Lakers’ Bench Boasts Hometown Heroes

Los Angeles has always been a town full of young stars, but those luminaries very rarely are home grown. Young talent migrates to southern California; it does not often begin its journey there. The bright lights and commotion of Hollywood tends to sniff out budding talent before it realizes its true potential.

Luckily though this is not the case for the Lakers. In Jordan Farmar and Trevor Ariza, two of the franchise’s most gifted youngsters are local boys who have made good.

Farmar was born and raised in greater Los Angeles. A superstar prep player throughout his youth, he eventually attended Taft High School in Woodland Hills, part of the San Fernando Valley.

It was there that he averaged 27.5 points and 6.5 assists a game as a senior and led Taft to the Los Angeles City Championship. Farmar had become a local celebrity and was named the Los Angeles Times Player of the Year.

He rode those accolades to UCLA, where he only built upon his neighborhood distinction. He only played two seasons in Westwood, but made the All Pac-10 regular season and tournament teams, en route to leading the Bruins to the National Championship game.

Farmar seized the opportunity his stellar year afforded him: he entered the draft and was taken by Los Angeles 26th overall. It had always been his dream to lead the purple-and-gold attack as the lead guard, but that dream would have to wait.

For most of his rookie season, Farmar played backup to Smush Parker, a guard whose tenure in Los Angeles could politely be labeled as dreadful. That first year did see Farmar make history, though not the kind he’d hoped for.

By April 1, 2007, Farmar had been assigned to the Lakers’ D-League team, the Los Angeles D-Fenders. That afternoon Farmar scored 18 points for the D-Fenders, but later that day he was called back by the Lakers to play against Sacramento, becoming the first player ever to participate in both leagues on the same day.

That he had even spent time in the D-League at all speaks volumes of how the season went as a whole. He may have been a hometown favourite for the fans, but he suffered a difficult season nonetheless.

While Farmar struggled through what was mostly a lost season, another local Los Angeles hoops legend was contending with his own challenges. Trevor Ariza was a former So-Cal standout that had met challenges after reaching the NBA.

Ariza attended Westchester High School near LAX airport, where as a junior he paired with current-day Raptor Hassan Adams to lead their school to a state title.

His standout play at Westchester had recruiters from across the country at his doorstep, however Ariza ultimately decided that he wanted to make a name for himself in his own backyard and he attended UCLA, just as Farmar did a few years later. Also like Farmar, Ariza’s time in college was brief.

While Ariza showed outrageous athleticism and defensive prowess, the Bruins limped to an 11-17 record and a losing season in the Pac-10. He elected to leave school and was a second round pick for the New York Knicks in the 2004 NBA Draft.

Ariza was the youngest rookie in Knicks’ storied history. Though he occasionally saw significant minutes under Larry Brown, he was ultimately replaced by David Lee and traded to Orlando.

His second year in Orlando saw him reach career highs in minutes, points and rebounds. Though he was improving constantly for the Magic, he was traded to Los Angeles last November.

His homecoming saw him fracture a bone in his right foot, rendering him incapable of showing his promise. Until this season that is.

So far this season, Ariza is averaging 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds, in just 23 minutes a contest. He is also shooting .429 from beyond the arc, a part of the game he previously struggled with.

More than stats though, Ariza makes good things happen when he is on the floor. Even in limited time, his impact is palpable. His incredibly long wingspan and raw athleticism fuel his defensive excellence, while his constant energy lift inspires his teammates

Ariza now provides all the things the Lakers missed in last year’s playoffs – rebounding, shot blocking, and zestful swagger. He may not fill a box score, but he is a momentum changer for the Lakers.

He elevates his hometown team’s energy level immediately when he checks in, and he could not be prouder to be wearing the Laker purple and gold he cheered for as a child.

The same is true for Farmar. He overcame similar difficulties to those faced by Ariza after leaving UCLA early. In his second year, the Hollywood product shot 46.1% from the field, up 3.9% from his rookie year.

Now the third-year man may be one of the league great young point guards. He is averaging 8.6 points a game and is the heir apparent to Derek Fisher as Los Angeles’ floor general. Despite playing only 20 minutes a game, he averages more assists, steals and rebounds than Fisher and shoots a higher percentage from the field.

Farmar and Ariza each put forth breakout preseasons to become leaders off what might be the deepest bench in the league. They are both still learning and growing: each of these Los Angeles natives will get caught now and again in the trappings of playing before hometown family and friends.

Together though, they are the leaders of the Lakers’ second unit and are primary reasons why the Lakers look as scary as they do. The development of these local idols may determine if the Lakers win it all next June. If they do, you can bet each knows the parade route home.

Photo Credit: ICON Sports Media