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Jordan Farmar, on his role, acceptance, and playing outside his wheelhouse

December 8, 2009 | 11:35 am
Jordan Farmar has enjoyed a recent stretch of quality efforts, performances that helpedJordan Farmar dives for a loose ball second and fourth quarters -when more reserves tend to play- build on strong starts from the first string. I talked with Jordan after yesterday's practice, and as he explained, some of that success is due to factors outside of his play. Being teamed consistently with Shannon Brown, which has resulted in familiarity breeding a steady backcourt rhythm. Ditto the familiarity with rotations in general, which allows everyone to better anticipate reactions and create a smoother product. Getting steadier, bigger minutes. And Pau Gasol's return has allowed Phil Jackson to mesh two or three starters with the subs.  Beyond the obvious benefits (talent bump), the reserves now reap the fruits of playing with guys in tune with the game's vibe, which is much easier than running with 4-5 guys all getting their first burn.

But that laundry list aside, Farmar has also succeeded through a willingness to honor the Laker game plan, a system that isn't really tailored to what he considers his strengths. Phil Jackson noted how Jordan is being asked to slow the tempo this season, as opposed to the previous pair when speed was a Bench Mob calling card.  At the same time, however, Jackson wants him to remain aggressive, but in a way that suits the triangle.  PJ called this wave of prosperity a "second wind" for Jordan, despite the season being just nineteen games in the books. Good for Farmar, but that rush has come at a price.

"It kind of takes away some opportunities," said Farmar of the adjustment. "But you still have to be aggressive... Sometimes, I get unselfish and I'll make the extra pass when I have a good shot myself. I can't pass up shots.  I'm a good shooter... It kind of takes me out of a point guard mindset a little bit... (But) it's worked itself out. We're winning games. And I'm playing, so it's okay."

It's interesting to hear Farmar's perspective of a system requiring him to take more shots, considering how often he's viewed by fans (and at times, yours truly) as a decidedly "score-first" player. I don't think if it's necessarily Jordan being asked to take shots that's the issue, but rather the shots themselves. As he notes, spotting up for a corner trey doesn't mesh with his natural first instinct, driving strong along the baseline to the hoop. As he notes later, his natural inclinations as a player are also usually forged with the ball in his hands: pushing the break and penetrating the lane as early options and generally being allowed to make more decisions throughout a possession, as opposed to the early dumps inside that he mentions as part of his duties. Basically, a more traditional point guard, as opposed to a "triple post" point guard.

I asked Farmar about what often appeared last season to be a resistance to the system. From Jordan's perspective, it wasn't so much "resistance" as frustration over being asked to operate outside his wheelhouse (which is actually resistance justified through semantics, depending on how you view the issue). "I just don't really get a chance to do what I do best," explained Farmar in a matter of fact tone. "Trying to go out there and do have it conflict with what they want, it was frustrating at times. Trying to play the way they want me to play and not being successful. Not being successful in the limited time I was getting. It was kind of like, how do we work this out?"

As it turns out, the "solution" was eventually reached through a combination of compromise, understanding where comfort zone opportunities may still exist, and, quite simply, unlearning a lifetime of roundball education.

After hearing Farmar describe his struggle to play in a foreign manner, I couldn't help but notice how differently Shannon Brown later explained his preferences as a player, which are basically "none." He doesn't care if he's playing with the ball or without it. He doesn't care what's being asked of him. He just wants to be on the floor. It should be noted that Shannon was NOT speaking in reference to Jordan's comments, and that Shannon joined the Lakers after bouncing around and nearly falling out of the league, which naturally creates a different perspective on PT. But that viewpoint also explains in large part why the self-described "throw-in" from last season's Vlad Rad-Ammo trade was able to become a surprise addition to the rotation and temporarily bump Farmar: the willingness to do whatever is asked and put personal agendas on the back burner. I didn't include this clip as a criticism of Farmar, who I think has come a long way in this regard. It's just indicative of the mentality all players ultimately have to adopt to some degree in order to help a team.

As I said, Farmar is playing well right now, and some of that credit goes to an improved mindset. Last season featured for the first time what felt like a step backwards in Jordan's career, a third campaign failing to build on the opening pair's diet of steady improvement. Even more alarming, that hiccup didn't feel so much like a flat line as regression, which hit its lowest point when Brown snatched his gig. But to his credit, Farmar got the message, stepped up when opportunity knocked (a starting gig filling in for a suspended Derek Fisher in the Houston series) and ever since, he's largely been a "company man." (In many ways, I think getting benched was the best thing that could have happened for him.) Save maybe Andrew Bynum, Jordan's preseason was as strong as anybody's, and some early struggles were likely caused in some part by Phil doing a lot of mix n' match with floor combos, experimentation that's necessary for a long-term project (defending a title) but makes the short term low on continuity.

It's fairly obvious that Jordan isn't enamored with his role, and it's often been speculated that he'd be a better fit elsewhere. I think there's some truth to that, and I doubt Farmar would disagree (privately, if nothing else). BK and I have stated on several occasions that Farmar's impending free agency could very likely result in him leaving the Lakers, and had pegged him as a decent candidate for summer 2009 relocation (although not so much anymore). I don't think the organization is sold on him as their point guard of the future and I'm not positive Farmar is, either. But as long as Farmar remains mature enough to see the bigger picture, that he's more likely to land in a "better situation" (if that's what he wants) by being an important cog in a successful machine than standing out like a sore thumb "doing what he does best," I don't view any dissatisfaction with his role as a problem. I actually give Farmar a lot of credit. He's a cocky guy by nature, and nothing if not headstrong.  Many players never change (see Vujacic, Sasha). Whatever unhappiness Farmar may or may not be experiencing at the moment, it's seemingly tempered with professionalism. Win-win for the Lakers and, ultimately, Farmar himself.


Photo: Jordan Farmar dives for a loose ball. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press / December 4, 2009