With Nash sidelined, Lakers turn to dry free agent market for point guard help
By Rob Mahoney
The Lakers have grown so fed up with their own in-game lethargy that they are reportedly now looking for outside help. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the Lakers are weighing the pros and cons of several different prospective additions, all of which are significantly less attractive options than long-rumored Laker trade target Jose Calderon. But without the necessary trade pieces to entice the Raptors into a deal for Calderon, L.A. will likely be left combing the free agent ranks.
Let’s take a walk down the point guard aisle to see what’s left in stock:
Last seen: Parting on strange terms with the Mavericks in the preseason, despite having a guaranteed, minimum-salary contract.
Stein’s reports indicate that West is at the top of the Lakers’ list in terms of basketball talent, but given his exit from Dallas, it’s understandable that Mitch Kupchak and Co. want to fully consider what additional baggage West might bring with him. For the most part, the Mavericks publicly dealt with West about as well as any team could; the lines of communication were clearly open, support was demonstrative from both the locker room and the front office and West had ample opportunity to play and audition for his next contract. But something strange happened behind closed doors back in October, and West was sent on his way without much delay. West has been a free agent since, despite the fact that he’s a significantly better player than most end-of-the-bench point guards around the league.
In terms of on-court fit, West could be a really nice choice for the Lakers. He can handle and make plays, but is best suited for a more balanced role in which he isn’t put in complete control of the offense. That’s more or less what would be expected of any of L.A.’s point guard options in sharing the floor with Kobe Bryant, and West could alleviate some of the ball-handling pressure on Kobe without creating any points of redundancy in the backcourt. And though West is completely competent when creating with the ball in his hands, his best offensive work comes as a cutter and spot-up shooter; rare are the moments when West is standing around on offense, as most of his possessions are spent finding bits of open space to exploit as his teammates draw the attention of the defense. He’s versatile enough to play off of Dwight Howard (and eventually, Pau Gasol) and Bryant alike, and has a lot of interesting wrinkles to his offensive game that Mike D’Antoni could find use for.
He won’t fix all of L.A.’s point guard problems, but West’s most compelling value may come on the defensive end — where he’s a significantly better on-ball defender than Chris Duhon or Darius Morris. West is hardly perfect, but he’s a particularly useful player in these relative terms; Duhon and Morris are so limited that West’s skill set has to seem vast by comparison. He’s only an average three-point shooter (35.5 percent from long range last season), can struggle at times to beat his man off the dribble and has a tendency to settle for step-back jumpers. But West is a catch so long as the extracurriculars don’t get in the way — an outcome that might prove difficult to avoid with all of the scrutiny placed on the Lakers these days.
Last seen: Working as an insurance policy for the Bulls last season.
James isn’t a bad player, and he comes packaged with all of the intangible accessories one would expect of a league-hardened veteran. But he makes for a strange choice for the Lakers due to the fact that his game so closely resembles what they already have in-house. James was never the most effective individual defender, and at 36 years old his lateral movement can only have declined. He’s a solid three-point shooter, but hardly better than either Morris or Duhon. He’s a score-first guard by nature, though he lacks the speed off the dribble to create efficient shots for a good team. He isn’t likely to kill a team with a boneheaded play, but at this stage in his career he also isn’t particularly likely to create anything of value off the dribble, either.
Last seen: Hooping it up in Australia for the Melbourne Tigers.
It’s hard not to root for Jonny Flynn. In terms of the way he approaches the game, he is everything that NBA franchises want of their players: committed, hard-working, sensible and charismatic. He was an interview darling in the lead-up to the 2009 NBA draft in part because his personality so mirrors his game. He was deemed likely to succeed by general managers on the basis of a standout college career and saying all the right things, and Minnesota’s David Kahn thought so highly of him that he made Flynn the 6th overall pick despite his selection of fellow point guard Ricky Rubio with the 5th pick.
Needless to say, things haven’t quite worked out in Flynn’s favor since his arrival on the NBA scene — in part because of his size and fundamentally collegiate game. Flynn is a ball-dominant guard without the vision or finishing ability necessary to create consistently. He’s quick, but gets by his man and finds he has nowhere productive to go. Flynn’s playmaking abilities are too limited to drive-and-kick consistently, and he isn’t creative enough to finish at the rim in spite of his limitations. I wish it were more complicated than that, but Flynn only seems to create pull-up two-pointers with any regularity, and even those attempts are made more difficult by his specific shot selection and inability to adapt to longer, more athletic defenders.
Last seen: Making the occasional three-pointer for the 2010-11 Heat, and has likely spent his days since trash talking any poor soul who would listen.
Eddie House always seems like he’s working hard, if only because of the inherent bounce to his game. Every step is a spring. Every jumper is prefaced with a hop. But all of that energy translates to a singular function — one that, again, is already inherent to the current crop of Laker point guards. House will never hesitate before hoisting up a three-pointer, but that is the only thing he can really do at an NBA level. He bursts around a screener, makes a clean catch and fires away at an above-average clip. He’s completely ineffective off the dribble, to the point where teammates often have to come retrieve the ball from him if he gets in a jam. Defensively, he can be a bit of a disaster. But he catches and shoots and on some teams that’s good enough.
This is not one of those teams. L.A. needs something more on both ends of the court, and that’s a difficult package of skills to find in the current free agent market.
Last seen: Suiting up for the Wizards before being unceremoniously cut from the team mid-season.
As we emerge from a basketball era in which shot creation was valued above all else, Jannero Pargo stands as a bit of a dinosaur (and a pretty meager dinosaur at that — maybe the pigeon-sized Nemicolopterus?). Evolution has left him behind, and general managers have grown too wise to lean on a guard whose primary value is to generate his own inefficient offense.
What Pargo offers is reserve scoring for a team with no other options; he creates for himself, and for his career has averaged a solid 15 points per 36 minutes. But the problems come in how Pargo arrives at that number, and the mass of shot attempts sacrificed in order to get there. Even Pargo’s better-shooting seasons are still marked by how much he derails offensive flow, to the point where his high-usage style and defensive limitations largely negate the points generated by his jumpers. What he does is fairly impressive, but within the context of a team trying to create the best offense possible, it just isn’t all that useful. Case in point: The 3-15 Wizards, who were already desperate for shot creation without John Wall, couldn’t find a use for Pargo, who struggled through the first seven games of the season. When his self-made offense fails him, Pargo can’t offer much at all — even to the worst team in the NBA, much less one with the aspirations of the Lakers.