If you're a reserve looking to become a fan favorite, a recent blueprint has been firmly established. You can be a relentless hustler who pursues every loose ball and relishes the dirty work, ala Ronny Turiaf and Josh Powell. You can be a highlight dunk waiting to happen, ala Shannon Brown. Or you can be both, ala Josh McRoberts this season, at least for a while. With his high socks and higher elevation, the energizer bunny began the season as the reserve fans looked most forward to see check into a game. (Adding to the fun was the way he shattered some stereotypes. Nobody expects much athleticism from big white players, much less big white players from Duke. As it turns out, McRoberts ain't Cherokee Parks 2.0, and not simply because his body isn't a mural.)
Brett Deering/Getty Images
McRoberts was fun to watch above the rim.
McRoberts' first season wasn't all fun and games, however. Like every member of the bench, he was yanked in and out of the rotation, often unsure of when he'd enter the game and for how long. As time went on, his limitations were also driven home. At his best, McRoberts resembles something of a poor man's Lamar Odom (or as the Dallas Mavericks called such a player this season, "Lamar Odom.") Another lefty with a surprisingly good handle for somebody 6'10", McRoberts isn't quite the playmaker on the break as LO, but he's capable of taking a defensive rebound past halfcourt, and from a halfcourt set actually passes the ball very well. Unfortunately, that's also where the comparison basically ends. As a scorer, McRoberts' range is more or less the rim. Unless putting back an offensive rebound or dunking, the guy provides no ability to spread the floor or even a presence worth guarding. And while his 24/7 effort is commendable, it didn't always translate into quality defense.
Like the vast majority of players in the league, the best way to maximize his contribution is simply not to ask too much of him. He'll hustle, get some dunks, get some boards, and do little things. If you ask for him to be a prominent part of the offense, or a defensive stopper, he'll let you down.
Sounds about right.
50 games, 14.4 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1 apg, .4 bpg, .475 FG
McRoberts wasted no time making a strong impression while filling in for a suspended Andrew Bynum. Eight rebounds were pulled down in the season opener against Chicago. Three games later, he scored a season-high 10 against the Knicks, with two blocks and three steals thrown in for good measure. Kobe Bryant praised on a few occasions the team's early-season gritty vibe as a byproduct of adding McRoberts. Josh also developed a fast alley-oop chemistry with Steve Blake, which led to Lakers fans puffing out their chests about their own "Lob City." On a few occasions, the big lug opted to play the enforcer role in defense of a teammate, always a crowd-pleaser.
A strong start was thwarted by a January toe injury that sidelined McRoberts for six games. February and the first half of March was spent out of the rotation altogether, as Mike Brown opted to run with a floor-stretching Troy Murphy as the primary reserve big man. After winning back the gig in late-March, he eventually lost it again to Jordan Hill heading into the playoffs.
Prospects for 2012-13
Mitch Kupchak warned big changes could be afoot, and if Pau Gasol and even Andrew Bynum aren't immune to relocation, one can safely assume McRoberts isn't untouchable. The need for his services in L.A. will be dictated by a lot of variables. Will Gasol and/or Bynum be traded? If so, will an incoming big man be part of the haul? Will Hill be resigned? What are the projected minutes available for Josh? Should he be deemed expendable, a $3 million expiring contract makes him reasonably easy to trade or package into a larger deal.
McRoberts ultimately provided as advertised upon getting signed, and he can't be heavily docked for being the player he's supposed to be. But the inability to rise above expectations often left the Lakers wanting, and perhaps even searching this offseason. They could do worse than McRoberts, but perhaps better as well.
Previous 2011-12 report cards: