Archives For August 2005

Good Steps For Team USA

Kurt —  August 31, 2005

It’ll be next summer at the World Championships before we really know (or maybe the 2008 Olympics), but the early indications are that USA Basketball may have learned some valuable lessons from the 2004 debacle in Athens.

Case in point: The rape trial kept Kobe out of the last Olympics, but it appears the new efforts to build a team better designed to play international ball for 2008 will include Kobe, according to team architect Jerry Colangelo.

“I’ve gotten word that (Bryant) is waiting for a call,” Colangelo said. “I think this would be a great opportunity for him.”

The olive branch extended to Bryant means there is no chance of Shaquille O’Neal playing for Team USA, although he’s not the type of player Colangelo is looking for, anyway.

There are good signs out of this quote, and it has nothing to do with whether or not Kobe dons a USA jersey in 2006 or 2008 (although I think he should). Rather, that quote starts to show that Colangelo and USA Basketball gets what it needs to do.

Bringing in Kobe means the team is looking players who can shoot from the perimeter — particularly the three. If there was one clear deficiency in Athens it was that Team USA, to use a Chickism, couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean.

It sounds as if Colangelo is looking to build a team suited to play the international style of basketball — and he’s right, Shaq doesn’t fit that. He really never did, although a younger (fitter) Shaq still would have caused so many problems and was such a physical force he would have been unstoppable on any court or in any style.

This needs to be a more perimeter based and versatile team, with bigs who can play inside and out and not just a plethora of slasher guards. Kobe can fit right in that on the perimeter. That Colangelo is thinking along those lines is a good sign.

By the way, I don’t buy into the “the USA team lacked fundamentals” argument. Yes, jump shooting is a fundamental, but the core of that argument is that USA players couldn’t or wouldn’t pass (Team USA led the Olympics in assists, and it wasn’t close), had no idea how to play team ball (despite only being thrown together for that tournament) or that they didn’t care. I think it was pretty clear they did if you watched the games, but the deck was stacked against them.

In putting together a team that could sell jerseys but was not built for the international game (where the three-point line is more like college and the base of the lane is wider) Team USA was expected to win on pure talent. They needed shooters but Michael Redd never got an invite. To add to the problems they brought in a great coach (Larry Brown) but again whose teams do not play a style that fits well internationally. Plus, Brown didn’t want to play his kids so LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Amare Stoudemire were glorified spectators, despite their game being better suited to the Olympics than some that played a lot.

What you were left with is a team that scored 105 points per 100 possessions and gave up 103 (the tournament average was 103). For comparison, the original dream team averaged 116 and gave up 105 (tournament average 108). Dean Oliver has these and other numbers in a great piece he did on problems with the Olympic team last year.

Team USA needs to get its act together because it is clear the rest of the world is catching up on pure talent. Check out this work by Dan Rosenbaum, showing just how much of the young talent in the NBA is imported.

I think bringing in Colangelo was a good first step, although more needs to be done. USA Basketball needs to tell the NBA what players it wants, not the other way around. Shooters, versatile big men, a couple of shut down defenders. Basically, a team, not a collection of stars.

Also, they need a full time coach. It was pretty clear Larry Brown and staff did little or no scouting — when opponents big men wandered away from the basket out to the three-point line USA players watched them go, a bad move in international ball where bigs can shoot the three. That happened way too often and in key situations. A full time USA coach could scout these things. Plus, it would bring a consistent system and style to Team USA, as opposed to an All-Star game every four years.

We’ll see what happens — remember one of the big problems last time was so many NBA stars turning the team down. The days the USA can just roll the ball out and win on talent alone are gone, this needs to be a team now. It sounds like they are moving in the right direction.

Fast Break:

Kurt —  August 29, 2005

I swear, if the equipment doesn’t show up today to hook up my cable modem in the new house, I may kill someone. Dial-up is making me Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” crazy and angry. Sorry for those of you out there using dial-up, but high speed, once you have it you just can’t go back — sort of like cell phones. There may be other popular analogies, but I have no first-hand experience with those.

Anyway, a few Laker thoughts for a Monday:

• Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld talked to Mitch Kupchak this week and, basically, the Laker roster you see now appears to be what you’ll see on opening night in Denver.

“I think as far as the nucleus of the team, I think we’re done. I don’t anticipate that we look to sign another free agent.

Pincus is suggesting there may be a trade for a backup center, but don’t expect big changes (despite the pining for Eddie Curry or Earl Watson).

• What that leaves the Lakers is a starting five that is pretty strong and the kind of flexible lineup that should work well in the triangle — McKie, Kobe, Odom, Kwame, Mihm. But if the Lakers are really going to do much those guys are going to have to play starting minutes like last season’s Phoenix Suns — the drop off to the bench talent is steep.

Luke Walton can play some minutes at the two or three, as can Jumaine Jones and Devean George. But right now your backup points guards are Sasha and Smush, and the backups at the 4/5 are Cook, Slava and maybe Vlade. Possibly there can be a rotation that has Mihm sit first and Kwame go to the five, with Cook playing some 4, but that is a potential defensive disaster inside. (In that scenario, Mihm would come in for Kwame, then Kwame eventually re-enters for Cook, but I really don’t like the combos outside of Kwame/Mihm.)

• Who watched the MTV Video Music Awards last night? Neither did I. But I may try to catch the “red carpet” portion of the show during the unending reruns just to see Snoop Dogg roll up in a low-rider decked out in Laker colors, and wearing a hat signed by Laker greats.

• One quick note on the Aaron McKie signing — his entire career McKie has worn the number 8, but that’s not happening in Los Angeles. McKie will wear 2 instead.

Are You Ready For Some Football?

 —  August 26, 2005

No, I’m not changing the focus of this blog, but as a football fan (particularly college, especially one university that already has a great blog following it) I’m happy to see the season ready to get rolling again.

Along those lines, if you like the statistical bent of this site then there are a couple of football sites you might want to check out. One is Football Outsiders, a site that uses a lot of “value over average” style statistics to help break down football games (for those familiar with baseball sabermetrics, think of it like value over replacement player stats). Among the writers for this site is Kevin Pelton, a guy whose very insightful work on advanced basketball statistics I’ve quoted here and who has been a good friend of the site (even if he is a Sonics fan).

Roland Beech, the man who brought us one of my favorite hoops sites, 82games.com, has a football site as well called Two Minute Warning. It has things like stats for team drives and for individual players things such as points per play used (a nice stat for those pulling together fantasy teams).

Finally, ESPN.com has added a guy they are calling the football scientist, who does intensive game charting then breaks down statistics out of that. He’s on the pay-to-view Insider pages but if you’re already forking over cash for the mostly overrated “insider” stuff check him out (John Hollinger and Rob Neyer are two key exceptions to the overrated tag, by the way).

All the football sites focus more on predictions (often against the spread) than do similar basketball or baseball sites, largely because there is such a demand from people who may bet on football (I have no idea who these people are, cough, cough). Still, if you’re into the stats or football these are worth checking out.

Thoughts Through A Hangover

Kurt —  August 25, 2005

I really don’t go out much on “school nights” anymore, but as last night was our anniversary my wife and I lined up a babysitter and we were off to splurge on a wine dinner at a fine restaurant. It was well worth it, great food (amazing seared ahi and steak courses) and plenty of great wine (love the St. Francis old vine Zin), but today is a tad hazy — this post is brought to you by a Peter King-level caffeine intake.

• There’s an interesting discussion in the comments thread for my last “Fast Break” post about learning to play the triangle that is worth the read. Regular commenter Renato Afanso (who has explained why I regularly get hits from Portugal) said he has been playing the system in club and college teams overseas:

The system is incredibly easy. If you have the fundamentals and you understand some easy concepts of the game, the system allows you to get easy shots out of picks 9 feet from the basket. It also allows you to play with the center at mid-post (a good passing center like Divac would thrive with the system… Problem is that most kids just want to do some flashy moves and dunk over someone, and forget to learn the rest… maybe that’s the problem in US college basketball right now. But that’s a subject for another post, isn’t it?

SI.com’s Kelly Dwyer (who also knows the offesne well) points out in a subsequent post that the problem in teaching it is not the offense itself but rather getting the players to grasp the concepts behind it, to understand Tex Winter’s seven Principals of a sound offense.

I have read some of Tex Winters writings, but not the entire book on the offense. It didn’t seem exceptionally challenging to me, however I assumed that often things are different in execution than on paper. I think the comments made by those more knowledgeable than I about this pertaining to basketball IQ and the need to subjugate yourself (and your stats) for team goals — and that not always meshing with NBA players (or college, for that matter) — may be a big part of the challenge coaches face with the triangle. (That adds to why Phil needs a real buy-in from Kobe to make this work this season.)

As for Vlade (another part of that comment thread). I would love to have him back, providing his back is up to it. I think I’ve said this before — if he can play 15-20 minutes a night for 70 or so games, then bring him back because his passing skills will be a great fit with the triangle (they were in just seven games last year) and he should be a good influence on Andrew Bynum. Well, not the smoking but in pretty much everything else. However, if Vlade can only play as much as he did last year, then that’s a wasted roster spot.

• As for Laker news, there isn’t much. Hoopsworld’s Eric Pincus said don’t expect to see Jalen Rose or Marcus Banks in a Laker uniform, or for that matter Eddy Curry. He suggests the Laker will make another move in the coming weeks, but it won’t be a blockbuster.

• And Eric, congrats on Maya! Glad to hear everyone is doing well.

• In case you didn’t read it, check out the interview with Laker owner-in-waiting Jim Buss from the LA Times yesterday (all the other area dailies also had the interview).

• Finally, if you wondered what Brian Cook has been up to this off-season, well, golfing. But for a good cause.

• By the way, late last week this blog hit the minor milestone of getting its 50,000th visitor. While the site has been around basically since the start of last season, the first few months it was little more than just me and my parents coming here. Since the hiring of Phil and through the summer readership had really exploded (I expect to pass 100,000 during the second half of next season). I just want to say welcome to everyone, please join in the comments and know that there will be some improvements to this site and some other exciting (for me) changes come in the coming months. It’s great to be forming a community of passionate and intelligent Laker fans and I look forward to that making this next season even more enjoyable.

Fast Break

Kurt —  August 22, 2005

A few things worth talking about (besides the end of Six Feet Under, which has crushed my wife) on a Monday morning.

• Aaron McKie is now a Laker. I’ve written about him before. I’m concerned about how well he can cover the quick point guards of the league, but he does fit what Phil Jackson generally likes in his points and he’s still solid on the offensive end. The other question is just how much have McKie’s skills declined as he’s aged and how much can be resurrected. Add McKie to the long list of “ifs” the Lakers have coming into the season (if they can play team defense, if Kwame can play to his potential night in and night out, if…). This may be a decent stopgap answer or he may spend more time on the bench than we’d like, but at least it’s just a two-year deal.

• Apparently the Lakers made the same offer, $2.5 million per year for two years, to both McKie and Derek Anderson, and McKie was the first to respond so he gets the job. If that’s true, it’s an interesting way to choose your starting point guard.

• The good news is the Lakers have half of their mid-level exception left — $2.5 million. There are two options on spending that money as I see it: 1) Go get a backup center and have Sasha and Smush as your back up point guards; 2) Go get a defensive stopper at the point (and that does not mean Tyrone Lue) and have Vlade come back as the backup center.

• Make sure to read the bottom of Saturday’s Laker report in the LA Times to get a status update on Ronny Turiaf, who is already walking on a court and dribbling a basketball. If there’s one guy I want to see make it back….

• In case you missed it in the LA Times Magazine over the weekend, interesting story about former Sparks power forward Latasha Byears. She was let go by the Sparks after a sexual assault charge. The comparison to Kobe Bryant’s case is a bit of a reach (and we’re not going to have a discussion about the merits of that case on this site), but I will say this — as long as sports is a business, players who can add to the bottom line, and Kobe is certainly one who does, will get all the breaks they can. Steve Howe comes to mind. Byears realizes that she was a bench player on a team and in a league that loses money and is very image conscious, making her vulnerable. But her biggest questions are good ones — was she treated differently because this case made widely known she was gay? Is the WNBA so concerned about it’s image, trying so hard to reach out to the “average American,” that it would let her go to protect its image?

• The Sporting News has a story up about statistics in sports that gives a little love to poeple I admire such as Dean Oliver, John Hollinger and Roland Beech, among others. Nothing groundbreaking, but worth the read if you enjoy this kind of thing.

• A good laugh for the day: Shooting guard turned boxer Kendall Gill wants another shot at the NBA and said he’d like it with the Lakers (thanks to Ben Maller for finding the link). I’d love to have Gill if we can invent a time machine and bring the 1995 version into camp. However, I’m not going to say anything too bad about Gill because I’m pretty sure I lose a fight with him.

Wilt, 1962, Reviewed

Kurt —  August 19, 2005

There may be no more mythically intimidating player in the history of basketball than Wilt Chamberlain. And 1962 was the year of his most famed achievement, the 100 point game. That’s at the heart of a new book by Gary Pomerantz, who looks at Wilt in that year and in the context of those times. Scott Thompson — who posters here know as Gatinho, one of the most insightful and regular commenters on this site — read the book while on vacation and has written a review. (Why he was reading a book while in Brazil is another question for another day.) I’m proud to post it here, and I think it’s safe to say he recommends it.

“The Hershey Sports Arena had aged like Dorian Gray: not at all…” When reading a sports book, an avid reader of many genres’ (or an English teacher’s) first thoughts as they begin are, “Is this going to be a sports novel that takes a stab at the literary or a piece of literature that happens to be about sports.” Pomerantz strikes a balance melding story-telling with poignant historical and social insights, sweetened with a load of head scratching Wilt stats some of which you just can’t get your head around (55 rebounds in a game against Bill Russell, allegedly a better rebounder).

In the legendary 100-point game, Wilt handled the ball 125 times, had 63 shots, 32 free throws, 25 rebounds, and played all 48 minutes. The previous record was 73 points (also Wilt´s) in triple overtime. No player has gone over 75 since that night and the last player who came close in recent history was David Robinson with 71 and he had the help of the Clippers. Only four players have broken 70: David Thompson, Wilt, Robinson, and the original Laker gunner, Elgin Baylor.

Wilt,1962, by Gary Pomerantz, was reflective of the format that Jane Leavy used in her 2003 book “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy” chronicling Koufax´s perfect game set against the backdrop of the Watts riots. Alternating chapters, she moved from a pitch by pitch recount of the Game to chapters about Koufax and his social relevance as an icon of the Jewish Community. Alternating between insights into the characters involved in this John Henry style achievement and a minute by minute recap of the contest, Pomerantz mimics this style in his painstakingly researched novel analyzing “The Night of 100 points and the Dawn of a New Era.”

In arguing about the ability of a Shaq against a Wilt or Bill Russell, I always griped that, “Wilt was playing against a league that was on average 5 to 6 inches shorter than it is today.” Thus diminishing the efforts of Wilt with visions of an adult playing against a child on an 8 foot rim. But Pomerantz’s account lifted away those misconceptions and showed what a workman-like, lunch pail and hard hat effort this really was. Had he not missed the lay up, he would have scored the 99th and 100th points on a steal of the inbounds pass. Elgin Baylor, who predicted that Wilt would score a hundred in an interview with Chick Hearn just a month before he did, and Jerry West, whose 63 that year (24 in the third quarter, a Laker record) against the same pathetic Knick team that Wilt got historic on, are mentioned prominently in the book as the only two players of the time who could be mentioned in the same conversations about scoring as Wilt.

Laker fans will also recognize Dipperisms (Pomerantz calls him the Dipper throughout the book being as that was what Wilt preferred — he hated “The Stilt”) like “my boom-boom move” and “no one roots for Goliath” as having been “bitten” by one 340 pound South Beach resident.

Finally, Pomerantz unveils the NBA´s unwritten racial code of the time concerning African-American players and their implicit playing restrictions: “One at home, two on the road, and three if you are losing.” He places that into the context of the present NBA and its continuing difficulty of appealing to middle America. Interestingly, the criticism of the NBA then was that they were scoring too many points and that the average American Joe couldn’t relate to the “glandular goons” who were taking over the game. Sadly, to this day the same types of criticisms exist, dripping with their thinly veiled racial undertones,(lack of fundamentals, a one on one game, the playground/Spostscenter highlight reel influence) as echoes of the NBA´s past and the shift caused by The Dipper’s seminal performance penetrate the modern game.

If you want to check out the box score from Wilt’s big game, here it is.

Aaron McKie: A Quick Look

Kurt —  August 18, 2005

Which past-his-prime, tall guard being converted to the play point sounds better to you, Derek Anderson or Aaron McKie?

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers are looking at McKie, who just got set free in the formerly-Alan-Houston-rule-now-the-Jerome-Williams-rule cuts. Since he’s on the radar, let’s take a quick look at McKie.

McKie played in 21 more games than Anderson last season but still played 121 fewer minutes than Anderson, averaging just 16.4 minutes per game (the Times mistakenly said McKie played 48 games last year, but he played in 68, starting 3). McKie is a couple of years older and has played three more seasons in the league than Anderson (11 total for McKie).

A few things concern me about McKie, and let’s start with what the Lakers need most from their point guard — defense. The good news is that McKie’s defensive numbers are pretty good — the last two seasons his defensive ratings were 104 and 103 (points per 100 possessions used by who he was guarding), both numbers at or below the league average and much better than Chuck Atkins 115 last season. Last year guards shot 50% against him, the season before 47%, the later being a pretty good number. The bad news is that McKie was not asked to cover point guards (Iverson took that duty), 82games has McKie matched almost exclusively against twos and three the last two years. What can he do against smaller, quicker point guards?

What should concern everyone about McKie is he combines some age with a drop off in production last season. From the 98-99 season through the 03-04 season, McKie averaged double digits in points scored per 40 minutes played, last season that number dropped to 5.4. He shot 32.3% from three-point range last year, below his career average of 35% and well below two seasons ago when he shot 43.6%. Or just look at his PER starting in the 01-02 season through last year: 15.8, 13.7, 13.9, 8.4.

Now all that said, McKie is not an offensive black hole, he still had an eFG% of 50% and had 1.02 points per shot attempt last season, numbers that were down from the previous season but not horrible, especialy coming to a team where he will not be asked to score a lot.

Was last year an aberration or is McKie sliding very fast on the down slope of his career (ala Brian Grant)? Does the decline in numbers relate to how he was used last year (I didn’t see many Philly games)?

Despite all my concerns, the Sixers were 1.6 points better per 48 minutes with McKie on the court rather than off last season. And if the Lakers are getting him for a two-year deal (one plus a team option would be nice) for just part of the MLE, while they find a better long-term solution at the point, then McKie could work out. Anderson could be the more gifted player when healthy, but McKie may be a somewhat safer bet.

Light Reading

Kurt —  August 17, 2005

Longer post coming hopefully this afternoon, another trip down memory lane (but not to the good years), but in the short term, may I suggest some reading.

The latest Carnival of the NBA is up at True Hoop (a site I try to check daily already). There’s a lot of good stories linked in the carnival, even one for you gamblers out there, but my personal favorites are: 1) Knickerblogger taking apart Charlie Rosen for calling Patrick Ewing a loser; 2) The sportsbusiness blog breakdown of the Addidas/Reebok deal.

Hoopsanalyst’s Bob Chaikin has a good look at the Joe Johnson deal, joining the growingly crowded “what are the Hawks thinking?” train. By the way, I’m not sure Phoenix will miss him too much, but they would have been better with him (but I wouldn’t pay that price either).

Update: One quick added must read. Dallas owner Mark Cuban, on his blog, talks about the decisions he made that led up to the release of Finley this week. it’s an insider’s look at how contracts are done and teams are built in the NBA. Also, for those of you who think the Lakers should just “buy a championship” this will be a sobering reality. (As if the attempt to do that with Payton and Malone wasn’t proof enough.)

The template for success in the NBA changed from the Portland model of 1999-2000 when I got to the league, to the Detroit, San Antonio, Miami model. The finances and rules of the league evolved. The winning teams were ahead of the curve or evolved as the business of the NBA changed. Today, success seems to come from being a smart organization that can identify and develop young talent and have the financial and or cap flexability to be opportunistic and improve your team in season or during the offseason.

Dan Rosenbaum has a great analysis of this.

(As a side note, a computer crash has cost me much of the entry I was working on, so it will be tomorrow before it gets done.)