Archives For May 2005

Three Things

Kurt —  May 9, 2005

1) Steve Nash named MVP. I know I’m a little late to this debate, but I really never thought he’d win it. He had an amazing offensive season, but I don’t see how he can be MVP because of his defense, or lack thereof. Opposing point guards shot 46.4% (eFG%). Nash’s opposing point guards got 24% of their shots in paint having driven by Nash — that’s a higher percentage than even Chucky Atkins (23%) — and that was with Amare Stoudemire behind him as an intimidator. He had more turnovers than he created in a night (losing that battle by 1 per 48 minutes) and he scored just two more points per 48 minutes than his counterpart (for comparison Nowitzki won that scoring battle by 12.6, Garnett by 9.8 and Shaq by 15.6). Personally, I’d put Nash behind Stoudemire on my MVP list (Amare had a higher PER by 5 points). Nash makes my top five but he’s not the winner. I think Nash has seen it properly and said so in his comments — he won this for the way the way the Suns played as a team more than his personal efforts.

2) Lakers raise some season ticket prices. Only the most expensive tickets in the house went up in price, and I suppose those are the people who can most easily afford it, but it would have been a goodwill gesture to keep all the prices the same after that sad season. That would be a much better apology than a town hall meeting.

3) There’s only one second-round playoff match I think will be interesting, Phoenix and Dallas. I picked Dallas to win that one before the playoffs because the Mavs played pretty good defense this season — then they promptly went out in game one and stunk up the joint. I think game two will be a better indication of how this series will go, with the Mavs needing to do a better job defending the three and playing better on Stoudemire (if that can be done). Of course, if you look at my ability to pick a winner you might not want to put money on the Mavs. On the bright side, this should be the best final four the NBA has had in a long time.

I’m not the only person not enthralled with the second round matchups, there are others.

Why Phil?

Kurt —  May 9, 2005

Everybody wants him, although the Lakers appear the frontrunner. He’s got nine rings and the respect of some of the great players of the game. He’s got an aura.

But what is it that got Phil Jackson all this? What does he give his teams on the court that has brought him this success? More importantly, what can we expect him to bring the Lakers (or maybe the Knicks) if he gets signed?

While much of the attention focuses on the triangle offense, what he brings first and foremost is defense. The year before Jackson arrived in Los Angeles, the 1998-99 season, the Lakers were 24th in the league in defensive efficiency, giving up 101.1 points per 100 possessions. In Jackson’s first year that fell to 95.6, the best rate in the league. They continued to have a top-flight defense throughout Jackson’s tenure (although the championship 2000-01 season is not good as a whole, in part due to injuries, for the last 10 games of the season and the playoffs the Lakers were the best team in the league again).

At the same time, the take-what-the-defense-gives-you triangle offense was put in place in Los Angeles. In the 98-99 season, the Lakers averaged 104.6 points per 100 possessions, the next season in the triangle they averaged 104.6. Defense won that first title (with a helpful fourth-quarter collapse by Portland). The triangle offense takes time to learn properly, offensive architect Tex Winter always said — in 2000-01 the Lakers averaged 106.3 points per 100 (second in the league) and in 01-02 it was 107.1 (again second, this time to Dallas).

Jackson’s defensive turnaround was not just in Los Angeles trend. The year before Jackson took over the Bulls franchise they were 19th in the league in defensive efficiency, the next year they were sixth and won Jackson his first ring as a coach.

Last season, the Lakers were 29th in the league in defensive efficiency with a horrifying 108 (points per 100). If Jackson could have the same impact as last time on the Laker defense, they would give up 102.5 points per 100, which would be 13th in the league — not great but a huge improvement. There would also be some optimism for the offense because guys like Odom, Bulter, Mihm and whoever else remains on the roster will have run the triangle for a while and already be on the learning curve. Remember, in early season interviews Tex Winter said he thought the current Laker roster was better suited to run the triangle than the old one (but the old one had more talent).

Phil Jackson’s arrival in Los Angeles, if it happens, will not mean instant title contention — but it should mean instant defensive improvement, and with that some hope for the playoffs and the future.

Kentucky Derby Picks

Kurt —  May 6, 2005

Go ahead and laugh, but if you read my old blog last year and put my three picks in an exacta box you would have won (I did). For the record, I hit the exacta for the Preakness as well, but missed on the Belmont.

For the 2005 race I’ll take:

1) Afleet Alex: Built like a classic derby horse, put up great a Beyer number in his last race (108) and with the good closing kick that will win this year.

2) Bandini: Another horse that can close and had a good last outing, has looked good in workouts and should be suited for Churchill.

3) Greeley’s Galaxy: He’s been getting better and better each run and should be in position to finish in the money if he gets a good ride.

What about the favorite, Bellamy Road? Put aside the fact I have a hard time picking a horse that is owned by George Steinbrenner, I think the Wood was a bit of a fluke —he’s good but not that good. More importantly, this race sets up poorly for him. This is a horse that likes to be out front but Spanish Chestnut is a rabbit and the pace is going to be fast, pushed by several horses, which is why I have closers picked above. Churchill has long favored closers anyway. If Bellamy Road wins, this may be a super horse who will have a shot at the triple crown (the Preakness is his type of race).

If I were trying to hit a trifecta or superfecta (and I am), I’d put in Bellamy Road along with Noble Causeway.

Fast Break Friday

Kurt —  May 6, 2005

Just a few quick thoughts from the guy with a blog about a team without a real owner…

• The big news is official! No, that THAT big news. But Paul Sunderland is officially out as Laker broadcaster, proving that you don’t want to be the guy who follows Chick Hearn, you want to be the guy who follows the guy who follows Chick Hearn. I hope Sunderland lands on his feet somewhere, he was good and better than many out there. Joel Meyers is the likely guy to fill the spot, but other names are being mentioned. I liked Joel Meyers on radio, but that is a more freewheeling medium, on television you use a lot fewer words, just basically writing captions for the pictures. I’m sure Meyers can do that fine, but then I thought Sunderland did.

• Last night, in a crucial moment, it was Steve Javie who gave Paul Pierce a second technical and ejected him in Indiana. I posted a note about this last month — from the 2001-02 season through last year, Javie averaged an ejection ever 6.9 games. Coincidence?

• If the Lakers are looking for another under-appreciated free-agent big man (ala Chris Mihm), and they are, I submit Chris Anderson. He had a PER of 18.85 last season and pulled down 17% of the available rebounds when he was on the floor (a good number). He shot 53.4%, is young, athletic and can run the floor and his numbers got better this year as he got more playing time. The question is only how much will he want — he maid $1.76 million last year. If the price tag isn’t too high, this might be a very good pickup.

• The first 100,000 times I saw the promo for Into The West I thought it sounded interesting. That’s fading.

• Anything that can tie the NBA and Springfield sanitation commissioner Ray Patterson together gets a link.

• I’m really looking forward to the Washington/Chicago game seven and the Dallas/Houston game seven this weekend. The last Washington/Chicago tilt was one of the most entertaining games I’ve seen in a long time.

What was interesting about Laker owner Dr. Jerry Buss’ “state of the team” press event yesterday was not what he said — there was nothing new in his comments — but rather the reaction of the local media to this no news event.

In case you missed it, you can read about the event. But really, all Dr. Buss said was that he thinks this team can compete for a title again in two or three years, he wants to hire a new coach by the middle of this month and Phil Jackson is a candidate, Kobe doesn’t have a say in the choice, Mitch Kupchak is doing a fine job, and he doesn’t regret trading Shaq because Shaq was overweight and not motivated while in LA.

I think this press event can be summed by the words of Officer Barbrady, “Nothing to see here, move along.”

But open the newspaper this morning and apparently Buss has no idea how to run a franchise. Usually I don’t like to spend space on this blog criticizing local media because: 1) The beat guys by and large do a good job and the columnists are supposed to be personalities that sell papers by grabbing your attention; 2) I’ve got better things to do with my time than reading Plaschke and correcting his mistakes.

Today, however, I’ll make an exception. The winner of the “I know better than the guy with eight championship trophies behind him” award goes to Doug Krikorian in the Long Beach Press Telegram.

The only good thing Mitch Kupchak has done since Jerry West departed the organization is, apparently, make a good impression on Buss and make a million bucks a year for himself. Kupchak hasn’t made one deal worth even mentioning here, except the Shaquille O’Neal disaster with Miami.

My biggest problem with the columnists in Los Angeles’ papers is that they have no sense of what they wrote before, they care only about what they are feeling right now. (Same with radio talk show hosts, and Krikorian counts as both.) Back on July 11, 2003, just five days before the official signing of Karl Malone and Gary Payton as Lakers, Krikorian wrote a column that the headline summed up well, “Laker’s Kupchak On Quite A Roll.” Krikorian wrote a number of columns around that time saying Mitch had done well, and while that Laker team did not win a title the blame for that does not fall on Kupchak — he assembled a team that could and should have won it. And that’s just one instance, it isn’t that hard to find other times Krikorian praised Kupchak in print. The fact of the matter is Kupchak has been both good and bad, but perspective and history didn’t mesh with what Krikorian wanted to write.

Krikorian goes on and on, talking about how Jackson isn’t the answer to winning instantly (even though Buss essentially said as much, saying the team was a few years away) but in Krikorian’s world what is happening right now is all that matters. There can be no plan for the future — if they can’t win it all next season he has no use for them.

For the Times J.A. Adande, all this Jackson talk was getting in the way of a column bashing Buss for trading Shaq.

As long as Jackson’s name is in the mix — or better yet, he’s on the sidelines — the Lakers can avoid discussion of the ill-advised trade and the calamitous season that followed.

On Monday’s Scoop Jackson was on an internet radio show dedicated to sports blogs last week, Sports Bloggers Live. His interview is worth listening to (so is the interview at 15 minutes in with Knickerblogger).

Scoop talks about how Shaq makes hypocrites out of sports writers — columnists nationwide jumped all over Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady earlier this year because they took games off, but Shaq took two years off in Los Angeles and nobody said anything. The reason, Scoop said, is the media loves Shaq because he’s quotable and he’s fun to be around (he did dine with some media members while on the road with the Lakers). Shaq gets a free pass, Scoop admits.

Again, it takes time for to judge big moves. The 2007-08 season is when I think we’ll know how the Shaq trade turned out. If Shaq is still playing and a dominant force for a Miami team that is a championship contender, while the Lakers limp along, then it will have been a huge miscalculation. But if Shaq is gone while the Lakers have rebuilt into a contender, Adande, Simmers and Krikorian will be writing columns about Buss’ brilliant foresight.

That’s what they’ll be feeling at that moment.

Here’s a thought for the day: Buss is a poker player, do you really think he laid all his cards on the table with the media?

This is the fourth in a series of season wrap-up posts for the Lakers (we’ve already done team management, point guard and shooting guards).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 While none of these statistics is perfect, together they give a pretty good indication of what a player meant to a team.

For a position where the Lakers had more players than they could possibly use, they got very little production from the three. As a team, the PER for this position was an average 14.9, while the team opponents PER was 18.4. That -3.5 differential in PER was worse than any position on the floor except point guard.

Part of that was Caron Butler (16.10/20/-4.0) but he was really a man of two seasons — the vast majority of the season and the games after Lamar Odom went down.

For that first “season,” Butler appeared flummoxed while waiting in line for his shots behind Kobe, Lamar and Atkins. In spite of that he averaged 17.4 points per 40 minutes, the second best rate on the team. For the season Butler shot a pedestrian 46.4% (eFG%) and averaged 1.06 points per shot attempt.

All that changed when Odom went down late in the season. Butler suddenly was shooting 49.7% and averaging 1.12 points per shot attempt. The reason is Butler has to drive to the basket to be effective, and that role in the offense went to Kobe and Odom. Butler took 57% of his shots as jump shots and shot just 39.1% (eFG%) on those. But when he drove to the hole his shooting percentage jumped — 56% for shots inside 15 feet — and a much higher percentage on the 8% of his shots that were dunks.

For all the talk about how Kobe’s game didn’t mesh with Odom’s this past season, part of the offensive struggles of the Lakers this season was that it’s three best players all wanted to drive the lane.

Defensively, Butler, more than any other Laker, was someone who could have been a good defensive player but what hurt by the lack of defensive system. Butler is a good athlete, but opponent three guards shot 52.4% eFG while he was on the floor.

He hurt the team defensively, and for that reason I’d grade him a C for the entire season. If Odom were gone next season and a better defensive system were in place I think Butler could thrive. That said, Butler is a last-year contract and Odom is not, meaning Butler is more valuable on the trade market. (By the way, I’m lumping Odom in the power forwards review, even though he should play the three.)

The first Laker off the bench for much of the year was Jumaine Jones (13.35/17.7/+3.8), who turned out to be a pleasant surprise as part of the deal with Boston. For the first part of the year he led the team in +/- (he finished third) and provided a spark off the bench shooting 53.7% (eFG%), the highest percentage on the team. He is another Laker who fell in love with the three point shot — 53.7% of his attempts were from beyond the arc, where he shot 39%. His points per shot attempt were 1.11, third best on the team.

Jones’ ability to come off the bench hot, hit an outside shot consistently and grab some rebounds (12.3% of the available boards while he was on the floor) made him one of the few players on the Lakers this season to find and fit in a role. His defense is not spectacular and his efficiency went down when he was thrust into a starting role (and the amount of the offense that went through him went up), but he can be a solid sixth or seventh man for years in Los Angeles. I’d give him a B- (the minus only because he struggled on defense, too).

On the other hand, Luke Walton (11.62/18.1/-5.1) never found a role or seemed to fit on this year’s Laker team. Part of the reason is he has played out of position a lot — while the 6’8” Walton is a natural three, he played 72% of the time on the floor as a four. His rebounds did improve this season (he grabbed 10.4% of the available rebounds), particularly on the offensive end, but Walton is not a power forward.

While his points per game was up, Walton’s efficiency went down as he struggled with the three-point shooting Lakers early in the season — Walton shot 26.2% from beyond the arc. (On the 37% of his shots that were inside 15 feet but not dunks or tip-ins, he shot 52.2%.) Walton’s eFG% fell to 45.6% (from 46.7%) and his points per shot attempt fell to 0.98 (from 1.01). Neither of those are big drop offs, but in a season where Laker fans thought Walton would break out, a step backward, however small, was disheartening. For that, Walton gets a C-.

The Lakers need to make a decision about whether to resign Walton, who is an unrestricted free agent. That will be one of the first decisions for the new coach, whoever that is, and will likely depend on the offensive system run. We already know Phil Jackson liked how Walton worked in the triangle, but another coach might have other ideas. If the Lakers want to shoot a lot of threes, Walton is not the best choice. The other thing that could make Luke tough to resign is that he could fit very well in some systems and a smart GM may recognize that and offer a contract (say, $2 million per year) that the Lakers don’t want to match.

It’s almost impossible to give an accurate assessment of Devean George (10.89/18.6/-8.6), who played 15 games after coming off an injury. That said, his numbers in those 15 games were pretty comparable to his career averages — his PER was down slightly from last season’s 11.5, but not dramatically; his eFG% was 45.7%, right between last season’s 46.5% and his career 44.8%; his points per shot attempt of 0.98 is the same as last season and close to his career of 0.96; he grabbed 9.9% of the available rebounds, close to his career average of 9.8%. However, because of the short season I’d grade him an incomplete.

In my opinion, there is no player the Lakers can get more value in trading this off-season than George. Those statistics listed above for George are pedestrian, signs of a guy who should be coming off the bench somewhere — but that is not perception of George around the league. He is seen as long and athletic and a solid starter (he was when there were four hall of famers around him). Trading is about getting more value in return than you send off, and George is one player that gives the Lakers the chance to do that.

Fast Break

Kurt —  May 2, 2005

Lots of things I want to get to today, so, in an act of a lazy blogger, out come the bullet points.

• My favorite playoff series to watch so far has been Houston and Dallas. Tracy McGrady has been getting all the props, and deservedly so — he played the four just 1% of the time in the regular season, then in the playoffs has stepped up in that role and played solid D on Nowitzki (as much as anyone can slow the German down). But don’t forget about Yao Ming, who has started to play with the aggressiveness he usually just reserves for playing against Shaq. Ming is shooting 72.5% from the field in four games, is scoring 32.97 points per 48 minutes (up from 28.74 during the regular season), is pulling down 5.8 offensive rebounds per 48 (up from 4.1) and is blocking 3.8 shots (up from 3.1). Houston’s stars have stepped up in the post season.

• Let’s get the Phil Jackson update out of the way. The New York Post is reporting Cleveland is no longer in the running. And this was a surprise to….. ah, nobody. On Sunday, the LA Times dedicated New Yorker-length column inches to stories and opinions about Phil’s potential return. Here is the kernel of truth in all of it:

(Shaq) O’Neal, who is trying to lead Miami to its first NBA championship, took the time before a recent playoff game to ask a reporter what was going to happen with Jackson.

The answer: Only Jackson knows, and he is saying little.

• In honor of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy being the top grossing film of the weekend — the answer is 42.

• Coaching move of the first round goes to Gregg Popovich for bringing Manu Ginobili off the bench. It takes guts to sit your second best player at the start of games, but it has worked. ESPN’s John Hollinger wrote about this last week — Barry has much better numbers when he starts than when he comes off the bench, but Ginobili plays at the same level either way. Start Barry and he’s played better (62.5% eFG in the playoffs, averaging 12.47 points per 48) plus Ginobili leads a bench Denver can’t match. Apparently Popovich learned something while out at Pomona.

• I work with two Chelsea fans and they are going to be unbearable this week. At least my team knocked them out of the FA Cup.

• I know it was never going to happen, but watching Carlos Arroyo in the little playing time he has received in Detroit during the playoffs reminded me I think he would have been a nice fit in Laker colors. He’s averaging 10.3 assists and 3.7 points per 48 in the playoffs (and 6 fouls).