Los Angeles Lakers: The Point Guard Issue

It’s not every day you see such a storied franchise as the Los Angeles Lakers sign two guards from the NBA Development League.  However, to serve as stop gaps for the mutilated floor general position, Kendall Marshall and Manny Harris have become options that Mike D’Antoni has had to rely on.

Marshall, who is just in his second season out of North Carolina, has had to carry quite a load.  Starting at point guard in the rotation since January began, he has played 38.8 minutes per game and logged five games in which he broke the 40 minute mark.  Meanwhile for Harris, his primary role has been to fill the position and minutes that Steve Blake would normally contribute, playing 20.1 minutes per game.

Lakers

Jan 8, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers point guard Kendall Marshall (12) reacts to a play during the first quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports

Harris’ production has been slightly poor minus the one meeting against the Knicks, in which he scored 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting and hit two of his three 3-pointers.  Overall through the seven games he has suited up for the Lakers, the 6’5″ combo guard has averaged 7.1 points per game, but at a very inefficient 33.3 percent from the field.  When he’s on the court, there’s no discrediting his energy and desire to penetrate and get to the foul line, it just appears that he doesn’t work well with the group of guys D’Antoni has available.  Kobe Bryant has been mentoring him just as much as the other players since he signed on with a 10-day contract on Jan. 16, but you simply can’t expect him to flourish in the mature NBA just because he put up staggering offensive numbers in the NBA’s “minor league.”  Los Angeles re-signed Harris to yet another 10-day contract on the day he exploded against New York, so he’ll be around for at least one more week.

When The Injuries Heal ….

The Lakers are set to be in a very riveting situation next week when their assemblage of point guards start rolling back in the rotation after being cleared by team doctors.

**If you missed the latest injury updates for all the hurt Lakers, you can view it here (bottom of the column)**

Rotation changes are going to be imminent, and it should include the demotion of Manny Harris, cutting him from the roster.  Why?

Well, here’s the list of the healthy (or at least semi-healthy) point guards Los Angeles will have to deal with within the next two weeks:

Kendall Marshall, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, and Jordan Farmar.

Lakers

Jordan Farmar has been the fan favorite point guard since he returned to Los Angeles, but also sidelined with two hamstring tears. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

That doesn’t even include the shooting guards of Jodie Meeks and Nick Young, who D’Antoni loves to have on the floor for an abundance of minutes each night.  Things are going to get cluttered … extremely fast.

The plethora of point guards that D’Antoni will have available will be advantageous to some degree, considering he will always have an option for different scenarios in games.  And, especially this season, all four floor generals are superb outside shooters.  Say what you like about Marshall’s unorthodox delivery, but he has consistently been impressing everyone with his 3-point range, drilling 47.3 percent of his shots beyond the arc on the year.  It’s something he continues to work on, as Marshall’s last three games (Orlando, New York, Indiana) featured him knocking down eight of his 15 attempts from deep (53.3 percent).  Isn’t that what you want from your point guard, one that was set to be noted as one of the worst draft busts of 2012?

What Should Happen

First off, lets be absolutely clear for a second.

Nothing these 2013-14 Lakers do in terms of rotational changes is going to propel them into playoff contention or make Western Conference teams nervous for even a second.  They won’t have to tank, the losing will come naturally, because this team has no superstar at the moment that is capable of being consistent with a mature mindset.  It’s not knocking these young talents, it’s just the fact that every solid team out West has a go-to guard or forward that they can rely on to draw attention and free up the rest of their guys.  Kobe Bryant is cursing out his stationary bicycle, so he can’t be the guy just yet.

With that said, the best option at the starting point guard spot is the current starter, Kendall Marshall.  There are a number of reasons, but the main two are the most important.

Marshall’s pinpoint passing and unselfishness has become the reason the Lakers even find themselves hanging around in tough ball games, and his teammates are certainly buying into what he’s bringing to the table.  He’s been able to execute the signature baseline backdoor cuts that D’Antoni loves to use in his offense, and Jodie Meeks seems to have developed a smooth connection with Marshall, and it has shown in Meeks’ offensive production.

Marshall performing the D’Antoni backdoor:  Basketball isn’t a hard concept, guys

D’Antoni shouldn’t make any changes to his starting unit until Kobe Bryant is ready to go at the beginning of March.  A starting lineup of Marshall, Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Pau Gasol, and Ryan Kelly provides the best situation for the Lakers to utilize what they’ll have off the bench, and that may lead to better second halves.

The other primary reason Marshall has been the best starting point guard for Los Angeles this season is simply that he is not afraid or hesitant to pick his spots and get himself involved.  Being a veteran in this league, Steve Blake has learned the same thing; offenses run more effectively when all five guys are scoring threats.  The problem with Nash last season (and even in his short playing time this year), was that he rarely looked to get himself good looks at the rim and create opportunities that would take the attention off of Bryant or Dwight Howard.

Lakers

How well can Nash navigate on the court despite the numerous back troubles? Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The structure and leadership Nash offers is the best that any currently active Laker could bring, and that’s an understandable reason to place him back with the starters.  However, it’s extremely possible that this season could be his last due to retirement.  If he would like to stay along for 2014-15 just to collect his last year of salary, we all are aware that his minutes will be down, because he’s not reliable to play half a season any longer.  Therefore, why not just bring him off the bench for the rest of the season?  It looks very plausible that Marshall could become a long term option for the Lakers’ future.  Of course, that all depends on whether Mitch Kupchak believes the kid’s skills will grow and become an important piece of a championship roster he’ll look to assemble in the next two summers.

Jordan Farmar played with a spectacular will to win coming off the bench earlier this season, leading the second unit through some memorable runs.  Nothing will ever top the second quarter barrage he orchestrated in Brooklyn but getting hot from the perimeter and forming a massive lead.  Bringing Farmar off the bench when everyone is healthy will form a solid second unit that certainly has room for changes.  Farmar, Nash, Steve Blake, Nick Young, and Xavier Henry would provide D’Antoni will endless possibilities with the bench’s backcourt.  If there is one thing we’ve learned about D’Antoni, it’s that he won’t be consistent with who he puts on the floor.  Everyone is going to get their chances before Bryant returns, and it might as well be the younger guys.

Blake is very capable of playing off the ball and alongside another point guard in the second unit, so it’s not going to be a huge deal in that regard.  What Lakers fans have loved about Blake since Bryant’s tragic Achilles injury has been the deadly combination of perimeter game, play making ability, and fearlessness in attacking the paint.

Lakers

Steve Blake showed that he can do what it takes to win games for L.A., even if he has to go away from the 3-point looks. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In the 21 games Blake appeared in this season (starting all 21), he averaged 9.8 points, 7.7 assists, and 2.5 turnovers per contest.  He was the main guard in the rotation, playing over 30 minutes per night for the first time since his 2008-09 season with Portland.  Along with shooting 40 percent from deep, Blake was one of the team’s main options in late fourth quarter sets.  The “closer” role for the Lakers truly has shifted a lot since April 2013, huh?

Under no circumstance should Blake’s ability be doubted, but it would make zero sense throwing him back into a starting role upon return, considering it will take a week or two getting his shot back into a groove.  Healing torn ligaments in your elbow will indeed affect performance for a short while, it’s just a process of getting comfortable going out there with full-contact.  Until then, Marshall should not lose his starting spot with this lineup, as he has rightfully earned it.  Putting up performances that no other Laker point guard has done in their first 14 games as a starter is nothing to sneeze at.

Nobody sees this team in playoff position, or a threat to make a late season run … so why make a change at one of the two positions that has been impressive in January?

What Will Happen

There’s one thing Lakers fans have to understand.  When Jerry Buss, Jim Buss, and Mitch Kupchak “collectively agreed” to choose Mike D’Antoni as the head coach last season, they knew what they were getting into.  Phil Jackson was on the table, and BOTH coaches are known to have some type of stubborn side to them.  Jackson is more player oriented and involved with hearing/learning from the ideas of his players, however.  D’Antoni just loves his offensive system, and believes defense will fall into place if he just gets his guys working hard.

With D’Antoni as the head coach, there’s no way he’s going to go against bringing Steve Nash back into the starting lineup once he’s fully healthy and has a couple games to get re-adjusted.

Lakers

Jan 24, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with his reasoning, as he has been Nash’s coach and mentor for seven seasons, and the two built one of the NBA’s most prolific offenses in history during their time in Phoenix.  D’Antoni still believes Nash gives them the best chance to win, and to run quality sets with Pau Gasol off the pick-and-roll.

The latest Magic Johnson blasting on Coach D’Antoni occurred this week, on The Tonight Show:

You hate to see guys crack the rotation and then lose their spot altogether, primary evidence being Chris Kaman and his six straight DNP’s.  It doesn’t seem logical that D’Antoni would kick Kendall Marshall out of the rotation due to four guards returning to action next week, but this is the man that has close to no fan support, and one that sticks to his roots.  It’s going to be difficult to manage playing time between all the options in the backcourt, but remain hopeful that he doesn’t kick out the guy that has showed great poise this month, while appearing to look identical to former Laker, Vlade Divac.

After the second half meltdown (sound familiar) at home against Indiana on Tuesday, D’Antoni addressed the issue they’re having:

“We just didn’t play very well, but it’s not a starting lineup (issue),” D’Antoni stated. “We’ve tried that. We’ve tried different people, we’ve tried different things. We’ve tried getting them out earlier to warm up, talk to them, encourage them, but for whatever reason we just don’t seem to get off the schneid very well to start the second half.”

“I don’t know what kind of adjustments we need to make, but we just need to play better.”

The “adjustments” D’Antoni refers to aren’t exactly adjustments that need to be made right now.  In fact, no adjustments CAN be made without a healthy 12 man roster.  Still the 2nd ranked bench in the league in terms of points produced (41.2 points per game), they haven’t got it done in the past three games.  In Orlando on Friday night, the bench scored 28 total points, 16 of which came from Nick Young.  Sunday at Madison Square Garden, 29 bench points were scored, and it took Manny Harris playing the game of his life.  On Tuesday against Indiana, 22 bench points were collected, 12 of which came from Young in an awful individual performance.

The point guard issue has been apparent in Los Angeles dating back to years the franchise won banners No. 15 and 16.  The only difference now, is that this roster is going to use the healthy bodies they receive back for more bench production.  One thing is guaranteed:  it’s going to take the load off Swaggy P, who has came in and realized he’s the only threat to put the ball in the basket.

Good luck, D’Antoni.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Topics: Jordan Farmar, Kendall Marshall, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Manny Harris, Mike D'Antoni, Steve Blake, Steve Nash

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