Jordan Farmar dribbled cross-court, scanned the floor before him, stopped behind the 3-point line, then calmly lifted off his feet and arched a smooth-sailing shot over his defender. Swish.
Shannon Brown rebounded a missed lay up, raced to the other basket, passing defenders left and right, then catapulted off the ground. Slam!
The center of these sample scenarios is the Lakers’ newly established back-up duo. Farmar, lean, small and quick, is often seen sprinting down the court, eyeing a teammate in the distance, then tossing up a perfectly-timed lob for a thunderous two points.
Brown, mere inches taller, is muscle-bound and aerodynamic, often seemingly floating to the hoop to meet Farmar’s lob, thereby providing said thunder.
What started out as a competition between two point guards vying for playing time behind starter Derek Fisher, has turned into a purple and golden opportunity for a pair of dynamic young players to combine their strengths and skills to empower a 2nd unit in need of the stability and collective confidence necessary to live up to Championship standards.
It seems ages ago since Brown arrived from Charlotte via the VladRad trade; beaming and simply happy to don a Laker uniform. Forward Adam Morrison was the marquee name on the transaction, with Brown, a point guard who scarcely played for his former teams (Cleveland and then Charlotte), considered a “throw-in” to the deal. Phil Jackson’s coaching philosophy, however, refuses the existence of (for lack of a better word) “unusable” players.
Phil and the Lakers coaching staff are tops when it comes to developing each player according to his strengths, and then guiding them to use those strengths to fill a role on the team (see: Trevor Ariza). Brown, athletic and willing to learn, was certainly no exception, and his emergence as a viable contributor (and nightly YouTube staple) was a welcome surprise. It appeared, however, to threaten the role of a fellow teammate who, until challenged, seemed betrothed to Fisher’s starting spot.
After such a promising start to the 2008-2009 Season, Farmar suffered an injury that required surgery before the New Year, causing him to miss a month and half’s worth of games. Upon his return, there was more talk of his regression than his imminent promotion to a regular starting role. For the remainder of last season and post-season, Farmar and Brown co-existed to fill “as-needed” lead guard duties, being inserted accordingly to match up with the opposing guard. This is whole new season, however; a whole new situation and, despite a mere one-player line-up adjustment, this is a whole new team, and Farmar and Brown can no longer just “fill-in.” Now in both their 4th seasons, more is expected of them, as it should be.
Farmar, more familiar with the team’s offense, seems the logical successor to Fisher. Often cited by Farmar himself as a mentor, and notorious for leading by example, Fisher would probably welcome the change in his order in the rotation as long as it benefits the team. This “changing of the guard” could occur this very season or perhaps next season (given that Farmar, Fisher and Brown are all, God-willing, still Lakers). No matter when the change occurs, however, it should be relatively seamless with Farmar’s experience in the system, not to mention his encouraging play of late. Though Fisher contributes certain intangibles that Farmar may not satisfy with the same intensity and magnitude (read: born leader and clutch player), Farmar is still young, athletic, smart and confident. With Farmar at the lead guard post, Brown has been assigned at the 2, subbing in systematically for Kobe.
It’s clear, even just 18 games in, that Farmar and Brown are the Lakers’ 1-2 punch behind 6th man Lamar Odom. The way the team has blatantly exploited less experienced (and less-talented) teams this season, and the way both Farmar and Brown have actually helped maintain, if not extend leads when it mattered, this dynamic duo has a chance to shine in a spotlight all their own, on a team with seemingly unlimited space on stage.
This season, not next season, these young men will be picked and prodded, and deservedly so, being the only 2 of 3 players on a talented squad privileged with guaranteed floor time at each game.
This season, not next season, they are expected to materialize the potential they were chosen for and show signs that they can contribute today and in their hopeful futures as Lakers.
This season, not next season, if they play the way they and everyone on the team and coaching staff know that they can, we could be on the verge of a new Laker dynasty and wouldn’t that just be the thorn on every Celtic fan’s foot?
The rules of the game on a Championship team are easy. Play aggressively and intelligently and you have a chance to be the difference between a mark on the loss or the win column. Play with your own agenda, and you get to sit (just ask Sasha, who needs a whole other post to himself). Disappoint and come short of these expectations completely, well, we know too well where that road leads (read: VladRad, Kwame Brown, Smush Parker…), and Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown, we have higher hopes for you.