Looking at who fared better guarding Chris Paul
The debate surrounding how Derek Fisher matches up with elite point guards will never subside and will remain volatile at least to the day his contract with the Lakers expires after the 2012-2013 season.
In unsurprising fashion, he also became the topic of scrutiny throughout this first-round series against New Orleans, where he had the unenviable task of guarding Chris Paul. But just listen to the man himself, who said dropping a triple double and becoming a pest to the Lakers in their six-game series didn't exactly come easy.
"A lot of the credit goes to Derek Fisher," Paul told reporters in New Orleans. "I told him after the game that he played unbelievable defense for the entire series."
But this isn't just the Hornets' elite guard giving lip service. A look through NBA StatsCube shows there's an element of truth to that. Below are the following findings on how the Lakers matched up with Paul, who averaged 22.5 points on 54.5% shooting and 11.5 assists.
*Paul was his least effective when Kobe Bryant was on the floor. Paul averaged 17.3 points on a 50% clip from the field and from three-point range and posted 10.6 assists. Paul scored in the following ways: going five of 11 restricted area, eight of 11 in the paint, eight of 20 on midrange jumpers, zero of two from the corner 3 and six of 10 above the break.
*When Bryant was on the bench, Paul averaged 25.1 points on a 65% mark from the field and a 43% clip from three-point range with 7.7 assists. Paul scored in the following ways: going one for one from restricted area, four of seven in the paint, seven of eight on midrange jumpers, six of seven from the corner 3 and one of four above the break. Overall, Bryant finished with a defensive rating of 102.16.
*Fisher wasn't too far behind. When he was on the court, Paul averaged 18.1 points on 53% shooting and 50% from three-point range with 10.3 assists. His shots went like this: going five of 11 in the restricted area, nine of 12 in the paint, nine of 20 on midrange jumpers, going zero of 2 in corner 3 and six of 10 above the break
*When Fisher was on the bench, Paul averaged 22.3 points on 59% shooting with 8.5 assists. His scoring breakdown went as follows: one of one in the restricted area, three of six in the paint, six of eight in corner 3s and one of four above the break. He finished with an overall defensive rating of 101.18.
*Steve Blake proved to be the least effective from a points standpoint in guarding Paul. But Blake limited Paul from distributing. When Blake was on the court, Paul averaged 23.5 points on 60% shooting and 43% from three-point range with 3.7 assists. His shot breakdown was as follows: 1 of 1 from the restricted area, two of five in the paint, six of seven on midrange jumpers, two of three on corner 3s, and one of 4 above the break.
When Blake was on the bench, Paul averaged 17.9 points on 53% shooting and 50% from three-point range with 10.9 assists. His shot breakdown went as follows: he was five of 11 from restricted area, 10 of 13 in the paint, nine of 21 on midrange jumpers, zero of two on corner 3s and six of 10 above the break. Overall, Blake finished with a 85.91 defensive rating.
So what do these stats mean? Well, no one is going to pick up defensive player of the year honors for guarding Paul. But clearly Bryant's decision to guard Paul in Game 2 proved to be a key point in the series, limiting him to 20 points on five-of-11 shooting with nine assists, a huge dropoff from the 33 points on 11-of-18 shooting and 14 assists he posted in Game 1. It "cut off the head of the snake," as Lakers forward Matt Barnes called it, but Bryant guarding him couldn't be a long-term strategy because of concerns about his energy level and later his sprained left ankle.
That's where Fisher and Blake came into play. By no means did they stop Paul, but it's not as if he had a field day either. As tough as it is for Fisher to keep pace with quick guards, his determined attitude in fighting through screens made Paul at least work for his points and force him to find the open man. Paul proved more effective in getting others involved when Fisher guarded him, but that at least put more pressure on the Hornets to have a solid supporting cast, which came with mixed results. Meanwhile, Blake allowed Paul to score more points individually but it came at the expense of distributing the ball.
Of course, the Lakers' evolving approach on guarding Paul also points to the Hornets' reliance on him eventually catching up to them. For example, Bryant noticed Paul was tired in the Lakers' 98-80 Game 6 victory Thursday over New Orleans, where he posted only 10 points on four-of-nine shooting with 11 assists and five turnovers. But for a team that has largely struggled in defending the pick-and-roll, this matchup proved to be a useful learning exercise in ensuring that their main weakness wouldn't result in the team losing the series.
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Lakers point guard Derek Fisher comes up with a steal against Hornets power forward Carl Landry, left, in Game 6 on Thursday night at New Orleans Arena. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times