The Los Angeles Lakers have been riddled with injuries all season. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash have both missed the majority of the season, leaving the Lakers without their two best playmakers. Pau Gasol, Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar, Nick Young and Jodie Meeks have also been sidelined throughout various points in the season. In fact, earlier in the year, the Lakers were at a point where they were down to four eligible players, but got lucky when a relatively unknown rule allowed them to play with five players on the court.
After last night’s victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, it is clear that the Lakers are finally getting bodies back onto the bench. No longer will they have to show up to games with seven or eight healthy players. Now, the bigger problem becomes, who does coach Mike D’Antoni play?
Everyone knows that D’Antoni prefers a smaller, more athletic lineup with a playmaker at point guard that allows for the team to push the tempo. Unfortunately, this will likely leave rebounding specialist Jordan Hill and veteran Chris Kaman on the bench. D’Antoni has shown a reluctance in the past to play Hill even when he produces. Last night, we saw Ryan Kelly being eaten up by LaMarcus Aldridge for long stretches of the game with the second unit, while Hill sat and watched. Kaman has had some good games as well, but it does not seem likely that he will get the chance to play big minutes the rest of the season.
On the flip side, Kelly and Robert Sacre are getting more minutes with the second unit, meaning that the Lakers are intent on playing their younger players. Both should continue to see playing time as the season dwindles down, especially with the Lakers out of playoff contention.
The perimeter positions present a different kind of problem, with so many young players who are similar in skill level and ability. Kendall Marshall, Meeks and Kent Bazemore will likely continue start, but MarShon Brooks and Farmar will see a lot of playing time. In fact, both Brooks and Farmar played crucial minutes down the stretch against the Trail Blazers, even though Brooks was struggling from the field. Two more players to consider are Henry and Young, who are working their way back into playing shape.
The direction the team has been taking is to play the younger players and give them a chance to prove themselves. This is not necessarily a bad problem for the Lakers, as it will allow them to see first-hand who they want to pursue next year when these player become free agents. However, it does signify that, for the first time in a while, the Lakers are not concerned about the playoffs.