has bounced around the league with four different teams.

    While Young and Johnson will primarily act as slashers and shooters, Williams is 6’9” and will give the team a more physical presence on the inside.

    The Lakers are vastly improved at small forward when compared to a season ago, but when looking around the league—specifically in the Western Conference—there is cause for concern.

    It’s clear that the team will be outmatched when going up against superior teams with players like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Andre Iguodala.

    Final grade: C+

2. Shooting Guard

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    Outside of Kobe Bryant, the only other shooting guards listed on the roster are Jodie Meeks and Xavier Henry.

    Although Young and Johnson could also see some time at SG, the position will still be dominated by a healthy Bryant.

    And until Bryant gets himself back to 100 percent, the Lakers will be hard-pressed to get consistent production from the backcourt.

    But when the Mamba returns, the team will be just fine.

    Even at 35 years old, Bryant is one of the best players in the NBA. Last season, he finished third in the scoring race with 27.3 points per game and—despite the devastating Achilles injury he’s recovering from—will show no signs of slowing down in 2014.

    Meeks has shown potential, but he remains unreliable after a sub-40 shooting percentage last season. Nonetheless, he possesses the capability to blow up in D’Antoni’s high-powered offense scheme.

    Henry will see added minutes in Bryant’s absence, but once the Mamba returns, the 6’6” 22-year-old (four points per game in 2013) could be moved over to a small forward role.

    Even with the promise of Meeks, Henry, Young and Johnson, Bryant will carry the SG position. He’ll carry the Lakers as a team, too.

    Bryant is coming off a serious injury, but he’s still the Black Mamba.

    Final grade: B+

1. Point Guard

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    Point guard will be the Lakers’ weakest position.

    Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar will handle most of the primary ball-handling responsibilities, but they will struggle mightily against younger and more skilled opposing guards.

    Nash is going to be 40 years old and will almost certainly miss some time next season. Blake and Farmar are much better suited for second-string roles but will be forced into starting spots throughout the year.

    The Lakers would have been wise to sign a sparkplug PG like Nate Robinson over the summer. They instead chose to add Farmar as the lone backcourt reinforcement. Robinson seemed like a perfect fit, but the team inexplicably never offered him a contract.

    Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Steph Curry—these are the guys the Lakers will be pitting their PG trio against, and that’s just from the Western Conference.

    They’ll also be squaring off against Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams and Derrick Rose.

    L.A. will be decent this season, but the team will be out-manned and out-gunned at point guard.

    Final grade: D