Archives For April 2006

Suggested Reading

Kurt —  April 13, 2006

Consider this my attempt at being AOL — so much great hoops stuff on the Web, let me choose what you should read. Starting with something from FB&G’s comments (I can’t really say often enough just how smart and witty the commenters here are, it makes this site 10 times better):

WorthyTomahawk posted this prior to the Golden State win, but facts and analysis remain pertinent:

The Lakers defense seems to be really clicking that last 10 games. My periodic crunching of doug’s stats shows…

– FTAs given up down to 18.5, best in league (league avg 26.5)
– Turnover differential -1.5
– Steal differential +1.5
– TS% differential 3.5%

Only thing down for Lakers is the OR% differential, but that probably goes hand in hand with improved shooting.

If the Lakers could stay this defensively consistent going into next year then I would call this season a big success. We can always add offense with a trade or MLE, but defense is a team effort.

• If you want take a quick spin around the NBA, the latest Carnival of the NBA blogs is up, and J.E. Skeets at The Basketball Jones not only did it well but also had to do it twice.

• Kelly Dwyer is one of the few national basketball columnists I’m sure to read everything from — including his grades for all the NBA announcing teams. I think those of you with the League Pass will really appreciate this.

By the way, he gives the Joel Meyers/Stu Lantz combo an “A-“ and that sounds about right. They are good together, not Chick, but good. However, to my untrained ear I still don’t see (or hear) how they are better than the Sunderland/Lantz combo, or why Sundy was canned.

• You should be reading True Hoop everyday anyway, but in case you missed yesterday, check it out as Henry actually suits up with an And1 style streetball team, bringing his Bobby Jones-like game with him, and comes away with a great experince and stories.

As we enter the gym, a man who later proved to be a hilarious PA announcer calls out to the group:
“Clay Johnson? Which one of you is Clay Johnson?”
“Hey, how are you doing,” says Clay, mild-mannered and approachable as ever.
“I am a HUGE L.A. Lakers fan. Like the biggest ever, from way back, and… I don’t remember you. Did you really play for the Lakers?”
Clay extends his hand, showing his championship ring. “How about that?”
“Yeah, but you could have bought that on Ebay.”
“Not with my name engraved on it…”

• Speaking of things we saw on True Hoop: Steve Nash isn’t concerned about how many points Kobe scores against the Suns. And he’s right, as long as the Suns win why would he?

The D-League Is Coming To Town

Kurt —  April 12, 2006

They do it in Long Beach all the time, but it never really works — minor league sports trying to thrive under the radar of Los Angeles and its established major league teams. They all try to sell the advantages — it’s less expensive and the setting more intimate — but minor league sports (from several baseball teams to the still around but losing money Long Beach Ice Dogs) have traditionally withered in the shadow of the big regional professional teams. Why see the little guys when the big guys are just up the road?

Despite the fact everyone seems to lose money, they keep coming back because they see potential. (Baseball, way out in the Inland Empire, has done fairly well, but there are solid reasons for that — it’s a long way from Dodger or Angel Stadium and in an area that has fewer other entertainment options than the city.)

The Lakers think they can change that dynamic — they got approval from the NBA and the D-League to start their own D-League team next season. And it not only might work, it might be a major step in the creation of a real NBA minor league.

The on-the-court reasons make a lot of sense — the Buss family will essentially own a minor league team, as has been done in baseball for decades. Not only would would this team have the players the Lakers have signed that they send down, they can essentially give guys just on the outside a D-League contract, like being on a scout team, and tell them “play well and you come back to camp with a better chance next year.” What’s more, with the current Lakers running the triangle, they could set up a minor league team to do the same, allowing players like Wafer to still grow in the offense while getting playing time.

The bigger question is will it make money? One of the struggles for the funky-little ABA when it had three-teams in the area (one in Los Angeles, one in Long Beach and one in the OC) was having the star power to draw fans. Why do you think they kept giving Dennis Rodman three-game contracts? Not his play, he was barely an ABA starter anymore. But he put butts in the seats. Same is true of the Summer Pro League in Long Beach — when they have someone like Andrew Bynum, who fans wanted to see, the Pyramid is packed. But other years it has been scouts, family, other players and some crickets in Long Beach.

If this Laker D-League team had Von Wafer and, hypothetically, a Devin Green and/or some young daft pick, it would draw some people. Next season (starting in November), the team will likely play its 25 home games at Staples, maybe some prior to Laker games. But the plan is to move them the year after, maybe to another Southern California market, with the LA Times floating an Inland Empire possibility.

Of course, there is the possibility the Lakers don’t care if it makes money. First, it would boost the overall value of the franchise, possibly offsetting any losses. Also, if it breaks even or looses a little money, but is a boost to the basketball side of the franchise, it may be worth it.

The Laker team won’t be alone, another D-League team will be in Anaheim next year. No name, team coach or affiliation has been announced, but it will play in the Anaheim Convention Center (which hosts the Big West basketball tournament and other events).

While other minor leagues have not gotten enough sunlight to survive in LA due to the big shadows cast by the NBA (or NHL, or MBL), this could be different because the Lakers own it. Maybe with your Laker season seats you get 10 (or 25) D-League tickets. They can cross-promote at Laker games and on Laker broadcasts. They are the ones casting the shadow, so they can let a little sunshine through.

Cook or Walton? A few more stats in the “who to start?” debate. Looking at the current starting four (Smush, Kobe, Odom and Kwame) and seeing how they do with Cook or Walton, here’s what has found:

With Cook, the Lakers five has beaten the opposing five 50% of the time, but are a +7.8 per 48 minutes. This Laker five shoots an impressive 55.3% and allows opponents to shoot 49.1%.

With Walton (who has played less than half the minutes of Cook with this group), the Laker five has bested their opponents just 30.4% of the time and are a -5.8 per 48 minutes. This Laker five shoots 50.2% but allows opponents to shoot exactly the same percentage.

What do I take from this? Not a ton, small sample sizes at play here, but it makes me think that choosing between Cook and Walton should be tied to match ups more than anything else.

Who’s Left? One reason others and I mistakenly bought into the “Golden State as the poor-man’s Phoenix Suns” theory before the season was the backcourt of Baron Davis and Jason Richardson.

Tonight, neither of those two is expected to play. Davis is out for sure with an ankle injury and Richardson is questionable with a knee problem. Also, rookie Chris Taft will be out.

Injuries are part of the reason Golden State is 2-8 in their last 10 — if Richardson doesn’t play the best guy on the court for Golden State will be Derek Fisher. I have a soft spot for Fish too, but if he’s your best player — and he’s shooting just 48.3% (eFG%) in the last 10 — then you’re in trouble. And Mike Dunleavy can’t bail you out.

Off Topic: Note to Joanne C. Gerstner of The Detroit News and her comments on the scoring title race — for Kobe to win another scoring title he would have had to have won his first. This will be number one.

Key to a Lakers win: This is a game the Lakers should win on defense — the Warriors are 21st in the league in offensive efficiency (101.6 points per 100 possessions, 3.3 points behind the 10th-in-the-league Lakers) and they are without their two best players. Well, I suppose Richardson may play but he won’t be at 100%. Whoever is on the floor, Golden State will try to pick up the pace (4th fastest team in the league) but they can be made inefficient on the break — get back and they’ll settle for a three (they attempt 22.6 a game, second only to the Suns, but Golden State hits just 34.3% of them, well behind the Suns nearly 40%).

This can also be a big game offensively for Odom, Kwame and other guys who should be able to post up — Golden State has struggled to stop fours and fives this season. Get the ball inside to start the triangle tonight — it slows them down and the Lakers can get good looks going inside out.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  April 10, 2006

A few thoughts from last night’s win against the Clippers, plus some other stuff.

• Chalk that game up to Lamar Odom, who basically played Brand to a standstill — both got 20+ points but Odom had more rebounds and had one of his best defensive games of the season. Nobody stops Brand, but he wasn’t the hyper-efficient player he can be. The Lakers second-quarter 14-1 run that gave them the lead for good basically started when Odom came back in the game. In the end, Odom was +15 and Brand -15.

• Count me in the group that liked the “courtside” experiment on Prime Ticket (or Fox Sports 2 or whatever they want to call it). For those outside So Cal, the game was simulcast on both Fox Sports, but on 2 there was no commentary and all the camera angles were from basically courtside levels. I caught myself flipping back and forth between the two — it’s hard to see all the player movement from the lower angles — but I enjoyed the different looks (plus it was fun and different). One suggestion, next time still run the little score and time box in the corner of courtside.

• Luke Walton starting instead of Cook, this is all about defense. When Walton is playing the Lakers have a defensive rating of 105.7 (opponent points per 100 possessions), when Cook is on the floor it is 108.1. There are times I would play Cook more than Walton — I think for a team that likes to keep its bigs close to the basket Cook and Kobe on the high pick and roll can be devastating, it worked some last night. But while Cook is the better scorer, the offense still runs well with Walton in the game, there is better ball movement, and the defense gets better.

Remember, Walton was talked about seriously as a starter before the season started, but an injury slowed him. I’d stick with this for a while.

• Along those same lines, I like that Phil tends to go with Smush or Sasha, whichever one is playing better on a given night. Last night, that was Sasha, he finished a team-high +26.

• Other props last night to Kwame, who took Kaman right out of his game. The Lakers did a good job of making the Clippers a perimeter team last night — when teams do that to the Lakers Kobe can still slash to the basket, the Clips count on Maggette for that.

• Finally, the Lakers seemed to settle for a few more threes and not get the ball inside enough for my taste last night, but I’ll let it slide and just say the Kaman/Brand combo was part of that.

• Glad to hear Julius Hodge of the Nuggets was not seriously hurt in that motiveless drive-by he got shot in the other night. In fact, Henry at True Hoop had the same reaction I did — how do you get shot three times in the leg and be ready to come back to play in two to three weeks.

I bet Marcus Camby could just look at Julius Hodge’s wounds and be out for a month

• Headline of the day comes from the New York Times about the Angels/Yanks:

‘Yankees Rough Up Angels’ Colon.’

The journalism axiom I was taught was “dirty minds = clean copy.” No way that would have got past me onto the page.

Los Angeles Is Burning: Short preview for this game because: 1) I spent yesterday at the Long Beach Grand Prix, watching races and drinking Tecate, topped off by a Bad Religion concert (and really, one of the better ones I’ve seen, despite the fact it was still light out), so let’s just say this morning, I’m not at my sharpest mentally; 2) Still no home computer after last week’s literal meltdown, something being remedied this week.

About the Clippers: I didn’t catch their loss to Sacramento the other night, but I did catch what had to be one of their best games of the year, the win against Phoenix last week. The Clips create match up issues for the Mihm-less Lakers because you need to defend both Kaman and Brand on the low block – Brown can do a pretty good job on one of them, likely Kaman, but that leaves Odom, Cook and maybe Turiaf to defend the other strong guy on the block. The Clips would love the Lakers to double Brand off the point, because Cassell can still kill you from the outside if he gets a good look. Same goes with Radmanovic.

The one break for the Lakers is Maggette is not expected to play. Look for plenty of Ross on Kobe – he did a great job defensively against the Suns. The Clippers can be given trouble by penetrating point guards, which means some more offensive load may fall to Smush. Also, good interior passing and quick ball movement around the perimeter can get you looks against the Clips.

Laker’s thought: Phil Jackson said in the LA Times this morning he’s rather face Phoenix instead of San Antonio in the first round because the flight is shorter. I can think of a few other reasons too. But with the Lakers tied with the Kings, the way you get the seven seed is win games like this one.

On Tap: Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  April 7, 2006

Playoff Preview: If the playoffs started today, this would be your first-round match up. Turns out the playoffs don’t start for a few weeks. Right now, the Lakers are the seven seed, one game up on Sactown in eighth. The Lakers drop a few more like last night and Sacramento keeps beating the likes of San Antonio, the order could change.

But, for fun, let’s say it will be the Lakers and Suns in Round 1. I still don’t think tonight’s going to be the best playoff preview, with the Lakers in the second game of a back-to-back after an emotional loss.

Beating The Suns: Phoenix is not on the top of their game right now, they are just 4-6 in their last 10. And the Clippers the other night showed how a team can expose the holes in the Suns — the question is if the Lakers have the personnel to do it.

Kevin at Clipperblog put it very well — the Suns’ “offense” is really about having athletic guys who create match up problems because they are so quick (especially off the dribble). Combine that with a savvy point guard and you can jut let them improvise and run a bunch of pick and rolls and space the floor. But the Clippers and other teams have shown you can knock the Suns off rhythm.

First, the Clippers went tall and long. With Sam Cassell out, Shaun Livingston was at the point and his length disturbed both Nash and Raja Bell. Quinton Ross did the same thing as Livingston’s backcourt mate. Now, Smush is long, as is Kobe, but can they have that same impact? That long-on-defense thing also extended to the frontcourt — Odom, Kwame, Cook and George are going to have to deal with Boris Diaw and Marion. What the Clippers did well was limit dribble penetration — something basically every Sun player can do — and force them to beat them from the outside, with good rotations so those looks weren’t all clean (Nash is shooting 47.2% from beyond the arc in the last 10 games, so going under picks is unwise).

Second, on offense the Clippers pounded the ball inside, using Brand primarily but also Kamen and others. It forced the Suns to collapse their defense, slowing their break. More importantly, when the Suns defense did collapse, Clipper perimeter guys hit their threes.

It can be done. The question is can the Lakers do it? We’ll get into this a lot more as the playoffs near. (Of course, all that may end up having to be about how to beat the Spurs, a harder task if you ask me.)

In appreciation: Sometimes on this blog I’ve tended to focus on the play of the role players, the defense, and the other things needed to make this team good, and almost taken for granted what Kobe does.

We can’t. He’s been amazing, bringing energy and passion every night, while taking on a crazy amount of the offense (he has a usage rate of 35.5% this season, by far the highest in the league). Last night was a perfect example — people will look and say “he was just 13 of 32” and miss the 14 free throws he took or the 8 rebounds he grabbed, second highest on the team. Last night Kobe’s true shooting percentage was 55%, a great number considering the amount of offense he takes on (and has to some nights as the team just defers to him).

I don’t think he’ll win the MVP (honestly, there is no standout candidate, you can make a good case for Dirk, Wade, Nash, LeBron), but that shouldn’t take away from what may have been his best season ever.

On the other end of the spectrum: No matter how good a game he is having, there ends up being about two or three times a game I end up just yelling “damn it Kwame.”

About that loss last night: That hurt, but today I’m trying to look on the bright side of how they fought back. It would have been nice not to have had to come from way back, but that they did (using the big lineup) is a good sign.

That said, I will ask this question: On the final play in regulation, the 0.6 second shot, Kobe got a pretty good look. But Odom was wide open, alone in the corner. What would you rather have, that Kobe shot or Odom open? Walton never gave Odom (who ws waving his arms around) a glance. Should he? I think the Lakers need to get someone besides Kobe to take some of those last-second shots, and better an open Odom than Walton on a running three.

That said, Walton and Devean George gave the Lakers good minutes last night (Walton was a team high +11).

On Tap: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  April 6, 2006

Record: 41-34, 3rd seed in the West (but should be the sixth)
Record last 10 games: 5-5
Offensive Rating: 103.3 (15th in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 102.1 (12th in the NBA)

Getting the split: Two games against two playoff teams in two nights. The Laker playoff position is safe, but as tonight and tomorrow (in Phoenix) are the last two road games of the season a split would be nice. And, I think a win in Denver is the easier of the two.

Expect To Run: The Nuggets play at the second fastest pace in the league, a smart strategy for a team that plays at altitude. Sure, this version of the Nuggets crawls compared to the Doug Moe squads in the 80s (this year’s Nuggets still average 11 less possessions per game than the 85 squad), but only Phoenix is faster in today’s NBA. It helps that they are deep at point guard, although Boykins is out with a broken hand right now.

Lakers versus Nuggets: The Lakers are 2-0 against Denver this year, but those two games were the first and third of the season. Not sure we can read much into those contests.

Since then the Nuggets have made trades that brought them Ruben Patterson and Reggie Evans, both of whom filled holes in the Nuggets roster. Patterson not only can play defense — although last time Kobe went against him he was 11 of 19 from the floor — but also is shooting 54.6% in the last 10 games. Patterson, along with a relatively healthy Marcus Camby, make Denver a much better defensive team.

He’s No LeBron: But Carmelo Anthony has come into his own this year. He’s got a true shooting percentage of 56.4% and a PER of 22.01, both very good numbers. He’s also started to gain the reputation as a clutch shooter (he is shooting 41.7% in the last five minutes of close games, but he gets fouled on nearly 25% of his shots and hits 81% of his clutch free throws).

Slowing him, a big man who likes to go outside but is strong as well, is a challenge. One word of advice to whatever Laker ends up on him: When Melo gets the ball in the corner he wants to take it baseline, push him the other way.

Stopping Melo plus finding someone to keep Kenyon Martin in check will be hard with Mihm and Bynum out with injuries. Kwame, Cook, Turiaf and the rest are going to have to have a good defensive game to get the win.

Inside/Outside: While Anthony has been playing better, of late Andre Miller also has given the Nuggets good play. His shooting hasn’t been great, just 47.7% (eFG%), still good enough to score 15.2 per game, but he’s also been dishing out 8.5 assists per game. Smush needs to not let Miller penetrate in the half-court and pressure him full court after a Laker miss to slow the break.

If the Lakers fall behind early:
Don’t worry, the Nuggets blew a 22-point lead, 20 at halftime, to the Clippers the other night. How do you score 77 points in the first half and lose?

Early Draft Thoughts

Kurt —  April 5, 2006

With a few days off for the team, and the NCAA tournament just concluded, I felt like looking ahead to the draft and what kind of players might be around for the Lakers to get.

My first thoughts: It’s not great. This is considered a weak draft, and after looking at what might be around when the Lakers draft 26th (the Miami pick), what I see are really second-round guys. Basically, we’re talking about someone whose contributions will be more Sasha or Turiaf level, not much immediate help.

Here’s a preliminary list of a few guys who may be around by then, focusing on the two needs the Lakers have, a triangle-style point guard and a big man. The names come from the current predictions on, however I looked around the web to learn more about the ones I haven’t seen. Which is a lot of them. And the disclaimer is that players will move up and down the board between now and June, and the Lakers could too — plus who knows how trades could change our needs. This is just a starting point.

Richard Roby, 6-6 guard, Colorado: He was the offensive leader for the Buffs, and can shoot the ball from the outside (35.6% from three point range) plus had a true shooting percentage of 54.2%. He’s quick and he’s long. However, his defense has been a question mark, and do the Lakers need another guy who can shoot but not defend the perimeter?

Maurice Ager, 6-5 guard, Michigan State: Maybe even a better shooter than Roby — shot 37.6% from beyond the arc and had a true shooting percentage of 58.1%. He’s long, as well. The couple times I saw him play I liked him, but he’s not a great ball handler. I thought his defense was good, but scouts say he needs to work on it and I’ll trust their judgment over me watching in a bar.

Rudy Fernandez, 6-6 guard, Spain: A Chad Ford Euro special. Apparently he can shoot, ball handle and is athletic but is a little thin. Reading scouting reports on him reminds of the Sasha V. reports.

Josh Boone, 6-10 power forward/center, UConn: A beast on the boards, particularly the offensive ones — he grabbed 13% of the available offensive rebounds this season. Not shockingly, most of his points seem to come from put backs or inside passes he just has to dunk. Also a good shot blocker. The knock on him is desire, like much of the UConn team, he seems to take nights off. Of course, that was the knock last year on Charlie Villanueva, and he turned out to be a steal.

Hilton Armstrong, 6-11 center, UConn: Boone’s teammate, he is also a beast on the board — pulled down 16.8% of defensive rebounds, 8.1% of offensive ones — plus is a great shot blocker. But, like Boone, not considered polished on offense, although he did shoot 60% from the floor last season. Could he play alongside Bynum in a few years (or be his backup)? With few quality big men in this draft, he may not be around for the Lakers.

Paul Davis, 6-11 Center, Michigan State: I have to say I liked what I saw from him this season and think he will be a good backup center in the league. He shot a respectable 58% on the season, plus grabbed 24.5% of defensive rebounds and 11.3% of offensive ones. Not athletic enough to defend the best centers, but he isn’t bad. For the Lakers, a team that needs depth up front, he’s a solid option.

Kevin Pittsnogle, 6-10 power forward, West Virginia: has the Lakers taking this guy, but after watching him in the tourney I don’t see it. I think he’s a poor man’s Brian Cook. Great outside jumper and range, but not much inside presence. And way less athletic than Cook — who is this guy going to defend?