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. Benmaller.com 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. 82games.com 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.