Player Capsule: Steve Blake
There was a particularly bright spot for the Lakers in the second half of the season, and it wasn’t what was expected prior to a season full of huge expectations for an All-Star-laden roster: the play of reserve guard Steve Blake.
His return from abdominal surgery – which limited Blake to 45 regular season games – in late January coincided with L.A.'s much improved play, with the 10-year veteran's shooting, passing and defense aiding in a 26-12* record in games he played through the regular season finale. *L.A. won two games prior to Blake’s Jan. 29 return after the Lakers started the season 18-25.
Blake was especially critical in a desperate playoff push in April, when starting point guard Steve Nash missed the final eight games, and Kobe Bryant the final two, coach Mike D’Antoni needing Blake to both make and finish plays.
“Towards the end of the year, I got to really show some of the other abilities I haven’t shown while I’ve been here," said Blake in his exit interview. "There’s so much talent here and not a lot of shots to go around. With Kobe out and Nash being hurt, someone had to take those shots and be ready to step up.”
After Bryant went out ahead of two final games against San Antonio and Houston, Blake averaged 23.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.0 steals, knocking down eight three pointers in two wins that vaulted L.A. into the No. 7 seed. In the finale against Houston, Blake scored 24 points with seven assists and seven boards, helping secure a 99-95 victory.
Blake's toughness is well documented, his competitive spark contributing toward's L.A.'s generally more intense play as the season dragged on. Long coveted by D'Antoni as a point man to run his system, Blake didn't do as much ballhandling as may have been expected due to Bryant's high-usage on the ball and L.A.'s need to involve big men Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
For the season, Blake averaged of 7.3 points, 3.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds, improving to 14.0 points, 4.0 boards and 2.5 assists in two playoff games before a hamstring strain ended his season. Impressively, Blake drained 42.1 percent of his three pointers on the season, which was good for 13th in the NBA.
His best work came with those increased April minutes, when he posted averages of 12.6 points, 5.3 boards, 4.0 assists and 1.0 steals. Blake’s perimeter defense, meanwhile, was consistently praised by D’Antoni as being the best on his team.