Season Review: Point Guards

Kurt —  May 15, 2006

Here comes the first in a series of pieces over the next few weeks breaking down aspects of the team’s players and management, looking at both last season and the future.

There’s something compelling about Smush Parker that makes you want to like him. Maybe it’s his name — or that he named his SUV the “Smushcalade.” Maybe it’s the story of playing on the playgrounds of New York as a kid. Maybe it’s the drive and effort, a willingness to work on his game overseas while looking for a way back to the NBA. Maybe it’s the come-out-of-nowhere to start for one of the league’s most legendary franchise story arc. Then again, it’s probably the name.

But as much as we like him the problem remained that point guard was the weakest position for the Lakers last season. Opposing point guards shot 48% (eFG%) against the Lakers all season long, plus averaged 8.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. Opposing point guards average a PER of 17.1 against the Lakers, higher than at any other position. Those are not the point guard numbers of a team going far in the playoffs (unless you can score like the Suns).

As much as I like him much of this falls on Parker, the starting point guard. Against Smush, opposing point guards shot 52.4% on the season and had an average PER of 18.7 (the equivalent of having the opposing point guard play as well as Sam Cassell or Jason Kidd every game). Because I like him, I’ll add that he was a defensive upgrade over Chucky Atkins last season (opponents averaged a PER of 19.1 against the human pylon, but actually didn’t shoot as well as against Smush this year). To Smush’s credit, he helped the Lakers create more turnovers, he averaged 2 steals per 40 minutes. Most importantly, the Lakers were better with Smush on the court than off, to the tune of +3.4 points per 48 minutes. But the flaw of +/- data is that it can say as much about a players backup as him, and the Lakers had a drop off behind Smush (the Lakers defense got better by 2 points per 100 possessions when Smush sat, but the offense dropped off by 3.4).

In the triangle, the classic point guard almost plays a two-guard role — he’s asked to play stingy defense and be a good spot up shooter. And while Smush felt streaky as a shooter his numbers at the end of the year were solid — he hit 36.6% of his three point attempts and had a true shooting percentage (think points per shot attempt) of 54.8%, which is better than the league average. He shot 45.3% on his jump shots but, importantly, he got 35% of his shots in close to the baskets (on penetration, fast breaks and inside cuts). Still, overall, when you factor in rebounds, assists, turnovers and more, his PER was 13.3, slightly below average. And, in the playoffs, he disappeared, shooting just 15.4% on threes and 36.1% overall.

His offensive game is not so overwhelming as make up for his below-average defense. Might he get better? Yes, and I’m rooting for him to do so, but the Lakers can’t gamble next season on Smush’s improvement. What I like is the idea of Smush in the backup roll, where he has room to improve without carrying the burden.

Right now that backup roll is Sasha Vujacic’s, and he is under contract for next season (for $160,000 more than Smush, which is unfair, but welcome to the NBA where salary and worth are all-to-rarely tied together). He finished the season with PER of 8.3 (the kind of number that usually means “Hello Italian League”).

Sasha improved at using his length to bother opponents and at times seems to have played better defense than Smush, and the numbers bear that out to a degree — opposing point guards shot just 44.4% against him and had a PER of 14.6 (basically right at the league average of 15). However, remember that Sasha played almost half as many minutes as Smush and not all against point guards, so Smush spent more time covering the Nash/Parker/Bibby/Davis guards of the world, you had to expect his numbers would be higher.

What hurt Sasha was his offensive numbers were less than impressive. He shot a decent 34.6% from three-point range (which accounted for 55% of his shot attempts). The problems were: 1) He shot just 35% from two point range (meaning he’s basically as good from beyond the arc as inside it); 2) He doesn’t create his own shot — 92% of his jump shot attempts were assisted; 3) Along those same lines, he doesn’t drive the lane much, leaving his true shooting percentage at 47.9%, well below average; 4) He didn’t make up for these deficiencies with good rebounding (only slightly better than Smush in terms of percentage of available rebounds grabbed) or anything else.

Bottom line, Sasha does not appear to be panning out — there was not a lot of meaningful growth from year one to year two. He will be on the roster next year with the final year of his rookie three-year deal, but I’d be surprised if the Lakers pick up the option for the next two years.

So now what? When the Lakers go looking on the free agent market or at trades, getting a veteran point guard that fits the triangle has to be priority number one. There are other needs (a big who can consistently hit the 15 footer and pass out of the high post) but none as pressing as out top.

But whoever they get has to fit the role — Steve Nash, as great as he is, would hate the triangle. The Lakers need three key things in the point they are looking for: 1) A good man defender; 2) A good spot-up shooter from beyond the arc; 3) Can play without the ball in his hands and is comfortable as a role player, not the primary initiator of the offense.

That’s a tall order for likely just the mid-level exception. But as much as we love Smush, he is not ready now to be the man out top.

Kurt

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17 responses to Season Review: Point Guards

  1. B-ref.com has Smush’s most similar as Geoff Huston and then Jay Humphries. Mr. Huston was in the midst of his best season and Mr. Humphries showed flashes of improvement in later years, but nothing significant. History isn’t on Smush’s side.

    Its a shame Devean George never did bust out into whatever Jerry West saw. His BYC and salary and everything is just in that sweet spot where he could be signed-and-traded for anyone in that decent role-player range. I don’t think he has much value, though that option does exist besides the mid-level and with today’s GM who knows who might be duped.

  2. Although Sasha and Smush may have had moments where they endeared themselves to fans, I have to agree that there is little hope of either them ever being anything other than solid NBA backups, if that.

    That being said, i think a big test of Phil Jackson and his staff will be their ability to develop players like Smush and Sasha. We have noticed the empahasis that the staff has placed on this with the slew of special assistants that have been brought in (Hodges, Pippen, Cap) It would be nice if we could see one of those “come out of nowhere” guys wearing FB and G for once.

  3. More than anything else the Lakers need a PG who can defend other PGs. Any offensive skill would have to be a bonus.(Too bad Mitch focused on Banks-Delonte West was/is the type of PG Phil would love.)
    Don’t go to any games-and not a Laker fan,but now live in LA,and love the NBA-but from what I’ve seen on TV,Kobe really seems to be comfortable w/Sasha. I believe a better use of Sasha would have him off the bench at SG w/Kobe moving to SF. To this outsider it looks like distance shooters have a hard time gaining Kobe’s trust. Sasha seems to have it and if his role is simplified to D and shooting,I think he would be an invaluable 6th man.

  4. Kurt,

    What would you put the Lakers chances at getting Terry? 1%?

  5. The problem with signing Terry is he made $7.5 million this year and the Lakers can only offer the MLE of $5 mil, so he’d have to take a 33% pay cut, which doesn’t sound likely. I find it hard to buy that the MLE will be the best offer he gets. And I doubt the Mavs like the idea of a sign-and-trade to dramatically improve a team in the West. Hard to put a percentage on that, but below 5% I would think.

  6. We need a point guard who plays defense, knows the triangle and a playofff capable floor leader who doesn’t panick in crunch time. If nothing else, a guy Kobe can play with when everyone ELSE disappears in a game 7. We also need a 3 or a 4 depending where they want to put Lamar. Look at this idea:

    Trade Chris Mihm and McKie for Derek Fisher. It worked through tradechecker for ref. I know you are all saying “Derek Fisher- overpaid”. Look at it this way: The salary cap plan is not going to work. So we sign one great guy and surround him with “merry minimums” ? Yeah, that will get us a ring, with Kobe that much older.

    Trade for Fish, great PR, good player, Parker backs him up. Sasha and Devin Green would round out the backcourt. Take the MLE and go the full 5 years on a small forward. I have not memorized the free agent list, guys like Bonzi are disruptive, so a defensive/stopper type who can give you a few points and also have a good basketball IQ, not a star. Maybe like a Bruce Bowen type. Luke Walton is not strong enough in my opinion. No defense, if his shot is not going down, he dissappears.

    So:

    Starting 5: Fisher, Bryant, Bowen type, Odom, Brown
    1st Bench: Parker, Vucacic, Walton, Turiaf, Bynum
    2nd Bench: Green, Cook, some stiff we haven;t signed yet

    You got defense, you got playoff experience, some bench depth, and most inportantly you got more heart.

    Go one more year, use the MLE of 2007/2008 on your weekness, and BOOM, you are a deep experienced team, with everyone having played with eachother for a long time

    BTW, if you can get KG from the snow to the sun, blow up the above plan, and do it

    Chris

  7. Fisher will be 32 before the season starts. Not only is he overpaid per year, his contract runs through 2010. You don’t want an aging flopper who is already looking overmatched against the bench players he typically faces. I’d agree with Hollinger’s assessment that he would be (and would have been to the Lakers) useful at playoff time, but everyday?

    And why would the Warriors want Chris Mihm and/or Aaron McKie? This isn’t NBA 2k7, you can’t force the computer to accept your trade.

    You can’t go back to 2001 Laker fan. Hell why not reunite the whole 2001 squad? I wonder if Mike Penberthy is available.

  8. While I have a soft spot for Fisher, he’s not the answer. He is old and expensive and not a great defender anymore (better than Smush last year, but Fisher’s at the age where his skills will start to deteriorate).

    I’m very glad that Fisher got the big paycheck, but I’m glad Buss isn’t signing those checks for the next four years.

  9. I think we are pretty much stuck for a bit unless something out of the ordinary happens for LA, or Mihm is traded for something somewhere somehow.

    I’m not really thinking there will be any big shakeups this offseason and frankly I’m not looking forward to really anyone they are going to sign with the MLE. We have to hope that there’s going to be some hard work over the summer and this same group comes back with more focus, more passion, and more heart than they had last year.

    Granted, Smush is certainly not the answer at PG from the skillset he displayed this year and I don’t really see anything in Sasha that puts him above a 10th spot in any rotation. we are a young team – Bynum is still growing, we’re getting some people back and Odom looks like he still has some more to reach for. Kobe will improve like he does every single year.

  10. I agree that Smush should not have been a starting PG this year, but the fan in me hopes for something better next year.

    That said, here is my list of possible free-agent signings at PG:

    Bonzi Wells
    Flip Murray
    Mike James (probably too expensive)
    Marcus Banks
    Speedy Claxton (probably not a good fit in the triangle)

  11. notreallyimportant May 16, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    I’m sorry did you just imply that we should sign Bonzi Wells? A disruptive under-achiever who just hqad an incredible playoffs in the last year of his contract?

    Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

  12. The case for Bonzi would be that he gets substantially more rebounds than Smush and is otherwise a wash.

    Bonzi, over his career, has a rebound rate of 10.4 per 100 possessions. Last year, Smush had a rebound rate of 5.8 per 100 possessions.

    On turnovers, Bonzi’s rate is 12.9 (career) vs. 14.4 (2006) for Smush.

    On steals, Smush has an 82 game average of 97. Bonzi averages 112.

    Bonzi’s PER for his career is 16.6 (career). Smush’s PER in 2006 was 12.5 (2006).

    Bonzi’s attitude is a problem, but PJ might be able to handle that, right? At least it’s worth considering.

    In other words, Bonzi is an option at PG that can’t be immediately dismissed.

    [All of that having been said, I’m still not saying that the Lakers *should* make a move for Bonzi. I’m just saying that he’s a realistic option if nothing better is available.]

  13. I know Kobe expends a lot of energy on defense playing smaller point guards and therefore loses a touch on offense. But given that Kobe was so effective in the playoffs as playmaker and got even those stiffs to score, why not play him at the point? He doesn’t need to score that much. Instead, go out and find a solid 2 guard that can shoot and defend. I’m not for playing Odom at the 4. He causes too many problems for opposing teams, when he plays the 3, not to take advantage of that.

  14. notreallyimportant May 17, 2006 at 9:31 am

    A solid two guard tha can shoot and defend? That my friend is a commodity that is incredibly hard to find in the NBA. How bout D-wade? or maybe Rip?

    But seriously, will Mobbley be available because he would seem pretty good for the three sided object.

  15. Here’s another option:

    A big lineup that might work. Play Kobe at the point, Luke at the 2, Odom at the 3, Kwame at the 5. Go out and try to find a true 4, and a solid backup player for the back court, instead of looking for a starting point guard. That may be a challenging task. Mihm for someone of his caliber that is more of 4 than a 5?

  16. I like the idea of signing Marcus Banks. He’s an excellent defender and was much better offensively when he joined Minnisota. He’s not the ideal PG from an offensive perspective, but I think improving the defense should be a higher priority. Banks is also a more reasonable sign for the MLE.

    I guess I like Smush more than some around here, his PER spiked around 15-16 mid-season. I think he tired towards the end of the season as he’s never seen as much playing time. He’s not a terrible option as a starter, but I think he’s most usefull in a Bobby Jackson/combo guard type of role.

  17. How good a defender is Marcus Banks? I don’t know much about him, but his defensive rating on Basketball Reference co 106, same as Smush’s. I doubt defensive rating is the end-all for stats but that’s just the first place I looked at.