Archives For July 2006

Fast Break Thoughts:

Kurt —  July 19, 2006

I’ll be at the last Laker Summer Pro League game tonight (I was not at yesterday’s shootout), and I’ll put up some closing thoughts and stats in the next few days. But until then….

• Brian Cook had surgery on a thumb he injured recently in a pick-up game. He is expected to be ready to go at training camp.

• My favorite inane basketball coach quote of the week comes from Long Beach State head coach Larry Reynolds, talking about new recruit Tim Island.

“He has the ability to shoot the basketball, which will work well in our offense.”

• I was worried that “Sports Guy” Bill Simmons was going to start rooting for the same English Premier League team I do. He isn’t (although he did pick my second favorite, I started pulling for Tottenham when Kasey Keller was their goalie and it was good to see an Amercian doing so well, plus a story Spurs fan Salman Rushdie did for the New Yorker years ago was one of the best peices of soccer writing I’ve ever read). That said, his piece breaking down the EPL teams is an example of why he can be so good and so much fun to read.

I’m curious what other club teams you are all fans of (I have just two jerseys, a Shearer Newcastle and an older Barca, two teams I pull for).

• It was linked to in the comments, but if you didn’t read the LA Times piece on Danilo Pinnock and his Summer League experiences as he tries to break into an already-full Laker roster, you should take the time.

• Also mentioned in the comments was Marcus Banks to Phoenix. That’s a great get for them because it gives them another perimeter player to fit their style but who can play defense.

• Team USA begins its tryouts/training camp for the World Championships today in Las Vegas.

• The sale of the Sonics to someone from Okalahoma City has sent a scare (and some anger) through fans of that team. Seattle ownership has complained about financial losses due to a bad stadium deal (which is a load of crap by the way, those figures never include the appreciation of the franchise). Okalahoma City proved itself ready hosting the Hornets. So don’t be shocked if the Sonics are on the move in a year. Which, frankly, makes me sad just as a fan of tradition. And for Seattle fans.

All of this scares fans of Sacramento, too.

Vlade’s Perception

Kurt —  July 18, 2006

Since we first started talking about the Lakers big off-season move, the signing of Vladimir Radmanovic, the consensus has been something summed up by Tex Winter in an interview on Roland Lazenby’s blog:

“In this offense, he’s gonna get some shots,” Winter said of Radmanovic. “He’ll get more open shots than he’s ever had in his life. That’s if we get the ball movement we need. Radmanovic can do other things besides just shoot. He has an ability to go to the hole off the dribble. Yes, he’s more of a perimeter player, but that will open the floor for Kobe and our other players to drive.”

The Lakers have a 6-10 perimeter player in Brian Cook, and you can make the argument Cook is a better shooter like Andrew did. But in an email with someone — who asked not to be named but: 1) knows and has seen a lot of Vlade; 2) knows basketball and is very respected — an interesting point was made.

Vlade is a threat because other teams perceive him as such. When opposing coaches are putting together game plans to stop the Lakers the first three names mentioned will be Kobe, Odom and Radmanovic. Whether or not Cook could have provided that, other teams did not fear him in that way. No other Laker had that impact last season.

Not only, as Tex said, will Radmanovic get open looks, but if teams focus on him too much other players will get very good looks. More space may be created for Kobe or other players going to hole because opposing teams don’t want to collapse of Vlade.

Not all the report from this source was glowing about Vlade. While those that watched him with the Clippers last season say this has changed, he is not good at defensive rotations. In fact, he’s a better post defender against fours than someone who should be guarding threes.

Vlade is better offensively at the four than the three the source said, although in the triangle that distinction is less meaningful. In Seattle, when he was most successful, he was coming off the bench as a four, replacing a very different player (like Reggie Evans) and other teams just left their four on him, and said player would not go out for enough to cover Radmanovic. However, what teams started to do against Vlade that worked was cover him with a three — he’s not good enough in the post to make you pay for that and he can’t out quick his defender to get a good look.

We’ll see how all that pans out starting in November. I’m just hoping reality lives up to the perception.

Summer Pro League: Game Five

Kurt —  July 16, 2006

I was at the game Friday night, where the Lakers faced off against the Washington Wizards, who just flew in from competing in the Vegas Summer League. If you want to know what I thought of the Wizards players (hint: Blatche was very impressive) head on over to True Hoop. Otherwise, let’s talk Lakers, and remember that what I put here is looking to build on previous comments about players.

Andrew Bynum: The curse is over — Bynum had a big game in my presence (which is a huge weight off my shoulders because I was afraid I’d have to stay away from Staples for a decade based on superstition). Bynum, matched up on 7-4 John Ramos, showed a variety of moves: drop steps, power moves, a short-range jumper and, most impressively, a fadaway from about seven feet that he drained two of (one baseline, one straight on). Part of it may also have been he got the cleanest entry passes to the post I had seen from the Lakers this summer. He finished with a team-high 19 points on 9 of 13 shooting, and pulled down eight boards. Another aspect of Bynum’s game, something he’s done well throughout the SPL, is pass well from the post in traffic. He’s picked up a dozen assists in five games and could have a few more. Maybe the night off did him good, but against Washington Bynum looked like a guy who could be a solid 15 minutes a night guy for the Lakers next season.

Jordan Farmar: He was clearly banged up when he missed the game four because he played with his thigh wrapped Friday. He wasn’t as sharp as we had seen, but still the offense just looked smoother when he was in. Farmar was impressive making plays in transition, particularly in the “garbage time” at the end of the game. Farmar finished with 13 points of 4 of 9 shooting (one of 2 from three) and maybe his most impressive shot (one he has shown in a couple games now) is a running floater in the lane, similar to the shot Tony Parker made a living on this past season. Defensively he was not as sharp, struggling to stay in front of quick former Clemson player Will Solomon, but that may have been impacted by the thigh injury.

Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock: Another solid, impressive performance at both ends of the floor. He plays good man defense on guys both a little smaller and quicker and a little bigger (he is strong). Pinnock also went 6 of 7 from the floor and finished with 13 points. Each time I see him the more I think I want to see him make the team come fall.

Two other guys worth mentioning for their performance of late are Doron Perkins and Kasib Powell. Perkins has been playing at a level at or equal to Pinnock the last couple games, both defensively (he had four steals against Washington) and on offense — in the last two games he is 10 of 16 from the floor, 2 of 6 from three, plus he got to the line for 11 free throws, combing it all for 33 points. Perkins has looked better and better each game. Powell got the start against Washington and was 4 of 7 from the floor and pulled down 4 boards. Both of these guys deserve invites to training camp, although with a full roster it’s hard to see where they make the team.

Kobe Undergoes Knee Surgery

Kurt —  July 15, 2006

Can there really be “minor knee surgery” on the lynchpin of your franchise?

Kobe underwent surgery on his right knee that was described this way in the Press Enterprise:

…a “minor treatment” of a cartilage and removal of scar tissue.

This is pretty routine stuff these days, and Kobe should be ready to go at the start of Laker training camp, although he may come along slowly through it. That doesn’t bother me, Kobe’s the guy I’m least worried about being ready to go when it matters.

However, Kobe will not play for Team USA this summer in the World Championships in Japan. Odom has opted not to play as well, for obvious reasons. So no Lakers on the squad.

I’ve got more Summer Pro League notes, but this took priority, I’ll have those up before the weekend is out (I do have a new post up on non-Lakers at True Hoop).

I caught half of the game against Dallas on Wednesday and a little more than a quarter against Memphis last night, and out of that is a continuation of my thoughts on the Lakers participating. (Note, so far I have been pretty light on stats, in part because we’re just four games in now and in part because it is not online and has to be hand-entered. I’ll play around with it at the end of the two weeks.)

Jordan Farmar: He did not play in game four Wednesday and that absence may have been the best indication of his impact — without him the triangle looked far less crisp, less organized. In just a few games he has an intuitive grasp of the offense and has established himself as the leader of this team on the court. Suddenly, it’s not hard to imagine a second unit that has him and Luke Walton on the floor running the offense in a way that will make Tex Winter smile. His defense continues to be good much of the time (he did well on fellow a draftee, the very quick Kyle Lowry, in game three). That said, he still has plenty of that need improvement — he is 2 of 8 from beyond the arc (although he looked more confident from the outside in game three), he struggles defensively fighting through picks, and there is more.

But one statistic makes me smile — he has an amazing true shooting percentage of 72.1% through three games. For the new readers here, TS% is basically a way of figuring points per shot attempt, and it counts free throws (something Farmar draws a lot of) and points scored. (If you scored two points every time you shot, your TS% would be 100%). For some comparison, last season Brian Cook led the Lakers at 57.8%, Kobe was at 55.9%. Sure it’s three games in the Summer League, the Farmar is showing he belongs.

Andrew Bynum: I am apparently kryptonite to Bynum — all reports are he had a great second game (vs. Dallas) and a great first half of game three (vs. Memphis), none of which I saw. However, he was pedestrian at best in the fourth quarter against Memphis or in the first half of game four (vs. Dallas), which I did see. What that speaks to is inconsistency, even within a game, certainly a sign of youth. But, he’s being inconsistent against less-than-NBA-level talent, so what happens when he starts getting more minutes this fall?

On defense, Bynum moves well but he wants to block every shot he’s near (especially if he can come from the weak side for it) and that leads to foul issues. He does better when just using his length to alter some of those shots. He’s also pulled down an average of 9 boards a game through the first three games. However, against what should have been a Dallas team he could push around inside, he was the one getting outworked and muscled for rebounds (he doesn’t seem yet to anticipate where the ball will come off the rim well yet). And, his shot got blocked twice by Brian Boddicker (the fact you don’t know him says all you need to know). In Bynum’s defense, when I have seen him he has not been getting good entry passes, although he has been slow to give up a little position for possession. Apparently those entry passes, and what he does with the ball, are a lot better when I’m not watching. That said, he’s still dramatically improved from last year, if not the end of last season.

Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock: While fans knew what they were getting in Bynum and Farmar, Pinnock is the guy that has become a fan favorite for what he has done game in and game out. In game four, he was the best initiator of the triangle the team had with Farmar sitting out. His play in the first three minutes of game four may have been the highlights of the entire game —he blocked a shot, grabbed a rebound for a one-handed put-back dunk, and had a highlight dunk on a back-door ally-oop from Green that literally collapsed the basket (the entire portable basket structure came down into its folded position).

Pinnock does a lot of things well, driving the lane, shooting and playing hard on defense. He hustles after rebounds (a guard who pulls down 13 boards in the first three games. His combination of anticipation and hustle means he gets lots of loose balls.

Devin Green: Continues to impress by just seeming to be the guy quietly doing whatever the team needs. His basketball IQ is very good and that works well in the triangle. At times he has shown a nice outside stroke, although through four games his eFG% is a pedestrian 45.6%.

Von Wafer: After going 2 of 11 in the first two games and looking lost in the offense, Wafter has tried to revert to the Wafter of last year’s SPL — a gunner. He has been 11 of 25 (with an eFG% of 52%) in the last two games, and has taken the ball to the hole aggressively. There has been a sense of desperation around his game, you can almost feel him realizing he’s going to have to fight for a roster spot now. That said, he continues to do well freelancing but has yet to look comfortable within the triangle (such as it is in the summer league).

Marcus Slaughter: After not turning my head in the first three games, he had a nice game four that started to show his potential. He played the four in college, but in the NBA he’d be a three, and there were questions of whether his midrange game was up to it, Well, against Dallas Wednesday he was 7 of 9 overall, much of that in the midrange, and 2 of 3 from beyond the arc. He also had six rebounds and three steals in this game. He’s athletic and showed a lot of potential Wednesday.

Signing Day

Kurt —  July 12, 2006

It’s official, the Lakers have inked Vladimir Radmanovic and Shammond Williams to free agent deals. Vlad, as had been long reported, is getting the full mid-level exception for five years, which will total about $31 million. Williams is getting a one-year deal for $1.75 million.

It’s pretty clear I’m not on Shammond’s bandwagon, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I realize my concerns are less about Shammond than with team direction. As Sanchez101 put well in the comments, Mitch Kupchak has taken a page from the Ned Colletti school of building a bullpen — bring in a bunch of cheap guys and hope one pans out. That’s what the Lakers have done at the one — last year Smush was one of those cheap players who worked out pretty well, this year Shammond is just one of the darts being thrown at the board. I’ll add, and it’s early to say this, but after watching a few games I think by January Jordan Farmar could be the guy subbing out Smush.

Today’s two signings should make the Lakers a more dangerous offensive team — both guys can shoot the ball from the outside and space a defense. And maybe Mitch believes that was the top off-season priority, the one that makes this a 50-win team in the West and gets us to the second round of the playoffs (or beyond).

But I still think what will set teams apart in the coming years is the ability to adjust defensively to the new rule enforcement — the teams that use good defensive players on the perimeter and good defensive rotations inside to, as much as possible, negate the impact of great perimeter players and the rules that now enable them. Having players, such as Kobe (and to a lesser degree Odom) who can exploit the rules enforcement is key, but the top teams will all have a guy or guys like that, defense is what will put teams over the top.

And, as they stand today, I think the Lakers are a worse defensive team than they were last year, particularly on the perimeter. And I fear that may offset the offensive improvement. I hope I’m wrong, maybe in year or so Farmar is that defensive guy, but that’s my concern about the off-season so far.

Happy Birthday Blog-a-Bull!

Kurt —  July 12, 2006

Matt was one of the pioneer NBA bloggers, one of the handful of guys I was reading before I started this blog and in part paterened it after. Now his Chicago Bulls blog is turning three, which in the world of blogging makes him like Tex Winter’s age. And like Tex he continues to do good work.

Congrats Matt!

I was holding off on writing about this because I couldn’t believe the Lakers were actually going to go after him — this is as illogical a move as the Lakers have made in my memory. Let’s quote from regular commenter here Xavier, who lives in Barcelona (where Shammond played last season)

ACB (Spanish league) is the strongest domestic league in Europe and it’s doubtful that if a player can’t play great basketball or show potential there, he (would be able to) contribute in the NBA. And Shammond was just above average playing the PG. Sergio Rodriguez played better than him, he’s younger and was drafted 1 spot after Farmar. This season Shammond was a shoot first player who wasn’t a great defender and who had some important turnovers… I think that Wafer will play a better basketball for the Lakers than Williams, and Wafer it’s not the answer so imagine…

Despite Xavier’s and other’s pleas, signing Shammond was the hot rumor at the Summer Pro League and then in a radio interview Saturday Mitch Kupchak said he expected Smush would be the starting point guard next year. He added that they would be signing a veteran guard next week. That seemed like a hint to me (although reports are the Lakers will have to compete with Olympiacos of Greece for Williams services).

The first thing I wanted to write was that this kind of signing would be unprecedented for LA, but Eric Pincus reminded me that the Lakers signed Corry Blount to a deal before last season, then he never played a minute. So the Lakers have precedent in making questionable moves for veterans at the end of the bench. Great.

Why Shammond? Maybe the Lakers only remember his 28-point game against them in April of 2001. Maybe Mitch Kupchak was looking to bring in someone he could talk Tarheel basketball with. Maybe Mitch had an epiphany. Whatever the case if he’s going to be our guy, what do we know about Williams? For help I turned to — and got some unsolicited thoughts — from people who saw more of him and remember him.

The good news: He can shoot the rock from the three (36.3% for his career, in 2000-01 he shot 45.9%) and is really a two masquerading as a point, which should fit well with the triangle. He has a good work ethic. Also, word is he is a very good person, easy to talk to.

The bad news: Let me borrow a phrase from Gary (one of the moderators over at CelticsBlog who played college ball himself and competed against Williams at pickup games): He’s a poor man’s Smush Parker. He said the two have a similar skill set but Williams does not have Smush’s great hops.

Defensively, he seems to have somewhat improved over time based on his numbers, but he had plenty of room to improve. Let me quote the 2001 season wrap on him from Sonics Central (thanks to Kevin Pelton for the link):

On a poor defensive team, Williams was probably the Sonics’ worst defender. Despite excellent speed, for whatever reason (lack of defensive intensity?) he does little to stop opposing guards on the perimeter.

Not that perimeter defense was supposed to be an off-season priority for the Lakers or anything. His numbers seemed to get better a few years later: playing a backup role in Orlando in 03-04 he held opposing guards to shooting 42.4% (eFG%) and a PER of 13.2, nice numbers that were close to what he did after being traded to New Orleans midseason (opposing points shot just 36.6% against him there). In Boston in 02-03 it was 43.5% against him, then in Denver the second half of that season it rose to 51.6%. But remember, while those numbers aren’t bad they were against backups in 14 minutes a game or so.

If you think his defense is good, go re-read Xavier’s quote at the top of this piece again.

Williams offensive game isn’t bad, he had a career PER of 13.1 and true shooting percentage of 51.3%. Each season more than 80% of his attempts were jump shots and he shoots those well — which is why, if you squint, you can see him in the triangle as a spot-up guy.

While Williams can shoot the rock, one thing he apparently is known for is over dribbling, eating up the shot clock while not running the offense. He also gained the reputation in Seattle as a gunner who would shoot first and ask questions later, something that apparently hasn’t changed. Those are two qualities Phil loves in his triangle point guard. What could go wrong?

In Seattle, they wanted Williams to step in and be Gary Payton’s backup. He got beat out at various times by Emanuel Davis, Randy Livingston and Earl Watson. He bounced around and the league for a couple more years — four teams in two years is never a good sign — then had to get paid in Europe.

If he’s in Laker colors I’ll pull for him, but I don’t see what Williams brings to the table the Lakers don’t already have — and spare me the “he’s a veteran” line because that works fine for Eric Snow, who had skills and can now compensate for them (somewhat) with basketball IQ, but Williams never had that level of skills and has been out of the league two years.

Why bring in a guy that, based on what I’ve seen and read, Farmar will likely be beating out for playing time by the middle of the season?