Archives For November 2004

Pass The Rock, Kobe

 —  November 16, 2004

I noted it one way the other day — when the Lakers share the ball they look good, when they don’t they don’t.

Eric Neel over at ESPN puts in another way, and lays the blame at the feet of Kobe and his shooting percentage.

He’s taking the lion’s share (and then some) of the shots (19.6 per game) and leading the league in scoring (28.3 ppg). We knew he would. He’s getting to the line more than anyone else in basketball (38 more free-throw attempts than Dirk Nowitzki in the No. 2 spot); and we could figured on that, too, because he’s got the ball a lot, he’s double-teamed a lot, he’s a made guy, and the refs are going to give him his props. But the sickly shooting percentage number is a problem. He’s forcing. He’s giving in to that little demon who sits on his shoulders and tells him he can do everything on his own.

He isn’t using Chucky Atkins (who’s shooting .500 from beyond the arc) enough. He’s forgetting the kind of game Chris Mihm had on opening night. He’s a kid at the beach trying to dig a sand tunnel straight through to China; and the faster he digs, the faster the hole collapses on itself. He’s got to change his approach. He needs to pass on more shots and pass to more teammates. Because what’s happening now isn’t working. What’s happening now has the Lakers 4-4, with wins against Atlanta, New Orleans, Athletes in Action, and a YBA team from West Covina. What’s happening now has them on the outside of the playoffs looking in.

I think, on an intellectual level, Kobe knows this. It’s just that, in the heat of battle, he forgets and takes it on himself. It’s among the changes I expect to see evolve over the course of the season. That or, as Neel said, we’ll be on the outside looking in.

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes

 —  November 16, 2004

I’m not a patient person, and apparently neither are Laker fans on the whole. While we give lip service to patience as this Laker team grows together and gets healthier, in our heads (not to mention various chat sites and call in shows) we start thinking about trades, tinkering with the lineup and otherwise formulating ways to make the Lakers start to win more than they lose and become a playoff team.

The problem is, there are not easy answers — if there were we already would see them in action. Everything has flaws.

Lets look at two of the ideas floating in the ether:

Moving Kobe to the point. Kobe is the best defender on the Lakers. Kobe is a very good ball handler and makes smart choices with the ball. Through the course of the season, more and more teams will try to deny Kobe the ball. So, why not move Kobe to the point?

This has some merrit, and I think we may see more of this, especially if the Lakers do not pick up a point guard at the trading deadline. To steal a Sports Guy line, let’s break this idea down Dr. Jack style:

Advantages: On defense, Kobe’s size, long arms and quickness would create problems for the Mike Bibby/Tony Parkers of the world, limiting their penetration. On offense, the Lakers starting line up of Kobe at the point, Butler at the two, Odom at the three, Grant at the four and Divac/Mihm in the middle would create matchup problems for other teams — that is a fast, tall and athletic backcourt. Who is Bibby/Parker going to guard?

Disadvantages: Kobe’s offensive effectiveness would likely diminish as he gets tired chasing around smaller guards all over the court (and, if his foot problem lingers, how will all this extra effort affect him). He may have play fewer minutes per game, and the Lakers need him on the court. In addition, if I were an opposing team, I would have that quick small point go at Kobe early, maybe get stripped a couple of times but also put a couple of fouls on Kobe. If he gets in foul trouble and has to sit for extended periods, the Lakers are considerably more vulnerable.

Trade for a point guard. First things first, trades in the NBA don’t happen right now, teams are still trying to see how everything fits together and how in (or out of) contention they are. Trade talk may start to pick up as we get closer to Santa’s annual journey, but things will not get serious until January and closer to the February trading deadline. So, this is all just idle speculation.

That said, there are two logical things we can say: 1)The Lakers biggest weakness so far is at point guard, and that’s what they’d like to get; 2) There is a glut of players (five) at small forward. So the fit we’re talking about here is small forward plus another body or draft pick for a pure point. Obviously, the better the player the more you have to give up, my guess is the Lakers will look for someone defensive minded and would give up one player and a draft pick or two players.

So, who does that put on the potential trading block? Probably Devean George Brian Cook, Luke Walton, and, while he’s a shooting guard he’s not playing much here, Kareem Rush.

The challenge here is the NBA’s salary for salary trade restrictions — a combo of Luke Walton and Kareem Rush, while giving your trading partner two young, good players, nets only a point guard earning $1.5 million or so. We’re talking a mid-level exception guy or someone probably underpaid, and getting teams to give up players that are underpaid is no easy task.

You can get a lot better player in the mix if you can get someone to take Devean George and his $4.5 million salary. The problem here is people have seen George play and don’t want to pay that much for him (neither do we, really).

In addition, the Lakers do not want to take on any long-term big contracts. The team as currently constructed will have a lot of cap space to go after free agents in a couple of years (right about when Yao Ming becomes a free agent). That puts another restriction on any trade from the Lakers end.

Kupceck has his hands full making a trade, Rudy T. has his hands full if no trade is made. There are no easy answers. And we just need to be patient.

Observations From The Weekend:

 —  November 15, 2004

The Lakers are .500, with a few days off to practice, and here’s what I’ve been thinking about:

* In the Lakers four wins this year the team has 81 assists, in the four losses just 57. In the four wins, the Lakers have scored a total of just 9 more points than the losses. Assists continues to be the stat that is most telling about how this team plays — when they play one-on-one without ball distribution this team struggles. Not saying they need the Norman Dale system of five passes before a shot, but passing to the open man means wins.

* Friday night’s loss in Orlando showed all of the Laker weaknesses at once — inability to cover a good, penetrating point guard (Steve Francis); no stopper inside to slow that penetration; getting almost nothing from the bench; looking sharp for a while but letting the inconsistency in their game allow the other team back in it. That was hard to watch.

* Saturday night’s win showed all the Lakers potential at once — they played good defense for much of the game (save for the collapse when they gave the lead away); other players besides Kobe stepped up; they got enough good play inside to contain Yao Ming, they showed heart in the last quarter.

* Friday night is what makes us worry now, Saturday night is what gives us hope for the future.

* Divac coming back soon will help that future both with inside presence and depth. I probably never thought I’d write this, but he’s been missed already.

* At the top of the list of things I never thought I’d write — right now the Clippers may be better than the Lakers. The two face of Wednesday, but that’s not for the rights to L.A. Talk to me at the end of the season — the Lakers will start to gel and get better as the season wears on, the Clippers are, well, the Clippers.

* By the way, did you hear — or do as I did and read after the fact — what Donald Sterling to XTRA radio about the Clippers winning:

“It’s very important to me, very, very important,” he said, “and I’ve been trying for almost 25 years to get it right. And some people never get it right. … It’s very hard. Everybody that owns a team and every organization is smart and they’re all trying so hard to win. It’s just very difficult. It’s not like other businesses. But we never give up, nor will we ever give up.

Right. Actions speak louder than words and the Clippers have been a team more about making money — they are expected to make upwards of $30 million this year for Donald once you throw in the expansion money — than winning. Rarely are high-priced players resigned, or if they are (Brand, for example) it’s just enough to keep up the perpetual hope needed to keep fleecing fans. Ric Bucher got it right.

Scoring Up — Except At Staples

 —  November 14, 2004

We may only be a couple of weeks into the season, but one early NBA trend is good for fans — scoring league-wide is up.

Nobody appears to be happier about this than Mark Cuban, whose Dallas team has always been more about entertainment than being built to win it all. In his latest blog entry, he gave some telling stats:


Through November of 2003, there were 7 teams averaging 95 points or better. This year there are 19. Last year there were 10 teams scoring under 90 points. This year there are 4. Last year there was 1 team with an adjusted field goal percentage of 50 pct or better. This year there are 7.

Cuban also has a reason for the increase, enforcement of the no contact rule out on the perimeter.

I know that Ronnie Nunn and Stu Jackson put in a lot of hours going through tape, coming to the realization, correctly so, that contact on the perimeter slows down play, impacts shooting percentage and gives the defense an advantage that shouldn’t be there.

Rarely is something like this the cause of just one thing, other factors play in as well, but the change in rule enforcement may be the leading reason for more buckets per game. Of course, defenses will adjust over the course of the season, so this trend is something to watch more closely as the season progresses.

On the home front, my gut reaction is that with a younger, more athletic, ready-to-run team that the Lakers would have been part of the increase. Those bad gut feelings are why I do not make a good gambler.

So far this season the Lakers scoring average per game is down 3 points per contest compared to last season. The main reason for this: The Lakers are averaging two fewer possessions per game than last season. NBA teams on the whole average .94 points per possession (at least last year). Two fewer possessions per game means two fewer points. Add to that a team shooting a few percentage points worse than last year (46% last year, 44% so far this year) and committing four more turnovers per game, and you start to see the points evaporate.

(As a side note, the Lakers are giving up 4 more points per game than they did last year, defense continues to be a concern.)

The fewer possessions per game stat surprised me, with the emphasis on running this year I would have expected more. And, as the season goes on and the Lakers grow more comfortable with each other, this could change. But right now, this Laker team is scoring less and moving more slowly than last year.

NBA fans deserve a return to the fun, fast-paced days of the 1980s, when running was in style and (in 1984-86) the league average was 104.8 points per game. What’s more, we Laker fans would like to see some of that.

Update: The USA Today has a story about scoring being up in the NBA and credits the new enforcement with leading to more free throws, leading to more scoring. The top beneficiary of this: Kobe.

Looking at the numbers

 —  November 12, 2004

Six games into an NBA season is way to few to be a statistically significant. Which is just a fancy way saying it is way to early to know exactly what you’ve got with this year’s Laker team.

That has not stopped news outlets from highlighting Kobe’s shooting percentage (.377%) and points per game (27.7) through the first six. His scoring is right at the top of the league, which is just what everybody expected, and his shooting percentage has gone down now that he’s the primary target of opposing defenses, which is just what everybody expected. The obvious can pass for news these days, I guess.

But since we’re looking at stats early on, here are a few others:

The leader on the Lakers in terms of +/- (how good a team does with a player on the court versus off) is Jumaine Jones, with the team about 37.7 points per game better with him on the court (if he played all 48). He has been the only guy consistently coming off the bench and providing anything (Grant does on occasion). His presence was missed in Memphis and will be this weekend.

As for the rest of the +/- stats, Kobe comes in second, no surprise there. Third, however, is a surprise — Chucky Atkins. He provides no boost offensively, but when he is out the team gives up more points, in part because nobody else is playing good defense at the point. I expect that by the end of the season, Chucky won’t be that high on this list, however.

The bottom of that +/- tote goes to two younger players who obviously have been struggling to find their way in this system — Kareem Rush and Luke Walton.

Should be no surprise, but based on a PER stat (a complex but all-encompassing statistic) the only position the Lakers are getting positive production out of is shooting guard.

So far this season, 61% of the Lakers’ shots have been jump shots.

They are better when they get out on fast on the break — 40% of the team’s shots are taken before 10 seconds are off the 24 second clock and they are shooting a high percentage that way.

The Lakers are averaging four points less than their opponents per game, but they are shooting seven more free throws a game. Another sign that the Lakers like to drive to the hoop: They have 24 offensive penalties, to just eight committed against them.

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Quote of the day, comes from Duke forward Shelden Williams, in an article in the LA Times today about the Lakers attempts to lure Coach K out of Duke last summer:

“Coach K wants his environment controlled,” Williams said. “I’m a big Laker fan, but what happened there with Kobe and Shaq, it was silly. That’s little-kid stuff. Basketball should be more professional.”

A Little Something You Should Know

 —  November 12, 2004

The best basketball site on the Web, 82 Games, recently got a little well-deserved publicity. It is at the leading edge of a wave that will change how basketball players and teams will be evaluated and you should be checking it out.

Let me explain, by way of another sport.

For the past few years, baseball insiders and fans have been divided over the “Moneyball” debate. For those unfamiliar, there is no one sentence description that does it justice, but the essence of the Moneyball approach is this: Statistics, particularly newly designed statistics, are more valuable in determining the value of a player than gut feel, even from “experts.” Moneyball teams have been successful — most recently the Boston Red Sox — but there is a lot of resistance as well from people who say stats can’t track the undeveloped potential of a player. It’s an “old school vs. new school” debate that has drawn plenty of animosity on both sides.

My humble opinion is that these new statistics are a very good tool. When and how an individual (say, a GM) chooses to use that tool will vary, but the tool has purpose.

This “Moneyball” statistical approach to basketball is the wave of the future, and some teams are catching on. It will never replace scouting, or having knowledgeable basketball people on the staff, but it is a useful tool.

Here at Forum Blue and Gold, look for me to link to 82 Games a lot, I’ve been reading that site for more than a year and find it invaluable. I took a lot of statistic classes in college (I did a lot of other stupid things in college as well — why would someone who wanted to write for a living keep taking hard math classes?) so I can sort of get my arms around the concepts, even if the individual calculations leave me more confused than Jessica Simpson on Jeopardy.

Read the linked article above, if nothing else it will help put another tool in your belt.

Well, At Least Beale Street Was Fun…..

 —  November 11, 2004

Observations from last night’s game:

* In the first six games the Lakers have been blown out of the building twice — both times in the second game of a back-to-back. (Yes, you could argue that the San Antonio game was not as close as the final score and it was a blowout too, but I think that loss had more to do with talent level and team familiarity.)

After the game last night Rudy T. questioned the mental toughness of his team in interviews, saying that playing well in the back end game is as much mental as physical. He’s got a point — so far when this team gets down it appears they lay down. But we’ve only played six games, it’s a little early to call this team soft. Mental toughness is certainly one thing we expect from Kobe and I think he’ll demand that of his teammates as his leadership solidifies. But right now, we’re not seeing much of that mental strength from the team.

Lets see how the strategy of calling the team out right before another back-to-back works.

* Of course, Rudy T. can in part blame himself for last night’s blowout.

In the decisive second quarter the Laker legs looked tired, they didn’t rotate well on defense and gave Memphis plenty of open looks at 3-pointers (Memphis shot 44% from behind the arch for the game). The reason was they were tired. The night before, even with a 30-point lead in the third, the starters logged the bulk of the minutes. The next night, they weren’t fresh.

*I know Rudy T. wants Slava to get some practice time in before throwing him into game situations, but the front line needs help now. Especially with Yao Ming waiting on Saturday.

* One off game does not have me worrying about Kobe’s sore foot. Check back in a couple of weeks and ask again.

* My favorite thing from last night’s game got play in the LA Times story today:

Hopefully, Memphis fans went home with an appetite: Everyone in attendance won a burger, taco, breakfast burrito and breadsticks at various fast-food joints because of the Grizzlies’ dominance in numerous statistical categories.

* Orlando is up next, the front end of another back to back. The past couple of years Orlando was a gimme. Not this year. They beat Dallas the other night at home and Grant Hill is playing well. For now at least. The Lakers catch a bit of a break with Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato not 100% and likely not playing.

* Interesting piece on the other good basketball program in Southern California — UCLA — on ESPN.com. Food for thought there.

Kobe v. Shaq

 —  November 11, 2004

This blog got its start after the summer of turmoil, where Kobe stayed (and saw the rape charges dropped) while Shaq and Phil Jackson were shown the door. You can say its all in the past and that we need to move on, and you’d be right. But to me, in the same way you can’t properly understand the United States today unless you understand motivations and ramifications of the Civil War, you can’t understand this Laker team without understanding what happened last summer.

Here’s how I think it went down:

Last year for the Super Bowl, we know that Jerry Buss went to Kobe’s to watch the game. By the time he was driving home (if not before he went), having won or lost more money on Adam Vinatieri’s kick than I make in a year, it became clear to Dr. Buss that next year he was not going to be able to keep Kobe, Shaq and Phil Jackson and make another run the Larry O’Brien trophy.

That left two choices for Buss: 1) Keep Shaq and Jackson, use the money freed up by Kobe leaving plus the drawing power of Shaq to bring in some free agent talent, and make a run at the title for a few more years, after which there would be a three year or so rebuilding period where the team would not make the playoffs; 2) Keep Kobe and jettison Shaq and Phil, putting the team out of championship contention for a couple of years but not out of the playoffs, and rebuild around the 25-year-old star.

Thing is, if you listen to those close to Buss (such as his daughter and team president Jeanie, who talked about this in a radio interview) there really was no choice — Buss can’t stand the idea of missing the playoffs for that long. He loves the action, the excitment of the post season, she said, and that he would not trade three years of missing the playoffs to win another title or two. Besides that motivation, the business side of him said building around a 25-year-old rather than an aging big man was the smart move. Plus, Buss has a personal affection for Kobe, in some ways like he did for Magic. With all those factors, the decision was made.

The process started back in the middle of the last NBA season, and Shaq and Phil read the writing on the wall. When it was all said and done Mitch Kupchak got the best deal he could, not a great one but the best he was going to find. Phil wrote a book. Shaq bought Ronnie Seikaly’s old house.

I’m not sure that’s a fairly tale happy ending, but I think that’s why and how it went down. That’s what got us to where we are today.

Now, let us speak of this ugliness no more and move forward.