Antawn Jamison’s Recent Emergence Off the Lakers’ Bench

Lakers Nation released a big sigh of relief on Saturday night as the Lakers not only got their first victory on the road of the still early season, but they showcased a balanced offensive and defensive attack that the fans and the players know they are capable of playing each and every game day. The 115-89 win over the Dallas Mavericks hopefully turned on a light bulb with the team and will kick them into a higher gear, where they should be playing.

One of the adjustments that new coach Mike D’Antoni has made over the past couple of games has been to mix in minutes when Laker newcomer Antawn Jamison is playing the four position. This has turned out to be one of the most successful adjustments that D’Antoni has made during his brief time as head coach so far in LA.

First, it is refreshing to see that the Lakers have a coach that can recognize and implement adjustments either during the game or in between games. Remember, this was an idea that former coach Mike Brown was simply unable to comprehend, which only hurt the Lakers’ chances, especially in the playoffs.

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Second, as I wrote at the very start of the 2012-13 season, Antawn Jamison has played his entire career essentially at the power forward position. It never made clear sense to me why he was primarily playing the three when he has made his career pretty darn successful at the four.

Jamison did not get off to a great start, as the fans and team sort of expected based on his career contributions. As the primary reserve at the three, Jamison looked uncomfortable and unsettled on the floor. However, as you can see, playing the four for the majority of his minutes during the past two games against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Dallas Mavericks, has produced much improved numbers.

Jamison’s Stats in Memphis
Points: 16
Rebounds: 7
Minutes: 27
FG: 63.6%

Jamison’s Stats in Dallas
Points: 19
Rebounds: 15
Minutes: 30
FG: 63.6%

Over the past few games, Pau Gasol has struggled on both ends of the court. After the game on Saturday, Gasol told reporters that he has been playing with tendinitis in both knees for some time now, which I’m sure hasn’t helped his energy level. However, this is why increasing Jamison’s minutes at the four and in general can not only help Jamison’s confidence, but will also benefit Gasol. A more productive Jamison means the more Gasol can rest and save his legs, which should do nothing but benefit the team.

D’Antoni realizes the importance of giving Jamison minutes at the four and had the following to say after the win against the Mavs:

“He’s one of the best slashers and cutters. He’s dangerous from 3(-point range). He’s a player. I think he’s hitting his stride now, and he feels reborn a little bit. And we’ll keep helping him.”

Jamison’s offensive emergence during the past few games have been a great positive for the Lakers, but what has been a great surprise is his recent commitment to defense as well. Jamison has not been known for his defense at all throughout his career, especially around the perimeter.

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However, he has a new-found aggression that his is playing with that not only has produced in him attacking the basket more on offense, instead of relying on nothing but threes, but is resulting in playing better defense as well. He is trapping his opponents much more, forcing turnovers and forced shots. Additionally, he has been more present on the glass as well, with 22 rebounds in the last two games alone.

One of the drawbacks of Jamison’s recent improved production for the Lakers is that it is dipping into the minutes of Jordan Hill. Hill has become a fan favorite around Lakerland as his constant and consistent energy, effort and passion is contagious. Hill’s hustle and aggressive attitude and approach has been appreciated during the too often occasions that the Lakers’ bench has been dull and passive.

Hill, who has improved his production this season as well, has handled D’Antoni’s adjustment to give Jamison more minutes at the four with class, saying, “[D’Antoni’s] going to do what he feels is right. He’s going to do what he feels will win games. I respect him for that.”

However, many fans (including myself) know the importance of Hill’s presence on the court. The lingering thought that D’Antoni and Hill’s past is what makes fans think that his minutes may continue to dip. Additionally, as long as Jamison continues to play at the level he has been in the past two games, this could further affect Hill’s minutes.

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However, I believe that we have seen a strong effort to set adjustments, particularly to the rotation, from D’Antoni is a rather short period of time. This makes me hopeful that he will continue to make tweaks here and there to spread minutes that will produce the best performances out of the Lakers’ four primary bigs (Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill).

Overall, the entire bench has stepped up their contribution over the past two games (combined 72 points over last two games). This is hopefully a sign of good things to come, as the bench’s performance must improve for the starters’ sake (minutes, health, etc.). Jamison is the leader of the bench without question. An improved bench, led by an aggressive Jamison, keeps the defense on their toes. I feel he is beginning to feel comfortable in his role, which is an absolute need for the Lakers’ success.

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