Be patient with Ramon Sessions
The newest Laker will take time to adjust, but when he does, he'll help the team
Gasol was acquired on a Friday and was in the Lakers' starting lineup the following Tuesday, putting up 24 points (on 10-for-15 shooting), 12 rebounds and four assists in a road win over the New Jersey Nets.
The Lakers rode Gasol all the way to the Finals that season and the following two seasons, netting two championships in the process.
L.A. made its most significant trade deadline move this week since Gasol, picking up its point guard of the future in Ramon Sessions. The excitement surrounding Sessions is palpable -- just listening to the breathless "oohs" and "ahhs" in Staples Center every time the speedy fifth-year guard had the ball in his hands in his first two games with the Lakers over the weekend let you know how much L.A. missed a Showtime-style guard running the point. It's important to preach patience as Sessions ingrains himself in the program.
The hope, of course, is that Sessions takes the Lakers by storm the way that Gasol did four years ago. L.A.'s management believed that by simply upgrading from the 37-year-old Derek Fisher to the 25-year-old Sessions at the point a return trip to the Finals was possible, or else it wouldn't have kept its (expensive) core of Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Gasol together.
Sessions came off the bench again Sunday in the Lakers' 103-99 loss to the Utah Jazz. He played 23 minutes compared to Steve Blake's 27 minutes as the starter, finishing with 10 points, six assists and zero turnovers.
His numbers might seem more impressive than Blake's (zero points, two assists, two turnovers) but Lakers coach Mike Brown said Sessions wouldn't be leapfrogging Blake into the first five anytime soon.
"I'm going to continue to get a feel for it," Brown said. "I think Sessions helps our second unit. Matt [Barnes is] a runner and Sessions is a push guy. Troy [Murphy] is a space guy and Sessions can score some and get guys easy looks. Right now I feel that he probably works best with that group."
The Lakers had a couple of holes that needed to be filled. Fisher left a lot to be desired defensively against the league's bright young crop of dominant point guards. While Blake, 32, wouldn't be considered on par with that new wave of PGs overall, he is as scrappy an on-ball defender as you'll find in the league and can make guys like Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul work for everything they get.
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Another blatant need the Lakers had to address was the desire to improve upon their struggling second unit, which ranks dead last in the league, putting up just 20.5 points per game. Using Sessions with the substitutes not only can feature his scoring more than if he was deferring to Bryant, Gasol and Bynum for the bulk of his minutes, but it also makes a guy like Barnes more effective. Barnes, averaging just 7.1 points on the season, had 17 points Friday and 12 points on Sunday in his first two games playing alongside Sessions. The bench ended up with 30 points, about 10 points more than its season average.
"I love playing with Barnes," Sessions said. "This is my second game playing with him and I love playing with a guy with his intensity. He gets after it. He's a slasher, he can catch the ball and he's looking to run and I like to run, so it's definitely a good 1-2 punch."
It's going to be a process getting Sessions fully ingrained as it would be with any point guard joining a team two-thirds of the way through a season. As Brown pointed out at Saturday's practice, if Sessions was a wing player, he could just tell him to run the floor and find open spaces on the court, or if he was a post player he could tell him just to park himself in the paint. As a point guard, he has to learn not only where he is supposed to be on every play, but where his teammates are supposed to be as well so he can properly conduct the show.
Sessions came to L.A. at a particularly condensed portion of the Lakers' schedule. Starting Sunday, the Lakers have games on 21 of the next 36 days and are unlikely to get in a full-contact practice again until late April. There might not be sufficient time for him to learn all plays well enough to make the transition from bench player to starter, but that might not matter. If he turns the second unit into a strength rather than a weakness, his impact can be just as pronounced this season as Gasol's was in his inaugural Lakers campaign.
"[Opponents are] going to have to address his penetration," said Bryant after Sessions went just 1-for-7 from the floor but 8-for-10 from the foul line against Utah. To put that in perspective, Blake had just 16 foul shots all season in Sessions' bench role. "Teams are going to have to talk about it and have to scout it."
And Sessions will continue to scout his own team, putting in extra film time and extra practice and talking to his new teammates about where they like to get the ball in the offense -- something he made a point of doing over the weekend.
"There are a few things I don't know yet, but the more time I get with these guys, the better I'll fit in," Sessions said.
Sessions' arrival might not have seemed to be a complete makeover of what the Lakers were all about, but have some patience and his influence should prove paramount.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.