Archives For May 2006

Clearing out the Inbox

Kurt —  May 31, 2006

A lot of things that I have wanted to comment on or link to have been piling up in my inbox but I haven’t gotten around to posting them. Until now. Sorry if some of it is dated, but as much as I enjoy this blog I wasn’t going to blow off summer BBQs for it — good ribs trump just about everything.

• Updated Reading Suggestion: Kevin Pelton talks about the changes in the offenses in the NBA, particularly the love of the three, in an interesting new piece at 82games.com.

The San Antonio front office has been the league’s best in recent years and remains way ahead of the rest of the NBA in terms of mining foreign talent, but the Spurs group missed how the game was turning to speed. Signing Nick Van Exel and Michael Finley last summer and Brent Barry the summer before gave San Antonio plenty of veteran savvy, but not enough quickness. So when the Mavericks paired point guards Devin Harris and Jason Terry in the backcourt, the Spurs never found a defensive answer.

This has got me thinking about the Lakers, the triangle and the future, but really that is a topic for a full post in the future (like, next week).

• Updated Reading Suggestion, part deux: Friend of this site Jones on the NBA, a Los Angeles guy who follows the Lakers closely, has some suggested off-season moves for the Kupchak/Buss team. And they involve Ben Gordon.

• I have been racking my brain for a couple of weeks to come up with a clever Black Mamba/Snakes on a Plane joke, but I just can’t find it.

• Eric Pincus lists roughly 7 million possibilities for the Lakers’ off-season moves in his latest piece (remember folks, these are rumors, I don’t like to deal with them myself, so I link to them). What I found most interesting was his list of potential draftees the Lakers are bringing in for workouts, it’s amazingly diverse, from top 5 guys to others likely to go undrafted. What I take away from that is that the Laker front office is keeping its options open.

• Some Laker fans/media types are floating it but I don’t like the idea of bringing D. Fish back — if we want a veteran older point guard we can get Mike James or Bobby Jackson, sign them for the full MLE and save millions per year, plus not have to go four years on that deal. Remember, Fish will be 32 next season and is signed through 2010, will make $5.8 next year and $7.3 by the end of the deal. That’s a lot of scratch.

• Another idea getting floated around is the idea of trading Lamar Odom, but I think Gatinho made a great point about this in the comments:

The problem with trading Odom is not emotional attachment, but time invested by the franchise. Bringing too many new starters to this offense creates the problem we had last year with a majority of our starting line up essentially learning on the job. Odom is one of the main reasons that Jackson chose to return. Trading Odom would have to net a top 10 player, not just a high draft pick and a point guard. If his growth stagnates in the coming season, then consider it a failed experiment, until then I would consider trading Odom as throwing a lot of hard work out the window.

• Who said that free agents don’t want to play for the Lakers? Once again, a little research gets in the way of a radio talk show topic.

• The Lakers along with Dallas and Memphis, plus hopefully a couple other teams, will be back in Long Beach for the Summer Pro League starting July 8. A number of other teams have moved operations to that summer league in Vegas (including Dallas, which apparently is doing the split squad thing). I don’t really understand that, what has Vegas got that Long Beach doesn’t? Both have an overrated pyramid shaped buildings, both have wanna-be rappers/hip-hop artists acting tougher than they are and trying to impress women. Long Beach. Vegas. It’s almost the exact same experince.

• You can expect first-hand updates on the Lakers at the Summer Pro League here at FB&G again this summer.

• In the days before I had children, I used to sit and read the New Yorker at night. I miss that, particularly when smart people start talking about things I find interesting — such as Malcolm Gladwell defending the new stats.

• I thought Nomar Garciaparra was a bad pick up. I was wrong.

• Speaking of things I was wrong about, I thought Pat Riley lost it when he broke up last season’s Heat squad and brought in Walker and Williams. But the Heat are going to the finals, and credit to them and Riley, and for taking advantage of the small window they have with Shaq.

• Shaq back in the finals will not change my perception of “the trade” or who “won” or “lost.” The Lakers can be winners if they rebuild the team around Kobe and compete for a title before he retires, something they would have struggled to do around Shaq at his age. Miami “won” long before reaching the finals because they started selling out formerly empty seats in their arena (and bringing in more sponsors).

• Just how bad is Ben Wallace’s free throw shooting? Historically bad.

• Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt? Was I the only person whose first thought was, “They named the baby after one of the bloodiest Civil War battles?”

• By making it through this post, apparently you can at least read at a high school level. (This is one of my favorite posts anywhere in a while.)

For the Laker forwards, it was a year of adjusting to changing roles.

Lamar Odom became the point/forward in the triangle, running the offense at times but becoming a post-up force in the playoffs. Luke Walton, after a pre-season where he looked like a starter then got injured, regained that role at the end of the season and showed what basketball IQ and passing can do in Phil Jackson’s system. Brian Cook became a feared outside shooter. Devean George went from a starter on a team in the finals two years ago to becoming a key contributor off the bench. And Ronny Turiaf went from the operating room to fan favorite faster than anyone imagined.

How those players continue to grow and adjust to those roles — and to any personnel changes — will be a big part of how much the Lakers grow and improve as a team next year.

Lamar Odom had a career year — his best ever totals for eFG% (52.4%), true shooting percentage (55.8%), assists ratio (25.8% of his possessions ended with an assist) while having his lowest turnover rate (12.8% of possessions) and he had his best three-point shooting percentage (37.2%). He pulled down 9.2 rebounds per 40 minutes played, numbers almost equal Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown. He was second to Kobe scoring (total and per 40 minutes), +/- (+5.6 per 48) and just about every other offensive category.

Odom struggled at times early but settled into the offense by the end of the season. Versatility was the key —21% of his offense came on isolation plays, where he usually drove all the way to the basket (6.5 possessions a game ended with Odom finishing near the basket, on which he shot a good 61%); spot-up shooting accounted for 14.7% of his shots, while 12.7% came in the post. And he scored 7.6% of his points on offensive rebounds. A player with that level of versatility creates a nightly match up nightmare for the opposition and late in the season and into the playoffs the Lakers started to exploit those match up problems more efficiently.

Overall, 49% of Odom’s shots were considered jump shots (he shot 41.6%). His one weakness, one teams tried to exploit, is that he prefers to drive left (or baseline from the right side) — when forced to go right (40% of his penetration) he shot just 42.1%, although he still gets to the rim on these half the time. (Let him go left and he shoots 58%.)

Whether handling the ball on the break (something he did well) or posting up, his offense was consistently good. His comfort in the triangle was a key to the growth of this team and he needs to continue to understand when to pick his spots and score, and when to set up teammates. Odom is a key part of the Laker future, despite the rumors bound to swirl, he is not going anywhere in a trade — he is only on the block for a KG level player, and those guys are not being moved this summer.

Luke Walton moved into the starting lineup and played key minutes late in the year, not because of his offense (Cook is the better offensive player, the Laker offense was 2.1 points per 100 possessions better with Cook on the floor than Walton) but because Walton was the better defender (the Lakers were 2.6 per 100 possessions better defensively when Walton was on the floor compared to Cook).

Whether due to injuries or shaken confidence (as he has said), this season was an off one for Walton offensively, particularly in the first half of the season. He had career lows in eFG% (43.9%) and true shooting percentage (47.7%). He continued to dish out assists and grab some boards, but for himself and the team to improve his offense needs to be more consistent next year.

Most of his offense came on spot-up jumpers, 31% of his points came that way but even on unguarded catch and shoots he shot just 33% (straight FG%). Oddly, when covered that improved to 38%, but that is still not where it needs to be. Walton appeared to be most effective when the offense ran through him at the pinch post or out on the elbow, when he could set up teammates — but if he can’t keep the defense honest it will be hard to do much of anything from there.

Next season Walton is scheduled to make $1.25 million in the last year of his deal. His hoops IQ may mean other teams will inquire about him, but if his shooting improves the Lakers may not want to let him go.

Cook’s concerns were not shooting – he and Kobe on the pick-and-pop was one of the best plays the Lakers ran this season.

Cook had an eFG% of 54.6% and shot 42.9% from three-point range (and 52% between 17 feet and the three-point line). Not surprisingly, the spot up jumper was his primary weapon, accounting for 38% of his points – he shot 51% on catch and shoots (58% when unguarded, a lesson other teams learned by the end of the year). Teams did adjust and tried to make him put the ball on the floor, but the real key was to do that and make him go right (when he went left he shot just 34%, but go right and he barely could score).

By the way, Cook was one of the guys who took advantage when the Lakers pushed the pace, 11% of his points came in transition.

The problem was defense. Cook had to defend opposing fours and they shot 49.3% on their way to a PER of 17.7 (the equivalent of having Tim Thomas or Josh Howard playing the four against you every time Cook was on the floor). Cook has shown work ethic in the past — he worked hard to get his jumper where it is now. If he can show that same for the defensive end, the Lakers may (and should) pick up his qualifying offer for 07-08.

One guy likely not to be back is Devean George, who made $5 million last season but likely won’t get an offer near that from the Lakers. I’ve long thought this was a player overvalued by Laker fans for sentimental reasons.

He had a PER of 11.4 last season, which is right at his career average. He had a true shooting percentage of 48.4% (well below the league average) and shot just 31.3% from three-point range. Most of his shots, 41%, came on spot up jumpers but he shot just 38% on catch and shoots (he shot 44.3% [eFG%] overall on jumpers). He’s an average rebounder (he grabbed 11.4% of available rebounds) and turns the ball over almost as often as he makes an assist.

What he does do fairly well is defend, although opposing threes shot 50.3% against him this season. The fact is that George can be a nice contributor to the Lakers, but at $5 million per season he was overpaid. The Lakers should keep him if he’ll take considerably less, otherwise it is time for a friendly parting of the ways.

Ronny Turiaf should stay, not just because of his potential but because of the energy and enthusiasm he brings.

Not surprisingly, most of his points this season were energy points — 22% came of cuts to the hoop, and 22% came on offensive rebounds. Those are effort plays, and that’s where Turiaf’s big heart shows. Overall, he grabbed 13.6% of the available rebounds when on the floor, a good number but one he can improve upon.

Where Turiaf needs to improve most is on defense — opposing power forwards shot 51.6% against him and averaged 12 rebounds per 48 minutes. They had a PER of 24.5, the equivalent of having Shawn Marion or Chris Bosh playing against you nightly. I think Turiaf’s defense will improve, he certainly has the energy and the work ethic, it just needs to be a priority.

Turiaf also needs to work on adding diversity to his offensive game, particularly post moves. He got 67% of his shots close to the basket, but shot just 50% on those. He got 19% of his offense while single covered in the post, but he was very predictable – 57% of those post chances came when he caught the ball on the left block and 100% of the time he turned his left shoulder into the defender and went that direction. On the right block, he split left and right moves 50/50, but he needs that diversity from both sides.

The Lakers will still be looking for a 4/5 to become the high post player that can compliment Kwame (or Mihm) on the low post. That may come through a trade, or maybe a draft pick. However, the in-house core is not bad and can be, at the very least, a solid support group off the bench.

Luck be a Laker

Gatinho —  May 27, 2006

A Time for Reflection: Past drafts may conjure up images of Sam Bowie and broken legs, Len Bias and broken dreams, or more recently Darko Milicic and broken chains. Laker fans specifically have spent plenty of time either thinking about, or avoiding thinking about, Kupchak era draft picks. But the draft is almost always ultimately about regret and a few of the names that were picked after guys named Cook and Vujacic may elicit a cringe or two. But let’s harken back to a time when luck, most of it dumb, ruled the drafting process…

The Lakers first round pick of 1965: Gail Goodrich lurked in the shadows his first two years as a Laker. He would eventually be snatched by the Suns in the 1968 expansion draft only to be traded back to the Lakers in time to be a part of the drought breaking ’72 team.

After a contract dispute with the notoriously strong headed Jack Kent Cooke, he would leave the club in 1976 as a free agent. In compensation for signing away Goodrich, the Lakers would receive from the newly moved and now awkwardly named Utah Jazz, three draft picks, one of which would be their 1976 first round pick.

Letting Goodrich go was highly criticized. That criticism would be unfounded when, after finishing with the worst record in the league, the Jazz pick would end up being the Lakers’ first of two opportunities at the number one overall pick.

Following one more case of luck being a Laker, a coin toss that the Chicago Bulls lost, the club would sign a player whose national introduction is (or should be) etched into our collective psyche…

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I want you to know this man has a smile that lights up a television screen from here to Bangor, Maine.”

From My Life, Earvin “Magic” Johnson:

“Before Buss bought the team, Cooke told him the Lakers’ management had recommended drafting Sidney Moncrief… No way, said Buss. Magic Johnson’s the guy or the deal’s off.”

Ted Stepien and the James Worthy Rule: Okay, so it’s really called the Ted Stepien Rule… In 1980 the Lakers traded Don Ford to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of one of many disastrous moves by Stepien.

Ford would end up playing in only 85 games over the next two years and that pick would turn into Hall of Famer “Big Game” James Worthy. The first, last, and only time that a reigning NBA champ would have the top pick in the following year’s draft.

Stepien would end up operating with such abandonment that the NBA took away the ability for him to make trades without the league’s specific direction and approval. The Gund brothers, who bought the Cavs in 1983, would only follow through with the transaction after the NBA promised to give them supplemental first round picks to replace those that Stepien had traded away.

None of this would happen in the here and now. GM’s are now backed by a slew of assistants, and all first round picks are lottery protected. The aptly nicknamed Ted Stepien rule states that teams can not trade first round picks in consecutive years and every team must have at least one pick in the two rounds of the draft.

In effect, we will never see a traded first round pick end up being the numero uno. It happened to the Lakers twice, and because common sense and league rules now dictate the process, it will never happen again.

Four coaches in one season: Stepien’s ineptitude was highlighted in 1982 when he hired and fired four different coaches in one season. The first of those coaches was Chuck Daly, who he fired after 41 games and replaced with Bill Musselman, Eric’s father.

Sacramento has interviewed Eric for their open position, and he’s comes with the endorsement of Daly who has called him a “basketball genius.”

Warrior fans may begrudgingly agree…

Yesterday in 1987 : Bird steals the ball from the new model Ted Stepien on the inbounds pass to abscond with game 5 and the series, setting up another and the last of the great Celtics-Lakers Finals.

“You expect to lose on a sky-hook,” Bird said with a pained smile. “You don’t expect it to be from Magic.”

Speculating amidst speculation: Alexander Johnson

The Great and Powerful Oz has spoken: Draft Express seems to have the market cornered on throwing bones to starving dogs whether they be fans, agents, players, GM’s… It was reported that Tyrus Thomas’ people shut them out of a workout because they had him listed seventh in one of their mock drafts.

-Gatinho

Let’s start some draft and free agent talk and thoughts, basically some thinking out loud as we start to hear about workouts and look at prospects.

• By the way, wise Portland fans are putting a good face on yesterday. Now, if this were next year and Greg Oden was in the draft…..

• In the comments yesterday Gatinho pointed to something saying the Lakers may take Kentucky’s Rajon Rondo. After seeing a couple games this season, reading the scouting reports and a few reports from workouts, here are my thoughts — GM’s love the idea of Rondo because they think he can be the next Devin Harris/Leandro Barbosa. He’s lightning fast in a league where perimeter quickness is becoming the priority. Just one problem — he can’t shoot. He got benched this past college season because he can’t shoot outside. He’s gotten the yips when covered in workouts for pro teams.

Which brings us to the Lakers — they don’t need a guy to penetrate, that’s what Kobe and Lamar do, using a size and speed mismatch. What the Lakers do need is a guy who can shoot. That said, I don’t think the issue of taking Rondo will be one the Lakers will face, he will not be around at 26, look for him to go in the top 15 because speed is the rage.

• Update: DraftExpress has the Lakers taking Rudy Fernandez in the first round, a 21-year-old guard playing in Spain, and a guy that has gotten a lot of love from the overseas readers at the site in the past.

• I’m on the “take the best player available” boat with the Laker pick, but all things being equal I take a 4/5 over a guard. We’d rather have a veteran free agent guard.

• Mike James and Bobby Jackson should be on that free agent guard list, but both are over 32, so a two-year deal with the Laker option for the third is about as long as I go.

• What is the fascination among some Laker fans with getting Kareem Rush back, in my mind he was traded for a couple second round picks and that was a steal for the Lakers.

You say Rush is a good shooter? No, he has a good but not great shot. He has hit 34.8% from three-point range over his career but doesn’t do well inside the arc, 43%, and doesn’t get to the line that often, giving him a career true shooting percentage of 44.7%, well below average the time he has been in the league. Last year in Charlotte, 8.1% of his possessions ended in an assist, 10.5% ended in a turnover.

And I don’t think anyone is going to say he has been a good defender. So, what’s the attraction? You don’t have to teach him the triangle? He’s better than what we have now? That’s not good enough if you’re building this team toward a title. I’d rather teach someone with potential than to bring Rush back.

• The more stuff I read, and from what I saw this season, I like Michigan State’s Maurice Ager more and more. The problem is he is not the answer at the point, not quick enough to defend the one, so he’s really be another swing man, a spot the Lakers are loaded. I’m not sure the Lakers can take him at 26 but he may well not be there at 51. A guy who can shoot the ball at the NBA three under pressure and hit them is always in demand.

• Who else are you hearing good things about?

Yes he led the league in scoring — and there was the legendary 81 — but I’m willing to bet that for Kobe Bryant it is less about those or other stats and more about the big picture, and how the season ended.

This season Kobe started to rehab an image that was tarnished in the media and most places outside of Los Angeles (not to mention plenty of places inside the city). By the end of the year there were writers willing to point out the double standard he faced and others touting him for MVP. It was a sign of how far he has come, but the fact that 22 writers left Kobe off their ballot completely shows just how far he still has to go. (Those writers should have to face serious questioning of their basketball knowledge for leaving him off entirely, but that’s another rant.)

For Kobe, he’s already a top 60 player in NBA history, his number will be retired at Staples (well, one of them) and he’s got three rings. He will likely never get the near-universal adoration that Jordan earned by the end of his career, but you know Kobe wants someday to be mentioned in the same breath as Magic, Bird, Oscar, West and the other greatest non-bigs in the history of the game.

For that to happen, he has to win another championship or two, and be the leader of those teams.

This season we started to see the evolution toward that, as he pushed his teammates at times to get better, and pulled them — or just plain carried them — at others. This is a Laker team that grew over the course of the year, in part because they started to figure out the offense and in part because Kobe helped them grow and figure out how to win. But there are a lot of rungs left on the ladder to the title, as evidenced by the loss to the Suns in the first round.

Looking forward for Kobe, the key will be helping bring up the level of play of those around him (and management bringing in more talent) because it will be hard to have a better statistical season than this one.

Kobe led the Lakers as a +12.7 per 48 minutes this season, meaning the Lakers were that much better with him on the court. (To be honest, the actual Laker +/- leader was Slava Medvedenko, who after his 7 minutes played this season would be a +105 per 48, but I think we can safely chalk that up to small sample size. That or he really is the best player in the history of the NBA and we just don’t see it.)

Kobe’s midrange game became deadly, and despite the constant double and triple teams, he shot 46.3% on jumpers, and he got fouled on 11.9% of his shots. That led to a true shooting percentage of 55.9%, which is quite good considering he carried 35% of the offense when he was on the floor (also a league high). He also shot 34.7% from three-point range and drove in close to take 21% of his shots from around the basket. A few other stats: He had a PER of 28.11, third best in the league; and 11.5% of his possessions turned into assists, while 8% became turnovers.

But the stats don’t do justice to the flair with which Kobe did all this. There was the game against Toronto when he saw the team down by 16 and said “time to take over” on his way to 81 points and a win. There was the three-quarter 62 against Dallas. There were the games, it seemed every other night, where he got so hot he’d take a heat-check shot from three feet beyond the arc, and it seemed like half of them fell. There were thunderous dunks (hello Steve Nash) and deft floaters. Every game, at least once a game, he made you just stunned with disbelief that a human can do that. Sometimes, seeing all his games, you could become desensitized, but we as fans — of the Lakers and basketball — need to soak in those moments because it’s not often a player can come along and take your breath away nightly.

Highlights, however, are not championships. Championships require a lot of things, including depth. Part of the challenge Kobe faced all season long was the lack of support — some of that from the guys on the court with him, but some from the guys who were supposed to back him up.

Combined, Laron Profit and Aaron McKie played in just 39 games. Both showed moments but, like you might expect from players of their age, could not do it consistently and could not stay healthy.

Profit, who played in 25 games, may have had the better season of the two — still the Lakers were 10.2 points per 48 minutes worse when he was on the floor. He shot a weak 30.4% on jump shots but got to the hole for 39% of his shots, raising his eFG% to 49.4% on the season. The good news was 11,2% of his possessions ended in an assist, the bad news was that 18% ended in a turnover. His PER was 11.2, not good, but worse his opponents PER (against two guards) was 20.2. He shot 16.7% from beyond the arc.

There have been a few that suggested the Lakers, who waived Profit halfway through the season to make room for Ronny Turiaf on the roster might look to bring Profit back next season, but I just can’t see that. I’d rather make room for a young player who can grow, Profit is not the future.

McKie may not be either, but he is on the books for next season for $2.76 million so he’ll be back. Last season a serious hamstring injury kept him out for four months he played in just 14 games and when he returned he never really got back up to speed or in the flow of this team,

McKie shot just 25% this season, was a -10.8 per 48 minutes, had a PER of 6.1 while his opponents had a PER of 19.3. The one thing we can say for him is that he moved the ball around, 44% of his possessions ended with an assist (just 7.7%) with a turnover. There were moments he provided some veteran leadership.

Can he do that next season? Maybe, if he’s healthy, and the Lakers need someone who can effectively spell Kobe for 10-15 minutes a game. But while McKie will be collecting checks next year he is not part of the Lakers long-term plans.