The Lakers won last night and now everything is a bit more tolerable this morning. Complaints about what went wrong can be replaced with chatter about Pau’s aggressiveness, Bynum’s late game buckets and block, or Kobe’s continued all-around brilliance. But what can’t be lost in all that talk is the play of the bench and how much it impacted last night’s game – specifically a rookie whose success so far this season has been very much limited (and that’s being kind).
Andrew Goudelock got burn at point guard and gave the Lakers an offensive spark to a group of reserves that sorely needs that punch. Mike Brown put the ball in the rookie’s hands and set him loose to play a game that looked very similar to the one he played in college. He attacked off the bounce, got into the lane to shoot his floater, and bombed away from distance when he had the space to do so. Playing this style obviously gave the rook a comfort level and it showed in his production and in his body language. He looked like he knew what he wanted to do and, more importantly, how he would do it.
It helped that Goudelock got to do this against defenders his size and from spots on the floor that suit him best. It also helped that he was paired more with Kobe rather than backing him up. Playing with Bean meant that rather than working from the wing, Goudelock got to do a lot of work from the top of the key where he could use his handle to go in either direction and attack the paint. And playing PG meant that he was often guarded by defenders that better matched his physical profile rather than the longer, more athletic shooting guards that could more easily contest his jumper or sag off him to deny his driving lanes.
Interestingly enough, the role that Goudelock played last night very much reminded me of the role that Mike Brown gave Daniel Gibson in Cleveland. Gibson was (and still is) limited as a PG, but his skill set – a dead eye shooter – fit in well with the LeBron-centric offensive attack that Brown wanted to run with the Cavs. The ball would get to LeBron early and often and Gibson would spot up around the arc or move into open spaces around the perimeter while James went to work breaking down the D from top of the key and the wing. Gibson would serve as an outlet for LeBron’s playmaking, hitting the open jumpers provided by a collapsing defense. Gibson proved to be an able contributor by his second season putting up 10 points a game in a year that Cleveland made a conference finals run.
Goudelock is a different player than Gibson however, and last night (at least) was asked to do more. Because Kobe is still working off the ball a lot, Goudelock had to initiate the offense more. He had to try and organize the Lakers sets while also doing more to create shots than Gibson ever had to when paired with James. He had his ups and downs as an organizer – on a couple of possessions he looked unsure of where the ball should go first or what play he wanted to run – but he proved (mostly) capable. We’ll see if it continues.
Ultimately, I find it hard to believe that Brown will rely on a rookie for any significant contributions, but he did seem to find a role that Goudelock can perform or at least be comfortable in. In College, Goudelock was a Jimmer-lite type of player that carried a tremendous amount of responsibility on offense as a shot taker and creator. In the pros that load will be lessened but it looks like he has the chops to do it, if he’s paired with the right personnel and put in a position to succeed.
That likely means playing PG and being paired with Kobe rather than backing him up. It also means playing with at least one of the Lakers’ starting big men to take even more scoring burden off of him while still allowing him to do the things he does best. Mike Brown has been searching for a rotation for nearly 20 games this season and it’s obvious he’s still tinkering (see last night’s SF minute distribution for an example). But, at least while Blake is out, it looks like Brown may have found a back up PG that can do more things offensively than Darius Morris. And for a team that desperately needs some scoring off its bench, it could prove to be fruitful discovery. This doesn’t solve the back up SG issues or cut Kobe’s minutes, but those are ongoing issues that Goudelock wasn’t solving anyway.
And while my expectations are tempered, it was definitely nice to see the rook have some success in a role that seemed to fit him.