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.