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Steve Blake Better Fit for Lakers Starting Lineup Than Broken-Down Steve Nash

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Steve Blake Better Fit for Lakers Starting Lineup Than Broken-Down Steve Nash
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Thankfully, the Los Angeles Lakers have Steve Blake; otherwise, too much of their immediate fate would be tied to Steve Nash

Did I just write that? And if I did, was I also building a fort out of beer cans whilst I penned it?

Yes to the first; no to the second. Sober and aware of what I've just done, I stand by my words. Blake, a career role player, has proved a better fit for the Lakers than Nash, a future Hall of Famer and perennial All-Star.

This isn't to suggest that Blake is some sort of savior or magic bullet that will remedy all of Los Angeles' woes. The Lakers remain a flawed team. Once Kobe Bryant comes back, they'll still be a flawed team with an imperfect starting lineup. Age, injuries and personnel limitations are inescapable. They're issues that can be treated and nursed, but there is no cure.

Battling for a lower-seeded playoff berth in a deep Western Conference, the Lakers are seeking temporary bandages. It's not about who can save them; it's about who can help them survive the longest.

Pervaded by injuries and a depleted core, we know the Lakers are better off with Kobe in the lineup. Similarly, it's also clear the starting point guard situation, while bereft of an absolute solution, becomes a more stable source of productivity and leadership with Blake at the helm.

 

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Dimes won't be dropped or three-pointers drilled from the bench. For players to make an impact, they must be on the court and available to play a majority of the time.

Clearly on the last legs of his illustrious career, Nash is no longer the durable boy wonder. Before joining the Lakers, he missed more than 10 games in a single season just three times. Last year, he missed 32—a career high—and has already missed half the Lakers' games this season.

Nerve damage in his back will keep him sidelined a couple weeks at least. Pushing 40, I suggest you take the over and expect him to miss more time.

Blake, while no spry, young chicken himself, has rebounded from an injury-plagued 2012-13 crusade quite nicely. Abdominal strains and hamstring damage limited him to just 45 games last year.

Despite missing more time than Nash then, the 33-year-old Blake has appeared in each of the Lakers' first 12 games of 2013-14 and is averaging over 30 minutes a night (31.9). Dirk Nowitzki is the only other NBA player, aged 33 or older, logging more court time (32.2).

Call Blake what you like, but he's been reliable. And the Lakers need reliable.

Coach Mike D'Antoni has already been forced to field six different starting lineups, concerning to say the least. Continuity is important in the Association. Constantly shuffling the decks won't get you far. Los Angeles will need to make the necessary adjustments when Kobe returns, and thrusting Nash back into the starting lineup as well subjects the team to even more change.

Blake has shown he's healthy enough to play more minutes and appear in more games than Nash. He's shown he has more gas left in his tank. And he's shown he can steer the offense.

Anything the Lakers hope to accomplish this season stands to be compromised by turning the keys back over to a point guard whose body continues to betray him.

 

Doing What's Best for the Offense

Fair warning: Point guard statistics aren't pretty in Los Angeles.

Followup warning: Life's been progressively worse with Nash on the floor.

Hampered by injuries and the inexorable Father Time, Nash hasn't had the profound impact on the Lakers offense that they need. When he's on the floor, opponents are outscoring them by 14.2 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com (subscription required). Comparatively, the Lakers are only being outgunned by 8.2 points per 100 possessions when Blake is in the game.

Neither net rating is ideal. Or even close to it. Or even in the neighborhood of close to it. Floor generals are supposed to be the engines that make teams run. Knowing you're at a disadvantage with your primary ball-carrier on the floor is unhinging.

But remember, this isn't about exorcising all of Los Angeles' demons; it's about putting the best possible product on the floor to start the game. And within that product, at point guard, should be Blake.

Take a look at how the offense has fared with each in the game:

Via infogr.am.

The Lakers offense, the foundation for any success they may have, is more potent with Blake on the floor. Where Nash is also allowing opposing point guards to notch a 15.6 PER, per 82games.com, Blake is holding them to 13.7.

Upon first glance, these are relatively small differences that don't appear to make or break the Lakers. Yet Blake has been consistently better and had a more productive effect on the team than Nash.

This doesn't diminish what Nash has done, nor is it meant to belittle the potential for him to regain some of his stride. It's simply acknowledging that the Lakers are in more capable hands at the moment than they would be with an increasingly unsound Nash.

 

Holding His Own

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Quietly, Blake is having himself a fine season.

If his 9.8 points per game hold, they'll be the second most of his career. He's also on course to set career highs in assists (7.3), steals (1.1) and minutes (31.9). In the unlikely event his red-hot 46.4 percent clip from downtown stands, too, he'll have yet another career high to his name.

Blake is basically having a career year. At 33. Wow.

Tinkering with Blake's current role could mess up a good thing. He's never been more productive than he is now, running Magic Mike's point guard-friendly offense. 

Again, he's not perfect. Like the rest of the Lakers, he's far from it. But in Blake, you have one point guard eyeing career bests in numerous statistical categories. Benching him in favor of a physically obstructed Nash, who's in the midst of the worst start to a season for his career, doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It doesn't make any sense.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There are no MVP awards resting on Blake's mantle, nor are there any glimmering championship rings overtly placed on his fingers. Essentially a second-string lifer, Blake also isn't Nash.

But Nash isn't Nash, either. Instead, he's a fragmented version of his former self, clinging to what's left of his abilities while still being held to an unrealistic standard.

Unable to play the minutes the Lakers need and fulfill the role he was brought in to play, it's time for a change. Nash shouldn't be forced into retirement, but he should, upon return and provided Blake hasn't hit a wall, be tasked with exploring alternative means of contribution. Be it as Blake's backup or strictly a spot-up shooter, the Lakers must plan for his continued demise.

Fortunately, they have the ability to make such plans. There is no healthy All-Star point guard waiting in the shadows, but there is Blake.

Who should be the starting point guard for the Lakers when everyone is healthy?

Submit Vote vote to see results

"It's a long season and it's a young team, so we'll go up and down a little bit, but we can get better,"  D'Antoni said of his team, per ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin. "It's getting better. It's getting better."

For now, the Lakers are better with Blake over a healthy Nash. For now, Blake is enough.

More than injuries and natural regression have allowed Nash to be.

 


All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and NBA.com (subscription required) and are accurate as of Nov. 18, 2013.

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