Archives For November 2005

On Tap: The Seattle Supersonics

Kurt —  November 23, 2005

Normally I would warn you to guard against getting sick by eating too much turkey and stuffing then trying to watch the Laker offense.

But if the Lakers are going to get their offense looking like something less dysfunctional than the Bundys, this is the right team to do it against.

Seattle has the worst defense in the NBA so far, with a defensive rating of 116.8 (points per opponent possessions) and they are allowing other teams to shoot 53.7% (eFG%) against them, the worst in the league by 2.6%. Their defense has been suspect at every position except the two (Ray Allen likely will cover Kobe, that pair have great duels) — this is a chance for Lamar Odom, Chris Mihm, Smush Parker and just about everyone else who isn’t too banged up to play to step up.

And they need to start, because it is the lack of options outside of Kobe that is holding back the Laker attack. Kobe is taking 31.5 shots per 40 minutes, Odom is second on the team at 13.7 — less than half as many — and Smush is third at 12.9. It’s no wonder teams are double and triple teaming Kobe, and it’s no wonder that Kobe has seen his shooting percentage fall facing that pressure. Odom said in the L.A. Times he needed to be more aggressive, and he’s right. And now is the time to start.

Seattle also is allowing far too many easy put backs, letting opponents grab 34% of the chances on the offensive glass (the league average is 28%). This is a big chance for Mihm and Odom (still the Lakers best rebounder) to get some points inside, at least when Reggie Evans isn’t on the floor. (Seattle is very weak at the five with Johan Petro and Vitaly Potapenko, so this could be a good game for Mihm.)

Despite the defensive woes, Seattle has played better lately, having won four of their last six. Not coincidentally, that started to happen since Nick Collison was inserted in as the starting power forward, providing some defense and rebounding. And the Sonics can still fill up the bucket.

Ray Allen is still maybe the game’s best sharpshooter, hitting 51.2% (eFG%) while shooting 46.9% of his shots from three-point range (he is shooting 33% from beyond the arc). He’s averaging 24.8 points per 40 minutes. What’s more, Allen leagues the league in +/-, with a +34.9 Roland Rating so far this season (that means over the course of 48 minutes, the team is nearly 35 points better with him on the court rather than off).

The other key scorer for Seattle is Rashard Lewis, who is averaging 23.4 points per 40 minutes and is shooting 56%. He’s also getting the free throw line 6.6 times per game, so his true shooting percentage is a very healthy 62.3%.

However, things have started colder for guys who were keys last season for Seattle — Luke Ridnour is shooting 35.8% as the go-to guy out top and Vladimir Radmanovic is down to 46.8% coming off the bench. This is a team that misses Antonio Daniels.

So enjoy your turkey dinner and have a slice of pumpkin pie when the Lakers tip off at 7:30. And let’s hope what we see doesn’t make us sick.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Polls and Trades

Kurt —  November 22, 2005

First off, the latest Blogsphere Poll Rankings for the NBA are up over at yaysports.com. Detroit is now on top, with San Antonio, Dallas, Cleveland and Indiana rounding out the top five. The Lakers are ranked 22nd in the league, which is one spot below where I had them in my poll.

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Losing five of the last six has Laker fans looking for what is wrong and — as is often the case — looking for trades that can fix some of the problems. I’m not someone who likes to speculate about trades, and this early in the season all that’s out there is speculation, I prefer to link to the guys who have the inside contacts for that kind of thing.

Here’s the problem with the Lakers and trades right now — they have little anyone wants.

There are two things NBA general managers want in trades: talent or cap room flexibility (last-year contracts or draft picks).

The Lakers have only a couple last year deals people would take on — Devean George ($5 million) and Slava Medvedenko ($3 million). Together they get PJ Brown, but why would New Orleans make that deal? They can do better, big men are in demand. It doesn’t help that George and Slava are banged up right now. (As a side note: I get why they did it — how do you gamble $30 million in savings — but cutting Brian Grant this summer through the “Alan Houston/Jerome Williams” exemption cost the Lakers they one guy that had value as a last year contract, but he would not have been tradable to next summer at the earliest.)

Then there’s the question of talent: Who on this Laker roster would other teams covet? Maybe Chris Mihm to a degree, but the Lakers would have to get a big in return that is better, and teams mostly want size rather than to trade it. Teams may ask about Bynum now, but the Lakers aren’t making that move. Nobody is touching Kwame.

The only other answer is to end the Lamar Odom experiment. I seriously doubt 10 games into the season Phil Jackson is willing to write him off, but he is one guy still with value around the league. Maybe, maybe in the off-season if everything doesn’t work out the Lakers consider it.

But that’s just speculation. And I’m not going down that road.

Fast Break

Kurt —  November 21, 2005

Thoughts after a game the Lakers should have won.

• Kobe still taking way too many shots for the Lakers to win consistently, he is using about 34.7 possessions per 40 minutes (most of those are shots, but it includes things like turnovers), almost double the next highest Laker (Lamar Odom at 17.8) and by far the highest number in the league.

The bigger problem is: Who else is going to take them? Sure, we’d all like to see Odom shoot more and be more aggressive, but after that who is left that you want taking a lot of shots? Smush still has a good shooting percentage on the season (55.2% eFG%), but he is clearly someone who can go cold for long stretches. Chris Mihm and Brian Cook are shooting well within their respective roles, but the more you ask them to do the less consistent they will be. Who else should shoot more? Kwame?

Last season Kobe took a lot of shots (30 possessions used per 40 minutes) but there were several other scoring threats — Odom, Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins. (Atkins has been much maligned by me for his defense, but he filled up the net last season.) This season there were fewer classic scorers but I thought the triangle offense and an increased pace for the Lakers would get them some easy buckets to counter the lack of classic scorers. Now the triangle is sloppy (at best), Kobe is seeing double and triple teams (did you notice Tyson Chandler was way out contesting Kobe’s last three of the game) and no one else seems capable of decreasing his burden.

If someone doesn’t step up, if something doesn’t change, it is going to be a long season.

• I had higher hopes for the lineup that started against the Bulls because Odom was playing the four again, rather than Jackson’s “initiator.” But the starting five was -6 for the game and Odom got in quick foul trouble. With Kwame out I still think you should give this starting five another shot (or have Walton take Profit’s spot), but the group looked poor on defense.

• The Lakers are averaging 97.1 possessions per game, the sixth fastest pace in the league. That’s just for all of you who may have bought into the “triangle is boring” theory.

• Good minutes from Bynum, who picked up his first NBA points. So far this season he is averaging an insane 7.1 blocks per 40 minutes played. His game is still plenty raw, but I have a lot of hope for him. The big questions that I have are ones I brought up around the draft, the ones that I think are key to drafting any high school player — Does he have the work ethic? Will he listen to and absorb what Kareem and Phil are trying to teach him? How badly does he want to be good or great? I have no idea what the answers are (we won’t know for sure for a few years), but the improvement I’ve seen from Summer Pro League to now makes me optimistic.

• Rarely do I ever go to the “I told you so” card, but what did I say about Sweetney? To be honest, this was not my original idea — Knickerblogger was high on him for two years in New York and wore black for a week after he was traded.

• Sweetney had a good game and Tyson Chandler seemed to be more quiet (save for that block on Bynum), but Chandler was a game high +13. He makes an impact because he is a defensive and rebounding force.

• Did you know that when the Lakers drafted Sasha when Chris Duhon was still on the board?

• Rough game for Smush Parker, who was -12.

• How about my Cal State Northridge Matadors now? Mid-major fan Tim from over at Hoops Junkie told me he liked what he saw in them before the season but I was cautious. Now, I’m feeling pretty good.

On Tap: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  November 20, 2005

What is it with these Bulls and slow starts? Last season they started 0-9 but finished 47-35 and made the playoffs. This season they have started a little better 3-5, but they’re still in last place (because they are playing in the toughest division in basketball).

The Bulls come to the West Coast on what Matt from Blog-a-Bull calls “the annual circus road trip of death” (the circus kicks the Bulls out of their arena for an extended road trip each season, and each season they tend to struggle on it). Actually, everything I know about the Bulls I learned at Blog-a-Bull.

So far, this season’s Bulls are not displaying the lock-down defense that got them to the playoffs last season. Chicago has a defensive rating of 100.6 (points per 100 opponent possessions), 16th in the league, a big letdown from 97.5 and second in the league last year.

The question is: Are the Lakers healthy enough to do anything about it?

Kobe’s finger is clearly bothering him, he reaches for it all the time after shots, he’s playing through it but his shooting percentage is falling. Kwame is now out with a hamstring pull (maybe for a couple of weeks). That puts more pressure on Chris Mihm, who is playing on a bum ankle. Devean George also has a bum ankle. Slava can’t soak up any minutes because of a herniated disc in his back. Luke Walton is still sidelined.

The injuries, however, are no excuse for what’s become of the triangle. The Lakers are starting to resemble last season’s team in that the ball is going in to Kobe and, triple teamed or not, the rest of the team — and Kobe himself — are expecting him to shoot. The best place to attack the Bulls statistically this season has been at the three, but it can’t just be Kobe. Until there is some balance to the offense the Lakers will not be consistent at the offensive end.

The Bulls are not an offensive force either — they are actually worse than the Lakers so far with an offensive rating of 95.7 (points per 100 possessions), compared to the Lakers 96. Nobody should be bragging about those numbers.

At least the Bulls have figured out they need to start the long-underrated Mike Sweetney (long a favorite of Knickerblogger). Sweetney has the highest PER of any Bull so far this season, 23.3, and he is pulling down a higher percentage of rebounds when he’s on the floor than Tyson Chandler (19.7% to 18.8%, both good numbers). Yet until Friday night he was coming off the bench. You want to know why I think statistics matter — Sweetney doesn’t have a classic NBA power forward’s body, but Kwame Brown does. Kwame gets fawned over and Sweetney can’t crack anybody’s starting lineup despite being one of the best front line guys for the Knicks and Bulls. You know which one you want on your team? You know who should be starting and who should be coming off the bench?

A couple other things to look for stolen from Blog-a-Bull: The Bull front line tends to get in early foul trouble (sound familiar?); Othella Harrington has been “just plain terrible” this season; Chris Duhon has gotten off to a fast start; Nocioni shoots too mcuh; and if things don’t work out at least the Bulls have a lot of cap space to build with after this season.

LA’s Team

Kurt —  November 19, 2005

Right now, the Clippers are clearly the best basketball team in Los Angeles. That much was evident Friday night.

But I know what’s coming in the newspaper and on talk radio — “LA is now a Clippers town!” The thing is, this will always be a Lakers town, but that doesn’t make exciting copy, doesn’t light up the phone lines.

Look at the two area baseball teams. Right now you see more people wearing Angel gear around than I can ever remember. The reason — they are winning and have household name players, the Dodgers are not and do not (save Gagne).

The Angels generated a fair amount of excitement in recent years because they have won. But that pales to the palpable excitement in the city the Dodgers generate when they win, when they are serious playoff contenders. The Dodgers are the Los Angeles tradition, the one that people hold fond childhood memories of, the one that elicits intense passion when they do well.

Los Angeles likes a winner, so right now they like the Angels, but they will always love the Dodgers.

The same is true of the area basketball teams. People like the Clippers now because they are winning, because Brand and Cassell and Maggette are good players. They’ll even find a way to like Chris Kamen’s hair.

But they love the Lakers. The Clippers will never be able to match the excitement that comes with the Lakers in the playoffs, the passion people have to see the Lakers good again. This is now and always will be a Laker town.