Archives For January 2005

Now That’s Good Satire

Kurt —  January 11, 2005

Some great writing from Knickerblogger that is worth reading, including:

Dwayne Wade Inducted Into Sidekick Hall Of Fame

It’s Raining Threes

Kurt —  January 11, 2005

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first — I’m not sure the last time I laughed as hard as when Latrell Sprewell hurt himself on his own dunk. In case you missed it, he got up on a fast break, threw the ball down but when it came through the net it came back to hit him in the face, giving him a cut on his nose. Sure it’s schadenfreude, but I think Spree still has some of that coming.

As for the game….

Going into the season, many of us thought that one of the strengths of this team would be its depth — sure there would be Kobe and Lamar, but the bench could be a strength. This is the first game the role players really won for us — the fivesome of Atkins, Butler, Jones, Cook and Mihm won it.

Kobe did his part — if not for his early 7 of 9 shooting, while the rest of the team was 2 for 22, the Lakers would have been so far out of it early that a comeback would have been impossible. Also, at the end of the game, he got to the free throw line and helped closed the game out — which is what he gets paid the big bucks to do.

But what the real difference was in the fourth quarter was defense. Minnesota sagged off Laker shooters and appeared to dare them to shoot the three — the Lakers shot 45.7% from beyond the arc and for the game had an impressive eFG% of 53.7%. (I don’t mind taking threes when your open like Atkins often was, it’s the ones where a player just steps back and fires away with a man on him that bother me.) Meanwhile, Minnesota had an eFG% of 50% for the game, but in the fourth quarter there were hands in their face when they took a shot, and from three-point land they shot 35.7%.

Another big key for the Lakers — 12 offensive rebounds (the T-Wolves had just 5), they gave themselves a lot of second chances and this was one of the few games this season the Lakers took more shots than their opponents (82 to 79).

Let me say for the record I’m not sure we make this comeback against last year’s T-Wolves. And things were not perfect for us, for example KG made Odom disappear (he does that to a lot of good players). The Lakers still had five more turnovers than their opponents.

That said there were a lot of positives to take out of this win. Mihm had another good game and Jumaine Jones continues to be a great spark off the bench hitting threes and playing good defense — the Lakers were +16 when he was in the game. They were +13 when Cook was in. Atkins, in a game where he needed to step up, did (although he couldn’t stop Troy Hudson). And the offense showed plenty of variety — isolation, triangle, pick-and-pops and more. That variety can make the Lakers a difficult team to defend.

If we can just keep playing defense like we did late, this can be a tough Laker team to beat.

On Tap: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Kurt —  January 10, 2005

What has happened to the T-wolves?

Before the season, I thought they had a chance (about 30%) to win the NBA title. Last week they lost to the expansion Charlotte Bobcats and lost their composure when being blown out by the Suns. The are 4-9 in their last 13. Right now they are 17-15, the seventh seed in the West and half a game back of the Lakers.

Look at the stats and you see the T-wolves are a mirror of the Lakers — good offense but horrible defense.

Minnesota averages 106.8 points per 100 possessions, the fourth most efficient offense in the league (the Lakers are eighth at 105.4). They shoot the ball well (team 49.3% eFG%, fifth best) and they are in the league’s top ten in fewest turnovers and offensive rebounding percentage. The only thing Minnesota doesn’t do well is get to the free throw line, they average 21.6 free throws per game, 25th in the NBA.

But the T-wolves can’t stop anybody either. They give up 103.9 points per 100 possessions, the 24th worst defensive efficiency in the league (the Lakers are 23rd with 103.7). We’re also going to see the two worst teams in the league at creating turnovers — if one team can get the other to turnover the ball tonight it would be a huge advantage.

One thing has not changed in the land of 10,000 lakes — Garnett still Garnett. Once again he’s an MVP candidate with a PER of 29.97 (leading the league), and has a better pure point guard rating than Chucky Atkins. With the Lakers problems covering the four this year, Garnett could have a huge night (Odom is going to have to step up defensively for the Lakers to win).

Once again, stopping the point guards could be the other problem for the Lakers tonight — while there has been talk of a drop-off, Sam Cassell is still playing well with a PER 19.32. The offensive drop off in Minnesota has been from Latrell Sprewell, whose PER of 11.69 is not only well below his average but the league average. Whether it’s attitude or age, something has made Sprewell a weak point. As a side note, watch out for Fred Hoiberg off the bench tonight — he’s only playing 15.9 minutes per game but is the highest eFG% of any player in the NBA right now, 68.2%.

What has derailed the Timberwolves and could derail Garnett’s MVP bid is his defense — the two places that Minnesota gets most of its scoring are its two weakest points defensively. If Odom can have a good night on offense, and make Garnett work on defense, it will be a big boost for the Lakers. Also, this is a chance for Atkins to step up offensively — and do more than just launch threes. Drive the lane, Chucky, drive the lane.

Rudy T. told the Times expect to see a lot of the “triangle” offense tonight. What the Lakers ran in Houston was not the full-blown Tex Winter version we saw previous years but a stripped down edition. That said, it still created motion and openings in the offense that we had not seen from the Lakers all season. Look for the Lakers to run it through Kobe (not unlike what happened when Shaq was out in seasons past) and at times Odom. If the triangle is mixed with some isolation and other plays, it can be a good weapon.

I certainly didn’t expect to see the Lakers and the T-wolves fighting for the same playoff spots this season, but that is the reality right now. There are going to be six or seven teams fighting it out for the final three playoff spots, so wins against teams in those spots are huge. That’s why defeating Houston was big, and why Denver on Wednesday is huge. And, surprisingly, so is tonight.

Update: Former Laker fan favorite — and the heir to Gene Gene the Dancing Machine — Mark Madsen will miss the game tonight due to a broken thumb. (This happened over the weekend but I just saw it.)

Welcome Aboard

Kurt —  January 10, 2005

As of today (although it was made official over the weekend), the contracts of Tierre Brown and Tony Bobbitt became guaranteed for the season. Both are at the league minimum, so while it may be no big deal for the team’s payroll structure, it is a big deal for them. And, frankly, Brown has earned the paychecks despite my calling for a reduction in his playing time. (No offense meant to Bobbit there, he hasn’t been given a chance to earn his.)

Brown is averaging 13.6 minutes, 4 points and 2,2 assists per game, at times looking brilliant and at others like a rookie. He has the worst eFG% on the team, 39.1%, but has the highest pure point guard rating of anyone who has played significant minutes (still an unimpressive 3.6). Assist and turnover ratio numbers show that he can run the offense, but his shooting and inconsistency is the reason his PER is 8.94. The bottom line, he’s not a bad backup but he’s not the future (hence my calls to see more of Sasha).

Bobbit has yet to get off the IR, and will not until someone takes his place on that roster. His play in the summer league may have some thinking of him as a player who can develop into something, but until he sees the court we’ll never know.

Mainstream Media Worth Reading

Kurt —  January 10, 2005

Thanks to poster and reader Tenlay for passing this along, a New York Times article about the new stats in the NBA. (Subscription is required, but it’s free and it’s the NY Times, a paper worth reading anyway.)

Sonics bloggers hinted and now this article seems to confirm that Dean Oliver pushed them to bring in Danny Fortson, one of the best offensive rebounders in the game. If you remember what the Sonic blogger posted here before a recent game, Fortson has been a key to the Sonics this year. After the Sonics success this season, other teams may start taking a serious look at these numbers.

Kobe Bryant: Behind The Music

Kurt —  January 9, 2005

Twenty years from now, when you’re watching the Kobe Bryant biography on ESPN Classic3, December of 2004 will be painted as the nadir of his career. He’s the villain — not for the alleged sexual assault (he never received more love from the L.A. fans then when having to make court appearances during the day then flying home for a night game) — but for being the guy still standing in Laker gear after the breakup of a championship squad.

This season it’s been fashionable for media close to the team and far away to pile on Kobe. His ego was too big (but Shaq’s and Phil’s weren’t). His contract demands were over the top (but Shaq’s and Phil’s weren’t). He drove Karl Malone away (Malone was looking for an out, people). Then, using the jersey sales issue as proof, the media could prove that everyone had turned on Kobe.

But mark my words, the story of Kobe in the general media is going to follow the “Behind the Music” story arc. Kobe will be back on top by the end of the hour. There may or may not be another championship, but he will again be loved by the fans and there will be talk about his status as one of the game’s greats, with an outpouring of love and stories about how he “turned his life and image around.” Retro Kobe jerseys will be all the rage.

There’s nothing new here, this follows a classic American pattern. We build up a star, we tear him or her down, and then, if they keep doing what we want them to do, we welcome them back with open arms. Trust me, three years from now, if Kobe doesn’t shoot himself in the foot, he will again be loved and popular. We are a nation that forgives.

Former Los Angeles Daily News writer Mark Stein started that process this week on, and while others may not be writing it, they are thinking it.

To be honest, everything that has happened with Kobe has changed and tarnished my opinion of him somewhat, and I know he’s made mistakes and brought some of this on himself. But it’s also given me a more fleshed-out view of the man. He’s human and made mistakes, I wonder if he’s smart enough to have learned from them. I wonder if he observed and absorbed enough during the three championship years — and the years that fell short — to see what it takes to lead a team there again. I think I have a better understanding of his ego and competitiveness, and how he wouldn’t be where he is without them. I wonder if he does. I wonder how much he has grown, and if he will be a better leader and person for all of it.

It’s no longer a perfectly flattering picture of Kobe I carry around in my head, but a realistic one. And it’s not a bad one.

Flashback To 2000

Kurt —  January 8, 2005

I saw the Lakers play defense. I saw a version of the triangle offense. I saw a relatively easy Laker win. What year is this again?

First, I have to get this off my chest — I don’t know what possessed me but I watched the ESPN feed of the game last night. I guess I hadn’t seen enough Tilt promos (including the one painted on the Figueroa Hotel, which they showed to us). Play-byplay guy Jim Durham appears to have done no homework — he was shocked and amazed that Brian Cook could take and make three point shots. Has Cook done anything else this year? He’s on a quest to become the next Robert Horry (by the way Cook, Horry played good defense). Color guy Tim Legler made efforts to patronize fans of both teams during the game, with my favorite being, “I think both these teams will make the playoffs.” There are some holes that could be poked in that, and Legler provided no good reasons why he was right. This kind of crap went on all night.

Thanks. Now I feel better. Let’s talk about the game.

The first half was certainly the best half of basketball they Lakers have played lately, maybe all season. That started on the defensive end, where the Lakers stepped up their intensity, particularly on the perimeter. They went after steals (they didn’t get any — the Lakers had zero steals for the game — but they tried, and that’s a start). They pressured guards out beyond the three-point line. They rotated. It was fun to watch. (Granted, Houston doesn’t really have good guards for breaking teams down, but let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.)

The other big change was part of the triangle offense returning — get the ball to a big man (or sometimes Kobe) in the high post and send cutters. It worked, motion returned to the Laker offense and players got open looks (and Kobe got one-on-one coverage at times). The threes they took were open shots created out of the offense. It was so refreshing to see something other than isolation plays every trip down, the offense had a nice mix of plays. Plus, they did the little things — in the second half Atkins was about to take a three with a defender running at him, instead he gave him the ball fake, watched the defender race by, dribbled a few feet in and hit an uncontested 17 footer. All this led to good shooting, for the game the Lakers’ eFG% was 60.1%.

Mihm had another good game, in the first half he was aggressive defensively on Yao and that caused him problems (Yao didn’t really become aggressive until the much-shorter Grant was on him). Mihm also ran the floor well and had the second best dunk of the game, off the lob from Atkins (the best was when Kobe blew right past McGrady for the reverse jam). Mihm did get in foul trouble, but again part of that was him sliding over to pick up guards who had beaten their man and penetrated (for example, his first foul was on a Wesley drive).

Caron Butler and Lamar Odom also had good games and deserve props. Butler is a bit of a streaky shooter for my taste, but when he’s hot we need to get him the ball. Odom looked comfortable again, and when he does he’s a real threat.

In the second half a lot of the old habits started to return at both ends of the floor and the Lakers struggled some, but when the lead fell to 6 they didn’t fold, hit some key shots and got their double-digit lead back.

Houston is not a very good team — their guard play is poor (Wesley is a better player than that, he looks lost) and the more I watch him the more I think Yao is soft. In the second half, Yao started to take the ball to the basket, but that was because Grant was on him. When faced with real defense he resorts to the fall-away. And we want to sign him in 2007?

It was an important win, especially if we carry these lessons over to the road trip next week.

On Tap: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  January 7, 2005

Usually one of the first things I do when looking at a Laker matchup this time of year is see what happened the last two times these teams hooked up. However, in the case of the Rockets, the Lakers’ 84-79 win Nov. 13 is almost meaningless.

There are three reasons for this: 1) Tracy McGrady missed that game (strained hip); 2) the Rockets had not yet traded for David Wesley; 3) the Rockets stunk it up early on, but since Dec. 1 they are 10-6.

As you would expect, McGrady (22.24PER) and Yao Ming (22.59 PER) lead the way for the Rockets, but this has been more McGrady’s team than Ming’s — he’s playing 10 more minutes per game, handling a slightly higher percentage of the team’s possessions when both are on the floor, and has taken 215 more shots this season (in one less game). That said, Yao has been the more efficient offensive option — he is averaging more points per possession (1.18 to 1.02) and is shooting much better (51.9% to 45.6%, both eFG%).

But Houston has received sparks from other places as well. David Wesley was picked up (for Jim Jackson and Bostjan Nachbar) two days after Christmas and is already second on the team in Roland Rating, giving them good play at the point. (As a side note, this trade appears very unpopular with Rockets fans.) Also, third on the team in PER is backup center Dikembe Mutombo (18.89), who has been the team’s most efficient rebounder (when he’s not knocking flat the future of the NBA).

There are weaknesses — how a team with Ming and Mutombo is the worst offensive rebounding team in the league is beyond me, but it’s true. They grab just 25% of their own missed shots (for comparison, the Lakers grab 30.1%).

Another weakness is defending the four (18.3 oPER), one thing we can take away from the first game between these teams, when Lamar Odom led the Lakers with 20 points. Odom needs to have another big night if the Lakers are going to win.

Kobe may try to have a big night as well — the game is on ESPN and, because he’s donating $1,000 per point to tsunami relief, there will be additional publicity. However, what is more important than his scoring is the defensive matchup between him and McGrady — whichever player can do the better job of forcing his opponent out of his game will give his team a huge advantage.

On the whole Houston plays good defense (they hold teams to 97.9 points per 100 possessions, fourth best in the league). They don’t rely on their offense to win, rather they try to have a slow game (25th in the league in the number of possessions per game), play good defense and score just enough to beat you. For the Lakers to win, they need to play defense as well (for the first time in a few games).

This is a big game for the Lakers — after a slow start the Rockets are 16-16 and creeping up into the playoff picture. The Lakers need to keep the Rockets behind them, and a head-to-head win will go a long way toward that, and maybe restore some of the confidence the team lost in Texas this week.