Archives For May 2005

Reading for a Tuesday

Kurt —  May 31, 2005

You know how it goes, take a day off and come in to extra work at the office. So, rather than write my own stuff today, let me pass along these three links worth checking out:

1) Did you know Don Nelson actually had a solid career playing in the NBA? Neither did I. The people at Hoopsanalyst have taken a closer look at Nelson’s career and it’s an interesting read.

2) If you haven’t been to 82games.com and followed their efforts to improve the statistics kept for defense, the NY Times will sum it up for you. I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to seeing the results of this — this kind of work is desperately needed.

3) Mom’s can go to far in trying to be cool to their teenagers. Way too far. (Rob at the baseball blog 6-4-2 found this, but I had to pass it along as well.)

Fast Break

Kurt —  May 30, 2005

Some mostly Laker-related thoughts for a three-day weekend.

• I’m not sure whether or not to be concerned about the apparent slow movement on coaching and other decisions within the Laker organization. Is the Laker front office a rudderless ship right now (which is what Eric Pincus said he heard), or is this just the pace of things while we wait for the NBA playoffs to end? Is Los Angeles a city of impatient people? (Watching how people drive on any trip on the 405 would lead you to say yes.) I really think it’s a matter of not being used to not being in the playoffs — we’re used to the season ending and the draft being a few weeks away, things moving very quickly. Now there is this long waiting period where little if anything appears to be happening, so we’re nervous. We’re still a month away from the lottery, so it seems too early to panic.

• One thing that does worry me, which was part of a comment thread below where others expressed the same concern: Do the Lakers even have a Plan B if Jackson bows out? What’s the plan if after the upcoming summit if Jackson decides to sit out a year?

• One decision that has been made, the Lakers are going to host training camp in Hawaii again this fall. I’m already hinting to my wife we should take a fall vacation and I hear Hawaii is nice that time of year… (Is there a time of year Hawaii isn’t nice?)

• Apparently the Lakers worked out Charles Villenueva of UConn this past week. He and Chris Taft combine to create the biggest question in this draft — these guys have high lottery talent but played their last season in college with NDBL motivation. I’m leery of taking a guy who didn’t step up in college, especially the NCAA Tournament, and neither of these two did. That said, remember a few years ago Amare Stoudemire dropped to the ninth pick because people were concerned about his motivation coming out of high school. Sometimes the light bulb goes on. Do you draft the guy who could be very good but has motivation issues, or the guy who gets the most out of his talent but doesn’t have the same skills?

• One ESPN mock draft has the Lakers taking Sean May at 10, which fits right in with the above question. I’ll be trying to do some more detailed draft stuff upcoming, but May worries me. He’s only 6-8 and not a shot blocker — he’ll be a fine pro but I see him as a career sixth/seventh/eighth man whose great college game never really translated to the NBA — not what the Lakers need.

• The Lakers also are supposed to have worked out Raymond Felton.

• If you can’t wait for some draft talk, there’s a great look at potential draft picks in the front court over at Knickerblogger.

• Apparently Seattle point guard Antonio Daniels wants the full MLE and to start (according to the NY Post). I think Daniels, a 6-4 point, would be a great fit in the triangle (if that’s what the Lakers run next year). The Lakers should consider that price. He’ll get that somewhere, maybe Utah or Cleveland.

• The Champions League Final where Liverpool beat AC Milan was one of the most entertaining matches I have ever seen.

• I really hope you are not buying your Laker tickets on eBay.

I recently recieved an interesting email from Ryan, a thoughtful fan of Forum Blue who has written me before, and he asked an interesting question: Should Miami really shell out $25 -$30 million a year for another three years of Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq has one more year left on his deal that will pay him $30 million next year, but he wants another three after that, taking him up to age 36. Should Miami spend that money with a rising star like Dwyane Wade carrying so much of the load (and getting his own max deal before Shaq’s extension would be up)?

What follows is an edited and slightly better thought out version of my response. I thought I’d repost it here because this is an interesting discussion.

I will say this about Shaq’s current contract — he did it at the right time. His got more money and his pay increased faster because it was done under the old CBA eight years ago, and because teams can resign their own players for more than they make now. He can still make $30 mil per year in a new deal.

I think you’re right Shaq’s skills and physical condition are deteriorating, but he is still a force on the court. You pointed out his per-game numbers are down from his peak years with the Lakers and rebounded only slightly this year. That’s mostly due to his minutes being down this season, something I think you’ll see drop faster as he starts rolling on the downside of the age curve. That said, his advanced statistical numbers were solid — his points per shot attempt were right at his career average of 1.17, his fG% was 60.1% and his rebound rate was a still good 17.7%. Even an older slower Shaq is unlike any other player in the league.

The question is, is this Shaq worth what you are paying? I think it depends on the perspective of the owner doing the paying.

From the Lakers perspective and in pure basketball terms, I think they sold high and got out at the right time Shaq was motivated and bounced back this year, although when you look at his season numbers this was still not the Shaq of 1999-2002. But that motivation will fade. You are right, paying Shaq $30 million or whatever will limit the players any team can put around Shaq to build for the future. The Lakers made their move with the future in mind, picturing being a contender again in 2007-08 or so when Shaq had faded (whether or not they can successfully execute that plan is another question entirely).

But I don’t think the Heat are thinking that far down the road, and if I were Micky Arison, I wouldn’t be.

First, they think they can win a title this year or in the following two and they are going for it. If you have a championship window you need to go for it (the question that plauges Laker fans was whether their window with this team had closed, I think it had but that is another debate).

More importantly for Arison, I’d resign Shaq for $30 million because Shaq sells tickets. Mark Heisler pointed out in the LA Times last week that Miami used to block out parts of the arena with curtains because large areas went unsold — now they sell out every night. Heat merchandise outsells every other team in the NBA now. The owner is making a lot more money, the value of the franchise is going up, and $30 mil to Shaq is well worth the return to him.

Arison is coming from a very different perspective than Buss, who has a few years to rebuild before ticket sales really fall and the team starts to take a serious financial hit (and they will never be as bad as the Heat were). That means Buss can worry more about the on-the-court issues than the financial ones.

The bottom line, I think O’Neal will get overpaid for what he produces on the court, but for what he makes the Heat (or any second-tier team) off the court I would do it.

There were no frozen envelopes or big surprises (unless you’re a Bucks fan) — the Lakers will be drafting 10th this year.

This is the Lakers’ first time in the lottery in 11 years and we fans are not quite sure what to expect, although some have visions of getting a starting point guard or a big man who will help anchor the franchise and fill most of Shaq’s shoes. Not likely — history shows that at 10 you get a good backup who could develop into a starter in a few years. However, every once in a while you can get lucky.

To help get an idea of what we can expect, here are the last decade’s worth of number 10 picks. The number after them in parenthases is their first season Win Shares — the sabermetric baseball stat assigning percentage of wins to a player converted to basketball. (Basketball-Reference did the calculations so here is their description: Win Shares are assigned to players based on their offense, defense, and playing time. A Win Share is worth one-third of a team win. If a team wins 60 games, there are 180 Win Shares to distribute among the players.)

2004 Luke Jackson, Cleveland (0)
2003 Jarvis Hayes, Washington (4)
2002 Caron Butler, Miami (11)
2001 Joe Johnson, Boston (9)
2000 Kenyon Dooling, Clippers (4)
1999 Jason Terry, Atlanta (6)
1998 Paul Pierce, Boston (11) (lockout season)
1997 Danny Fortson, Milwaulke (4)
1996 Eric Dampier, Indiana, (4)
1995 Kurt Thomas, Miami, (10)

Overall, you’re looking at a pretty solid group of players. There is one real franchise player, Paul Pierce, but mostly a group of guys you wouldn’t mind having as starters (Butler, Johnson, Fortson, Terry, Thomas). With Luke Jackson it’s a little early to tell — he had back surgery in January, not a good long term sign but he can bounce back.

For those looking for immediate starters, notice few of those players contributed a lot that first year. The average win share for these players their first year was 6.3 (take out the injured Jackson and it is 7). For some comparison, that’s basically what the Lakers got out of Brian Cook this season. The best players in their first years, Butler and Pierce, had 11 win shares, which is about what the Lakers got out of Jumaine Jones and Chris Mihm this past season. For a more detailed description of what you can expect from each position in the draft, the Stat Pimp did a detailed analysis a couple of years back that says basically the same thing, but he uses wins over replacement as his measure (and a lot more math, because he’s much, much better at that than I am).

Yes, if you look below these 10th overall players in each draft you can find someone in retrospect you would rather have taken (except in the case of Pierce). That may be even tougher in this draft, which has no standouts and where the lottery is, in the words of John Hollinger today, “Pervis Ellison waiting to happen.”

I’d like to think the Laker scouting is up to the challenge but even if they get a very good player it is likely there will be someone good passed over. The real question is can the Lakers get someone of quality who will be around for a while?

The Lakers should be able to get a good player at 10, either a point guard or a big who can come off the bench this next season and maybe by their third year be a productive starter. Last time the Lakers drafted this high they got Eddie Jones, and I think that’s about what we should get (quality wise). But if you’re expecting an instant starter or perfect piece to fit with Kobe, you’re going to be more disapointed than if you spent money to see Monster In Law.

Fast Break

Kurt —  May 23, 2005

Just a few random thoughts on a Monday.

• Phoenix may have run into the one team they can’t just outscore. Knickerblogger pointed this out already, but the game was played at Phoenix’s tempo (98 possessions, right at their playoff and season average) and they shot 52.7% (eFG%). The problem is Phoenix let the Spurs shoot 57.5%. Steve Nash is going to have to play some defense because Parker can score more than just 29, Phoenix has to limit open three-point looks for Barry and Horry and others, and Stoudemire is going to have to do more than come from the weak side looking for a block. The problem is that is contrary to what they have done the majority of the season. Phoenix needs Joe Johnson back and Shawn Marion can shoot better than that, but at some point this series will be decided by their defense. Or lack thereof.

• It should be interesting to see what defensive style the Pistons use on the Heat tonight. Does Larry Brown return to the one-on-one with Shaq, stop Wade/Kobe system he used against the Lakers last year? If that happens, can the Heat role and bench players respond in a way the Laker players could not last year?

• Several interesting breakdowns of this series over at the very good Crazy From the Heat, including a statistical breakdown that gives the series to the Heat in seven.

• I get all the love for Dwyane Wade, but now people are saying “he’s the teammate Shaq’s ever had, the best number two guy.” Wade’s been great in the playoffs, but so far he’s looked good against Nets and the Wizards. Let’s have a little perspective here. Let’s see how Wade holds up against the Pistons and, if they can advance, the Spurs. Kobe has already won big series such as those — several times.

• I am hooked on the History Channel’s Breaking Vegas series. These are one-hour shows about people who come up with inventive ways to cheat and beat Las Vegas casinos — like the MIT teams that were popularized in Bringing Down the House. The best part is these people always follow the Scarface story arc, hitting it big then self-destructing spectacularly.

• The draft lottery is tomorrow night with Jeannie Buss rolling the dice for the Lakers — come on baby, Daddy needs a new pair of shoes.

The Final Four

 —  May 21, 2005

Since about mid-season I think we all knew, and in some way hoped, it would come down to this. There were four teams that were serious contenders for the NBA crown and for a change two were in the West and two were in the East. Now we see who is the best. Here are a few thoughts on the upcoming series (if you just want Laker info scroll down to the second part of this post).

Phoenix and San Antonio. What I find interesting about this match up is these two powerhouses had weaknesses exposed in the last round. San Antonio’s vaunted defense struggled when the Sonics played pick-and-roll well away from the basket, and they will get a steady diet of that from the Suns. Phoenix’s lack of depth was exposed (though not thoroughly exploited by Dallas) as was the fact you can shut down Stoudemire for a while and the Suns play inconsistent interior defense. Tony Parker’s offensive numbers are pretty average over the course of the entire playoffs (a PER of just 14.63), he needs to step up and make Nash work at both ends. Coaching adjustments will be key in this series, but I think Popovich has more arrows in his quiver in terms of depth. Give me the Spurs in seven.

Detroit and Miami. Detroit’s lack of depth and inconsistent scoring got them in trouble with Indiana, and Miami is a much better team. The Heat have held opponents to 43.5% (eFG%) in the playoffs, the best of any team in the post season, so they may be able to hold the Pistons way down. In fact, the Heat have looked like a juggernaut, but they have yet to play a team that matches up well with them — and Detroit does. Shaq and Zo have turned the ball over a fair amount in the playoffs (both averaging four turnovers per 40 minutes), and Detroit can put a lot more pressure on them. Wade struggled in the regular season against the Pistons, so Shaq will have to step up and I’m not sure he’s physically capable of that. The Pistons have been monsters on the offensive glass in the playoffs (grabbing 30.5% of their missed shots) so Miami needs to focus there. Shaq is the key to the series, and I think he’s got three good games in him at best, so give me the Pistons in seven.

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Not much new on the Laker front, save for Tuesday night’s Draft Lottery. The Lakers have a 1.4% chance of landing the top spot, a 4.7% chance of landing in the top three. So, expect us to be drafting 10th.

Eric Pincus has a new piece up at Hoopsworld with a few tidbits but nothing big to report. For a good breakdown of some of the guards in the upcoming draft, check out Knickerblogger’s breakdown.

By the way, it’s early but if the Lakers do end up with the 10 pick, I’d lean toward Raymond Felton the point guard or Fran Vasquez the power forward. But individual workouts are just starting, so that could change.

Preakness Picks

 —  May 21, 2005

Giacomo won the Kentucky Derby but is getting no respect from the “experts. ” He’s not getting any here either — I think that race set up for him and he got a perfect ride out of Mike Smith, but that’s not going to happen this time around. This is a speed-favoring track and I’ll put my money elsewhere. (By the way, I wanted to get these picks up earlier but THE MAN is making me tote extra barges and lift extra bales this week.)

1) Afleet Alex. Yes I picked him in the Derby, but I’m not the kind of guy who learns from his mistakes. I still think he’s the best of the three year olds.

2) High Fly. This is his type of race, it will set up much better for him. Second race off a layoff, which I like.

3) Closing Argument. The more I watched it, the more I liked his Derby effort (second). He’s in the mix here.

Friday Afternoon Humor

 —  May 20, 2005

Came across a great one from brushback.com:

Shaq Drops Out Of Playoffs To Focus On Insulting Lakers