2009-10 Season Preview: Guards
“One, two, three, RING!” The pregame chant led by Lamar Odom in the center of L.A.’s circle summed up the team’s mission last season, and nothing has changed on that front as L.A. braces to defend its title.
While solid team defense remains a major focus towards achieving that goal, buoyed by the unique length of the Lakers and the addition of Ron Artest, the following statement from assistant coach Jim Cleamons – who also offered his thoughts on each individual Lakers player for this preview – sums up how the team hopes to play offensively and in general:
“If we move the basketball from one side to the other, there’s no telling who’s going to score, because we are capable of moving the ball so freely and unselfishly that on any given night can see six or seven guys in double figures and making a good contribution to a winning effort. That’s going to cause havoc with defense, because they have to account for Kobe, for Ron, for Pau, for Andrew and Lamar … There are so many people there, that the defense can’t account for all of them if we move the ball and if we play together. That “if” word is the biggest hindrance to a lot of success, but we’ve been there. Having been there, let’s hope that the experience of repeating and going after another title will bear fruit, because we understand that together we can achieve the goal we’ve set out to achieve.”
After a consistent regular season during which Derek Fisher led L.A. in three-point percentage and (remarkably) played in all 82 games for the fourth straight season, the eldest Laker flat out struggled to make shots throughout the Western Conference Playoffs. Sure, the Arkansas Little-Rock product found other ways to contribute - particularly in the locker room with his words and on the court by example (see: Game 2 vs. Houston) - but he simply couldn’t find his shooting form. Then the NBA Finals came along, and suddenly, Fisher was back, just as Phil Jackson was sure he would be. He converted 43.8 percent of his triples against Orlando, and of course most importantly, nailed the two massive three-pointers that tied and beat the Magic in Game 4. Redemption, to say the least.
In the regular season, Fisher averaged 9.9 points, 3.2 assists and 1.16 steals while shooting 42.4 percent from the field, 84.6 percent from the charity stripe and 39.7 percent from beyond the arc. In 22 postseason starts (L.A.’s elder statesman missed Game 3 at Houston due to suspension), he averaged 8.0 points, 2.2 assists, 2.0 rebounds and 0.95 steals on 39.4 percent from the floor, 28.4 percent from three and 86.1 percent from the free throw line.
954: Career three-pointers nailed by Fisher, who made 120 to lead the Lakers last season. (Note: New Laker Ron Artest hit 159 threes for the Rockets last season, shooting 39.9 percent to Fisher’s 39.7)
566: Games played by Derek Fisher in the last seven seasons. He’s missed eight in that time. Eight. Another way to put it: since 2002-03, Fisher has played in all 82 regular season games in every season but 2004-05, when he missed eight games.
35: Fisher’s age, making him the oldest Laker by four years. Kobe Bryant, who came into the league with Fisher in 1996, is 31.
Coach Cleamons: “Derek is a pro’s pro. He understands how to play, he’s very consistent with what he does and you know that you’re getting not just a good days work but also tremendous person and outstanding heart . I look for more of the same from him this season. When his game starts to slip, he’ll be the first to admit it, but Fish just knows the game. He knows how to compensate for the things he may lack. I’ll take Fish 10 out of 10 days.”
Good news for Farmar and the Lakers: He’s looked just as explosive in the 2009-10 preseason as he did early last season, when his ability to push tempo off the bench was a key element to L.A.’s 20-3 start. However, a few games later, Farmar tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee and missed 17 games. Although getting back into rhythm was difficult for the backup point guard out of UCLA, his biggest contribution of the season came when Derek Fisher was suspended for Game 3 of the Western Conference Semis and Farmar contributed 12 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals with just one turnover in 33 minutes of L.A.’s 108-94 win.
In the regular season, Farmar averaged 6.4 points, 2.4 assists, 1.8 rebounds and 0.88 steals in 18.3 minutes, while in the postseason, he played just 13 minutes per, putting up 4.7 points, 1.7 assists and 1.4 rebounds.
58.4: Farmar’s free throw percentage last season, a number far too low for a good shooter, as he’s quick to concede. He promises that a new stroke will render much better numbers this season.
43": Approximate measure of Farmar’s vertical leap. Shannon Brown gets most of the buzz for his freaky athleticism, but Farmar’s right there.
1: Farmar’s number for this season, changed from the No. 5 that he wore in his first three seasons. He wanted to go back to his high school roots, when he led Taft HS to the school’s first L.A. city title.
Coach Cleamons: “Jordan has to continue to mature for us as a basketball player. He’s been in our system his entire tenure in the league, and if we are teaching him properly and he’s gathering the information, it’s time for him to put it together. His turnovers are down (this preseason) and they should remain low, because we don’t ask him to put the ball in spaces and places that he has to force passes. Defensively he should start understanding the league in terms of the skills of guys he’s going against, how to use his speed and quickness to his advantage and know how we’re playing screen and rolls.”
On Feb. 7, 2009, the Lakers acquired Shannon Brown – along with Adam Morrison – from Charlotte for Vladimir Radmanovic. At the time, many assumed that Brown, who had played little for the Bobcats, was merely a throw in. To the contrary, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and his staff really liked Brown’s potential on defense in particular. As it turned out, Brown not only played well enough defensively to see time on bigger point guards like Deron Williams and Chauncey Billups in the playoffs, but he unexpectedly shot 48 percent from three-point range to boot and offered a few game-changing offensive explosions in transition. The result? A contract offer from Kupchak.
His numbers in 18 regular season games were limited by 7.6 minutes per game, in which he averaged 3.2 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.6 assists on 52.4 percent shooting from the field and 66.7 percent from three. In the playoffs, his minutes jumped to 13.1 per game, and he averaged 4.9 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.6 assists with averages of 43.4 percent from the field and 48.0 percent from three.
44.5: Brown’s measured vertical leap in his pre-draft workout for the Lakers in 2006, a number that doesn’t seem to have diminished in the least after an array of explosive preseason slams.
25: Pick in the 2006 NBA Draft by Cleveland, one spot ahead of current teammate Jordan Farmar. Assistant GM Ronnie Lester said that while Farmar was the player L.A. had targeted, Brown was right there as well.
1: Fantastic nickname for his baby boy, Shannon Christopher Brown: “Fatman.”
Coach Cleamons: “This has been a good training camp for Shannon. This season he saw how the system is put together now, where as last season it was already put together when he got here. I think he’s very comfortable in his role and with what he needs to do. Coach (Phil Jackson) is experimenting with him in a ‘small guard’ backcourt (with Jordan Farmar) and also as the lead guard, because I think he’s going to have that type of combo presence with this team. We don’t expect Shannon to be a magician with the basketball, but we want him to knock down his open shots. We’d like for him to not try to use his athleticism too much, but when the time is right, go for it. We all would like to see him play under control and within himself, and I think he’ll be fine.
Following a breakout 2007-08 season that earned him a contract extension with the Lakers, Sasha Vujacic was disappointed with a 2008-09 campaign that saw his contributions wane as the season wore on. His three-point shooting, which had been the best in franchise history, dipped to 36.3 percent in the regular season and 31.4 percent in the postseason. Yet Vujacic, hair freshly shorn, shot the ball much better in the preseason, looking more like “The Machine” that endeared him to Lakers fans than whatever he was in 2008-09.
In the regular season, Vujacic averaged 5.8 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.96 steals in 16.2 minutes per game while shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from three. In the playoffs, his minutes dropped to 10.9 minutes per game, and his production to 3.0 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.5 assists on 31.4 percent from three and 26.4 from the field.
889: Career three-pointers attempted by the Maribor, Slovenia native.
37: Fewer threes made by Vujacic in 2008-09 than in 2007-08, despite his playing in eight more games.
13: Times Vujacic, an always energetic if at times foul-prone defender, led the Lakers in steals last season.
Coach Cleamons: “What we’ve been trying to do with Sasha is when he’s not making his jump shot, to be able to keep himself on the floor by making plays for someone else. That doesn’t mean he has to turn into a total assist guy, but if you miss a couple of shots, continue to play defense and continue to hustle. Let your shot come to you, because we know that the defense will guard you and therefore you will stretch the D and create gaps for your teammates behind you. It’s tough for a young ball player who thinks that his minutes are so heavily tied to his point production, so we’ve tried to give him a comfort zone and level to take the pressure off him and say ‘No, we’re not asking you to take shots that aren’t there or take shots on your own, but just play within the system.’ The guys realize that he is on the floor because he can score the ball.”
All-Star Co-MVP; First Team All-NBA; NBA All-Defensive First Team; NBA Finals MVP. The accolades show what a fantastic season the 2007-08 regular season MVP had, and his mental impact on the Lakers was just as instrumental. Each day in practice and for all 82 regular season and 22 postseason games, Bryant brought a unique desire to win and knowledge of how to do so to his teammates. Winning the title was the only acceptable conclusion to Bryant’s season, and no one was more responsible for turning that from a goal to a reality.
In the regular season, Bryant averaged 26.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists with 1.46 steals on 46.7 percent from the field, 35.1 percent from three and 85.6 percent from the line in 36.1 minutes per game. In the playoffs, Kobe vaulted his numbers to 30.2 points, 5.3 boards, 5.5 assists, 1.65 steals and 0.91 blocks on 45.7 percent from the field, 34.9 from three and 88.3 from the charity stripe in 40.9 minutes.
1,373: Points Bryant needs to become the leading scorer in the history of the Lakers, as well as the 13th greatest scorer in league history. Jerry West holds the franchise mark at 25,192, while Bryant isn’t far behind at 23,820. If Bryant averages 26.8 points per game as he did in 2008-09, it would take him 52 games to surpass West.
61: Points Bryant scored on February 2 in New York City, the highest single-game total in the NBA last season and the fourth-highest of his career (81, 65, 62).
11: Straight seasons in which Bryant has made the All-NBA team (First Team seven times and the last four seasons, Second Team Twice, Third Team twice).
Coach Clemons: “If Kobe can give us the same performance as last year, (great), but sometimes more can be less in terms of point production. Everyone knows what a wonderful scorer he is, but when he sees those double teams and with the players that we can now put around him that can score very well, that will lead to more assists and not (mandate) as many points. Kobe’s minutes may also go down in that case and keep his legs fresher for the playoffs. Now, if you’re talking about who is the best player in the league, I don’t think there’s a question that it’s Kobe. Those people that want to argue for other players, they aren’t looking at basketball skills. If you throw everything into the equation, no matter how you shake it, it still boils down to Kobe being the best player in the league. He has nothing to prove – just go out and lead your team in the way and fashion that you are very capable, and everything will work out fine.”