The Point Guard Conundrum

Kurt —  January 21, 2010

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The Lakers are getting above average offensive production at every position except one (using PER as the snapshot stat). They are holding the opposing team to average or less than average production at every position except one.

It’s no secret that if the Lakers have a weakness that could haunt them later, it is production at the point guard spot. At both ends of the floor. The Lakers have not gotten good shooting out of the point guard position, they have gotten questionable decision making, and they have gotten poor defense and an inability to slow penetration.

But the fix is not that simple. Notice I did not say the Lakers are getting poor production out of Derek Fisher — the production is a problem position wide. Everyone who plays there. That is what Reed noted to me in a recent email (after seeing the Lakers play in person in Dallas).

We currently have the single worst PG PER in the league at -5.9. Only Memphis (-5.4) and GS (-5.0 are close). None of our PGs shoot over 35% from three. Fisher is shooting 36% overall and Farmar 41%. Our best PG (Farmar) is 43rd among PGs in PER. Our starter (Fisher) is 65th (only 67 make Hollinger’s list). To drive the point home, of all the PGs in the league who have played 6 minutes per game, Fisher is the 3rd worse in PER. I believe his +/- numbers and decent 5-man-lineup production stats are only passable because (i) he plays 100% of his minutes with Kobe and two of Pau/Odom/Bynum, and (ii) his replacements are well below average.

But of them, Fisher is struggling the most. Again Reed:

As much as I love him, I think that Fisher is far below replacement level at this point… Fisher’s True Shooing percentage is 4% lower than the worst shooting team in the league (New Jersey). If a team were comprised of players that shot exactly like Fisher, they would by far be the worst offensive team in league history. And yet, he probably has more open looks than any PG in the league given his role in the offense.

Then there are the defensive concerns — Fisher is allowing opposing point guards to shoot 51.9% (eFG%), and he is not slowing penetration or guiding other point guards to help with any consistency.

Darius added to the Fisher talk.

What I worry about most is his drop off in shooting from 3. I can live with a low-ish % from him on his two point baskets just because he’s not a finisher inside and that will skew his shooting numbers downward as he’s primarily a jumpshooter. But if Fish can’t shoot in the 38-42% range from 3 that will be a problem for us just because I know that Farmar/WOW can’t shoot that number over extended minutes (nor would I even want them attempting enough 3’s where shooting a good percentage really matters as that is not their game and I’d prefer players play to their strengths).

What we are talking about here is the balance of the offense. Bynum operates from the post. Gasol can operate from the post. Kobe wants touches there. Artest has a bull move from the post. Odom can post up. What the Lakers need is a guard who can steadily make good post entry passes and then spread the floor. Fisher is not doing the second half of that right now (Artest is the best of our three point shoters getting regular minutes). In a playoff series, that could come back to haunt the Lakers as defenses collapse down off the shooters.

The problem is, neither Farmar nor Brown can spread the floor with their shot either. And they bring their own problems. Darius again:

Farmar could take those minutes or Brown could, but I’m not convinced that either of them is a 30 minute PG for us. They both, still, play too fast and don’t exhibit enough control and that style of play is not one that mixes well with our starters (especially now that Artest is swapped for Ariza). I suppose both could change or would adjust based off the personnel that they’re surrounded by (this would be more natural for Brown, imo), but I’m not sure.

In the off-season, the Lakers front office will be forced to deal with this situation. But, with the team not looking to take on salary, it is unlikely that any moves will be made at the trade deadline.

Phil seems to be dealing with the problem by trying to limit Fisher’s minutes every night — something he did last year but now, with the level of Fisher’s deterioration, has to happen even more abruptly. That means subbing Fisher out early (8 minutes of the first quarter) and keep his minutes down. The problem is, Phil wanted to play Farmar more late in the Orlando win but he on three trips down in a row he took the team out of the offense. The last one he called Gasol out of the post to set up a high pick, then launched an off-balance 25 footer. Soon Fisher was in, because the offense can flow better with him in it.

Brown should get some more run. Farmar will get time. Sasha needs to get some run at the point (he did okay in that role last season and he is shooting the three fairly well right now). Fisher will get his run, but his minutes need to be reduced. Close game and you need some big shots? Get him in there. But Phil needs to find a 25-30 minute a game answer at the point guard, and get that person fitting in the rotations. Darius adds this final note:

Phil is the king of normalizing roles and getting players conditioned to play with certain personnel groupings and at certain times during the game. And while I’m not at the stage where anything is urgent, I will be in about 4 weeks when we start to bear down on March and we should start to see more of what the team is capable of and have a better idea of where the team is headed.