Most of the credit for the Los Angeles Lakers' 6-0 start has rightfully gone to the superb play of forwards Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, but backup guards Steve Blake and Shannon Brown have quietly demonstrated their value as reserves.
Last night with Odom in the midst of a 2-of-10 shooting performance from the field Blake and Brown combined to score 26 points for the Lakers on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, in a 108-103 victory against the Toronto Raptors.
The win narrowly preserved the Lakers' undefeated record, and continued to lend evidence to the fact that signing Blake in free agency and retaining the services of Brown may have been the Lakers' smartest offseason moves.
Blake's steady hand at point guard and his 52.3 shooting percentage from three point range has more than compensated for the loss of Jordan Farmar, and Brown finally appears to be comfortable in his role backing up Kobe Bryant.
Brown has started the season on an offensive tear while contributing nine points per game, and shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from three point range.
Brown and Blake's combined scoring average of 16.8 points per game has been the primary reason the Lakers' bench looks better than last season's version, and when you add in Matt Barnes' 10 points and his defensive presence, you have the nucleus of a pretty good second unit.
A second unit that should improve even more once injured center Andrew Bynum returns and re-claims his starting spot, or is relegated to the bench in favor of Odom's strong start.
The Raptors provided the Lakers with their biggest challenge since the season opener as Toronto battled back from a double digit deficit in the second quarter to take a three point lead into halftime.
Instead of panicking Lakers' coach Phil Jackson used the challenge as an opportunity to tinker with different lineups, but Los Angeles was most effective when Brown and Blake were on the court simultaneously.
Brown's energy and intensity has always been important for Los Angeles but this season he appears to be channeling his energy into disciplined play, and his individual defense has been better than at any other point of his career.
Likewise, Blake has been impressive on the defensive end, and his solid technique is a departure from the constant adventures of the talented, but unpredictable Farmar.
Blake's, 6'3", size gives him a height advantage over most opposing point guards, and his solid perimeter shooting is a crucial piece of a dynamic stretch of outside shooting that has opened up the middle for Gasol and Odom.
If Brown and Blake can continue to be this effective the opposition will be forced to defend them honestly on the perimeter, which means less opportunities for the defense to pack it in in the interior.
That in turn could make the Lakers' quest for their second three-peat in 10 years a little bit easier.