Archives For October 2005

CourtsideTimes.net

Kurt —  October 31, 2005

I’ve wanted a place like this for a while, kind of a Cheers on the Web for the growing number of smart and witty basketball fans looking for something different who are finding each other on the information superhighway. Well, like Cheers but you have to supply your own drink (as if Diane was going to get your order right anyway). Still, a friendly place where conventional wisdom was challenged, assumptions laid to waste, some fun poked at people and all of it that done with some style.

Enter CourtsideTimes.net. It’s the brainchild of Mike, better known around here as Knickerblogger, and he’s not shy about saying he saw what baseball fans had at places such as Hardballtimes and Baseball Think Factory and wanted to to convert the ideas to NBA themes. To really get an idea of his vision, check out the site’s manifesto.

Log on to the Courtside Times home page and on the right side is some of the NBA news headlines of the day, followed by comments from everyone — ala Baseball Think Factory’s Primer (if you’re a baseball fan and don’t read this, you’re missing out). On the other side are fresh articles every day from some of the best NBA writers on the Web — particularly “NBA moneyball” stats writers, who appear to be going by the term APBRmetricians — with insights into everything NBA related.

What will make this a must read are the people. There’s Knickerblogger, the dean and still best of the NBA bloggers; there’s Justin Kubatko, who is the driving force behind basketball-reference.com; there’s Harlan Schreiber from Hoopsanalyst, one of my favorite hoops sites; there’s Kevin Broom, who has done some of the best work at Real GM and has done great work on defensive charting and statistics; there’s Ed Küpfer, who does some of the best statistical breakdowns on the Web (for long-time readers of this site, Ed used to have a site called Stats Pimp that I often referred to, I have no idea why he would give up that moniker); Scott from the very good Raptor Blog; and themightymjd, which, if you haven’t found it, is one of the best all-around sports blogs out there, this guy is funny and insightful. Plus there are a couple of people who may pitch in now and then who are as good or better than those mentioned.

And there’s me. I’m in way over my head with this crowd, but I’m going to bluff my way along and hope nobody figures it out. Already up are my NBA season predictions, and there is a lot more to come. Plus, you can bet I’ll be an active part of the news and notes comments daily — as you should be.

Check it out, and bookmark it. Pretty soon I think you’ll find Courtside Times as comfortable a part of your life as swinging by the bar with all your best friends.

Laker Preview — Offense

Kurt —  October 29, 2005

Note: This is the second of two Laker preview articles, this one focusing on the offense. The defensive preview can be found here.

Meet the new offense, same as the old offense.

The triangle is back in L.A. But this is not your Shaq-daddy’s triangle — there’s more motion, attacks from the wing rather than just the post and other tweaks. It’s a triangle that will look more like the old Bulls version than the old Laker version.

Which is good, but fixing the offense should not be that hard for the Lakers — even when their offense resembled a Keystone Kops movie last season it was pretty good. The Lakers finished the season with an offensive rating of 104.8 (points per 100 possessions), good enough for seventh best in the league. They shot 48.5% (eFG%) from the floor, got to the free throw line on 25% of their possessions (13th best in the league) and grabbed the offensive rebound on 25% of their misses. They shot 35.5% from three-point range on a team record 1,813 attempts.

All the nice numbers aside, Rudy T’s offense rarely looked smooth. Part of that was a basic design flaw — he wanted isolation basketball with plenty of penetration, but that meant at any given time either Kobe or Lamar Odom stood around with his hands in his pockets. Mostly Odom. When Kobe was out with an injury for 14 games Odom attacked and looked like he had the season before in Miami, when he shared the court with Kobe he looked lost without the ball in his hands.

Jackson has remedied that by putting the ball in his hands — Odom will be the “initiator” of the offense, meaning he brings the ball up the court and gets to make key decisions about attacking the opposition. It’s the role Scottie Pippen played in Chicago and Kobe used to play in L.A. (although Kobe’s decisions were largely limited to how to get the ball the Shaq in the low post).

Having Odom at the point/forward position will also help the Lakers’ fast break — in the preseason he is averaging 12.4 rebounds per 48 minutes, second best among those playing regular minutes (Brian Cook is at 15.1, a pleasant surprise). A player who can grab the rebound and lead the break (ala Magic Johnson) is a dangerous threat.

Kobe is still the Lakers main threat and, although at points in this preseason he has pulled back to let others learn the offense, he is showing he can thrive in an attacking role. While it is just preseason, Kobe has averaged 36 points per 48 minutes (up from 32.5 last season), has an eFG% of 51.4 (48.2) and is taking just 3% of his shots from three-point rage (29.2% last season, which is insane).

Maybe the biggest key to the long-term success of the Lakers offense this season is how Kwame Brown develops, particularly over the course of the season as he becomes more comfortable in the offense. It’s too early to tell how this will turn out, and all we have to go on are preseason numbers, but he seems to be doing better than last season — he is scoring 18 points per 48 (up from 15.4 last season), shooting 51% from the field (46%), is pulling down 11 rebounds per 48 (10.9) and giving out 2.9 assists (2.1). That said, Kwame has disappeared for parts of games or even entire games — that was always the knock on him, he was good when he wanted to be but that was not every night. We’ll see if the combination of maturity and Phil Jackson can change that.

Another key will be bench play — the Lakers are not deep but they need a few players to step up.

One that has done that well so far has been Devean George. Back healthy and in an offense he is familiar with, George has the second-highest per-48 minutes scoring average on the team of 25.2 (trailing only Kobe). He’s stepped back inside the arc and is shooting 54.8% from the floor. If he can provide that kind of scoring punch off the bench with some solid defense he’ll be a very valuable Laker indeed.

Two other players have shown signs of putting their entire game together this season. Luke Walton was getting mentioned as a potential starter before a hamstring injury sidelined him. When he returns his passing skills will be a good fit in the triangle (although he needs to step up his defense). Secondly, Brian Cook, who spent last season as “the league’s tallest two guard” (thanks to Steve Kerr for that line) has moved back inside the arc and is grabbing rebounds too.

(By the way, Cook should still be shooting some threes — when 82games.com broke down the best shooters from specific areas of the court, Cook was the most deadly in the league with the straight-on three, shooting 50.9% from that area last season. Working a way to get him that shot into the offense, or trailing on a break, would be good to see.)

Overall, the Lakers are going to score, although the offense likely will start out a little rough and smooth out as the season wears on. That said, I still expect to see a top-10 offense by the time the playoffs roll around.

Fast Break

Kurt —  October 27, 2005

Fifth, and Final, Update: Green has made the team as the Lakers just officially cut Corie Blount. We needed (still need) another big man but we needed one who could stay healthy.

Update Number Four: As of Monday morning, apparently Devin Green is in and Corie Blount may be the man on the outside.

Update Number Three: If you can’t wait for the rest of my Laker preview, coming Saturday, or just want the Cliff Note version, check out the always good Sactownroyalty.com, where Tom may hate the Lakers (and he should, they could never beat us when it mattered) but still posted my preview. He’s good that way. Not that I don’t plan to mock him every time we beat Cowbell City, including in tonight’s preseason game.

Update Part Deux: Not so much an update as something I forgot to mention below: The Lakers have until Monday to decide if they want to pick up the option on Brian Cook’s contract for next year. Pick up the option and we pay him just $1.8 million next season, let it go and he is a free agent at the end of the year. My initial thought, Cook isn’t the best back up four ever, but he’s not bad (PER of 14.1 last season) and at just $1.8 it is a good deal.

Update: Late Thursday the Lakers officially cut Tony Bobbitt and Adam Parada. Those were expected. One more cut needs to be made, with Devin Green or Laron Profit the likely candidates.

Following are some notes to clear out my inbox — but this is not the only site you can read my ramblings today. Over at Sportsfanmagazine.com there is a Q&A posted where I talk about the Lakers this season and entire league, plus what NBA player I think I can take in a fight. (By the way, there are also Q&A’s with Knickerblogger and Jeff from Celtics Blog on the site.)

• The details on the Jumaine Jones to Charlotte trade are out: It is a 2007 second round pick, unless the Bobcats have one of the five best records in the NBA this season. So we’re pretty safe it’s 2007, which is better than a 2006 pick, a year the draft is expected to be shallow (well, 2007 is better so long as the Bobcats don’t suddenly become very good that year). I also read in one account that the Lakers would get Charlotte’s trade exception, but that does not seem to be part of the official accounts of the deal.

Commenter James had a great breakdown (reprinted below) on why Jumaine Jones was third on the team in +/- last season, and it all comes back to the old problem with that ratio — it’s as much about who you replace as your game.

A few thoughts about Jones’ excellent +/- ratio. First, the other Laker leaders last year were Cook and Sasha. Either the team was worse than we thought, or the +/- ratio doesn’t capture much in regards to the 2004-05 Lakers’ squad.

In Jones’ case, the ratio essentially measures how much better the Lakers did with him on the court rather than the primary 3, Caron Butler. Butler played 52% of the minutes at the 3, Jones 29%.

As a scorer, Butler was miles ahead, putting in 7.9 more points per 48 minutes. Jones was better in other ways, capturing 2 more rebounds per 48, and actually winning the turnover battle, but the biggest difference is those points, and how they came. Butler got them because he shot 5.5 more shots per 48 than did Jones.

Those shots went primarily to Odom, Kobe and Mihm, who took 4.4 more shots per 48 with Jones on the floor than Butler. The Lakers were better with Jones on the floor, not so much because of what Jones did, but because of what he didn’t do–shoot.

What Jones’ +/- ratio really tells us is not that he should still be on the Lakers, but that we should all be glad that Butler is not.

• Count me among the people who didn’t see the end of the World Series because Time Warner Cable had an outage. If I had been emotionally invested in that game I would have flown off the handle.

• Quick thoughts on Bynum’s one outing this preseason: He looked raw but talented, just like in the summer league. He hit a difficult first shot against Utah (sandwiched between Ostertag and Kirilenko) but went 1 of 7 for the night. He showed some moments on defense, particularly when his quickness was the key (such as rotations and defending the pick-and-roll), but he got pushed around plenty by Ostertag. Got in some good rebounding positions but was “out veteraned” a few other times. I still don’t think he’ll play much, at least not early in the season, but in a pinch he can give you 5 to 10 minutes without costing you the game (unless he’s forced to defend a very good center). He needs to live in the weight room.

• I know who has got my vote for President in 2008.

• For the record, I’m picking McGrady to win the MVP, but Ed Weiland over at Hoopsanalyst does a good job handicapping the race this season.

• For you literary fans, I had the chance to hear Isabel Allende speak on Thursday, facinating woman and story that has led to fantastic writing.

Laker Preview — Defense

Kurt —  October 26, 2005

Note: We’re doing a two-part Laker preview this week, one part for each end of the court. Defense goes first, with offense to follow (likely on Saturday).

We love our fancy statistics here at FB&G, but you really didn’t need them to figure out what was wrong with last season’s Lakers— it was the defense. I knew it (and backed it up with fancy stats), you knew it, opposing coaches clearly knew it, Jack Nicholson knew it, the media knew it, the Laker girls knew it, birds knew it, bees knew it, even educated fleas knew it.

Last season’s Lakers were 29th in the league in defensive efficiency, with a rating of 108 (points per 100 possessions given up). While they were well below average in opponents shooting percentage (giving up 49.2% [eFG%], 21st in the league) what really hurt was being dead last in creating turnovers (just 12.5% of opponents possessions). On a gut level I wanted to lay all of it at the feet of Chucky Atkins (he of the defensive rating of 115 [same per 100 possessions system as the team rating], he who allowed opposing point guards to shoot 49.6% and have a PER of 19.2, basically the equivalent of having Mike Bibby playing against you every night) but the problem was bigger than that. It was systemic.

To fix this, the Lakers have turned to Phil Jackson. Last time he came to town the Lakers improved from a defensive rating of 104.4 (24th in the league) the year before to 98.4 (second in the league) under Jackson. This season the Lakers (along with the Knicks) are an interesting experiment this season in just how big a difference a coach can make on a team defensively.

But Phil is going to have to fix this system with some mismatched players and guys that have not been defensive stalwarts in the past. Of the nine Lakers expected to see significant time this season, only two have a career defensive rating below the league average — Devean George and Aaron McKie. Three guys are right at the league average (Kobe, Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown) and the rest have been worse than average.

While defensive stats are not definitive right now (due to lack of quality information, something changing this season), just eyeballing the Laker roster makes you nervous about the defense.

Up front there is the combination of Kwame and Chris Mihm. Kwame has the reputation of a good on the ball defender but a poor help defender, plus he doesn’t show up to play every night (something Jackson needs to help fix). Chris Mihm tries to block everything and that leads to foul trouble (something else Jackson needs to fix). The guys backing them us — Slava and Brian Cook — are far from defensive stalwarts.

In the middle the Lakers are better — Kobe can defend but had a bad season last year and, at times, wasn’t asked to in previous years in an effort to save his energy for offense. Lamar Odom is long and can create problems because of that, plus he can guard a four if need be. Devean George is a solid, though not spectacular defender off the bench. Luke Walton, well, let’s just not ask him to guard anyone good.

The biggest personnel concern is at the point — Chucky Atkins is gone (thank Buddha) but who is taking his place? There is Aaron McKie, who hasn’t guarded a point guard for two years while playing alongside Iverson. Plus McKie is not getting younger and faster. Then there is Smush Parker, who had a terrible career defensive rating coming into the season (last season in Detroit opponents had a PER of 19.4 playing against him, worse that Chucky Atkins, and that was with the best defensive front line in the league behind him). However, in the Summer Pro League and preseason he has looked better. These two guys do fit Phil’s preference for tall point guards that are both versatile and can use that length to disrupt the shots of players who beat them off the dribble.

So how does Phil overcome the questionable personnel? By applying some pressure and getting the players to apply themselves. He is asking his players to step up the defensive pressure — do some full court pressing (picking their spots during the season, one should not challenge Steve Nash too closely) and some jumping into passing lanes. Take some risks, create some turnovers, disrupt the offensive flow. It may mean giving up a few easy baskets but you can’t get rewards without some risk.

In the preseason it is working. The Lakers have a defensive rating of 101.5 — 6.5 points better than last season, an even bigger numerical improvement than last time he took over the team. Plus, the Lakers are creating turnovers on 17.6% of opponent possessions, meaning a lot more empty trips.

Those numbers are just from the preseason and things could change when the games matter, but the bottom line is the Lakers appear to care about defense first this season, understanding that it is the key to team improvement.

And that alone is a huge step toward the playoffs.

Jumaine Jones To Charlotte

Kurt —  October 26, 2005

Update: This trade is now official.

This morning the Charlotte Observer is reporting that Jumaine Jones is about to be traded to the Bobcats for a second round pick (registration required). They say the trade could go down today.

It is no shock that Jones is going to be traded — I actually had a note to mention that in an upcoming post — and doing it now allows you to keep a younger player on the roster. My only question is, if you waited, could get more than a future second rounder? This is a last year contract ($1.8 mil), a solid veteran who can shoot the three (39.1% from beyond the arc last season) and had an impressive 1.11 points per shot attempt last season. He would be good off the bench for the right team. Still, a Bobcat second rounder is really equal to a late first rounder, so it’s not a bad deal. I like Jones and hope he does well teamed up with Kareem Rush again.