Lakers Nation is still on a high from the moves that management was able to pull off this summer. After getting ousted from the post-season in the second round for two straight years, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak reminded the fanbase of their commitment to winning at any cost. After all, when you reach the NBA Finals for three consecutive seasons (2008-2010) and win back-to-back titles, coming up short in the playoffs for two years in a row is considered failure in Lakerland.
Lakers management exceeded expectations of ensuring a second round departure is not repeated next May by acquiring a future Hall of Fame point guard in Steve Nash, an improved bench led by Antawn Jamison, and an upgraded center in a motivated Dwight Howard. Of course, the Nash and Howard deals received and continue to receive the most media attention, but that should be expected. However, we shouldn’t overlook the two other players that came to Los Angeles as part of the Dwight Howard deal from Orlando.
Chris Duhon and Earl Clark were those two other pieces that ended up in purple and gold this summer. Both of these players are not star players to say the least, but they have the potential to be two more weapons on the Lakers bench. Considering the dismal performance of the bench last season, having two more role players to contribute is a bit of a luxury. So let’s take a deeper look at what these new Lakers bring to the table and how their skills and abilities can be best used by Mike Brown.
Let’s start with Earl Clark. Clark adds athleticism, youth and versatility to the Lakers bench for next season. As I have written before, Clark is technically a power forward at 6’10”, 225 pounds, but performs quite nicely as a small forward as well. The 24-year-old from Louisville has potential, but it is not likely that he will see consistent minutes behind Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill, depending on what position he will be used.
Clark can play the pick-and-roll (he played with Nash in Phoenix) and has shown that he can defend it as well. Clark has shown consistency problems throughout his four years in the league and needs to show more urgency and aggressiveness on offense as he relies on the outside shot too much, especially for his size. However, he plays great in transition ball and has solid court vision. While he has the ability to shot block, Clark struggles on defense off the ball. Here is a look at Clark’s statistics.
2011- 2012 Regular Season (career averages in bold)
- Points: 2.7 — 3.1
- Rebounds: 2.8 — 2.1
- Blocks: .7 — .5
- Minutes: 12.4 — 10.2
- FG %: 36.7 — 39.1
Now on to Chris Duhon. As far as we know it, Steve Blake is expected to be the primary backup for Steve Nash. It is not clear how many minutes Duhon will get in each game, but that doesn’t mean his presence is a total scratch for the Lakers. Duhon shares a similar offensive profile as Steve Blake as they are both primarily spot-up shooters, in particular at the three-point line. However, Duhon provides an upgrade on defense that Blake has not provided as of yet. Although Duhon is shorter than Blake (by two inches), he is bulkier and uses that to provide more of a physical type of defense. Here is a look at Duhon’s averages that he brings to the Lakers.
2011-2012 Regular Season (career averages in bold)
- Points: 3.8 — 6.8
- Assists: 2.4 — 4.6
- Minutes: 19.5 — 26.3
- FG %: 41.9 — 39.4
- 3-point %: 42.0 — 36.3
Steve Blake struggled with his specialty last season, which is shooting the three ball, with a percentage of 33.5 percent. Duhon had a much better accuracy average at the three-point line last season, but overall Blake’s career three-point average (38.7) edges out Duhon. Duhon is a bit more athletic than Blake, but based on the trust that Kobe Bryant and Mike Brown have in Steve Blake, I expect him to remain as the immediate backup point guard.
However, athleticism and consistent knock-down shooting were two of most urgent needs that the Lakers had going into the off-season. Duhon’s presence is not a game changer, but I expect he will get minutes to provide his contribution using his skills offensively and defensively.
For both Earl Clark and Chris Duhon, their roles and minutes are expected to be limited at this point. This itself is a crazy statement when you think about the state of the Lakers bench last season. While the rotations shrink during the post-season, players like Clark and Duhon can be expected to be called upon to contribute during the regular season. For example, look at the minimal, if any, minutes Jordan Hill received off the bench before he was call upon during that double-overtime thriller against Oklahoma City last season compared to the expectations he has now as a primary player off the bench.
This is what Clark and Duhon have the opportunity to do. It is up to them to prove themselves and earn their minutes. With a talented roster that the Lakers go into this season with, that is what they must do to fully contribute. Training camp will be critical platform to do just that.
In case you missed it – Dwight Howard’s introductory press conference with the Lakers!