Forget The Faces, Just Give Me Production

Darius Soriano —  August 9, 2011

We all have our biases.

These biases are based off what we value. For some people, Magic Johnson will always be their favorite – and thus the best – Laker ever based off how he played the game. He was a pass first player that always looked to get his teammates involved in order to maximize the team’s chance at winning. He brought a flair to the action that was captivating and his ability to come up big in the big moments was legendary, but it was his style that continues to have fans on his side.

For others, Kobe is the guy they look to as the best player due to his iron will to win and his willingness to do whatever it takes to get his team to the top. It’s not always the most efficient approach, but his skill level is off the charts and his ability to captivate fans while pulling off the (seemingly) impossible inspires a strong devotion. The last second shots, the scoring explosions, the moxie – all of them make Kobe who he is and what make fans kneel at the altar of #24.

But our biases aren’t limited to choosing who we favor in a battle of all time greats. Sometimes, our biases conspire to see all the things that are wrong with current players on the roster in order to argue against why they could be effective the role they’re assigned.

No where is this more true than with the Lakers’ point guards. We’ve gone back and forth on this issue for (what seems like) years, but it’s now more clear than ever that the Lakers need an upgrade at the point if they’re going to contend.

But do they really? To be honest, I’m not so sure.

You see, what the Lakers need is better production from the point, not necessarily better players. For some, these two concepts are inescapably linked but I’d argue that’s not actually the case.

Certainly, last season the Lakers point guards let them down. They missed too many of the open shots they were given and didn’t make the needed plays when they were asked to create for themselves or their mates. Questionable decisions were more frequent than ones that helped the team and the Lakers suffered for it. The result of those failures is that we’re now in almost unanimous agreement that there’s no other answer than to replace those players that let us down.

I’d contend, though, that what the Lakers actually need are for the point guards they have to play to their potential. I know I’ve been seen as a Derek Fisher apologist, but I don’t think last year’s performance is all he can provide to the team. Surely his age and limited (which is being kind) athleticism hurt his ability to improve as much as a younger player with fresher legs, but production is not limited to how fast you can run or how high you can jump. Fisher can make better decisions on when to drive (which should be almost never), when to look for his own shot, and when (and to who) he should be passing to on any given play. He can be more efficient a player by not forcing the action as much; by not taking the offense upon his shoulders more than he should.

Steve Blake can also be a better player than he was last year. Finding his way in the triangle proved to be more difficult than anyone anticipated and being asked to run a more traditional offense should help him be more productive. He should have the opportunity to run more P&R’s in order to create off the dribble while still getting the spot up jumpers that he’s still very capable of knocking down. He won’t be asked to be a slasher nearly as much and limiting his shots off cuts, dives, and hand-offs in and around the paint going into the teeth of the defense should help him be more efficient.

In the end, none of this may end up working out and we’ll all be clamoring for a better player at the point come game 10 of next year (whenever there is a game 10). But I think it’s also very important to understand that the Lakers are still built around a ball dominant shooting guard and a trio of versatile big men. The point guards on this team need to walk the fine line of being confident while deferential to the better players on the roster and opportunistic when their chances do arise. That’s a difficult role to play while still providing the production that the team needs. That said, the current group of players have the skill sets to do just that. And while they actually have to get on the floor and provide that production, we all need to do a better job of seeing past our biases to allow them to try.

At least until the way this roster is constructed changes.

Darius Soriano

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29 responses to Forget The Faces, Just Give Me Production

  1. Because of this lockout and no clear settlement in sight, NBA is becoming forgettable to fans. It seems the sagging stock market and its effects to our own personal economy is more important. Let these greedy players and owners settle their issues first before determining the future Lakers point guard. As you said Darius we have all our own biases. Well, as Lakers we should have the best – CP3 or D’Will as the PG and nothing less. That’s a challenge to Mitch and Jim, just do it i.e. if there will be an NBA season. If the best cannot be acquired then we can go for the better and/or the good PG’s. Fisher can still play on short segments but don’t expect a rejuvenated skill from old body to beat the new superstars at all times. To fall short in filling up this position in the next two seasons will be a waste of time, waste of money in investing on Kobe’s remaining years.

  2. Rusty Shackleford August 9, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    I really do hope the new system Mike Brown brings in allows the two non-rookie PG’s to improve from last year. Just making 35-40% of your wide open 3′s and not turning the ball over is all I ask for on the offensive end.

    That being said, I”m more interested to see what Brown’s defensive system does to hide the PG’s.

  3. Thinking about our lack of production from our point guards makes me sad.

  4. What of course has been over looked is the Lakers starting PG has statistically been the worst in the NBA for the last three seasons and not just last year. So tangible improvement with the same players is of course absurd to even suggest. I’ll quote one of my favorite people…

    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
    -Albert Einstein

  5. The Thunder are improving at a frightening pace. Memphis will be even better with Rudy Gay returning (not to mention Gasol and Conley, who now have pressure packed playoff experience under their belts). The newly formed Heat will be even bigger favorites next year, and the Mavs will have the swagger and confidence that comes with being a champion.

    The league is evolving, and improved production from Blake and Fisher will not be enough to seriously contend for a title, not when most of the other contenders are expected to improve. Getting a better PG will have an exponential effect on this team because it won’t only improve the PG production, it will turn a huge liability at the position into a huge asset, creating a domino effect for the entire team. An elite PG will make every player on this team more effective, as opposed to our number one trade bait, Bynum, who has an opposite effect on Gasol and Lamar’s effectiveness.

    I never accused Darius of being a Fisher apologist, but this post just confirmed it for me.:)

  6. #5. It’s interesting that you see Bynum having a negative effect on Odom and Gasol but don’t consider any possible negative effects of not having Bynum available at all, forever (via a trade). I think it’s fair to say that anytime you talk about giving up a key player, there is potential for both positive and negative repercussions.

    That said, this is why I said at the very end of post that looking for an upgrage at PG may not be the best course of action with the team *constructed as it is now* and built around Kobe + 3 bigs.

    A team with Kobe, 2 bigs, a much improved PG, and role players (be it Artest, Barnes or new back up bigs to replace the one dealt away) is a viable foundation for a contender too. It’s just different the model the Lakers used to win their most recent titles.

    As an aside, I used the word oportunistic in the post because I think that’s what was really lacking from the role players last year. No one seized the moment the way that Ariza/Fisher did in ’09 or the way that Artest/Ariza did in ’10. As much as we’d like to think championships are the result of star players playing their best (which is true), titles are not claimed without role players giving key performances. Just look at JJ Barrea for evidence from the most recent championship team.

  7. To further my point, I think many fans want a full proof path to victory by suring up the rotation with as many *better than average* role players as possible. What I mean is, if there’s a weak position (like PG), the solution is to sign a much better PG in order to fill that void. But roster construction is delicate and there are only so many spots for truly above average players to contribute within the context of the role they’re assigned. We see that with Artest…he’s certainly a better player than he’s shown with the Lakers (the year before he signed with us, he was a major contributor to a Houston team that advanced to the 2nd round), but he’s not played up to that caliber in LA. It could be argued that he’s really regressed, or – and what’s more likely to me – it could be argued that on a team built around Kobe + big men using a system that doesn’t necessarily use him the same way, he doesn’t show all his talent.

    So, again, plugging in the *better* player doesn’t always lead to the better results.

  8. Darius,
    We aren’t talking about replacing an average player with an above average player that might not fit. We are talking about replacing the worst PG in the NBA with a below average starting PG. And of you want to get in to what works best at PG with a Kobe Bryant team than it gets even easier. All we need at the PG spot at the very least is a player that can defend and shoot. That gives the Lakers more options. You spoke of Artest not being the same player on offenses… But of course that is only half the game. His defensive stats have been some of the best in the NBA the last two seasons. Where SFs would destroy us with the likes of Ariza, Walton, and VladRad once on the floor… Now even elite SFs (Durant) have major problems when they face the Lakers. That’s what the organization, the fans, and the players are expecting this offseason. They expect to see a below average NBA starting PG walk out on the staples center floor next season. And to expect anything less would be to be a Clippers fan.

  9. The team won two rings with a hobbled Bynum, and were swept with a healthy Bynum. We’ve seen Lamar excel whenever Bynum is injured, and Gasol was in the MVP discussion when Bynum was out. My point is that having three solid bigs is a nice luxury, but not a necessity. The Heat have only one solid big in Bosh, and they will be the favorites again next season. Bynum is no doubt an asset to this team, but he does limit the effectiveness of Lamar and Gasol, and has never been known to make the players around him better. In other words, Gasol and Lamar’s talents are not maximized with Bynum starting, and as Jerry West pointed out, this team is too slow with Bynum and Gasol lumbering down the court and getting in each other’s way. With that in mind, I think it would be wise to trade one of our big men (a luxury) for an absolute necessity…. an elite PG.

  10. 9. LT
    My thoughts exactly, if the inside when healthy( LA biggest advantage) doesnt dominate then the advantage becomes a disadvantage. Against 90% percent of the league the bigs can play average and the team will win, but to beat the best of the league they have to dominate. Mamba is not at the stage of his career where he can be the savior night end and night out. He needs someone who can help create offense for himself and for others. The model of Mamba + 3Bigs needs deadeye shooters(2 or 3) on the outside(none on this roster). A team of Mamba, elite PG, 2Bigs just needs average shooters, which the team currently has.

  11. We all have our biases.

    Except for Henry Abbott.

  12. ReignOnParades August 9, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Contrarianism does not equate to objectivity.

    I think we’re so overly familiar with Fish that after a bajillion games, big shots, and blow-bys by quicker PGs we’ve lost all semblance of objectivity.

    When people tell us he’s the worst starting… well, worst PG in the league we inform them about what his role and expectations are, his intangibles, and so forth

    We rationalize away his lack of production as indicated by statistics, we rationalize away his lack of athletic talents as indicated by our eyes…

    I just hope we’re not left with our rationalizations and an anchor around the neck of an otherwise championship caliber team

  13. thisisweaksauce August 9, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    This is probably nuts, but what if we traded Bynum for CP3 and then signed Nene as a free agent (I know, MLE is likely gone)? Wishful thinking? Haha

  14. 13,

    That’s the only way to go in order to get CP3, however two hurdles to the decision, namely: Jimbo & NO. Will Hornets be satisfied to acquire an unpredictable Center, Drew?

  15. @ #1, in the last 10 years, when have the lakers won with an all star pg? stop living in your own fantasy world. We have the best front court in basketball you don’t give that up. Honestly, when someone says we just won two rings and went to 3 finals with Derek Fisher. What do you think? This isn’t fantasy basketball this is an NBA team. Have some respect for what fisher has done. This was the year that Kobe couldn’t dominate the offense and he still tried. playing 33 mins a game but leading the league in shots taken….are you kidding me? that is why everyone was frustrating plus he wasn’t even practicing. Pau Gasol was an MVP candidate. do you understand how frustrating it is when your biggest advantage is your size but kobe is jacking up fadeaway three pointers still? that results in a lot of animosity and that means not playing hard on D. no ball movement. no chemistry. so If you want to blame someone blame him. You can’t win every year stop being irrational. This was the first year kobe’s way hasn’t worked so we’ll see what kind of adjustments HE makes. With that being said I wouldn’t mind trading bynum for an above average pg. Think ramon sessions and verajao (who brown loves) THAT would be a productive move where we get a young, quick, big guard and a defensive machine who is comfortable with our coach. Don’t forget this lakers team dominated the league when drew was beasting on defense. they went 17-1 while crushing some of the best teams. Something happened internally we ran out of steam whatever but to blame the pgs is a cop out. you need to think a little deeper and have some perspective. Whens the last time a pg dominated team won the finals. please.

  16. 10,
    Interesting… Except when you take more than ten seconds to think about we find the Lakers lost because Gasol choked, Kobe was not “healthy” and as always… Derek Fisher was awful. Andrew Bynum being healthy was the reason the Lakers even got out of the first round, not the reason we lost in the second round as he was the only consistent player the a lakers had in the playoffs.

  17. NO might not have a choice considering that they could stand a chance to lose CP3 after this season. While I would rather the team give up an older Pau plus one player or two( not LO), a straight trade Bynum/C. Paul would suffice. He was able to get NO in the playoffs,in the West, without D. West and a bunch of who knew they where in the league type of guys. Imagine what he could do running the show in Purp and Gold.

  18. 15,
    Nobody is saying we need a superstar PG to win a championship. I think most people are saying we just need a at least a bad NBA starting PG. We need a PG in the 25 to 35 range instead of what we have now. Fisher statistically is in the 55 to 65 range as far as the rankings of PGs in the NBA.

  19. #15,

    - Some of us may be living in a “fantasy world”, but perhaps you should stop living in the past, and look to the future. The PG position is becoming the deepest position in the league, and the longer the Lakers wait to upgrade the position, the further they will be left behind.

    - You seem upset at the lack of respect shown to Fish, yet you show absolutely none for Kobe, even suggesting that Kobe was to blame for the team’s collapse. Are you suggesting that Pau got dominated by Dirk because Pau was frustrated “Kobe was shooting fade aways and wasn’t practicing”? Is Kobe to blame for Fish’s defense and decision making as well? In the Dallas series, Kobe continually force fed Gasol to get him going, but to no avail. Kobe has been encouraging (or yelling at) Pau for three years to be more aggressive on offense and to stop passing up open shots, but yeah, it must be Kobe’s fault.

  20. Hmmm, I saw this post yesterday and was wondering where the comments would go. I just find it difficult to come up with any changes to the team, until the lockout is over and done with. Then the Lakers front office will know what they have to work with, this really sucks, IMHO. The team may just have to give up a couple of really good players anyway, getting nothing in return for them, but here I am talking about something that may not happen, no one knows at the moment. As far as the Dallas series goes, there were two games in the first four that we could have and even should have won, I still have not recovered from that sweep by the old ancient Mavericks, they did play team basketball, though.

  21. The question is, can the Lakers afford to wait and see if Fish/Blake will live up to their supposed ‘potential’ production?

    I say they can’t. Blake may improve as he becomes more comfortable, but Fisher definitely not. He has been on a steady decline for the past three years. For two of those years we were able to win despite of it. Last year we crossed the threshold. It will be only worse with Fish next year, as much as I love him (I do). A new player is the safest and potentially most beneficial bet

  22. Darius,

    I believe that Mitch is prepared to go with our veterans from last year–possibly minus Shannon–plus the second year and rookie players. There are many advantages to this posture. When a deal is negotiated between the NBA and players, the Lakers may be able to start up more quickly than any other team in the NBA. Trade possibilities may not be feasible. The Lakers currently have no way of knowing what trades might be necessary or possible.

    In terms of the point guard position, you couldn’t be more “on.” The solution must be to “love the one you’re with.” For the Lakers, that happens to be the leader of the NBA players association, Derek Fisher.

    There is a great deal to love in Derek, but one of his best qualities has been his ability to adjust to new demands. I think that Derek will find new ways to be productive–as will Steve Blake.

  23. For many years, Fisher has pointed out that his numbers have been held down by the Triangle and by the Lakers’ personnel. With the team adding Blake last year, and his numbers, never impressive to begin with, cratering, that may support Fisher’s point.

    On the other hand, Fisher has lasted until age 37 with a limited skill set/athleticism in large part because the Triangle never demanded that he be a traditional PG. His role has always been floor spacing, ball movement, team defense etc. If he had been asked to be a penetrating/shot creating PG, he likely would not have been up to the task, even in his 20s. He did have far higher assist rates prior to Phil Jackson’s arrival, but his overall production was marginal–pretty similar, actually, in some ways, to Steve Blake’s in Portland.

    Now, however, the Triangle is gone, and presumably the Brown/Messina system will require more traditional PG play.

    We need to be clear on who Blake is. He has never been anything more than a marginal starter/backup, and as I said last summer, giving him a four-year deal at age 30 was the latest example of the Lakers’ bad habit of overcommitting to role players. A two-year deal would have been OK. Four was foolish.

    I do not think Blake was quite as bad as his numbers. The Lakers team ORTG was better in 2011 than in 2010, in part because Odom got more shots. Still, Blake was a disappointment.

    That said, even with his limitations, even at age 31, Blake has a better shot than Fisher does to provide adequate play at the 1.

    As I said a couple of months ago, barring a personnel change, I think Brown should start Blake and play him 25-30 minutes a game. Fisher should play 10-15 and any stray minutes should go to Morris or Goudelock (unless one of them implodes or explodes in camp).

    Not starting Fisher would be hard politically, and I doubt Brown will do it. But it’s time.

  24. #24 The biggest weakness in your analysis is that Derek Fisher has always had offers at other places–even last year. He left money on the table at Utah to come back to the Lakers. He always does what needs to be done. Derek is versatile and can score–but he has always had that “something extra” that made him indispensible.

    I have been expecting Fisher to reduce his minutes every year since he returned to the Lakers–only to be surprised. I’m expecting it again this year–and I think it will happen. Derek at about 20 minutes–in clutch situations.

  25. He always does what needs to be done.

    ___

    Not against Dallas, and that is what matters now.

    Fisher has enormous personal presence and is highly respected, as his status as NBAPA pres. indicates. This is one reason he gets offers.

    But Golden State overpaid him badly
    –it was one of many reasons Chris Mullin got fired. Utah liked him–as a backup, but let him go willingly in large part to tend to his daughter. Riley supposedly wanted him last year in Miami as a spot-up guy with veteran mojo, and on a team with James and Wade dominating the ball, that would have been OK. But trying to use Fisher as a conventional 1 at age 37 with his skillset simply will not work.

    Look at it this way: how many 37- year-olds have been effective conventional ( in terms of size/role) NBA PGs? Two–John Stockton, and Steve Nash.

    I am a lifetime Laker guy, and I have great repsect for Fisher. But the team needs to move on. The Triangle is gone; Phil is gone. Kobe is 33; Pau is 31. Lamar is 32. Fisher needs to be a spot player in 2012 (assuming, of course, there IS a 2012).

  26. #26. You forgot Jason Kidd. But, that’s beside the point you were making, methinks.

  27. WRT Kidd:

    Note that I included the size/role caveat–Kidd is unusually big and strong, even for a modern PG, and he certainly was when he started out.

    That allows for easier cross-matching.

    But, as you suggest, the point holds: Kidd, Nash and Stockton are all HOFers.

  28. Terrific thread – lots of valid, if differing, opinion. It’s all a crap shoot with the labor situation – short season/fewer changes, full season/bigger changes. I figure Brown and staff would like to imprint with one major shift if possible and it’ll be at the point, via a Lamar trade. His stock is at a high and Brown has said little about his role.