Los Angeles Lakers Leaning on Role Players a Dangerous Game to Play

The Los Angeles Lakers never had much of a choice.

They knew, to some extent, that they'd have to rely rather heavily on the contributions of role players if they were to survive the 2013-14 NBA season.

Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace were gone, Kobe Bryant had a long way to go before he'd be ready to return from a torn Achilles, and Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, both aging and coming off injury-plagued campaigns, couldn't be assumed to produce to the extent that they had previously.

That's why head coach Mike D'Antoni was so candid during the preseason about his plan to play an 11-man rotation—at the outset, anyway. He was well aware that he'd need someone (or someones) to step up on both ends of the floor while awaiting more definitive results from his 30-something stars.

As it happens, the tables in L.A. have tilted toward a dependence on the likes of Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Chris Kaman, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson far more and much sooner than many would've otherwise anticipated.

On the one hand, this has yielded a bench that leads the league by a comfortable margin in a number of categories, per hoopsstats.com, including scoring (51.5), rebounding (24.1), assists (10.3) and field goals and three-pointers made and attempted.

That's an impressive turnaround from last year, when the Lakers bench ranked among the two to three least productive units in the NBA. Further, most of L.A.'s current reserves are scrapheap types working on league-minimum contracts.

On the other hand, the second unit's contributions, while encouraging on their own, point to a bigger, more worrisome problem: The starters aren't performing. Through eight games, L.A.'s starting five ranks dead-last in scoring and efficiency on both ends of the floor.

To be sure, there's no clear distinction between one group and the other...

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