Coming into the free agency period, most everyone agreed that point guard was the Lakers biggest need. After not addressing this position in the draft, the Lakers would surely look to upgrade the position in the off-season by signing one of the available point guards on the open market. And on the second day of free agency, the Lakers did just that by agreeing to a 4 year/$16 million dollar contract with Steve Blake. And honestly, I couldn’t be happier.
Yes, there were sexier names on the free agent market. And with reports stating the Lakers were making an attempt to acquire Mike Miller, many fans were hoping that the Lakers would ink the versatile swing man to a contract and add another very talented piece to an already extremely talented core. So, in the wake of those reports, I can understand that signing Steve Blake can seem like a bit of a step down in talent. And while that’s technically true, I really don’t care.
You see, getting another capable player to play point guard was a real need for the Lakers. All season, PG was the position that every fan and pundit could point to as the Lakers weakest position. And while the veteran experience and clutch play of Fisher again proved very valuable in a great playoff run, the Lakers could not afford to ignore the position after all three (if you count Shannon Brown) of the Laker point guards became free agents this summer. And even though the Lakers hope to still bring back Fisher (something that I hope happens soon), bringing in Blake is a fantastic grab. When you examine the entire crop of free agent point guards, there were surely younger prospects with more upside (Felton, Foye) and better shooters that would have been ideal targets had they not been restricted free agents (Redick, Morrow), but when you looked at the entire field, I don’t think there was a better fit than Blake for the Lakers to pick up.
From an offensive standpoint, Blake is the exact type of PG that can excel in the Triangle. He’s a good ball handler and good decision maker (though he was a bit turnover prone in his stint with the Clippers). He’s a good spot up shooter and can make the three ball with consistency (career 39% 3pt FG, 43.7% in his 21 games with the Clippers last season). But most important, he’s a smart and heady player that rarely tries to do too much and knows his limitations. He knows what he can and can’t do and is successful on the court because he plays to his strengths and does not force the action. So, while Blake will rarely give the Lakers the spectacular play that gets the crowd out of their seats, he’ll also avoid the boneheaded one that has fans cursing him. He’s a steady and mature player that will bring a consistency that we’ve not seen much of from any Lakers PG not named Derek Fisher and that will surely be a welcome sight.
And it’s in this steadiness that I see Blake helping the Lakers most. Understand that, in essence, Blake is replacing Jordan Farmar as the lead guard on the second unit (assuming Fisher returns). And it’s on the second unit where the Lakers have traditionally struggled to maintain offensive discipline and cohesion as a group. Not to pin all of that on Farmar (he had his accomplices), but by bringing in Blake the Lakers will now have another player capable of organizing the offensive sets and getting everyone on the same page. Forced jumpers early in the shot clock? Over aggressive drives into the paint that have little hope of succeeding? Over dribbling while looking for the perfect play, rather than depending on the offense to generate good looks? These should all be things of the past with Blake now in the fold. I expect that he’ll better organize the Lakers’ sets and the other players will be better positioned to effectively run the offense, leading to much better consistency from the second unit. And sure, some of those explosive runs that the “bench mob” provided may end up being a thing of the past, but I believe that those extended droughts where big leads are forfeited will be as well. I expect players like Odom, Bynum, and Gasol to see receive much more attention when paired with the backup guards and that’s surely a good thing.
That said, it won’t be all roses with Blake coming on board. On defense, he will be challenged. Based off some of his defensive metrics, he is not the best defender (while with Portland he had a PER against of 15.7, and a 17.6 with the Clippers). He is hampered by his limited athleticism and slight-ish frame and can be beaten off the dribble by the quick penetrating guards that seem to populate every team (a familiar theme for the Lakers). But from what I’ve seen of him, he’s a fundamentally sound defender that gives effort and won’t often be caught out of position, and I’m comforted by the fact that like Fisher, he’ll be flanked by very good defenders that will provide strong help and block shots at the rim. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Blake’s defensive numbers were better with Portland where he had a much better defensive lineup around him and with the Lakers he’ll be joining a group that was in the top 5 in defensive efficiency for nearly the entire season.
As I said, this isn’t the sexiest signing. Steve Blake is not a household name and won’t knock anyone’s socks off with his natural talent or physical ability. However, Blake is the type of role player that championship teams want and need. It’s not a coincidence that contending teams like the Magic were looking to acquire Blake to fill the same role that the Lakers just scooped him up to play. The Lakers just made themselves stronger and that is something that every team around the league recognizes. And surely, they’re not happy about the world champs filling a hole on a roster that didn’t have many to begin with. And sure, Blake may never be a classic “impact player” that others lean on as one of the better players on the team. He’s not an all-star and could even be considered a lower rung starter if he were put into that position. However, I never look at the structure of a team in that way – especially not this one. The Lakers aren’t a PG-driven team and don’t run a system that is dependent on their PG being an impact player. This is a team with Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Artest, and Odom on its roster. I’ve said this for years about Fisher, but what the Lakers need is a steady hand that can step up in big moments and for the rest of the time blend in to the tapestry of the team while allowing the team’s best players to do what they’re paid to. And in Blake, the Lakers just got that guy. Today, I’m a happy Lakers fan. The rich just got a bit richer.