Archives For November 2005

Fast Break

Kurt —  November 7, 2005

Lot’s of work that they pay me for today, so just passing along my notes rather than organizing them into a coherent post:

• Sunday night’s game was the best the Lakers played this season, particularly in running the triangle. Look what happens when you run the offense smoothly — not only does Kobe still get his, but the front line gets involved. Chris Mihm had a very good game (the kind we saw flashes of last season and hope to see more of than that this season) and Kwame, while less so in part due to foul trouble, had some moments. That’s not to say things are perfect, still way too many turnovers, for starters (19 total, 4 from Kwame).

• I’m waiting for someone in the media to write a “Kobe Bryant is being more selfish” article because his scoring is up and he is averaging 7 more shots per 40 minutes than last season. But, the offense is giving him better looks, plus is fade away is unstoppable, and that is leading to more efficient scoring than last season. So far this season he is shooting 49.4% eFG% (up from 48.2% from last season), he is averaging 34.3 points per 40 minutes (27.1) and his true shooting percentage, which includes getting to the free throw line, is 56.5% (56.3% last season). His rebounds also are up from 5.8 per 40 last season to 6.3 so far this season.

(For those that don’t know, true shooting percentage is the same as points per shot attempt, just divided in half. While I still prefer the per shot stat, the general consensus in the hoops statistical community is that the TS% is a more understandable, digestible number and it should be the standard. So, I’m going to bend to the will of the people.)

• Lamar Odom is still not shooting the ball well for the season (40.2% and 3 of 16 from beyond the arc) but he’s getting in the flow better the last couple of games. He’s averaging 15.6 points, 5.8 assists and 2.4 turnovers per 40 minutes.

• Phil Jackson is right to be complaining about the Lakers on the offensive glass — they are rebounding 25.6% of their misses. Last season they got 29.5%, and the pace they are on this season would have had them 27th in the league.

• What’s the deal with Kobe’s tights? By all accounts it is just a way to keep his legs warmer and looser.

• In a comment, John asked what I predicted for the Laker first three games in the previous poll. I had 1-2 (picked before the first game, by the way). As was also said in the comments, I’m very happy to have been wrong. That said, if the Lakers can go 2-2 on this road trip it will be a success. They need the opening night win in Atlanta, because then they fly all night to take on Minnesota, and we’ve seen the Lakers in the second game of a back-to-back.

On Tap: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  November 5, 2005

New Rule: Watch the backdoor lob.

The Nuggets, one of the trendy preseason picks to be one of the best teams in the Western Conference, come into Staples Center looking for a little revenge after a 1-2 start that includes a loss to the Lakers in dramatic fashion last Wednesday. This is also an important game for the Lakers because after it they leave on a four-game road trip that has some challenging games (Philadelphia, Minnesota and Memphis).

Denver will be back with George Karl on the bench this time around (his time in David Stern’s penalty box is over). That should improve game management decisions on their end.

One thing the Lakers need to do this time around is watch the backdoor lob to Marcus Camby. I mention that again because no matter how many times Denver ran it the Lakers never seemed to catch on.

Denver’s defensive adjustments from the first game should be interesting — last game Kobe was double and triple teamed and although he still got his points the Nuggets tried to make the other Lakers to beat them. Smush stepped up, as did Devean George and Brian Cook. Will Denver keep the same strategy or will Smush have a new friend hanging on his hip? (If that friend is Earl Boykins the Lakers need to post Smush up.)

By the way, if you’re looking for more Smush talk, check out the latest from Mike over at the Show Time Laker blog, where he talks about what Smush brings to the triangle that the Lakers have lacked. (As a side note, you should start making that blog regular reading because Mike, also one of the moderators at Lakersground, has scouts-eye analytical skills and his stuff will be worth reading.)

Have I mentioned defending the backdoor lob yet? The Lakers need to try it.

It took about five minutes of the first game between these two to see how much the Nuggets missed Voshon Lenard last season — with the strong front line they have they need an outside shooter, so he was getting a number of good looks. However he has not fully regained his touch yet, shooting just 46.4% (eFG%) on the season, well below his career 49.5% average. and he is just 1 of 11 from three-point range (he’s a career 38.6% shooter from beyond the arc).

The Lakers are going to need a defensive effort than we saw against Phoenix — especially because Denver’s scoring is so balanced. In the last game against the Lakers they had six players in double digits but none over 20 points, in their win Friday at Portland it was the same thing save that Camby had 23. Also, the last game between these two had 101 possessions in regulation, a very quick pace, so the Lakers need to play better transition defense than the other night.

In the first game the Lakers held Denver to 47.5% eFG% and they need to be back at that level or better at Staples. It would help if Lamar Odom can step up on offense and make Carmelo Anthony work on the defensive end more, or better yet get him into some foul trouble.

One last thing: Defend the damn backdoor lob. Please.

Fast Break

Kurt —  November 4, 2005

Just a few quick thoughts 72 hours into the NBA season.

• We’re just 2.4% of the way into the Laker season, so I’m trying not to get too high over one quality and exciting win, or too low over one ugly loss.

• Did last night’s loss to the Suns remind anyone else of last season’s Lakers? The ones that didn’t play good defense, didn’t rotate on defense, couldn’t stop the pick-and-roll, didn’t create turnovers and when they got in trouble went to isolation plays? If I have confidence in one thing this season it is that the current coaching staff will not let that kind of sloppy play go uncorrected or unpunished (play poorly and you get benched now).

• Smush —WOW! He has been impressive those first two games, shooting much better than expected from the outside (and on three pointers) and playing solid defense against two of the best backcourts in the West. Against Phoenix, guarding Nash in a losing effort, he was +4 for the night (while playing 37 minutes). As Christian said in the comments of the preview, if Smush can play at 75% of that for the season it will be big for the Lakers. Heck, even Kevin Pelton likes him (same comment thread). My one concern: There are moments he seems to get a little overconfident and tries to do too much — he needs to stay within himself. Take the open threes, keep moving on offense and keep playing pesky defense and he will be a big fan favorite.

• Phoenix still isn’t very deep — only two guys off the bench played more than 15 minutes — but the guys who are coming in are very efficient so far. And that was a perfect use of Brian Grant — six minutes against the opponent’s bench players (and he was +8 in that role).

• There is little about TNT’s hoops coverage that doesn’t annoy me. Does the first game of their doubleheader ever end on time? Don’t we always miss the start of the second game (like last night)? Why do they have this problem and not so much ESPN? Kenny and Charles, need I say more? Plus of I like the pairing of Marv Albert and Steve Kerr, so they stick Reggie Miller in the middle of them for a Pacers game? Courtside Times readers apparently feel the same way.

• What can stats do for you? It’s the first part of a very interesting three-part discussion of the advantages and limitations of the new breed of basketball statistics over at CourtsideTimes.net. This is put together by the best in the business, Knickerblogger.

• How poorly is Slava playing right now? In the European Championships just concluded before the season he was scoring a poor 82 (points per 100 possessions used) and giving up 121, shooting the ball on 33% of his team’s possessions (a higher rate than Kobe last season) and allowing opponents to shoot 51% against him. Thanks to holymoly from APBR for putting together the stats for Euro 2005 and posting them.

• What do preseason games tell you about a team’s regular season? Not much at all. But that doesn’t mean this 82games.com story isn’t a good read.

On Tap: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  November 3, 2005

The rumors of the Sun’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

At least that’s what I came away with after watching the second half of their opening night game against Dallas. Yes the Suns lost (in double OT), but they looked good doing so (well, except for the last 8 minutes) against a team I like. This is not the same team without Amare Stoudemire, but they’re not bad either.

Tonight they get a Laker team that is playing its second game in as many nights and had to go to OT on the front end. But oh, what a game! Certainly not in terms of execution as both teams were sloppy (the Lakers turned the ball over on 20.5% of their possessions, as did Denver) but it was entertaining at the end nonetheless.

One of my first thoughts of the end of the game, both regulation and overtime, is how much this reminded me of Phil Jackson’s previous teams. Those teams were always killers at the end — yes they had MJ to take those crucial shots in Chicago (and Kobe in LA), but it was always a team thing with key stops and clutch shooting. Kerr hit some. Paxson hit some. Pippen hit some. If you left the door open just a crack they were going to bust through it. Denver left the door open just a crack and the Lakers acted like winners.

A few other quick thoughts from Denver before the focus shifts to Phoenix:

• That Kobe guy is pretty good. We should keep him on the roster.

• Great debut from Smush Parker, especially on offense. Early in the game Denver didn’t rotate out to him quickly, they dared him to shoot from the outside. He responds by shooting 79% (eFG%) on the night and scoring 20. He gets a dunk over Miller (a move I bet he picked up at the cage) that ended up all over ESPN highlights. He struggled some defensively, but Andre Miller and Earl Boykins give a lot of guys trouble. Bottom line, he played 40.5 minutes and was +9.

• Devean George was also +9 for the night and had some tough minutes trying to guard Carmelo as Jackson tried to send Chris Mihm a message. George did a good job pestering ‘Melo. (By the way, all four of Mihm’s five fouls were on the offensive end.) We’ve all got concerns about the Laker bench but if George can continue to play like that it will be a big boost.

• The triangle was in about third gear most of the night and often players were breaking out of it for isolation. Odom does not look comfortable running it yet.

• What’s bugging me about Kwame Brown is his instincts don’t appear to be very aggressive. He pulled down three offensive boards but each time (as I recall), rather than go right back up he looked to kick out. When he is aggressive to the basket, whether on rebounds or in the offense, he is effective, he just needs to do that consistently. To his credit, when he missed the game winner in OT he hustled and got his own rebound, then found Kobe. One game’s worth of +/- doesn’t mean much, so take it with a lot of salt, but he was last on the team (-11), while Chris Mihm was first (+11).

• Good to see Andrew Bynum get in the game, and he acquitted himself fairly well. He made some nice defensive and rebounding plays, and he learned that Kenyon Martin has hops.

One thing that was very weak for the Lakers last night was transition defense, which they had better fix tonight against Phoenix if they want to be close enough for last-second heroics.

With Amare out Steve Nash appears to be taking on more off the offense (good news for you Nash fantasy owners), taking 25 shots against the Mavericks and having 9 assists. Backing up Nash is Leandro Barbosa, who struggled so much running the point last season that when Nash was down everyone would say, “look how bad they are without Nash.” I’m not sure a guy should get the MVP because his backup sucks, but that’s a debate for another day. It should be noted, however, that Barbosa is 23 and has the potential to be better — he had eight points in 17 minutes and led the Suns with a +/- of +11 against Dallas.

Shawn Marrion had great season last year — he can run floor and hit threes, and while at it grabbed 11.6 rebounds per 40. However, with Amare out Marrion may spend more time at the three than the four (where nobody could match his quickness) and that may hurt his productivity.

Just like last season, Phoenix’s starting five is very good, but the bench is suspect — in a double-overtime game only Jim Jackson and Boris Diaw saw significant minutes.

The Lakers need to control the tempo tonight, not let Phoenix turn the game into a track meet because the Lakers have just run an event (last night). How good is Phoenix without its real MVP? Good question, but they won’t be a gimme and the Lakers need to move on from last night’s win quickly. No matter how much fun it was.

On Tap: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  November 2, 2005

(For those readers new to Forum Blue & Gold, we do a preview of each game, giving you some things to look at both from the Lakers and their opponent. This is the first of at least 82 — hopefully more.)

I am pumped. Let’s get this season started.

Unlike some major college football power starting the season against a creampuff to sharpen their skills, the Lakers get a tough opening day assignment: Play up in the rarified air of Denver against a team that went 32-8 to close out last season and got their best outside shooter back for this campaign.

At least we get the Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back, they lost to the Spurs last night. The Lakers also face a Nuggets team without Nene, who went down with a bad knee sprain — and maybe worse — in that opener. For his sake, especially since it’s a contract year for him, I hope it’s nothing serious.

Denver presents a difficult challenge for the Lakers because they go right after the expected weak spots of the Lakers defense — point guard and depth in the paint. (Whether or not those will be Laker weaknesses we shall see, but they are what needs to be improved from last season.) Even with Nene out the Nuggets roll out a very athletic front line of Carmelo Anthony at the three, Kenyon Martin at the four and Marcus Camby at the five, with Eduardo Najera off the bench.

Carmelo may be the one guy who benefited most from George Karl’s arrival. Early last season Melo’s numbers were down because he was out on the perimeter doing his Brian Cook imitation. Karl sent him back under the basket and told him to drive and not settle for the 15-footer — the result was his points per 40 minutes jumped from 21.9 before the All Star break to 27.6 after (got that stat from Hollinger’s book). That leads me to think the Lakers need to hire Karl for a day to have that same conversation with Kwame Brown.

One of the challenges Karl faces this season is how to get his three point guards — Andre Miller, Earl Watson and Earl Boykins — all plenty of playing time. Look for one of them (my guess is Miller) to spend some time at the two. The two was the glaring weak point for Denver last season, but this season Voshon Lenard is back — before he went down at the start of last season this was a good outside shooter, a career 38.6% from beyond the arc and a career eFG% of 49.5%. In the preseason he has gotten off to a slow start in the preseason (46.4% and 30% from beyond the arc) but if he finds his stroke he’ll bring back some points at the two.

For what it’s worth (and that’s not much), Denver was maybe the best team in the league in the preseason, compiling a 7-1 record. They had an offensive rating of 103.9 (points per 100 possessions) which is slightly better than last season, plus they had a team eFG% of 51.3 and shot 38.5% from three point range. More importantly, they held teams to a rating of 96.2, which would have been second best in the NBA last season, kept opponents shooting 45% and 26% from beyond the arc. All of which meant they still couldn’t beat the Spurs, who were 2-7 in the preseason.

Just like you don’t know what Denver’s (or San Antonio’s) preseason numbers mean when the games start to matter, we don’t really know what to expect from the Lakers. Their defense looked better and the offense smoother as the preseason wore on, but we really won’t know how that translates to real games for a while.

Which is why I can’t wait for tip-off. Let’s get this season going!