Lakers rookie point guard Darius Morris could compete for more playing… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Before training camp even begins, the Lakers have injuries to monitor.
Of course, there's Dwight Howard's ongoing back surgery and whether he will suit up for the regular-season opener Oct. 30 against the Dallas Mavericks. But there's also the bizarre case of Lakers guard Steve Blake, who the team said suffered a puncture wound in his left foot after stepping on a parking lot spike strip.
The Lakers don't expect either to be long-term injuries. Howard may miss a handful of games. Blake's only estimated to stay sidelined for three weeks. So it's likely most of their absence will happen in training camp.
I've already documented how the Lakers should adjust to Howard's absence. But at least for most of the preseason games, Blake's absence also opens up the backup point guard spot for Chris Duhon and Darius Morris. Who should take the backup spot? Below is a tale of the tape:
Why Duhon should be the backup: Giving Duhon the role would be considered the safe decision because of his experience level as an 8-year veteran. But Duhon also has proven to be a solid defender, and could actually upgrade that position. Duhon's shooting, ball handling and conditioning have been issues in the past, but he pledged that he's worked extensively all offseason in improving in those areas. Take those proclamations for what they're worth, but training camp should prove to be a prime opportunity to prove that he's addressed those weaknesses. Duhon also spent time this offseason working with Steve Nash, Blake and assistant coach Phil Handy on going over the offense.
Even though Morris remains a consummate worker, it's far too presumptuous to say whether that has translated yet to the NBA level. He showed some promise last year, but faced limited playing time partly because his game wasn't fully developed. Morris, by all accounts, has taken great measures this offseason in improving his craft. But it's hard to determine to what degree offseason workouts and Summer League play will elevate his game.
Why Morris should be the backup: Despite his inexperience, Morris has a better handle, shooting touch and confidence than Duhon. Morris has also proven that he's willing to work endlessly so his game improves. He pored over film on pick-and-roll sequences. Morris bulked up on muscle. The Lakers coaching staff liked how Morris improved his on-court decision-making and shooting form during Summer League.
In previous years, Duhon hasn't shown the same track record. Even though Duhon shot 42% last season from three-point range, he lacked consistency with shots from 3 to 9 feet (23%) and 16 to 23 feet (38%). With a high turnover rate (27.6%) and low assist ratio (19%), Duhon also struggled last season in running the Magic offense. Morris may have struggled at times running the offense last year. But that spoke more to his tendency to try to do too much and less with fundamental weaknesses.
Verdict: It's training camp. Blake also will take his backup spot back once he fully rehabs. So there's no need for Lakers Coach Mike Brown to designate a definitive backup role yet. Duhon and Morris should receive their fair share of playing time and show what they can do.
Nonetheless, if Blake's rehab goes longer than expected, my hunch is that Morris should get the minutes. He's more suited to running the offense and he'd likely add more quickness to an otherwise methodical team.
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