Monday, February 2, 2009

Above the Rim: Another Big Injury and Hot Young Post Players

On January 31st, the Lakers picked up another win in a run away against Memphis. This game was different than other recent laughers for the Lakers as star center Andrew Bynum hurt his right knee. The Lakers are very deep down low, but they will miss Bynum’s shot blocking and power on the block as the rest of the forwards (Pau Gasol, Luke Walton, Vladimir Radmanovic, and Lamar Odom) are finesse players.

Walton- Walton has been starting at the small forward spot for the Lakers lately, but he is only playing 13 minutes a game. However, with Gasol sliding over to center in place of Bynum, Walton’s main back-ups, Radmanovic and Odom, will be splitting time at power forward now as well. That should free up more time on the court for Walton. In his limited playing time this season, Walton is averaging 4 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists. I have always felt that Walton is one of the more skilled and all around forwards in the league, and I think that he can average around 12-5-5 with consistent playing time. While those numbers may be out of reach because of the Lakers depth, watch Walton closely to see if his playing time and numbers increase. If he has a good week, around 7-8 points and 3-4 assists and rebounds, look to pick him up until Bynum gets back.

Trevor Ariza- Ariza will become the main back-up at small forward with Bynum out and the rest of the forwards shifting to center and power forward. Ariza is averaging 24 minutes a game, 11 more than starter Walton has been this season. In those 24 minutes, Ariza has been very productive scoring 9 points to go with 4.8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.6 steals. Ariza also contributes a solid 47.3% shooting percentage. With increased playing time, probably still coming off the bench, look for Ariza to approach 12-13 points and 6 rebounds. Ariza is very athletic and versatile, and more minutes will allow him to showcase his talents even more; he could probably start on at least half the teams in the NBA.

Radmanovic- Vladimir is another back-up post player that should benefit with increased playing time. Vlad was sharing time with Ariza and Odom coming off the bench, but now those players don’t have to share minutes with Gasol. Radmanovic was already averaging 6.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in 17 minutes, and those numbers will increase with Bynum’s injury. Rasmanovic might experience the biggest jump of all these players as he is the only one that’s game revolves around shooting and not versatility and athleticism. Radmanovic is shooting 45% from the floor and 44.7% from the three point line this season, but with more playing time, Vlad will be able to get into more of a rhythm. He could double his scoring average up about 12 points per game if he gets on a roll. However, if Radmanovic does not take advantage of this playing time, he doesn’t contribute much in terms of rebounding or blocked shots despite being 6’10”. If Vlad’s shooting lets him down, don’t waste time with him in your lineup as he won’t be able to make up for it in other categories.

Odom- I have always felt that Odom deserves to start for someone because I see him as a player that could average 15 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists from either forward spot with more playing time. We’ll see if Odom can do it while Bynum is out. In 26 minutes off the bench as the Lakers top sub, Odom is averaging 9.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and over 1 steal and block. Odom can fill up the stat sheet on any night, and as the starter at power forward, he should be able to keep that up. Odom is also shooting 48.9% from the floor and above 35% from the three point line, so his efficiency has been high this year as well. While Odom has only made one start this season, last season, he averaged 14.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block per start while shooting 52.5%. Odom has shown that he can be extremely productive with more consistent playing time, and I would look for him to dramatically increase his production with Bynum out.

Around the League
Two young post players are making waves as their production has improved recently. Charlie Villanueva and Joakim Noah have both been playing their best ball of the season. Villanueva is finally becoming the star it looked like he would be as a high school star in New Jersey and at UConn. Noah is finally putting his aggressiveness and energy together with his skills and the result is more consistent shooting and rebounding.

Villanueva- After averaging about 12 points and 6 rebounds for his career, Charlie has improved to 15.2 and 6.6 this season, but that only tells part of the story. In 19 starts, Villanueva is averaging 17 points and 8.2 rebounds per game on 45.7% shooting, including 40.4% on threes and 89.9% on free throws. In 18 games in January, including 10 starts, Villanueva is at 20.2 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 51.7% from the floor, 44.1% from three point range, and 86.1% from the free throw line. Eleven of those 18 games have been 20 point games including a season high of 32 against Dallas. Villanueva has also contributed 5 double-doubles in that time period. Villanueva should be able to continue this production, or comparable production (17 points and 7-8 rebounds) for the rest of the season.

Noah- Noah has been starting since January 14th, and while his stats don’t change that much from starting to coming off the bench (5.1 points and 6.3 rebounds for both), he has been hot recently, maybe a sign that he will be increasing his production for the rest of the season. In his last 7 games, Noah has been shooting 61.4%. This percentage is not the product of limited chances either as Noah has been averaging 8.7 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks over this stretch. With the exception of one game in which Noah had 3 rebounds and took zero shots, he is averaging 10.2 points and 10.2 rebounds with 3.2 blocks per game in the remaining 6 games. These games have included a 17 point game and three games in which Noah scored at least 10, an 18 rebound game and three games of 10 or more rebounds, and an 8 block game. Keep an eye on Noah because he may become a very productive big man for the rest of the season.

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