Archives For January 2006

Artest in the West

Kurt —  January 26, 2006

The second part of the Laker midseason report card, focusing on the players, will go up later today or tomorrow morning at the latest. That said, there was some big news out west to discuss.

How good does Artest make the Kings? Good question. I thought Tom at Sactown Royalty had a good line the other day, “Obviously, this team needed something. An elite defender/frightening psychopath is certainly something.”

The championship window appeared closed in Sacramento, and this move may or may not pry it back open. But this gives the Kings a couple of years with a Bibby/Artest/Abdur-Rahim/Miller core — that is pretty formidable. If they can fill in the right pieces around it, and if Artest plays for two seasons without a meltdown, this could make them contenders again. If not, they have to blow the thing up and start over, which is basically where they were headed anyway. The Kings rolled the dice on this one, but it’s not a bad bet.

If nothing else, this should be fun to watch.

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Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think: Vince Carter is down on Kobe because Kobe is not a team player.

(Note to Alanis Morissette: That is irony, not rain on your wedding day.)

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One of the best basketball interviews I’ve read in a long time, with defensive guru Hank Egan, is up at probasketballnews.com, and is worth a read.

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One other housekeeping note I’ve been meaning to get to. Most of the time when you post a comment here, that comment should appear instantly. However, to keep out the spam FB&G gets bombarded with, I have some filters set up, and they do a pretty good job. That said, the filter occasionally catches legitimate comments as well, holding them over for me to approve, something that can happen pretty quickly if I’m at my computer but may take a while one weekends or whatever. To give you an example, if you use the word “poker” in a comment, it will get flagged (a lot of poker site spam comes through). There is a long list of words and other things that can flag a comment. So, just know it’s nothing personal and I try to get to your held-up comments as fast as I can. I’m not trying to limit debate, just keep it civil and ad free.

Midseason Report Card

Kurt —  January 25, 2006

The Lakers have played 41 games, exactly half the season, and if you had told me before the season their record would have been 22-19, I would have taken it. I think things will improve in the second half, but this is the perfect chance to do a mid-season breakdown. We’ll look at the team management, offense and defense today. Individual players get broken out tomorrow.

Team Management/Coaching — B

Phil Jackson is getting as much out of this roster as a coach can, but he doesn’t have a deep roster to work with.

Therein lies what you see with the Lakers — Kobe having to take on a high percentage of the team’s scoring because the other players can’t be counted on to do so consistently; the more intent focus on defense, which has seemed to laps lately; the second youngest roster in the league; inconsistency.

The key to the coaching end of the equation will be detailed a little farther down —Jackson has this team playing defense (we expected the offense to come around). Last season the Lakers played mediocre man defense (insert your own Chucky Atkins joke here) but the biggest problem was the rotations. Or, more accurately, the lack of them. This season you see big guys doing a better job of picking up guys in the lane, Chris Mihm is getting blocks and Brian Cook is taking charges. The Lakers are longer out top and that is bothering teams.

When you looked at this team on paper before the season it seemed mismatched on offense, but Jackson and crew have done a good job of getting players to fit the system and adjusting the system to fit players. They’ve convinced Kwame Brown to try to be a poor man’s Dennis Rodman, defending and grabbing boards (how good he is at that role is another question) and get some points in the paint. Guys like Smush Parker and Cook are finding their space in the triangle. One change from previous years is that before Phil would be willing to lose a game to let his team learn a lesson — I think back in, say, 2001 he would have benched Kobe rather than let him go for 81 and let the rest of the players learn to step up. But back then there was no question the team would make the playoffs, so the goal was to be at your best for the postseason. Now, wins are at a premium, and if Kobe has to be a one-man show to get a win, so be it.

That mismatched roster falls in part on Jim Buss, Mitch K. and the rest of the front office. Their made the choice to make cap space down the line the priority and left holes in the current lineup as the price. They drafted Andrew Bynum, who may well work out, but the fact they have had to depend on him this year as a raw 18-year-old speaks to the lack of depth up front. They took a risk on Kwame Brown, trading valuable assets on the market in Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins to get him. I questioned at the time if that was the best they could get for that valuable a trading chip, but they hoped Brown would finally fulfill his potential. Brown is starting, but he’s basically putting up the same quality of numbers he did in Washington (more on him tomorrow). They have a direction and some building blocks, but as of now they have a ways to go make this a well-rounded roster.

Team Defense — B-

Back in mid-December, the Lakers had a defensive rating of 104.5 (points per 100 opponent possessions) and that was in the top 10 in the league. It was a huge step forward for a team whose rating was 107 last season, 29th in the league.

But the reason for the B- grade is that as of right now the Lakers have a defensive rating of 106.2, 16th in the league. In the last 10 games, that rating is 107.9 — the Lakers are 7-3 in that stretch but it is thanks to the offense (in case you missed it, Kobe’s playing pretty well right now).

That said, the Lakers are still much better defensively than last year. That starts out top, where Smush Parker has been everything Chucky Atkins was not — he’s long, he moves his feet and he defends the three. That has been one key: teams are shooting just 32.6% from beyond the arc against the Lakers, the second lowest percentage in the league. Sasha Vujacic deserves some credit for playing solid defense off the bench most nights.

That said, point guard is still the weakest defensive spot for the Lakers, opponents average a PER of 18 against the Lakers, basically the equivalent of the opponent starting point guard having a Barron Davis or Mike James quality night every night.

The biggest problem with the Lakers last year was they didn’t create turnovers — only 12.5% of opponent possessions ended in a turnover last season, dead last in the league. This season that is up to 15.5%, 24th in the league. However, this is a key part of the recent defensive slide — in the last 10 games the Lakers have created turnovers on 12.1% of opponent possessions.

Another positive is that guys are rotating now. That was really the big problem with the Lakers defense last year — make a couple passes and other teams got a good look. Last year team’s shot 49.2% (eFG%) against the Lakers, this season that is down to 47.4%.

The bottom line — the defense is better than last year but needs to be an area of focus again.

Team Offense — B

While the defense has been sliding backwards, the offense has been getting better. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1) The team is getting more used to the triangle; 2) Kobe.

Right now the Lakers have an offensive rating of 107.8 (points per 100 opponent possessions), 11th best in the league. That compares pretty well to last season — the Lakers finished with an offensive rating of 104.8, seventh best in the league. Look at it this way — last season the Lakers’ rating was 1.6 points higher than the league median, this season they are 1 point higher.

The reason for the B grade is the often-discussed need for consistency and balance outside of Kobe Bryant. Part of this is the roster — are we really going to expect Smush and Luke Walton to be an offensive force every night? — but part of it is just players not yet feeling comfortable in the offense. At the heart of this consistency issue is Lamar Odom, a nightly matchup nightmare for the opponents who takes nights off. Some have tried to lay this at the feet of Kobe, saying he doesn’t get Lamar involved, but watch the games and you see Lamar has his chances, he just seems to pass them up some nights. He is the one Laker who needs to get his shots and score nightly, who needs not to defer to Kobe every trip down. He does that, but only in spurts.

As for the Kobe 81 (and 62 before that), I think Phil put it well in the LA Times today, there can’t be a steady diet of that and the responsibilty to ensure balance belongs to everyone.

“The onus is on Kobe to stay inside the team offense,” Jackson (said). “The onus is on the players to pick it up a little bit better. The onus is on me to provide players out there that can help [win]. The onus is on the general manager to provide players that are a good enough talent. There’s onus on everybody.”

One quick note about the lineups —the standard starting five (Smush, Kobe, Odom, Brown and Mihm) beats the players it is matched up against 47% of the time. However, remove Kwame and put in Cook and that improves to 63.6%. Put Devean Geroge in the Kwame spot and that five beats its matchup 60% of the time. Put Walton in the Kwame spot and it jumps to 64.2%. Draw your own conclusions.

What keeps the Lakers going is Kobe’s Jack Bauer-like confidence, which sometimes the other players feed off of, but sometimes simply defer to. For the Lakers to make the playoffs, it is the cast around Kobe that must put down roots and grow despite being in his shadow.

The 80s Are Hot Again

Kurt —  January 24, 2006

Update: Want to see all of Kobe’s 81 points in just three minutes? Well, it’s all right here (thanks to Henry at True Hoop for finding this).

Well Bill “Sports Guy” Simmons is even happy now. He still misses the point at times (read down a few paragraphs) but he feels vindicated. That’s good, as a professional writer, I’m sure his self-esteem could use the occasional boost.

I think we’re all still stunned and amazed at the 81 — in Vegas, the city where football (well, really football betting) is king, Kobe and his 81 were the story on top of the sports page Monday morning. I’m not sure what I can say that would add to all that has been said, but I’ll point you to (and comment on) what other people have been saying.

I think this may be the biggest thing — Kobe’s 81 got the most egotistical and hardest to tolerate newspaper columnist in LA (and there is a heated competition for the title) to admit he was wrong.

Great breakdown
, as you would expect, over at Hoopsanalyst.

If you want to own the 81 points Kobe scored — not just the video of the game, the actual points (in liquid form) — here is where you can bid for them.

If you have ESPN Insider, check out the John Hollinger piece comparing Kobe’s 81 to Wilt’s 100 — he’s thinks Kobe’s is more impressive. I’m not going to give away a bunch of stuff they want you to pay to see, but I will point out this: Hollinger estimates there were about 46 more possessions in the Wilt game than the Laker game the other night, figure Kobe’s points using the same number of possessions Wilt had and Kobe goes for 118.

Phil Jackson said in the Daily News, “To be honest with you, that’s not exactly the way you want to have a team win a game. But when you have to win a game, it’s great to be able to have that weapon to do it with.” He’s right, the Lakers will need better play out of the rest of the team if they are going to make the playoffs. But it sure is fun to watch.

Back to Simmons for a second, he spends a paragraph talking about how Kobe’s ball hogging must be driving Lamar Odom nuts. Two quick thoughts: 1) as has been shown before, Lamar Odom is playing better when Kobe is on the floor; 2) Lamar gets plenty of chances every game to make himself a key part of the offense, he only takes advantage of them about every other game.

Really though, I think the guys at yaysports.com said it best.

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If you were the coach of Golden State, New York, Indiana or one of the other teams coming up on the Laker schedule, wouldn’t you be working on a defense that would strive to keep the ball out of Kobe’s hands and double him the second the ball swings to his side of the court?

The theory of “let Kobe have his and stop everyone else” works only if you have a defender who can at least make Kobe work for his points and slow him a little. Detroit has that, the Raptors did not. Sure, all the Raptors said after the game they tried to stop Kobe, but let’s be honest, they are not the NBA’s most athletic or talented team, and combine that with Kobe shooting 74% (true shooting percentage) there’s no way you’re going to stop him completely.

Other teams know they need to slow him down, how long is it before that is the first, second and third goal of the opponents — “Don’t let Kobe beat you, force Lamar to do it.” Can he? Can he night in and night out? What about Smush, Mihm and the rest of the Kobettes?

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One off topic Vegas note. Let’s say you’re not really a musical theater guy. Let’s say you’re in Vegas and you want to take your wife/girlfriend/hooker you want to impress to a show one night, but you’re dreading it. Allow me make a suggestion — Avenue Q, playing at the Wynn. Fair warning, tickets are not cheap by anyone but Bill Gates’ standards. But if your significant other (or significant other for the night) wants an evening of culture, just tell her this won the Tony for best musical a couple years ago. It did. But trust me, this is not like the versions of Carousel or South Pacific you had to sit through in high school. This has some songs you can relate to.

A game like last night’s makes me wish that Jim Murray, legendary Times columnists, was still alive to immortalize it with his brilliant ability to capture a moment.

The above title is how Jim described Elgin Baylor in his playing days and seems more than apropos for last night’s stupefying performance.

Runners, floaters, threes, fade-aways, dunks, free throws… Was it the Raptor defense? It was if you’re talking about guys named Odom, Parker, George, and Vujacic.

Zone defense: As in, “Kobe’s in a zone, where’s the defense?”

Use the Force: I’ve pondered keeping track of how may times Kobe “forced” shots in a game. I’ve always thought it’s not how much he shoots, it’s how he shoots, i.e. within the offense. That all quickly flew out the window. What exactly is a forced shot on a night like last night?

A little insight: On Wilt’s big night, it is rumored that the promoter for the game in Hershey wanted Wilt, with the collusion/cooperation of his teammates, to try to get as many points as possible.

His 78 point game was a triple overtime affair.

David Thompson’s 73 came as he was locked in a last night of the season scoring battle with George Gervin.

David Robinson had 9 guys (your Los Angeles Clippers) helping him eclipse 70, so he could overtake a young Shaquille O’Neal on the final night of the season for the scoring crown.

None of these things can be said about Kobe’s Herculian feat. No premeditation. No help from the other team. No scoring title on the line. No sideshow atmosphere of a game played in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Just willing his listless team to a W.

I’m sure Murray and Chick were sitting in the Big Forum Club in the Sky, sharing a smile and a chuckle, spouting desriptions and insights we all wish we were still privy to.

It will resonate in your head for a long time to come. 81 points.

81!!!

Gatinho —  January 23, 2006

Still at the in-laws on vacation — I can’t beleive I missed this game (not on in Vegas).

I just caught the ESPN News highlights. I looked at the box score, Kobe had a true shooting percentage of 74% tonight (the league average is 53%) and it looks like he couldn’t miss. Those of you that saw the game let me know, was the Raptor defense part of this, or wouldn’t it have mattered? Kobe was also +23. I also have the rest of the Lakers outside of Kobe shooting just 36.9%? Were they off, was this a case of Kobe needing to take over, because they were down for a while.

Fill me in, tell me what you saw (Gatinho, who is doing a great job filling in as guest blogger, may have a more informed post than this up before then). I’ll be back with a post on Tuesday and a mid-season report card for the team later in the week.

Kurt