Revisiting The Steve Blake Signing

Darius Soriano —  March 7, 2011

Steve Blake was the “marquee” Laker acquistion this past off-season. When the news first broke that the Lakers had signed him, I thought it was a very good idea and praised the pick up. Afterall, he has all the requisite skills to be a very good Triangle PG and his history as a solid contributor who rarely tries to break out of his role while consistently focusing on his team’s success made him an ideal player to add to a championship team.

However Blake has had, by any measure, an up and down season. And in the comments of the Bobcats recap, commenter Radmd made this point about Blake in relation Jordan Farmar, the man he essentially replaced in the Lakers’ lineup:

I never thought I would say this…but it sure looks like Jordan Farmar was actually more effective in the triangle offense than Blake has been. Blake has no penetrating ability, and if he is not shooting the 3 well, he is pretty useless, as he is not much of an assist guy due to his lack of penetration as opposed to Farmar. He is a slightly better defender than Jordan but not enough to make up for his lack of offense.

While this comment is a bit harsh (I’ve never thought of any player as useless, even when they’re not playing/performing well), it does raise a couple of good questions: Has Blake been a good signing and would the Lakers have been better off keeping Jordan Farmar?

Personally, I’m still of the mind that the Lakers made the right choice in signing Blake and letting Farmar walk. As Kurt points out, Farmar was never really a good fit for what the Lakers wanted to accomplish on offense:

(Farmar) ran the offense as little as possible. He did not like the confines the triangle puts on a point guard. He pushed the ball in transition largely to avoid having to run the sets. He broke out of it a lot, too, just because he felt creating off the dribble was his strength.  Now Farmar is back east and got everything he wanted…. oh, wait, they traded for D-Will, never mind.

I don’t think this point can be trumpeted loudly enough. Farmar wanted to be a lead guard in a offense that simply doesn’t require one – at least not one that runs the P&R or relies on dribble penetration to set up his teammates. The Triangle needs a lead guard that is willing to make entry passes, work off the ball, and direct the team’s sets from a more cereberal standpoint rather than always taking an action, with the ball, on the floor. Phillip explains this further:

Dribble penetration from the point guard spot has never been a key component with Phil in the triangle as it’s never really consistently been there. The point guard has been a supplementary piece to the major pieces: a scoring wing and solid post play from bigs (at least with the Lakers). It would be nice to have premier shooting from the point guard spot, but if you go back and look at simple statistics, Farmar didn’t really shoot any better last year than Blake has this season, at least not from long range.

Another point that needs to be raised – and this goes back to Kurt’s point – is the mentality that the PG must have when on a team with so many players that are good with the ball in their hands – in the Lakers’ case Kobe, Gasol, and Odom especially. Essentially, I’m refering to knowing one’s place in the pecking order of a team. On the Lakers, the point guard needs to take a backseat to the other, better, players on the team. Guys like Ron Harper, John Paxon, BJ Armstrong, and Brian Shaw understood this well. Today, Derek Fisher and Steve Blake do too. Jordan Farmar did not. In his last year as a Laker, Farmar had a usage rate of 19 (4th highest on the team). That number was nearly equal to Bynum and Gasol and was higher than Odom and Artest. Meanwhile, this season, Blake has a usage of 11.5 (of the Lakers 9 rotation players, Blake ranks 9th).  The player who’s benefitted most from that decrease in usage on the 2nd unit is Lamar Odom – a player much more talented than Farmar (or Blake) and a guy that also happens to be having the best year of his career. I don’t see this as a coincidence considering that LO is a guy who is very comfortable with the ball and also someone that thrives as an initiator on offense. Who would you rather taking shots and setting up teammates, Farmar or Odom? Yeah, me too.

One reason the question of whether Blake has been a good fit, though, is because the Lakers haven’t necessarily gotten the production out of him that we’d all have liked. As Zephid so succintly pointed out to me:

As the season has progressed, it’s clear that the on paper fit has not translated perfectly onto the court. Blake’s shooting has been a relatively poor 37.7%.  For me, it seems like something just looks wrong with Blake’s form this year, because his shooting form from year’s past (as shown in this video, looked a lot smoother and less jerky. 

That said, Zephid isn’t close to burying Blake:

Some aspects of Blake’s game have been very good.  He hasn’t killed us with turnovers the way Farmar did so often in years past, and Blake is an infinitely better entry passer, perhaps the most crucial skill for a Triangle PG.  His defense has also been solid.

Kurt adds that even though Blake’s overall shooting may be poor that his shooting percentage may not be as bad as it seems:

One note on Blake’s shooting — Synergy has him at hitting 40.2 percent of his spot up threes. That is the majority of his threes, off a Kobe or Gasol kickout, and he’s hitting those at a good clip. Where he has struggled is virtually every other kind of three — 25 percent in transition, 33 percent off screens, and on and on. Maybe that is a sign of him still trying to get comfortable in the system.

Clearly, even if skewing his shooting numbers towards more favorable situations, Blake is not perfect. I’ve asked many times that he be more assertive in looking for his shot and that when running certain sets in the Triangle (dribble handoffs, sideline P&R’s) that he look to turn the corner aggressively and really attack the paint. He has some growing to do within the system, but I echo Phillip when he states: “I tend to be on the optimistic end of the Blake debate, feeling that he will produce more good than bad as we enter this last stretch of games before the postseason and into the team’s quest for a 3-peat.”

Bringing this back full circle, I give you a comment from Zephid:

I think comparing Farmar and Blake is a classic argument on where you stand on risk versus return.  With Blake, you have a very stable small amount of production.  He’ll hit a few threes, make a few passes, and play some average to above average defense, but he’ll never make an enormous impact.  Farmar’s performance had a much greater variance; you could have a night where he would go 5-9 from the floor, score 16 points and really influence the game; You also had a good chance of him going 0-4 with 2 fouls and 2 turnovers. In short, I think that Farmar on his good nights is clearly a better player than Blake.  On average, however, I think Blake’s steady production outweights Farmar’s variance over time.

Darius Soriano

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