Archives For February 2005

One thing the Lakers have seemingly never had this season is a good rotation – while we knew who was starting and maybe the first guy off the bench, after that it was a tossup. Frank Hamblen, in particular, seems willing to throw different combinations out there to see what works. Laker fans have their own opinions, bemoaning the use of Tierre Brown, Sasha and, above all, the giving of playing time to Brian Cook over Chris Mihm.

Thanks to the great work of, we can look at what 5-man units the Lakers have played this season, for how long, and how well each of those have worked. When you do you can see a few things, among them why the coaches have a soft spot for Cook.

By far, the regular starting five of Atkins-Bryant-Butler-Odom-Mihm has seen the most court time, 32% of the Lakers’ available minutes this season. By one standard they are doing pretty well, shooting 54.9% (eFG%) and holding opponents to 46%. You would think that would win you some games, but on a pure +/- that squad is -30 on the season (for those unclear, opponents have scored 30 more points than the Lakers with that five on the floor). In fact, the starting five has beaten the five its on the floor against it just 34.4% of the time.

That is better than the non-Kobe starting lineup, which has played 10.6% of the available Laker minutes this season. The group of Atkins-Butler-Jones-Odom-Mihm is -44 and bested its opponents just 28.5% of the time.

No other five-man unit has played more than 5% of the Laker minutes, even though these units have been the most successful. (In part, their success is likely do to the small sample size of minutes, as well as who the units are out there against, which is usually not the opponents best five.)

Arguably the best five-man unit has been Atkins-Bryant-Jones-Odom-Cook, which has played together for just 55 minutes (2.9% of available). This unit is shooting 57.1% and holding opponents to 39.9%, and is a +36 in those limited minutes. They beat their opponents76% of their stints on the floor.

The next six best units, based upon raw +/-, are:

Atkins-Butler-Jones-Cook-Mihm +21 (win 100 % of match ups, played 10 minutes)
Brown-Bryant-Jones-Cook-Grant +20 (70 %, 31)
Brown-Bryant-Jones-Odom-Mihm +18 (83 %, 13)
Atkins-Bryant-Butler-Odom-Cook +18 (69 %, 95)
Atkins-Butler-Odom-Walton-Cook +15 (75 %, 17)
Brown-Bryant-Jones-Odom-Cook +14 (58 %, 52)

Here’s one of the things that jumped out at me on these units: Cook is in six of the seven.

If you have read the latest piece on Seattle’s use of statistics as an organization, you see that coaches love +/- numbers. It makes sense — if your job is to win games you want to know who is on the floor for you when the team is doing well, then play them more.

Who leads the Lakers in +/-? Cook. He is +227 on the season, or if you use Roland Ratings to break that down to a per 48-minute average, the team is +13.4 when he is on the court. (For comparison, Kobe is +135 and +6.3.)

I have been exceedingly frustrated with Cook being, as TNT color guys have said, the tallest shooting guard in the league, with his love of the three and with his questionable defense. I think you can, and I have, made the case that Mihm needs to play more at the end of games.

That said, when Cook has been on the floor the Lakers have done better than when he is off. I need to learn to accept this and learn to love Cook.

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.