Archives For January 2005

On Tap: The Los Angeles Clippers

 —  January 26, 2005

Traditionally in these previews, the focus is on the other team, its strengths and weaknesses, and how the Lakers match up. Today I’m taking a different tack — I plan to focus almost exclusively on the Lakers and life without Kobe, because if things aren’t going right in your own house it doesn’t matter who the opponent is.

And, while the Lakers are 4-2 since Kobe went down, that has been in spite of their defense. In the first four games without Kobe, the Lakers gave up 104.4 points per 100 possessions, up from 103.7 previously this season (thanks to Kevin Pelton for those numbers).

Last night, against a good perimeter team, things got worse. The Lakers not only lost, they allowed the Sonics to get to 114.2 points per 100 possessions, well above that team’s already second-best-in-the-NBA average (109.7). I hate to say a team just isn’t hustling on defense, but that’s how it appeared for stretches against Seattle. Why did Radmanovic get so many good looks when it became clear he was the hottest shooter in the building? Even after he hit a few threes Laker players were still insanely late on their rotations out to him.

Other key factors in the loss are the Lakers gave up 20 offensive rebounds (grabbing nine) and had three more turnovers than Seattle, which contributed to Seattle taking 19 more shots than the Lakers. When a team shooting 50.7% eFG% on the season takes 19 more shots than you, you’ve got a huge hole to climb out of. That problem is not new, it been a Laker pattern all season that has worsened with Kobe gone.

The Laker team and coaching staff need to find some defensive answers tonight.

Rudy T. appeared to be looking for answers everywhere and anywhere last night. Luke Walton stepped up and took advantage of his turn, earning himself a little more run with scoring and decent defense. (Luke’s bigger problem really is with Mitch K. and not Rudy T. — when Kobe returns Luke will be fighting for playing time with Caron Butler, Jumaine Jones and Devean George. We are so overloaded at the three it’s actually a little sad.)

After facing the best perimeter team in the league, tonight the Lakers get a team that gets its points inside. Elton Brand is the driving force behind the Clippers with a PER of 21.8, considerably better than any of his teammates. He missed the last game and tonight should draw the attention of Odom, Chris Mihm and Brian Grant. When he was out last game Corey Maggette stepped up with 27 points, but he may not play tonight due to a sore left foot. Also, Chris Kaman has had some good nights recently and can’t be ignored. Tonight should be a good game for Chucky Atkins to bounce back, the Sonics are weakest at the point defensively.

Despite what Marco Jaric thinks, the Lakers should be able to beat the Clippers. That said, to do so they need to play defense, keep Brand (and Simmons and Wilcox if he plays) off the offensive glass, and get the offense back to the move-the-ball system we saw last week and not last night.

Will the Lakers do that? You think I can predict what Laker team will show up night-to-night?

Tis’ the Season

 —  January 26, 2005

There’s less than one month to the NBA trading deadline. It’s also about the time of year when free agents to be start really positioning themselves for this summer.

Combine those two factors and it makes late January and February the time of year when the most ludicrous of NBA rumors can get some play. Take, as exhibit 1A, today’s Los Angeles Times report that Ray Allen would consider being a Laker.

The Seattle SuperSonic guard, an unrestricted free agent come July, said he’s open to any possibility, even sharing a locker room with Bryant, with whom he exchanged barbs during the exhibition season.

This has about as much chance of happening as Ashlee Simpson getting the lead role in a Broadway musical.

First, the Lakers need another spot-up shooter to stand on the perimeter and take threes like they need another small forward who can’t defend. I don’t care if they find the second coming of Bob Cousy to play the point, who would be able to get Kobe, Lamar Odom and Ray Allen enough touches to keep them all happy?

Then there’s the money — Ray Allen wants a lot of it and the Lakers don’t have it. Right now the Lakers have $66.6 million in salary on the books for next season. (That assumes Devean George, $4.9 million, and Vlade, $5.3 million, exercise their player options. Vlade can be bought out for $2 million, which would knock a few mill off the total.) The Lakers have four roster spots where no money is committed for next year. There is no way the Lakers are going to bring in Allen at the eight-digit salary he wants and blow their cap structure to hell.

This is Ray Allen using the media to start negotiating with the Sonics, letting them know he’s thought about playing elsewhere and they need to pay him.

There will be a lot of this going on the next few weeks. Feel free to read and enjoy, just keep plenty of salt nearby.

I was at work for the first half of the Laker/Sonics game last night, and I had to do something I’ll do a lot more soon with an East Coast road swing coming up — “watch” the game on the Internet.

And I can’t find a good way to do that.

I think I’m spoiled because baseball has a pretty good system in place — the MLB.com flash game track system shows you a lot of detail, including where pitches were in relation to the batter. It’s not perfect (when there is a fly ball out to Milton Bradley in center field, I don’t know if it came right to him or if he had to make a shoestring catch), but you can follow the game closely.

NBA.com’s flash game tracker isn’t as good. I can get a play-by-play, and a running box score, but there is no feel for the game. ESPN’s site gives you a shot chart but its running play-by-play isn’t nearly as smooth. I’ll add that I checked, and ESPN’s feed ran a few seconds ahead of the NBA feed when side-by-side.

I admit that part of the problem is the sport — it’s much easier to have a computerized play-by-play of baseball because of the pace of the sport and the majority of the action being in one area (at the plate). I’m not sure how you make it better for basketball.

Does anyone out there have a better system (or site) for “watching” games live? It’s one of the West Coast issues, games are going on before I leave the office all the time. I just wish there was a better way to deal with it.

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Two other quick notes this morning:

Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban just rips into ESPN’s Chad Ford in his latest blog entry. Ford has long been a whipping boy on NBA team message boards and blogs around the nation (an honor richly deserved), but when a team owner (especially one as accessible as Cuban) writes that Ford never calls him but writes about what Cuban is doing and thinking, it takes on a whole new level of credibility.

I heard big time Laker fan Ice Cube interviewed by Jim Rome this morning (don’t take this as an endorsement of Rome and his show, it’s not [he could be an entire entry some day], but he is a good interviewer and Cube is a great guest). Ice Cube knew his Lakers and was good with the direction of the team, and he had the quote of the day:

“It was time for a change. This was like a soap opera with bad writers.”

On Tap: The Seattle Supersonics

 —  January 25, 2005

If you lived in Seattle, were forced to spend too much time indoors because of the rain, loved the Sonics, and had an unhealthy obsession with Legos, what would you do? Build a life-size Lego Ray Allan, of course.

I think the best chance for a Laker win tonight comes if the Lego Ray Allen is the one that shows up to Staples Center. Problem is, if they put Chucky Atkins on him, Lego Ray will still score 12.

(By the way, if you want one, you can get a life-size Lego Kobe as well — or Jason Kidd, or Shaq or other NBA players. Think how good that would look in your living room. You can’t make up stuff this funny.)

Okay, time to get serious (well, as much as I ever do). There are two questions that come up when thinking about the run of wins the Lakers have had since Kobe went down: 1) What will happen when the Lakers take on a good team? 2) Will the improved team play continue when Kobe comes back, or will the Lakers revert to old habits?

We’ll find out the answer to question #1 tonight (question #2 is a topic for another post, probably next week, closer to when Kobe returns). The thing is, while these Sonics are good, they are not as good as the ones that got off to the fast start this season. So far in January, the Sonics are 6-5.

The reason for the slide is defense — the Sonics actually play less than the Lakers. Early in the season the Sonics were one of the top 10 defensive teams in the league, now that has fallen to 25th overall (giving up 104.5 points per 100 possessions, the Lakers are 22nd at 103.7). Teams shoot well against the Sonics (48.7% eFG%) and teams get to the free throw line 26.5 times per game against them (only five teams are worse).

While the defense may be poor, their offense is still a force — they have the second highest rated offense in the league (109.8 points per 100 possessions). Their team eFG% is an insane 50.7% (third best in the league) and, almost as importantly, they get rebounds on 33.2% of their misses (the highest percentage in league). Think about that, a good shooting team that on one-third of its misses gives itself a second chance — a tough combination to beat.

As you would imagine, Ray Allen (the real one) has the highest PER on the team at 20.17 and leads the team in Roland Rating at +13.5. But right behind him with a PER of 20.11 is Danny Fortson, who has come in and provided the rebound and defensive toughness inside Seattle lacked in recent years. Fortson leads the league in points per shot attempt at 1.39, in part because he gets to the free throw line on second chances. Also, obviously, don’t forget about Rashard Lewis (19.69 PER), who scored 37 on the Lakers (8 of 12 from three point range) in the Sonics win in December against the Lakers.

For the Lakers to win they will need a big game out of their front line — Mihm, Odom and Butler. Those are the weakest defensive spots for Seattle, the Lakers should be able to score inside. What’s more, that group (and Grant, Cook and Jones off the bench) needs to work hard to get defensive rebounds and not give up extra chances to the Sonics. If, for a change, the Lakers can get the front line of the Sonics in foul trouble, that would be a nice change of pace.

For the past two games, Chucky Atkins has been the point guard the Lakers have needed all season, the Lakers have moved the ball around and gotten good scoring chances. If they can do that tonight they can hang around, Seattle can’t stop them Kobe or no. However, to win will require perimeter defense, something that folded in the face of the Seattle offense the last time these two met. We’ll see what happens tonight.

Update: Kevin Pelton, the guy behind Supersonics.com and a guy who knows his stats, has posted a great preview of tonight’s game that is well worth the read. Also, he wants us to know that the people at Lego built Lego Ray, and “no actual Sonics fan hours were wasted on it.”

Things That May Interest Only Me

 —  January 24, 2005

Let’s talk for a second about the three-point play — not the one the Lakers are attempting 30 of a game these days (except when playing well) but rather the more exciting one, the bucket and the foul.

The driving force behind the Crazy From The Heat blog figured out the number of “and one” fouls players on the Heat have gotten this year (and suggested how to figure that into other scoring stats). His work started the smart folk over at APBR looking into the number of +1 shots every player has gotten this season (and that required going through all the game logs, the NBA doesn’t keep track of this).

Without the data, my guess was Kobe would be the guy who has the highest percentage of “and one” free throws on the Lakers. I was wrong. Lamar Odom not only leads the team, he’s sixth in the league with 13.3% of his free throw attempts coming as the one shot after being fouled and still scoring (he has 24 of those shots this year).

Lamar is long and strong, something he had in common with the five people ahead of him on that list (Elton Brand, Nazr Mohammed, Eddy Curry, Amare Stoudemire and Antwan Jamison).

We’re not talking a lot of points here, but it’s just one more thing Odom brings to the table when the offense flows through him.

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Something else I find interesting.

Brian Grant doesn’t take many shots — he’s only averaging 2.3 shots per game he’s played — but when he does he gets more points per attempt than any other Laker.

Usually on this blog I’ve used effective field goal percentage (eFG%) to talk about a players shooting. It’s a good measure, but its flaw is that free throws earned are not part of the mix — a player who gets fouled and gets to the charity stripe deserves some credit for that.

That’s where “points per shot attempt” (or PSA) comes in. The bottom line with this statistic is that free-throws (as well as three pointers) are counted in to give a better picture of how efficient a player is at getting points when he does shoot. It’s not a measure one should look at as the Holy Grail (no stat is, and besides, I’ve already got one) but it does help fill out a picture about a player’s contributions on offense.

Let’s look at this season’s Lakers. Grant leads the way at 1.24 PSA, but he’s only taken 58 shots all season. Among the Lakers getting regular playing time, Chucky Atkins (1.13) and Chris Mihm (1.12) lead the way — Atkins because of his threes and Mihm because he hits 52% of his shots (he’s only attempted one three pointer all season).

As for the guys the offense runs through, Lamar’s points per shot attempt is 1.10, Kobe’s is 1.08.

Those numbers are pretty ordinary. For some comparison, on the high end of PSA among “name” players are Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash of Phoenix, both at 1.23. Dirk Nowitzki is at 1.16 and Shaq is at 1.17. On the low end of the scale, Tim Duncan is at 1.07 (but he brings a few other things to the table). Atkins’ 1.13 PSA is the 47th best in the NBA so far this season. Lamar is 70th, and I didn’t feel like counting down to find Kobe.

The bottom line, it would help if the Laker stars were a little more efficient. But we’ve been saying that all year.

As a historical side note, one of the top PSA players of all time is Magic Johnson. His career average PSA of 1.22 is eighth best all time, and the highest of any player in the Hall of Fame.