Archives For March 2005

On Tap: The Minnesota Timberwolves

 —  March 31, 2005

The Lakers and Timberwolves have more in common than just their falls from Western Conference Finals to missing the playoffs (although Minnesota is not dead yet). These two teams have fallen for the exact same reason — defense. Or lack thereof.

Knickerblogger did a good job a couple of days ago breaking down the Lakers breakdowns in defense, no need to rehash that. But check out what has happened to Minnesota.

Last season their offensive efficiency was 103.1 (points per 100 possessions) and this year have improved that, scoring 104.1. Last season the T-Wolves shot an incredible 51.1% (eFG%) for the season, this year that fell a little to a still good 48.6% (11th best in the league).

But on defense things have come apart. Last season the T-Wolves allowed just 96.6 points per 100 possessions, this year that is 103.1 — that’s 6.5 points worse. Last season teams shot just 44.4% against the T-Wolves, this season it is 47.1%.

The other place Minnesota has seen a drop off in play is from Latrell Sprewell. Last season his PER was 14.7, very close to the league average of 15. This season that has fallen to a bench-worthy 11.84. Meanwhile, Fred Hoiberg — with his PER of 17 and eFG% of 62,2% — has to come off the bench. By the way, Sam Cassell also gets dragged into the “problem and Minnesota’s backcourt” discussions, and his numbers are down — a PER of 22.8 last season has fallen to 19 this year — but he is still playing well.

For all their problems, Minnesota is not out of the playoff chase — they are just 2.5 games back of a fading Memphis team (that the Lakers play Sunday). My guess is Phoenix, if it had the choice between a first-round match up of a team with or without Kevin Garnett, likely would chose the later.

The Lakers have won the two previous meetings with Minnesota this season, although Sam Cassell missed both of those games. Devean George is getting more comfortable in his return to the Lakers, scoring 18 against New York.

Sunderland Gone?

 —  March 30, 2005

The Los Angeles Times is reporting today that Paul Sunderland may be let go at the end of the season as the Lakers’ television play-by-play voice. has added he has heard that radio play-by-play guy Joel Meyers is the frontrunner to fill the seat if Sunderland is released.

I’m pretty neutral on Sunderland. He had the impossible task of taking over for Chick Hearn and has done a decent job, but he is fairly unremarkable. Personally, I think the radio team of Meyers and Mychal Thompson are much better than Sunderland and Stu Lantz.

Do other people have strong feelings about Sunderland one way or the other? My first thoughts on any change are: 1) Whoever they bring in needs to be top flight; 2) That person should get a long-term deal.

Lakers vs. Clippers: So What?

 —  March 30, 2005

The Way is what causes the people to have the same thinking as their superiors; they may be given death, or they may be given life, but there is no fear of danger and betrayal.

— Sun Tzu, The Art Of War

Most days when I see a Bill Plaschke column in the Times, I make sure I check out Fire Jim Tracy during the day for an amusing break down of the king buffoon of Los Angeles newspaper columnists. No such luck today, however, as Plaschke has decided to talk NBA. So, I thought I’d chime in.

My problem is with the core premise of Plaschke’s column: That the Clippers will finish with a better record than the Lakers and that in and of itself is a major incitement of Jerry Buss. Plaschke goes on to suggest that the Clippers will be better than the Lakers for years to come.

Let’s look at this in two parts. First, that the Clippers will finish with a better record than the Lakers.

So what? The difference in the Laker and Clipper records this year will ultimately amount to a handful of ping pong balls in May and means nothing else, really. If the Clippers do end the season with the better record, and they may, I’m sure they will trumpet that fact in ads next season — LA’s best team. But this is the equivalent of Cal State Northridge beating UCLA in basketball, a sign of a short-term situation that does not really impact the number of banners hanging from the roof in the respective gyms or the potential for future banners.

Which brings us to part two: That the Clippers will be better than the Lakers for years to come and the reason is Laker ownership’s errors. On paper, the Clippers should be a team of the future, while the Lakers will require greater roster changes to return to being a contender. But I have four words that counter that:

Jerry Buss. Donald Sterling.

Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher on war whose concepts really apply to all conflict (just ask Gordon Gecko), listed as the first thing needed to win a war as “The Way” (some translations call it Moral Law). The idea is pretty simple — to win a war a leader must have both the support of the troops and the people back home. (You could ask whether George W. Bush understood that concept, but that is really a debate for another blog).

When it comes to winning the war of the NBA, Jerry Buss has proven himself a leader that players and fans will follow. Right now the people at home are restless, but Buss has proven over decades that he knows how to lead an organization to titles. Plaschke et al can question his moves short term, but by the time the 2007-08 season starts the situations in Los Angeles and Miami will be very different, and the Lakers can (and should) be poised to be a power again for years to come.

Donald Sterling has just a couple of playoff appearances to point to for his decades of leadership. He does not care about winning the NBA war. He is very adept at winning the profit war. He will not let winning the NBA war get in the way of winning the profit war, no matter how well poised the team is for the future. Years of that same attitude has driven off all but the hard-core masochist fans.

Come April 21, the Clippers may have a better record than the Lakers, and the local media will make a big deal of it. So what. Ask me who I’d rather follow into the NBA wars.

(As a side note here, I’m using the war references here as a metaphor. I do not want anyone to confuse — or think I confuse — what happens at any NBA level with the dangers and challenges our soldiers face around the world. They are truly brave and amazing men and women.)

Guest Blogger: Knickerblogger

 —  March 29, 2005

With the Lakers taking on the Knicks today, I’m turning over this space to the man who is the dean, who sets the gold standard for NBA bloggers, Knickerblogger. My post appears on his site today.

Greetings left coasters! I felt honored when Kurt asked me to switch blogs in lieu of our teams not so mighty clash in Los Angeles. I won’t spend any time talking about the past and what could have been if Shaq & Kobe could set aside their differences with a Dukes of Hazzards handshake, but rather give you an outsider view on the Lakers’ current state of the Union.

If you’re a loyal reader of FB&G (and what sane Laker fan isn’t?) you’re well aware of the Laker’s weakness: defense. While I’m not a big fan of over simplistic mantras like “defense wins championships”, the Lakers defense is literally the difference between last year’s Finals appearance and this year’s lottery ticket. The 2004 Lakers were 6th on offense and 8th on defense, while this year’s version is nearly the same on offense (7th), but the defense is a pitiful 28th. can give us a positional breakdown of how other teams fare against the Lakers:

POS      eFG%      PTS      PER
PG 47.2 19.6 18.1
SG 46.3 20.7 14.2
SF 51.3 24.0 18.9
PF 47.9 18.4 16.7
C 48.5 17.7 17.4

You’ll notice that the SF, PG, and C positions are performing poorly, while the SG position is their strongest in shooting percentage (eFG%) and Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Assigning individual blame becomes easy to ascertain looking at the Laker 5-man units and individual stat pages.

In the recent past the point guard position was a low priority for the Lakers. Between Shaq, Kobe, and the triangle offense the Lakers didn’t need a traditional guard to setup the offense,. However with only one elite scorer, the Lakers need more from the PG spot. Unfortunately, the only thing this year’s combo of Atkins (13.9 PER) and Brown (9.3) should be setting up within a mile of the Staples Center are tables at the Fox Sports SkyBox. Even the lousy Hawks get more offensive (13.1 to 12.7 PER) and defensive (17.7 to 18.1 PER) production than the Lakers from the point guard position. If he wants to continue to play professional basketball in America, this would be a good time for Chucky Atkins to say something nice about the Laker Front Office and their star player. Oh well, arrivederci Chucky!

The SF position seems to be just as critical, where other teams are averaging a healthy 24 points on 51.3% effective shooting. While Jumaine Jones gets some run at the three, Butler is primarily responsible for this mess. Caron can’t contain forwards but seems to be above average against shooting guards as both his Laker stats and last year’s Miami stats confirm. It would be interesting to see if he could make a better career as a defensive SG stopper, but certainly it won’t happen in Los Angeles with Kobe playing 40 minutes a night.

While Mihm (15.9 PER) and Cook (14.5 PER) are playing well enough offensively not to berate them for their defensive weakness, Brian Grant is proving to be just about useless. In last year’s Basketball Forecast, John Hollinger peered into his crystal ball and claimed 2004 as Grant’s “last good season.” This year the undersized center’s fouls per minute have soared to their highest rate while his 10.2 PER would be the lowest of his career and a considerable drop from his career mark of 15.3. If that weren’t bad enough, Grant’s contract still has 3 years and $43M left. Combined with Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom’s fees, they constitute nearly the whole cap for the next three years.

While some Laker fans had higher hopes on the season, taking apart a championship team left L.A. with mismatched parts. If given the option to build a team around Kobe Bryant, nobody this side of Scott Layden would have assembled such an odd mix of players. Obviously getting a real point guard is at the top of the list for 2006, but the Lakers could use some defensive help everywhere but shooting guard. While the media is still distracted by assigning all the blame to Kobe Bryant on dismantling the threepeat dynasty, ultimately the spinning bottle will land pointing at the guys who signed off on the deal. Buss & Kupchak should be fortunate to be out of the spotlight for now, but how much longer will kicking Kobe sell papers? Kuphcak has the hardest piece of the winning team puzzle solved: the superstar player. He just needs to assemble a team around him.

Carnival of the NBA

 —  March 28, 2005

If you want to see what other NBA bloggers are saying — and what they are saying about each other — check out the latest Carnival of the NBA, which has stopped in Boston. Jeff did a good job with this one, even if he is taking a little too much pleasure in the Lakers’ downfall.

GM For A Day

 —  March 28, 2005

Chucky, Chucky, Chucky. After reading a more complete version of his comments in the Daily News account of his “Kobe’s the GM” outburst it sounds like Atkins was speaking out of frustration. And he should be frustrated. I think Chucky has gotten a taste for starting and he likes it, his ego’s grown and he is chaffing in the triangle and with the offense running through Kobe. I think this paragraph from the LA Times sums it up:

Atkins, who has a year left on his contract after this season, said it was “hard to play with anybody that’s a star” when asked if it was difficult to play with Bryant.

Problem is Chucky, as much as your offense has been better than expected, if the choice is running the offense through you or through Kobe, you’re going to come up short every time. I would be happy to see him come off the bench, but his defense as a starter (18.5 opponents PER) is at the heart of what has done this team in this season.

Nobody asked, but if I were GM for a day, I’d want to build more toward what I saw from Philadelphia last night — an athletic team that likes to push the ball up the court. That means no Phil and no triangle. (Whatever direction the Lakers go in the off-season the problems they need to solve are the same, it’s just what kind of players you get to solve them.)

Some components of a running team are already here — Kobe can run (and would be the focal point of the half court sets), Lamar and Caron can run, Mihm runs pretty well for a big man, Sasha might serve well in a backup point role next year (he just needs time on the court to get used to the NBA).

What we would need to get is a real running point guard, someone who can push the ball, make smart decisions and plays defense. Second, we need a four who can get defensive rebounds and make smart outlet passes to start the break. Most importantly, we need a coach who can get these players to figure out that successful running teams start with good play of the defensive end.

Not that all that is easy to do or can happen in a year, but if you’re going that direction there are players available this summer that can be a good start.


A few quick thoughts from the loss to the Sixers:

• I would have been part of the chorus of boos at the end of the game.

• I really harped on the Lakers turnover disparity early in the season but got away from that because I was tired of typing it every game. Last night’s showing seems like a good time to mention it again. For the record, the Lakers are losing the turnover battle by an average of 3.2 per game this season. Other teams are averaging 3.6 more shots per game than the Lakers (that is factoring in the Lakers getting to the free throw line more than their opponents). It’s not a coincidence those numbers are similar.

• Great to see Mihm and Grant start along side each other — and it worked. The pair helped shut down the inside penetration of Iverson and it gave the Lakers a chance to win. Mihm had 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks — we’ve said all year that with a real four next to him his game will get better. I like that starting lineup, just pull Butler off the bench and start Odom at the three and they might score some points as well.

• How is Sasha the only guy who doesn’t get off the bench? What was he going to do, turn the ball over and cost us the game?

• The Lakers clearly focused on shutting down Iverson — he shot just 17.9% (eFG%) and the rest of the team shot 53.2%.

On Tap: The Philadelphia 76ers

 —  March 27, 2005

The ever-popular Chuck Atkins has given us the quote of the day, from the LA Times:

“We haven’t spent a whole lot of time on defense at any practices this season,” Atkins said. “We have just played it by ear. And now, we’re struggling for it.”

Wow, we would never have guessed. In the last 10 games the Lakers have given up 115.8 points per 100 possessions — almost 10 points a game worse than their season average. And their season average has them 28th in the league.

When the Lakers and Sixers met a couple of weeks ago that porous Laker defense let Alan Iverson run wild in the first quarter, although Kobe kept the team close. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise — ESPN Insider John Hollinger wrote a great story this week about how those two have the league’s two highest usage rates (they use the highest percentage of their team’s possessions, consider it a ball hog stat). The good news for Laker fans is Iverson is even worse than Kobe. Expect more of the same tonight.

In that last game, when Kobe’s legs got tired and his jumpshot faltered, no one else stepped up on offense, the defense continued to be nonexistent and the 76ers won handily. That could happen again. I don’t know if Frank Hamblen’s calling out of the team after the last game will spark the Lakers or not.

Lamar is officially a game time decision but I’d be surprised if he played.

What I’m looking for tonight is if any player management/rotation changes are made. There should be, now even the Lakers management seems to have figured out they are out of the playoffs. Two players I’d like to see more of did well in the last game between these two — Sahsa was +12 and Luke was +11. Let’s see what happens if they play key minutes earlier in the game.

The playoffs are in the refrigerator. The eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard, the Jell-O is jigglin’. And the Lakers are on the outside looking in. Hamblen can yell from the mountaintops about the lack of effort all he wants (and he’s right, I just wished he’d yelled it at the players a lot earlier), it doesn’t change the fact we’re staying home in May.

It’s been a long time — 11 years — since any of us had to think about playing out the string in meaningless games. While the games are meaningless they are not useless. Here are a few things I’d like to see in the final 14.

More Devean George. It was good to see him back on the court last night. He had some good moments — hitting a three within a minute of entering the game, drawing a charge on Carmelo — and some bad ones. He looked rusty, but that’s too be expected. The bottom line here is George is one of the Lakers most tradable commodities (just one year left on his deal) but he needs to prove he is healthy before other teams will even look at him.

More Vlade Divac. This is for basically the same reason as George. While Vlade is less tradable and is more likely going to be bought out for $2 million, it is possible he could be part of a trade if he can prove he is healthy. (I should say that if Phil Jackson does come back look for Vlade to stay, he’d be a great center for the triangle.)

More Sasha Vujacic. Is he the point guard of the future? Is he the sixth man of the future? To be either of those things he’s going to need to bulk up (at least a little) and get some experience. There is no better time to get it than now — real NBA games, not just summer league, where there is no downside for the Lakers as he makes mistakes and learns on the job.

Less Kobe Bryant.
He’s tired and his second-half numbers in recent games show it. No reason for him to play 40+ a night now, let Luke and Sasha take up some of that court time.

The Kobe and Caron backcourt. I can’t find an exact number, but I can say this — Kobe and Caron have played the two guard positions together this season for less than 20 minutes. Yes the two of them would have trouble guarding a team with a small, quick point guard, but there are plenty of teams where they wouldn’t get exposed defensively and the Lakers would be the ones creating match up problems. Of course, to do this right you would need Lamar at the three, Grant at the four and Mihm at the five — with Lamar out and Mihm in pain, I guess we won’t see this lineup the rest of the way.

Somebody play defense. Really want to impress the fans and the coaching staff? Stop somebody. Shut down a point guard or block shot of someone driving to the hole. Keep a team under 100 points.

All right, I know that last one is a pipe dream.

(As an aside, while the Lakers are out of it we are still going to talk playoffs here. Mixed in with the coach/draft talk for the Lakers will be NBA playoff posts and discussions as well. While I’m a Laker fan, I’m also a hoops fan and the playoffs are going to be entertaining.)