Meet the Biggest Unknown Factor in LA Lakers Season Turnaround
USA TODAY Sports
The Los Angeles Lakers' season has been tumultuous, but they've shown improvement since starting 19-25.
While many will point to Steve Nash's fractured fibula as the primary reason for the Lakers' early-season struggles, an injury to the team's backup point guard, Steve Blake, didn't help matters either.
Blake saw action in the team's first few games, but an abdominal tear that required surgery sidelined him for nearly two months.
Since Blake's return, the Lakers have gone 18-11 (through Saturday afternoon) and currently find themselves tied for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Blake's return has been a welcome one and not just because it gave the Lakers improved depth at point guard. His steady perimeter shooting has helped the Lakers' floor spacing and bolstered the team's rather pedestrian second unit.
Shooting 41.6 percent from three and 43 percent from the field since returning (per NBA.com's stats database) from abdominal surgery, Blake has added another dimension to the Lakers' perimeter attack.
And now that Metta World Peace has been lost (via Los Angeles Times) for what appears to be the remainder of the regular season, Blake will be relied upon to produce more for the depleted Lakers.
While Blake's 41.5 percent shooting from the field isn't mind-blowing, it's much improved over his averages (35.9 percent in 2010-11 and 37.7 percent in 2011-12) during his first two seasons in L.A. In fact, the 41.5 percent Blake is shooting from the floor this season will be the fourth-best mark of his career, if he can sustain his current pace.
Examining Blake's shot chart (via NBA.com), it's clear that he's become more comfortable knocking down threes from the wings. Blake has converted on 50 percent of his three-point attempts from the left wing and nearly 53 percent from the right wing.
For comparison's sake, let's examine the point guard's shooting from those spots over the last two seasons. Blake shot 38.46 percent from the left wing and 25.64 percent from the right win in 2011-12, according to NBA.com's stats database, while he hit on 28 and 48.65 percent from the left and right wings respectively in 2010-11.
On a team that ranks 14th in three-point percentage (35.8 percent), Blake's consistent shooting from beyond the arc has been a welcome sight. Nash is the only other Laker shooting better than 40 percent from deep, with reserve marksman Jodie Meeks hovering below the 37 percent mark.
It would be easy to look at Blake's 5.9 point per game average and dismiss him as a non-factor, but the fact remains that the Lakers' second unit is aided by his presence.
According to Basketball-Reference, the five-man unit consisting of Blake, Meeks, World Peace, Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison is the unit Blake has posted the second-most minutes with.
While World Peace's minutes will need to be replaced, that lineup has posted a net three-point percentage of plus-.278, the highest mark of any five-man unit the Lakers have trotted out this season.
That grouping has also posted the highest net effective field-goal percentage (plus-.155) of any Laker lineup this season, according to Basketball-Reference.
With relatively fresh legs, Blake's presence has helped take some of the onus off of the 39-year-old Nash, who's spent the better part of his first season in Los Angeles adjusting to life surrounded by superstars.
D'Antoni said Nash tweaked his back/hamstring/hip last night. Tried to tough it out tonight, but he was really struggling physically.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 29, 2013
As Nash and the Lakers limp toward the finish line, Blake's ability to guide the team's second unit will be key. The Lakers have been decimated by injuries all season long, and with Blake as one of the team's few healthy bodies, he could have an impact on the team's standing in the playoff race in the weeks ahead.
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