It would be a understatement to say the Lakers’ season has been absolutely plagued by injuries. They’ve hit literally every starter on Los Angeles’ roster. The player whose injuries may have hampered his game the absolute most is Steve Nash. With Nash playing in the least amount of regular season games he’s played in since the 98-99 season, L.A. has had to turn to other options at the point guard position.
For most of the season, Kobe Bryant had filled the role of de facto point guard. And he did an admirable job doing so, posting his highest assist percentage and assists per 36 minutes of his career. Not bad for an old man.
But an underlying — shall we say, confusing — story in the Lakers’ season has been how Steve Blake has been able to step in and produce in the absence of Nash.
Blake has been the object of scrutiny for Lakers fans over his short career with Los Angeles. And rightly so, as he hasn’t played well by any means, especially considering the high standard Lakers fans tend to hold a player to. In his two previous years as a Laker, Blake failed to post a true shooting percentage higher than 50 percent. But this season, Blake has been key in the filling in for an injury riddled backcourt. He’s having arguably the best season of his career, and that can be attributed to defenses paying less attention to him.
With Bryant doing most of the ball-handling in lineups with Blake, it’s important that he’s able to knock down open shots created out of the pick and roll, HORNS, and other various offensive sets. After two down years from beyond the arc, Blake has been able to regain his shooting form and is currently shooting 42.1 percent from three on the season. The most frequent type of play the Lakers obtain their offense from is the spot up at just over 21 percent, per mySynergySports. They rank 12th in the league on those plays at just 0.99 points per possession — but not because of Steve Blake. Blake scores a startling 1.27 points per possession on those plays. Even more importantly, Blake’s shooting 48.6% on spot up threes.
He’s been especially deadly from three on either wing shooting 50.6 percent from those areas. Since Blake’s been so fantastic from those spots, he should be taking a large portion of his attempts from there, right? Right. He’s doing just that, taking 47.3 percent of his threes from those two areas and 32.7 percent from the left wing alone. It’s not at all a coincidence so many of his attempts have come from the left side of the floor.
In lineups where he is on the floor at the same time as either Nash or Bryant, Blake usually will spot up on the left wing when either of those two players run a pick and roll. While both are great players and are adept at using both hands, they’re both right-handed, so naturally they’d rather go right, which forces Blake’s man to help down on the roll by the big, like in this clip here.
It goes without saying how much Steve Blake has been helped by the presence of a dominant roll man like Howard. The numbers for Blake when Howard is on the floor as opposed to on the bench speak for themselves. Per NBAwowy, the 10th year guard is shooting 45 percent from three when sharing the floor with Howard, to just 36.7 percent when Howard is on the bench.
Though the former three time defensive player of the year has yet to find his pre-back injury form, he still commands a lot of attention. And with a lot of attention comes double teams. In this video, L.A. isolates Howard in the post on Mahinmi. D.J. Augustin decides to help off of Blake, as he sees Howard begin to back down Mahinmi. As soon as Augustin commits, Blake slides over to his left to make it an easier pass for Howard and knocks down the three.
Defensively, Blake certainly isn’t going to help much at all. But on this Lakers team that employs such terrible perimeter defenders, the Lakers actually have a better defensive efficiency rating when he’s on the court rather than off. He may be slow and unable to stay in front of athletic guards, but it is definitely a harder task getting around him than Nash.
But alas, Blake may not receive so many open looks in the postseason. With Bryant out for the season, Los Angeles has lost their best penetrator. With him, they also lost approximately one third of their production on offense. The Lakers need to hope Steve Nash can return from his current thigh/hip injury in decent enough shape to create some things out of the pick and roll. If he can, Blake will have to play an important role in making up for Bryant’s lost production.
All statistical evidence and video in this post was provided by mySynergySports and the NBA.com stats site.