Archives For November 2004

He Seems To Know His Stuff

 —  November 30, 2004

Phil Jackson was promoting his book and talking with a writer at the Chicago Tribune (subscription required) about the Lakers.

Jackson is asked about the Lakers, whom he took to three titles and four Finals appearances in five years, and he says he hasn’t watched even a quarter yet.

“I’ve kind of followed them by association with friends and people involved I’m close to,” he says. “They want to run and gun and up-tempo their game, but I don’t see it happening. They’re going to end up being pretty much a half-court team.

“But with Kobe there they have a chance to be in games.”

“The big key with the Lakers,” Jackson says, “will be them getting Lamar Odom involved and making him an important part of the team. You need two really strong weapons, if not a third. They’re going to be an exterior team, occasionally flashing guys in the post. If Kobe has to take it upon himself to finish every game out or every game they get in trouble and be reliant in his scoring, it could be tough for them. But I think they can win close to 50 games, somewhere in that range.”

Pretty spot on assessment from a guy who hasn’t “watched even a quarter yet.” Despite the wishes of the owner for a return to “Showtime” this Laker team is a half-court team, averaging one fewer possession per game than last season.

Update: The Los Angeles Times picked up this story today.

There’s No Place Like Home

 —  November 30, 2004

Two games on the road this week, and while it’s early in the season, so far this Laker team appears to love the home cooking at Staples. (Or, maybe they just like the home cooking at L.A. fav’s such as Roscoe’s or Mastro’s, since I doubt the players eat garlic fries on the third-floor balcony at Staples very often.)

So far this season, at Staples the Lakers are shooting 45.7%, on the road that number falls to 42.2%. They also seem to play more aggressive defense at home, as evidenced by the average of 7.8 steals per game at home and just 3.8 on the road. Offensively, more Lakers get involved at home — the team averages 21.6 assists per game at home and 15.7 on the road.

All that and more has led to a 6-2 record at home and a 2-4 record on the road for the Lakers.

Of course, they are far from the only team or players to have this problem. Remember Michael Redd, the Milwaukee All-Star that Kobe held to just six points in the Laker win (100-96) last week at Staples Center? He’s shooting 39.7% on the road but 54.3% at home. Tonight, the game is on Redd’s turf.

For the Lakers to get a win in the first game of a back-to-back, they are going to have to bring some of that home cooking with them and avoid eating the brats.

Fall Cleaning

 —  November 29, 2004

Just clearing my desktop (and head) of notes about the Lakers:

* Three games this week, all winnable for a good team — at Milwaukee, at Chicago then home to Golden State. At the end of this week the Lakers could be 11-6 and should be at least 10-7, anything less than that is a disappointment and possibly a bad omen for the future.

* We need those wins now. Looking ahead, have you seen the Lakers’ schedule for from March 17 to April 17? Brutal. It’s going to be tough if they have to fight for their playoff lives while facing a good team almost every game.

* Chucky Atkins stepped it up with an impressive second half against the Hornets (17 points) and was a key reason the Lakers won. That’s the upside of him at the point. However, in the bigger picture, he is an example of what I mentioned before about the Lakers problems with turnovers and poor ball handling costing them games — Atkins is the perfect example of the modern point guard, someone who can shoot and penetrate but does not distribute the ball well. This year’s Lakers are still looking for someone who can really run this team from the point, and there is no answer on the horizon.

* I’d say the Lakers need to trade for a true point guard, but who can they get? Realistically, I can’t think of anyone.

* Last night’s win against New Orleans was about as unimpressive a win as you could get. While I said before the Lakers have shown they aren’t playing that poorly inside, Rudy T. was clearly frustrated — he went small for chunks of the game. Vlade and Slava never saw the floor, Jumaine Jones was playing the four for a while. It didn’t work, but nothing really worked. Still, maybe it’s time for a Rudy T. tongue lashing because there needs to be better inside play than that.

* Interesting reading from John Hollinger at Sports Illustrated, talking about how all the reserves from the Athens Olympic team are rising stars having great seasons while the starters…. not so much. (And, nice to see PER used in a mainstream article.)

* I still have fond memories of the Forum, a venue that was home to so many Laker and King memories — not to mention a few concerts, where things are a bit more hazy for me — but is now mainly a church. Ian Hanigan in the Daily Breeze took a fun trip down memory lane with the old building.

Things Are Not Always As They Appear

 —  November 29, 2004

While watching the Lakers last weekend, from the comfort of my in-law’s couch, I was thinking more and more about the statistic put forward in the LA Times last week — that, at least in terms of scoring, the Lakers are getting the same production from the 3,4 and 5 positions as they did last year. Or, to put it more bluntly (or as Kobe might say it), the Lakers don’t miss Shaq and Karl Malone as much as people think.

The stat is this (updated through Monday): So far this season the Lakers are averaging 39.5 points and 21.5 rebounds per game out of Chris Mihm, Lamar Odom and Caron Butler, while last year they got 42 points and 24.2 rebounds out of Shaq, Malone and Deavon George.

I thought that if I looked at it in more depth, that logic would fall apart and it would show a Laker team much weaker inside.

It’s not, at least not much as I would have thought. The Lakers are getting plenty of shots inside — the problem is their shooting percentage is down. Then again, so is the shooting percentage of the Lakers opponents. Right now — based on the statistics — the Lakers problems are more about ball handling and turnovers than the play they are getting inside the paint.

Say it with me, Dr. Jack: Let’s break this down.

On offense, 65% of the Lakers shots this year are jump shots, compared to 64% last year (these are shots that come outside the paint, regardless of who takes them). Meanwhile, 28% of the Lakers shots this season are considered in close (29% last year), 6% are dunks (5% last year, a lower number than you would expect because teams fouled Shaq before he could dunk), and 2% both years are considered tip ins. Year to year, those numbers are close.

The big difference between this year and last is shooting percentage inside — last year the Lakers shot 57.7% on shots considered in close, this season it is 51.7%. That’s a fair amount of points left on the floor (this is using effective field goal percentage).

Right now, other teams are shooting from close in slightly more often than last year — last year 69% of the shots taken against the Lakers were jump shots, so far this year it is 68%. However, the shots that other teams are taking in close are going in less often — this year teams are shooting 52% in close, last season it was 56.2%.

The bottom line is close to what the Times stat showed — this year’s Laker team isn’t quite as strong inside as last season’s version, but it’s not bad either.

The Lakers real problem so far is turnovers — the Lakers have 55 offensive fouls this season, while their opponents have just 27. The Lakers also have 11 more turnovers credited to poor ball handling than their opponents.

Overall, the Lakers have 45 more turnovers than their opponents — that is a tough number to overcome no matter how well you are playing inside.

Tough Test

 —  November 26, 2004

The good news: The Lakers are 5-1 at home and Sacramento is 1-4 on the road.

That’s may be the brightest spot out there for a game tonight against Sacramento that promises to be a real test of how good this Lakers squad is right now. What Sacramento brings to Staples Center — besides a six-game win streak — is strength where the Lakers have weaknesses.

Right now Sacramento is getting its best play on offense (based on the all-encompassing PER average) inside, from the combo of Brad Miller at the five and Chris Webber at the four. To use conventional statistics, Webber is averaging 18.9 PPG and Miller is averaging 15.3, but the Lakers — despite what the LA Times says — are not getting above average play inside compared to the rest of the league. So far this season, Laker opponents are averaging 19.8 points from the center spot and 19.6 from the power forward — more frightening is that the eFG% (a hybrid stat that gives a better field-goal percentage picture) against the Lakers is 52.4% from the power forward position and 49.7% at the center spot. The Lakers’ interior defense has been weak (but they are scoring inside, which is what the Times focuses on).

Then there’s the point guard position — Mike Bibby is the kind of quick, penetrating point that has riddled the Lakers in recent years, and this year likely will be no different. While the Laker opponents’ PER is 15.5 at the point (just above the league average of 15), players are scoring 17.3 PPG. and Bibby is an above-average point guard.

The good news for the Lakers is Sacramento hasn’t played great defense this year, especially against the shooting guard and inside. Shooting guard is the only position Sacramento has a healthy PER deficiency this year — meaning other teams are consistently outplaying them — and it is the one place the Lakers are getting positive PER contributions.

If the Lakers starters can hang tight or even get a lead, it is the second quarter that could be the key. In recent games the Lakers have been getting drilled in the second quarter, when the subs start coming off the bench (last game the Lakers were outscored 33-20 in the second). Sacramento brings sixth-man award winner Bobby Jackson off the bench — Vlade and Jumaine Jones are going to need to step up tonight.

Without Shaq and Phil some of the luster may have come off this rivalry, but this game is still a good test for the team, a chance to gauge how things are going so far against one of the best in the West.

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I’m spending my weekend out in Palm Springs with my family and in-laws, planting myself firmly on the couch to watch everything from the Lakers to USC steamrolling my Fighting Irish (you too can see Matt Leinart win the Heisman against the Irish secondary).

It’s unlikely I’ll be posting again before Monday morning, but comment here on the games this weekend and anything else Laker related. And enjoy your weekend!

One for the Little Guy

 —  November 26, 2004

In a world where more and more people get their news from television and the internet — news that is focused on national and international stories — smaller, local-focused newspapers are growing because people still are hungry for news about what is happening in their neighborhood.

Papers such as the Palisades Post in Pacific Palisades. Recently it published a Q&A with Vlade Divac, who apparently never sold his home in that area, even afer he left to play the middle of the state. Nothing really earth shattering, but here are some highlights:

PP: Who is the best player you’ve played with in your career?

VD: I guess if I had to pick one guy I’d say Magic Johnson. He was a great leader and he made everyone on his team better. That’s what I expect now from Kobe. He’s capable of being that same type of player and he’s going to have to be if we’re going to be successful.

PP: What is the best team you’ve played on in the NBA?

VD: Probably my second season with the Lakers in 1990-91. We got to the finals and lost to the Chicago Bulls but that team still had Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Byron Scott, A.C. Green and [current Lakers’ radio analyst] Mychal Thompson. Those Kings teams of a few years ago come close, but I’d have to say that Laker team was better because we accomplished the most.

Hmmm, Turkey

 —  November 24, 2004

Here’s a few quick thoughts before the tryptophan wipes my mind blank for 48 hours:

* Trivia question: What former Laker guard has the most blocked shots in his career? Answer at the end of this entry.

* I didn’t get to see last night’s win, so I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts about the game.

What jumped out at me off the stat page was holding Michael Redd to six points, 18 below his average, an amazing defensive feat, by both Kobe and the Lakers as a team.

* Everyone, it seemed, expected yesterdays move Sasha put on the injured list to make room for Jumaine Jones return. But the move to put Brian Grant on the list to make room for Vlade was more of a surprise. That said, I think it’s a smart move.

Grant really hasn’t found his place yet — I pictured him in the role many people see Karl Malone filling, a veteran guy inside who could grab rebounds and play good defense, letting the young guns do their thing. Problem is Grant is a natural power forward who has has been asked to play center until Vlade returned, and he has been below average in that role (a PER of 12.6, when the average is 15, while opponents PER against him is 19.5). Grant admitted his knees are bothering him. Maybe, with time off, he can come back and play up front with Vlade and fill in the role we envisioned for him.

* Unfortunately, Grant being out keeps Lamar Odom at the four. He’d be better off at the three, with Butler coming off the bench.

* What NBA player is the most valuable to his team so far this season? Kobe, according to the statistics.

Over at 82 Games they have what is called the Roland Rating, a system that shows how important specific players are to their teams, based on how that team performs with said player on and off the court.

The early 2004-2005 season stats are out and Kobe is on top of the list. Not really a surprise, but the stats back up the perception.

* Trivia question answer: Ron Harper, who played his last two NBA seasons with the Lakers, has 729 for his career. If you were thinking who has the most as a Laker, that’s Michael Cooper with 523. (Thanks to Hoops Analyst for doing some research.)

* Thanksgiving means I get to spend my day like my five-month-old daughter spends all of hers: Eat, pass out, repeat. I can’t wait.

Enjoy the holiday and your family. Happy Thanksgiving!

Hall, But We’ll Pass

 —  November 23, 2004

Karl Malone was on the radio today saying he is physically ready to play, but is still working on getting mentally 100% ready after the death of his mother. I hope he he can work through this and, when ready, return to the NBA if he feels he can still contribute.

Malone also said he was looking at the Lakers and seeing where he would best fit. I hope he looks closely, because I think he’d fit best somewhere else — bringing him into the Laker mix will stunt this team’s growth.

We’re talking about a 41-year-old player coming of knee surgery who didn’t run the court all that well the past couple of years anyway, that spent his career on teams that wanted to play half-court basketball. That is not this Laker team.

Yes, he can still score. Yes, he is still a strong presence inside and will grab rebounds. Yes, he is a veteran presence in the locker room. After years of disliking him and the Jazz, he has grown on me after just a season in a Laker uniform (maybe because he could be counted on to show up and play hard every game last year, something no one else seemed able to do).

But this is a young Laker team that needs to learn to gel on and off the court, that wants to play an uptempo style, that needs to grow into being Kobe’s team. While Malone would not be a negative addition short term he is really a detour on the road to long-term success for this team, in reaching the goals listed above.

If Karl is serious about coming back to get a ring before heading off to the Hall of Fame, he should play half a season in San Antonio this year. There are plenty of other places he could fit in as well (Utah?).

But for the Lakers, this is a poor fit.