2010-11 Season Preview: Guards

Guards Forwards Centers

On paper, the 2010-11 Lakers should be even better than the team that won the NBA title in each of the past two seasons.

Wait … how is that possible?

It’s not like a team can do better than winning a championship, of course, but it certainly can play better basketball along what Phil Jackson often refers to as “the journey.” Whether or not motivation can be drawn from what Jackson says will be his last season as coach, the one in which he searches for his remarkable fourth three-peat, remains to be seen.

But an obviously improved bench, a potentially better team vibe and better health could quite tangibly lead to improved basketball. More specifically, free agents Steve Blake and Matt Barnes couple with rookie Devin Ebanks to boost the pine crew, a more veteran team than last year’s has a better chance to focus only on the court, and other than Andrew Bynum (likely out until the end of November at the earliest), it’s a healthy group of Lakers. More wins could result, but will the regular season be more about “playing the right way” towards victories, or simply trying to get to the playoffs as fast and as healthy as possible?

To delve more deeply into the roster, we looked inside the box score for each player, summarized detailed individual scouting reports from assistant coach Jim Cleamons and offered an X-factor pertaining to all 14 players on L.A.’s roster.

Below are the guards.


DEREK FISHER

Box Score & More
Fisher averaged 7.5 points on 38 percent shooting with 2.5 assists in 27.2 regular season minutes per game and bumped up to 10.3 points on 44.8 percent from the field with 2.8 assists in 32.8 postseason minutes. He shot 36 percent from three in the playoffs.

  • 11 – Points scored in the fourth quarter of Finals Game 3 in Boston by the co-captain, helping L.A. regain home-court advantage.
  • 13 – Players in the history of the NBA that have more rings than Fisher’s five.
  • 413 – Straight games played by the Arkansas native, who hasn’t missed one since April 13, 2005.

Clem Says
“He’s the best point guard we have. It’s very simple. He has the most discipline, understands what we’re doing, is very competitive and knowledgeable and he knows the line forms behind him. What else do you want from a leader? We have impeccable trust in Fisher. He’s our guy. End of conversation.”

X-Factor = LEADERSHIP
Fisher is the undoubted emotional leader of the Lakers. While Kobe can inspire by example and through bad cop technique, it’s his fellow 1996 Draft classmate that sets the tone verbally throughout the season and particularly in the postseason. L.A.’s coaches are quick to warn against judging Fisher’s sparse offensive output, which to them only signifies that his focus is on setting the table for more talented offensive options. So important to Bryant was Fisher’s re-signing that No. 24 spoke with him daily throughout the free agency process.


STEVE BLAKE

Box Score & More
Blake appeared in 80 games for Portland and the L.A. Clippers last season, averaging 8.6 points, 4.8 assists and 2.3 rebounds for the Clips in 27 minutes per game.

  • 1 – Triple-double in his career, a 23-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist effort against the Lakers on April 14 (a.k.a. “good timing for the free agent to be”).
  • 13 – Blake’s 2009-10 NBA rank for assist-to-turnover ratio (2.97).
  • 43.7 – Blake’s three-point percentage for the Clippers last season, which matches Sasha Vujacic’s 2007-08 Lakers record.

Clem Says
“In a nutshell, Steve is a solid pro. He understands the game, he’s going to do what he can do to help the team win and he understands that’s where his bread is buttered. He’s going to be a good teammate, and he has the basketball and athletic skills to back up that mental side. I think he and Fish will play well off each other, and there are times that they could play together. You don’t want to leave either one alone, because they can both stretch the defense and also handle the ball.”

X-Factor = BASKETBALL IQ
Within a week of training camp, Phil Jackson acknowledged that Steve Blake had picked up the triangle offense faster than nearly anyone he could remember aside from hoops savant Pau Gasol. The thought is that Blake will be able to run the team’s second unit effectively thanks to a combination of that hoops IQ and his selfless attitude, which has already endeared him to L.A.’s locker room. In other Blake news, the Maryland National Champion (2002) boasts athleticism that’s far better than you thought it was.


KOBE BRYANT

Box Score & More
First, his 2009-10 awards haul: Finals MVP (2), First-Team All-NBA (8), All-NBA Defensive First Team (8) and All-Star starter (12). Now, the numbers: 27 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.55 steals in the regular season; 29.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.35 steals in the postseason, including 11 of 12 straight games with at least 30 points.

  • 6 – Where Bryant will rank on the NBA’s all-time scoring list by the end of the season if he comes even close to his scoring average from the past three campaigns (about 27 points per). He’s already fourth all-time in playoff points.
  • 7 – Game-winning field goals dropped by Bryant last season.
  • 49 – Three-pointers hit by Bryant in the 2010 playoffs, a career high, on 131 attempts (37.4 percent).

Clem Says
“Knowing him the way I do, he’s going to sit back and figure out what he needs to do and when he can take over. He’s a thinker. He’s looking, he’s observing and until he gets 100 percent, who knows what he’s going to bring on a nightly basis other than making sure we get that W. We all know what Kobe can do … he’s the best closer in the league, and who really cares about the rest of the numbers? He’s got the rings, and that speaks volumes right there.”

X-Factor = HEALTH
Generally the offseason is a time for Bryant to pick a specific area or skill he’d like to add to his game. In 2009, for example, he worked with Hakeem Olajuwon on his post game, and proceeded to have his best career season on the low block. This past offseason, however, was all about getting healthy, and Bryant spent the entire summer and early fall rehabilitating his right knee after arthroscopic surgery. The Lakers, of course, need their best player healthy to three-peat, and his daily progress throughout the preseason was certainly an encouraging sign that the NBA’s most well-maintained body should be primed for 2010-11.


SHANNON BROWN

Box Score & More
Brown’s regular season minutes jumped from 7.6 in the 2008-09 regular season after getting traded to L.A. in February to 20.7 minutes in the 2009-10 regular season, when he posted 8.1 points on 42.7 percent shooting with 2.2 rebounds. In the playoffs, his minutes dipped back to around 14.0 per contest, in which he averaged 4.9 points.

  • 13.1 – Additional minutes per game played by Brown last season compared to his first two months in L.A. after being traded from Charlotte in February of 2009.
  • 16.4 – Brown’s scoring average in seven 2009-10 games he started in the absence of then-injured Kobe Bryant.
  • 41 – Times Brown violated airspace around the country with absurd in-game dunks, his 44.5-inch vertical and huge mitts serving as enablers.

Clem Says
“Shannon came back from the summer, and I teased him saying he looked big like a defensive back. Thus far he’s doing well. If we can just get him to shoot the ball in rhythm, take his open shots and knock them down, he could have the world by its tail. Rather than putting the ball on the floor, just catch and shoot. Don’t worry about trying to get to the cup on every possession. Get to the cup in transition, and if a guy takes away what we call your direct line, take the little 15-footer over the top of him. If that’s not there, move the ball on. He’s done this well in training camp.”

X-Factor = ATHLETICISM
Born and raised in Maywood on the West side of Chicago, Brown is the only Lakers player from the Midwest. The East (Artest, Bynum, Caracter, Ebanks, Odom, Bryant) and Atlantic (Blake), South (Fisher and Ratliff), West Coast (Walton and Barnes) and Europe (Gasol and Vujacic) are all better represented. Regardless of where he learned the game, Brown can be an X-factor on the floor this season for L.A. through his elite athleticism, which is unique on the Lakers. Well, just not too much of it, as suggested by Cleamons. In non-related, off-the-court Brown news, the Michigan State product recently confirmed that he is engaged to singer Monica.


SASHA VUJACIC

Box Score & More
Vujacic struggled with injuries and a lack of playing time throughout the 2009-10 season, averaging 2.8 points and 1.2 rebounds in 8.6 minutes per game. He missed the first two rounds of the playoffs with a severe ankle sprain and saw limited duty thereafter.

  • 2 – Critical free throws converted by a cold-off-the-bench Vujacic in the final seconds of Game 7.
  • 18 – Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rank of Vujacic’s Russian fiancé Maria Sharapova.
  • 30.9 – Vujacic’s regular season three-point percentage in 2009-10, two seasons removed from his 43.7 percent in 2007-08 success rate, a Lakers single-season franchise record.

Clem Says
“Sasha has to learn that it’s not all about putting the ball in the basket, but, ‘What do I need to do to get on the floor.’ He might be able to play some three at times, or some two. Sasha’s defensive activity can get under some opponents’ skin, and he can be aggressive. He has the skills, but it can’t all be just spotlighted at the offensive end. His contributions at the other end as well will affect the playing time that he gets.”

X-Factor = ...DEFENSE?
Sure, the Lakers would love Vujacic to find the three-point range that helped him earn his “Machine” moniker two seasons back. But shooting aside, who knew Phil Jackson could deploy him as a defensive agitator off the bench, set free to harass and annoy opposing guards for short or long bursts of time? The Slovenian is long and quick enough to stay with most perimeter players, and also has an advanced understanding of how to chase players around screens, since he’s run off them himself for years. In other words, while known early in his career as a shooter, it’s on the defensive end where Vujacic may be able to carve out additional minutes, at least on a team needing minutes for Bryant, Fisher, Blake and Brown in the back court.