Season Review — the forwards

Kurt —  May 30, 2006

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.