For most people, if you start to slip at your job, it’s hard for most people to notice. Sure, surgeons might get shaky hands, or postal workers hoard all their deliveries, but for your average Joe, that slow steady decline leads to a nice retirement party and some stale cake.
But in the NBA, performance slippage is broadcast on a nightly basis. In HD. And there’s never a nice way to bring it up. “So, how are your legs feeling today? Yeah, here’s that 4th bag of ice you asked for.”
Everybody went through it to some degree – Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins. They all became shells of themselves, slightly out of shape, a little bloated, making their memories of past glory twinged with the bittersweet. What’s most interesting about Derek Fisher’s descent is that he’s not an All Star. He didn’t average 20 points per game. He was the glue on some great championship teams, yet has endeared himself to the Laker faithful every bit as much as Kobe Bryant. In fact, he’s probably more popular than Kobe.
But let’s face the facts, the Lakers got some of the worst production out of the point guard position this year than they’ve ever had in their history.
[More after the breakdown]
While Fisher bristled under Mike Brown’s new offense, which I understand since it’s a hodge podge of semi European gobbledeegook, he was also exposed as a player who could no longer play a traditional point guard role. Averaging 26 minutes a game, the lowest since Gary Payton trash talked his way right out of LA, he could muster a measley 5.9 points per, shooting 38% with 3.3 assists. Even more troubling, he couldn’t get an outlet pass and push the ball up, forcing the Lakers to run even more of their slow down, half court sets, exposing him even more as someone who could simply spot up and miss a lot of outside shots.
Credit Mitch Kupchak for picking up Ramon Sessions – someone I was convinced was a merely average point guard. But in the short stint with the Lakers so far, he’s been everything Mike Brown’s offense was missing. He is quick enough to beat players down the court on the dribble – he finds his teammates for scoring passes, he has maintained his efficient 3 point shooting as well. While this may be a honeymoon of sorts for him, this marriage is certainly off to a great start – less Bonnie & Clyde, more like Bogart and Bacall.
Matt Barnes has been equally uplifted by the play of Sessions, shooting 49% from the field and more importantly, 47% from three point range – huge improvements over his season averages of 45% from the field and 32% from three. His scoring average also has shot up to 12ppg from his season average of 7.3ppg.
Is this a Jeremy Lin phenomenon? Did Ramon Sessions suddenly get the right opportunity in the right system with good players? Will he be exposed once teams start preparing better for him? Did teams not bother looking at a scouting report when he played on lowly Cleveland? Is he tough enough to do these wondrous things under the pressure of the playoffs? These are all interesting questions, and no one wants these answers more than the next guy ready to suffer performance slippage at some point soon: Kobe Bryant.