The first two nights of the 2013-14 NBA season have been absolutely wild, especially for the Los Angeles Lakers. Opening night attracted a huge audience, which consisted of a lot of folks tuning in to see
Lob City the new Clippers’ offense that Doc Rivers has implemented. To say the least, not one single fan foresaw what we witnessed on Tuesday. Lakers’ fans may have cried tears of joy, while Clippers’ fans and supporters began to question their team’s defensive game plan. Mike D’Antoni and the Lakers stole the opener, taking a 116-103 victory as the “home team.” Pau Gasol and company then experienced a rude awakening in the Bay Area, dropping their second game by 31 points to the Golden State Warriors.
It’s time to break down individual performances in these two match-ups, which occurred in a back-to-back to begin the season for the Lakers.
NOTE: For the sake of in-depth analysis, we will grade the performances of FIVE players that stood out the most
How did these five members of the Lakers’ perform during this 1-1 start? What grades do they deserve? Team results are better than most thought they would be weeks ago, but individual performances have been scattered:
Pau Gasol - B-
Vs. LA Clippers - Since falling short of the three-peat in 2011, Pau Gasol has constantly been the headline of Lakers trade rumors, regardless if he’s playing well or struggling. Tuesday’s performance against the Clippers still won’t end the discussion, but it should. Gasol started out the game finding his rhythm early, connecting on a Kareem-like hook shot in the post and knocking down the mid-range jump shots he has grew fond of, especially being a European-style big man. He even executed on a 3-pointer — yes, as wide open as you can get — but the fact that he felt so confident with his shot spoke volume to how much he has been anticipating this season. After the first half, however, we did see him slow down and not play very many minutes down the stretch (24 total). Gasol finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and four assists on 5-of-12 shooting, While he did turn the ball over five times, his effective play in the first half really kept his team within a small deficit.
Vs. Golden State - It’s crucial to understand that even though Gasol’s play style and efforts were praised against the Clippers, that’s not always going to carry over to the next night. This was the case on Wednesday in the Bay Area. Gasol was somewhat efficient in this game, shooting 5-for-10 from the field, but did not appear ready to play with the energetic Warriors. On several occasions, the frontcourt duo of Andrew Bogut and David Lee just out-hustled Gasol, as well as played hard-nosed defense against him. Playing less than 25 minutes yet again (23 in this one), it’s clear that Mike D’Antoni is trying to take it easy on his two veterans in the first back-to-back of the year. Overall, Gasol looks like he could be playing to his strengths — the low post — when the team figures out their offensive identity.
Xavier Henry: A-
Vs. LA Clippers – The biggest individual surprise of opening night (other than Carlos Boozer playing so efficient) definitely went to the newcomer, Xavier Henry. After a spectacular preseason opener on Oct. 5, the talk surrounding Henry was that he wouldn’t get this many opportunities to score in the regular season. Challenge accepted. Henry led all scorers for the game with 22 points in 26 minutes coming off the bench for the Lakers. In fact, he sparked the bench’s energy and motivated the second unit to a level that the Lakers never get to witness. Henry also collected six rebounds and only one turnover, while shooting 8-of-13 from the field. Where did he truly do the damage though? Beyond the arc, as he knocked down three of the Lakers’ 14 3-pointers for the game. Overall, a solid breakthrough performance (career high in points) that will have people considering him for Most Improved Player if he keeps it up.
Vs. Golden State – D’Antoni must have already fallen in love with this kid and I don’t blame him after Tuesday. Henry received 36 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to Golden State, a team that seemed to revert him back to Earth after a career high the night before. Henry finished with 14 points and four rebounds (both less than his opening numbers) and only shot 4-of-11 from the field. While he is going to be the most important scorer off the bench this season, it doesn’t mean he is going to stay hot from beyond the arc. Henry gets a pass for me, however, as Oracle Arena is loud enough to make anyone play with high nerves.
Steve Nash: D
Vs. LA Clippers – I was afraid this would happen. Yes, Steve Nash is healthier than he was last season. However, it’s small, lingering issues that are going to keep him from being the Nash that Lakers’ fans want. His performance in this game was the exact definition of passive, as well as cautious. Nash started the game and played 21 minutes in the win, but only took three shots from the field (one being a fade-away three that miraculously found its way in) and dished five assists. Turnovers? He looked rusty in that department as well, giving up possession three times. Sitting out the entire fourth quarter, Nash’s presence in this game felt nothing like the future Hall of Famer that we know he is. I fear that when he is on the floor, the “veteran impact” isn’t going to make much of a difference.
Vs. Golden State - Nash’s presence in Wednesday’s game at Golden State wasn’t much better, considering he didn’t play a single minute. Before the game it was reported that Nash would miss this matchup and sit out for rest. The terms used in D’Antoni’s description of the decision centered around being “cautious.” Nash isn’t injured, but just wants his body to be ready to take on the grind of another long season and hopeful playoff run. Can’t criticize the decision too harshly being the first week of the year, but it’s going to create chemistry problems if he isn’t comfortable to go against the top-notch, athletic teams in the league.
Chris Kaman: B+
Vs. LA Clippers - Returning to Staples Center, this time as a Laker, Kaman gave the audience a good game to watch. That’s right, including his turnaround Kobe Bryant-style jumper that DeAndre Jordan sent to the parking lot. All kidding aside, Kaman looks to be playing his own game, one that could care less what others think about him. That’s exactly the way he needs to play. Scoring 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting (including his face-up jumper that indeed looks good), Kaman showed just why he can be serviceable.
Vs. Golden State - OK, I blame this one on D’Antoni. Not ONE center (Kaman, Gasol, Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre) played more than 23 minutes in this game. Is that a recipe for success? The small ball offense is only going to work for so long, until guys can’t get scorching hot from the outside. Kaman needed more minutes than 18 and didn’t get them. He was efficient again, scoring 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Getting more opportunities is something Kaman may need to become more vocal about, especially deep inside the paint. But, we all know he’s too laid back of a guy to get that aggressive.
Vs. LA Clippers: The swag meter has hit rock bottom, which may not be a bad thing. Nick Young started off slow in Tuesday’s game before finishing 3-for-10 from the field and scoring 13 points. Everyone was aware that Young is trigger happy with the ball, which explained his isolation pull-up jumpers in his attempt to make a statement against his former Clippers team. Positive takeaway for Young in this one was his ability to get to the free throw line and convert. Shooting 6-for-8 from the line, while still not Nash-level, Young can help this team close out games this season if he continues to attack the basket and not fall in love with bad shot selection.
Vs. Golden State: Even worse than Young’s minus-4 plus/minus rating on Tuesday was his minus-16 rating on Wednesday. Early on, Young continued to pull off the flashy — or should I say, “Swaggy” — handles, but his mentality is always to fire up the contested jumper. One thing we realized from preseason that carried over to Wednesday was Young’s aggressiveness on defense. He may not be Metta World Peace, but I like seeing him in there doing what he can to use his length and speed on that end of the floor. Just do it without picking up four fouls in 20 minutes, Swaggy P. Overall, he can only improve from what we have seen, so we remain optimistic.