Archives For February 2006

The Next 10

Kurt —  February 18, 2006

A decade after the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History list was released, TNT will unveil “The Next 10″ tonight. The idea is pretty simple — who are the next 10 on the list.

There are some easy ones, guys like Kobe and Duncan who were not in the league (or very young) when the first list came out but have to be on it now. But there should be some interesting picks.

A few of us over at CourtsideTimes.net made our own list. Check it out, watch tonight and let’s debate who got left off.

The Waiting Game

Kurt —  February 17, 2006

One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.
—Chinese proverb

Losses like the one to Atlanta remind Laker fans it’s a long way from here (a .500 basketball team) to there (back in the NBA finals while Kobe is still in his prime). It’s not going to happen this year, and the path back is not clear. There is no yellow brick road to follow, no great and powerful wizard with the answers, no quick-fix trade where we could click our collective heals three times and be where we want to be.

The team’s recent inconsistent and maddening play, along with the impending trade deadline, means there’s a natural desire to say the Lakers need to do something — anything — to improve this team Or at least light a fire under them.

But if the Lakers are going to get back to their own personal Kansas of the NBA Finals, we are all going to have to be patient. Both fans and management.

My goal when evaluating a trade or free agent pickup is to try to think of the long-term picture. ”Does this get us closer to competing for a championship?” For the Lakers right now, that needs to be qualified with a time window — the Lakers likely have about five or six more years before Kobe’s skills start to fade (or at least the number of minutes he can play at that level night in and night out start to fade). They can win after that, but Kobe may not be able to carry as much of the load (ala Kareem with Magic).

But while the window isn’t big, we still need to be patient. Look at the Laker needs right now. Personally, I think the biggest needs have not changed much from last season: 1) a more dominant scoring and defensive presence at the four or five; 2) better, more consistent play at the point. (There are other needs, but those two stand out to me.)

In regard to a big man, who can the Lakers affordably get that will be better in three years than Andrew Bynum? Sure, we’re not sure how good Bynum really will be, particularly in terms of scoring, but the early indications are he should be at least solid. There is a shortage of big men in the league right now — the cost for them is at a premium, both in terms of salary and what you have to give up in a trade. The Lakers could have two solid ones already in house. In three years, Mihm will still be in just his eighth year in the league — Bynum and Mihm of them would make a tall and potentially intimidating front line.

But we’re going to have to be patient for that to come around. The same is true out top — Smush was a good find, but he is best suited to be a back up. However, solid point guards can be found, veterans at reasonable prices or kids in the draft. You just have to be patient and make sure the one you end up with fits the system. And plays defense.

The Lakers don’t have the trade pieces to make an immediate big move (assuming Phil has not given up on Odom to play the initiator — I haven’t, I think he’ll get it by next season), they don’t have the cap space to get a big price free agent. But they will have some flexibility in a few years.

Being patient sucks. I know. But rash trades and not being patient or following a consistent rebuilding plan is how you end up like the Knicks. It’s going to take some shrewd moves to get the Lakers back, and I’m not sure any of us are completely convinced the current Laker front office is clever or creative enough to do it.

But there are no quick fixes, no ruby red slippers filled with the one player who will change everything for this team. As frustrating as it can be, the best move right now may be no move.

On Tap: The Atlanta Hawks

Kurt —  February 15, 2006

Record: 15-34 (15-34 Pythagorean), 13th seed in the East (ahead of the Knicks and Bobcats)
Record last 10 games: 4-6 (including a win over Detroit)
Offensive Rating: 106.5 (16th in league)
Defensive Rating: 111.8 (27th in league)

The Lakers coming in: They played defense against Utah and they got the win. Oh, sure, they didn’t make it easy on themselves (although part of that falls on Phil Jackson for some early and interesting lineup experimentation), but they got the win.

While I tend to focus on the tangible here, tonight’s game for the Lakers is about professionalism and focus. They play a lower-tier team on the last night before the long All-Star break, it’s the kind of game the Lakers could look past. And they are not good enough to look past anyone. Nor can they afford to with the tight playoff chase.

About the Hawks: Last off-season the Hawks brought in Joe Johnson to be there best player. The good news is he is their best player. That’s also the bad news.

Johnson leads the Hawks (among regular players) with a +/- (per 48 minutes) of +2.4 — making him the only regular Hawk player with a raw +/- in the positive. He leads the team with a PER of 18 and has been playing well of late, shooting 54.6% (eFG%) in the last 10 games. But Johnson’s numbers are off from his breakout season in Phoenix, for example last year he shot an insane 47.8% from three-point range, this season that number is 35.5%.

The Hawks have some other athletic and talented young players. Al Harrington leads the team scoring 20.1 per 40 minutes, Josh Childress has a true shooting percentage of 61%. They are even getting a decent offensive season out of Tyronn Lue.

But Lue is not much of a defender (despite Laker fans memories of a few good games in the Finals) and point guards are shredding Atlanta. It’s not all on Lue — Johnson has never been a good defender and so far really none of the Hawks have.

Easy Laker Buckets: While we’re talking defense, Atlanta’s Josh Smith is third in the league with 13 goaltending calls (on defense) this season. Just so you know if you see him knocking the ball off the cylinder.

Draw the charge: Brian Cook has become very good at drawing the charge and he is second on the Lakers with 15 so far this year (Sasha has 16). He could pick a few more tonight with Zaza Pachulia on the other team — he is fourth in the league in the number of charging fouls he has gotten. Pachulia actually gets called for a charge on 5.7% of his possessions. Just something to look for.

(By the way, if you follow the above link you’ll see Kobe third in the league in the number of charging calls he’s earned — but the important thing to note is it is only 2.1% of his possessions, which is a reasonable percentage considering how much he has the ball and how much he drives to the basket.)

Apropos of nothing: If you’ve never seen the video of Vince Carter dunking over Frederic Weis in the 2000 Olympics, you need to see this. Thanks to Henry at True Hoop not only for the posting, but also for the reminder at the bottom of how long the Knicks GMs have been making horrific mistakes.

Key’s to a Laker win: This is certainly a winnable game — but ask the Pistons about looking past the Hawks.

The weakest spots defensively this season for the Hawks have been the point and the three — or Smush/Odom (depending on how the Hawks match up) and Kobe. They should have big nights.

That said, the key again is playing good defense. The Hawks offense is average by NBA standards, but they can outscore the Lakers if the home team is not focused tonight. Kobe has been gambling more on defense lately, jumping into passing lanes and going for steals, and that could pay off tonight as the Hawks don’t have the passers and veterans that could exploit that.

On Tap: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  February 13, 2006

Record: 25-26 (24-27 Pythagorean), 9th seed in the West
Record last 10 games: 5-5
Lakers record against Jazz: 1-2
Offensive Rating: 102.7 (28th in league)
Defensive Rating: 106.8 (13th in league)

Best thing I watched this weekend: Airplane!, which HBO was rerunning. I hadn’t watched it in a decade and I laughed like it was new.

What, you thought I was going to say that Laker loss to Memphis? That game had me looking for distraction and relief. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

Last time these two faced off: It wasn’t a fair fight. The Lakers dropped both games of a home-and-home to the Jazz on Jan. 1 and 3, but Kobe was suspended for those two games.

Why Lakers should worry anyway:
In the last game between these two, Andrei Kirilenko had 14 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 7 blocks and 6 steals. That had nothing to do with Kobe being gone. Odom/Cook/Kwame are going to have to have a big game defensively against him.

About the Jazz: They start a big and dangerous front line — the aforementioned Kirilenko (a very good player when healthy), Mehmet Okur (who leads the Jazz scoring 20.1 per 40 minutes and is their best rebounder, grabbing 15.8% of available boards) and the competent Jarron Collins. There’s also limited minutes from Carlos Boozer. That’s a lot of big bodies to throw at a Laker team that was thin in the frontcourt before Chris Mihm went down (he will not play tonight and likely not against Atlanta on Wednesday).

The other dangerous guy is Matt Harpring, who provides what little outside they have to go with their inside. In the last 10 games, he is shooting 56.1% (eFG%).

The starting guards for the Jazz are two guys named Milt Palacio and Devin Brown. That is where the Lakers have the advantage.

I don’t want to jinx it but: Kwame Brown has played two pretty good games in a row.

Key to a Laker win:
Defense.

That has been the inconsistent thing that has been the difference between winning and losing. Memphis, on the season, has a team eFG% of 48.4%. They shot 54.7% against the Lakers. Their team offensive rating coming in to Staples was 105.1 (points per 100 possessions), they had 119 against the Lakers.

Utah creates some match up challenges for the Lakers, but the reverse is true as well (Utah is better up front, the Lakers in the back court). It’s a cliché but it’s true — the team that plays better defensively will have the eighth playoff spot in the West at the end of the night.

On Tap: The Memphis Grizzlies

Kurt —  February 11, 2006

Record: 26-23 (21-28 Pythagorean), 7th seed in the West (tied for 6th)
Record last 10 games: 2-8 (lost five straight)
Laker record against Grizzlies: 1-2
Offensive Rating: 105.1 (21st in league)
Defensive Rating: 103.1 (3rd in league)

Where does Kobe get his points: Last time the Lakers played the Griz, Kobe had 45 points, almost 10 more than his current per-game average. But where is he getting those points on the floor? Well, 82games.com has broken it down (and for all the top players).

He gets an average of 13.7 points (39% of his points) on 2-point jump shots. Another 9.4 points come from the free throw line (a whopping 26%, and the highest number in the league). He also gets 6.1 per game on three point shots and 6.3 on dunks and lay-ups.

Why tonight’s game really matters: From the sixth seed Grizzlies/Hornets (a tie) to the 12th seeded Kings, the teams are separated by just 4.5 games in the Western Conference. That’s seven teams with a shot at one of the three bottom playoff spots in the West. If you want to get one of the three, you need to beat the teams fighting with you for those spots. (Same thing with the game Monday against Utah).

The Lakers coming in: I think all us Laker fans are trying to repress the recent road trip save their best game in a while, the win in Houston. That included a good game from Kwame Brown, something they are going to need against the powerful inside game of the Griz.

The last time these two met was a game we’d all like to have wiped from our mind like Kate Winslet — remember that Memphis never led in regulation but won in overtime. Paul Gasol had 24 but it was Damon Stoudamire’s 25 that was the kick in the gut (he will not play due to injury).

Some good news, the Lakers said they are hopeful Chris Mihm will play tonight.

About the Grizzlies: Let’s start with them as a team, and it’s really pretty simple — great defense, far from great on offense. This is a team that statistically has played over its head for most of the season, winning in spite of its offense, and now things are starting to catch up with them.

That said, Pau “Serpico” Gasol deserves to be All Star, he is one of the best big men in the game. By the way, he averages 19.6 points per game and (as per the way Kobe’s points were broken down above) he gets about 9 of those a game in close to the basket and another 5.5 from the line.

The guys who don’t get enough credit are Shane Battier, Eddie Jones and Mike Miller. This can be a balanced team, when healthy. They just aren’t healthy right now.

Key’s to a Laker win: Run them out of the building — Memphis likes to play at the slowest pace in the league (85.8 possessions per game, 5 less than the Lakers) and this is their second game in as many nights. There are fast break points to be had.

Last night, the Griz started Chucky Atkins over Bobby Jackson. We can only hope they do that again. Also, shooting guard Mike Miller missed the game with a sprained ankle, if he doesn’t play that’s another break for the Lakers.

Gasol will get his, the Lakers need to make sure that Battier or the always dangerous Eddie Jones don’ have a huge game. This is one where the Lakers can build a lead early and blow them out late.

That is, depending on what Laker team shows up.