Archives For December 2005

On Tap: The Washington Wizards

Kurt —  December 26, 2005

Sorry this post is up late, but been busy with family.

Record: 11-14 (Pythagorean 13-12), 9th seed in the East
Record last 10 games: 4-6
Offensive Rating: (107.7, 10th in league)
Defensive Rating: (108, 23th in league)

About the Wizards: We just saw them 10 days ago, when the Lakers played a flat first half but Kobe pushed them in the third quarter to get the win. Remember, Kobe, shot 62.5% (eFG%) that game, Odom 54.6%, and the rest of the Lakers 41.1%. Kobe had 41.

The Wizards, who like to get out and run, struggled shooting against the Lakers, jut 42.6% as a team. What kept them in the game was their two slashers, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, got to the line a lot (28 point on free throws between them). The Lakers are going to have to play defense with their feet, because they won’t get the calls on the road. (Does Chris Mihm get the calls anywhere?)

One other note, Antawn Jamison has been struggling of late, shooting just 36% in his last 10.

One thing I hope to see today: Kwame Brown have a big game, because you know the fans in Washington are going to let him have it. What will he do with adversity on him, step up or wilt? He had a solid defensive game against Shaq. Even the Washington fans know he can play well when motivated, and if this can’t motivate him….

One thing I’m glad I won’t see today: More Shaq/Kobe hype. Man, I thought the media had finally caught on that that story had run its course. I know Laker fans had moved on a while ago (even though the local media was slow to catch on), but I thought by now the mainstream media had figured out this was a dead horse. I guess ESPN missed the memo. They ran a whole story on SportsCenter about how the two would not talk about each other, including sound bites of them not talking about each other. Guys — less hype, more news. Please.

The Lakers coming in: It was the bench that lost the Lakers the game in Miami. All five Laker starters had +/- numbers for the game in the positive — Kobe was +1 (meaning the Lakers were one point better than Miami when he was on the court), Smush was +11 (even though my gut reaction was his defense on Williams was not very good). On the other hand, he was better than Sasha (-23) and Luke (-14). Meanwhile, off the Heat bench came Payton at +17 (why didn’t he play like that when he was a Laker?) and Walker (+20).

It didn’t help that the Lakers as a team couldn’t hit a three to save their life. But they kept shooting them like Rudy T. was back on the bench.

Key’s to a Laker win: This being the second game of back-to-backs, the Laker bench has to play better tonight than it did yesterday, and better than it did last time these two met. I would expect, after the last game, Washington will try to take Kobe out of the game (as much as one can) and dare the rest of the Lakers to beat them. Also, the Wizards should try to pick up the pace and run tonight, the Lakers and their tired legs need not to get into a trrack meet.

The Lakers can head home from this road trip with a winning or losing record, 2-1 or 1-2. This is a winnable game.

On Tap: The Miami Heat

Kurt —  December 25, 2005

Welcome to the most overhyped game of the season.


Record:
15-12 (Pythagorean 16-11), 2nd seed in the East
Record last 10 games: 5-5
Offensive Rating: (108.3, 6th in league)
Defensive Rating: (103.9, 10th in league)

About the Heat : How good you think the Miami Heat is largely depends on your opinion going into the season. If you expected one of the top teams in the NBA, you’re in lick. If you expected at title contender, well, ….

The Heat made a bunch of big moves in the off-season, they’ve got Pat Riley as their coach now, but did that make he sixth best defense in the league better? No, 4 points (per 100 possessions) worse that last season. Do you really expect Antoine Walker or Jason Williams to play like Eddie Jones? They are not a bad defensive team, but unless Shaq decides to play like the Shaq of 2000, they are far from better.

The Heat offense remains potent, and since the return of Pat Riley that offense has focused around Shaq, and he has responded shooting 52.8% (eFG%) on the season. As much as we here in LA like to knock Shaq for his weight (Shaq’s so fat he went to the movie theater and sat next to everyone) he is, when motivated, still unguardable in the low post.

Out top there is Wade, he of the 27.3 PER that should make everyone in the NBA a little scared.

One thing I hope to see today: The morning game between Detroit and San Antonio — those are the two best teams in the NBA right now.

Under over on the number of times the announces mention Kobe’s new shoes:
Three.

The Lakers coming in: A good team win for the Lakers in Orlando, another game where the supporting cast stepped up — take Kobe out of the equation and the Lakers shot 57.8% (eFG%) for the game. Four of the five starters plus Luke Walton — the five on the floor for the big late second quarter run that won the game — all finished at least +16.

The Lakers got a huge game out of Chris Mihm, who had 20 points on 8 of 9 shooting, and led the team at +18. They need him, plus Kwame Brown, to step up in this game.

Key’s to a Laker win: Expect James Posey to spend a lot of time on Kobe. If he can slow Kobe, the key is the shooting or everyone esle — Posey is good but he can’t guard everyone. The Lakers will win because of everyone outside of Kobe and Lamar, or lose becuse of them.

On Tap: The Orlando Magic

Kurt —  December 23, 2005

Record: 9-14 (Pythagorean 8-15), 11th seed in the East
Record last 10 games: 2-8
Offensive Rating: (101.1, 28th in league)
Defensive Rating: (105.2, 12th in league)

About the Magic: Orlando plays solid team defense, opponents shoot a pretty average 48.6% (eFG%) against them. And those teams only get one shot — the Magic grab the defensive rebound on 71.4% of opponents missed shots, the second best percentage in the league.

What hurts the Magic is their offense is pathetic. They shoot poorly (46.6%) but make up for that by turning the ball over a lot (18.7% of possessions, 28th in the league). They don’t have anybody who shoots particularly efficiently — the guy who shoots the most is point guard Steve Francis and he is hitting just 44.4% of his shots. In case you were wondering whatever happened to Hedo Turkoglu, he’s in Orlando and continues to be pretty average (a PER of 14.8), but that’s good enough to start in the City that Disney Owns (well, the other one, east of the Mississippi.).

The offense should pick up now that Grant Hill is back, he has played the last four games and looked good doing so. He has led the team in that time, scoring 19.1 points per 40 minutes, shooting 52.3% (eFG%) and has a true shooting % of 57.9%.

The future of the franchise — and the one guy that could take over a game for the Magic — is second-year man Dwight Howard. His offense still needs some polish: he’s scoring a nice 16.7 points per 40 minutes played while shooting 49% (a true shooting percentage of 52.8%). Pretty good numbers but you know he’s getting better at that end. Where he is already a beast is on the boards, grabbing 14.1 rebounds per 40, or 21.5% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor, the second best pace in the league. Howard is capable of — and has this season — scored a 20-20.

One thing I hope to see tonight: An end to the discussion about whether Kobe should have gone for 80 or more points in the fourth quarter against Dallas. Personally, I think he did the right thing — it’s a long season and guys who log a lot of minutes should take their rest when they can get it and not risk injury if they don’t have to. The game was over at that point.

But while you can make an argument the other way, why would you? I mean, outside of trying to stir up radio calls or television ratings? The decision was Kobe’s and who has been in that position before and stepped forward to rip Kobe? I didn’t hear Michael Jordan or Elgin Baylor comment.

Off topic college basketball thought: Cal State Northridge beat USC. USC defeated defending national champion North Carolina. Ergo…..

The Lakers coming in: While it’s hard not to talk about Kobe’s amazing 62 points in three quarters, the overlooked part is this — Dallas only scored 61 in three quarters and shot 37.5% (eFG%) for the game. To be fair, Dallas (and Nowitzki in particular) missed some open shots and things they normally hit, but the Laker defense was much better Tuesday night.

The bad news is that Laron Proffit is out for the season. He had been providing some decent minutes off the bench for the team, with a PER of 12.6 but shooting 49.4%.

His absence, if the Lakers choose to buy out his contract, could make things easier for Mitch Kupchak, who would have had to let someone else go to make a roster spot for Ronny Turiaf. He is working his way back to playing shape — Turiaf signed with the Yakima Sun Kings of the CBA, and will play with them for a while.

Key’s to a Laker win: I’m curious, after the 62, how Orlando will choose to defend Kobe. If they do everything in their power to make sure he doesn’t beat them, the rest of the Lakers need to hit their shots. It’s that simple. When the other Lakers shoot well, the team usually wins.

The big key will be to play defense like they did against Dallas — the Magic are a team the Lakers can shut down. They should be able to get some turnovers and turn those into easy baskets the other way. Grant Hill needs to be a focus and may have Kobe on him. Smush needs to keep Steve Francis from having an efficient night, and the team needs to keep Dwight Howard off the offensive glass (where he can score points on putback and draw lots of fouls). Play good “D” and this is a very winable game to start the road trip.

Lakers and the Pick-and-Roll

Kurt —  December 21, 2005

I’m not above stealing a good idea. In fact, it’s closer to my modus operandi.

A few weeks ago I read maybe the best piece of writing on the NBA this season, Kevin Pelton’s breakdown of how team’s deal with Phoenix’s pick-and-roll at 82games.com. And I don’t just love it because it proves Charles Barkley talks out of his ass half the time, that’s just a bonus.

Of course, one of my first thoughts was “how can I steal that?” Especially since pick-and-roll has long been a Laker weakness — it was kryptonite to Shaq and the Laker teams of that championship era. So, I’ve watched and tabulated through parts (not all but much) of recent games to get a picture of how the Lakers deal with the pick-and-roll.

And the results — the Lakers are a lot better against it this season. As a team, their defensive rating against the pick-and-roll when I watched was 92.8 (points per 100 possessions), more than 10 points better than their overall defensive rating (103.9).

First things first, let’s discuss pick-and-roll defense. And here I’m just going to quote the 82games.com article because I couldn’t possibly improve upon it.

Basically, there are four main ways NBA teams defend the pick-and-roll:

Switch it - The players defending the ball handler and the picker switch, usually creating a mismatch. (TNT analysts) Barkley and Smith do not believe this is a successful defense (at least against Nash and the Suns).

Trap - Both defenders go towards the ball handler and aggressively trap him while the other three defenders zone against the four remaining offensive players.

“Show” or “Hedge” - The player defending the picker briefly steps out into the ball handler’s path, slowing him up enough that the player defending the ball handler has time to recover. Then the player defending the picker recovers to his original man. It’s worth noting that this is how the Spurs usually defend the pick-and-roll.

Go under the pick - Done only against weak shooters, the player defending the picker steps back to allow the player defending the ball handler to go between him and the screen and get to his man. This leaves an open jumpshot for the ball handler.

There are also two main locations for pick-and-rolls — at the top of the key and at the elbow (the free-throw line extended to approximately where it would intersect the 3-point line). Because these are played in different ways, I’ve separated them out for my analysis.

The Lakers do change off what they do at different points of the game, particularly late — a wise strategy — but they do have favorites.

At the top of the key the Lakers prefer to “show,” doing so 46% of the time. This is what you will see most of the game (usually) and it is the Lakers most effective strategy out top — they had a defensive rating of 76 (points per 100 possessions) using this in my limited study. (To be fair, that number was skewed lower by good games using this defense including against Houston, who missed the open shots it generated in the first half).

The Lakers switch out top about 33% of the time, but this is far less effective, a defensive rating of 117.6. It makes sense, teams such as Detroit can get away with this because one of the Wallaces switches onto the guard, but when the Lakers do this you get Chris Mihm (or maybe Kwame Brown) trying to hang with Raymond Felton. That’s not pretty. Of the points scored against the switch defense, 60% came from the ball handler.

The Lakers do let their guys fight through some top of the key picks, but not often and if they do or they choose to go under things tend to go poorly. The only time the Lakers tried to trap out top was the end of the Houston game, using Kwame to jump out on Tracy McGrady with Devean George. It worked the two times they did it, including Kwame getting the steal and breakaway that tied the game. (How did that game end? I seem to have repressed that memory.)

Out at the elbow, where the big man is a little closer to the basket, the Lakers go with the switch as the primary defense, doing so 48.6% of the time. Again this primary defense is very effective for the Lakers, with a defensive rating of 68.9. While part of this is the switch itself, for some reason the Lakers help defenders also seem to rotate better when the pick is out at the elbow, which was a key. Almost all of the points that opponent do get come from the ball handler.

The rest of the time at the elbow is split basically evenly (25% each) between the show and go under defense. They also are about equally effective, combined a defensive rating of 86.5.

Pure magic

Kurt —  December 21, 2005

As many basketball games as you have seen, sometimes one person’s game can overwhelm you.

I can tell you Kobe was +34 for the night, in just three quarters of work. I can tell you Kobe had a true shooting percentage of 73.8% for the evening. Or that after three quarters the score was Kobe 62, Dallas 61.

But some things you need to just sit back, watch and enjoy. Some things are pure magic.