Archives For May 2005

Wednesday Morning Reading

 —  May 11, 2005

I’m finishing up the end of the season report on power forwards, but if you want Laker news let me point you to a couple of things.

Eric Pincus of Hoopsworld is on Phil Jackson watch but there is little new news to report. That said, it’s a good breakdown of where things stand.

For those of you looking for the new wave of NBA stats for the playoffs, Knickerblogger has set up an NBA playoff stat page that is worth checking out.

In case you missed it, T.J. Simers of the LA Times laid this season’s Laker problems at the feet of Shaq in his Sunday column. Simers is the biggest name in a growing mass media understanding of what really happened in LA at the end of the dynasty — that this was not just Kobe’s fault. Eric Neel mentioned it in a recent piece — comparing Shaq’s last two years in LA to what Vince Carter did in Toronto.

My belief has always been that Shaq and Kobe deserve equal parts of the blame for the fact they couldn’t get along, with Buss getting some blame for not finding a way to get them on the same page. I think that’s always come through in this blog — although it was best expressed in a piece I did for Knickerblogger.

That said, my goal with this blog has long been to stay out of the soap opera that surrounds this team and to focus on the future and on the court (which is a little harder when there is no on-the-court action). So no more about the past, but I thought the slight shift in perception is worth noting. (Of course, if you read the USA Today piece on Shaq or watched ESPN’s Outside the Lines yesterday, you’d see the love affair with Shaq in the media is far from over.)

Three Things

 —  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?

 —  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

 —  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

 —  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.