Archives For November 2004

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.

Deserving Splinters?

 —  November 10, 2004

Road wins in the NBA are about as easy to come by as real breasts at the Bada Bing, so I don’t want to read too much into the near collapse in New Orleans. It still goes into the victory column and other players — particularly Butler — stepped up.

But remember back before the season started, when most of us believed that one of the strengths of Lakers 2.0 was going to be the depth. Rather than a two man show and no bench, this was a team that could run 10 deep.

Watching last night, I got the distinct feeling Rudy T. does not trust his bench right now and doesn’t quite know what to do with the rotation. The Lakers were up by 31 after three quarters, had another game the next night, yet Kobe still played 38 minutes (and he fouled out), Chucky Atkins played 42, Odom 41, Butler 34. The highest number of minutes off the bench went to Brian Grant with 15. Cook, just 8. Kareem Rush, just 3, Luke Walton, just 2.

Right now, that vaunted depth is not there — the poster child is Rush, who seems lost in the new system and will see less and less time as the season wears on if he doesn’t start to drain jumpers. (As a side note, guaranteed contract or no, right now I’d jettison Rush before Tierre Brown if Karl Malone is coming back.) There will be more depth coming with Slava (who is available now and could be forced into action after Jumain Jones left in the second quarter was seen limping around after the game with a sore calf) and Vlade (due back in two to three weeks). Both of them provide some help in the now overmatched middle.

But the return of their pieces does not easily solve the rotation puzzle. It may be halfway through the season by the time Rudy T. figures out what pieces he wants where, and what pieces he doesn’t want at all.

Part of this, and part of the collapse, is this is still a team struggling to adjust to a new system, so some addition time together in games has a silver lining. But that lining will not be tonight, when the tired legs of the starters take to the court against a desperate Memphis team.