Digging Deeper at the Point

Darius Soriano —  March 13, 2010

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On Thursday, Silver Screen and Roll (a great site, by the way) put up a post that spoke about how much Derek Fisher is hurting the Lakers and asked the question of whether he was hurting the team more on offense or defense.  It was well written and brought up a lot of good points about Fisher and how his performance has impacted the Lakers.  However, Phillip (while linking to the post in the morning links) mentioned that he thought the Fisher piece was unfair, and I pretty much agree with that.  Not because the stats cited are incorrect or framed the argument a certain way, but because it scapegoated Fisher for our PG woes when all three of our PG’s (if you count Shannon, which I hesitate to do because of all the time he spends at SG, but will for these purposes) have been different shades of bad for most of the season.

Before we get to the core stats, throughout this post you’ll notice I mention usage several times.  For the season, here are the usage rates for our three point guards: Fisher (13.96), Farmar (19.30), Brown (18.53).  Now, on to the rest of the post.

Let’s take another look at the statistics.  Below are the PER For and Against for all three players (as PG’s only):

Fisher: 10.4 for , 18.5 against
Farmar: 15.1 for, 15.8 against
Brown: 13.2 for, 20.0 against

These numbers show that Farmar is our best PG in terms of PER for and against.  Being that Farmar’s usage is the highest, though, that makes sense to me because he’s using more possessions and doing (slightly) more with them.  I mean, PER is a compilation of box score stats that are weighted more towards offense and Farmar is the most dynamic offensive PG that we have.  Farmar’s PER against is interesting too, though, because while I give Farmar credit for showing flashes of improved defense, he’s still not that effective, consistently, on that side of the ball.  Plus, as those folks that knock Fisher consistently reiterate, Fisher plays more minutes with the starters.  This fact is often used to show how he benefits from playing with better teammates, but what is rarely mentioned is that he also faces better players as he’s playing a lot (if not the majority) of his minutes against the other team’s starters.  I understand that this leads to the argument that if Farmar played with the starters that we’d see even better production, but circular arguments like those are difficult to prove so I really don’t give those statements much credence.  Plus, there have been too many times this season where, in games that are close at the end, Phil goes back to Fisher in the closing lineup because the opposing starting PG is in the game and that guy is giving Farmar fits defensively (most recently against Toronto).  So, does Farmar have a lower PER against because he’s facing lesser opponents (and vice versa for Fish)?  I’m not saying that is the case, but it’s a question worth asking.  (On a side note, look at Shannon’s PER against.  It’s worse than Fisher’s.  I think there’s a reason that we’ve seen him play mostly SG this season beyond his inability to organize the offense consistently.)

Now let’s judge the three by individual offensive and defensive rating:

Fisher:  104 – Off. , 105 – Def.
Farmar: 105 – Off., 105 – Def.
Brown:  106 – Off., 104 – Def.

Based off these numbers, Shannon is the best player out of the three, but understand that these numbers are the product, primarily, from his playing time as a SG – the position that he plays for the majority of his minutes (which is why I questioned including him at all in this comparison).  So, if we limit this comparison to just Fisher and Farmar, they’re both, essentially, the same in both individual offensive and defensive rating.  For all the heat that Fisher is taking (which is deserved based off his shooting and at times sketchy decision making), where is the same level of heat for Jordan?  He’s slightly better on offense (with a much higher usage, mind you, so is being slightly better actually helping a team where the PG needs to be the 4th option at almost all times?) and is just as poor on defense.   And even though, as pointed out in the SSR post, this is just a team stat broken down to the individual level and is a product of the lineups that players play in, all of our point guards spend the majority of their minutes sharing the court with at least 3 of the following players: Kobe, Artest, Odom, Gasol, and Bynum.  Now, if Luke Walton had been healthy this season and had actually seen significant minutes, these defensive numbers might mean something different.  But with Luke out, our bench lineup is typically Farmar, Shannon, Kobe (or Ron), and two of Odom/Gasol/Bynum.  And since Fisher plays with these exact same players for most of his minutes, I really don’t think an argument can be made that the lineups that these guys play with are that different.

Now let’s look at wins shares for both offense (OWS) and defense (DWS)

Fisher: 0.8 – OWS, 2.4 – DWS
Farmar: 0.9 – OWS, 1.6 – DWS
Brown: 1.1 – OWS, 1.9 – DWS

These numbers basically show that Fisher contributes to more wins, because of defense, than Farmar or Brown, and his offense is essentially the same as Farmar’s while slightly behind Brown.  But, because Fisher has the lowest usage of all three players you could also argue that his poor offense hurts less than the other two players’ (almost as) poor offense because Fish isn’t using up as many possessions as the other guys.  Fisher, despite his poor-ish decision making is still not forcing his individual offense nearly as much as Farmar or Shannon.  I think this matters.  Now, I understand that the flip side of that coin is that Farmar and Brown are much more diverse offensive players that give you much more pop on the offensive side of the ball.  And since Fisher’s primary role is to provide outside shooting, if he’s not doing that well, his value suffers a great deal.  And if Farmar or Brown aren’t shooting well from the outside, they can create off the dribble or get out in the open court.  All of this is true and these are the reasons that these guys do have value for us.  However, the PG in our system still needs to do certain things on offense.  And if Brown/Farmar aren’t hitting the long ball, they too become somewhat of a liability on offense.  And, if they eschew the long ball (because it’s not their strength or because they’re missing) in favor of creating offensive looks for themselves off the dribble, I would argue that their (sometimes) success at those plays still can have a negative impact on our overall offense due to the lack of team play that’s involved in playing this way.

So, now, tell me who is clearly the better player.  And also tell me that it matters more that Fisher is playing above Farmar or Brown at PG when they’re all below average this year at that position.  I’m not going to defend any of these guys, but don’t scapegoat Fisher in a way that points out how awful he is and then not even mention that his replacements, when measured using the same stats, are just as bad.  This is why I thought the piece over at SSR was a bit unfair.  It paints a picture of Fisher that is accurate, but doesn’t tell the fans that he’s also in there for a reason – his replacements aren’t much better (while Fisher’s leadership and organization of the team is better).  And even if you conclude the Farmar/Brown are better, are they that much better that they should be playing over Fisher when their high usage rates are ones that take possessions away from our most efficient players?  When their usage rate(s) also imply that, in a read and react system, they’re ones that aren’t passing as much or operating within the flow of the offense as much as they need to be?  This is what Kurt, Reed, and I were saying earlier this season when we talked about our PG woes as a whole.  Again, I’m not trying to start some sort of argument with the guys over at SSR.  Those guys are great and I frequent their site quite often.  I just think there is another side to this coin that needs to be mentioned whenever any of our PG’s are brought up, especially those comments that target Fisher.

Look, I don’t like to knock our players.  Despite all their flaws, they are the guys that we have and I support them; I want to see them succeed and root for them to do so.  But, facts are facts here and PG is our weak link.  I do think the situation will be addressed in the off-season, but until then I’m going to support these guys and cheer them on in the same way I do for Kobe or Pau or Odom.  I just think that if we’re going to look at any one player we should also look at the big picture too.

(All stats for this post were gathered from HoopData, Basketball Reference, and 82games.com)

Darius Soriano

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