Laker report cards: Steve Blake
In just his second practice in training camp, Lakers guard Steve Blake impressed the coaching staff and teammates so much of his understanding of the triangle offense that Ron Artest asked Coach Phil Jackson if Blake had spent plenty of his summer days practicing at the team's facility in EL Segundo.
In just his first game as a Laker, Blake hit the game-winner and Jackson chose him to play the entire fourth quarter instead of Derek Fisher. And in just the first month of the season, Blake shot a sizzling 47.8% from three-point range. All signs indicated that Blake, who signed with the Lakers last off-season to a four-year, $16-million deal, could be a reliable playmaker off the bench, a dependable outside shooter and possibly even eat into Fisher's minutes.
But none of that happened. Blake's shooting regressed to a 35.9% mark, his lowest shooting percentage for the eight-year veteran since the 2006-07 season. His 20 minutes a game barely threatened Fisher's rotation. And that swagger Blake quickly developed at the beginning of the season soon sagged into a tentativeness that remained consistent for most of the 2010-2011 campaign. He could never seem to reverse course.
"I never felt like I got to playing the best that I could be," Blake said. "I can't really explain why. But I was comfortable. I loved my teammates, loved my coaches. But I never found my stride and continued in it. I just hit in stretches."
As disappointing as Blake's showing in his first season as a Laker turned out to be, fans shouldn't be suddenly wishing the Lakers had kept Jordan Farmar. He may have jolted the bench, shown more aggressiveness in his opportunities and provided a few showcase games. But with a team that already had issues with individual glory, having a bench player mostly concerned about his own performance wouldn't have helped in any way. In that sense, Blake proved the consummate teammate, knowing his standing in the scoring hierarchy, showing up early to pregame shootarounds to improve his stroke and never causing any locker room friction.
But he followed that blueprint almost to a fault. As much as the Lakers' offense centers around Kobe Bryant's scoring tendencies and the inside production from Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, the Lakers still need dependable options in case any of those four players have bad nights. The Lakers' 112-110 season-opening win against Houston illustrated that point as Blake and Shannon Brown mostly led a comeback effort when everyone else faltered. The Lakers didn't have that consistent luxury with Blake, who remained tentative with his shooting despite the coaching staff and teammates encouraging him to take open shots. It wasn't a matter of reaching a shooting quota. After all, Blake's zero of five mark from three-point range in the Lakers' 93-81 Game 2 Western Conference semifinal loss to the Dallas Mavericks provided good reason on why he mostly remained tentative.
That discomfort seemed apparent in mostly every facet of the game. With the exception of his return game from the chickenpox, when he provided five assists in the Lakers' 100-86 Game 2 first-round victory over New Orleans, Blake rarely ran the sets with the same ferocity and comfort level that he initially showed. Blake surely knew and ran the triangle well, but his shooting limitations hurt his playmaking abilities since opponents knew it wouldn't be a problem giving him open outside shots.
By no means were Blake's problems the most detrimental to the Lakers' three-peat chances, but with a veteran-heavy roster that needed any rest it could get, Blake's inconsistency fit the larger picture where Jackson didn't have any reserve outside of Lamar Odom to eat up heavy minutes. The consequences may not have been transparent in the stat sheet and could've been absorbed had the Lakers sharpened in other areas. But the Lakers would've been a much more dangerous team had the Blake that hit game winners, had a dependable outside shot and ate Fisher's minutes existed throughout most of the season. But that was simply wishful thinking.
Photo: Steve Blake. Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / U.S. Presswire