Through the years, Kobe Bryant has been called everything from a warrior to an assassin. The angular jaw jut which has become a trademarked expression says everything you need to know about him: tough, vicious, determined; a fighter through and through. And (though slightly lame in its conception), Kobe fits the “black mamba” moniker well.
Conversely, in Gasol and Nash, Kobe finds two star players who are more “vino” than “mamba”. With two of the more cerebral players flanking the “mamba” and with Artest (and his elbow) in New York and Bynum long gone, Kobe will at times be the lone warrior on the court.
This is where Steve Blake steps in. And when he steps in, it’s normally with a few choice words for the opponent. On a YouTube search for “Steve Blake”, the first suggestion was “Steve Blake fight”. This also comes up (enjoy Dwight haters). That about sums it up: Blake is the kind of scrappy player Kobe loves (see: Raja Bell) and the kind of player the Lakers need.
This assessment of Blake though – as a kind of bench bully/enforcer – is inaccurate and sells him woefully short. While he has a mean streak and a black belt this isn’t ice hockey and he isn’t DJ Mbenga. Blake can play. Since his move from Portland, the Hollywood native (okay, Hollywood, Florida native) has gotten better every year and despite some injury concerns last year he showed that he can be a very useful point guard off the bench.
First and foremost, for this current Laker team, Blake is a scrappy defender. He has decent length but it is his effort that really stands out. While he can be caught out of position, he does a solid job most of the time. You would not want to leave him totally on an island with Chris Paul but then again, who would you want out there?
Offensively, Blake has looked much more comfortable since the triangle was ditched and especially so in D’Antoni’s offense. Last year, he upped his three-point percentage from 34% to 42%. His output from the right corner was especially impressive, shooting a robust 62.5%. That was up from 48.3% the year before. That kind of improvement makes this Steve to Steve play all the more likely to happen several times this season. Blake’s PER totals are the most glaring example of his comfort within D’Antoni’s offense. In his first two years in purple and gold, he posted a 7.5 and an 8.5 PER. In D’Antoni’s first year, that shot up to 11.7 – not great, but an improvement nonetheless. With D’Antoni expected to implement more of his playbook during training camp this year, we can expect a really strong season from Steve Blake and a corresponding jump in his PER. He should get a large heap of minutes – perhaps even starter minutes to begin with. He figures to play some 2 while Kobe is rehabbing and will hopefully spell Nash for large chunks at a time to keep the veteran fresh.
Blake should have a huge role this season as the Lakers take on parts of his personality and scrap for a playoff spot.