Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Lakers 2006-07: A big step forward

What do you get when you put Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom, a Hall of Fame head coach with horrible facial hair, a bunch of unproven talent, and a complicated offense together for the first time? 45 wins and the 7-seed in the West.

What happens when you keep Kobe and Lamar together, bring back said coach for a second year of tutoring, add a legit third scoring option with a nice shooting stroke, and maintain a young core of unproven talent who now know their roles and how to play in the complicated offensive system?

The answer will come this season, but I'm thinking more wins.

The Lakers played the first half of the season without much confidence in what they were doing. Their offense devolved into watching Kobe do his thing on many nights. But, when they ran the triangle well, they were tough to beat.

Now, heading in to year two with Phil, they get it. Odom knows what he's doing and looked fantastic down the stretch. Kwame Brown will be asked to rebound and play defense, and he looked fine doing that until the end of the Phoenix series.

With the addition of Vladamir Radmanovic, the Lakers have a player who can knock down an open look. They asked Brian Cook, Sasha Vujacic and Smush Parker to fill this role last year, and it didn't work.

The Lakers' youth caught up with them against Phoenix, but it's that same youth that has me optimistic about their chances this season.

Sasha Vujacic is a competant defender, and he showed signs of being able to hit open shots. Should he improve upon that this season, he could see major minutes in the backcourt.

Ronny Turiaf looks like a big time energy guy for this club. His rebounding was key in the second half last year, and since he's healthy and raring to go for the entire season, he's going to be a spark off the bench this fall.

Andrew Bynum is still growing, both literally and in a basketball sense. He's shown some signs of getting it, and his development could allow the team to dangle Chris Mihm as trade bait should they need it.

Luke Walton played huge in the Phoenix series. He clearly understands his role in the offense, and now he needs to step up his game defensively and cut down on turnovers to be a major player on the squad.

The big question mark comes at point guard. Smush Parker was completely exposed in the playoffs. Can he bounce back? He was a nice surprise during the regular season, but his contract runs through this season, so it's make or break time for him.

The Lakers drafted UCLA's Jordan Farmar with their first round pick in this year's draft. Indications from Summer League play are that Farmar is picking up the offense quickly, and he has a good sense for what he's doing on the floor. Can he contribute right away?

The Lakers remain one of the younger teams in the league, but they are set up to be a dangerous team if their young talent takes the next step in development. With a starting five of Kobe, Odom, Radmanovic, Mihm and Parker, the Lakers will be able to score some points. The main questions are whether they'll make a commitment to the defensive end of the floor and what kind of contributions Turiaf, Bynum, Brown, Vujacic, Walton, Mo Evans (who they obtained from Detroit for a 2nd round pick) and Farmar make off the bench?

There are a lot of questions in the West this year. Is San Antonio starting to show their age? Can Amare come back at the same level? Are the Clippers for real? Can T-Mac stay healthy?

The Lakers find themselves with a question of their own.

They appear to be set for the next couple of years, assuming the talent around Bryant and Odom take the next step. Phil Jackson will have a chance to prove his worth as a teacher again this season. Can they take the next step and make themselves contenders?

I say yes, and I see 50 wins and a return trip to the postseason in their future.

Then the questions will begin anew.

1 comment:

kuzfan said...

Do you really mean that the Lakers would actually trade Jack from "Lost"? Who will make the splints for the team members when they get injured?