L.A.’s nine-game winning streak – beginning on Nov. 17 against Detroit and lasting through the team’s most recent victory over Phoenix on Dec. 6 – has featured more than one common thread, but among the more significant has been a consistent bench contribution from Jordan Farmar.
Take away a poor shooting game against New York (1-of-7 for two points), and the backup point guard has scored at least eight points in every win, reaching double figures five times to average 9.1 points per game, plus 15 assists, 14 rebounds and nine steals. He had averaged just 4.5 points in L.A.’s first 10 games, three of them losses.
Farmar’s even done his best LeBron James defensive impression by adding three impressive chase-from-behind blocks, erasing guaranteed hoops from respective opponents.
“I’m trying to come along and be aggressive, just play the game I know how,” Farmar summarized. “When I see stuff, try to make it happen … just play free and have a good time.”
That’s not to say it’s all been perfect; Farmar’s been particularly frustrated with his sub par performance at the free throw line. He’s made just half of his 12 attempts during the streak and 13-of-20 (65 percent) on the season. Small sample size, sure, but still…
“It’s really bothering me,” he said. “The only way for me to stop thinking about it is to get it down so (it’s just) repetition (in games).”
At least he’s nailing them in practice, hitting 95-of-100 shots before addressing reporters after Monday’s session.
His head coach, meanwhile, is pleased with how the L.A. native has been able to find a balance between his aggressive nature and his mandate to stay within the offense.
“I think Jordan got kind of a second wind and realized that he has to be aggressive out there and exhibit his skills,” said Phil Jackson. “We took a part of our game away. We put the second unit back in more confinement and organizational things that they have to do, and so I think it took him a little time to adjust to that.”
That “part of our game” to which Jackson referred is a fast-breaking, up-tempo situation for L.A.’s guards to run (or what he called a “push situation”) that was formerly in place for the second unit. This season, Jackson has taken that aspect out of the playbook, instead leaving at least one (and often two) of the Andrew Bynum-Pau Gasol-Lamar Odom combination in with Farmar, Shannon Brown and either Kobe Bryant or Ron Artest.
It’s no coincidence that Farmar’s play has improved in connection with Odom’s return to the bench in correlation with Gasol’s return from his hamstring injury eight games ago.
Odom may well be the NBA’s best all-around bench player, and is certainly the most valuable big man coming off the pine. While Jackson’s been pleased with his defensive effort, he could use a bit more L.O. on offense.
“We’re still concerned about that he gets into and active into games offensively,” said Jackson. “He’s doing good things defensively but he has to have a presence out there offensively to help that second unit and get some scoring on his own.”
Sure enough, since Gasol came back, Odom has scored only 47 points, just under six per game, focusing instead on his passing, rebounding and defense.
Yet if Odom’s selflessness and Farmar’s limited free throw shooting are two of L.A.’s main “concerns” right now, things are clearly going quite well.