Archives For Point Guards

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.

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.