Blake's Return Solidifies Bench Rotation

Steve Blake's return from injury has allowed Mike Brown some stability with his second unit.

With Steve Blake's return from injury, Mike Brown has solidified his bench rotation, at least for the time being:

On Feb. 9 at Boston, Steve Blake rose off his seat on the bench and ran to the scorer's table for the first time since his rib injury nearly a month earlier (Jan. 11 at Utah). Before the night was done, Blake helped lead the Lakers to an overtime victory, probably their biggest win of the season.

Instead of easing the Maryland product gently back into the line up like a pudgy bulldog taking its first steps, Mike Brown had his back up point guard running like a greyhound, to the tune of a season-high 31:45 of playing time. In fact, Blake played all five minutes of an overtime session in which he hit a big shot and was a defensive key on Boston's Ray Allen.

"He's got a funny body - it's not like mine," said Brown."I'd have been still winded after my first three minutes back, but he can run and play all day. Having said that, it is tough to play in an NBA game after being out for so long ... he's been effective on both ends of the floor."

In the three subsequent games, a loss to New York and wins over Toronto and Atlanta, Blake was a steady presence off the bench, averaging between 29-30 minutes, five more than he was playing before getting hurt, when Brown was still trying to figure out his rotation. Point of fact: L.A. is 11-5 with Blake, and 6-7 without him.

His shooting stroke has yet to return in full rhythm - Blake is shooting fewer than 30 percent from the field in four games back - but his assist-to-turnover ratio has been strong at 3.3 to 1.8, his defense has been solid, and most importantly, he's been running the second unit to Brown's design.

Indeed, with Blake's return, Brown has for the time being settled on a rotation that was previously as fluid as the interplay between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg (especially on the early Tribe albums).

PG: Blake - see entire article.
SG: Rookie Andrew Goudelock has proven himself a legit NBA scorer, averaging 6.6 points in 15 minutes on in February, including a run of four double-figure games in five opportunities. Despite being the rare second round pick to earn minutes as a rookie, he's won over even his veteran teammates like Kobe Bryant.
SF: Matt Barnes has played well in his return to the bench (Jan. 29 at Minnesota), averaging 5.6 points and 4.9 boards in his last eight games, providing his unique mix of on-ball defense, basket cuts on offense, well-above-average rebounding and transition lane running.
PF: Troy Murphy got the nod at power forward over Josh McRoberts due in large part to his ability to knock down shots; he's shooting 42.9 percent from three, second only to Goudelock's 43.2 percent, and is averaging 23.7 minutes per game in February, grabbing 3.7 boards.
C: The center spot is left vacant usually for Andrew Bynum, and occasionally Pau Gasol, depending on things like foul trouble and such. But Brown has opted against the four-man big man rotation, preferring to always have a seven footer on the floor.

"We feel pretty good about our rotation right now, and what we've done especially with the second unit," said Brown. "We just have to keep trying to get better and trying to continue to find that chemistry with the players that are on the floor. At times its pretty good, at times it's not. As long as we keep trying to take baby steps forward, I think come playoff time we'll be fine."

According to Hoopstats.com, the Lakers have the 25th ranked bench in terms of average points scored at 20.7 per game (ranking 23rd in field goal percentage at 40.4%), though they also dole out only the 23rd most minutes to bench players (16.6). There are a few limiting factors to why L.A.'s bench isn't more productive from a scoring standpoint that should be acknowledged.

Few NBA teams have three starters capable of putting up big offensive numbers like L.A. does in Bryant (28.7 ppg), Gasol (16.8) and Bynum (16.3), and Bynum or Gasol will always be the focal point of the offense for the second unit. That's not how things roll for a team like Dallas that needs its bench to score, turning to subs Jason Terry, Lamar Odom and Delonte West as the first, second and third options off the pine. The result is an average of 43.6 bench points, similar to league-leading Philadelphia's 43.7 points, as Louis Williams, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young lead the way.

And so, it's less about how many pure points L.A. is getting off its bench and how efficient and effective that group is scoring in general, even if many of the points go to Bynum or Gasol.

According to 82games.com, L.A.'s currently composed second unit has spent 38.7 minutes together on the court, with a win percentage of 60.0 that actually outdoes the starting line up (45.4) by 14.6 percent, though the sample size is small as it accounts for only five total games (3-2 record). The group has an effective shooting percentage of 44.4 percent, adjusted up from the 40.4 percent from the field for generally good three-point shooting.

Even if L.A. doesn't need the kind of production some squads do in terms of pure scoring off the pine, they do need to find some consistent sources of points; Goudelock feels confident that he can provide an answer.

"I think about basketball all day, every day, so with all the work that we put in you gotta expect to get something out of it," he said. "I'm a scorer, and I don't expect to miss many shots. Guys are not game planning specifically for me, so that makes it a lot easier for me, getting wide open shots."

The rookie's shots are generally coming as a result of Bynum or Gasol being doubled in the post, or Blake finding an opening. And Blake's success in the latter has carried over to the minutes he's played with the starters, as 82games.com shows a win percentage of 75 percent when Blake joins Bryant, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Bynum.

Numbers aside, the biggest benefit for the second unit seems pretty simple: continuity. Brown will reserve the right to tinker with things as he sees fit, but for the time being, expect to see Blake, Goudelock, Barnes and Murphy holding it down.