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Re-evaluating Jordan Farmar

Parades and trophies aside, no Laker had a rougher 08-09 than Jordan Farmar. Many fans, myself included, were extremely down on him by regular season’s end, and his limited success in the playoffs only partially tore down the wall of negativity surrounding him. There are a fair number of Lakers fans more excited about Shannon Brown than Farmar at this point. A quick re-cap of his season:

At the beginning of the season, Farmar was the clear cut first guard off the bench. He played well to start the season, posting decent stats (8.5 points, 1.5 steals a game, on 42% shooting). He was struggling with his shot a little bit, but was doing a great job of pushing the pace with the 2nd unit, which was providing a really nice change of tempo at the time. Then, in late December, he busted up his knee, bad enough to need surgery. He was expected to miss 6-8 weeks, but he rushed back in just under 5. He started off well enough, but it quickly became clear as the season went on that he was not the same player, either physically or mentally. Mistakes started becoming more frequent, his shot disappeared. By the end of March, he was down to 5 points a game on 35% shooting. His PER dropped from 15.2 to 9.9 from last season to this season. Ouch. To compound matters further, the Lakers picked up Shannon Brown as a throw away in a salary cap deal, and it turned out the dude could play, so he started challenging Farmar for minutes. They ended up splitting time almost exactly in the playoffs.

For me, the main thing that caused me to become so negative towards Farmar as a Laker was his attitude, not his performance. I can deal with a player struggling to find his game (to a point, Sasha … to a point), but I can’t suffer a player who’s focus is lacking. There’s no way to statistically prove this, but Farmar had to have led the team in "WTF was that pass?" moments last year. And the look on his face after each one of those turnovers was like he was mad at the world because he just threw a dumb pass. Phil Jackson noted his poor attitude towards the end of the season, saying that Farmar "needs to realize that playing time in this league is earned, not given."

I was thinking about Farmar recently, and as often occurs with the passage of time, I found my judgment of his play softened. I began to see many of the problems of his season in a different light, taking his, and the team’s, mitigating circumstances into account. The result makes me much more willing to jump back on the Jordan Farmar bandwagon, although I have to admit I’m certainly not entirely back on it yet.

Let’s re-play that season recap, this time from Jordan’s perspective. Please forgive me for utilizing a tool I stole from Bill Simmons, but we’re going to do this Hubie Brown style.

You’re a young, confident point guard, coming off of a season which was, if not quite break-out, certainly an announcement of possible future success. You are the backup to a veteran who is long in the tooth, and the heir apparent to become the starter for one of the best franchises in the NBA, and it also happens to be your home-town team that you grew up rooting for. You start the season reasonably well, and then you get hurt. For the first time. Ever. You’ve never had surgery before, you’ve never had an injury more serious than an ankle sprain before. You work your ass off to get back, declaring yourself ready to come back in nearly half the time that was originally expected. You get thrown right back into the middle of things, because the team was really struggling to fill the point guard minutes without you (Fisher averaged 38 minutes a game while Farmar was out, compared to 30 over the course of the season, including that stretch). You find yourself not being able to do the things you are accustomed to doing, and you don’t know why, because you’ve never been hurt before. Your shot suffers and your confidence starts to suffer. Your team trades for another guy who plays your position, and he starts stealing your playing time. You still lack the explosiveness that makes you a special player, and now you feel a little betrayed that the team is feeling things out with this other guy, especially considering that you were put in this position at least in part because the team needed you back before you were truly ready to be back. Even if you didn’t know it at the time, the team should have prepared you better for a return from your injury, letting you re-adjust to things slowly, instead of throwing you to the wolves.

Now, I’m not saying this justifies the way he played last year, especially his attitude. But it certainly sheds a bit of a different light on things, and provides a picture that allows me to understand his actions, if not excuse them. And it certainly seemed to my eyes that Farmar began to "get it" again come playoff time. Even though he was splitting minutes with Brown 50:50 at that point, his attitude, demeanor, swagger, focus, and quality of play all increased. If he went through a rough stretch because of his injury, I can forgive him for that, especially since it seems to have been the first time he’d ever been through that process.

If you’ve ever had a serious injury, you probably know just how frustrating of a process it can be. If you haven’t, here’s a story. When I was in college, I played a lot of basketball, 10-15 hours a week. At one point, I pinched my sciatic nerve, and couldn’t play for about 4 months. After that, it was another two months before I could play without pain and got back into the type of shape I was in before my injury. And those six months was one of the worst periods of my life. I was irritable, quick to anger, and not all that fun to be around (three anti-qualities I pride myself on not having most of the time).

So where does that leave us in relation to Mr. Farmar. I’m firmly in the Wait and See category, but I have my "Welcome back, Jordan" poster folded up in my back pocket, ready to go if he shows me something on the court. He’s got a lot to prove this year, and lot to play for. This is his contract year, as he will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. He is also now in the fight of his life, because that starting spot which was so apparently going to be his someday is now a duel between him and a player who has a lot more of the characteristics that Phil Jackson likes in his guards. The last time he was put into a position even remotely like this (when the Lakers drafted Crittendon a year after drafting him), he responded by clearly announcing through his play and his work ethic that he was the guy to be counted on. It will be interseting to see if he responds that way again. He’s indicated that he definitely wants to be a starting guard in this league, and that he’s willing to leave L.A. if necessary to make that happen (I take this more as an indication that he understands the business side of the NBA than him being a malcontent in LA, because I definitely think his first choice would be to become the starter here.) Jordan Farmar stands on the cusp of two very different NBA paths, and as long as he doesn’t piss me off again, I’ll be rooting for the one that sees him succeed in purple and gold.

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