The Lakers announced today that Jordan Farmar will miss at least 4 weeks with a torn hamstring. The reserve point guard commented after the game that he’d experienced tightness in the muscle the last few days and knew he had a problem when he pulled up lame in the 2nd quarter. Well, Farmar’s problem is now the Lakers’ as the point guard is on the shelf and the team is left scrambling for answers.
Before we explore those, however, it’s important to note that losing Farmar is quite the blow to the Lakers. As I mentioned on twitter the other night, Farmar has been one of the Lakers’ better performers recently, putting up some staggeringly good shooting numbers while being a catalyst for some of their best performing lineups. On the season, Farmar is posting a very good PER of 17.8 (good for 2nd on the team) and, after a negative blip in his production a couple of weeks ago, has probably been the team’s best and most consistent performer offensively.
Farmar has also had a very good impact on the defensive side of the ball, holding opposing PG’s to a PER of 8.2 when he’s on the floor. Not to mention, as a team the Lakers boast a defensive efficiency of 96.7 when Farmar is in the game versus a 106.6 when he’s on the bench. This net defensive rating of 9.9 is the best of any of the team’s main rotation players and speaks to the fact that when he is on the floor, the Lakers simply perform better.
Of course these stats don’t tell the entire story, but they do pretty much verify what our eyes tell us. One of the major keys to the Lakers’ success this season is that their bench consistently outperforms their opponents’ on a nightly basis. Farmar may not be the flashiest player on that unit and may not have the name recognition around the league as an important player, but he is the driver behind its success. A big night from Nick Young or a highlight drive and dunk from Xavier Henry may get the air time, but it is Farmar’s ability to score from all over the floor combined with an improved ability to set up his teammates for easy shots that sustain the offense when he’s on the floor. Add that to his improved (at least since his last stint with the Lakers) defense and it’s not a stretch to say the team just lost one of its best players.
Strictly speaking from a statistical and production standpoint, replacing Farmar is near impossible. Scanning the roster, however, makes doing so even harder. You see, besides Steve Blake and Steve Nash, Farmar is the only other true point guard on the roster. In the 2nd half against the Blazers, the Lakers went on a run using a backcourt of Jodie Meeks and Xavier Henry to good success, but down the stretch both made questionable plays against a dialed in defense who forced them to initiate and execute the offense. Moving forward, those two may be able to provide spot minutes as ball handlers, but neither are an actual solution as a point guard for any extended period of time, and especially not for 4 weeks.
If there is any good news to be had at this point it is that both Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are likely to test their injuries this week in practice, potentially even returning to the lineup soon if things go well. The Lakers don’t play again until this Friday and that should give both the Lakers’ graybeards a good streak of practices to really see if they’re ready to lace up their sneakers and see some game action. Historically, both Kobe and Nash thrive with the ball in their hands and both have proven more than capable of steering an offense in a positive direction. Whether or not they are still able to do so coming off their respective injuries is another question that can’t be answered right now, but, at least in Nash’s case, it’s easy to have doubts. (In terms of Kobe, I have neither doubts nor expectations. What I have is a curiosity to see what he can do. As, I think, does everyone else.)
The flip-side to the potential returns of Kobe and Nash is that the team seems to be in a position where they now desperately need production from them sooner rather than later. For me, at least, the hope was that both could be eased back into the lineup in a way where they were only asked to provide what they were capable of. Now, however, there is more of an impetus for them to perform to a standard that that they may not be capable of reaching right away. Farmar provided a buffer between hoped for production and actual production. With him out, those two potentially return to a lineup in which the need for them just went up. That’s not exactly the best formula considering all the question marks both face. And that’s if they even come back soon — which still isn’t exactly a guarantee.
In summary, what was already a difficult season with real obstacles to overcome just got harder with Farmar going down with injury. How much more this team can take of having their best players on the sideline is not clear, but it looks like we are about to find out.
*Statistical support for this post from NBA.com and 82games.com