Some observations from the fantastic Lakers-Magic game last night:
• If you still don't think the Magic are legit title contenders, I don't know what to tell you. Here's Jameer Nelson (who had a MONSTER fourth-quarter from deep) after the game: "We're flying under the radar. Nobody's really noticed us. At the same time it's fine with us. Everybody in this locker room knows the type of team we have and knows what we're capable of."
You know SVG is playing this "us against the doubters" stuff up every day. But the truth is, everybody following the league knows how good the Magic are. Everybody. You hear that Jameer? Dwight? I'm a Celtics fan, and I would be terrified to face your team in the playoffs. Kobe says Jameer's an All-Star, you just swept the Lakers and you're 32-and-freaking-8. We all believe. You can keep saying you're "under the radar," but you're all over the radar like the strawberry jam in "Spaceballs."
• The most interesting question about the Lakers is this: Do they even need a point guard? The question needs to be asked after numbers surfaced at Basketball Value (via True Hoop) showing that Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar have by far the worst adjusted plus/minus numbers on the team. (For the uninitiated: Adjusted plus/minus works like regular plus/minus, except the math involved takes into account the quality of the other nine guys on the floor with a particular player. The goal is to take away the credit a mediocre player might get for being in a a great starting unit or to give credit to the quality sub stuck with some subpar bench players. Here's a more detailed explanation).
Let's exclude Farmar from the discussion for now, since he's been hurt for almost a month and has played just 28 percent of the team's minutes this year. Looking at Fisher, the regular plus/minus numbers rank him third on the Lakers at plus 252. That's good. Looking a little deeper, the defense performs a tiny bit worse with Fisher on the floor (less than a full point per 100 possessions, so not really significant), and Basketball Reference has him rated at the bottom of the roster in individual defense. The man Fisher guards also has a PER of 18 compared to his 14.9, so opposing point guards are out-playing Fisher overall.
Fisher's an interesting offensive player He shoots a very nice percentage from deep (about 45 percent), but that's really all he does--and he need lots of space to do it. He takes about two foul shots per game, and his overall shooting percentage is 41 percent--meaning he's really clanking his two-point shots.
This all came to my mind last night when Jackson sent Vujacic in for Fisher with 4:15 left in the third and Orlando up 69-62. The lineup was Vujacic-Kobe-Gasol-Radmanovic-Odom. Kobe and Odom split the ball-handling duties, driving into the lane and creating havoc. Bryant hit a three and then drove-and-kicked to Radmanovic for two wide open bombs. Odom sliced through the lane once for a lay-up and then again to draw a shooting foul.
After two minutes, the Lakers were ahead by 1.
I'm not suggesting the Lakers are better without a traditional point guard. I'm only suggesting they might be, given who their traditional point guards are and the fact that Kobe is the team's primary creator. I think Phil needs to think very hard about whether Fisher should be on the court during crunch time--on either side of the ball.
The counter, of course, is that the Lakers need somebody to spare Kobe some of the ball-handling duties so he's not tired down the stretch. And suggesting that championships can be won without a traditional point guard is blasphemous, even though the Lakers, Bulls and Rockets have won it all in the last 15 years without a point who dominates the ball or the assist numbers.
Either way, it will be very interesting to see how Farmar plays (and how much) when he comes back from knee surgery, and what Phil does in the big moments of the biggest games. Then again, the way the Western Conference is shaping up, he may not need to worry about any of this until the Finals.