Can the Lakers’ bench step-up next season?

This is part two in a series of articles looking at the Lakers’ roster next season. Click here to read part one which focussed on the Lakers’ starters.

Can the bench – the players that only play about 20mpg – really affect the outcome of a season? Do you need a bench full of capable players, or is one true scorer along with “decent” players enough? 

If you look at the Miami Heat, you can make the argument that starters are all you need, along with some key contributions during games (Mike Miller anyone?) to be successful. However, another argument can be made for the Spurs, Thunder, and previously, the Mavs, as they all had a scorer coming off the bench (Manu Ginobli, James Harden, and Jason Terry) and all those teams have also been successful.

What is the recipe for success? What can the Los Angeles Lakers do to improve the worst bench in the NBA, averaging just 20.5PPG? Let’s take a look at the projected rotation, barring any more moves, and also at some suggestions on who to add.

POINT GUARD 

As of now, the Lakers have Steve Blake as the primary backup for Steve Nash. Blake will not attack the basket as much as some would like, and was the primary 3-point shooter for the Lakers when he played alongside the starters.

While he showed flashes of brilliance in knocking down the open 3-pointer, his consistency would not always be there, causing many Laker possessions to go to waste, as he could not hit the open 3. Blake is solid at best, but he could be on the move soon in a potential Dwight Howard trade.

 SHOOTING GUARD

The Lakers’ SG situation off the bench is a bit tricky as of now. Last year, Kobe racked up way too many minutes as a true backup SG was never found during the ever-fluctuating rotation that Mike Brown managed. Andrew Goudelock showed flashes of being the scorer and spark needed off the bench, but he was not able to cement the spot, due to inconsistency on the 3-point line, and scoring in general, aside from getting lost a bit in games, ESPECIALLY on defense.

At 6-4, G-Lock as some call him, is too small as a SG, but has limited court vision to be a PG, leaving him potentially as the odd-man out if Darius Johnson-Odom performs at a higher level.

Speaking of DJO, what can Lakers expect from him? Well, by judging based on his collegiate career, and also his Summer League performances, is DJO a PG or SG? Can he be our James Harden?

Although DJO likes to attack the rim, he can hit the outside shot, be it off-the-dribble and also spot-up, with relative ease. However, in the Summer League, DJO has shown that he can be a floor general, showing much more court vision than G-Lock on the fast break. The best part is that DJO takes pride in being a great competitor, and is strong for his size, allowing him to be a good defender.

SMALL FORWARD 

Mr. Trevor A..I mean, Devin Ebanks, c’mon down! When Devin was picked by Coach Mike Brown as the starter at SF for the start of the season, relegating MWP to the “Lamar Odom” role off the bench, many had high expectations for the second year player.

However, not all went smoothly as planned, as both MWP and Ebanks were not too comfortable, and once Barnes and MWP got healthy, they took over the SF minutes for good.

Devin quietly worked on his game, especially his mid-range and 3-point shot, hoping to crack the rotation, be it due to improvement, or just being ready in case the occasion came about. Well, Ebanks was able to get two opportunities. The first came when Kobe went down with an injury, and the other came when MWP was suspended for 7 games after the James Harden debacle.

What impressed many was the performance during the game vs. OKC after MWP elbowed Harden. He was thrown into the fire, and alongside Jordan Hill, was one of the primary reasons that the Lakers pulled off the win. He pulled (ironically) a Trevor Ariza-like moment by coming up with key steals, and hitting key shots down the stretch. This prompted many to believe that Ebanks would be the X-factor for LA to go far into the playoffs.

Although Game 1 vs. Denver was a relative success, the rest of the series was decent, and left everyone wanting more. Can Devin finally put together the tools to become the primary SF behind MWP, especially considering that Barnes is not expected to be back? Why yes, yes he can, and he will. Another year in the league, along with full practice, can allow Ebanks to grow and settle into the “Trevor Ariza” role (play good defense, get hustle points, hit the open 3-point shot).

POWER FORWARD 

Antawn Jamison is here to help! After averaging about 17ppg for Cleveland this past year (more than James Harden), Jamison should probably be the primary option on offense in case that all starters are resting for a period of time.

Unfortunately for L.A., defense does not improve here at all. Jamison does not play much defense, and more details on how Jamison should push Lakers to trade for Dwight Howard can be found here.

Besides the defensive part, acquiring Jamison for essentially $3M less per year (Charlotte offered a 2yr/$8M) is a coup for the bench. He can provide some much-needed scoring, and is a solid insurance in case Gasol or Bynum (or Dwight) are injured. This is definitely a low-risk, high-reward here.

As an added bonus, here is a little fact from the guys over at ESPN Stats and Info: Jamison, over his 14 year career, has averages of 19.5PPG, 7.9RPG, and 1.1 3’s per game. The only two players to EVER average this are LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki. That says a lot of the player that Jamison is.

CENTER

Usually, the Lakers like to leave one big man out there running with the subs to become the primary option on offense and anchor the defense. However, with big man Robert Sacre showing flashes of a capable backup C, maybe the Lakers do not have to play the twin towers as much.

Sacre, and Jordan Hill can help ease the load at C/PF. Jordan proved to be the main spark in terms of rebounding and defense. It is possible that, if Lakers feel that DJO and G-Lock are not ready to handle the SG responsibilities, and they somehow cannot find a suitable free agent SG (some possibilities mentioned later), they slide Ebanks to the 2 spot, have Jamison play as a 3 (not ideal but possible), with Jordan Hill handling the 4 spot, and Bynum/Gasol playing the 5.

However, I would think Jordan Hill plays C – as today’s game does not feature many true centers – with Jamison at PF, Ebanks at SF, potential FA signing or a rookie, and Blake.

FREE AGENTS

After examining what the Lakers have, let’s see if there are any options that can help the Lakers’ bench.

BRANDON RUSH: Rush will take the Lakers bench to a totally different level. Now, many “fairweather” fans like the big-name guys such as O.J. Mayo, Jason Terry, James Harden, Manu Ginobli coming off the bench (and trust me, I would too).

You ask, “what is so good about Brandon Rush?” Consider this: Rush hit the 3-point shot at a 45% clip, on par with his teammate last season, Steph Curry, and also, better than Ray Allen. Also, his defense is vastly underrated, and showed he was capable of guarding perimeter players.

The best part is that Rush does not need “his” shot. Stats show that of all his points, 78% came of assists. What this means is that Brandon is not looking for his own, but rather, is always ready to hit the open shot instead of trying to create everything off-the-dribble. In 26 minutes per game, Rush averaged about 10PPG.

Now, if Brandon Rush is so good as a bench guy, and capable starter if thrust into that role, why in the world would Golden State consider letting him go? The answer is Harrison Barnes. Rush would potentially take away playing time, and the Warriors want Barnes to play as much as possible.

Although the Lakers are interested, Rush is unfortunately a restricted FA, meaning that Golden State can match any offer extended to him. Personally, I think that GS ends up matching if the price is reasonable, which would be a blow to the Lakers improving their bench, especially that SG position. 

JODIE MEEKS: Meeks has similar stats to Rush, except in the 3-point percentage. Although Rush is a better pure shooter, Meeks is a very capable scorer and shooter, as shown by dropping 20+ points on four occasions (as a reserve), even scoring 31 vs. the Cavs. Most of his big games were due to draining the 3-point shot, which goes to show that he is probably the best option on the 3-point line if he were to sign.

Other names out there include Jonny Flynn, Delonte West. These seem more improbable, maybe due to money and also opportunities somewhere else.

This has been part two, where we look at the Lakers bench, and how each player will do. In the next article, we will see how the Lakers fare against their biggest competitors (whole team analysis will be included), such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and the “little brother” in town, the Los Angeles Clippers in the best, and also, the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls in the East. Until then, thanks for reading! 

Written by Ahmed Quintana

Ahmed Quintana will provide his thoughts on everything Lakers. With sports journalism being his goal as a career, this is a stepping stone. Don't forget, follow him on Twitter!