Grading Each Los Angeles Lakers Player's Performance at the Midseason Mark
Through 46 contests, L.A. hardly resembles the storied franchise we've known throughout the years. The team is 14th out West, Kobe Bryant has played just six games and finding a consistent starting lineup has become a near-impossible task.
Then again, it hasn't all been bad entering the second-half stretch. Pau Gasol has re-emerged since the New Year, Kendall Marshall has been a surprise pickup from the D-League and Nick Young has provided energy and swag when the team has needed it most.
Grading this roster is difficult with so many injuries to take into account, but that's why "incomplete" is included as a category. Giving away "F" after "F" wouldn't be fair to those who can't help their health, especially considering grades are based on not just participation, but production and expectations as well.
None of these grades is set in stone, as a solid finish can change public perception. At 16-30, the only direction is up; although don't tell that to the fans with the draft already in sight.
Despite all the hype that surrounded Kobe Bryant during the offseason, fans in Los Angeles have been disappointed by the obvious absence of one of the greatest figures in franchise history. The Mamba's first return to action was about as short-lived as it comes, making his next comeback even more important than his first.
Steve Nash just isn't the player he was supposed to be. In fact, he's hardly a player at all, having been on the sidelines since Nov. 10, 2013. The soon-to-be 40-year-old is a wild card to return to the lineup, and at this point, anything you get from him is simply a bonus.
Steve Blake was playing well when the injury bug bit him, but as the story goes with this season's Lakers, it's about staying healthy. Blake has played in just 21 games, making it unfair to grade his production up to this point.
Like Blake, Jordan Farmar has played in fewer than half of L.A.'s total games. He's tallied 22 appearances on the year, and while his current PER is good enough for fourth on the roster, participation is a big part of production at the NBA level.
Manny Harris earns an incomplete because he is in the midst of a temporary contract, not because of injuries like his aforementioned teammates. He's on his second 10-day deal of the year, and while he has played well, we need to see if he makes the final cut for the second-half stretch.
Xavier Henry's 2013-14 campaign has been filled with ups, downs and, of course, injuries.
After starting the year with a 16-point, six-rebound performance against the Los Angeles Clippers, his production waffled. An occasional 15- to 20-point outing gave fans hope that he could be a contributor, but a flurry of underachieving performances brought that notion back down to reality.
That is until December. He had his breakout performance on Dec. 1 against the Portland Trail Blazers (a 27-point, five-rebound showing), and after that he began scoring in double digits much more consistently.
But as we discussed earlier, participation is important, especially combined with expectations.
Henry hasn't played since Dec. 27, and according to 82games.com, he's only seen action in 32 percent of the Lakers' total minutes. His production has been decent, but L.A. needs him to see more time on the floor and less time on the bench.
If he can give that to the Lakers before the year comes to an end, he'll earn a higher spot on the year-end rankings.
"Wesley Johnson may not be the All-Star the Los Angeles Lakers need, but he's the ultra-athletic perimeter player that the fans deserve."
That quote from "The Dark Knight," albeit modified ever so slightly, sums up Johnson's role this year for the Lakers. He's not a lights-out shooter on most nights, and he's certainly not a go-to scorer; but he's one of a select few who offer any semblance of athleticism on the perimeter.
When Johnson is rising above the rim, fans in L.A. remember why they cheer for the guy. He's a highlight reel waiting to happen, and even more importantly, he's a relatively consistent defender.
Unfortunately for Johnson and his team, his PER (10.9) is only good enough to beat out Manny Harris, Shawne Williams, Elias Harris and Steve Nash at this juncture.
Playing in all but one game this season (26.9 MPG), Johnson earns credit for his reliability. If his jumper was as reliable, he'd earn a spot higher on this list. He's not a bad shooter; he simply needs to be more consistent.
Those were the chants Robert Sacre heard during his breakout performance against the Portland Trail Blazers, proving that fans in L.A. were simultaneously pleased with the role players and utterly disappointed with the direction of the season.
When asked about the chants, Sacre, who recorded 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists, told Shahan Ahmed of NBCLosAngeles.com, "I knew my time would come." Whether he was waiting for MVP chants or a simple opportunity to succeed, we're not sure; but for the sake of remaining realistic, we'll assume the latter.
Needless to say, Sacre won't be receiving MVP consideration this season, but his contributions can't be overlooked. He's proving he's a real-life NBA player, and when given minutes, he's shown competency.
His grade may seem high to those on the outside looking in, but remember that expectations are taken into consideration.
With both Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman on the roster, Sacre wasn't supposed to see time; however, his minutes have risen every month since November, and he's become a reliable backup big.
As tempting as it was to include Chris Kaman on the list of "incompletes," we'll give him the benefit of the doubt while offering up an "F" to the coaching staff's utilization of the big man.
Through 46 contests, Kaman has seen action in just 23. He dealt with injuries early, but his recent DNPs come down to Mike D'Antoni not giving him time within the rotation.
In all honesty, the Lakers should admit that this is a bad match and move the center. According to Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News, Kaman agrees (or is at least frustrated), stating, "Same (bleep), new city."
When given the chance, Kaman has done a decent job. He's posted the fifth-highest PER on the roster, and he's shooting the second-highest field-goal percentage behind Jordan Hill.
Kaman's grade can't be too high, as his time on the floor has been scarce, but without the coaching staff on his side, we'll give him credit when it comes to his midseason production.
The Los Angeles Lakers have yet to find a consistent starting power forward to play alongside Pau Gasol in 2013-14. Mike D'Antoni's system offers a non-guaranteed rotation game in and game out, but Ryan Kelly has done a sufficient enough job to earn minutes as of late.
Despite not averaging more than three points per game during any month in 2013, January has been a different story. The rookie out of Duke is posting 8.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in 2014, and not-so coincidentally, he's playing 24.2 minutes per game during that stretch.
Since the Lakers' road win over the Boston Celtics on Jan. 17, Kelly has averaged 12.4 points while shooting 40 percent from downtown. He's proving that he can be the stretch-4 D'Antoni perpetually covets, and he's giving us a glimpse at what the future can look like in L.A.
Kelly's time has been limited, but his future looks bright. Consider his grade more of a progress report, as his final examination has yet to come.
Jordan Hill's 2013-14 campaign is a classic case of needing time to find production.
This claim, of course, is far from revolutionary. Almost every player league-wide would benefit from more burn, but when it comes to Hill, the proof is in the numbers. In fewer than 20 minutes per game, he's posting the team's highest PER as well as career highs across the board.
With Hill's lack of floor time in mind, B/R's own J.M. Poulard has questioned whether or not the Lakers should trade the power forward. As Poulard puts it, "There is a case to be made that he is the only valuable asset on the team because of his expiring contract and affordable cap figure of $3.5 million according to Sham Sports."
If the Lakers are truly ready to throw in the towel, putting all their eggs in free agency and the draft makes sense.
However, if the team wants to ride this ship out, Hill must be a part of the crew moving forward.
He's been excellent this year when given the chance; he just needs more time on the floor to showcase what he can do.
Jodie Meeks hasn't gotten enough credit for how he's played this season.
With Kobe Bryant out, Meeks has earned the starting job at shooting guard. He's posting a career high in points, assists and rebounds, and more specifically, he's becoming the shooter he was supposed to be during his first year in L.A.
Along with career highs in the aforementioned categories, Meeks is also shooting his best percentage from both the field and the three-point line. His shooting has been a positive for the Lakers, but it's his consistency that has made him a reliable option.
With the Lakers struggling this season, Meeks clearly hasn't been a savior in the backcourt. He has, however, helped as a backup point guard, which is all the team can ask for with the barrage of injuries it has endured.
If you want to give Meeks a higher grade, you won't hear many arguments from the L.A. faithful. It's just difficult to offer too many top-tier grades when the team boasts the second-worst record out West.
Kendall Marshall was in the D-League until Dec. 20, 2013. Think about that and tell me he doesn't deserve one of the highest grades on the roster.
Since joining L.A., the point guard has filled a gaping hole at point guard. It hasn't been "Marshall Madness" the way some thought it might be early, but he's been good enough to surprise just about everyone across the Association.
Coming out of North Carolina, it was well-documented that Marshall could be a facilitator. He set the record at UNC for assists in a season, but that didn't translate during his early run with the Phoenix Suns.
Now, the second-year player is averaging 9.3 assists to complement his 10.5 points, but even more surprising is his shooting percentage. He's knocking down 47.9 percent from long range—a feat absolutely nobody saw coming—but he needs to control his turnovers if he wants to take the next step.
How Marshall fits in long-term is still questionable, but at least he's found a home this season. If all guards are healthy late in the year, there will be a logjam at the 1, but that will be a good problem to have considering where they are at this juncture.
Entering the 2013-14 season, we all knew that Nick Young had a chance to establish himself as a scorer with Kobe Bryant sidelined. He's a volume shooter without much of a conscience, and his streaky stroke keeps opponents honest even when he's off his game.
As it turns out, Bryant's time has been more limited than we thought, and Young has stepped up to the occasion.
Not only has Young given the Lakers a scoring boost that they desperately needed, he's brought energy to an otherwise lackluster roster. His swag gives the team energy, and quite frankly, it makes L.A. worth watching even when its luck is down.
Swaggy P's stint in Los Angeles has been exciting, but we'd be remiss to exclude the word "frustrating" as well. The guard certainly knows how to keep the Lakers in games, but during his time in California, fans have learned that he can shoot them out of them as well.
Overall, Young has stepped up to the plate when needed. He hasn't sparked the team into Western Conference contention, but he's been somewhat of a silver lining in an otherwise lost season.
Pau Gasol has had a roller coaster of a season, which has become a familiar story year in and year out.
Despite dealing with health issues, the center has played the second-most minutes on the roster. Only Jodie Meeks has transcended him in that category, and barring further injury, the Spaniard will surpass his own games played from last season by All-Star Weekend.
Although you can't ignore Gasol's slow start to the year, you also can't look past his drastic improvements. Since Jan. 1, the 7-footer is averaging 20.5 points and 12.1 rebounds while shooting better than 50 percent from the field.
If all else fails, Gasol has re-established himself as a desirable trade piece with the deadline looming. Only the Sacramento Kings have a worse record than Los Angeles out West, making a midseason deal surrounding him and his expiring contract a legitimate possibility.
Only time will tell what Gasol's future entails, but one thing's for sure: He's done a magnificent job turning things around in 2014.