After a big win against the Suns on Christmas Day, it’s time we give the Lakers some respect. John Hollinger’s daily ratings have been telling us this for weeks, but the Lakers are one of the top teams in the entire NBA.
From my perspective, Los Angeles has elevated itself to the fourth best team in the entire Association. I would favor the Lakers against any team other than against San Antonio, Boston, and Detroit.
Think about it: Phoenix? Dallas? Denver? Which among the other contenders in the West would you expect to beat the latest version of Showtime? Dallas and Phoenix would probably provide L.A. with a great series, but I’m not yet sold on Denver. Excluding Boston and Detroit, no team in the East would have a shot against Kobe and Andrew Bynum.
This really should come as no surprise based on the numbers, but I’m guessing most fans haven’t yet realized that the Lakers sport the 4th best point differential in the NBA. At +5.1 points per game, Los Angeles has been impressive the entire season.
Now onto the key question: how did this happen?
After Kobe’s interesting summer, one highlighted by constant bad-mouthing of the entire Los Angeles organization (including teammates), the other Lakers seem to have responded. A quick glance at their PERs shows Kobe heads to battle nightly with a solid group: 5 teammates sports PERs above 16.59–and surprisingly the list (Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Trevor Ariza, and Andrew Bynum) doesn’t include Lamar Odom, who checks in at a paltry 13.26, worse than the underperforming Ryan Gomes.
Leading this group is obviously the newly dominant Andrew Bynum. While he’s no Dwight Howard yet, he’s not as far off as you think. He sports a 21.11 PER at the five spot, which already places him in the upper-echelon of centers at merely 20-years-old. Farmar, Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf, who have been solid contributors off the bench, along with Ariza, who started against the Suns on Christmas and played great, form a solid core of youthful Lakers already helping a contending team. Under the tutelage of nine-time World Champion–as a head coach, he got one as a player for the Knicks–and part-time comedian Phil Jackson, this team has shown great promise.
While I certainly don’t expect the Lakers to win Jackson a record tenth NBA Title this year, one thing is for sure: Kobe’s got a heck of a lot better shot than his former big brother, Hack-a-Shaq O’Neal.