As fans around the nation are no doubt aware by now, basketball buzz is back in the City of Angels.
Well, with Kobe Bryant there, perhaps it never left. But talk of winning basketball is back in LA.
There has been plenty of chatter about the Lakers' 'big groups' -- the presently healthy big three of Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the soon-to-be-healthy big four of Bryant, Gasol, Odom and Andrew Bynum -- and deservedly so. Between Gasol's established post game, Odom's freakish versatility, Bynum's continued development (which has no ceiling in sight) and Kobe being Kobe, there is legitimate reason to believe that the Lakers will threaten for the NBA title.
But while the four studs are the ones are certainly the primary reasons why the Lakers are moving back to prominence, one would be remiss to overlook the job well done thus far by the point guard tandem in La La Land -- not necessarily for being spectacular, but for perfectly fitting its role thus far.
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The individual numbers of Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar aren't glitzy by any means. Fisher averages 11.9 points and 2.8 assists in 27.1 minutes per game, and Farmar averages 9.7 points and 2.7 assists in 20.9 minutes per game. Those numbers certainly aren't knocking anyone's socks off, and it isn't surprising that the duo often gets overlooked as a result.
But it's important to remember that Phil Jackson and the Lakers' don't run a typical offensive system. As a result of the presence of Kobe Bryant and Jackson's triangle offense, the point guard role isn't one of an every-play facilitator. Bryant often runs the offense, and his usage rate of 29.5 possessions per 40 minutes is the fourth highest in basketball. For their parts, neither Farmar nor Fisher uses so much as 20 possessions per 40 minutes, and neither ranks higher than 29th in usage rate among point guards. As a result, the lowered assist totals make some sense from that perspective.
In the Lakers' system, the point guards are responsible for controlling the ball from time to time, avoiding turnovers, doing their jobs defensively and stretching the floor for the big scorers by being able to hit outside shots. Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar have done all of this.
Offensively, Fisher and Farmar combine between them for just 2.5 turnovers per game at the point guard position, and both have relatively low turnover ratios, with Fisher sitting at fifth among point guards through committing turnovers on just eight percent of his used possessions. Further, both have done an excellent job of serving in that stretch-the-floor role. Fisher shoots 44.2 percent from the field and over 40 percent from deep. After putting up unimpressive figures of 42.2 percent shooting from the field and 32.8 percent from behind the arc last season, Farmar has upped his accuracy to 47.8 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from outside this season, thus making him a far more valuable piece of the Lakers' offense.
Both Fisher and Farmar are better than average defenders as well. Fisher is a compactly built pest, and Farmar can use his quickness to cause all sorts of problems for opponents, particularly by jumping passing lanes (he averages one steal in those 20-plus minutes per game he plays). Both have played important roles in the ascension of the Lakers' defense to the ranking of sixth in the Association, and as a result of each other's efforts, the defense doesn't suffer with either one of them on or off the court.
Beyond all that, as was demonstrated more clearly than ever last year in Utah, Fisher is an excellent leader. He has provided a stabilizing presence in his return to Los Angeles this season. For his part, Farmar comes off the bench as the young spark plug with bursts of energy at a time. They complement each other virtually as well as could be hoped.
The Lakers' four studs have merited plenty of props for the job they have done in getting them to where they are right now. But quietly enough, their point guards have established that they are not liabilities either. And that is as important as anything as the stretch run comes upon us.