Archives For February 2005

On Tap: The Atlanta Hawks

 —  February 7, 2005

Sorry if this is a little bit of a short, down and dirty preview/post today, but I’m home playing Mr. Mom to a sick daughter and have the length of a nap to write this.

After a heart-breaking loss like the one yesterday in Houston (a game that had the upside of the team not quitting and the downside of being one we should have won), the Atlanta Hawks are a team for the Lakers can get well against. Atlanta is bad — the 28th worst team in defensive efficiency (105.5 points per 100 possessions) and the 29th ranked team in offensive efficiency (95.7). That’s a tough combination to overcome.

The Lakers should be able to score tonight — team’s shoot 50.4% (eFG%) against the Hawks for the season. The two positions the Hawks have had the most trouble defending is at the point (18.0 opponents PER) and center (17.9), so this is a big chance for Chucky Atkins and Chris Mihm to take some of the load off Lamar Odom. That said, the Lakers should be able to score from every position tonight.

Defensively, the Lakers need to make the Hawks shoot from the outside, because they can’t. On jump shots (15 feet or more) the Hawks are shooting 38% eFG%. (For comparison, the Lakers are shooting 44.9%.) The guy taking most of the shots will be Antoine Walker, one of only two Hawks with a PER above the league average of 15 at 15.59. (The other is Joe Smith at 17.75.) In what is a classic sign of trouble, Walker is the Hawks leading scorer but also has the worst Roland Rating on the team -18.7. When your team does better with your best player on the bench, things are very bad.

The other guy who does some scoring for the Hawks is Al Harrington (14.55 PER, -5.0 Roland Rating). They both play the forward spots so Lamar and Caron need to step up on defense.

Okay, I hear crying so I’ve got to go. And by the way, rarely am I at home to watch the start of an Eastern game for the Lakers (4:30 on KCAL) and it has to be the Hawks. Why can’t she get sick on the day of the Heat or Knicks or 76ers or…..

On Tap: The Houston Rockets

 —  February 6, 2005

Thank god for this game, otherwise we’d actually have to watch the Super Bowl pre-game show. Any Howie Long is too much Howie Long for me.

And it’s an important game too (really they all are starting about now, but this one more so) — the eighth-seed Lakers are 2 games back of the sixth-seed Rockets. (For the record, Minnesota is the nine seed, 1.5 games back of the Lakers, but three games back in the loss column.) This is the kind of difficult road win to start a trip that is a big step to the post season.

The Lakers won the last meeting between these two in January by shooting a blistering 61.5% (eFG%). That was the game where the Lakers brought the triangle back (which Hamblen calls the “overload”) and played maybe their best defense of the year on the perimeter. Mihm did a solid defensive job on Ming and, as is his nature, that led to fade-aways instead of dunks. Ming got a lot of his points against the smaller Grant.

It’s going to be tough for the Lakers to repeat that kind of offensive performance — the Rockets have the fourth best defensive efficiency rating in the league and on average team’s eFG% is just 46%. What would help is to push the pace — the Rockets like the pace slow and have won just 52% of their games against the top 20 highest paced teams in the league (the Lakers are currently 18th). In the first two games under Hamblen the Lakers really pushed the ball and got easy buckets (I think it’s safe to say the Spurs were a different animal), doing that tonight would be a big step toward a win.

Ming has a good PER (21.40) but he is not been the key to this team — his Roland Rating is -2.7, saying the team actually has been better with him off the court than on. This +/- system has its flaws, but that’s not the kind of number you want to see from one of your stars. And I’m still astounded that a team with Yao Ming has the lowest offensive rebounding rate (just 25.1% of their misses) in the NBA.

The guy who pushes this team and really made it his own is Tracy McGrady (22.52 PER) — and tonight the Lakers don’t have their best perimeter defender in Kobe to take him on. That task likely will fall to Jumaine Jones (and others) and for the Lakers to have a chance they need to step up.

Of the two games you’re going to watch today, this likely will be the closer one, so enjoy it. And for the record, I’m pulling for the Patriots based on self-preservation (my wife used to live in Boston, the rest of my week is a lot better if they win).

Stuff I Wanted To Get To

 —  February 4, 2005

I really need to come up with a clever name for these “odds and ends” columns. “Ten things I think I think” is taken, and that’s the best one I’ve heard yet (and is part of one of the best columns going). Anyway, here are some thoughts from last night’s loss in San Antonio (I know I’m 24 hours late to that party), and other stuff.

• New coach on the bench but old demons got the Lakers last night. The Lakers lost the turnover battle by 6, gave up 17 offensive rebounds (and grabbed 10) and by the end of the game San Antonio had taken 14 more shots than the Lakers. The Lakers eFG% was an impressive 50.7%, but you can’t give an efficient team like San Antonio that many extra chances.

• Another old demon — Tony Parker went around Chucky Atkins like he was a traffic cone. I’m done being frustrated with Atkins about this — the Lakers are asking him to defend guys he can’t stop. Solving this issue is now on Mitch K.

• Then there was the third quarter, when the entire Laker team took the quarter off from playing defense. On offense, it appeared the strategy was to go at Tim Duncan and test him out after the injury, both getting the ball inside and on penetration. Good plan — until he proved he was up to the challenge with some good stops. Problem is, the Lakers kept at it until they were out of the game.

• Eva Longoria is a Spurs fan?!? And she’s married?!? Another fantasy bites the dust. I really wish TNT had not done that interview.

• The Lakers’ continued effort in the fourth quarter gave me reason for hope. Sure, Duncan was on the bench and San Antonio mailed in the quarter, but the fact the Lakers didn’t is a good sign.

• Using Kelly Ripa is the clearest indication possible that the NBA’s “I Love This Game” campaign has officially run out of steam. Especially since they left this quote in the commercial:

I do like the three pointer from way, like, halfway in the court

Bring on Dr. Kevorkian, this campaign is suffering and needs to go.

• Hamblen gave some extra floor time to Luke Walton. Walton’s offensive numbers were not that great against the Spurs, but he played the best defense I remember him playing in a while. If he continues the good play on that end of the floor, he will get plenty of run.

• If I were Phil Jackson, I would sit out coaching this season then after the finals use the Knicks and Lakers (and anyone else entering the fray, say Portland) against each other to jack up my price. If I were the Lakers management, I’d sign Phil ASAP to stop this scenario from playing out.

• In case you didn’t know, the Lakers cable ratings are down by about one-third this season compared to last. However, ABC says its NBA ratings are up 52% from a year ago. Thing is, ABC has shown three games, and one of those was the Lakers and the Heat on Christmas Day.

• The Lakers are last in the league in steals, getting steals on 6.1% of opponent’s possessions.

• In a sign of just how respected the Clippers are in this town, they are now broadcast on the local outlet for “Air America,” the left-wing (or progressive or insert your tag here) talk radio station now on again in Los Angeles. And I thought the Dodgers being on an all news station was bad.

• A few people have asked so here’s the deal with the Lakers and the upcoming draft. If they make the playoffs they do not have a first round pick (it goes to Boston) but have their second rounder. Miss the playoffs and they get the lottery pick (and next year it goes to Boston unless the Lakers really fall apart). The first round pick from Miami as part of the Shaq deal is for down the line (I’d rather have that one in a couple of years and not this year anyway).

Some Weekend Reading

 —  February 4, 2005

The Lakers do not have the reputation around the league as one of the more new stat-based or new stat-friendly organizations. I think this type of approach could help with their rebuilding efforts — but they have to be open to it and do it right. Like Seattle has done.

Seattle actually designed and built its own software program to track stats (somehow they were able to find some computer programmers in Seattle). Then they came up with their own, designed-in-house stats to follow on that software. All of this is detailed in a must read installment of “Sonics Play Moneyball” on the Sonics official web site, written by Kevin Pelton (no stats slouch, himself).

Having drafted their center of the future (last summer), Robert Swift, the Sonics looked to move center Calvin Booth for a rebounder who could help address the team’s weakness on the boards. With only a few clicks of their mouse, Walker (now president and CEO), GM Rick Sund or Assistant GM Rich Cho could call up a list of all the NBA players they could trade Booth for straight up who were above their minimum rate of rebounds per 48 minutes.

From this list, one name jumped out: Dallas forward/center Danny Fortson, whose contract was virtually identical to Booth’s and who had led the league in rebounds per 48 minutes (19.2) in 2003-04. The Sonics made a deal for Fortson, and midway through his first season in Seattle, he’s averaging 8.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and has played a key role in the Sonics emergence as one of the NBA’s top rebounding teams this season.

Or, check out this tidbit about the Sonics evaluation system:

The Sonics Evaluation Number (SEN) Sund references is used by the front office to rank players by position (a process Sund also regularly has them and the coaching staff do on a subjective basis). The Sonics don’t go down the list and sign the top player or use the SEN that literally, but do use it as a first cut to find players that might be undervalued by the market. For example, Walker recently began watching a somewhat obscure Eastern Conference rookie because he had rated so well in limited minutes.

What makes the SEN unique is that the weighting for various statistics depends on the position. When Sonics Explorer was first being built, the Sonics coaching staff and front-office personnel submitted their list of the most important statistical criteria for each position. A composite of these rankings was used to create a formula for each position. Notably, the Sonics place a heavy importance on assist-to-turnover ratios for point guards, and their ratings at the position reflect that.

Then there is this final quote, the thing I think is the key to making this work and why Dean Oliver is so valuable.

“The math, for me, is very difficult to decipher,” says Sund. “What I like with what Dean does for me is that he puts it in paragraph basketball form, and that’s very understandable. It’s understandable for the coaches, it’s understandable for me. I think that’s very useful.”

The entire article is well worth the read. Do this and then you can go do something fun.


Another guy pretty good with stats is Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban. He recently had the stats guys on the Dallas payroll crunch the numbers — and map out shot locations similar to what ESPN does — and they found that players and teams shoot the “short” three pointer from the corner better than they do more straight on.

More interesting is the teams that were already putting this to use — the teams that shoot the most corner threes in the league are the Suns and the Spurs. Coincidence?

On Tap: The San Antonio Spurs

 —  February 3, 2005

We are two games into the Frank Hamblen era and I have to say I like what I see (and not just because they are 2-0).

The Lakers are pushing the ball up the floor more — they averaged 93.9 possessions per game the last two, up from 91.9 prior to that (two possessions may not sound like much, but watch the game and see how much of a difference it makes). In the two games, the Lakers are shooting 51.25 (eFG%), up from 48.7% before. The last two opponents shot 42.5% against the Lakers, down from 47.3% previously. What’s more, the Lakers had movement in the offense, passing (28 assists against Portland) and top-to-bottom seemed more balanced and energized.’

The problem is that was against two of the NBA’s lesser squads. Tonight comes the real test — San Antonio.

San Antonio reminds me a lot of the New England Patriots — consistent excellence that keeps winning but bores much of the media. Reporters are drawn to drama — Terrell Owens and Freddie Mitchell flood the airwaves because they say and do the outlandish, and that makes a much more exciting story than dull quotes from Tom Brady and another win for New England in a game where their defense dominated.

The Spurs are like the Patriots in that they are dull but efficient — they play good defense and do whatever it takes offensively to win (they can beat you inside or outside). Knickerblogger recently did a twopost entry recently posing as Alamoblogger, talking just about the Spurs, and it is worth the read. But here are his two main points: 1) Since 1998 the Spurs have never been lower than third in the league in defensive efficiency (they lead the league this year), and that is why they win; 2) Because they are consistent but not thrilling, Tim Duncan gets overlooked for MVP even though he is the best choice.

Duncan, by the way, has the second-highest PER in the league at 27.44 but the Spurs also have been getting great play out of Manu Ginobili (23.05) and Tony Parker (17.48).

How the energized Laker offense of the past couple games fares against the Spurs defense (allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, compared to the Lakers 103.6) will be a real test. I don’t expect a win — although I’d take one —but if the Lakers can hang with the Spurs (and not get blown out, like the previous two meetings this season) I’ll take it as a sign of progress.


By the way, in case you missed it in the flurry of other activity going on around the Lakers the past couple of days, Devean George is going to be out another week after suffering a minor foot injury during rehab. So, at least for another week, Tony Bobbit gets courtside game seats and maybe some mop-up minutes.

When the crew at TNT announces the NBA All-Star Team starting lineups tonight, Kobe Bryant will be on it. He and Rocket Tracy McGrady were well ahead in the voting for guards in the West heading into the final week (Steve Nash was third).

It’s a well-deserved honor for Kobe, I’ve said before I think he’s had a good season and has started to really grow as a player into the leader he can be.

That said, I would prefer he doesn’t play in the big game in Denver February 20th. If he has yet to return to the court from his sprained ankle I think it’s safe to say he would not play. But what if he plays Feb. 13 and against Utah Feb. 15? How does he tell the league he doesn’t want to play in its showcase game because of health issues when he’s already returned to the court?

If he goes to Denver to play, I hope it’s for limited minutes. His priority is the Lakers — and I think he knows that. I just don’t want Kobe playing fewer minutes Feb. 22 against Boston or Feb. 23 up in Portland because of what happens in Denver. The Lakers need every win they can get much more than the West needs a win in Denver.

It’s Official, Rudy T. Out

 —  February 2, 2005

Rudy T. took the podium just after noon today at Staples Center and made it official, he is stepping down as Lakers coach. Dr. Buss offered and Rudy T. said he will stay on in the organization for another two years in some other yet-to-be-defined capacity.

He said the move was strictly health related, that the grind and pressure he put on himself as an NBA coach was more than he could take. That was particularly true of the mental aspects — he said he felt a constant stress and that started we wear on him physically. He said that about 85 different ways. He added that the problem had been building and building the past month, leading to this decision. Take all this however you want, other people have other stories.

Among the things he emphasized was that this was not a problem with Kobe or with management.

“Maybe I took on too much, but nobody put pressure on me but me.”

Rudy T. said he was happy with how the team was developing, and that Dr. Buss told him he was as well.

“I fell in love with this team and consider them my family.”

Now the coaching search starts in earnest. I’ll post updates as the day continues and news breaks.

Update: One interesting question is how much say Kobe has in selecting the new coach. Mitch said at the press conference Kobe would be consulted in the same way former Laker stars were, such as Magic. Kobe had plenty of leverage this summer, when he was a free agent and everyone wanted to meet with him, now he is under contract and the first choice fell flat. I’m not sure he carries as much weight as some think.

Update #2: Tex Winter just interviewed on ESPN radio (710 AM) and said some interesting things. At the top of the list was that this team was better suited to the triangle than the last few Laker teams because it is more athletic. the other reason was, “No Shaq to deal with.” He said that Shaq demanded the offense always run through him, and that made him difficult to deal with. I think that may in part be spin, but it’s interesting.

Update #3: I have not yet mentioned the Jim Calhoun rumor because, with all due respect to former Daily News guy Mark Stein, this makes no sense. Calhoun just signed an extension and said he didn’t want to leave UCONN. Why would an older guy want the stress and grind of moving on to the NBA at this point in his career? Why would Mitch go after a college coach again? Unlike the Jackson idea, I can’t figure out a good reason for this to happen.

Update #3: Byron Scott has said he does not want the Laker coaching job. Damn, I was so impressed with the work he’s doing with the Hornets.

Who’s Got Next?

 —  February 2, 2005

We’ll find out this afternoon for sure, but I think it’s now safe to play Mitch Kupchak and start talking about who gets to have the expensive court-side seats next. Below are a number of potential coaches are listed in a personal preference order.

The First Team

Frank Hamblen: He’s got the on-the-job chance to impress, and I think he should be given the time and opportunity to do so. And not a Denver Nuggets-style chance, but a real one. He may not want the job long term — there have been reports to that effect, but no official pronouncement — but if he does he should get first crack. He’s paid his dues, he knows these players.

And we’ll know by the end of the season if he can do the job. How does the team respond for the final 40 games? Do the defensive numbers (and intensity) pick up? Is there movement in the offense and is there more than just drive and kick? Do the Lakers make the playoffs? If these things come to pass, Hamblen deserves the job longer term.

Phil Jackson: At first I shook my head at this thinking it was a talk radio rumor, but apparently Buss and Kobe like the idea, and Jackson is said to be mulling it over.

And, the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. This team is fairly well suited to him. Jackson’s teams didn’t need a traditional point guard — when he did have one, in the form of Gary Payton, it caused problems. The two people who would serve as the focal point of the triangle — Kobe and Lamar — both are good passers, fitting with Jackson’s style. Regardless of coach, this team is not going to win this year, but it is built better to fit Phil’s needs than Rudy T.’s.

The bigger question here is personalities — is Kobe mature enough to let go things said about him in Jackson’s book? Will Mitch be happy being back in Jackson’s shadow? To a lesser degree, will the fans accept Jackson back? (I think they will, like a conquering hero.)

Eric Musselman Musselman has had a chance to be an NBA coach — sort of. He spent two years in Golden State and earned a .457 winning percentage and never reached the playoffs. But that was a step forward in the Bay Area, this was a team that lost an average of 63 games for the previous three seasons. And Musselman made those improvements with a team of tweeners. He was fired as first move by Chris Mullin, who brought in his own guy, Mike Montgomery (that’s worked out well, hasn’t it?).

Or how about this for an endorsement — he was rumored to be Jerry West’s choice to take over in Memphis earlier this season. By the way, Eric’s father, Bill, coached the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Michael Cooper: Speaking of assistants who have not been given the chance…

He’d be a perfect sell to Laker fans for obvious reasons. He’s been a player and a coach in the NBA, and he’s won championships in the WNBA (for what that’s worth). Players in Denver appeared to like him. He didn’t have a great record as the head of the Nuggets, but really was given no time to make changes (something hard to do mid-season). If he’s going to get a chance, why not in LA?

Larry Brown: So he doesn’t want the Knicks job, what about Los Angeles? There is no better teacher out there, no better coach in my humble opinion. Yes, he’d be gone in a few years, but in those few years he could mold the Lakers back into a force. At the very least, you have to make this call if Jackson backs out. Update: Brown says he does not want the Laker job. I’d still call.

Off the Bench

People we can fall back on if the first five fall through include Jeff Bzdelik and Brian Shaw. Then there’s:

Kurt Rambis: He couldn’t get the Kobe/Shaq team to meld, but then other good coaches failed at that and it took the best mental games coach of all time to pull that feat off. He spent years on the bench next to Phil, so maybe he’s learned. As Kobe is still on the team, I think this is one you really need to run by him (more than the rest, I think you at least inform Kobe of what is going on all through the process).

The “Please God No” file

Lenny Wilkins: Did you watch the Knicks this season? Once great but the game passed him by.

Byron Scott: Yes he’s an ex-Laker, but he needs to be able to coach. He’s hated by his teams and has a reputation as being poor with X’s and O’s. His Nets team gave up on him. And look at his team in New Orleans now, which has been unimpressive this season.