Ladies and gentlemen, Silver Screen and Roll is officially back in business. Over the next week and a half, we’ll be doing wall to wall season previews to get you ready for the season. Here’s a brief overview of what we’ve got planned for you.
· A positional preview that will give you everything you need to know about who’s on our team and how much they are likely to affect our season. We’ll do one for each of the 5 positions on the court, and the coaching staff.
· Dexter will return to analyze (as only he can) the likely statistical trends for the Lakers in the coming season
· Rye will return to provide a historical perspective, taking a look back at past Lakers champions and how their pursuit of a repeat title played out.
· I’ll be doing a short preview of all the main contenders to the Lakers’ crown
· We’ll wrap things up with our familiar roundtable style as all the authors will predict season records and provide quick snippets about the season as a whole.
So don’t go anywhere and check in every day, because we’ve got you covered for Lakers coverage. Starting things off is the point guard position.
It’s not at all a stretch to say that point guard is the weakest position on the Lakers’ roster. Actually, that is an undeniable fact. Point guard is the weakest position on the Lakers’ roster. Of course, when you have a potential All-Star at every other position on the court, it’s not necessarily bad, just reasonable. Phil Jackson-coached teams have long eschewed the traditional point guard, preferring instead to have strong defensive guards who can shoot from distance, and every one of PJ’s 10 championships have been won without an elite point guard. So it shouldn’t be a surprise if the Lakers’ choices for the point don’t jump out at you by themselves. However, while it isn’t the strongest position on the Lakers roster, it is the deepest. The Lakers have three quality point guards, all of whom are likely to see time this season. They are all here to fill a specific role within the offense or defense. Without further ado, let’s get to know our point guards a little bit better.
Derek Fisher has been around this game for a long, long time. He is entering his 14th year as a pro, and any basketball fan will tell you that if you’ve managed to make it that long in the league, you’re doing something right. There are a lot of things that Derek does right, which counteract the few things he does wrong to make him a worthwhile addition to any team. First off, he never misses a game. In his 13 seasons, he’s missed more than 10 games only 3 times, and it hasn’t happened once in the last 7 years. Since rejoining the Lakers in 2007, Fisher has played in every single meaningful game over the last two seasons, something only he and Kobe (ironically the two oldest players on the team) have accomplished. On the Lakers, a team filled with youngsters and very few veterans, his presence is often felt when it’s needed the most. Lamar Odom may be the heart of this team, and Kobe is the soul, and perhaps PJ is the brains, but Fisher is undoubtedly the voice. In last year’s playoffs, it was a speech by Fisher that inspired the Lakers to pull out a difficult victory in Denver in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. And no one can forget the ridiculous, clutch, three pointers which allowed the Lakers to take Game 4 of the NBA Finals in Orlando, and announced to the world that the Lakers were championship quality. Those shots would be far and away the best moments of a career for most players, but for Fisher, they are simply filed away in a HUGE folder marked "I am awesome when it counts". It is for these reasons: consistency, leadership, and ability to perform in crunch time that we are willing to forgive his failings. Forgive, but not overlook.
Derek Fisher was born in 1974, which means he’s 35 years old. In NBA terms, that’s a dinosaur. His advancing age has one, extremely important, consequence. Fisher is losing his foot speed, and there are times when it absolutely kills the Lakers on defense. Any time the Lakers go up against a team with a quick point guard, the Lakers always have the opportunity to lose, because you can count on Fisher getting burned. If the other team capitalizes when the rest of the team rotates to cover Fisher’s man, it’ll be a struggle to get stops all night long for the purple and gold. A quick guard, against Fisher, doesn’t need a screen to get into the lane. He just has to pick a direction and go.
Last season, Fisher also struggled mightily with his shot, and that, more than the lack of defensive ability, got us Lakers fans riled up. We know Fisher is a liability on defense (in certain situations), but he’s supposed to be just what the doctor ordered on offense. He knows the triangle better than I know my mother, he is normally a good outside shooter, and a veteran of his caliber should always be making the right decisions with the ball. Instead, there were lots of times when Fisher would take shots outside the offense, he went through a huge slump that included the first month of the playoffs, and his penchant for (missing) the Pull Up Jumper in Transition led me to declare PUJIT as a swear word. At some point, nearly all of Lakers Nation was calling for the coaching staff to pull Fisher for quicker Jordan Farmar or the more athletic Shannon Brown. Thank God for all of us that the coaching staff doesn’t really listen to our opinions. But, that being said, if Fisher returns to the form he was in at the end of the season last year, taking a ton of shots that don’t fit in the offense and not making enough to justify them, us fans will again wonder if it’s time for Fisher to take a back seat to the up and comers.
Jordan Farmar is entering into the most important season of his young career. He’s got a lot to prove, and he doesn’t seem to have a very favorable position with which to make his case. Four years removed from leaving UCLA as a sophomore, and celebrating his 23rd birthday a month into the season, Farmar is in his very first contract year. In his case, Farmar is stuck in a classic Catch-22. He needs to perform well individually to boost his value, but the more he attempts to do things with that mentality, the less time he will get on the court. I said before that Phil Jackson eschews the traditional point guard. Unfortunately for Farmar, he is the traditional point guard. The Lakers roster is filled with players who fit into the team’s model, and are more valuable to the Lakers than they would be to another franchise running a different system. Farmar is the only player on the roster who is in the exact opposite situation. His strengths do not mesh well with the team’s goals.
Those strengths: Quickness, athleticism, and ability to create shots for both himself and others. Farmar is far and away the quickest player on this team. In fact, when 100% healthy, he’s one of the quicker players in the league. He’s not on the level with Tony Parker or Devin Harris, but he’s a lot closer than you might think. And Jordan is a great athlete. People seem to have forgotten this because of the pogo stick ability of Shannon "UPS" Brown, but Farmar isn’t lacking in the athleticism gene pool. This is a guy who’s 6-2, and yet the coaching staff would routinely draw up lobs for Farmar two years ago. And Farmar is the most adept on the team (except maybe Kobe) at creating a shot for himself or others. He’s a good passer, and could lead the team in assists easily if he played more. On the other side of the coin, he’s not particularly strong, and even though he’s got great quickness, he can’t seem to stay in front of quick guards. Oh, and he’s got a bad attitude and selfish tendencies.
Last season was a terrible one for Jordan, even as his team found great success. I even wrote a piece specifically defending him because he had the type of year that could haunt you for an entire career. In his 2nd season (two years ago), Farmar made the league take notice that he could be a very good player in the future. While I don’t buy into PER too much, I think it works to illustrate the point in this case. In 07-08, Farmar’s PER was 15.4, slightly better than your average NBA player. For a 2nd year guard, that type of number speaks of big things. All signs were that Farmar would be a good starting PG in the league. Last year, his PER dropped to 9.9, which is the type of number that players barely hanging onto a roster spot provide. And for us fans, there was a great deal more concern about Farmar’s attitude than about his play. For the last six weeks of the regular season, Farmar looked like a petulant child. He’d throw lazy passes, hoist bad shots, and do it all with a look of disgust on his face. His playing time shrunk from 21 per game in November to 16 per game in April. It was a bad, bad scene, one made worse by the introduction of Shannon Brown as another option for backup point guard. Farmar could have just given up at that point and convinced himself that the coaches just didn’t like him, or that he wasn’t going to get much chance anyway, so he might as well just be completely selfish. He didn’t do that, and his play started to improve in the playoffs, even as his minutes dwindled further. For me, that was the first of many steps he needs to take in order to regain the status he had two years ago as a feared change of pace guard off the bench.
This season, still in the 3rd trimester of its pregnancy, has been a mixed bag for Farmar. He’s made comments that clearly indicate he wants to be a starter in this league, and it doesn’t have to be with the Lakers. Said comments have allowed the stigma of selfishness and over-confidence to stick around him. His play in the preseason has been OK. Not bad, not great. Farmar was at his best two seasons ago, leading the fast break charge of the Bench Mob, with Ariza by his side, Bynum trailing, and the Machine ready to drain a 3 if the defense collapsed too much. The Lakers don’t really have the same style of personnel (i.e. there’s no one to fill the wing like Ariza did) to execute that style of 2nd unit again (unless they make changes that I suggested here), so it will be interesting to see if they attempt to get the most that they can out of Farmar, or just try to fit him into what they want his position to do. If it’s the former, Farmar could have a very nice little bounce back year. If it’s the latter, Farmar might struggle again, and it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see him get traded come mid-season.
Shannon Brown came out of nowhere to stake a claim on Lakers fans’ hearts last season. Whether you loved him because of his ridiculous hops and athleticism, his surprisingly good shooting, his dashing good looks, or his humility, the fact is, you love him. It’s almost impossible not to. There are a large number of Laker lovers who will list Shannon Brown as their favorite player. Shannon Brown is almost the anti-Farmar. Where Farmar is considered selfish and over-confident, Brown is considered selfless and humble. Where Farmar is a good player who might not fit our system, Shannon Brown is a player perfectly suited to the Triangle. There are a lot of holes in his game, but his strengths are exactly what Phil Jackson wants in a point guard.
Let’s dig a little deeper into his strengths. His athleticism is out of this world. This is just an opinion, but I think he’s a top 5 athlete in the league. I think he’s a better athlete than Kobe ever was. Put simply, there wasn’t much left in the gene pool after the creation of Shannon Brown. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just go to youtube, type in his name, and enjoy the next 30 minutes of your life. But he’s not just limited to jumping. He’s got great strength for a man his size, and decent quickness as well. In terms of raw ability, you just can’t top what he brings to the table. He’s not traditionally been a great shooter, especially from the outside (32% lifetime), but last season he shot the ball very well in limited minutes for the Lakeshow. If he can continue that shooting, Brown is almost the perfect fit for what PJ wants out of his position, because he is clearly the best defensive option at the point guard position. It is for this reason that the Lakers shelled out 2 million a year for 2 years for a player that might well end up as 3rd on the depth chart.
Why would a player of such obvious merit end up 3rd? Well, there are a lot of holes to his game. He doesn’t know the triangle very well, or at least, he didn’t last year. We as fans will probably never know exactly how well Brown is doing with the offense, but here’s a clue. If he’s getting a lot of playing time, the coaches are comfortable with him. If he’s not, lack of knowledge of the triangle is probably the reason. Also, he is not a good ball handler which, as a guard, is normally a pretty bad sign. He’s raw in every sense of the word related to basketball. In the preseason, Brown has not shot the ball well, and the offense has not performed well as a whole while he’s in the game. He’s not necessarily to blame for it, but it is the case. Neither sign points to Brown having a breakout season, but that would be reading too much into games that don’t matter anyway. It should be noted that in the most recent game, where the Lakers were forced to go small because they were missing ½ their front court, Shannon Brown was the guard who got the starting nod, over both Farmar and Vujacic (who is a shooting guard). Whether that means Brown is our guard of the future or not is up to you.
Fisher is guaranteed to be the starter, and would have to start single-handedly losing games over and over again before PJ would change that. Jackson has been in the trenches with Fisher for too many years, and knows what he is capable of when it matters the most, so don’t look for Fisher to lose the starting role unless something drastic happens. That said, Fisher’s playing time will decrease so that he’s only playing a little bit over 1/2 the game (the target is 26-28 mpg). So there is plenty of opportunity for Brown and Farmar to make their marks. On a championship team trying to repeat, it’s likely that each guard will get playing time when the situation calls for it. If the Lakers are playing a team with a super quick guard, Farmar will likely get the nod for increased minutes off the bench. If the Lakers are going against a stronger, bigger point, Brown will get most of the reserve minutes. It will be interesting to see how the Lakers coaches utilize their players at this position, because it’s very rare for an NBA team to legitimately play three different players at one position over the course of a season. Jackson did so in last year’s playoffs, and they were able to win that way, but I’m not sure they could keep it up over an entire year. It will also be interesting to see how Farmar handles the situation if he’s losing large chunks of playing time to Brown. As mentioned previously, if there’s one player on the Lakers roster that is the most likely to be moved this season, it’s Farmar. He’s got the talent and a small enough contract to be desired by other teams, but in the end, he just might not fit into the puzzle here in LA.