You say 10 games is a small sample size for which to grade the Los Angeles Lakers? Professor Fishmore spits in the face of small sample sizes and then steals their girlfriends. He's come here to hand out grades and chew bubble gum... and he's all out of bubble gum. I assume no one will object if I stop talking in the third person now.
My grading system is as simple as it is ruthless: the only thing that matters is on-court performance, objectively assessed. There are no A's for effort. Injury is not an excuse. Rookies and 37-year-olds are graded on the same curve as vets in their prime. And no points given for past service: the current season is all that counts.
Now hand me my red Sharpie and let's get started. Bros are listed in descending order of minutes played.
Pau Gasol: Judging from his stellar early form, this could be the year Gasol plays himself into the league MVP race. His D has been lacking at times, but there's a real argument to be made that with his high-volume, high-efficiency scoring, awesome work on the glass and nimble passing touch, he's been the best offensive player in the NBA this year. He's been great in every game except the loss to the Nuggets last Thursday. Grade: A.
Lamar Odom: He's top five in the league in effective field-goal percentage and top 20 in rebounding rate. His 58 percent mark from three-point land is mucho flukey, but full credit to him for getting off to a hot start. Lamar is still too submissive in the Laker offense, as reflected in his below-average 18 percent usage rate and his disappearing act in Denver. Grade: A-.
Kobe Bryant: The Mamba has tailed off the last few games after a scorching start. His three-point and effective field-goal percentages are now actually below what they were last season. But he's more than making up for it by getting to the line eight times a night and contributing well on the glass. A turnover rate that's creeping up bears watching. Grade: A.
Ron Artest: Ron's having a better year than you might think. He's made 38 percent of his threes and has lately been connecting inside the arc as well. He's doing a fine job of getting position in the paint, and he's substantially improved when it comes to finishing at the rim. Though he did get lit up hard by Carmelo Anthony, Ron's D on the whole has been solid. Grade: B+.
Derek Fisher: Fish just keeps being Fish after all these years. His three-point shooting, essentially his only job in the Laker offense, has rebounded nicely after a brick-intensive 2009-10 campaign. He's still a catastrophe on defense, and somehow he's played 282 minutes this season without collecting even one offensive rebound. For better or worse, expect to see him on the court in crunch time. Grade: B-.
Matt Barnes: Can't complain about the returns on this investment. Barnes has been productive at both ends of the court, at times outplaying Artest. His offensive rebounding rate would be sixth in the league if he had enough minutes to qualify for the leaderboard. Between 10 and 23 feet from the basket he's made only one of nine attempts, so he either needs to start hitting more of those attempts or just forget about that part of the court. Grade: B.
Shannon Brown: The most pleasant surprise of the season by far, Shannon seems finally to be transforming from athlete into basketball player. His playmaking and deadeye shooting have given the Lakers' second unit real punch, and on defense he's showing a newfound ability to fight through ball screens. Shannon's an early frontrunner for NBA's Most Improved Player, and if he maintains current swag levels and earns more minutes from Phil Jackson, he could get some votes for Sixth Man of the Year. Grade: A-.
Steve Blake: Don't be fooled by his low assist totals, a statistical quirk that comes from playing in the Triangle offense. Blake has been a big upgrade on Jordan Farmar, the backup point guard he replaced. He won't continue to bury 50 percent of his threes, but even if that drops down to 40 percent, the Lakers will happily take it. Per 100 possessions, the Laker defense has been almost seven points better with Blake on the court. Grade: B.
Theo Ratliff: He's been terrible. In 67 minutes of court time he's committed more turnovers and fouls than he's scored points. Even worse, he's looked slow around the rim and ineffective at patrolling the paint. And now he's hurt. Grade: F.
Derrick Caracter: How did this kid slip to the 58th pick in the draft? Did he rob banks in college or something? Caracter may not be a future All-Star, but so far he bears a striking resemblance to someone who can play in the NBA. He can create his own shot, get to the line, make his freebies and rebound. His defense, to put it generously, is a work in progress. Grade: B-.
Luke Walton: At this point, it's not clear what ol' Luke has to offer. His body refuses to stay healthy, and he's not especially useful on those rare occasions when he can actually play. He's been pushed down the depth chart by Barnes, and you get the feeling Phil's giving Devin Ebanks every opportunity to push Luke down even further. His contract has three years, including this one, and $16 million still to go. Grade: F.
Devin Ebanks: Devin wasn't supposed to be ready to contribute yet, and sure enough he's not. He competes at full speed but isn't quite sure what he's supposed to be doing. Also, he has zero confidence in his own shot. When Andrew Bynum returns to action, Devin's almost surely off to Bakersfield and the D League. Grade: C-.
Sasha Vujacic: His standing in the Laker rotation was tenuous to begin with, and then Shannon Brown decided to have a breakout year. Now Sasha is what business consultants call a "redundancy." He hasn't helped his cause by committing four turnovers and five fouls in the 28 minutes he's been given. His $5.5 million expiring contract is the best in-season trade chip the Lakers have. Grade: D+.
Andrew Bynum: The absence from the lineup of the Lakers' most devoted World Cup fan is starting to hurt. Denver ripped the Lakers' interior D to tag the champs with their first loss of the season. Three days later, without Drew there to guard the paint the Suns penetrated over and over to set up their record-breaking three-point barrage. And Gasol is playing far too many minutes. Drew should be back in two to three weeks, assuming he doesn't have a South Africa trip planned for early December Grade: F.