The media and everyone across the United States believes the Lakers have the most talented team. They've got the all-star talent and finesse game of Pau Gasol. They've got the freak athleticism and length of the one in a million Lamar Odom. They've got the size and strength of Andrew Bynum. They've got a deep, talented bench. Blah Blah Blah Blah.
I don't see it.
I see Kobe Bryant, as a very close second best talent in the league, taking a soft team to 65 wins. Are there nights when they look like the most talented team? Sure. But if Gasol and Bynum and Odom were so talented, they wouldn't have needed Kobe to score 28 points a night.
No one in the world outside of Pau Gasol, can get Pau to make a wide open shot from fifteen feet. How many of those did he miss last night? No one in the world, except for Lamar Odom, can get him to make more than 1-6 from the charity stripe. No one in the world, not even Gary Vitti apparently, can keep Luke Walton healthy for any long stretch. And no one in the world, outside of Sasha Vujacic, Trevor Ariza and Derek Fisher can get them to make more than zero threes out of ten. How much more open does Kobe have to get his players?
I mean, not even Michael Jordan could clear an entire arena full of people and make the place feel like the practice floor.
Kobe tied for the team high in assists, had as many rebounds as Odom and Bynum combined, and had one less point than the combined offensive output of Gasol, Bynum and Odom. Tell me, how is this team so talented?
In fact, if we run down the rosters, outside of Kobe being the best player on either squad, it would be a hard case to make that the Lakers are more talented player for player than the Rockets, and this is a Houston team missing its supposed best player in Tracy McGrady.
Kobe's better than Shane Battier. No questions there. But the rest of the roster, if not a toss up, then it clearly favors the Rockets.
Aaron Brooks is better than Derek Fisher. Faster, better at getting to the hole.
Artest is far better than Ariza. Though less athletic, he's a better scorer and more well-rounded not to mention an elite defender.
Scola has been playing much better than a hobbled Bynum, and is a far more polished player anyway.
Yao is better than Pau. Just as good a shooter, but he's 7-6 and defends the basket through intimdation perhaps even better than Dwight Howard. I mean, Dwight has to jump to scare people, Yao just has to stand there.
And, even the Lakers vaunted bench doesn't seem to quite match up with the Rockets. Von Wafer is better than Sasha Vujacic. Kyle Lowry is better than Farmar or Brown. Odom, on any given night, could be the best player on either team and probably has Landry beat, but on any other given night, he could also be Mr. Invisible.
Luke Walton, while skilled, is the opposite of consistent whereas, with Chuck Hayes, you know exactly what you will get night in and night out. No question Hayes is the better player.
I've already run down a list comparing the Cavs and Lakers lineups. But, if you look at some of the other teams in the playoffs, the Lakers don't stack up much better against them either.
Kobe edges Melo, but Billups is far and away superior to any other guard on the Lakers. Nene's a lot closer to Pau than people think, especially considering what a beast he is on the defensive end. Kenyon Martin might give up a little to Odom. But, Dahntay Jones, a non-gambling Ariza, is at least a wash with the Lakers starting SF.
And the benches? J.R. Smith, way better than Sasha. Anthony Carter, much more consistent and savvy than Farmar or Brown. Linas Kleiza, a better shooter than Walton. Chris Anderson might end up being the Nuggets MVP for this series with Dallas seeing as how he's been so effective against Dirk. Needless to say, the Birdman's been way better than Bynum.
Right now, the Lakers would be favored in matchups against Dallas, Atlanta, Boston and perhaps Orlando in terms of overall talent.
The Lakers are clearly more talented than Dallas and Atlanta...period. But, if the Celtics had Kevin Garnett and the Magic had a healthy squad including Lee and Nelson, than the Lakers wouldn't be more talented than either of those teams.
In fact, the only reason the Lakers are the favorites is because of #24. I'll go deeper into this "The Lakes are the Deepest Most Talented Team" argument in the coming days. I still expect the Lakers to make the Finals, but it won't be because they have the most collective talent, it will be because they have the most talented player in the West.