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Lakers News: NBA's Top Frontline Just Got Better

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The Lakers signed veteran big men Theo Ratliff and Matt Barnes yesterday, making their already amazing frontline even better and deeper. Adding insult to injury, the perpetual highest paid team in the league got them for almost nothing ($3.1 million combined), even though Cleveland offered Barnes $3.5 million per season compared to LA's $1.7 million.

Ratliff will join his ninth team in his 16th season. The 6-10 center is well known for his defense, particularly his shot blocking. He led the league in blocks per game in 2000-01, 2002-03, and 2003-04 with 3.7, 3.2, and 3.6 respectively. Ratliff has been in the 1.0 to 1.6 range for the past five seasons, but his minutes have been in the 12 to 23 per range. His Block% has stayed around 6 as he's gotten older and played reduced minutes, which ranks higher than Dwight Howard. Again, which ranks higher than Dwight Howard. Offensively, Ratliff defers shots to his teammates, which is good for a team this loaded, but he takes care of the ball, sets smart screens, and has shot 50% from the field for his career; basically, he smartly plays within himself.

Barnes' game is hard to define; basically he's an energy forward who has shown versatility on both ends of the ball. Many pundits label him a 3-and-D guy (implying he's a great outside shooter and defender), but he's hit only 33% from deep for his career, and his defense isn't shutting down any stars. That being said, he is quite versatile because of his athleticism and hustle, willfully slamming into larger opponents (Barnes is 6-7, 235) and sprinting the floor with guards. He's an above-average rebounder and doesn't give up on plays, particularly when playing defense. His 1.7-1.2 (1.4) A-TO rate is good for a big guy.

These two join the Lakers' trio of post players who have been the backbone to repeat championships and three straight Finals appearances. Pau Gasol is now accepted as the best offensive post player in the league, and he's the only other player in the Dwight Howard discussion. His post-season performances over the past three years are absolutely ridiculous, especially when you realize he's single-handedly neutralized several great frontlines during their two Championship runs (Denver and Orlando in 2009, Utah and Boston in 2010), and he was easily the Lakers' best player in their most-recent, 7-game series with Boston

Oft-injured C Andrew Bynum has averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds per game the past three seasons, which is phenomenal considering he plays only 29 minutes an outing. He has shot a wonderful 58% from the field in that time, plus he's blocking 1.7 shots per game. Even though he only suited up for 35 games in 2007-08, 20-year-old Bynum became one of the youngest players ever to average a double-double (13.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, and he came off the bench for 10 of those games).

Lamar Odom completes the Lakers' stellar frontline, coming off the bench to contend with LeBron James for the title of most versatile player in the NBA. He is equally skilled offensively outside or inside, he's a great passer (1.8 A-TO rate is very SG-esque), and he has averaged 9 boards a game the past two seasons as a reserve. Not only that, his size (6-10, 220) and quickness make him one of the best interior defenders in the league according to multiple advanced matrices. Odom's presence in a game is often the spark that turns the team around, which has resulted in some absurdly high Adjusted Plus-Minus numbers during the Lakers' run.

So the most dominant frontline since the Celtics' Bird-McHale-Parrish trio in the 80's adds two vets who play defense and won't screw up the offense. On top of that, LA just drafted super-strong PF Derrick Caracter, who had a great Summer League, averaging 15 points on 59% shooting, 9 rebounds (3.6 offensive), and 1.4 blocks per game.

The strength of the Lakers just got stronger. The Western Conference is screwed again.


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