End of the Season Report Card: Point Guards

 —  April 26, 2005

This is the second in a series over the next couple of weeks looking at this Laker team in depth and possible moves for the future. The first post looked at team management.

(These player-related posts will have players listed this way: Kobe Bryant (23.8/15.1/+2.8). Those numbers are: the player’s PER, his opponents PER for the season at his primary position, and his +/- averaged for 48 minutes. I stole this listing idea from Knickerblogger, and get the stats from his site and 82games.com. While none of these statistics is perfect, together they give a pretty good indication of what a player meant to a team.)

No position became the symbol of Laker frustration this past season, and no position took harsher critiques, than point guard. There’s a reason for that — they sucked. The Lakers got a PER of 12.9 as a team from that position, the lowest of any spot on the floor, but opponents PER was 18.9, making it also the Lakers worst spot defensively.

No player was more of a microcosm of the entire Laker season than Chucky Atkins (13.72/19.1/+1.6), and no player became more of a scapegoat for the team’s problems among fans.

Offensively Atkins fell in love with the three-point shot — 50% of his shot attempts this year were from beyond the arc. While his shooting was good — 52.3% (eFG%) and 1.12 points per shot attempt — he was not good at moving the ball around, averaging just 4.9 assists per 40 minutes. In fact, he needed to be set up — 60% of his baskets were off an assist. He settled for jumpers and penetrated little, drawing fouls on just 5.4% of his shot attempts.

Then there was his defense — Ole! Atkins opponents average 20.7 points per 48 minutes and shot 49.6% (eFG%). Those opponents blew past him on the perimeter and got 23% of their shots inside the paint. Atkins averaged just one steal per 40 minutes played. Nightly he was a liability on the defensive end, something evident whether you looked at the statistics or just watched with the naked eye.

Part of the problem was the Laker brass didn’t think there was a viable backup at point. Tierre Brown (9.71/18.7/-1.9) was certainly not the answer.

While quicker and more willing to penetrate — 35% of his shots came in the paint — Brown also turned the ball over 2.8 times per 40 minutes, the third worst number on the team (and the worst number belonged to Kobe, but he handled the ball the most). Brown did not shoot well, shooting 39.7% on the season and averaging just .87 points per shot attempt. His defense was slightly better than Atkins, but not enough to make a difference — against Brown opponents averaged 19.7 points per 48 minutes and shot 45.7%. He averaged just 1.2 steals per 40 minutes.

Overall, I give the Lakers a D at the position this past season. And it is one position the Lakers absolutely must to address in the off-season — but how to go about that will depend on the preferences of the new coach. While the league may be trending toward smaller, quicker guards, Phil Jackson has long been partial to taller guards.

One answer may already be on the roster in Sasha Vujacic (9.13/21.3/+5.2). He showed flashes this year but also plenty of immaturity (a more detailed breakdown of Sasha will be part of the shooting guard recap, since that’s where he played most of his time). Whether he will work depends on: 1) The offensive system being run; 2) Sasha getting better at man-to-man defense, particularly his footwork; 3) Becoming a more consistent jump shooter.

There are a number of veteran point guards available via free agency whatever direction the Lakers choose — Earl Watson if you want to go small, Marco Jaric if you go big. It may be difficult for the Lakers to afford either of those or an Antonio Daniels. Also available as unrestricted free agency are Jeff McInnis from Cleveland and former Laker Tyronn Lue (Lue’s statistics per 48 minutes this season compare well with Akins, but Lue made just $1.65 million, which is a much better price for someone in a back up role).

This is also considered a deep draft for point guards. The Lakers will not get Chris Paul from Wake Forest without a lottery miracle, however someone like Raymond Felton from North Carolina or Deron Williams from Illinois could be around. If you want a someone who comes defensive-ready, there’s Georgia Tech’s Jarrett Jack (but not at #10, that’s too high for him).

The Lakers need to make changes at the one, but don’t assume Chucky is gone. For all his flaws, Atkins could be a spark off the bench with his shooting — he hit 38.7% of his three point attempts. He just needs to play 12-15 minutes a game, not the 35.4 he averaged this season. Another reason to keep Atkins is he is in the last year of his deal, earning $4.5 million, making his very good trade bait.

But that trade could happen this summer as well, and no Lakers fans are going to shed a tear if Atkins is gone. Brown likely is gone to make room for whoever is coming in.