With the preseason now finished and the regular season roster set, it’s time to look at what the bench can provide to the team this upcoming season.
Over the past two weeks and namely the last two preseason games, the bench has been productive, as exemplified by a 74-point output last Tuesday and a balanced attack in Friday’s preseason finale.
So with that said, any type of consistent production from the bench would be a vast improvement from last year’s bench that was ranked 28th in scoring and 26th in efficiency in the NBA.
Here are five players who will look to be major contributors to this season:
1. Jordan Farmar
Farmar along with Steve Blake have arguably the most important task ahead of them. Steve Nash for the last month has dealt with a sore left ankle and stiff neck not to mention that he is still working his way back from last season’s injuries of a broken left leg, hip injury, nerve damage and a hamstring injury.
With that in mind, Farmar has to play in a role where he can ease the load on Nash and help make reducing his minutes a simple and beneficial task to not only the team but to the 39-year-old’s long-term health for the season. This preseason, Farmar showed he can be a factor off the bench by being more of a floor general and a change-of-pace point guard from both Nash and Blake.
In the four preseason games he did participate in, he scored in double digits three times including a 20-point output where he had 15 points in a decisive fourth quarter to help put the game away. Since returning to the Lakers, Farmar has shown he is a different player, a more seasoned veteran who can be just what the Lakers need off the bench as a back-up point guard.
2. Xavier Henry
Henry this preseason had blown the covers off his expectations as a member of the Lakers after signing a non-guaranteed deal with team this offseason by averaging 11.9 points in 20.9 minutes per game. That includes beginning the preseason with a 29-point outburst that put him on the map. In that game and throughout the preseason he has shown his ability to get to the rim with ease, which subsequently leads to trips to the free throw line, and displayed his decent outside shooting ability.
What Henry brings to the team is a knack for scoring in a variety of ways, and if the preseason was any indication of that, his aggression on offense to get himself going will help him become a big factor off the bench. This will also be key with Nick Young expected to be in the starting lineup. Henry’s scoring ability will be much needed.
3. Steve Blake
The savvy veteran will fill in a role on this Lakers team similar to what Farmar is expected to do as he will also have the responsible to be effective on the floor in place of Nash, but what he unlike Farmar will have to play some time at the shooting guard position with Kobe Bryant likely out for the season opener and possibly more games.
Blake is a guard off the bench who has some scrappy defense to go along with his leadership at the point guard position and his 3-point shooting that was showcased on Friday as he went 5-for-5 from behind the arc. Blake’s role on this Lakers’ bench will be important in orchestrating the offense and providing scoring when called upon.
4. Wesley Johnson
Although he suffered a sprain in his left foot in the Lakers’ first preseason game on Oct. 5 against the Golden State Warriors, Johnson has quietly been one of team’s most reliable and versatile players by playing both the power forward and small forward positions.
In five games this preseason, Johnson averaged a mere 5.8 points in 17.4 minutes per game but showed that he can become a hot shooter in the Lakers 108-94 win over the Utah Jazz scoring all of his 14 points in the first half on 5-of-8 shooting to go along with six rebounds.
What Johnson ultimately brings is a player whose versatility helps him fit right into the Lakers offensive game plan as more of a stretch forward with his outside shooting ability.
5. Jordan Hill
As the team’s backup power forward, Hill holds a big responsibility behind Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman. What is also interesting to note is that in the preseason the 26-year-old has come off the bench playing center, which something he had done sporadically last season under head coach Mike D’Antoni.
The move to center for Hill will help Los Angeles play smaller lineups that feature Johnson or Shawne Williams at power forward position to help spread the floor and when he has played center this preseason Hill has brought energy, rebounding and a defensive presence down low.
With Hill at center it has potential to be a very impactful change as it will help the Lakers play D’Antoni’s offensive preference of smaller lineups with an array of shooters on the floor at all times. Hill has shown he can relish in this role this preseason, so with that said expect for much of the same once the regular season begins on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers.
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