Archives For December 2005

Fast Break

Kurt —  December 13, 2005

I’m swamped with work but couldn’t go without commenting a little on the biggest win of the season (so far). So, a few quick thoughts:

• As much as we all see of Kobe you think we’d become desensitized to the plays he makes, but there still seems to be two or three times a game when I’m left just shaking my head at what he can do. Dallas saw some of the best of that — that was amazing stuff even by Kobe’s standards.

• I want to say something about Kwame Brown finally playing like the aggressive player we hoped to see, but I’m afraid I’ll jinx him. (Kwame was +14 against the Mavs, second best on the Lakers behind D. George at +16.)

• The Laker defense was better but the offense was the key. Kobe and Lamar combined shot 51.2% (eFG%), but the rest of the Lakers shot 55.6%. That’s what you need to do against top teams if you’re the Lakers, have a spectacular night at one end of the floor and a good one at the other.

• Against Dallas was a good example of the Lakers using the bigger guards Phil Jackson likes to take advantage of smaller ones.

• The official Dallas Maverick’s Web site does a great little breakdown of two of the Lakers favorite plays out of the triangle.

• So which Laker was the coach killer again, Kobe or Shaq?

• It is fitting that Riley should have to coach the defense-averse roster he created.

• In case you didn’t see this in the LA Times, Ronny Turiaf could be up with the Lakers this season. That’s good to see, not just because he’d bring some inside presence but more importantly because it’s good to see him playing again and healthy.

• Some Laker fans are working hard to figure out how Ron Artest can suit up in Forum Blue & Gold. Don’t expect it. There are a a couple of big problems with this: 1) Artest has played the vast majority of minutes this season at the three and is 6’6”. The Lakers are already overstocked with swingman, that’s why Caron Butler was traded. Now you think they’re going to bring in another one? Where does Artest fit in the triangle? He can’t play the facilitator role Odom does. 2) Artest is a premiere player and Indiana is going to want one back — specifically Lamar Odom. It would take a fool to think Indiana would take D. George and Slava for Artest — the Pacers are contenders and want to stay condenders and that would mean no less than Odom. And the Lakers are already short big men, so if you trade Odom you need to get a four or a five back from Indiana. So a trade that works financially is more like Artest and Jeff Foster for Odom and Slava (or McKie at the end of the week). You also could come up with Scott Pollard scearios, but the questions are the same: Does that really make the Lakers better? Does it make Indiana better? I’m not convinced in either case.

• Of course, the much discussed “2007 Plan” that Laker management has touted has some serious flaws, most recently pointed to by Eric Pinics at Hoopsworld:

The core would start as Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum. The expectation is that Bynum will be an integral part of the team, so assume the team picks up his third year option. Those three would account for just under $35 million in salary. Assuming the cap of $53 million, the Lakers will have $18 million to spend.

Unfortunately, to spend all of that salary in free agency, the Lakers would have to renounce the rights to the entire roster save the aforementioned core of three.

Using Bosh as the theoretical target, the maximum salary in 2007 would be $12 million . . . giving the Lakers $6 million to spend elswhere.

• As mentioned in comments before, I am working on a Lakers against the pick and roll post, but have not finished the research (blame the holidays for filling up my schedule — damn you Santa!). It should appear later in the week.

• Tracking those picks, you start to see who sets good ones and who doesn’t. Erik Dampier doesn’t.

On Tap: The Dallas Mavericks

Kurt —  December 12, 2005

Is it the chicken or the egg with the Laker offense?

Read the local papers after the loss to Minnesota and the comments follow these lines: The Lakers stopped getting assists, stopped passing the ball, and so the offense struggled. The subtext: Kobe is too selfish.

But here’s the thing — watch the game and you’ll see the role players who have been hot got good looks but missed their chances. As a team the Lakers shot 47.1% (eFG%) for the game, right at their season average. However, take out Kobe and Lamar and the rest of the Lakers shot 36.5%. To put not to fine a point on it, when the rest of the Lakers hit their shots, Kobe passes more and the offense flows (as it did during the win streak), but if they go cold Kobe (and, to a lesser degree, Lamar) take the game on themselves because even in coverage they can hit more shots than whoever they pass to.

The rest of the Lakers are going to need to be hot tonight.

Count me in the group that is high on Dallas — I was saying they were the second best team in the West from the start of the season.

I was saying that because while many in the media cling to the “Dallas doesn’t play defense” theory from their run-and-gun era, the fact is they finished ninth in the league last season in defensive rating. This season they are ranked 12th at 104.5 (points per 100 opponent possessions). That is basically tied with the Lakers (104.6), and while they are not defensive stoppers just an average defense paired with the Mavericks’ great offense is going to win a lot of games.

As a team the Mavericks are shooting 49.4% for the season and have an offensive rating of 111.9 (points per 100 possessions), the third best offense in the league. And don’t confuse these Mavericks with the run-and-gun era in another way — Dallas is one of the slowest playing teams in the league, averaging just 87.4 possessions per game (25th in the league).

The one thing the Lakers need to do is keep Dallas off the offensive glass, the Mavericks grab 31.8% of their missed shots, the second highest percentage in the league.

Obviously, the Lakers need to find a way to slow Dirk Nowitzki (although who is going to do it, Kwame? Odom? Some combination?). He is averaging 27.4 points per 40 minutes played (fifth best in the league) and adding 9.4 rebounds (grabbing 14% of available boards when he is on the floor). He is also a +16.8 (meaning Dallas is 16,8 points better per 48 minutes when he is on the floor), also in the top 10 in the league. Nowitzki needs to be in the MVP discussions this season.

But what has made Dallas a contender is that others have stepped up around Dirk. Jason Terry at the point is shooting 55.4% (eFG%) and running the offense smoothly. Josh Howard has a PER of 19.8 and Devin Harris 18.3, both well above the league averages. Erick Dampier takes a lot of flak for his play inside (and deserves to on the defensive end, the Mavs are much better defensively when he sits), but he does grab a lot of rebounds (17.9% of the available boards when he is on the floor). And watch out for DeSagana Diop (+11.3) and Marquis Daniels (+7.8), good things seem to happen when they are on the floor.

If the Lakers are going to win, it may depend on Smush and Lamar to play at their best. The best places to attack Dallas are at the point (an opponent PER of 18.2) and at the four (16.1) because while Dirk’s defense has improved he can’t hang with Odom on the perimeter.

The Lakers need the supporting cast tonight to get back to playing like they did during the four-game win streak, and Kobe is going to have to be very efficient. More importantly, the Lakers are going to have to have one of their best defensive showings of the season. And on the road in Dallas, all that will probably mean the Lakers will have a shot at the end in a close game. Which is about all you can ask.

On Tap: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Kurt —  December 10, 2005

Is it just me, or does it seem like we play these guys every third game? And, as Joel Meyers pointed out on the LA broadcast, how do they luck out and get us in the second game of a back-to-back when they are rested four times this season, two times in two weeks?

The Lakers come in to Minnesota above .500 thanks to one of their best defensive showings of the season in Chicago, holding the Bulls to 43.4% shooting (eFG%) and 2 of 14 from beyond the arc. Sweetney got his, and Hinrich scored but wasn’t much help on defense (and ended up -12), but Chandler (-16) and Deng (-15) were nonfactors. Let’s be fair here, part of Chicago’s trouble was they missed some good looks. Meanwhile, good games for the Lakers from Cook (+12, hit 8 of 11 shots), Sasha (+15) and Lamar Odom (+15). As long as other guys keep knocking down the shots Kobe needs to keep passing when the doubles and triples come.

It’s a good win but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves — winning four in a row is nice but it’s what good teams do. Teams that win 40% of their games (basically the Lakers last season) win four in a row 87% of the time, .500 teams do it 99.4% of the time. (Those stats come from Basketball on Paper.) What I’m saying is this is good, but the Lakers need to keep building in this and not have this as the season’s highpoint.

Building anything has not been easy for the Lakers in the second game of back-to-backs, it certainly wasn’t the last time these two met. It was those tired legs that seemed to kill the Lakers, they had a double-digit lead through the third quarter but watched it slip away when Minnesota shot 81% in the fourth quarter, led by Wally Szczerbiak and Troy Hudson going 4 of 5 from beyond the arc when the Lakers were slow to rotate on them (plus Garnett was Garnett). The Lakers are not the only team to fall victim to this, the T-Wolves needed a big fourth quarter comeback the other night to beat Portland.

It was the subs that did well against Minnesota last time, the five on the floor when the Lakers took over in the second quarter were Laron Profit, Luke Walton, Sasha, Chris Mihm and Lamar Odom (Kobe subbed out Odom during the 22-9 stretch where the Lakers took control). The second night of a back-to-back, the subs need to step up again.

The T-Wolves have won four straight and are doing it on both sides of the ball with good offense (ranked 10th in the league in efficiency) and defense (4th in the league). Like the Lakers, they seem to be coming together in a way many people thought they couldn’t. Which should make this an interesting game.

On Tap: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  December 9, 2005

The old gang is getting back together tonight. Michael, Phil and some other old Bulls are coming back to honor Scottie Pippen and retire his number 33.

I’m not going write an ode to Pippen, but if you want to read well done tributes to one of the top 50, Matt at Blog-a-Bull has done a couple of them. I will say this quickly: Saying Pippen just rode Jordan’s coattails is the same as telling me that James Worthy just rode Magic Johnson’s coattails. Just because you play along side a once-in-a-generation (maybe lifetime) player shouldn’t detract from your well-earned legacy.

The last time these two teams met the Lakers were in the middle of the “All Kobe Show,” with him getting 43 points and Chris Mihm being the only other Laker in double digits (it also was the game where Tyson Chandler had a key block on Andrew Bynum late). I’m curious to sees if the Lakers spread the ball and shoot better — last game between these two the rest of the Lakers shot 42.1% (eFG%) but they have been much better of late and need to be tonight. (By the way, Kobe shot 51.5% eFG that night, so expect the Bulls to focus more on him.)

The Bulls offense has been sluggish this season, in their last 10 games they have an offensive rating of 100 (points per opponent possessions), down from their season average of 102 (21st in the league). The biggest problem is they don’t get to the foul line — they are second to last in the league in the percentage of times they get to the line.

Last season it was the defense that led the Bulls to the playoffs, and that is something the Bulls have been getting back to. In the last 10 games their defensive rating is 101.9 (points per opponent possessions), 2.6 points better than their season average.

Last time these two hooked up it was Chris Duhon and Michael Sweetney who did the Lakers in, look for a little more defensive focus on them. Off the bench, Loul Deng has played well of late. Tyson Chandler, who has had shortness of breath issues lately, is expected to play. The other thing to watch, in the last 10 games the Bulls have shot 41.5% from beyond the three point arc.

I’m curious to see what Phil does with the starting lineup tonight — going smaller (with Odom at the four) has worked well the last two games, but doing that tonight could be more challenging. Essentially, you’d force a Sweetney/Odom matchup, giving Odom a big advantage on the perimeter but Sweetney is much stronger inside and could get good post shots and offensive rebounds.

The next two nights should be good tests for the Lakers, after winning three in a row they play pretty good but not great teams. We’ll learn something about just how much the Lakers have grown the on the rest of this road trip.

Fast Break

Kurt —  December 8, 2005

Three in a row and back to .500, small victories in the grand scheme but you have to feel a little more optimistic about this team than you did 10 days ago. However, don’t get too high off of beating Toronto, regardless of how good the offense looked and all the assists. The Raptors are worse than I had pictured, their perimeter defense is abysmal.

Let me go to a Phil Jackson quote from the Press Enterprise this week: “I expect this team to catch fire and start playing (good) basketball sometime around the New Year … and have some strength at the end of the year.” As I and others have said since the start of the season: If the Lakers can hang around .500 and stay within reach of the playoffs as they get (then stay) healthy and become more proficient in the offense, the schedule the last 20 games of the season favors them. Then, as they make the playoffs, pundits nationwide who have said “Phil Jackson just did this for the money” or “Jackson is whipped” will start praising him as a genius. And say they knew it all along.

A few other thoughts to clear out my inbox:

• I mentioned this in a comment the other day, but one of my favorite things I’ve read this season comes from and Kevin Pelton — a detailed breakdown of how Detroit dealt with the Phoenix pick and roll. With that, Kevin put himself in the middle of the TNT crew/Mark Cuban rift. If you’re going to pick a side in that fight, go with the smart billionaire.

• The latest blog poll rankings are up at Detroit is number one and San Antonio number two (I had them flopped). The Lakers are 22nd (I had them 20th, and the voting was Monday before the Lakers looked good two nights in a row).

• Speaking of yaysports NBA coverage, interesting piece on Kobe’s tights: Are they more about keeping his legs warm or pleasing the bosses at Nike?

• Grady Little? I have a Red Sox fan as a wife so I watched more of him than I would have cared to. He was a conservative manager who chose odd times to be aggressive. His biggest weakness — leaving in pitchers. Part of that was a poor pen, but Grady was slow to remove struggling starters, and not just in The Pedro Incident.

I have a thing against Grady — he has made me more scared for the live of my child than at any moment before or after. During the 2003 ALCS Red Sox/Yankee series my wife was pregnant, she had already ordered Red Sox PJs for the child. We were watching The Pedro Incident and she became increasingly incensed as only a passionate person whose body is surging with extra hormones can. She screamed at the television for Grady to take Pedro out. She screamed at me for not screaming at the television to take Pedro out. She paced the living room like a wild cat and just yelled random swear words. I thought Nurse Ratchet was going to have to be called in. Honestly, I was genuinely concerned for our unborn child’s welfare, but knew the sentence, “Honey, you need to calm down” would not have the hoped for result. So I sat there and repeated the same answer to the same question 100 times: “I don’t know why. It was stupid.”

So, I’m not really excited about this hire.

On Tap: The Toronto Raptors

Kurt —  December 7, 2005

If the Lakers are ever going to win the second game of a back-to-back, if they are going to get back to .500, this seems like the best chance they’ve got.

The Lakers are coming off what, by all accounts, was one of their best games of the season. (What a game to be the first one for me to miss, “watching” only on the ESPN Gamecast. Which, by the way, has been dramatically improved.) The Lakers shot well from the field — both Kobe at 58.3% and the rest of the team at 47.7% eFG% (it was Mihm and Cook who dragged that down, not a big surprise considering the strong Buck front line). Odom was aggressive (he had his best game according to commenter John). More importantly, Odom, Mihm and the rest f the Lakers hit the boards hard and out rebounded one of the league’s better on the glass.

Buck coach Terry Stotts said after the game he and his team focused too much on Kobe in the first half. This is what can happen when the Lakers run the offense and the other Lakers hit their shots — you can chose to let Kobe kill you or everyone else. For a change, the other team is faced with a Catch-22.

Which would be a nice place to put Toronto tonight. But for these Lakers there are no pushovers, no one they can look past. The good news is not only are the Lakers in the second game of a back-to-back, so are the Raptors, who had to play into overtime before falling to the Wizards.

Don’t be surprised if the Lakers again start Sasha and Smush as Toronto tends to be small, starting two point guards, Mike James and Jose Calderon, with Morris Peterson as a guard/forward at the three. James and Peterson are efficient shooters (51.4% and 53.6%, eFG%, respectively) so they need to be watched.

The real driving force for Toronto is at the four — Chris Bosh. He’s a young player that GMs everywhere are drooling over and hoping he wants to get out of the Great White North like just about every other good players the Raptors have had. Bosh is averaging 21.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per 40, both very good numbers, shooting just 48.9% from the field but he gets to the free throw line a lot and has hit 85% of his attempts from there so far.

But, like the Raptors as a team, Bosh is not a great defender. Take this note from the great Raptorsblog recently: The Raptors defend the three-point line well (opponents shoot just 32.7%) but as a team they are second to last in the league in opponent eFG%. The Raptors are getting destroyed in the midrange and inside.

That should play into the hands of Kobe and the Lakers — if they play like they did last night.

Off topic for a second: Here’s my favorite recent line from Scott at Raptorblog:

I expected last night’s Raptors-Hawks game to be uglier than two bums fighting over a 40 of Maximum Ice, and I wasn’t disappointed.

One other Raptor player I want to mention is rookie Charlie Villanueva, who comes off the bench to play center and has posted a good PER so far of 15.7. After his draft stock fell everywhere but Toronto, he has been talking about how he is out to prove his detractors were idiots.

Well, I was one of those detractors, and I hope he proves me wrong. The question was never his body or skills, it was his heart and mind. I watched him closely as he sleepwalked through a game against Vermont in the NCAA Tournament and another late-season game, he showed life only when it was time for him to score. That turned me off.

Then I saw him at the Summer Pro League out here and he was a force — he played with a chip on his shoulder the two games I watched. He showed all the skills that made him so highly touted. So far this season he has continued to play with that chip and has been very good for the Raptors. I still want to see him be able to do this for full season, maybe two, before I say he won’t revert to his UConn form. But maybe the pre-draft criticism lit the fire that was out in him, and if so he’s going to be a good to very good player for years.

Hopefully, just not tonight.

On Tap: The Milwaukee Bucks

Kurt —  December 6, 2005

As every coach in every sport will tell you, it’s about getting your own house in order before you start to worry about what the other team will do. So, before we talk Bucks let’s talk Laker defense.

For the first 14 games, the Lakers were giving up 102 points per 100 opponent possessions, good for fifth best in the league.

In the last two games, that number is 123.3.

That’s bad. Battlefield Earth bad. Those two games alone plummeted the Lakers from fifth in the league for the season to 16th.

The more important question, heading into a six-game road trip, is: How do you fix it?

Part of this is getting back to basics and working on the rotations — the Lakers have just looked lethargic on defense the last couple of games (Rudy T. era lethargic). Phil Jackson needs to crack the whip, or some skulls, or whatever he needs to do to get the team to refocus its defense. But I am going to throw out two more radical suggestions that may help.

1) Start Sasha. Smush has been a great story so far this year, but he has not been playing the same quality of defense in the half court set of late. Teams have figured out he is weak on the high pick and roll (almost always going under) and are now exploiting that. Statistically, when Smush is on the floor other point guards are playing just as well as they did last year against Chucky Atkins, both have an opponents PER of 19.1. To Smush’s credit, PGs are not shooting as well this season (49.6% against Atkins compared to 45.9% against Smush) but compare that to what Sasha has done when matched against PGs — an opponents PER of 13.3 and a shooting percentage of 42.4%. I’m not sure if this works well long term, but the defense needs to be shaken up, and Sasha is shooting the ball well right now so the offense won’t suffer. If nothing else, it should light a fire under Smush.

2) Play Chris Mihm and Andrew Bynum together some. One thing we can say about when Kwame Brown was in the starting lineup is that having two 7-footers along the baseline helped slow penetration. Not so much anymore, even with Cook getting big minutes. As best I can tell, Bynum and Mihm spent a few minutes together on the floor for the first time last game (they were a total of -3 in that short time). This combo is not going to be great on offense (Kobe and Lamar are going to really have to carry the load) but this should be a good defensive and rebounding pair. And you might want to keep doing it even when Kwame comes back.

If you’re going to pair Mihm and Bynum at all, Milwaukee may be a good place because the Bucks are such a good rebounding team. Four Buck players — Jamaal Magloire, Andrew Bogut, Joe Smith and Dan Gadzuric — all pull down at least 11.8 rebounds per 40 minutes (each grabbing at least 16% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor), the best rate for a Laker is Bynum at 10.3 (and 14.9%). The Lakers need to crash the boards.

The Lakers suddenly resurgent offense should again find room to work against a team that is 27th in the league in defensive rating (109.6 points per 100 possessions) and allows teams to shoot 49.5% (eFG%) against them. This could be a good game for Smush and Sasha as point guard has been the Bucks weakest defensive position this season.

But the Laker defense will be the key. The Bucks have a pretty average offense (a rating of 106,8, 12th in the league) although, not surprisingly, they do get a lot of offensive rebounds and put backs. They also have Michael Redd, who is leading the team in scoring and shooting a very good 52.5% (eFG%) from the field. Also watch out for point guard Maurice Williams, who is second on the team in scoring and shooting just as well as Redd percentage wise, and is a +11.2 per 48 minutes (the other guy to watch is UCLA guy Gadzuric, who is +12.7).

The Lakers have the Bucks tonight then head to even colder climates for a game against Toronto tomorrow. They need to get at least a split to start the road trip, and I think we know it’s a lot easier to win at the start (particularly since the Lakers have beaten the Bucks eight straight times). Count me in the group that thinks the Bucks are not as good as their 9-6 record, this is a game the Lakers can win. If they play defense.

First things first, the latest Carnival of the NBA (now #20) is up over at Attack of the Supersonics (the blog with the best logo out there). This carnival is very well written, with lots of good links to click on as well.

As for FB&G, we’re going to look mostly at the offense today, even though the defense has been the bigger problem the last couple of games (we’ll get to that tomorrow, promise). But that’s not all — keep reading and I’ll throw in some other stuff, at no additional cost. The perfect holiday stocking stuffer.

• For the last two games, the rest of the Lakers — they guys other than Kobe and Lamar — have stepped up and made shots. Because of that Kobe has just started to adjust his game and needs to do more.

I have argued that Kobe was shooting so much because the rest of the team could not be trusted. Look at the eight games from Nov. 14 (Memphis) to the Utah game last Monday — Kobe took 36.7% of the Lakers shots and shot 41.3% (eFG%), throw in Lamar Odom and you get 48.5% the team’s shots and the pair shooting 42.2%. The rest of the team after those two fared no better, shooting an even 42%. What was Kobe’s motivation to pass, the offense was just as good in his hands?

That changed dramatically in the last two games — outside of Kobe and Lamar the rest of the Lakers are shooting 60.2%. Through that Kobe has shot just 40.2% (the Bobcats were very quick with the double teams). add Lamar and it’s just 40.5%.

Together, Kobe and Lamar still took 44% of the Lakers shots in the last two games. They have to recognize when other players are hot and take advantage of that. They did to a degree last game, but Kobe still put up 30 shots and could have given it up quicker, particularly out of the doubles off the high pick and roll (the Bobcats went to trap Kobe with both players off the pick).

• Some other notes from shot charting the last few games:

Lamar Odom needs to drive to the hole — when he pulls up short and shoots in the paint his shooting percentage plummets to the low 20s, but when he goes for the layup/dunk he scores or is fouled on almost every attempt.

Kobe’s midrange game still has not been what it was the first couple of weeks; he is shooting in the mid-30s percent wise. He takes nearly 50% of his midrange shots from the right of the key, but a vast majority of his threes from the left side. Not sure if that’s a personal preference or offensive design.

Smush is shooting the three ball well, and can penetrate to the basket, but his midrange game is still very weak.

Luke Walton, on the other hand, has clearly worked on his midrange and is shooting just over 50% — and he hits about 75% from straight on, above the free throw line.

Mihm doesn’t go to the midrange game much, but what he does isn’t bad (just under 50%).

• I’m curious what people think of the new broadcast team for the Lakers, so I put a poll up at the right. Let me know what the rest of you think.

• We’ll be wondering about all this stuff later, so let me tell you now: Larry Croon’s great NBA Salary cap FAQ is now updated to include the new collective bargaining agreement.

• If you’re a college football fan, you should be reading Every Day Should Be Saturday. Great site, very clever writing. My most recent favorite — 52 Reasons ESPN/ABC/Disney Sucks (this goes beyond just basketball, but they didn’t even have to mention NBA Shootaround to get to 52, that could have been another 10 right there).

• If you have Sirius Satellite Radio, check out the new Phil Jackson show that starts Jan. 9. I’m not kidding. I’m curious to check it out, but not enough to fork over the cash for the system, especially since everyone will just assume I’m doing it to get Howard Stern.