Breaking down the Lakers' roster
2010 preseason stats: Artest appeared in all eight games, averaging 10.8 points on 43.8% shooting in 26.9 minutes per contest, and went 10 of 24 from three-point range (41.7%).
Outlook: Artest entered training camp weighing 250 pounds, and the decrease in weight has benefitted his mobility and speed. It's almost a given Artest will thrive defensively, but what stood out this training camp was his improved shooting stroke and greater understanding of the triangle.
Artest mostly likely will be looked upon to lock down the opponent's top scorer, but it should be comforting for the Lakers that he seems to understand better what he's doing on offense. It doesn't look as though the championship, the off-season celebrations or the recent accolades regarding his work on behalf of mental-health causes have distracted or drained him. Though Artest seems to feel more confident than last season, he's just as hungry and determined.
Lakers forward Matt Barnes
2010 preseason stats: Barnes appeared in all eight games, averaging 6.4 points on 44.4% shooting in 19.9 minutes
Outlook: Barnes' self-criticism that he hasn't grasped the triangle as fast as he wants to speaks more to his pragmatism, honesty and hunger than any glaring weakness in his game. Sure, Barnes is still learning. But he has shown he's capable of filling a jack-of-all-trades role in terms of making hustle plays, playing physical defense and occasionally hitting the outside shot.
He's going to be an important piece, considering Bryant will be limited to some degree at the beginning of the season, and Barnes could play either the two or three. That versatility also will help give Artest some rest.
2010 preseason stats: Blake appeared in all eight games, averaging 5.5 points on 38.8% shooting, 25% from three-point range as well as 3.6 assists in 21.6 minutes per contest.
Outlook: Blake was right when he described his preseason performance as up and down. He's the best newcomer at grasping the triangle, but his shooting percentage (38.8%), including a zero-of-seven showing last week against Utah, left a lot to be desired. Though Blake is fine-tuning his chemistry with teammates, most of his missed shots came from open looks. This isn't a huge issue. Blake was brought in because of his passing abilities, and he's on the right track in that department. But the Lakers lacked in three-point shooting last season, so it'd be nice to have that additional cushion.
Lakers guard Shannon Brown
2010 preseason stats: Brown appeared in all eight games, averaging 12.3 points on 49.3% shooting in 24.3 minutes per contest. He started in the Lakers' 105-102 overtime victory Friday over Golden State, finishing with 18 points on six-of-nine shooting in 27 minutes.
Outlook: Brown already has shown this preseason that his outside shot and decision-making have improved, suggesting that his wish to become more than just a dunker may come true. Brown has improved each season in his four-year career, and I'd expect the same this season.
Aside from his thumb issue and still-developing decision-making, part of his game waned last season because he played alongside Jordan Farmar, who provided an energy boost off the bench but often played to pad his own stat sheet. Playing alongside Blake will make it easier to adopt the team mentality.
Brown and Vujacic are currently competing for the definitive backup-shooting-guard spot behind Kobe Bryant, but Lakers Coach Phil Jackson suggested Sunday that that role will be filled based on unspecified matchups and game situations.
2010 preseason stats: Bryant appeared in seven of eight exhibition games (sat out in the Lakers' 120-99 victory Thursday to the Golden State Warriors in San Diego to rest his surgically repaired knee), averaged 12.6 points on 28.2% shooting, 17.2% from three-point range as well as three assists in 21.6 minutes per contest
Outlook: Jackson plans to limit him to an unspecified number of minutes at the beginning of the season, although he suggested after Sunday's practice that Bryant would play Tuesday against Houston somewhere in the 30-minute range. I anticipate that Bryant will be 100% by December, but over the next month, the focus will be on rehab rather than shooting percentage.
As much as Bryant's determined attitude will help him recover, he'll have to take a pragmatic approach, playing to his current strengths (working the post, driving to the basket) and avoid his current weakness (outside shooting).
Lakers center Andrew Bynum
2010 preseason stats: Bynum missed the entire training camp while rehabilitating his surgically repaired right knee.
Outlook: Will Bynum be fully healthy and manage to stay healthy this season? That's the million-dollar question that Laker fans wish they could confidently answer. Jackson hinted Sunday that he expected Bynum to return around Thanksgiving but anticipated that catching up on his conditioning and on-court chemistry would take time.
Bynum showed in the 2010 playoffs that his presence and sheer will alone paid dividends in close putbacks and rebounds, made opposing players think twice before driving into the lane and helped the Lakers' defensive rotations. But that won't work as a long-term strategy. It's too long of a season.
Before Laker fans start clamoring for the team to trade him again, consider this: It's tough to think of a team that can combat a starting lineup that boasts two 7-footers in Bynum and Pau Gasol. That's a rare asset to have and is something the Lakers will need should they match up with Boston or Miami in the NBA Finals.
Lakers rookie forward Derrick Caracter
2010 preseason stats: Caracter appeared in five exhibition games, averaging 6.6 points on 43.9% shooting in 12 minutes per contest. He sat out the other three because of back spasms.
Outlook: Caracter's work around the rim and size make him a threat inside. But he still has a lot of work to do improving his ball handling and knowing the triangle. It's unclear if Caracter will play many minutes this season, and if he does, it's probably won't be for a good reason (prolonged injury to Bynum or another front-court player). But in the time he plays in practice and in garbage time, improving the aforementioned variables will make him a more valuable reserve.
Lakers guard Derek Fisher
2010 preseason stats: Fisher appeared in all eight exhibition games, averaging seven points on 43.2% shooting in 21.8 minutes per contest.
Outlook: I've been a pretty staunch Fisher supporter since taking over the L.A. Times Lakers blog in January, but even I was surprised by how efficient his shooting stroke looked in the preseason. That doesn't mean I think Fisher will be lights out in the regular season. But it appears he'll at least be lukewarm. His value will increase once the playoffs hit, but Fisher in the regular season will need to temper his shot selection and ensure he has enough help on defense to back him up when he gets beat off the dribble.
Lakers forward Devin Ebanks
2010 preseason stats: Ebanks appeared in all eight exhibition games, averaging 6.6 points on 43.9% shooting in 12 minutes per contest.
Outlook: I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Ebanks became a regular in the reserves rotation. He's looked that good in preseason, impressing the likes of Jackson, Bryant, Artest and Odom with his quiet nature and relentless work ethic. He's been consistent defensively, making hustle plays and knocking balls loose. Ebanks also improved his shooting stroke on the offensive end and has appeared more comfortable in looking for his own shot without playing selfishly.
Part of the reason Ebanks is likely to get decent playing time is the Lakers' injuries. Jackson already has floated the idea that Ebanks could play some backup shooting guard and backup power forward in addition to his typical position at small forward. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak mentioned that he drafted him with the 43rd pick because of the uncertainty about Walton's back, and Jackson currently doesn't have a timetable on Walton's aggravated right hamstring. For these reasons, the Lakers' draft pick was essentially a steal.
2010 preseason stats: Gasol appeared in eight games, averaging a team-leading 17 points on 46.5% shooting and 7.8 rebounds in 29.6 minutes per contest.
Outlook: On paper, Gasol's numbers looked impressive. On selected portions of film, Gasol looked great. But he entered training camp with a lot of question marks. No doubt he'll display the efficiency, footwork and mid-range game that have made him the league's best power forward, but Jackson is calling on him to make this his team as Bryant rehabs. In that respect, Gasol so far has fallen short, with a poor shooting percentage, sluggish rhythm and questionable effort on defense. Obviously, Gasol will play better once he gets into a routine after, rightfully, sitting out competitive basketball this off-season. But the Lakers are going to need someone to carry the team with Bynum out for at least a month and Bryant not 100% after his surgery.
Lakers forward Lamar Odom
2010 preseason stats: Odom appeared in seven of the eight exhibition games, averaging 10.9 points on 46.9% shooting and a team-leading 10.7 rebounds in 31.7 minutes per contest; missed the Lakers' 105-102 overtime victory Friday over the Golden State Warriors because of a sore left thumb and tight back.
Outlook: Odom posted the best numbers, displayed the most effort and seemed to arrive in training camp in the best condition of anyone on the team. And Odom doesn't plan on resting anytime soon. I had wondered whether his busy off-season with the 2010 FIBA World Championships would elevate his game or lead to burnout. He's shown this preseason that his game has improved tremendously since playing with Team USA, but there's still the possibility that Odom will hit the wall. He sat out Friday because of the thumb, his back and a beat-up nose, injuries he told reporters that during the regular season he would play through.
Still, it's something Odom will have to monitor throughout the season. I liked his approach of laying everything out in practice and exhibition games because it tested his limits and probably helped him realize he had more stamina and energy if he simply paced himself. There may come a time when he'll need to rest and reenergize, but I'm sure Odom will recognize that. Expect big things from Odom this season. The Lakers will need it.
Lakers forward Theo Ratliff
2010 preseason stats: Ratliff appeared in seven of eight exhibition games, averaging 2.9 points on 54.5% shooting and 1.43 blocks in 15.3 minutes per contest
Outlook: Ratliff will prove to be an upgrade over D.J. Mbenga because of his shot-blocking and size intimidation in the post as well as his recognition of his offensive limitations. Still, the Lakers can't invest heavy minutes in him. It's nice for the Lakers to have his blocking as insurance, but it's not a good sign if he's swatting a lot of shots. It means the Lakers aren't playing solid defensively.
2010 preseason stats: Vujacic appeared in five of the eight exhibition games, averaging 6.2 points on 40% shooting in 16.4 minutes per contest. He missed three games after suffering a concussion last week in practice because of an accidental elbow to the face from Odom, but he started in the Lakers' 120-99 victory Thursday over Golden State because of Bryant's absence, posting nine points on four-of-five shooting in 15 minutes.
Outlook: Vujacic entered training camp with not exactly the strongest hand. Brown, who's competing with Vujacic for primary backup shooting guard behind Bryant, logged more minutes than Vujacic. His absence due to the concussion partially prompted Jackson to consider giving Ebanks a chance to play at shooting guard. But upon his return, Vujacic provided tons of energy, key outside shots and defensive scrappiness, which he excelled at without overdoing.
It remains unclear whether Vujacic's recent engagement to Maria Sharapova will bring happiness on the basketball court as well. It's also unclear whether Vujacic will be so buried in the depth chart that there's no use talking about his game. No matter how much run Vujacic ultimately receives, he needs to temper his emotions and play a team role.
Lakers forward Luke Walton
2010 preseason stats: Walton appeared in two exhibition games, averaging 2.5 points and 66.7% shooting
Outlook: Things aren't looking good for Walton, who appeared in only one preseason game after aggravating an injury to his right hamstring, which originally kept him sidelined for the first two weeks of training camp. It's a shame considering he apparently hasn't had any issues with his back, which suffered a pinched nerve last season and kept him sidelined for 53 regular-season games. I won't go so far as to say Walton serves as the Lakers' X factor, as one scout put it to Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen, but there's no doubt his presence on the floor will ensure bench chemistry and help the newcomers learn the triangle offense. One could make the case that Artest's learning curve last season wouldn't have been so steep had Walton been healthy.
-- Mark Medina
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Photos, from top: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant chats with forward Ron Artest. Credit: Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press. Steve Blake drives past the Timberwolves' Wayne Ellington. Credit: Tom Hevezi/ Associated Press. Bryant, left, and the Lakers may have to share the spotlight with Kevin Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference this season. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times. Pau Gasol drives for the basket against FC Barcelona's Fran Vazquez. Credit: Manu Fernandez/Associated Press. Sasha Vujacic goes for a steal after Golden State forward Dorell Wright pulls down a rebound in the first quarter on Oct. 21, 2010. Credit: Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press