Spotlighting and Breaking Down LA Lakers' Point Guard Position
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Since 1992, only once has a Los Angeles Lakers point guard been selected as an All-Star — Nick Van Exel in the 1997-98 season.
It's almost become tradition for the Purple and Gold to be bereft of even a league-average player manning the point guard position.
From the turn of the century until the 2011-12 season, the lead guard spot was held down by the likes of Derek Fisher, Chucky Atkins, Smush Parker and Ron Harper.
In each of those years—except in 2004 when Gary Payton made a one-season cameo to chase a ring—the Lakers' primary starting point guard had a PER below the league-average mark of 15.0.
Even including Payton, the average PER posted by Lakers point guards in those 13 years (prorated over a full season) was a lousy 11.88 — the same mark Matt Bonner achieved last year, which ranked 236th among qualified players.
The arrival of former two-time MVP Steve Nash was supposed to change all that. Although he was one of the oldest players in the league, Nash had an excellent track record and managed to stay healthy and productive even as his formerly great Phoenix Suns teams eroded around him.
Things didn't go quite as swimmingly as everyone expected.
Nash succumbed to the injury woes that throttled the entire team last year and only managed to play in 50 games. Although he remained a dangerous offensive weapon, he continued the long-standing tradition of Lakers point guards getting toasted on defense.
Last season the Lakers gave up more points to opposing point guards than any other team in the league, according to 82games.com. They surrendered an 18.0 PER while only mustering a combined 13.0 PER themselves, the second worst differential in the league at the position.
Strangely enough though, L.A. heads into 2014 with the more depth at lead guard than any other spot on the floor. Here's what we can expect from them next year.
Once again the projected starter, Nash is coming off his worst season in 13 years, posting his lowest PER, assist rate, usage rate and points per minute since 2000.
Playing alongside Kobe Bryant obviously had a lot to do with that, as his role drastically shifted from the guy who completely controlled all aspects of his team's offense to a glorified role player.
He was still a devastatingly efficient shooter, but there's no doubt his play slipped last year from his previously established levels.
Nash simply looked like Father Time was finally catching up with him. He was noticeably slower and at times had difficulty just bringing the ball up the court while being harassed by younger, quicker guards.
The penetration he got on his famous pick-and-roll probes wasn't as deep, and he struggled to create offense for himself.
That's worrisome for a player on the verge of turning 40 years of age.
Injuries obviously hampered Nash as well, and getting healthier may breathe some life back into his game. But don't be too quick to dismiss the health concerns.
Nash has been meticulous about taking care of his body, always playing fewer minutes than just about any elite player in the league, even at his peak.
However, the mystical Suns training staff may have had more to do with his good health than we realize.
During his eight seasons in the desert, Nash was out of the lineup for a total of 37 games, never missing more than eight contests in any season. In his first year without that vaunted training staff, he promptly missed 32 games.
Former Suns teammate and fellow old-timer Grant Hill had a similar experience last season in his first year post-Phoenix.
Coincidence? Perhaps not.
At the very least I wouldn't be expecting 75-plus games out of Nash again.
That said, I do expect his play to pick up when he is on the court. His minutes will be even more limited given the quality L.A. has backing him up, keeping him fresher and healthier.
Without Bryant around to begin the season, Mike D'Antoni will hand the keys to the Lakers' offense back to his old muse. Expect that assist rate and usage rate to climb closer to his career norms.
I'd project Nash for around 12 points and eight assists next season on his now usual 50/40/90 shooting in about 25-28 minutes per game for 65-70 games.
In his first two years in L.A., Steve Blake was an unmitigated disaster, but he finally turned the corner last season and played like the guy the Lakers thought they signed in 2011.
Blake capably backed up Nash at the point and filled in admirably as a starter in Nash's absence.
Unfortunately, Blake was also bitten by the injury bug in 2013, missing 37 games of his own.
The biggest takeaway from Blake's performance last year was his revitalized shooting stroke. A career 39 percent shooter from deep, he rebounded from an atrocious 33 percent shooting performance in 2012 to connect on a whopping 42 percent of his threes in 2013.
On a team in desperate need of outside shooting, Blake now represents a solid option.
It's just too bad the Lakers can't couple Blake's revamped stroke with Nash's at the same time. While those two can rival even Golden State's Super Splash Bros. as an elite long-range shooting tandem, that may constitute the worst defensive backcourt in the history of the league.
The hit on defense is just too great to play the two Steves together much.
Blake should still get plenty of burn backing up Nash—as D'Antoni should limit Nash's minutes—probably ending up in the 15-18 minute range nightly.
Expect him to average five to six points and two to three assists in that time on 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Those numbers should get a nice bump if he has to take over as the starter for a spell as well.
The prodigal son returns home.
After spending a year playing overseas, Los Angeles native Jordan Farmar signed a deal in the offseason to rejoin the franchise that originally drafted him out of UCLA.
He was really beginning to make an impact just before departing the NBA. On the verge of his 27th birthday, he should be entering his prime as a player.
As the nominal No. 3 point guard on the depth chart, there doesn't appear to be much room for Farmar to blossom.
But given L.A.'s dicey shooting guard depth, especially sans Bryant, expect Farmar to get a lot of run at the 2 playing next to Nash and Blake.
Although not ideally suited to the task, Farmar is more able to guard NBA wings than either of the Steves. What he can really do, though, is raise the ceiling of the Lakers offense.
He excelled in an off-the-ball role in 2012 next to Deron Williams in New Jersey. That year, Farmar averaged nearly 18 points and six assists per 36 minutes on very impressive 47/44/91 shooting splits.
Essentially, Farmar was able to fashion himself into a prototypical third guard along the lines of a Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford—someone who can function as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker, create offense for himself and others and keep the defense honest as a three-point threat.
That's the type of player the Lakers have missed the past decade.
Their backup guards were never capable of putting up points in a hurry and potentially swinging games—not even Farmar in his first stint.
Of course, we're talking about a relatively small 39-game sample which was way above the level of production he had shown previously. You have to wonder if it was just an anomaly. Why wasn't a young guy who looked like he was breaking out locked up to a longer term deal in either of the past two summers?
We'll get some answers this upcoming season.
I'm bullish on Farmar. I think he can have the biggest impact of any of L.A.'s offseason acquisitions and be the only one worth keeping around for the long haul.
I'd project him to play 18-20 minutes between both guard spots, averaging around nine points and three assists a night, but leaving an imprint on games larger than those numbers would suggest.
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