Archives For February 2005

Rambis, Shaw return

 —  February 17, 2005

According to a story in the Press-Enterprise today, Brian Shaw and Kurt Rambis will be back as assistant coaches for the Lakers starting after the All-Star break. Shaw has been a scout for the Lakers the past couple of years, Rambis was an assistant coach under Jackson who was bumped up to the front office.

No word on what this means for current assistants Melvin Hunt, Chris Bodaken, Larry Smith and Mike Wells, but if I were them I wouldn’t feel to comfortable. Hamblen, on the other hand, wants people he feels comfortable with by his side.

Watch And Learn

 —  February 16, 2005

In what can be only described a pathetic situation, the NHL called off its season today. The owners and players could not agree on what life-saving measures to give a very sick patient, and in doing so moved him closer to death.

The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement runs out on June 30 (it was just extended one year to cover this season last year). Little negotiation has taken place, at least little that would draw public attention. Issues likely will involve the owners’ desires to have contracts no longer than four years (currently it is seven) and the players’ desire to have an independent person to appeal fines and suspensions (currently those things are appealed to the commissioner, out of whose office the original ruling came).

To those involved in the negotiations: Look at what is happening over in the NHL, then put your egos aside and figure out a compromise. A lockout/strike because owners and players can’t figure out how to divide up million of dollars would be a massive step back for a league just starting to find its footing again (post-Jordan). Just like the NHL will discover, your fans can find other things to do/watch/cheer.

Fast Break

 —  February 16, 2005

Some quick shots from last night’s game, and other stuff:

• Well, that wasn’t “48 minutes of hell”, but it was enough to beat the Jazz. The Lakers defense was spotty, but they got away with it against a poor and depleted team.

• Slava clearly has been working on his defense and rebounding techniques. Not that he’s good by NBA standards at either of them yet, but he has improved from years past — he had three steals in this game. His shooting was off last night, but he still ended up a +8 for the night, not bad for being thrust into the starting lineup. The new “overload/triangle” offense flowed better with him in the game than Odom.

• Remember that brief stint in the fourth quarter when Hamblen tried the radical concept of playing Chris Mihm and Brian Grant at the same time (before Grant fouled out)? The Lakers were +6 in that stretch, part of a 17-7 run that was key in the team’s win.

• I’m not that worried about Kobe’s ankle anymore.

• There are nights, like last night, when you think Butler is figuring out how to play with this team.

• Kobe is not going to be the only Laker in Denver this weekend. Luke Walton will be there to play along side Magic Johnson and Lisa Leslie in the Shooting Stars competition (part of the Saturday events that jumped the shark a few years back). Too bad it’s a shooting contest and not a passing contest with those three. Remember, the Lakers actually won this thing last year with Magic, Leslie and D. Fish.

• For the past few days, Joel Meyers has been hyping Marcus Douthit during his morning talk show as future help inside. I’m not so sure. The Lakers second-round pick from last season is playing for Pepinster in Belgium and is putting up decent numbers — 14.5 points, 2.2 offensive rebounds and 8.1 defensive rebounds (calculated per 40 minutes) while shooting 52.9% (eFG%). But, according to those that follow Europe more closely than I, Belgium is a third-tier European league. The fact that he is solid but not dominating that level of play makes me very cautious.

• The latest installment in the very good series about how the Seattle Supersonics use the new NBA statistics to play “Moneyball” is now up on the team Web site. This one talks about the stats guys’ interaction with coaches.

• Speaking of good stats reading, John Hollinger (the guy behind the great Basketball Forecast books, the NBA equivalent of Baseball Prospectus) has reportedly been hired as an ESPN insider. I don’t pay for the insider stuff now because their NBA guy is Chad Ford and I can make up my own ridiculous trade rumors for free. Hollinger will make me reconsider (plus I would get Rob Neyer on baseball). Knickerblogger posted this breaking news, just another reason to read him, too.

• It’s close to the end of the college hoop season, with March Madness just weeks away. You can get offensive and defensive stats efficiency stats for every Division I college team, as well as RPI and more, at this great site. Check it out now, and before you fill out your bracket.

Man, the North Carolina team looks good on paper….

On Tap: The Utah Jazz

 —  February 15, 2005

After all the ups and downs of the past few weeks the Lakers deserved to catch a break, and they catch a few against Utah tonight.

First, Utah is in the back end of a back-to-back and they are just 3-10 in that situation this year (and they are already just 6-20 on the road). The other is one of those things that occasionally falls to a team during the course of the season — both Carlos Boozer (sprained foot) and Andrei Kirilenko (sprained ankle) may not play tonight due to injuries suffered last night in a loss to Phoenix. The Jazz beat reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune told Joel Meyers this morning the two had about a 10% chance of playing.

Utah already has the worst defense in the NBA, giving up 107.8 points per 100 possessions (that is 1.7 worse than the Knicks, the second worst team). In the 26 games Kirilenko has already missed this season due to injury things have been worse — the Jazz have no inside presence defensively, allowing teams to penetrate at will. Teams are shooting 50.2% (eFG%) against the Jazz so far this season, tied for the worst in the league (with Atlanta). Teams shoot an average of 34.2 free throws per 100 possessions against the Jazz, far more than against any other team in the league (for example the Lakers allow just 19.2).

(As a just-in-case note if Kirilenko plays, he had eight blocks against the Lakers in a Jazz win back in November.)

Whatever offense they run, the Lakers should be able to score tonight, but that hasn’t been the problem. Defense has been what has hurt the Lakers recently.

Not surprisingly, that starts on the perimeter. Stats Pimp calculates a defensive rating per player the same way I often use it here for a team — what a player guarded by “X” scores per 100 possessions. The two worst defenders on the Lakers using that system? Chucky Atkins at 109.4, followed by Tierre Brown at 108.8. (Surprisingly, the best Laker defender using this system is Odom at 103.2.)

In the Lakers last loss to the Jazz Kirilenko and Boozer were not the problem, Matt Harpring had 19 points to lead his team and Raja Bell had 16 (14 in the fourth) shooting over the zone. That was one of the Lakers first games without Kobe and they played a lot of zone. Tonight, even with a slowed Kobe, that will not be the case.

Utah’s offense has been average this season (102.5 points per 100 possessions) but in a recent effort to spark it Mehmet Okur and Bell were given spots in the staring lineup two games ago, and in both those games Utah got off to a fast start. That could be trouble for the recently slow-starting Lakers — if they fall behind they will make a game out of something a playoff team should win handily.

If the Lakers lose today they go into the All-Star break at .500, which would be a disappointment even with Kobe out for a stretch. A win gives them some needed confidence going into the break.

Let’s Make A Deal

 —  February 14, 2005

It’s impossible for Laker fans to watch a game like yesterday and not think about trades — we’re used to winning (unlike Knicks fans) and watching us lose 7 of the last 10 really hurts. There are clear weaknesses on this team, for example a ball-handling/defense playing point and a real four. (Guys like Gary Payton and Karl Malone.) Ones and fours are things we may be able to trade for.

The bigger question is, can we fill those needs at a reasonable price?

Before the trigger is pulled, the long-term picture needs to be considered in any trade the Lakers make. First, as I have said before, the Lakers need to make sure any players they pick up will fit in with the long-term direction of the team (whatever that is) and the new coach (whoever that is). Second, the CBA is being renegotiated after this season, so long-term contracts could bind the team in ways yet unseen in in future years (while other teams remained flexible).

The Lakers have one other problem in making a trade: What they have to offer. Do you put Luke Walton on the block? If I’m another GM I have to question why I trade for a guy I can get as a free agent at the end of the season (on the other hand, if you’re the Lakers and aren’t sure you can keep him you should try to get something). Slava Medvedenko? You want to pay him $3 million for next year? Do you think anyone else does? Devean George? He’s missed all of this season with injuries and GM’s are going to be hesitant to take him on without seeing he can play close to his old level. Vlade Divac? Same thing as George, but he’s much older. Yet, to make a trade really work for the Lakers these are the guys who need to be the key parts.

Maybe the most tradable Laker is probably Caron Butler — athletic, young and just one more year on his contract ($2.4 million next year with a qualifying offer for $3.3 the year after).

That said, there are some intriguing ideas out there.

How about a real Shareef Abdur-Rahim? He’s a real four, scoring 17.8 points per 40 minutes (that would be second on the Lakers) and grabbing 3.2 offensive and 9.1 total rebounds in that same amount of time. He’s making $14.6 million this season and is a free agent at the end of the year. To get him, the Lakers would have to ship out both Lamar Odom and Devean George, which is a steep price. I can only see this working if Mitch wants to clear out cap room — let Abdur-Rahim walk at the end of the season then go after someone out on the market.

A few commenters (DC, Gatinho) like the idea of Rafer Alston out of Toronto. He’s averaging 16.4 points and 8.4 assists per 40 minutes (and just 2.8 turnovers). He’s got the 13th best assist/turnover ratio in the league. The downside is he may be a serious head case, based on his fights with Sam Mitchell. Well, that and his defensive stats are not good. He also has a long-term contract now. You can get Alston for Caron Bulter and Jumaine Jones, but that may be a steep price.

Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld suggests something like Rafer Alston and Donyell Marshall for Vlade and George. If I were the Lakers I’d do that in a heartbeat, but I’m not sure why Toronto would (save clearing some cap space after Vlade’s gone, or buying him out next year).

Pincus (still the best beat guy) lists a bunch of other trade ideas — Marcus Banks (Boston) for Luke Walton and Tierre Brown, Frank Williams (Chicago) for a second round pick — in a recent piece but he is of the opinion the Lakers won’t make a move. Take the time to read his entire article, it’s worth it, but it won’t make you optimistic about a trade.

I’d like to see a move, but sometimes it’s just best to stand pat and make your moves later if there aren’t good options. I’m not sure the Lakers have a good one right now.

On Tap: The Cleveland Cavaliers

 —  February 12, 2005

Is Kobe going to play? From the Ironic Returns Department, he may come back against the team he suffered the severely sprained ankle against. Kobe practiced with the team Saturday and said afterward he was about 75%. If he doesn’t feel any pain and there isn’t any swelling Sunday, he said he would be ready to go.

Does 75% of Kobe make the Lakers better? Probably on offense – run the triangle through him and it should go more smoothly than when run through Odom, who never played it until a month ago. On defense, Kobe will not be the shut-down perimeter guy he can be, so he shouldn’t be matched up much on LeBron, but the Cavs do not get much of their scoring from their true guards (they count LeBron as a three) so Kobe wouldn’t be a liability.

If Kobe plays Sunday (or Tuesday against the Jazz), he will have to play in the All Star Game Sunday. Frankly, I like the idea of him not playing in that game – especially with a back-to-back right after the break – but Kobe’s not going to play 40+ minutes in Denver and would still get treatment. It’s not that big a deal.

There are two things the Lakers need to keep doing when Kobe does come back, whether it is against the Cavs or whenever:

1) Keep using Atkins off the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop. With Kobe running the show before Atkins was largely relegated to the role of spot-up shooter. He’s shown (as he has previously in his career) that he works better in a high-pick offense where he can penetrate/dish/just shoot. With Kobe on the weak side drawing attention, Atkins may have even more room in these situations.

2) Run more plays for Lamar. In Rudy T.’s offense it was All Kobe All The Time. Lamar has shown he can be the focal point of the offense and needs to be given the chance to be so more often.

Kobe or no, the Cavaliers will be a tough test for the Lakers – the Cavs are 18-5 at home this year. When the Lakers beat the Cavs last month, they reversed season trends by grabbing more offensive rebounds (17-11), winning the turnover battle (18-13) and taking more shots than their opponents. They also got to the free throw line 35 times (making 28) compared to Cleveland’s 16.

The Lakers also held down the guys with the second and third best PERs on the team ‑ Drew Gooden (20.54 PER) scored just 8 and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (18.83) added just 13. The Lakers will have to repeat that type of defensive performance to get a win.

Cleveland has the seventh best defensive efficiency rating in the league at 100.4 points per 100 possessions. (For the record, the Lakers remain 22nd at 104.5.)

The Laker game is scheduled to start at 12:30 on ABC, or after the end of the NBA Finals preview in the morning. Kobe, finding a way to get back in time for the nationally televised game, that sounds just like the dramatic kind of thing he’s done for years.

Tex Winter Talks

 —  February 12, 2005

Interesting interview with Tex Winter on NBA.com (done by Rob Peterson). Winter talked about a few things, including efforts to alter the offense under Hamblen.

I think if Hamblen had a chance and time [to change their strategy], he would. I think even now, he may implement certain phases of the old Lakers offense, but right now it’s a question of time. He also knows the game well enough to know that you can’t make a whole lot of changes midstream. You have little time to teach and make a system function. So, consequently, I think he’s relying more on the pro sets and the individual talents and matchups, which he understands.

He also said it is good Kobe has gone on this road trip with the team, even if he doesn’t play.


I think he can learn the importance of team play, ball movement and not just relying on one individual and that everyone has to act. Everybody has to play their role, whatever it is. It’s a team game and I think Kobe knows that, but because of his great individual talent, oftentimes he’ll forget and try to do too much.

There’s also more about Kobe growing into a leadership role and on Phil Jackson coming back (he said if Phil is healthy he wouldn’t be surprised). Read it for yourself, it’s well worth the time.

Talking Chris Mihm

 —  February 11, 2005

For a blogger who loves his stats, my posts the last few weeks have seen more posts about philosophy and coaches than the cold, hard facts. So, today let’s talk stats and let’s talk Chris Mihm, a guy who has been good enough for Laker fans to see him as the starting center for years — and with enough problems to make you question if can really grow into that role.

At the top of the problem list is the foul trouble. Mihm gets a lot (he did that in Boston too) and when he racks up a few his defense becomes tentative.

I had been among the group that thought Mihm’s seeming continual foul trouble came from picking up extra fouls sliding over to pick up the guard who blew past Chucky Atkins or Tierre Brown into the lane. It sure seemed that way. I even posted that hypothesis as part of a longer thread at the APBR discussion board recently.

Ed from Stats Pimp went me one better and did the research on this — and it appears, cough, cough, that I am wrong. Props to the Pimp and what follows is a direct quote from the man himself in that thread:

Here’s how Mihm’s fouls break down, games from Nov 3 – Jan 21:

Shooting 63
Offensive 13
Loose Ball 19
Personal 26
Illegal D 2
Technical 2

Of the fouls which resulted in FTAs (there were 70), here’s how the victims broke down:

PG 8
SG 9
SF 5
PF 21
C 27

I have no context to put those numbers in (neither did Ed), but at first glance that having 25% of your shooting fouls and 13.6% of your total fouls coming from the guards seems like a reasonable amount. Most of Mihm’s fouls are covering the fours and fives in the league (68.5%)

Chalk it up to another case of things appearing one way but actually being another. Mea Culpa.

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In some ways it’s been tough to accurately assess Mihm because of the minutes he plays —he’s averaging 25.58 minutes per game and 3.27 fouls per game.

A better way to get a picture of players is not to look at things per game but to look at things per minute played. Do that and you can easily see what a players numbers would be if he played 40 minutes a game, like top starters (the Sonics people prefer 36-minute averages, but the idea is the same). Convert all of a team’s players to 40-minute stats and they are on a level playing field for assesment.

Take Mihm’s numbers to that standard 40 minutes per game and he averages 5.1 fouls, to go with 16.6 points, 5.5 free throw attempts, 11 rebounds (4.3 of which are on the offensive glass) and 2.5 blocks. Compare those to Brian Cook, who gets the key fourth-quarter minutes at center for some reason. Per 40 minutes, Cook gives you 16.9 points and 5.0 fouls (both basically the same as Mihm) but 1.4 free throw attempts, 1.0 blocks and 8.2 rebounds, of which 2.3 would be on the offensive glass (all of which are lower than Mihm).

Mihm’s far from perfect, but he’s a better option at center, particularly late in games, than Cook. That decision by coaches is the most perplexing of their rotation decisions.

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While we’re talking Laker numbers at 40 minutes averages…

Kobe still leads the team in scoring, averring 26.1 per 40. He is followed by Odom (17.2, a number that has gone up with Kobe out), Brian Cook at 16.7, Mihm at 16.6, Butler at 16.4 and Atkins at 14.8. (As a side note, Slava actually averages 20 points per 40 minutes, although his numbers project out less accurately because he’s only playing 6.0 minutes per game.)

Kobe takes the most shots on the team per 40 minutes (19.7), followed by Cook (15.2), Brown at 13.7, and Odom and Butler (both 13.5). Kobe also leads the per-40 free throw attempts with 10.4, followed by Odom (5.6) and Mihm (5.4).

As for the Lakers turnover issue, Kobe leads the team there with 4.2 per 40, followed by Tierre Brown (3.1), Odom (3.0), Luke Walton (2.7) and Mihm (2.5)