Talking Point Guard Upgrades, Or Lack Thereof

Phillip Barnett —  July 25, 2011

Over the weekend, Silver Screen and Roll had a couple of great posts on the Lakers and their current point guard situation, and more importantly, how to solve it. While I understand that the Lakers problem is at the point guard position, I don’t think it’s a problem that the Lakers should exactly go out of their way to solve considering that both upgrading through free agency or trade both have their own pitfalls to overcome. While I’d like to see an upgrade at the top, I wonder if it’s going to be too difficult to make this happen considering that the Lakers are seeing frontcourt depth and a backup for Kobe with a natural ability to score. The Lakers are going to be looking to try and make a lot of small tweaks to their roster, and I’m not sure if upgrading the point guard is the most important issue at this point. However, I recognize that it is an issue and this section from Dexter Fishmore really hammers it home:

But Fish is a lion in winter. He turns 37 next month, and his abilities are in decline. For a guy whose only offensive role the past few seasons has been to knock down open looks, his shooting numbers are unacceptably poor. He can’t beat anyone off the dribble. On defense, he lacks the lateral mobility to check even average point guards, to say nothing of the elite PG’s the Lakers face in the playoffs.

To make matters worse, the Lakers are abandoning the system that allowed them to mask many of Fish’s shortcomings. In Phil Jackson‘s Triangle offense, Fish was a semi-viable option because the system neither required nor could even really accommodate a classic, ball-dominating point. The Lakers won’t have the same luxury under Mike Brown. His playbook calls for the point guard to assume a more traditional playmaking role, of which Fish is simply incapable.

How do the Lakers upgrade, though. As they’re currently sitting, they’re dishing out about 91 million in salary already. Picking up through free agency will not only be costly monetarily, but could be equally costly to the Lakers chances on the court considering the not-so-high-profile crop of free agent point guards on the market this year. While there is some talent in free agency, all of it will likely come at a price that the Lakers ultimately won’t be able to afford, all things “new collective bargaining” considered. What about through trade?

Emile Avanessian wrote convincingly about the Lakers acquiring Ramon Sessions through trade when he wrote:

Thus, the Lakers will likely have to try their luck in the trade market.

Let me direct your attention to a 25-year-old point guard whose 2010-11 Adjusted PER of 21.05 (all statistics via HoopData) dwarfed the average for both the league (14.17) and his position (15.71), was good for 23rd in the NBA (minimum 40 games played) and seventh among lead guards, trailing only Russell WestbrookDerrick RoseChris PaulDeron WilliamsSteve Nash and Tony Parker. The 4.54 Adjusted Win Shares he contributed were also well above average (3.44 for the league, 3.72 for point guards), and better than the totals for Jameer Nelsonor Jason Terry.

Meanwhile, his 24.21 usage rate was 49th in the league. In 26.3 minutes per game, he averaged 13.3 points and 5.2 assists (a Tony Parker-esque 18.1 and 7.3 per 36 minutes played) and shot 46.6% from the field. His 55.9% True Shooting Percentage trumped the league and point guard averages (54.5% and 53.6%, respectively) and he got to the free-throw line more than your average NBA’er (0.55 free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt, vs. the league average of 0.298). Was he able to get his own shot? You bet: just 28.5% of field goals were “assisted,” compared with 36.9% for point guards leaguewide.

But again, this ultimately forces the Lakers in a tough position considering that no teams are going to give up efficient talent without some kind of return, and nine times out of 10, that return is likely going to be size  — an advantage that took the Lakers to three consecutive trips to the Finals. Do you give up your biggest advantage for a Ramon Sessions-esque talent. Some might say yes, just so we don’t have to watch Derek Fisher start for another 82+ games, but it’s hard to imagine any situation where that is the right move.

For next season, the Lakers just might have to play some of their young guys a lot more than what we’ve seen since, well, Kobe and Fish were the young guys. The Lakers drafted Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris, two guys who both have ball handling experience despite their very different skill sets. As of right now, those two might be the Lakers most viable and realistic options unless teams are just waiting to take on Ron Artest’s and/or Luke Walton’s contracts. The point guard might not be the most thrilling part of the Lakers team (which it hasn’t been since Nick Van Exel), and I’m okay with that. Some will disagree completely, but I think adding depth to the front court and finding another wing who can get his own shot off are more important issues the Lakers need to take care of for the next season.

Phillip Barnett

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