Archives For December 2004

Trade Talks

 —  December 30, 2004

I have put off writing about potential Laker trades so far for two reasons: 1) We needed to see 20+ games from the team’s new configuration before forming opinions about what we should trade for; 2) Meaningful trades are rarely made before the first of the year anyway (this year had the exception to prove the rule).

But now we’re at a point I think we can start to have serious discussions along these lines. Problem is, I’m not sure if there are any good and realistic options out there.

I think the consensus is the Lakers’ top need is at the point guard — not another a shooter but a passer and defender. Second on the list would be a true power forward (both Brian Grant and Vlade could help here, but both have been injured and are at the tail end of their careers).

Lets take a look at the rumors floating around — some from legitimate media sources, some from talk radio. Please feel free to comment or add your own suggestions.

Lamar Odom to Chicago for Tyson Chandler, Ben Gordon and some other players/picks. This is one of my favorite ideas to play around with, because it would give the Lakers an up-and-coming point (who is stuck behind Hinrick) and an inside player. Both future Lakers have just one year left on their deals, so they could be resigned at a reasonable price (or let go if need be).

But, are you ready to give up on Lamar and Kobe being able to co-exist after less than half a season? Who is going to pick up the scoring this season (and in future ones) with Odom out? Are you willing to bet on the underachieving Chandler who has had some big injuries at a young age?

There are other variations of this trade to consider, something like Butler and Vlade for Eddie Curry and Gordon. I’m not sure why the Bulls would do this, unless they thought Butler would explode in their system. But there are other configurations to play with.

Devon George and Luke Walton to Cleveland Eric Snow. Getting Snow has been mentioned a lot lately and solves the point guard issue. Eric Snow has a pure point rating double any current Laker and an assist ratio near the top of the league. He can play defense — his oPER at the point is a good 12.8. After a blow up with the coach a month ago, he is (allegedly) in the doghouse in Cleveland and may well be available.

But this is far from perfect. Snow is not a great shooter — his eFG% is just 39.6%. Cleveland has actually performed better with him on the bench than on the floor. He’s not young (31) and his contract runs through 2009, starting at $5.4 million this season and building to $7.3 million four years from now.

And, that seems like a lot to give up to get him. The Lakers have small forwards to spare, but two-for-one to get Eric Snow?

Lamar Odom, Deavon George and Luke Walton to New Jersey for Jason Kidd. There’s no better point guard in the league than Kidd, and he’s said he wants a trade.

But there are more problems with this than the plot of 12 Monkeys. First, there’s all the problems mention a few paragraphs ago about getting rid of Lamar Odom (save that Kidd would pick up the scoring). Plus, could Kidd and Kobe both control the offense with just one basketball to go around? And, does Kidd really want to leave (or does New Jersey really want to trade him)? If I were an owner thinking of moving a team to Brooklyn and needed star power to fill the building, Kidd and Vince Carter would work pretty well.

Lamar Odom, Jumaine Jones and Luke Walton to New Orleans for Barron Davis. The former Bruin comes back home. He’s a great point and could give the Lakers 20ish points and 9ish assists per game. It would give Buss another marquee name to sell and fill the building.

Except, rebounding would suffer dramatically — this trade erases 14.3 rebounds per game from Los Angeles. There’s a question of whether Davis and Kobe — both of whom want the ball in their hands plenty — can co-exist. Also, I’m not sure that New Orleans wants to trade the guy they sold the team on in a new city away that quickly.

Luke Walton and Brian Cook to Boston for Marcus Banks. The Lakers almost had Banks before the season, but lost him when Rick Fox and Gary Payton freaked out at being dealt. In some ways that going through would have been the best thing for the Lakers, we’d know if the up-and-coming Banks was ready. However, looking at what people in Boston are saying Banks has been a more talented version of Tierre Brown this season — one moment great, the next moment looking like a rookie. It’s driven Doc Rivers crazy. Also, this trade is not likely to happen — Delonte West fractured his hand so Banks is the number two point guard in Boston for now and they can’t give him up.

So now what? Any good ideas out there?

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Two quick side notes: 1) The possibilities of these trades were checked with REAL GM trade checker to see if the salaries matched and other CBA mandates were met. I recommend this site before floating the “trade Tierre Brown for Jason Kidd” ideas. 2) The best Laker trade writer going is Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld. If you like this stuff you need to read him — the rest of his work is first-rate too.

For The Record

 —  December 30, 2004

In my preview of Tuesday’s game between the Lakers and Raptors, I mocked the Raptors posting a Playstation2 prediction of the score on their pregame home page.

The last laugh is on me. Playstation had the Lakers winning 110-99, and Kobe being the game’s high scorer with 28. The real final score was 117-99 — Playstation got the Raptors score exactly right — and Kobe was the game’s high scorer, although he had 48.

I’m hoping that as part of next year’s Playstation2 NBA package, there will be team bloggers you can read.

It’s All About Ball Control

 —  December 29, 2004

Throughout this season many Laker watchers — myself included — have harped on the volume of three-pointers taken, the poor shot selection and the lack of flow in the offense as problems. And they are.

But when you look at the numbers, it’s not the Lakers offense that’s holding them back — it’s the defense. Or, lack thereof. More specifically, the lack of aggressive defense that causes turnovers, combined with their inability to hold on to the ball at their own end, that is hurting the Lakers.

The Lakers offense isn’t as bad as it appears at times, especially when you look at the key offensive statistics. The Lakers eFG% of 49% this season is sixth best in the NBA. They are getting offensive rebounds on 30.1% of their missed shots, 11th best in the league. Thanks in large part to Kobe’s penetration, the Lakers shoot 27.7 free throws per game, fifth best in the league. The one problem spot is turnovers, the Lakers average 16.2 per game, which puts them in the bottom half of the league.

Overall, that gives the Lakers 105.4 points per 100 possessions, sixth best offensive efficiency in the NBA. They could take more advantage of that by picking up the pace of the games — they are averaging 93.1 possessions per game, up just one from last season.

Defense is another matter entirely. The Lakers are allowing 102.9 points per 100 possessions by their opponents, ranking them 24th in the league behind the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.

It’s not that other teams are shooting terribly well against the Lakers, opponents eFG% is 46.4, eighth best in the league. Although it doesn’t seem like it at times, the Lakers do not give up an inordinate amount of offensive rebounds (29%, 16th in the league). They don’t foul much, they are fourth in the league allowing opponents just 20.1 free throws per game.

But the Lakers are dead last in the league — by a wide margin — at creating turnovers. Opponents average just 12.5 against them per game, the next lowest team (Minnesota) gets 14 per game.

What this means is that the Lakers average almost 4 more turnovers per game then the team they are playing. Saying the average possession is worth a point, that is an eight-point swing every game.

That lack of ball control on one end and inability to create steals at the other stems from the lack of a true point guard. You can see it watching almost every game — last night Rafer Alston looked like he merited All-Star votes with 13 points and 11 assists, driving past the defense at will.

Last night was a perfect example of this issue. The Lakers had 10 first-quarter turnovers, and trailed at the end of it as the Raptors got out and ran. The Lakers had no second-quarter turnovers, and by halftime they had the lead.

That kind of quarter-to-quarter inconsistency has us Laker fans pulling our hair out (well, those of you that have hair). But in the end, if they’d just take care of the ball and pick up the defensive aggressiveness, a lot of these problems would go away.

The New Stats, Part Deux

 —  December 29, 2004

With no Laker games until Sunday, this is a good time for some reflection and breakdowns of the team and its coaching thus far. But to do that properly, I believe I should lay down a little more foundation of the new statistical thinking in the NBA (call it “basketball money ball” or “NBA sabermetrics” or whatever you like).

The first piece I did on this was basically a glossary of terms, this time I will focus more on basic theory and application. While some of this may seem simplistic at first (the concepts are simple), we are building toward something. (It should be noted that what I’m talking about here is based on the work of other people, such as Dean Oliver, and places you can find more information are listed at the end of the article and in the links to the left.)

Let’s start with the most basic of questions: What wins basketball games? Obviously, scoring more points than your opponents — it’s been that way since the day James Naismith nailed up the peach baskets. However, by the basic rules of basketball, you and your opponents will have the same number of possessions per game, so what really is the key is being more efficient in your possessions than your opponent. (This concept is mentioned near the end of the first stats article I did.)

The best way to compare offenses and defenses is on a level playing field, usually 100 possessions (which is slightly more than in the average NBA game). For example, so far this season, for each 100 possessions the Lakers are averaging 105.4 points, sixth best in the league. However, they are giving up 102.9 points per 100 possessions to their opponents, an unimpressive 20th in the league.

Points per possession is a better barometer of a team than points scored per game because the latter is influenced by the pace games are played at (pace can be measured seperately). The Lakers are offensively efficient with their possessions, but because they average just 93.3 possessions per game (19th in the league, so much for the return to “Showtime”) they are averaging 98.4 ppg. (10th in the league).

If you take the difference between what a team scores per 100 possessions and allows per 100 possessions you come up with a spread that gives you a pretty good picture of who is playing the best ball in the league. Right now, the top five (according to Stats Pimp and that site’s in-house calculations) are San Antonio, Phoenix, Seattle, Dallas and Miami.

The next logical question is what factors lead to scoring on a possession? And, its corollary question, what can be done to stop an opponent from scoring?

Dean Oliver, in his groundbreaking book Basketball on Paper, says there are really only four ways to create offense on the team level: shoot accurately, don’t turn the ball over, grab offensive rebounds, and get to the free throw line. These things are not equal — shooting efficiency is twice as important and limiting turnovers and getting offensive rebounds. Getting to the free throw line is the least important.

That said, the teams that do these things well are successful. The five most efficient shooting teams (using eFG%, of course) this season are Phoenix, Miami, Seattle, San Antonio and Minnesota — the cream of the NBA crop.

How well you defend those four areas gives a good picture of a team’s defense. The five teams playing the best shooting defense (limiting opponents eFG%) are San Antonio, Houston, Chicago, Miami and Dallas. (I know seeing Chicago on the list is odd, but the Bulls play great defense, allowing opponents to score just 98.2 points per 100 possessions. The problem is they score only 94.6.)

Breakdowns of the four areas highlight the strengths and weaknesses of your team play at both ends of the floor.

There’s a lot more information on basketball statistics out there — things like value over replacement and efforts to predict how much better (or worse) an individual player will be in the coming year. Check out places like 82games, Stats Pimp or Knickerblogger on the Web, or buy the Basketball Forecast book put out by John Hollinger (it used to be called Basketball Prospectus, and it is the equivalent to Baseball Prosepectus) to find out more.

Update: The Soncis and Dean Oliver got an interesting write-up in the mainstream press this week. (Thanks to Knickerblogger for posting this.)

On Tap: The Toronto Raptors

 —  December 28, 2004

If we use Playstation2 as our Nostradamus, then the Lakers should win 110-99 tonight.

The Raptors are the only team I’ve run across to list the results of a Playstation match up on their game preview page. But I guess it makes sense — with what’s left in Toronto, you’d probably rather play a video game than watch your real team.

After the Vince Carter trade (which was about cap space down the line), here is your Raptor starting five: Rafer Alston at the point, Morris Peterson at the two, Eric Williams playing the three, Chris Bosh at power forward and Loren Woods at center. Only Alston, at 17.28, has a PER above the league average of 15. Only with Peterson on the floor has the team performed better than when any of the starters are on the bench.

The team’s biggest name player, Jalen Rose, was benched last week. He dealt with it in a classy fashion, showing up to the meeting with coaches dressed in all black — including black earrings. Reports said he “looked disinterested while scoring just four points” in the first two games after the switch, but in the team’s game two nights ago in Phoenix he came off the bench to play 29 minutes — more than all but one starter — and led the team with 19 points.

Maybe the Raptor’s best player coming off the bench has been Donyell Marshall, who has a team-higher PER of 19.55 and is averaging 10.9 point and 6.5 rebounds per game. Coming out of a game where the Lakers got just 4 points out of their bench, and facing a team with Rose and Marshall, the Lakers need the back ups to step up.

As has been the case often in recent games, the best place for the Lakers to attack the Raptors is inside — they have very high oPERS of 18.8 at the four and 18.7 at the five. The Lakers need to get the ball on the block to Lamar Odom early and let him set the pace. Chris Mihm, who has worked hard in recent games, may get rewarded with some buckets to tonight.

That said, this should be another big scoring night for Kobe. For the season, the Raptors have been weak in guarding the two (15.9 oPER), although part of that was Vince Carter was often disinterested in playing defense. The problem for the Raptors is his replacement, Peterson, has an oPER of 18.7 against fellow off guards. Kobe should be able to take him off the dribble and get to the hole without any big bodies in his way (like he saw against Memphis and Miami).

Offensively the Raptors average about two more possessions per game than the Lakers but they are not terribly efficient with them — for every 100 possessions the Raptors average 101.6 points (the Lakers average 104.8). Both teams are near the bottom of the league in just about every defensive statistic.

Rafer Alston should have a good game as the Lakers continue to struggle with good point guards. And Alston is the kind of point the Lakers could use — a pure point with a great assist-to-turnover ratio — the Raptors average the second fewest turnovers per game in the NBA. Combine that with the Lakers being dead last in the league in creating turnovers and I think the Raptors may have single-digit turnovers tonight.

I’m not sure any December game can be a “must win,” but the Lakers could really use this one. The reason is that after the first of the year, the schedule gets tough for a while — Denver, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Minnesota, Denver and Cleveland are the Lakers next seven. Or, look at this from Stats Pimp: Laker opponents faced so far have a combined 0.452 adjusted record, the 4th easiest schedule in the NBA. The next 10 opponents have a combined 0.545 adjusted record, the 5th most difficult stretch over the next 10 games across the league.

Tonight is the kind of game and match ups the Lakers should win handily. Whether they do or not will be a good test of their growing maturity, or lack thereof.