Archives For November 2005

On Tap: The Los Angeles Clippers

Kurt —  November 18, 2005

No, I don’t think it will last — the Clippers will not continue on pace to win 60+ games, they will come back down to earth. That doesn’t mean they can’t make the playoffs — if they stay healthy they have a good shot. They could even win the Pathetic Pacific this season.

But they are still the Clippers. Franchises with bad owners don’t win long term.

That said, Clipper management made one smart move this off-season — Sam Cassell. I’ve already written one “what Cassell brings to the Clippers” story for Courtside times. Not that Cassell isn’t on the down slope of his career, his numbers dipped last season in Minnesota and they have dropped even farther this season: scoring 18.3 points per 40 minutes played (it was 21 last season, above 22 the three seasons before that), he is shooting 42.2% (eFG%, down from 48.7%), and he has never been a defensive presence.

But he is still a huge step up from Rick Brunson and the other overmatched players the Clippers had at the point last season. (Shaun Livingston is good when healthy, which he is not right now.) The point was the Clippers weakest spot offensively with a team PER of just 11.9 from the position last season. The aged Cassell still has a PER of 19.9 so far this year. Smush Parker’s defense will again be a key to the game, contain Cassell and you have a much better chance to beat the Clippers.

But it is not just containing Cassell’s scoring, it’s his passing that is really driving the Clips. He is averaging an impressive 9.6 assists per 40 minutes (compared to just 3.1 turnovers for the same time).

The biggest beneficiary of that is the slimmed-down Elton Brand, who is having a career year so far — averaging 25 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per 40 minutes, shooting 59.3% and with a PER of 30.1, third best in the league so far. MVP type numbers early for one of the most overlooked players in the game.

Also benefiting has been Corey Maggette, who is shooting 52% (eFG%) on the season, and Cuttino Mobley, who is shooting 49.1% and 37% from beyond the arc.

The Clippers are playing good defense this season, the other key to their success. Their early season numbers are very close to the Lakers.

Their weakest point so far this season has been just that — Cassell is not a good defender. Obviously he is going to have to put some of his attention into helping on Kobe, so Smush needs to have one of his better games on both ends. The backcourt may need to carry the Lakers as the Clippers have been solid defensively inside (not exactly the Lakers strong point so far this season). The Laker big guys need to both play well on defense and stay out of foul trouble. This may be a game where Bynum gets more time to play defensive minutes, something he has done fairly well.

The Clippers have been a team that has looked better on paper than on the court for years. Now they have a veteran point guard in a contract year and that has filled in a weakness and prompted a fast start. This is the kind of game the Lakers need to win, against another team from the division in the playoff hunt, if they are going to be playing more than just 82 games.

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Two things worth reading to point you toward. One is a good breakdown of the triangle offense by Mike at Show Time (also there is a good piece on Odom in the offense). The other is a chance to learn more about Eric Pincus and what he does over at Yaysports.com.

Fast Break

Kurt —  November 17, 2005

Thoughts from the Knicks game — including where Lamar Odom should play — and other things:

• The newest Carnival of the NBA blogs is up over at HoopsAddict.com, and there are a lot of new bloggers out there with a lot to say — some of it very insightful.

• Phil Jackson is now publicly discussing taking Odom out of the initiator role of the offense. While he has done an okay job in that role so far, he is tentative and not the aggressive Odom the Lakers need to be successful night in and night out.

I was thinking about that watching the first half of the Knicks game, I found myself picturing this as the new starting lineup:

Smush (same role as now)
Luke Walton (as the initiator)
Kobe (same role as attacker)
Lamar Odom (as the four, replacing Kwame)
Chris Mihm

My gut feel is the offense would be better. Odom could get the ball either in the post or out on the wing, depending on who was guarding him and which provided a bigger match up problem. Odom also could get the ball at the pinch post and play pick-and-roll with Kobe or Smush. Walton’s passing skills and basketball IQ would be a good fit as the initiator.

Even without the 7-footer, this lineup should be fine at rebounding. Odom, even as the initiator spending a lot of time out top, continues to be the best of the Laker rebounders, grabbing 14.2% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor (a number that likely would go up if you moved him closer to the basket). Mihm is second at 13.2%. Kwame is third, 12.9%. Which would be a boost coming off the bench.

The legitimate concern about that lineup is defense. Kobe would have to take the better of the two or three from the opposing team, with Walton on the lesser player. Odom struggled last season having to defend fours with just Mihm behind him. That said, the defensive rotations are bad right now and Kwame is a healthy part of that problem most nights.

I’m not suggesting this be the starting lineup against the Clippers (it turns out Walton will be out for a while because somehow he strained his hip while resting his hamstring). But, during the course of this home stand, I would give this lineup some key minutes to see what they do, and if it works well, then it’s time for a change.

• By the way, the starting five has been the best of the Laker five-man lineups so far, besting the five on the floor opposite them 57% of the time. No other group with significant minutes has done much, but it is early and there are a lot of untested combinations out there.

• Looking at things on paper before the season, I thought the Lakers had a tough November. Turns out, they have had one of the easiest schedules in the league so far.

• Slava will be out at least six weeks with a herniated disc in his back.

• Flea — the huge hoops fan (remember his classic one-on-one game with Ben Stiller from the latter’s old show?) and bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers — now has a Lakers Blog. (Thanks to Gatinho for the link.)

• You all are an optimistic bunch — in last week’s poll the majority of you picked the Lakers to win the Pacific. From you lips (and computers) to God’s ears. For the record, I picked Phoenix, but here’s the thing: I think just about any team in the division has a chance to win it, and the ones that don’t are all going to be fighting each other for one of the last couple playoff spots. Sans Amare there are no great teams in the Pacific (sorry Clipper fan) but they are all pretty even.

• Andrew Bynum has a long way to go at the offensive end, but he is playing pretty well defensively. His length and athleticism have caused problems for guys like Pau Gasol, although stronger players like Eddie Curry can still push Bynum around. But his help defense and timing are impressive for a young player. That’s where he’s getting some blocks and making himself felt on the court.

After Kwame had a -4 stint in the first quarter against New York where he picked up two fouls, Bynum came in and was a +7, playing good defense and grabbing three boards and getting two blocks.

• The game preview will go up on Friday, but is it ever too early to start smacking the Clippers? They’re off to a fast start, but I think Kelly Dwyer has got them pegged.

On Tap: The New York Knicks

Kurt —  November 16, 2005

Rather than having me, who has seen 0% of the Knicks games this season, talking about that team, Larry from the Father Knickerbocker blog and I have swapped previews. What follows is his look at the game, my synopsis of the Lakers this season is up at his site (all of which will be pretty familiar stuff to those who are regulars here).

Wednesday’s game vs. the Lakers is seen as a showdown. But that’s only because of the two men in suits that will be standing in front of their respective benches barking out instructions. The game is more like Larry Brown vs. Phil Jackson instead of Lakers-Knicks.

When these two massive egos were last seen on the same court, Brown’s play-the-right way underdog Pistons were polishing off a five-game upset over Jackson’s three-ring circus superstar Lakers.

Now each is in charge of a rebuilding project in a major market and since the Knicks don’t have a player on Kobe Bryant’s superstar level, it appears Brown has the bigger challenge.

As for current issues with Brown, let’s start with defense. He’s a big proponent of that and statisically it’s paying off. The Knicks have allowed 100 points once and after allowing 62 points in Utah, they are in the top five in the NBA in scoring defense.

Brown’s best player is Stephon Marbury. In his second full season with the Knicks, Marbury isn’t scoring at the usual clip mainly because he seems to be buying into Brown’s system of being more unselfish and ball movement. He also seems to making more hustle plays on defense as he tries to debunk the theory that he and Brown can’t and won’t co-exist.

The other starting guard likely will be Quentin Richardson. Limited by a hamstring injury during the preseason, Richardson has put together two straight decent games as he has made 7-of-11 shots in the last two games.

The starting frontcourt features a bit of experience at one spot and some inexperience
at the other.

The experienced starting forward is Antonio Davis, who is the only Knick to enjoy the Brown experience in the NBA. Davis, who played with Brown in Indiana, is considered among the Knicks better defensive players and is their second-leading rebounder.

The other starting forward might be Matt Barnes. Barnes has made five starts although you might not see him for more than 20 minutes or even for less than 15 minutes. He’s a UCLA guy but not much of a threat on offense.

The center is Eddy Curry. In some spaces, Curry was considered the Knicks best guy in the middle since Patrick Ewing. Considering the names that have been used there, it’s not an unreasonable label but not just yet. He’s only 22 so there’s plenty of upside and the rebounding numbers seem to be improving in recent games. However, he’s too foul-prone due to his big body committing so many offensive fouls and his foul-shooting (64 percent) needs work.

The sixth man is former starter Jamal Crawford. It was a suprise on opening night when he was a reserve. And when he struggled out of the gate some people thought he might be the first guy to go. He scored 19 and 15 points respectively in two starts last week. But he also turned in solid numbers in his last two games off the bench. While 67 of his shots are jumpers, he does seem to be looking for more high-percentage looks.

There’s no such thing as a seventh or eighth man in the NBA. So we’ll talk about Trevor Ariza next. Ariza was considered the steal of the 2004 draft and has been solid in his second season. He always seems to be part of a five-man unit that’s making things happen on both ends and that’s evident by his +17 rating. Ariza has played both shooting guard and small forward and the Los Angeles native has been solid most nights so far.

Malik Rose is next and has a lot of experience against Jackson’s Lakers from his days with the Spurs. He’s down to 14 minutes a game but is a good veteran to have for this young team.

The Knicks had three draft picks and chances are all of them could work out.

The first pick was Channing Frye. Frye didn’t play in the season opener but has been decent most nights since, including Sunday in Sacramento, where he scored 19 points. He’s 6-10 and could play center but also has a nice touch from 10-15 feet.

The next pick was Nate Robinson. He’s being used a marketing item for the Knicks since little guys in the NBA are always popular. He plays with a football player’s mentality. In fact he was one with the University of Washington. But there’s some things that aren’t great. He seems to be too out of control at times and seems to disputing foul calls on him at times, something that a rookie should not do.

David Lee was the final pick. In the preseason, he played very well, showing a willingness to make those hustle plays that don’t make the boxscore. Lee has played just 43 minutes in four games but he seems to be the type looking for action in the low post.

Jackie Butler was the 12th guy in the last two games and saw limited action. With Curry getting into shape and Jerome James.. well being Jerome James.. Butler good some good exposure in the preseason and Brown liked what he saw.

The inactives in the last two games have been $30 millon man Jerome James, Maurice Taylor and Penny Hardaway.

Triangle? Trapezoid? What Is That?

Kurt —  November 15, 2005

After two poor offensive outings, I decided to do some offensive charting for the Memphis game to get a detailed look at what the Lakers were doing and why it wasn’t working. Picked a great game to go through every step of — didn’t miss a minute of that beauty.

The first three games of the season, Kobe was getting good looks for midrange shots because teams let him get the ball in attack positions (and were concerned about the penetration more than the jumper). Because he was getting good looks (and hitting shots even when they were contested), the Lakers went to him a lot — so far this season he has taken 33.5% of the shots when he is on the floor, even a higher percentage than last season (30%). It didn’t matter at first because the looks were so good that Kobe was shooting at a high percentage.

Teams are not letting Kobe get those open looks any more. Now teams, like Memphis, are looking to deny Kobe the ball, or at least deny it to him in the wing and other good positions he was getting fed the first few games. To counter that, against Memphis Kobe went inside in the first quarter with penetration — he took eight first quarter shots, six from inside eight feet (he made three). In the second quarter he returned to the midrange, taking seven midrange jumpers, but in a sign his finger is bothering him, he hit only three (he sprained a finger on his right hand during a dunk against Atlanta). A real sign he’s off is that he had four open midrange looks in the game and hit just one.

Trying to take the ball out of the hands of the primary attacker in the triangle is nothing new, teams used to do that to the old Bulls all the time — keep the ball away from Jordan. The problem was the Jordanairs would beat you. Pippen would get his and then some. Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, even Bill Cartwright would step up when teams focused on Jordan and make you pay. (Eventually the conventional wisdom became let Jordan get his and stop the others.)

With the Lakers, no one has stepped up the last three games. The biggest offender against Memphis was Kwame Brown. I had him taking 12 shots from within eight feet that were contested, and he hit only one (and I was pretty generous about what constituted contested). Even when he uses the first step to get by defenders he doesn’t finish well. By the way, I also had Brown for two open shots, one inside and one midrange, and he hit both.

Much of that came in the second half, particularly the third quarter, when the Lakers made a clear adjustment to get the ball inside more. Mihm faired better (3 of 6 on contested shots inside, 1 of 3 from midrange, 2 of those open), but it was Kwame who was getting the opportunities.

Odom took just 8 shots (hit three: a contested shot inside in the first quarter, an open midrange in the first and an open look at a three), but he wants to pass first. Without Kobe creating opportunities and Memphis doing a good job slowing the transition game, Smush is not getting as many good looks (both of his baskets came from beyond the arc, one open look and one on a contested fade away that he probably shouldn’t have taken).

For the triangle to work, the starting five are going to have to get in sync (according to the OC Register, the Laker subs beat the starters in an end-of-practice game Sunday). Kobe is still the engine that will drive the bus, but until some pressure is taken off him being the only consistent scorer — until teams have to start defending other options — the team will continue to struggle to score.

On Tap: The Memphis Grizzlies

Kurt —  November 14, 2005

Memphis has not played much like a Mike Fratello team so far this season.

Oh, they may still be boring fans to death and setting offensive basketball back decades (we’ll get a better look at them tonight, if we can stay awake), but they are not playing good defense. The ill-named Grizzlies have a defensive rating of 100.3 (points surrendered per 100 opponent possessions), 18th best in the league. For comparison, defense is the one thing the Lakers are getting right, with a 97.5 defensive rating, seventh in the league. It’s very early so take that those numbers with a grain of salt, but so far the Griz have not been defensive bears.

The question is can the Lakers take advantage of it. In the two losses on this road trip the Lakers have shot just 42.3% (eFG%) as a team (well below the season average of 48.7%). Part of the problem was the early-season reliance on Kobe (who has shot just 38% the last two games) and Smush (33.3% the last two). Other guys are going to have to pick it up, particularly in crunch time.

One of the good things about playing Memphis now is their team is a lot less deep and scary than last season’s version. Gone are James Posey, Stromile Swift, Bonzie Wells and Earl Watson, all of whom started last season near Beale Street.

Still, the Grizzlies are getting good play out of Pau Gasol, who is averaging 21.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per 40 minutes while shooting 51.8% from the floor. He has never been a great rebounder, particularly for someone his size, and that continues as he has grabbed just 11.7% of the available rebounds he’s seen this season, which is actually worse than his 13.7% career average. Frankly, Memphis is not great on the boards as a team and this is a place Mihm and Brown can make their presence felt tonight.

Two other guys who have stepped up into key offensive roles for Memphis have been Eddie Jones (shooting 55.4% this season) and Shane Battier, who is shooting an incredible 72.9% but isn’t getting a lot of touches and has just 15.1 points per 40 played. Damon Stoudamire also is coming off the bench and has some game left.

The Lakers came into this four-game road trip wanting to go at least 2-2 (according to their coach) and to do that they need to win tonight. They struggled against a suddenly good defensive team in Minnesota (they actually lead the league in defensive efficiency so far this season) but then did so again against a bad one in Philly. If they can get the offense on track tonight this is a winnable game, but play like they have in the last two and they will come home below .500.