The Los Angeles Lakers announced Thursday that point guard Steve Blake has been "diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow," and is "expected to be out a minimum of six weeks," dealing a major blow to a Lakers team already struggling with backcourt injuries and working to reintegrate recently returned shooting guard Kobe Bryant.
While there's some discrepancy in reports of when exactly Blake sustained his injury — the team statement says that it happened "in the second half of the Lakers vs. [the Sacramento Kings] game on November 24," but Blake himself said Thursday it took place "on the road against [the Washington Wizards," according to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin — we've known that Blake's not 100 percent for nearly two weeks now. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reported on Dec. 2 that the point guard had been dealing with a hyperextended right elbow.
Despite being limited to the point where he shot left-handed during Lakers practices, though, Blake continued to play through the injury, starting every game and logging 30 or more minutes in six of the last eight games, including 39 in the Lakers' Tuesday night home loss to the Phoenix Suns. And while his shot was clearly affected — Blake hit just 34.6 percent from the field and 28.1 percent from 3-point range after the Washington game — he continued to distribute, dishing 8.8 assists against 3.5 turnovers in 32.6 minutes per content.
The Lakers needed Blake to suit up despite the ongoing elbow injury because he was their only option at the one. Expected starter Steve Nash continues to work his way back from a variety of ailments. Expected third-string point guard Jordan Farmar will miss at least the next two weeks after suffering a tear in his left hamstring. With Blake now unavailable, and Nash not traveling with the team on the four-game road trip that begins Friday with a visit to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers officially have no more point guards.
As a result, desperation and necessity have bred invention:
D’Antoni’s plan for Friday in OKC with a lack of healthy PGs: “Kobe & Jodie will be out there at the 1 and 2.”
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 12, 2013
Bryant is essentially going to play PG on offense with the starters, and Henry with the bench. — Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) December 12, 2013
This, clearly, is far from an ideal situation. Meeks functions best as a spot-up shooter and lane-filler in transition. Henry's done some work on the ball this year for L.A. in practice and in limited game situations, but relying on him to be a second-unit triggerman and facilitator for others seems like a recipe for an awful lot of Nick Young isolations. And they, obviously, are just the tip of the iceberg.
While Bryant is a gifted playmaker who has worked hard to find his teammates opportunities in his first two games back and has dabbled in pass-first play in the past, the Lakers are still clearly in the midst of a major adjustment in terms of how their offense functions when initiated by Bryant out of the post as opposed to the pick-and-roll/motion-heavy looks generated out of head coach Mike D'Antoni's system earlier in the season. This, at the very least, figures to complicate that adjustment, especially for as long as there's no actual point guard available, which could be a little while.
No one seems to have a firm grasp yet on when, or in what form, Nash will be back. Farmar's stepping up his workouts, but reportedly hasn't really pushed it, and figures to be at least two weeks away from full-go. General manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday that the team, which does have an open 15th roster spot, will be monitoring the market for potential additions, but doesn't expect to find anyone who provides a better option than Meeks and Henry; one wonders if available ex-D'Antoni types like Leandro Barbosa and Chris Duhon, or ex-Lakers like Shannon Brown and Darius Morris, would merit a look should the "no-point-guard-by-committee" approach come up snake eyes.
Whatever comes next, it seems inevitable that we're about to see Kobe resume nearly complete control of the Lakers offense just three games after returning from the most serious injury of his live, and to begin the process of doing so against perhaps the best team in the Western Conference. Friday night ought to be plenty interesting, Lakers fans. Consider pouring a stiff drink before you tune in.
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