A Winning Formula, or a Lucky Trend?

The Los Angeles Lakers are ripe with weaknesses.

You may be scratching your head. If you’re anything like me, you might even be shaking it.

“Then how did they win back-to-back championships, dumba**?”

Well, generic reader, if you’ll let me finish…

Is it their age? As Jerry West noted earlier this season, and every announcer, analyst, and talking head who jumped on the West commentary bandwagon did as well, the Lakers are “a little long in the tooth.” That’s true, but don’t dig their playoff graves just yet.

Is it their attitude? The Lakers have a history of trying to flip the proverbial switch. Some thought it would die when Shaquille O’Neal was bounced to Miami because he was the leader of the team and he didn’t set the best example as a leader, saying, “I got hurt on company time, so I’ll heal on company time.” But even Kobe, the hardest working player in basketball, couldn’t prevent his team from developing that same light-switch mentality, as evidenced by their 2-5 finish to the season. It’s impossible to deny, but is it really enough to turn the lights out on the Lakers’ chances?

What about their three-point shooting? Their problems in transition offense? Their inability to win on Sundays?

All of these are interesting topics in and of themselves, but here’s one that has also been done to death:

It’s a guard-driven league, and that Lakers don’t have a great point guard.

Unfortunately, the proper angle has never been given to this topic.  While it’s true that the Lakers have not had an All-Star point guard on a title team since Magic Johnson , it’s not true that they’ll lose because of it.

We see the same stories year after year. When the playoffs start, the Lakers, no matter what round they’re in, always play against a top 10 point guard. If journalists and columnists wanted, they could save their drafts and replace the point guard from round 1’s name with the point guard from round 2’s name and pump out the same exact article, with 81% of it still being true (It’s not an exact science. Yet.).

Let’s break down the Laker opponents in each round during their three consecutive trips to the Finals, dating back to 2007-2008.

2007-2008

Round 1: Denver Nuggets v. Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Allen Iverson

Round 2: Utah Jazz v. Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Deron Williams

Round 3: San Antonio Spurs v. Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Tony Parker

NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers v. Boston Celtics

2008-2009

Round 1: Utah Jazz v. Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Deron Williams

Round 2: Houston Rockets v. Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Aaron Brooks

Round 3: Denver Nuggets v. Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Chauncey Billups

NBA Finals: Orlando Magic v. Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Jameer Nelson

2009-2010

Round 1: Oklahoma City Thunder v. Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Russell Westbrook

Round 2: Utah Jazz v. Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Deron Williams

Round 3: Phoenix Suns v. Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Steve Nash

NBA Finals: Boston Celtics v. Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Rajon Rondo

In every single playoff round, the Lakers faced a point guard that was better than their very own Derek Fisher. In every single series that happened in, the Lakers won. Their one loss? The NBA Finals against the Celtics, in which Rajon Rondo was only a second-year point guard that was still wet behind the ears. Fisher could have arguably better than him at that point in his career, too.

When the media say that the league is going to be dominated by guards, they’re both right and wrong. Right in the sense that “dominated” serves as a synonym for “infested with” or “largely inhabited by,” and wrong in the sense that guards will never win like premier big men do.

You think youre special, Chris? Thats what every other premier point guard thought. Count their rings.

In the last ten years, the honor “best point guard in the NBA” has been tossed around more than oxygen tanks at retirement homes. From Steve Nash to Chris Paul, who was summarily succeeded by Deron Williams, who now finds himself chasing behind Derrick Rose, the moniker is as elusive as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” (By the way, IMDB has both “The Dark Knight Rises” and the new “Spiderman” reboot coming out in June of 2012. Talk about an orgy of comic book heroes. I can’t wait.)

Those players’ teams qualifying for the playoffs: 4 for 4

Those players’ teams making it to the NBA Finals: 0 for 4

If they don’t make it to the Finals, we don’t need to reiterate how many rings each has, right? Try a goose egg. A bagel. A pizza bagel. An ostrich egg. Hell, try a dinosaur egg. No matter which you choose, the outcome looks like a big fat zero.       0

Yeah, like that.

Meanwhile, of the teams that have won the past 10 NBA championships, only 2 have had point guards that were better than Derek Fisher. The Detroit Pistons in 2004, who had Chauncey Billups, and the San Antonio Spurs in 2007, who had Tony Parker. The other 8? Los Angeles 5 times, all with Fish; Miami once, with a washed-up Gary Payton; Boston once, with a serviceable Rajon Rondo; and San Antonio again, with the aforementioned Parker in a reduced role.

If you’re wondering why I chose tonight, the 20th of April, to bring this up, then wait no more. The Lakers, like every other year in the playoffs, are competing against a guy who was at one point considered the best point guard alive. In some circles, he still is. Paul is an other-worldly talent. He is a point guard in the truest form; the kind of player whose sole purpose is to get his teammates involved, and score only within the framework of the offense. He’s a guy that a team builds around because, at times, he seems like more a sorcerer in new-age, post-millennial garments producing magic with an orange orb than a basketball player doing his job.

But it in the end, it won’t matter. The Lakers won tonight, bottling up Paul and forcing him to be a scorer instead of a distributor. It’s what they do every year. Even when the Lakers don’t, they still beat their opponents despite their point guards exploding for unreal numbers. Why?

Simple. It’s Economics 101: supply and demand. Colleges pop out top-tier point guards like popcorn, while skilled big men are remnants of a lost culture. Yes, Fisher is old. Does that mean he’s not a good point guard? Not at all. It means that he’s a system player who knows his job and does it well. He will never average double-digits, but he will hit the game-winning three-pointer in a tightly contested road game (just ask Jazz fans in game 3 last year).

You might say that I’m over-looking something, and you’d be right. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol; 1 superduperstar and 1 All-Star; one all-time great and one hall of famer. Sure. Virtually every NBA champion has a similar combination. You know what else they have? A guy like Fish.

Oh, and big men. Of all the teams I listed earlier that won titles within the past 10 years, ALL of them had dominant big men. Shaq 3.5 times (he was kinda…ehhh…in 2006), Gasol twice, Duncan twice, Kevin Garnett once, and Rasheed Wallace once.

While Pau will never be the premier players that Shaq, Duncan, and Garnett were, he will, when teamed with the throwback big man Andrew Bynum, make taking the title away from the Los Angeles Lakers a very difficult task.

More importantly, he and Andrew could be the only things standing in the way of this league turning into what everybody fears it is  becoming: a guard-driven league.

If history tells us anything, the Lakers will be playing until June, and it won’t be against a team with a top 10 point guard (Miami, maybe?).

Who knows? Maybe the Lakers, Spurs, Heat, and Celtics all got lucky for 8 of the past 10 championships. Maybe their lack of a point guard was mitigated by having Kobe in his prime. Maybe they have too many back court weaknesses and try to make up for it with archaically skilled and powerful big men.

Or maybe…just maybe…they’re onto something.

Till next time.

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8 Responses to “A Winning Formula, or a Lucky Trend?”

  1. daniel "cool beans" lee Says:

    This isn’t what I ordered! But it was still good.

  2. chappy81 Says:

    Interesting. I think your point is your best player can’t be your point guard. You can have a really good point guard and still win. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Tony Parker and his finals MVP. I guess he’s the exception to the rule? Or do you not count him since their best player was Tim Duncan? I feel like your just trying to make excuses for the Lakers not having a star PG, when you don’t really need to…

  3. Anthony Burrola Says:

    You disappoint me. My point is pretty clear. Maybe if you read it again, you’ll get it.

  4. MQ Says:

    this sounded just like a debate case, or how you prove an argument. Good job. Here is my argument and this is how I am proving it. I personally love formulas, once you figure them out, you are guaranteed great results. What is hard is to figure out what the formula is. And once you do, how do defeat it. so Great Job!

  5. PB Says:

    Chris Paul picture=lol for some reason haha.
    Any thoughts on the Orlando vs. Atlanta series? Can the Hawks win it considering they now have home court advantage? Or, will it be a matter of time before the rest of the Magic step it up and help Dwight Howard?

  6. PB Says:

    You answered it in the blog and I agree with you, having someone like Derek Fisher, who does his job as well as anybody but may not be flashy or put up big numbers, it seems as if that is all that matters. It’s like, let Kobe be Kobe, and then have Derek just do his job well. I’d take Derek over at least 3/4 of the PG’s in the East

  7. Thropizzle Says:

    Not to nitpick, bro, but Nick Van Exel was an All-Star for the Lakers in 1998. However, that does not take away from your overall point. Great article and I am enjoying your work. Keep it up!

  8. Thropizzle Says:

    “on a title-team” My bad, I got it

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