Archives For December 2004

One and Done

 —  December 7, 2004

No need to worry about who gets bumped off the roster when Karl Malone comes back — he’s not.

Malone’s agent, Dwight Manley, took time out of his busy afternoon schedule to get interviewed on virtually every radio station in Southern California and say that if Malone is coming back, it won’t be with the Lakers. He said that Malone felt “broad-sided” and “disrespected” by Kobe’s comments yesterday that he didn’t know, but if he had to guess Malone wasn’t coming back, and that it was unfair for the existing team members to have that have this hanging over their head.

Sounds to me like someone was looking for a way out.

As I have said before, I think Malone not coming back is good thing long-term for the Lakers — he was a short-term fix for the Lakers’ long term problems inside.

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 the short term, this is going to make it tougher for the Lakers to make the playoffs this season — they are still weak on the inside. Right now the Lakers have Mihm and a bunch of guys (Odom, Cook et al) who are big men who like to play on the perimeter (hopefully the return of a healthy Brian Grant can fix some of that in the short term).

What the Lakers need to find is a long-term fix.

Update: As you would expect, this is getting beaten into the ground this morning on both radio and in the newspapers. (It bothers me I agree most with T.J. Simers.)

Here’s the bottom line to me: Why did Malone come to the Lakers last season? He wanted a ring. Was he going to get a ring with the Lakers this season? No. Was he looking for a way out of saying he would play here? Yes. Do I expect him to sign with San Antonio or some other contender? Probably.

What’s Under The Tree For Laker Fans

 —  December 7, 2004

Are you finished shopping for the holidays? If you’re Jewish your time is up, the rest of us have 18 days left until Christmas. I guess I need to start making out my list of who to buy for.

We Laker fans went into this season not sure what we would be getting for Christmas. Was this a playoff team? Would Kobe let anyone else touch the ball? Would we be running up and down the court like it was 1985? Would this team be more fun to watch than the past couple of years?

We’re 20% of the way into the season, and we’re starting to get some answers, so it seemed like time for an assessment. Lets take a look at the Lakers fans’ holiday shopping list:

We want well rounded play from Kobe. Check that one off the list. We can admit it now — we were all afraid that with Shaq gone Kobe Bryant would morph into a taller Alan Iverseron. He’s didn’t. Kobe is averaging 6.8 assists per game (eighth in the league), in his last three games he has had double digit assists and he appears to be making a serious effort to get teammates involved. When asked to sacrafice a little offense for defense, he stepped up and shut Michael Redd down. Twice.

Kobe’s offense hasn’t suffered much — he is averaging 26.8 points per game and his PER is 25.2, the kind of number you see from people getting MVP talk (the league average is 15). Meanwhile opponents PER against him is 11.1 — a huge advantage for the Lakers. He leads the team in Roland Rating (+20.7). Really, the only steady complaint you can make about his play is that he needs to not settle for jumpers — 71% of his shots are jump shots and his effective field goal percentage is just 38.7% on those, once he gets inside for close shots (23% of the total) his shooting eFG% jumps to 50.6%. Plus, when he penetrates he gets to the free throw line (he is second in the NBA with 195 free throw attempts this year, and is shooting 81% from the line).

So far, Kobe is everything we could have asked Santa for.

(Note: For the rest of this piece I’m going to put PER, oppoents PER and Roland Rating after a players name like this (25.2/11.1/+20.7). Knickerblogger did a better job of breaking this down than I could, so I’ll let him explain it: If you have any doubts that PER is a good measure of offensive ability, the last two years the top 5 PER belonged to Garnett, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe and McGrady, which passes my litmus test. oPER (opposition PER) is less accurate because of how defense is played in the NBA (switched defensive assignments, help defense, zone defense, double teams, etc.), but can still be valuable up to a point. According to 82games.com, Roland Rating “represents a player’s value to a particular team and are not intended to be an accurate gauge of the ability and talent of the player away from the specific team.” Since it takes the player in context of his team, and we’re only looking at the players on one team, it’s perfect for our needs.)

Bring in another star player to go with Kobe. We got one, but we’re not sure if it fits. Lamar Odom (21.4/19.7/-1.5) came in as an All-Star and Olympian, but so far he has struggled to find a comfort level playing alongside Kobe. As many people have noted, he seems to be playing passively, letting the game come to him to the point he disapears for stretches.

His lack of aggressivness stems, at least in part, from the defensive end of the floor, where Odom has struggled to contain other teams power forwards and has gotten in foul trouble consistently. Part of that foul trouble has been because he has had to slide over and pick up penetrating point guards who were not slowed out top. Once he gets fouls, he appears cautious. The one place Odom has remained aggressive is on the boards, where he averages 10.7 rebounds per game with 8.5 of those on the devensive end. The Lakers have struggled keeping other teams off the boards, but Odom has been a bright spot here.

So far, Odom is like that Christmas shirt you get and really like, but are not sure it quite fits. It may need to be returned someday for something that does, but you want to give it a chance.

Give us a more athletic Laker team that runs the floor. Well, they are more athletic but batteries appear not to be included. The Lakers definately got younger and more athletic. Caron Butler (16.8/20.2/-10.3) has shown that he can get into the flow of the game and score, and he (not Odom) is second on the team in points per game with 14.2. Butler is a tweener who has struggled to cover the threes in the west, but there are moments when he finishes a drive and I think he can be a poor man’s James Worthy. Brian Cook (24.1/19.6/+10) is big and athletic and has stepped up his game and his shooting — on jump shots he has an eFG% of 58.1% (he’s one of the few big men whose shooting percentage actually goes down inside, 45.5%). Is it just me, or is Cook starting to become the new Robert Horry?

But that and other athleticism is going to waste because this team does not fast break. The Lakers are averaging 91 possessions a game — actually down one possession a game from last season (and for comparison, this year Phoenix is averaging 100 possessions and even the Clippers are averaging 97). So far this season, 36% of the Lakers’ shots occur in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, while 39% happen in the last eight seconds. Each game, the Lakers seem slower and slower getting set up in what half-court offense they do run, as teams try to deny Kobe the ball.

Adding to the problem, this Laker team has done a poor job taking care of the ball. The Lakers are averaging three more turnovers per game than their opponents (that’s a six point swing per game), and lest you want to lay all the blame at the point guard spot the two people with the most turnovers per game are Kobe (4.47, but he handles the ball a lot) and Odom (2.47). The Lakers also have 28 more offensive penalties than their opponents.

Give us an inside presence to make up for what’s-his-name. We’ve got a piece or two, but more will need to be acquired. Chris Mihm (19/20.1/-2.5) has turned out to be a pleasent suprise — not an All Star player but he works hard and has done a solid job. That said, he’s not a great defender and good centers are burning us. Also, he is the only one near the boards on the offenseive end as the Lakers other inside players (Odom and Cook) spend their time out wandering by the three-point line. Brian Grant was supposed to help in this position, but he has played in only 11 games, started in one and was burned defensively (oPER 18.1) when he was in. If he comes back healthy, maybe he will bring the inside presence we expected.

Probably the biggest suprise on the Lakers this season has been the play of Jumaine Jones (11.3/17.0/+19.5). His offense statistics are not spectacular and he has trouble matching up defensively, but he hits the boards and plays hard — and when he is on the floor the Lakers are better. Really, isn’t that the bottom line?

That said, the Lakers are playing too much outside in rather than the inside out that comes with penetration (or good players on the low block). More inside presence is needed.

Give us a team that plays good defense. Still shopping. This is the other reason you don’t see the Lakers running — the fast break starts with good defense and creating turnovers or bad shots. This Laker team’s defense is so poor that Rudy T. said he was going to spend practicies during this four day break focused on it.

Unfortunately, in those practices he isn’t going to find a point guard who can stop penetration, something that has really hurt the Lakers. It’s not all showing up in the stats yet, but Chucky Atkins (13.7/16.9/+7.5) can’t hang with the quick points in the West (and niether can Tierre Brown). In addition, look at opponent PER and you see that the place the Lakers have the biggest weaknesses is at the four (17.8), the five (17.3) and three (16.9) — the Lakers are not doing enough to protect the rim.

Basically, the team defense is poor everywhere but the two, where Kobe plays 86% of the team’s minutes.

Give us a trip to the playoffs. On back order, we won’t know if we can get that in until April. Right now, the Lakers are on pace for 48 wins, which would likely get them in the seventh or eighth spot in the West. But there is a lot of season left, and several things may factor into whether Laker fans get a belated gift from Santa this spring.

For example, will Karl Malone return? Even an older Malone would give the Lakers a much needed inside presence and allow Odom to move to the three, where most people seem to think he’ll be more comfortable. But remember, Malone would be a band aid on the problem — he is not part of this team’s long-term future. Also, will the Lakers make any other moves, ideally something to bring in a point guard?

The bottom line for Lakers fans: Christmas is coming, the goose may be fat, but it will be a little while — maybe a couple of years — before we get what we really want and become an elite team again. Hopefully this year we can get enough to just tide us over.

Mini-Rant

 —  December 6, 2004

Sunday night’s big ESPN “Sunday Conversation” with Kobe, Shaq, Phil and Dr. Buss talking about the change over in the Laker was almost everything I have come to expect from ESPN — over-hyped and providing nothing new of substance. I just want to know how I can get those five minutes of my life back. I wish we could just let the “like sands through the hourglass” Lakers of the past few seasons go and move on, but with the Christmas Day game still looming, the ghost of seasons past will be back to visit plenty in the coming weeks.

(By the way, if Kobe, Shaq, Phil and Dr. Buss had been playing no-limit hold ‘em poker, then it would have been everything I have come to expect from ESPN.)

Just wanted to get that off my chest. I feel better already.

Kobe’s Got A Brand New Backup

 —  December 6, 2004

It’s official — Kareem Rush is no longer a Laker. In his place, at least in the short term, that roster spot will be filled by Tony Bobbit, who tore up the summer league in Long Beach and was the last cut from this year’s roster, although he isn’t considered a long-term solution for the team (Bobbit would like to prove that wrong).

For Rush, the Lakers were able to get two future second round draft picks from Charlotte, which is not thrilling but better than the nothing we would have gotten at the end of the season when he left as a free agent. Second round picks can be a bit hit and miss: You may get a Luke Walton, but remember that at the end of last season only six second round picks from Walton’s class remained on an NBA roster (half never even played in the NBA, such as this year’s Laker second rounder Marcus Douthit).

Rush will get plenty playing time with the Bobcats — he may even start if he can get his game back to last season’s level — plus can play his way onto a roster next year.

Bobbit, out of the University of Cincinnati, plays good defense and is a solid spot-up shooter. However, he isn’t quick enough to cover a point guard, which is what the Lakers really need. Bobbit and Tierre Brown do not have guaranteed contracts (until Jan. 10 anyway) so they would be the odd-men out if a trade is made or if Karl Malone returns. One also likely will end up on the IR (or cut) when Devean George returns from the IR in the next couple of weeks.

Update: If you want to read more on the future of Mr. Rush, check out this post at NBA Weblogs about the paths he could take.

Idle Hands

 —  December 6, 2004

With the Lakers off until Wednesday and working on defense, defense, defense, expect little news for the first part of this week (save for the Rush trade).

You know what happens when Laker fans have too much time on their hands — we start thinking about trades. Crazy, stupid, radio talk show trades, like how the Lakers can trade for Jason Kidd and Amare Stoudamire while keeping Kobe, Lamar Odom and Caron Butler.

If you want to read well thought-out speculation on things that likely won’t happen, check out Eric Pincus’ piece at Hoops World. Good stuff, although instantly dated with the Rush trade rumors. Be warned though, it’s realistic not optimistic — the bottom line is the Lakers have needs but no good ways to fill them short term.

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Remember a couple of days ago I said I’d promised myself I would wait to 20 games in to do a “state of the team” style piece? Well, forget I said that. All these days off in a row seemed like a good time for reflection rather than speculation, so I’m working on something — but it likely will be late today or tomorrow before it gets posted. I’ll put up any news or notes between now and then, like when the Rush trade goes final, but nothing long and well thought out. (For the record, the state-of-the-team thing will be long. Well thought out is up for history to decide.)

Kareem Rush a Bobcat?

 —  December 5, 2004

That’s the rumor out of Charlotte:

The Charlotte Bobcats unexpectedly waived reserve shooting guard Eddie House late Saturday, a move that one informed source said could soon make Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Kareem Rush a Bobcat.

The source said the Bobcats and Lakers are discussing a trade of Rush for one or more future second-round picks. A 6-foot-6 swingman, Rush has fallen out of favor with the Lakers this season, averaging 6.5 minutes and just under a point per game.

This move makes sense on a few levels. One, the Lakers didn’t pick up the option on Rush, he isn’t coming back, so getting something for him — even just a second round pick (few stick on NBA rosters anymore) — is better than nothing.

Second, Devean George will start practicing with the team on Monday (according to Joel Meyers), so soon they are going to have to clear a roster spot for him. Of course, that give the Lakers another forward, a position already more clogged than Luciano Pavarotti’s arteries.

Finally for the Lakers, Rush isn’t playing and when he is he’s not playing well. I think part of the reason for that is Rush is a guy who needs time on the floor, to get in the flow of the game, to get hot, and he hasn’t gotten enough time to properly figure out Rudy T.’s system, let alone get hot.

The Bobcats could use a good shooting guard, they are getting average offensive production from the position (a 15.2 PER, where 15 is the league average) and the team is shooting an eFG% of just 42% on jump shots (they do much better inside). The Bobcats have been getting burned at the two defensively. Rush is not a great defender, but he can fill up the basket.

Add to all of that, I like Rush and his game, and would love to see him get a shot where he will get time on the floor.

Update: Bobcat coach and GM Bernie Bickerstaff said in a radio interview this morning that, “we will know something by this afternoon.” Sounds like this is a done deal and Rush may be playing against the Clippers tonight.

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

 —  December 4, 2004

Four days off in the middle of the season is a virtual vacation in the NBA (the Lakers are off until Wednesday). Here are some scattered questions, with a few suggested answers, after a scattered game from the Lakers (that still resulted in a win).

* What is the best Laker five-man unit on the floor? Atkins-Bryant-Butler-Odom-Cook, according to 82 Games. That unit had only played 47 minutes together (the stats at this site can be a couple of days behind, due to the complex nature), but had been better than their opponents 100% of the time. Other successful units also have energy guys off the bench in them: Atkins-Bryant-Jones-Odom-Mihm (besting opponents 66.6% of the time) and Atkins-Bryant-Jones-Odom-Cook (60%) for example.

The problem is the starting five — they are better than their opponents just 38.4% of the time.

* What did we learn from the Golden State and Chicago games? That this Laker squad is still not mature and in-synch enough to put 48 good minutes of basketball together. Ten good minutes are followed by a quarter of disaster. Against a team like Golden State you can recover, against better teams…..

* Don’t look now, but Kobe has had double digit assists in three straight games. And, at times against Golden State when there was good penetration, you started to see really good offensive spacing and passing that led to open shots. Not all the time, but it’s showing up more and more.

* What is up with Lamar Odom and fouls? Part of the problem is there are good inside players in the West — guys brought in to deal with Shaq in years past — that are a difficult match-up for Lamar. But what is sending him over the edge is the two or more fouls a game he picks up sliding over to pick up whoever just burned Chucky Atkins at the point. The penetration of opponents is one thing driving up Laker foul totals inside (Mihm and Cook too, not just Odom).

As a side note, I think the fouls are one of the things holding back Odom’s lacking aggressiveness.

* Want some good news? The Lakers shot just 14 threes against Golden State, instead driving to the basket (Butler — and look what it got him, 27 points) and picking their spots. Of the 14 threes they did take, they hit 5 (35.7%, a respectable number).

* What are the Lakers going to do with their time off?

“We’re going to really try those practice days to get back to some of that training-camp defense,” Lakers coach Rudy Tomjanovich said.

How bad is Golden State this season? Well, look at the official poll on the Warriors World fan Web site:

What does it take to get you through a game this season:

1) 12 oz
2) 40 oz
3) 6 pack
4) 12 pack
5) Case
6) I am clean and sober, but won’t be by the break

Remember back a couple of years ago, when Golden State was considered a team on the rise, a team of the future? Apparently management from three Bay Area teams — the Warriors, Raiders and 49ers — all went to the same fly-by-night schools, because they’ve all got questionable futures.

With Golden State (3-11 this season), the core problem is pretty simple — the team can’t shoot. So far this season, a very high 73% of the Warriors shots are jump shots and their effective field goal percentage (eFG%) on them is 36%. (For comparison, the Lakers shoot 65% jump shots and the eFG% is 44.3%, for Seattle it’s 70% jumpers hitting 48.3%.) Overall this year, the Warriors are shooting a sad 39.5% from the field, while their opponents are shooting 45.8%.

Or, look at it this way: So far this season Golden State averages 102 possessions per game, as do their opponents. On each possession, Golden State is averaging .93 points, while their opponents are averaging 1.02.

The leading scorer for Golden State is Jason Richardson, who is averaging 18.4 ppg, and is fourth in the league shot attempts per game. Problem is, using the Roland Rating (judging how a team does with a player on vs. off the court) he is one of the least valuable players on the team. When he and his points are off the floor, the team does better. Bad sign.

Richardson is the only Warrior with an offensive PER (player efficiency rating) above the league average of 15 — the problem is tonight he will be covered by Kobe. With the Warriors best offensive player covered by arguably the league’s best defender, tonight could be a chance for the Lakers to get an early lead again — and not blow it, this time. We can hope.

Tonight could be another spot for Caron Butler and Lamar Odom to shine — defensively teams exploit the Warriors most from the three and four spots. That is especially true of the three spot, played by the son of one Clippers coach, which has been the worst defensive spot for the team this year. I should note, that while the four has been little better over the course of the season, in the past couple of games Troy Murphy has put up better numbers (two double-doubles, including one against Minnesota).

Of course, all the hype tonight will be centered on the return of Mr. .04 — Derek Fisher. I feel a little sorry for Fish, who went from a team looking to win a championship to a team that may top the lottery. Fisher hasn’t played poorly — he is averaging 9.7 points and 4.6 assists off the bench — but he isn’t even starting on a bad team. Well, I feel sorry for Fisher until I remember he is making $4.9 million this year and is signed through the 2009/10 season, when he will make $7.3 million.

The Laker loss the other night in Chicago hurt because the team didn’t play smart, but I can overlook a clunker here or there. However, a loss to the Warriors at home would be a real shot to the gut.