For a franchise that has won 16 titles, any Los Angeles Lakers season that doesn't end with a championship is considered a failure. But rather than just dole out a blanket "F" for the Lakers' disappointing 2012-13 season, we're going to break down each player's production in groups: Today it's the bench frontcourt. Yesterday was the bench backcourt. Check back for grades on the starters and the Lakers' coaching staff and front office next week.
Back in the preseason, when Dwight Howard was out and Mike Brown was coaching and Hill was on the court playing with boundless energy on the boards and actually hitting some jump shots on offense, it looked like the fourth-year forward would be the Lakers’ most important player off the bench this season.
A coaching change for L.A. followed by a hip injury for Hill changed all that. Under Mike D’Antoni, Hill received three straight DNP-CDs in December and then missed the rest of the regular season after hurting his left hip against Denver on Jan. 6 and requiring surgery. Hill made a brief return in the playoffs, only missing three months of action instead of six, which is a testament to his dedication to rehabilitation and his body’s healing powers, but he couldn’t sway the Lakers’ fate against the Spurs.
Hill says he might not ever return fully to the player he was before hip surgery, but even 90-95 percent of the activity he’s known for bringing on the court can be a game changer.
“Once you injure something, it’s not going to be back to where it originally came from, but it’s not going to stop me from doing what I do,” Hill said. “I just got to stay on it.”
6.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.7 bpg, .497 fg -- Hill’s points and rebounds were career highs and he did it in just 15.8 minutes per game, but his most notable stat was that he played only 29 games in the regular season.
Outlook for 2013-14
Hill’s role will depend on who returns out of the Lakers’ frontcourt group of Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark and also on how, or if, D’Antoni feels comfortable with him in his system. Hill is a young (turns 26 in July), inexpensive (owed $3.5 million next season) talent that will help the Lakers one way or another, either on the court or as an attractive piece in a trade.
B-: Hill performed when given the chance and healthy, but his season, like many of his teammates’, was derailed by an injury.
Jamison certainly didn’t leave a three-year, $11 million offer from Charlotte on the table to come to L.A. and receive six straight DNP-CDs, as he did in late December through early January. The 15-year veteran and the Lakers went through growing pains together, evidently, because around the time Jamison’s role started to become defined, L.A. started winning.
During the Lakers’ 28-12 finish to the regular season, Jamison scored in double digits 25 times. Overall, the Lakers were 15-4 this season when Jamison scored 15-plus points, as his offense added another dimension to the sometimes predictable tandem of Kobe Bryant and Howard. And Jamison did it playing the final five weeks of the season with a torn ligament in his right wrist that required surgery this week.
All in all, Jamison’s contributions to the team were a bargain for the $1.4 million veteran’s minimum he signed for.
9.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, .464 fg, .361 3fg, 21.5 mpg -- It was the first time since Jamison’s rookie season that he scored less than 10 points per game, but it was also the first time since he was a rook that he played less than 30 minutes per game, explaining the drop in production.
Outlook for 2013-14
Jamison is only 42 points shy of becoming just the 39th player in league history to score 20,000 points. That fact alone will be motivation for Jamison, who turns 37 in June, to want to lace them up again next season. It just probably won’t be in Los Angeles. Jamison butted heads with D’Antoni, even getting into an on-court shouting match with the coach while checking into a game in Houston, and the Lakers will sacrifice the skills of a guy like Jamison to find a younger, more athletic replacement for their bench.
B: Jamison played a role capably and often excelled at it.
Clark was the undisputed feel-good story of an otherwise disastrous Lakers season. Once plucked off the bench cold to shoot free throws by Denver’s George Karl because the Nuggets coach, like the rest of the NBA, knew so little about what Clark was capable of, Clark became such a big part of the Lakers’ season that Bryant said the team would “be in deep crap” without him.
After shining in January and February, Clark fizzled down the stretch because of a combination of his body slowing down from overuse and D’Antoni’s trust in Clark knowing the plays waning. Still, in April in consecutive must-have wins, Clark averaged 15 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3 blocks against Dallas and Memphis. He did not fare as well in the postseason, averaging just 3.5 points and 3 rebounds while shooting 36.8 percent against San Antonio.
7.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.1 apg, .440 fg, .337 3fg -- Clark put up the best numbers of his four-year career.
Outlook for 2013-14
“I want to be a Laker,” Clark, who becomes a free agent this summer, said at his exit interview. “I had an opportunity to show what I can do. If we have a training camp, we can show what we can do. Hope everything works out.”
At the right price, the Lakers could want him too, but they first want him to bulk up. The Lakers were much more comfortable playing Clark at the 4 on offense, but felt like he struggled guarding other power forwards on defense. As is a classic “tweener” case, L.A. liked Clark’s defense against other 3s, but felt like he couldn’t keep up on offense while playing as a small forward.
B+: Clark made strides to become a better player this season. Not many of his teammates can make that same claim.
Sacre went from “Mr. Irrelevant,” as the last pick in the 2012 draft, to a Lakers fan favorite with his entertaining exploits and celebrations on the bench. The 7-footer wasn’t just a fun personality, he had his time to perform on the court, averaging 6.7 points and 3 rebounds in three starts when L.A.’s other big men went down.
“I definitely learned a lot this year,” Sacre said at his exit interview.
1.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.3 bpg, .375 fg, .636 ft, 6.3 mpg -- Sacre hardly played so it’s tough to put any real stock in his stats.
Outlook for 2013-14
Sacre was one of the most universally well-liked Lakers last season, but that won’t guarantee him a job next season. The Lakers will be cash-strapped because of the big salaries they already owe, so bringing Sacre back on a minimum deal could happen, but the team wants him to work on his mobility and midrange jump shot so he can find a fit in D’Antoni’s system.
C+: Sacre is about all you could hope for from the 60th pick in the draft, Isaiah Thomas aside.
After showing bits of promise in the preseason (three games in double digits, including 20 points against Sacramento), Ebanks’ season quickly went south after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in early November. D’Antoni gave him another look in mid December, benching Jamison to give Ebanks three straight games of 20 minutes or more, but Ebanks shot just 9-for-25 in the stretch. It was so bad in the playoffs that Ebanks didn’t make the active roster, in favor of Hill who was coming off hip surgery and hadn’t played in three months.
3.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, .329 fg, .273 3fg -- Ebanks will have a hard time finding a home for a fourth year in the NBA with a resume like that.
Outlook for 2013-14
Ebanks is a free agent and will not be re-signed by the Lakers.
“Next season, I’m going to look around and weigh my options as far as other teams next year,” Ebanks said at his exit interview. “I just want to thank (general manager) Mitch (Kupchak) and the Lakers organization for giving me an opportunity the last three years.”
F: Ebanks never fulfilled the promise he showed in that late-season win against Oklahoma City in 2011-12 and failed to become a valuable contributor for the Lakers.