Archives For May 2005

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

We Have Seen The Enemy…..

 —  May 19, 2005

Apparently the NBA and players union are on their way to a lockout this summer. Even a one-month lockout could be bad news locally as it could water down the Summer Pro League in Long Beach, at least in terms of having a Laker (or Clipper or Warrior or…) team competing. With a new coach coming in, that summer league is something the Lakers really need for putting in the new system. (Update: I heard back from the organizers of the Summer Pro League and they said they would very likely have games with teams put together by agents looking to showcase clients, something that already accounts for a number of teams. However, there would be no teams representing NBA organizations if there is a lockout.)

The good thing is the NBA is not the NHL — this is not a broken system where owners are loosing money and television ratings are nonexistent. The financial structure of the NBA works. Maybe not as well as everyone would like, but it works.

Which is why I find it odd the negotiations reached the point they did so smoothly. The concessions the owners are asking for is not just something that will line their pockets — the owners want to be protected from themselves and not face the consequences of bad decisions.

Let’s start with shortening contract lengths, currently free agents can sign max six-year deals with a new team, seven with their current team. The owners want that cut the three years and four years. Why? Not because the Lakers don’t want to keep Kobe around or Cleveland is worried about giving money to LeBron, but because the owners overspend and give huge deals to Allan Houston and Brian Grant and they want to be able to get out earlier. A better example would be this coming summer and the unrestricted free agent Ray Allen: Despite the fact he is 30 some team would have given him a six-year max deal. Then, four years from now when Allen’s considerable skills have started to seriously erode, they would be on the hook for a couple more years.

I say they should be, they should face the consequences of unwise contract decisions. Offer a long-term deal to an old player — or one who had one good year and can’t continue to play on that level — and your team should be punished with the cap hit and contract. Bad management decisions should have consequences.

The same is true of the idea of an age limit. What the owners want to do is take the pressure off themselves to scout and draft these young players, because many don’t work out. The owners love LeBron and Dwight Howard, what they don’t want are more Darko Milicics. Again, I say a team that drafts a high school player is taking a chance — usually high risk/high reward — and they should have to live with the consequences of that decision. The owners want to solve the situation by postponing the decision.

I’m not sure if there will be a lockout and how long one would last, but the current NBA system works fairly well and should be able to be tweaked rather than have major changes made. And whatever changes are made, management decisions should have long-term consequences for their team.

End of Season Report Card: Center

 —  May 18, 2005

This is the last (finally!) of a series of season wrap-up posts for the Lakers (we’ve already done team management, point guard, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards). Players in this post will be listed this way: Kobe Bryant (23.8/15.1/+2.8). Those numbers are: the player’s PER, his opponents PER for the season at his primary position, and his +/- averaged for 48 minutes. I stole this listing idea from Knickerblogger, and get the stats from his site and 82games.com. While none of these statistics is perfect, together they give a pretty good indication of what a player meant to a team.

Laker fans, we can all admit it: As much as we were frustrated with the unmotivated Shaq in Los Angeles his last couple of years here, we knew there was going to be a big drop off once he left. Fat Shaq had a PER of 24.4 his last year in Laker colors, still higher than any Laker this year.

That’s why the grades at the center are somewhat based on perception — no one was going to replace Shaq, the question was simply how far the drop off was going to be.

Due to injuries, much of the burden fell on the shoulders of Chris Mihm (16.09/16.2/-2.1) and he handled it surprisingly well. Mihm played a career high 24.9 minutes per game and his usage rate (percentage of the offense run through him) went up from last year — usually when that happens a player’s efficiency goes down but Mihm’s went up. That said, with each positive with Mihm it is easy to find an area he still needs to improve.

For example, Mihm shot a career best 50.7% (eFG%), and inside of 15 feet shot 58.7%. His points per shot attempt was 1.10, the third best rate on the Lakers (behind only Kobe and Jumaine Jones). That said, he has a glaring weakness shooting — he took 31% of his shots as jumpers from more than 15 feet out and on those he shot 32.8% — he needs to be near the basket or develop a consistent jumper.

Mihm’s rebound rate this season was a respectable 15.1 (percent of available rebounds grabbed), second best on the team this year (Odom was the best). He also was the team’s best offensive rebounder, averaging 4.2 per 40 minutes. His rebound rate is down from his career numbers — 17.6 last season and a very good 19.8 the year before — but I think that decline in percentage is due more to scheme and playing time more than anything: This season he started 75 games, far more than any other season, meaning he was playing against better rebounders and talent; he also had no real help down low, with the rather thin and perimeter play of Lamar Odom at the four; the Lakers infatuation with the three-pointer early in the year led to longer rebounds that, while statistically count in his rebound rate, were not real opportunities for him due to longer rebounds.

One other concern about Mihm was his Roberto Duran-like “manas de piedra” — he averaged 2.4 turnovers per 40 minutes compared to just 1.1 assists. He dropped a lot of balls inside and needs to work on reducing turnovers inside (turnovers that come from the center position are killers).

Mihm showed a lot of potential this year, flashes (particularly at home) where he looked like he can be a solid center for the Lakers for years. Maybe the biggest problem was that he was a starter playing less than 25 minutes per game — minutes that were cut short because of his foul trouble. Mihm averaged 6.1 fouls per 48 minutes this year and it was frustrating to watch him pick them up — there were a lot of fouls on the offensive end going over the back or a loose ball foul; fouls picked up trying to stop point guards driving the lane past questionable perimeter defense; and just fouls picked up in the course of play. Mihm has always been a foul sponge — for his career he averages 6.9 fouls per 48 minutes and in the 2003-04 season it was 7.7. One way to look at this is that Mihm’s unimpressive 6.1 per 48 this year was his best ever — he is getting better. He needs to keep doing that.

Based mostly on perception, I’d grade Mihm a B- for the season. His defense needs to get better and the Lakers need to use him better — he needs a strong inside presence along side him to remove some of the burden (opponent centers shot 50% against him). He can be a solid complimentary player, but he cannot hold down the middle himself.

The problem is that when Mihm left the floor the level of play really dropped off.

Brian Grant (10.19/18.9/-4.6) has played most of his career out of position, a natural power forward forced to be a center — he used to be good enough to overcome that, but not anymore. Grant hurts the offense because he is not a threat to score — he averaged just 7.4 shots per 40 minutes, which meant about three a game. When he did shoot he was efficient, hitting 49.3% (eFG%) and with a points per shot attempt of 1.08, he just didn’t shoot much.

Grants rebound rate was 9.0. Think about that for a second — with 100% of the rebounds available and 10 players on the floor, an average rebounder can grab 10, or have a rebound rate of 10.0. Now, it doesn’t work out that way, you don’t expect your point guard to mix it up and pull down boards, but you do expect your big men to do that and pull down a higher percentage. Grant is theoretically one of those big men, but he pulled down just 9 rebounds out of 100 when he was on the floor. Defensively, opponent centers shot 50.2% against Grant. I’ll be generous and give Grant a D.

Grant is coming back next year — his $14.4 million a year contract is not going anywhere (he might be able to be packaged for a trade during the 2006-07 season at the trading deadline, with a team looking for a big expiring contract, but I doubt he could be moved before then). The key for the Lakers is to find a role for him that works — 10 minutes a game backing up the four might work. He can’t do much more than that.

One of the big off-season decisions for the Lakers will be what to do with Vlade Divac (10.74/20.5/-7.7). While his raw numbers for the season are actually worse than Grant’s, Vlade had a small sample size of just 15 games and playing an average of 8.7 minutes in those games. But, he played more in the Lakers final seven games of the season, working in the triangle (where his passing skills from the post would be a good fit) and in those games he averaged 7.7 assists per 48 minutes, 14.45 points per 48, 11.9 rebounds with 6.2 offensive rebounds per 48. All good numbers.

If the new Laker coach is Phil and the triangle is going to stay, Divac could be a good fit as a backup center (if not, Divac may be gone for sure). He is due $5.4 million next year but can be bought out for $2 million. There are two big questions. First is his health — if you are just going to get 13 games out of him he has to be let go, but if he can play an average of 15-18 minutes a game for 70+ games in the backup role, that may be a good deal. The other question is who can you get to replace him — if you buy Divac out then can you get someone as good for $3.4 million to fill in that role? Those are some of the first questions that must be answered when the new coach comes in.

There is no doubt the Lakers need a stronger presence inside, particularly defensively. That does not necessarily mean a new center — if a strong four can be brought in, I think you’ll see Mihm’s game take another step forward as he is asked to do less. Mihm is still young and could be a solid center for years to come, which is the wake of Shaq leaving is more than I expected this season.