Archives For June 2005

The Chicago Bulls, circa 1993-94

Kurt —  June 15, 2005

The knock on Phil Jackson has long been that he walked in to situations tailor made for championships — all he had to do was roll out the balls and stay out of the way. If you really think it’s that easy you should ask Del Harris about it, but that’s another discussion for another day.

However, there is one season when Jackson coached a team that didn’t have overwhelmingly dominant talent — the 93-94 Bulls. Michael Jordan was off flailing at curveballs and the torch had been passed to Scottie Pippen and the rest of the “Jordanairs.” A look at that team will tell us about what Jackson may be able to do with a Laker roster that has talent but some serious deficits that will keep them from games in mid-June until they are fixed.

The 93-94 Bulls team finished 55-27, but I think it’s safe to say that team was a little lucky — their Pythagorean win/loss (based on points scored and allowed) was 50-32. Still the team finished that year with the seventh best RPI in the league (for comparison, this past year’s Lakers were 20th).

As you would expect without Jordan, the Bulls offense struggled — they averaged 103 points per 100 possessions, the 15th most efficient team in the league (the league average was 103.3). That is a good step behind last year’s Lakers, who had a number of good scoring options and averaged 104.6 per 100 possessions, seventh in the league. I think Phil Jackson has to look at pieces such as Kobe and Lamar and know he has a team that can score plenty.

But the other side of the ball is a different story. That 93-94 Bulls team still played defense — they gave up 100.2 points per 100, the sixth best defensive team in the league despite losing one of the games all time great one-on-one defenders. Last year’s Lakers gave up 108 points per 100, 29th in the league (the average was 103.1).

You can make an argument that player-for-player last year’s Laker team was the more talented of these two, but the Bulls had the more tenacious defenders (and a better system than whatever that was the Lakers were doing last year). The roster moves you see from the Lakers this off-season will be to bring in defenders — long guys like you see changing shots in the NBA Finals right now.

The Bulls focal point player was the long Scottie Pippen, who had a 23.1 PER that season — very close to the 23.3 PER Kobe had this past season (Scottie had a better shooting percentage, 51.5% to 48.2% [eFG%] but Kobe got to the line more and had more points per shot attempt, 1.13 to 1.09). Pippen was a good defender — that season he was second in the league averaging 2.9 steals per game.

After Scottie, the next man on the Bulls totem pole was Horace Grant — who averaged not only 21.7 points per 48 minutes (15.1 per game) but also pulled down 17.5% of the rebounds on the floor. Rebounds is one area this Bulls team was far better than the Lakers — Pippen was grabbing 13.3% of he rebounds in his extensive minutes, Scott Williamson was coming off the bench an grabbing 16.6% of the available rebounds in his 16 minutes a game. The best Laker last season was Lamar Odom at 15.9, followed by Chris Mihm at 15.1 — the team lacked a dominant glass cleaner.

Other Bulls players of note were a rookie Toni Kukoc, who was averaging 21.6 points per 48 minutes and had a PER of 15.4, Steve Kerr was still hanging out at the three point line and there was BJ Armstrong, who poured in 14.8 points per game (but wasn’t terribly efficient in doing so).

That Bulls team made the playoffs and in the first round swept past the franchise’s favorite patsies — Cleveland. Then in the next round it was a seven-game battle with Pat Riley’s knock-down, alley-fight New York Knicks (who went on to the finals that year). By the way, ask a Bulls fan and they’ll tell you the Knicks didn’t beat them, Hugh Hollins did with his phantom call on Hubert Davis’ three late in game five.

The Eastern Conference of those Bulls was not as deep as the West the Lakers will have to face next year, and 55 wins is a mighty long way up. But better defense and some roster moves to bring in rebounders and defenders will move the Lakers back toward the league’s elite. It may take a few years, but a direction to build a team in the mold of the early 90s Bulls (with Kobe in the Jordan role) is what I think we’ll see.

(I could not have done this without the amazing basketball-reference.com site put together by Justin K. Thanks for everything you do.)

Not A Savior, But A Start

Kurt —  June 14, 2005

Apparently, Phil Jackson is not a Thomas Wolfe fan.

That’s okay, he can come home and myself and most Laker fans will welcome him (I’m celebrating this with a Duff beer tonight, maybe two). This is a great first step.

In the disastrous aftermath of this rudderless past season I felt (and wrote) that charting an organizational direction had to be THE top priority — and Phil Jackson will provide that. He is someone who knows what he wants and will point the Lakers that way, and while there can be questions about the direction at least this organization has one again.

However, unless he has learned to walk on water — or turn Chucky Atkins into a defender — he will need some time and help.

Let’s start with the positives. I wrote about this before, Phil will bring defensive discipline to a team that desperately needed it last year. To briefly recap, the last time Phil came to Los Angeles he took at team that the year before was 24th in the league in defensive efficiency and made it the best in the league. He also made a major turnaround in Chicago when he took over there.

If the Lakers had just an average defense last year they would have made the playoffs (then likely lost in the first round, but made the playoffs). Jackson will make the defense respectable.

The other thing is the triangle offense — remember Tex Winter going on the radio at the start of last season saying this Laker squad was in many ways better suited to run the triangle than the championship teams? This is not a more talented team, but the triangle may spread the ball around better and leave Kobe shooting less than 17% of his shots with less than 3 seconds on the shot clock, like he did last year. Remember, the triangle is a spread the floor, take what the defense gives you type of offense, if run correctly the Lakers will do well in it.

Despite all that, what Phil cannot do is make this team an instant contender.

This team’s weaknesses do not go away with a new coach. We still cannot defend the point and we still don’t have a consistent shot blocking presence inside to punish the guards who do penetrate. We still need somebody who can clean the glass and defend the four. The draft alone will not solve these problems.

Now, though, the real work to fill those holes can begin. We have a direction. And that is something worth celebrating.

He’s Baaaack

Kurt —  June 14, 2005

It’s official, Phil Jackson will be announced as the Laker coach this afternoon at a 2 pm press conference at Staples Center.

Fast Break

Kurt —  June 13, 2005

I’m just telling this story here because I can, if you want to read some basketball thoughts move on down to the bullet points below.

Yesterday my wife and I hosted a small first birthday party for my daughter, just our families and a few of my daughter’s baby friends (or, more accurately, my wife’s mommy friends) having a picnic in a local park. Things are going great — babies are playing with toys (and not screaming much), adults are having conversations about things other than babies and all the Togo’s I thought I’d have to take home is being eaten.

About 15 yards from us are another couple families picnicking in the park, and their kids (I’d guess second or third graders) are throwing a football around and it’s all very Norman Rockwell.

Then one of the kids tries to punt the ball and it goes straight up into a tree — and hits a bee hive. Suddenly it’s like a seen from The Swarm in the park, with all the parents hustling their children away as fast as they can — including us — and me trying to do things like cover the fruit plate and anything else that may attract angry bees. Needless to say, a nice little family party came to a crashing halt.

In a few years we’re going to look back on this party and really laugh, especially since nobody got stung. Right now it just seems a little surreal.

• Laker coaching search update: Just hum the Jeopardy theme to yourself.

• This little NBA Finals stat from Dan Rosenbaum (posted on the APBR boards): In game two, San Antonio outscored Detroit 61-10 on the combination of three pointers and free throws. Then there’s this stat about the soon-to-be Finals MVP: Manu’s eFG% in game two was 100%. Insane. He is abusing Prince.

• Bill Plaschke takes a lot of flack in the blogsphere for his sports opinions. He usually deserves it. But I will say that his profiles/human interest stories are some of the best writing in the LA Times. If you haven’t read his piece on Gregg Popovich’s days as the coach at Pomona-Pitzer from Sunday, you need to. It will tell you a lot about the man and his coaching philosophy.

• Nobody enjoyed that piece more than my wife, who was a basketball team statistician at Pomona at that time and knew all the people interviewed.

• By the way, Pomona-Pitzer has one of the worst mascots in college athletics — the Sagehen. That’s an animal that plays dead in the face of danger.

• Hoopsanalyst has posted a piece on point guards in the draft that is fantastic. He likes Chris Paul one, followed by Jarrett Jack.

As a side note, I want to talk some draft at FB&G in the upcoming days, but I’ve been holding back some because a coach/team direction is more important. I think the Lakers biggest off-season need is at the point, but who would get drafted/picked up there is probably more influenced by the coach than any other position (Phil likes his points tall, so would he want someone like Felton?). To get around this, I’m going to start with big men. When not being chased by bees I started working on something over the weekend that I hope to post tomorrow.

Apparently now we are all waiting for Phil Jackson to come down from Mt. Sinai (or maybe return from Magadha is the better analogy) and tell us what he is going to do. The best news of all is that this is going to happen by early next week, ending this painfully drawn out process (at least from the outside) one way or another.

While we wait I had hoped to talk NBA Finals, I was excited to have a chance to get home last night and watch the entire first game. Then something came up at the day job and I was going to miss the fist quarter or so, but I could live with that. Then, while driving home I get a call from my wife saying the in-laws have invited themselves over for dinner. And I get to cook. So could I stop by the store on the way home while I was at it?

Outside of plays here and there, I saw nothing. I can say this — the overnight 6.2 television rating the game got was exactly half what the 2000 Lakers vs. Portland Western Conference Finals got. I bet the ABC people are thrilled — NASCAR gets better numbers than that.

Instead, here are a couple of links to check out:

• Popcorn Machine has the game flow up. It shows Ben Wallace struggled to stop Duncan or anyone else while the big three for the Spurs all had good nights. Add to that the Spurs got a few quality minutes out of Big Dog off the bench. Some people will say that a bench is less important in the playoffs because the starters play more minutes, but big play off the bench was a key last night keeping those starters fresh while not losing production.

• Hoopsanalyst has some good playoff thoughts up, plus talks contract negotiations and Tim Duncan’s place in history.