The Lakers, The Point Guard and The Future

Kurt —  July 29, 2009

There was only one position last season where the Lakers got below average offensive production — point guard. It’s the only position where when you compare the Lakers PER with the PER of their opponents at the position, the Lakers are a net negative — point guard. I could spend the next 500 words using stats to break down the problem, but nobody who watched the Lakers last season really needs convincing.

The one is an obvious problem going forward. The issue isn’t that the Lakers couldn’t stop Tony Parker, because nobody really can stop Tony Parker with the current rules. The problem was when Aaron Brooks looked like an All Star. And the parade of other Aaron Brookses from last season. Playing the Lakers was like Christmas Day for quick point guards.

Despite the cries of some, this issue is not one for the short term — this season Derek Fisher will start with Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown come off the bench. And, as last season proved, that combination is good enough to win an NBA title.

But this is the position that needs to be addressed as the Lakers championship window moves forward for the next several years. And there are a lot more questions than answers when addressing the long-term issues.

1) Can Farmar or Brown step up and be The Man?
This will be one of the biggest questions for the Lakers as they move through next season — can one of these two take the step forward and be good enough to challenge Fisher for the starting role and thereby take control of it for future seasons?

Reed had these thoughts:

I think that both have potential to be the starter provided we continue to play the triangle and have a healthy Kobe + Pau/Bynum/Odom offensive attack. All we need from a PG with our current roster is someone to hit open 3s and play serviceable defense. With our length inside and Kobe and Artest on the perimeter, we really don’t need an elite defender at the point, but we need someone that doesn’t make Aaron Brooks look like Nate Archibald. Brown has more size and upside defensively, but Farmar has shown flashes. They both have the skills offensively if they can turn into consistent high 30s 3-point shooters.

We all have guesses — I tend to think Brown may physically be better suited to the gig, but I don’t discount anyone with Farmar’s work ethic. Plus, remember that Farmar injured his knee in Miami in December, was forced to sit out a few games, and a lot of his issues with shooting started after that (and mentally started to creep into other parts of his game). I had expected Farmar to take a step forward last season that he did not take, but rather he regressed in every offensive category (the easy example, his PER fell from pretty much the league average of 15.4 to 9.9, evidence of his across the board slips). But he is fully capable of bouncing back; it’s on him (and his next contract depends on it). He and Brown will both get their chances, but do they grab it?

2) What about Derek Fisher? He is slowing, noticeably. That said, his +/- numbers were better than either Brown (by a little) or Farmar (by a lot) last season. In the playoffs it was he who made a key speech the team rallied around, he who hit key threes in the Finals. It was also he that was a defensive liability against the fastest PGs.

This coming year is the last year of his contract, and there is a fair chance that he retires at the end of it. But what if he wants to come back? Zephid had thoughts on this:

I think bringing back Fisher would be a good thing, both sentimentally and basketball-wise. But, it needs to be at the right price. I think a maximum offer of a 2-yr, bi-annual exception level offer would be fair (I know we gave it to Shannon Brown, but something similar in value), but the veteran’s minimum would obviously be preferable. If Fisher is willing to come back for the vet’s minimum, I don’t think there’s any reason why we shouldn’t bring him back.

Basketball-wise, bringing back Fisher after next season only makes sense if we still need one of three things from him: leadership, stability, or mentorship. Our team is still very young and guys like Farmar, Bynum, and Sasha still need some maturing to do before we can allow as strong a vocal leader as Fisher go. Our team needs someone who can keep Kobe in check, not allowing his personality to dominate our offense or our team, and Fisher is the only guy capable of that at this point.

But he — and everyone — admits that if he did come back, it would need to be as the third PG off the bench. His playing days are limited.

3) Who is coaching the Lakers in 2010-11? This, to me, is the biggest (and least discussed) feature in the long term PG decision making. Simply put, if Phil Jackson remains on and the Lakers stick with the triangle, then there is one set of PG needs. If Jackson steps down and the Buss family decides to bring in someone like Byron Scott (just a hypothetical) and the Lakers are moving to a different offensive system, then the needs at that position will be totally different.

This variable alone makes it very hard to say what the long term PG answer is. Reed adds along these lines:

I would probably not address the PG position until we figure out the next coach. PG is so different in the triangle and in other systems. They demand totally different kinds of players. So I say ride Fisher/Brown/Farmar this year and see what Phil does before making a big move for a long-term solution.

Next summer there are going to be a lot of free agents on the move, and with the salary cap expected to fall there will be teams looking to trade assets if a team will take on some salary. The options are seemingly endless.

Eventually the Lakers will move away from the triangle — but will they keep it around while Kobe and Pau are still playing together (even if Rambis or Shaw is in the big seat)? Eventually the Lakers will need a more traditional PG, but when is a question nobody can really answer right now.

So what do the Lakers need to do about the PG spot? Wait and see. Which sucks for fans as we prefer decisive action. But patience has been a hand the Lakers have played very often and very effectively in recent years.

Wait and see if Brown or Farmar can make a case to be the starter next year. Wait and see who will be coach and what system is going to be run after next season. Wait and see if other good options come available.

And wait and see if the Fisher/Farmar/Brown three-headed monster can get the Lakers back into the Finals this coming season.