Lakers scrambling on filling Metta World Peace’s absence
Hardly anything is Peaceful with the Lakers these days.
With only five days and one regular-season game remaining before the NBA playoffs, the Lakers are suddenly scrambling on how they will cope without the source of their instability. Lakers forward Metta World Peace struck Oklahoma City guard James Harden with an elbow, earning universal scorn among the NBA’s governing body.
The seven-game suspension provided many sanctions for the Lakers. They miss his 14 points per game on 47.5% shooting he recorded in the last month. The Lakers won’t have his lockdown defense, which made it physically taxing and intimidating for opposing teams’ top players. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum also don’t have a trusty secondary option to score consistently from the perimeter and in the post. The Lakers, frankly, don’t have a lot of options to fill the gap.
Lakers forward Matt Barnes will miss Thursday’s game against Sacramento because of a sprained right ankle, and Brown added “it’s a serious ankle injury.” Lakers forward Devin Ebanks will probably start at small forward to keep the bench rotations the same, an approach Brown also followed with Ebanks during Bryant’s seven-game absence this month because of a sore left shin. And the Lakers recalled Christian Eyenga from the D-Fenders of the Development League.
That’s partly why Brown plans to play Bryant, Gasol and Bynum despite having the secure No. 3 seeding. He’ll say he will figure out to what degree he’ll give them rest after talking with them.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Bynum said. “I like to play and I like to rest. Whatever they tell me to do, I’m going to do best. If they want to me play, I’ll play. If they tell me no, I’m going to sit down.”
Bynum conceded it’s “going to be tough” to replace World Peace’s qualities. Below are the options the Lakers have.
Bryant -- He may joke he’s “too small” to play at small forward, but he’s done it plenty of times. The move would free up Bryant to operate more in the post and guard wing defenders. According to Synergy Sports Technology, he’s also most effective on cuts (54.8%), while his post-up work (41.2%) bodes superior to his isolation sets (37.7%).
Still, it’s unrealistic for Bryant to play at small forward all the time. Brown has tried that combination with Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake, but they’ve shown signs of inconsistency. Bryant also thrives more offensively at shooting guard since it gives him more of an array of moves to choose from, including handoffs (47.8%), pick-and-roll (47%) and on spot-up jumpers (40%).
Barnes -- He usually thrives on moving off-the-ball, slashing to the basket and getting offensive putbacks. In the last month, Barnes has averaged 8.8 points on 44.4% shooting from the field and is 37.2% from three-point range. Although he hardly matches World Peace’s defense, Barnes shares similar characteristics in playing physical and making opponents work for their shots.
But who knows how much the ankle might limit him? Last year, Barnes had other injuries, and his 26-game absence because of surgery and rehab on his right knee contributed to tentative play. His 6.7 points per game on 47% shooting and 4.3 rebounds in 19.2 minutes during the regular season dipped to 3.6 points per game on 37% shooting and 2.8 rebounds in 13.1 minutes in the postseason largely for that reason.
Ebanks -- After sitting on the bench for most of the season, Ebanks has suddenly earned himself a starting role two times in the last month. The first happened during Bryant’s seven-game absence because of a shin injury. Now he has the spot because of World Peace’s suspension and Barnes’ injury. Ebanks survived his first test during Bryant’s absence by mostly staying in his lane and not committing too many mistakes. He blossomed in the second half of the Lakers-Thunder game by making two late-game steals and holding Durant to five-of-19 shooting in the fourth quarter and subsequent overtimes.
But Bryant correctly remarked this week that the postseason proves more challenging because opponents counter tendencies throughout a series. Ebanks’ length will make him an asset on defense. But on offense, Lakers development coach Phil Handy believes he releases his shot without much of a follow through. Ebanks has compensated for some of that by driving to the basket, but it will quickly limit his game.
Eyenga -- Your guess is as good as Brown’s. His only interaction with him happened in 2006 when the two attended the same Basketball without Borders event. Brown also hardly caught glimpses of his six-game stint of with the D-Fenders where Eyenga averaged 12.2 points and five rebounds in 33.0 minutes. So even if Brown plans to play him Thursday against the Kings, Brown admits he has no idea what he can offer.
“I know he’s athletic,” Brown said after talking with General Manager Mitch Kupchak. “He’s in NBA condition, is athletic and has a nice looking shot.”
Bynum -- His defensive assignment doesn’t change. Neither does his center position. But considering Bynum has lacked focus lately on defense and rebounding, actually fulfilling his assignment would help mitigate World Peace’s absence. Bynum’s lack of effort frustrated Brown so much that he inserted seldom-used forward Jordan Hill in the second quarter Sunday against Oklahoma City. Hill also played the entire fourth quarter and subsequent overtimes, recording 14 points and a career-high 15 rebounds. Meanwhile, Bynum has averaged single-digit rebounds in five of the last six games and hasn’t always remained as aggressive in fighting double teams. If Bynum can channel more aggressiveness without getting ejected, the absence won’t be as severe.
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