Archives For October 2005

The Grim Reaper

Kurt —  October 19, 2005

Smush Parker was born in Newark, grew up bouncing around the five boroughs and honed his game on NYC playgrounds, including “The Cage” at the West Fourth Street Park in Manhattan.

He was known as “The Grim Reaper” — every time he went out on the court, he killed (to paraphrase Smush himself). He’s got the Grim Reaper tattoo to prove it.

Even if you didn’t know that about him, you could have guessed it after watching him for a few minutes on an NBA court. Smush is not NBA polished, but he’s got plenty of playground grit.

And the Lakers could use that out top — they need someone who is tenacious on defense, who will slow down Steve Nash and get in the face of Tony Parker or Barron Davis. They need a little New York attitude.

After looking like he might become the latest addition to a long list of NYC playground legends who never made it in the NBA, Smush is getting his big chance 3,000 miles from those playgrounds, in a town that lacks a reputation for toughness but where its basketball stars have always been nails (from West through Kobe.)

To Smush’s credit he has worked to be more than a playground powerhouse for years. He played his senior year of high school ball in Queens, two years of JC ball in Idaho (talk about culture shock) and then a season at Fordham. He’s played 82 NBA games since the start of the 02-03 season, plus spent time in the NDBL and in Greece.

Time overseas and in the minors has not changed Smush’s New York state of mind — which is why Phil Jackson has mentioned him as a starter and Laker fans who have seen him have taken a liking to him. He plays hard on defense and is fearless — the Lakers don’t need him to be a stopper, just slow down the points and funnel them toward the two seven footers along the baseline.

But if Smush is going to stick, he needs to pick his spots on offense. Last season with Detroit, Smush shot just 27.8% on jump shots. His rookie year in Cleveland, when he played in 66 games, he shot just 37.8% on jumpers. He is a career 31.3% three point shooter.

Smush has shown he can do better than that — in the Summer Pro League he had an eFG% of 55.6% but shot just 28.6% from three-point range, which led to 17.9 points per 40 minutes and a good 1.33 points per shot attempt. In the first three preseason games the numbers are similar: an eFG% of 54.2%, but 18.2% from three point range.

My perception, based on watching him in five games and the statistics — Smush seems pretty solid from about 18 feet and in, but iffy beyond that. That can work just fine for this Laker squad — they don’t need him to score.

Smush: Stay away from the three ball, take the midrange when you get it, penetrate when you can and finish on breaks and you’ll get some points and be very efficient on offense. Combine that with some in-your-face, Fourth Street Park defense and you can fit in with these Lakers. (And don’t worry about fouls, with McKie playing key late-game minutes behind you, a few fouls are no concern.)

This is a Laker team full of second chances — they are looking for players they can build and grow with. Staples Center is a long way from Queens, but Smush has a chance to do that here.

One this is for sure, he will be a fan favorite — Hollywood has always had a fascination with the Grim Reaper.

Fast Break

Kurt —  October 18, 2005

The Lakers have a preseason game tonight up in beautiful downtown Bakersfield. If anyone sees the game and has comments post them, as it again is not being televised. Since there are no game thoughts, here are some general ones.

• Smush Parker apparently is going to be the Lakers starting point guard after all, according to Phil Jackson via the OC Register. They like his defense and “moxie.” Aaron McKie would still play key minutes, particularly at the end of games, Jackson said. For the record, this scares me — Smush has been okay, but none of his past NBA performances, his Summer Pro League effort or what I saw on the one televised preseason game showed he was ready to be a starter. Man, are the Lakers thin out top.

• A must-read on ESPN about coach John Wooden turning 95, from my favorite of their writers, Eric Neel. For two years in a row I attended the John Wooden Basketball Camp as a kid and have some very fond memories of those times and experiences, not to mention I daily put in practice things I learned there. Starting with how to tie my shoes properly.

• So it’s the young kids ruining the NBA and we need an age limit?

Over at the APBR board (for the stat minded), poster Jambalaya did the work and found last year there were 38 players ages 21 and younger who played in the NBA last season, with 23 of them logging at least 500 minutes (average of 6 a game) and eight averaged at least 25 minutes a game. All together, they played about 7% of the total league minutes available in the regular season. Those players average PER rating (weighted by minutes played) was 14.8, right at the league average of 15. And they are likely to get better.

• How about the Raptors losing to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the preseason? In Toronto. I love that the game is now this global and the best from Europe can play with an NBA team. And while it was a preseason game for maybe the NBA’s worst squad, remember this — the best player for the European champion Maccabi last season was Sarunas Jasikevicius, but he wasn’t there because he signed with the Pacers for this season.

• Noooooooooooooooooooo!

• Count me in the majority in the poll completed yesterday on this site — I’m picking Indiana to come out of the East. That’s what 49% of you said. Miami (second in the poll with 30%) is going to put up a lot of points, but can they play defense? The guys they brought in are (mostly) not as good defenders as the guys who left. As for Detroit (14%), I think Flip is a good coach but not as good as Brown. Plus, picking them just seems too easy.

• I thought about putting up a “Who will win the West” poll next but the only question in my mind was whether San Antonio could beat the over/under of 95% of your votes.

Spread The Love Around

Kurt —  October 17, 2005

Last season, when Kobe Bryant was on the floor he took shots (or was fouled) on 30% of the team’s attempts. For some perspective, that was the third highest level in the league (Allen Iverson was at 32.7%, Jermaine O’Neal in his limited time was at 32.3%).

What was impressive is that Kobe was still generating plenty of offense despite the heavy workload and focus from defenses —ignore what some in the media are saying about his shooting percentage being at an all-time low. Using standard shooting percentage it was (43.3%, barely down from his 43.8% the year before), but that doesn’t take into account the increased number of three point shots (170 more than the season before) and the fact he was getting to the free throw line a lot more (he attempted 131 more free throws than the season before). Kobe’s eFG% (which accounts for the three-pointers made) was 48.2% (right at his career average) and Kobe had a career high 1.13 points per shot attempt.

That said, while Kobe was taking 30% of the shots, no other Laker was above 20% (Lamar Odom was second at 19.7%). Think about that for a second — if there are 100% of shots available and five players on the court, the average is 20%. No other player was above that level. Odom was just about there as the number two option, the third option last season, Caron Butler, was at 19%.

This season, for the triangle offense to flow properly that has to change. Things should start better with Odom in the point/forward position distributing the ball. If Kwame proves he can pass well out of the post he’ll get plenty of chances down there. Plus, if Kobe can bring his usage rate in the offense down to 28% or so, he can select some better shots and pass up some of the prayers he was forced to take last season.

That is similar to what the triangle brought the Bulls in their glory years. Let’s look at the possibly the best team ever, the 72-win 95-96 Bulls — Jordan took 31.9% of the shots when he was on the floor, but Pippen took 24.4% and Kukoc 21.3. The other key players may have shot less but were efficient when they did.

That’s why one thing I saw in the first preseason game made me a tad nervous (yes, I know it was the first game). When things went poorly early, Kobe took over the offense and kept the Lakers in the game. The Lakers got back in it, but it looked a lot like last season when everyone stood around and watched Kobe.

After the second preseason game, poster Gatinho sent me a quote from Kobe, who had just 11 points in the game, saying he just wanted the offense to flow and pointedly took less shots so that teammates could work on the offense. That’s good, it’s what preseason is for.

There are times for Kobe to take over games, but usually that is in the fourth quarter of close contests. Too much of it with this team, particularly early in the season, will hurt this Laker squad’s development.

Right now, the love needs to be spread around.

NBA Preseason Poll

Kurt —  October 17, 2005

I’m one of a number of NBA bloggers taking part in a “Power Rankings” of NBA teams each week this season. The first one is out right now, up at yayasports.com, with (hold your breath) the Spurs on top. The Lakers are 15th.

Frankly, as with college football, I think doing these things preseason is just a bunch of people making guesses. I’m fine tuning a stats-based model to make my choices, which I may detail down the line, but it will take 10+ games before I’d consider it to be even vaguely accurate. So, until then, I’m guessing along with everyone else.

Fast Break

Kurt —  October 14, 2005

Through the weekend I’ll be filling in over at True Hoop, following and commenting NBA news — except for when my Irish are defeating USC (a guy can dream, can’t he?). The Lakers have left Hawaii and news is a little slow, but here are some team and NBA thoughts:

• Aaron McKie started the second preseason game for the Lakers and went scoreless (and get used to that, McKie is a weak offensive player), but he may get the job when the season starts. Any plans for Luke Walton to begin the season as a starter went out the door with his severe hamstring injury that will keep him out of training camp for at least a couple weeks and possibly until the season is a couple weeks old. Smush got a shot in the opener and his performance will not earn him a second chance. There aren’t a lot of other options with this thin Laker bench.

• As a side note on Luke’s injury, these things can be nagging if not allowed to heal properly. Better to keep him out too long now rather than bring him back too early and have him struggle with the injury throughout the season.

• If you thought Steve Nash was the league MVP last season, or even the Suns’ MVP, look how he does without Stoudemire the first two thirds of the season. (I thought the Suns were taking a step back this year before the injury, but now it’s a big step — Brian Grant is going to get a chunk of Amare’s minutes. I saw that movie last season and didn’t like it then.)

• The much-anticipated John Hollinger’s Basketball Forecast is landing on the doorsteps of bloggers and NBA fans everywhere. Except mine (despite my preorder). I’d hoped to sink my teeth into it this weekend, but the US Postal Service has other ideas.

• If, as rumored, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski is named the USA Basketball coach that makes Kobe even more likely to be a member of the team. As I’ve written before, that is good, because we know Kobe can hit an 18-foot jumper consistently, which would set him apart from the last US Olympic team.

Notes From The First Preseason Game

Kurt —  October 12, 2005

Preseason games are not about winning and losing, although winning is nice. They are really about seeing players and how they fit in your system. Here are some notes from the first preseason game (which I was able to find and watch on NBA League Pass), but be sure to take them with some salt as it is just one preseason game, which will be long forgotton by Christmas.

• Smush Parker was the surprise starter along with the expected four of Kobe, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm. Don’t read too much into that — Smush won’t be starting Nov. 2 in Denver. However, it is a sign that he is well ahead of others fighting for a roster spot as a backup guard. Smush was not great but solid, looked good shooting inside the arc and did hit a three (4 of 6 overall from the floor), had a running battle with Barron Davis (which Davis won but Smush did well enough to get Davis’ dander up) and Smush did look a lot better than Tony Bobbit (who was with the team last season).

• The triangle offense looked horrible in the first quarter and rarely looked smooth throughout the game. Spacing was off and players appeared to be thinking about their next step (and were tentative when they did make a move) rather than just reacting naturally. Kwame was particularly guilty of this. (Kwame did not impress me much in terms of shooting from the field [2 of 7, one of those makes a dunk, plus he drew a couple fouls] or on defense either, but that could be byproducts of not feeling comfortable.)

The offense didn’t really start to flow until Brian Cook, Slava and Devean George came off the bench — all three guys with prior triangle experience.

In the second half the Laker starters looked more comfortable in the offense, but they ran the triangle to set up more weak side isolation plays for Kobe and Lamar than the strong side sets they tried to get going in the first half. At times the triangle was ignored for high pick-and-roll plays with Kobe. Throughout the game, and particularly early, the Lakers were not making good entry passes to the post.

• The full-court pressure, trapping defense backfired early when Barron Davis was in the game — he pushed it passed the first wave and set up a lot of easy transition baskets. Part of that was the Lakers missing a lot of shots early, but the pressure did little on a good point guard and strong backcourt team. However, the second and third string of the Warriors had more trouble dealing with the pressure, at times.

• A good sign is that the Laker won the turnover battle, something that rarely happened last year. The Lakers biggest team defensive problem last season was being last in the league in creating turnovers (just 12.5% of opponent possessions when the league average was 15.5% and Memphis led the league at 17.4%). That at least appears to be improving.

• Lamar as the point/forward led to some good transition opportunities — he ran the floor with his head up and pushed the ball for a few easy fast-break baskets. I think he’s going to like (and hopefully flourish) in his new role in the offense.

• Kobe looked in mid-season form. I will add he appeared more comfortable when he got the ball out on the wing and could attack as opposed to when they tried to post him up.

• A sign of what the Lakers current makeup and offense can do to give the team an advantage — at points Barron Davis was forced to cover Devean George, at which point the Lakers wisely tried to post George up.

• I’ve never been a big fan of George more because I think a lot of Laker fans, as well as Laker management, overrate him. But he’s a solid, average player who should have a nice year coming off the bench for this team. He had that kind of a nice game in this preseason opener.

• Speaking of guys I’ve been hard on in the past who played better than expected — Brian Cook. He played both inside and outside and looked decent as the backup four.

• As mentioned in the comments on the last post, Luke Walton injured his hamstring and that’s not a good sign because that injury can linger a long time.

• Baron Davis is a great player and fun to watch. How well Golden State does this season will largely depend on how healthy Davis stays (and secondarily, how healthy Richardson and Foyle stay).

• Signs you’re not going to make the team: Laker camp signee Adam Parada’s name was spelled Perada on his jersey.

• Mihm struggled at times covering Adonal Foyle, but that’s not a shock. Mihm was hustling, diving on the floor at points, and showed the effort that earned him love from the fans last year.

Honolulu or Rome

Kurt —  October 11, 2005

Tonight’s the first Laker preseason game is against Golden State from Hawaii and at 10 p.m. (Pacific) and you can bet I’ll be in front of the television — either watching the game or my Tivo’d Rome from Sunday.

See, the first three Laker preseason games are not being broadcast here in Southern California because KCAL (channel 9) and the Lakers couldn’t reach an agreement on the additional games. Basically, KCAL didn’t want the added expense of getting crews in place and feeds set up from Hawaii.

However, all is not lost for us in So Cal if you have DirecTV or Dish Network you can get the game on a free preview of the NBA’s League Pass. Same for those of us with digital cable, allegedly, although last night when I tried to find where it would be shown I couldn’t figure it out on my system (Time Warner). My best advice is to light a candle in a church on your way home tonight then search around for it if you have cable.

The rumor is the game will be shown in the Bay Area on that area’s Fox Sports Net. Also, since it’s on League Pass theoretically people in other parts of the nation can catch it, too.

If you do watch it, post comments on what you see and think below.

One thing you may see is Luke Walton in the starting lineup. Phil Jackson suggested that was a possibility yesterday — a lineup of Odom at the point (or point/forward, if you prefer), Walton at the two, Kobe at the three, Kwame at the four and Mihm at the five. With the way the Lakers will run the triangle using interchangeable parts, I think this could be good offensive unit — Walton’s passing skills will be a great fit, especially if he can consistently hit 18-20 foot jumpers (Walton hit just 39.6% [eFG%] of jump shots last year and 42.6% in his rookie years, both numbers that need to improve).

My only question about that lineup — which I imagine we’ll see at points whether Walton starts or not — is who will defend smaller point guards, like Barron Davis tonight? Walton isn’t quick enough to do it. Kobe could do a good job but you will be forcing him to expend more energy on defense and risking foul trouble.

I guess we’ll find out starting tonight. If I can find the game.

Triangle 101

Kurt —  October 10, 2005

It’s the one offense even casual basketball fans can name, thanks to Phil Jackson and his nine titles with it. But ask those fans what the triangle offense is and you’d likely get a blank stare or an answer along the lines of “Well, your best players form a triangle…”

The offense is more complicated than that, but its basic tenets are pretty easy to grasp. For the record, I don’t pretend to be a professional coach or to have intimate knowledge of the triangle offense, but I’ve played in a variation of it (a dumbed down version a long time ago on a court far, far away), done plenty of reading and watched plenty of games. I’ve got a basic grasp of what’s going on. That does not make this the definitive source of triangle information, there are numerous places out on the Web to learn much more about the triangle, and those sites have graphics to help people who prefer the visual (I am going without graphics here). I think the best is at the bbhighway.com site, which has a great explanation using shockwave graphics and more, but Google can take you to countless sites.

The triangle’s primary goal is to create a mismatch or open shot (getting the ball in your best shooters hands, ideally) by keeping proper spacing and creating post, penetration and passing options. That can come in a number of ways through the offense, but for any of them to work the key is spacing and ball and player movement. In the end, if executed properly, you can create 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 situations within the halfcourt offense.

In its basic form, the offense sets up a three-man game on one side of the court (in a triangle, for an example let’s say with one player in the low post, one in the corner and one on the wing) and a two-man game on the other side (one at the top of the key, the other at the weak side elbow or wing). Out of that basic set there are seemingly countless options for cutting and player movement, but when one player moves another must as well to keep the spacing and balance, with players 15-20 feet apart (often a player will run to set a pick for another than take that spot on the floor). When the Lakers offense looks “out of synch” during a game or stretch this season (as is bound to happen), what you’ll notice is the spacing disappears, often because players aren’t moving without the ball.

The triangle, in a sense, is like the New England Patriots offense that won three recent Super Bowls — just take what the defense gives you. Tex Winter calls it a “read and react” offense. The cuts, screens and decisions players make in the triangle are based in part on what the defense does, and there are a myriad of options to choose from. To start with, there are numerous ways to get into the basic “triangle set,” and, more importantly for a team with the flexibility the Lakers have, there are numerous options for what player goes to what part of the triangle. Want to post up Kobe on a smaller guard covering him? The offense is easy to run where he becomes the post player and your center and power forwards are in wing positions. What is key in that scenario is recognition of where Kobe’s defender is — is he between Kobe and the basket or is he trying to deny the entry pass to the post? — then making quick passes around the triangle to get the ball into the position that allows not only an entry pass to Kobe in the post but the chance for him to seal off his defender and get a quick score.

If there is good spacing — and if you have “triple threat” players on the perimeter who can hit a 20-foot jumper to keep the defense honest — then it is difficult to double-team a player in the triangle. When a player is doubled (as Shaq was in the post often) other players should be able to get open shots with just some crisp passing and cutting to correct spaces through screens.

The Laker offense this season is going to look to take advantage of having players who can both shoot from the outside or beat their man off the dribble (Kobe, Lamar Odom and, hopefully, Kwame Brown, for starters). If it is working well no players are “static” for long but rather are moving to create screens or cut to open spaces. For example, picture the basic triangle set up with the ball on the wing (and a guy in the corner and a guy in the post). If the wing player throws the ball into the corner the post player can come out and set a screen for the wing player, who will cut through to the basket looking for a quick pass and a lay-up. Or the corner player could take the shot if the defense sags to stop that pass to the cutter. It all depends on how the defense reacts.

And that’s just one of numerous alternatives. You can have the wing player pass into the post then set a screen for the point (the player at the top of the key), who would then swing into position for an open 16-foot jumper on a pass out of the post. Or get the ball into the post and have the wing and corner players run a “crossing pattern” and hope a defender gets hung up. Or about 100 other choices.

But the ball doesn’t have to go into the post every play, it just did during the Shaq era. The player at the top of the key has a myriad of options to set up plays. One we may see is having the ball out top, having the wing player go down and set a screen for the player coming out of the corner, who runs up a “curl” along the free-throw line and, hopefully, can have a shot or pass inside if the post defender leaves to help.

There are also countless back door, isolation and just about every other type of play available within the triangle offense. It’s strengths are its versatility and its ability to have interchangeable parts — the post player doesn’t have to be a traditional center, it can be whoever — which is why the Lakers are building toward having several players of similar size as scoring options, allowing them to exploit whatever mismatch is found. Hopefully we will see a lot of Kobe getting opened off screens for catch-and-shoots, more like Ray Allen in Seattle.

Part of the beauty of the triangle is it uses a defensive team’s aggression against them — when a defender jumps into a passing lane there are “automatic” counter moves designed to create easy (or at least open) scoring chances. It also allows for a transition or “fast break” game, again wanting spacing, but allows for the player with the ball to pull up and set up the offense if good alternatives are not there. We saw little of this fast break version in the Shaq era, and I’m not sure how much we’ll see now, but it should be more prevalent.

There are two basic defensive ideas you’re likely to see against the Lakers and the triangle this season. One is the “pack it in” idea, where teams will be willing to give Aaron McKie and other perimeter players (except Kobe, most likely) more open outside shots rather than allowing Kwame or a penetrating Kobe or Lamar to get inside the paint and get a better shot. Basically, Laker perimeter players will get a chance to “shoot over” the defense.

The other is to be more aggressive from the start, maybe all the way up the court, and not to let the basic triangle set get into position in the first place. That kind of aggression will open up passing lanes for the offensive “initiators,” often Odom or McKie, and if they make smart decisions with the ball open shots will come.

This offense fits fairly well with the Lakers current talent and should keep them in the top 10 in the league in offensive efficiency this season — if they play smart and key players stay healthy.