Archives For March 2005

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.

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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.)

On Tap: The Denver Nuggets

 —  March 24, 2005

When the Lakers season comes to an end — and without a win tonight that will be April 20th for sure — the first priority needs to be deciding on a team philosophy/hiring a coach that fits that mold.

This year’s Lakers have been rudderless on offense and apparently never had a plan defensively. They have had enough talent to overcome this on offense — they are still seventh in the league in offensive efficiency at 105.1 points per 100 possessions — although they have rarely looked smooth. However, on defense they are 27th in the NBA (106.1) and, after watching the last few games, it’s hard to believe they are ranked that high.

I keep saying the Lakers need a direction, a leader, a team philosophy coming from a powerful head coach first, then they can go get players to fit his system. The right head coach can turn a team around.

Case in point: The Denver Nuggets. When Jeff Bzdelik was fired in early January the Nuggets scored 98.6 points per 100 possessions. In the last 10 games under George Karl, that has been 111.1. Under the old regime the Nuggets were letting other teams shoot 49.3% (eFG%) against them (25th in the league at the time). In the last 10 games that is down to 44.8%.

The result is the Nuggets are 9-1 in their last 10 and 12-1 in the last 13. They are solidly entrenched as the eighth seed in the West and are more likely to move up to seventh than fall out.

For the Lakers to keep their slim playoff hopes alive and pick up a win on the road, a lot of things are going to have to happen. And those things are going to have to happen without Lamar Odom, who will sit out a third consecutive game and likely will be on the IR within a few days.

As you would expect from a lineup that includes Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby, Denver gets a lot of its points inside — 39% of their shots come from inside 15 feet, a very high percentage (for comparison, the Miami Heat, with Shaq inside and Dwayne Wade penetrating, get 38% of their shots inside 15 feet). While all three are dangerous, in the last 10 the hottest of those three has been Camby (according to Doug’s Stats rankings) because not only is he scoring he’s blocking 3.4 shots a game and getting 1.5 steals per game. Camby’s 17.77 PER is the highest on the team this season.

What hurt the Nuggets early in the season is the loss of their only consistent outside scoring threat, Voshon Lenard. While Andre Miller has been solid at the point for them, watch for Earl Boykins (his PER of 17.54 is second on the team) and Wesley Person (who is shooting 58.5% eFG% in the last 10.

For the Lakers to hang in this they should play a lot of zone and pack it tight to help down low — force the guards to beat you from the outside. Also, Chris Mihm is going to have to overcome his sore back and have a big game — and stay out of foul trouble.

The reasonable among us don’t think the Lakers playoff chances are really a chance at all — they aren’t just 4.5 games back of Denver, they are really 5.5 games out of the playoffs because the Nuggets hold the tiebreaker — but some in the Laker organization are not ready to give up. If they lose tonight they should. Then we should start to see some lineup changes starting Sunday.

Fast Break

 —  March 23, 2005

So many interesting things to write about. So much work to force me to do it in bullet form.

• Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Lakers let Utah shoot 62.5% (eFG%) in the first half and 64% for the game last night, when their season average is 47.3%. Gordan Giricek poured in a career 22 for Jazz — I’m a big NBA fan and I had to look up who this guy was. The reason the Lakers are not going to the playoffs is they can’t play defense. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

• Great note from the smart people at HoopsAnalyst:

No one has really noticed but for the first time in NBA history, three teams (Wolves, Lakers, and Pacers) that made the Conference Finals or higher will likely not make the playoffs. Only twice in the last 15 years has even one team not made the playoffs after making the NBA’s final four. In the history of the NBA, never has more than one team not returned to the playoffs after making the final four the previous year.

• Who do you think is the best clutch player in the NBA? Did you guess Manu Ginobili?

That’s what Roland Beech over at 82games.com found with a fascinating three-part breakdown of the best clutch players in the NBA. I know, you’re thinking Kobe should be above Ginobili, but we’ve discussed before that Kobe’s clutch numbers aren’t that great.

The 82games piece found Kobe takes more shots and scores more points in the clutch than any other player in the NBA. But this season Kobe has run hot and cold in the clutch — we remember the Charlotte game and forget games like last night when he disappeared down the stretch. Kobe has shot only 37.1% in the clutch this season.

Beech figured out players PER during clutch moments in the game, that player’s opponents PER (is our person all offense and no defense in the clutch?) and added +/- to the mix and came to a final answer. The result was Ginobili came out on top, with Stoudemire and Nash from Phoenix second and third. Kobe came in 21st overall.

Really interesting stuff. Take the time to read all three parts.

• I know Sports Guy beat me to this yesterday, but let me add to the chorus — I think Fever Pitch is going to be painful. And I hope it flops at the box office.

I read Fever Pitch last year and, while it may not be the most accessible of Hornby’s works (at least to an American audience not intimately familiar with English soccer) it is a great portrait of how fans feel their fortunes rise and fall with their favorite team. It speaks to the role sports can play in a person’s life. It talks of how bringing a significant other into your life changes your views but not your passion for a team. Like all his books, it is a classic male confessional and very funny.

The movie — based only on seeing the commercial — looks like a “chick flick” with the story told though the eyes of the female character (Drew Barrymore). That is such a bastardization of Hornby’s basic premise they should change the movie’s name and not associate it with his book at all. It may not even make my Netflix queue at this point.

• Bad news for the Spurs without Duncan out, likely until the playoffs start. And it’s bad news for more reasons than just Duncan’s MVP chances (he was my first choice so far, too). The loss of Duncan almost assures that the Spurs will finish the season as the second seed in the West, not the top seed.

The road for the Spurs to the finals from the two seed is much tougher. First, there is a good chance that they will face the red-hot Denver Nuggets in the first round (two vs. seven seed). While the Spurs should still win, bringing Duncan back will take some adjusting and the Nuggets could exploit that inefficiency and make it an interesting series.

Then in the second round, rather than the winner of the Kings/Maverick’s series, the Spurs likely will get the Sonics. Of all the teams in the West, I think it is the Sonics that could give the Spurs trouble. The Sonics like the pace slow and shoot very well in the half-court offense — they play the game the way the Spurs like and play it well. Now, the Sonic’s defense is weak, so I’d still pick the Spurs, but that makes two rounds where the Spurs are going to have a real fight on their hands. And they haven’t even played the Suns yet.

Watching the playoffs is going to be an interesting experience this year, not having a rooting interest myself.