Archives For May 2006

Playoff Thoughts

Kurt —  May 19, 2006

To be honest, I had hoped to have the second part of the season review up today, focusing on Kobe and the other guards, but the post is just not fit for human consumption yet. Look for it on Monday.

Instead, here are some thoughts after a late night perusing of the postseason stats.

• Ben Wallace has taken his lumps in the media because he is shooting just 35.7% in the playoffs. This is why using just a few stats is like a little bit of knowledge. While his shooting percentage is not good, we’re talking about a guy taking 5 or 6 shots per game (using a little math, and counting free throws, I have him at 5.6 shots per game). However, he leads the team by far in plus/minus — over the course of the playoffs, the Pistons are 22.7 points per 48 minutes better with him on the floor. In the second round’s first five games, he is +60. Say what you want about his shooting, he is out there for defense and rebounding, and the Pistons have been better with him on the floor.

• For the Lakers, the first-round +/- leader was Cook at +28. Last was Kwame Brown at -70, the worst raw number in the entire first round of the playoffs. Still think we should trade Mihm this off-season?

• Sam Cassell and Cutino Mobly are both +31 through the first six games against the Suns. And so far in the playoffs, 35% of Livingston’s possessions have ended in an assist — you have got to love that kid’s potential.

• The playoff leader in PER? That “hobbled” Tim Duncan, at a crazy-good 30.36. Next is Dirk at 28.42.

• Raja Bell has a true shooting percentage of 67% through the playoffs. Count me in the group eating crow for thinking the Suns overpaid for him last summer.

• The Cavs have gotten a good boost from Drew Gooden on the boards. During the regular season he grabbed a very good 18.1% of the available rebounds (for comparison, Chris Mihm led the Lakers at 14.2%), but in the playoffs Gooden has pulled down 21.3% of the boards when on the floor. And, 13.6% of his own team’s missed shots when he’s out there.

• LeBron James is taking on 30.6 possessions per 40 minutes, the heaviest load in the playoffs (for comparison, Kobe took on about 35 during the regular season but 26 in the playoffs). What’s impressive is he still has an eFG% of 52.1%, a true shooting percentage of 56.2% and a PER of 23.44 despite the Pistons, you, me and everyone on the planet (except a few people in Chad) knowing he is going to get the ball every time down the court. And, he’s freaking 21.

• Hey, Rasheed Wallace, less talk and more holding on to the ball. So far this playoffs, 9.4% of his possessions have ended in a turnover, the worst in the playoffs among guys getting considerable minutes.

Notes at 3 am

Kurt —  May 17, 2006

More thoughts and notes largely typed one handed in the middle of the night while up with my daughter (then edited the next morning after some coffee).

• Kobe the Blue Power Ranger? (Thanks to Ben Maller for that one.)

• The latest Carnival of the NBA is up at Deadspin, pointing you to a plethora of good NBA writing.

• You probably know this already, but Kobe will be a guest analyst on TNT tonight during the double header. I’m not sure what to add because saying anything good about TNT’s NBA studio coverage causes a sharp pain in my gut.

Update: This was fairly uneventful — save for the sweater vest, which nobody saw coming — but one line from Kobe applies to the Clippers in game six. When talking about scoring on the Suns, he said how much you score isn’t the key, “To demoralize them, you have to stop them [defensively].”

• One final Kobe note (and one actually about basketball), over on the APBR message boards a great poster named Wizards Kevin crunched the numbers and came up with this — when Kobe was in the game the Lakers played 5.1 possessions faster per 48 minutes then when he was on the bench. (With Smush they were 5 possessions faster, but I think Kevin is right in attributing some of that to playing most of his minutes alongside Kobe.) Let me throw two theories up here — like Raja Bell contested threes from the corner — and see if one goes through the net. First, Kobe (and Smush) create a fair amount of turnovers and that led to some fast break chances and points. Second, the Lakers did a good job of pushing the ball off opponent misses, and Kobe was the best player at taking advantage of mismatches in those situations, leading to faster shots.

• How much fun have these playoffs been to watch. That Clipper/Suns game 5 is just the latest in the most entertaining playoffs in a long time (and Clippersblog has a great recap). But as a guy rooting for the Clips, that was a hard, hard loss. And I feel for Daniel Ewing — he just was overwhelmed, but I’m not sure he could have fouled before the shot.

• Give me Barcelona and the from-the-gut brilliance of Ronaldinho over Arsenal today (I’m taking a lunch break to catch the second half of that match).

• Another interesting note from that Kevin’s work on pace and players — Miami was 1.5 possessions per 48 faster with Shaq in the lineup. Wouldn’t have predicted that.

• If you haven’t read Eric Neel’s ESPN piece focusing on a decades-old pickup game — and what basketball is really about — you need to. He remains one of my favorite writers.

• Should I point out now I said not to ignore Dallas way back at the start of the season. Nah, that would be bragging, and I’m above that.

• Doesn’t watching Jason Terry play really make you wish he could be a Laker. But after game 4 in the Mavs/Spurs series, it becomes less likely Dallas lets him get away.

• Speaking of that series, Kevin Pelton has a great breakdown of the Spurs/Mavs key moment in his latest column at SI.

• Deadspin said it first but I was thinking it: How much fun would it be to see David Stern have to hand the Larry O’Brien trophy over to Mark Cuban?

• From our friends at Pounding the Rock, the line of the week:

It occurred to me today, that if George Bush and Sam Cassell had a love child, it would be Nick Van Exel: A ballsy, tremendously unathletic and uncoordinated shoot first point guard who’s not good at anything but saying things that piss off everybody.

Season Review: Point Guards

Kurt —  May 15, 2006

Here comes the first in a series of pieces over the next few weeks breaking down aspects of the team’s players and management, looking at both last season and the future.

There’s something compelling about Smush Parker that makes you want to like him. Maybe it’s his name — or that he named his SUV the “Smushcalade.” Maybe it’s the story of playing on the playgrounds of New York as a kid. Maybe it’s the drive and effort, a willingness to work on his game overseas while looking for a way back to the NBA. Maybe it’s the come-out-of-nowhere to start for one of the league’s most legendary franchise story arc. Then again, it’s probably the name.

But as much as we like him the problem remained that point guard was the weakest position for the Lakers last season. Opposing point guards shot 48% (eFG%) against the Lakers all season long, plus averaged 8.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. Opposing point guards average a PER of 17.1 against the Lakers, higher than at any other position. Those are not the point guard numbers of a team going far in the playoffs (unless you can score like the Suns).

As much as I like him much of this falls on Parker, the starting point guard. Against Smush, opposing point guards shot 52.4% on the season and had an average PER of 18.7 (the equivalent of having the opposing point guard play as well as Sam Cassell or Jason Kidd every game). Because I like him, I’ll add that he was a defensive upgrade over Chucky Atkins last season (opponents averaged a PER of 19.1 against the human pylon, but actually didn’t shoot as well as against Smush this year). To Smush’s credit, he helped the Lakers create more turnovers, he averaged 2 steals per 40 minutes. Most importantly, the Lakers were better with Smush on the court than off, to the tune of +3.4 points per 48 minutes. But the flaw of +/- data is that it can say as much about a players backup as him, and the Lakers had a drop off behind Smush (the Lakers defense got better by 2 points per 100 possessions when Smush sat, but the offense dropped off by 3.4).

In the triangle, the classic point guard almost plays a two-guard role — he’s asked to play stingy defense and be a good spot up shooter. And while Smush felt streaky as a shooter his numbers at the end of the year were solid — he hit 36.6% of his three point attempts and had a true shooting percentage (think points per shot attempt) of 54.8%, which is better than the league average. He shot 45.3% on his jump shots but, importantly, he got 35% of his shots in close to the baskets (on penetration, fast breaks and inside cuts). Still, overall, when you factor in rebounds, assists, turnovers and more, his PER was 13.3, slightly below average. And, in the playoffs, he disappeared, shooting just 15.4% on threes and 36.1% overall.

His offensive game is not so overwhelming as make up for his below-average defense. Might he get better? Yes, and I’m rooting for him to do so, but the Lakers can’t gamble next season on Smush’s improvement. What I like is the idea of Smush in the backup roll, where he has room to improve without carrying the burden.

Right now that backup roll is Sasha Vujacic’s, and he is under contract for next season (for $160,000 more than Smush, which is unfair, but welcome to the NBA where salary and worth are all-to-rarely tied together). He finished the season with PER of 8.3 (the kind of number that usually means “Hello Italian League”).

Sasha improved at using his length to bother opponents and at times seems to have played better defense than Smush, and the numbers bear that out to a degree — opposing point guards shot just 44.4% against him and had a PER of 14.6 (basically right at the league average of 15). However, remember that Sasha played almost half as many minutes as Smush and not all against point guards, so Smush spent more time covering the Nash/Parker/Bibby/Davis guards of the world, you had to expect his numbers would be higher.

What hurt Sasha was his offensive numbers were less than impressive. He shot a decent 34.6% from three-point range (which accounted for 55% of his shot attempts). The problems were: 1) He shot just 35% from two point range (meaning he’s basically as good from beyond the arc as inside it); 2) He doesn’t create his own shot — 92% of his jump shot attempts were assisted; 3) Along those same lines, he doesn’t drive the lane much, leaving his true shooting percentage at 47.9%, well below average; 4) He didn’t make up for these deficiencies with good rebounding (only slightly better than Smush in terms of percentage of available rebounds grabbed) or anything else.

Bottom line, Sasha does not appear to be panning out — there was not a lot of meaningful growth from year one to year two. He will be on the roster next year with the final year of his rookie three-year deal, but I’d be surprised if the Lakers pick up the option for the next two years.

So now what? When the Lakers go looking on the free agent market or at trades, getting a veteran point guard that fits the triangle has to be priority number one. There are other needs (a big who can consistently hit the 15 footer and pass out of the high post) but none as pressing as out top.

But whoever they get has to fit the role — Steve Nash, as great as he is, would hate the triangle. The Lakers need three key things in the point they are looking for: 1) A good man defender; 2) A good spot-up shooter from beyond the arc; 3) Can play without the ball in his hands and is comfortable as a role player, not the primary initiator of the offense.

That’s a tall order for likely just the mid-level exception. But as much as we love Smush, he is not ready now to be the man out top.

The Last Word on Game 7

Kurt —  May 14, 2006

After everyone else has had their say on the Laker “effort” in game 7, Phil Jackson chimed in a email interview with Hoopsvibe and essentially said what many (myself included) said — the Suns worked to take the ball out of Kobe’s hands in the second half, no one else stepped up.

But the best reason to read this is what Tex Winter had to say — the old man is angry. And Kwame’s at the head of the list:

“Kwame missed four or five easy shots early in Game 7,” Winter said. “He didn’t even try sometimes to go after key rebounds that we needed.”

“Brown, he’s not a competitor,” Winter said, pointing out that Brown played with bursts of energy mixed with strange bouts of apathy. “He just doesn’t know how to compete.”

Asked if he thought Brown could improve in the intangibles, Winter said, “I don’t know. You can’t change spots on a leopard. I don’t know how interested he is in playing.”

I think Tex was a little harsh, Kwame played well down the stretch and deserves credit for that. However, doing it for three weeks and doing it for a season — and working hard in the off-season to get better — are two different things.

So let’s have at it one more time. This is the last time we’re discussing game 7 in detail, it’s time to move on. (Starting Monday afternoon, when we start with season reviews and the point guard position.)

Suggested Reading

Kurt —  May 11, 2006

A few links to pass along while I keep wondering why the Lakers didn’t foul someone with seconds left in game six, or at least let them have the uncontested two pointer:

• Want a detailed look at Kobe and Raja Bell in game 7, well, Kevin Pelton gives us a good one over at 82games.com.

What did I learn from watching the game in detail? Well, the first thing is that the match up between Bell and Bryant in Game 7 was more physical than I thought. Watching the game live as a fan, I only made note of the two plays which ended in Bryant offensive fouls and actually thought the match up was fairly mundane. There was much more going on away from the ball than was evident from the TNT broadcast.

The other clear point was that most contact was initiated by Bell. This is a natural product of the two players’ contrasting defensive roles. Bell rarely turned his attention from Bryant, frequently faceguarding him and ignoring the basketball. Bryant, meanwhile, had more of a read and react role on defense, rarely playing within five feet of Bell, who was typically spotting up in the corner.

• Update: Kobe has been named to the NBA’s first team all-defensive team.

• Kevin at Clipper Blog is brilliant, and has a great breakdown of the Clips dominating win last night. And, for those of us talking about what Kaman can and can’t do in the comments before, there is great stuff in here:

Look, Kaman is going to struggle defensively at times when the Suns space the floor – he’s a big guy who makes his living on both ends below the foul line. He can’t run with Diaw and gets in trouble when Thomas draws him out. But those are just the realities of this series. So you return to the Great Law of Basketball Reciprocity:

It’s impossible for Team A to have a matchup advantage without surrendering a similar advantage on the other end to Team B. If the Clips don’t use Kaman to abuse Phoenix inside in some form or fashion, then there’s really no reason for him to be on the floor. Tonight, they put Kaman to work, and it paid off.

• Just wanted to point you go a new blog worth checking out, called The Outside Score. He’s based here in LA so there have been plenty of Laker opinions, but it’s a general sports blog and doing good work.

• The Cavalier, who is the driving NBA force over a yaysports.com, is putting together a movie called Who Shot Mamba and could use a little support.