Archives For August 2006

The Final Four

Kurt —  August 30, 2006

There are just four left, the world’s Final Four. The USA deserves to be there. But after looking stats and watching the first half of the USA/Germany game live this morning (thanks to an unhappy baby who apparently wanted to be up for the game at 3:30 on the West Coast), I still have concerns about what happens when the USA reaches the finals.

I’ve discussed the stats for Team USA before, but compared them to NBA numbers, which is not the best context — a better one is how they compare to the other 22 teams in the FIBA tournament. So, thanks to deepak_e at the APBR board, here are some updated stats for the four remaining teams, with their ranking among the 22 teams next to it).

Team eFG% Pace Off. Rating Def. Rating
USA 56.9% (2) 98.4 (1) 129.2 (1) 98.4 (7)
Spain 57.9% (1) 92.6 (8) 120.1 (T-2) 89.0 (2)
Argentina 56.2% (3) 89.7 (12) 120.1 (T-2) 87.3 (1)
Greece 53.9% (5) 86.6 (19) 111.5 (6) 89.2 (4)


(A quick key for those of you new here: eFG%: Shooting percentage combining two and three pointers; Pace, possessions per game; Off. Rating, points scored per 100 possessions; Def. Rating, points given up per 100 possessions.)

Yes, the USA has been the best-shooting team in the tournament, but after watching them against Germany I still am not comfortable. The Germans did not turn the ball over, so the USA had to rely on its half-court offense and in the first half they missed a lot of open jumpers. And they led by one (40-39) at the break. For the game they shot a weak 43.5% (eFG%) and just 25% from three.

That likely will be good enough against Greece. Looking more closely at the stats (I have yet to watch a Greece game), they can’t stop a team from shooting well, allowing opponents to shoot 53.5% (eFG%) against them in the tournament (that’s 18th out of the 22, for comparison the USA allows 49.8%, 10th best).

What Greece counts on is creating turnovers —30.6% of opponent possessions end in a turnover (for comparison, the gambling USA defense has led to 29.1% of opponent possessions becoming turnovers).

Except that is a bad mix against the USA — Paul, Wade, LeBron, Hinrich, really none of the USA primary ball handlers are going to give up many turnovers. And, if you don’t stop them from shooting well… let’s just say it should be a long night for the Greeks. Look for the Greeks to try to slow the tempo way down, and I’m curious how the USA will adapt.

But both Spain and Argentina play a better, more traditional defense. And they are not going to turn the ball over much. For that game, the USA will need its half-court offense to click. But let’s worry about that hurdle once we’re past the Greeks.

5-0, and now it gets serious

Kurt —  August 25, 2006

Superior athleticism funneled into a pressure defense has netted Team USA four impressive wins at the World Championships — it’s the Italy game that is the outlier. That’s also the game gave a blueprint to teams like Spain and Argentina, and it’s going to be harder to come from behind against those teams than the physically-outmatched Italians (who should have gotten away from man-to-man in the second half).

Just how impressive has Team USA been? Here are a few stats through five games:

They are averaging 82 possessions per game — actually not far behind the number of possessions a game as the NBA’s slowest-paced team last season, the Memphis Grizzlies (85.9), who played 8 more minutes a game. The fastest college team in the nation last season was Campbell University at 77 possessions per game (Long Beach State was second at 75.8) in 40 minutes (although the shot clock is 35 seconds in college, 24 in International ball.

Team USA has an amazing offensive rating of 133.9 (points per 100 possessions), compare that to the best team in the NBA last year, the Phoenix Suns, at 113.9. Team USA’s defensive rating is 100.3 (points per 100 opponent possessions), which would have been the best in the NBA last year (the Spurs were at 100.9).

Team USA is averaging 14.8 more free throws per game than their opponents.

As a team the USA is now hitting a decent 39.5% on threes, although our opponents are shooting 43.4%. Overall, the US has an eFG% of 58.7%, compared to 51.9% for their opponents. Individually, Carmelo Anthony is shooting 66.9% (eFG%), LeBron James is at 64%, Chris Paul at 68%, and both Elton Brand and Dwayne Wade at 60%, all incredible numbers.

It goes on and on with impressive stats for Team USA, although to be fair blowouts like the Senegal game skew the numbers. But that should not take away from how good the USA has looked or how important it was to win the group and get the easier path to the finals (I’m not worried about Australia).

But the USA has some flaws, which Italy exploited. Italy got the ball inside on penetration then kicked out for open-look threes — the best international team do that well, as Team USA advances they will see more of it and needs to defend it better. Italy didn’t turn the ball over as much and slowed the pace. The good news about the USA defense is they showed they can get away from the full court pressure defense against the Slovenians, which was smart against a team that can handle the ball so well. Fortunately, Slovenia wanted to run with more athletic USA squad, a foolish error.

What worries me is that team USA’s half court offense often reverts to the kind of isolation basketball that cam be a death sentence in international ball. Team USA does not move well without the ball, particularly when there is a pass inside to a big. They can become stagnant, and the better teams can defend that, leaving team USA to hope Carmelo gets hot (like he did against Italy) or someone else can step up and carry them. There needs to be more movement in the USA’s offense.

Team USA has impressed, they are amazingly skilled and, and I like how they fought back against Italy. But right now they are just one of the favorites and their best games had better be in front of them if they are going to win the gold.

Big Norman turns 70

Kurt —  August 22, 2006

This month Wilt Chamberlain would have turned 70. Long after his playing days and his passing, he remains one of the more complex and misunderstood men ever in the game, a giant who could be both intimidating and gentle. A man who never received the universal love of the fans and who, unfairly, was often blamed for the shortcomings of those around him.

He’s also one of the few NBA legends I’ve ever met (out on the beach in Pacific Palisades, when he was playing a lot of beach volleyball and so was I). My friends and I were all a little intimidated by him, but he was always polite in the brief conversations we had.

In honor of his birthday, there are a couple of interesting stories out on the Web today. The best is an excerpt of Roland Lazenby’s book The Show talking about Wilt that really is a must read:

Jerry West: “The ironic thing about Wilt was that he never seemed to be relaxed and fun. I think after he got out of basketball, he became much more relaxed. Much of it had to do with the fact he was Wilt Chamberlain, and no one pulled for him. I think those things really bothered him all his life. There’s no question it was tough to be a giant.”

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Bill Bertka (about Wilt coming to the Lakers): “(Laker coach) Butch van Breda Kolff was at a party at my house in Santa Barbara when he heard that Chamberlain was being traded. He was upset. Butch didn’t have anything against Chamberlain or his effectiveness. But you had to have Chamberlain in the post, and that dictated a style of offense that Butch didn’t particularly like. He’d rather have all five men moving, all five men interchangeable and sharing the ball. Van Breda Kolff had had the great Princeton team. Schaus coached fast-break basketball. When Van Breda Kolff came in, he had a great first year, the second year was even better, and then they acquired Wilt. He wasn’t an admirer of Wilt’s game and how he could fit in.”

If you like the excerpt on Roland’s blog, you really need to get the book. It is a great history of the Lakers.

Bill Dwyer, the former Sports Editor at the LA Times (and a Notre Dame grad, so you know he’s a good guy) has been doing some history pieces and also provides some insight into Wilt:

In dozens of ways, Chamberlain was quirky.

He was known to eat fried chicken just before game time, and hot dogs at halftime. When he traveled, he wanted his seat on the plane to be front row, aisle seat, right side. He played 1,045 games without fouling out. His soft drink was 7-Up. Always 7-Up.

All of this helps give you a window into a man that can be argued is the greatest Laker, and maybe the greatest NBA player, ever.

Fast Break

Kurt —  August 21, 2006

It’s the dog days of summer for NBA bloggers, with little news worthy of debate. I just look at the Countdown to tip-off at the right and think, “That long?!?” Still, there are a few things worth noting.

• The good news: Kobe, wearing a #24 jersey, will be on the cover of the NBA 07 game for Sony Playstation. That and his new marketing deal with Sony are signs that his reputation is starting to rehab, not so much with Laker fans (where it never ebbed as much) but with hoops fans and the general public.

• The bad news: Last season it was Amare Stoudemire on the NBA 06 cover. The last time Kobe was on the cover was 02, which was the last edition before his fateful trip to Colorado. Let’s hope there’s not a jinx involved.

• Brian Cook says he has been working out hard this off-season — and with good reason, he’s a free agent next summer.

“I’ve been watching a lot of game tape and working out, trying to make my body stronger and quicker. I’ve lost a lot of weight and am down to about 242 or 243 (pounds) right now,” said Cook, who was listed at 258 pounds last season. “I’ve learned I have to be able to run with these quicker guys.

“I’m watching film because I want to know how teams are playing me. Since I can shoot, they’re going to run at me, so I’m working on being able to put the ball on the floor to be a playmaker, to get the ball to the open man. I’m also working on improving my defense, being a good team defender and drawing charges, grabbing rebounds.”

• Roland Lazenby’s latest blog post is well worth a read, if for no other reason than to get a description of Phil Jackson’s Montana retreat. It sounds a little nicer than my digs.

• There have been a couple minor changes to the site — a new search feature and you can now click on the header at the top of the page and get back to the home page (finally). A few more things are in the works, but it will be a little closer to the season before they go live.

2-0, but…..

Kurt —  August 20, 2006

After watching both Team USA games in Japan (thank you TiVo), it’s clear that we deserve to be undefeated. And it’s clear we still have reason to be concerned.

The reason for my nervousness: outside shooting. The same issue that plagued the team in Athens two years ago and that some of us were concerned about early on. Through two games, Team USA is shooting just 31.9% from three (compared to 48.9% for their opponents). Overall their eFG% is 55.7% — good if you’re an NBA team but not great for a team with a three-point line nearly three-feet in from what you’re used to and a team counting on easy baskets from fast breaks.

UPDATE: I wasn’t expressing my other concern because it had been only two games, but it should be noted that the gambling USA defense has not slowed other teams scoring. Through two games USA opponents are averaging 113.5 points per 100 possessions, for comparison Argentina is at 95.6. I decided to bring it up after stats guru and Cav’s employee Dan Rosenbaum started discussing it on the APBR message board.

I have a theory on why Puerto Rico hung close– they have an NBA guard handling the ball much of the time and they were facing the USA for the fourth time in the last few weeks. The Puerto Ricans were used to the defensive pressure. China was not – their guards were not as good and they had seen the USA only once.

The USA has not looked bad, but the weaknesses are clear. Against a team with good guard play that will not turn the ball over 24 times in a game (like China) the USA is going to have to rely more on the half-court offense. And that means better shooting – guys like Wade can break down a zone with penetration but you still need other players to take advantage of the kick-out passes off the drives, or bigs who can find space when there is defensive rotation. Right now the USA just has the penetration part down.

Kirk Hinrich is an exception, he is hitting 66.7% from three, and Joe Johnson and Shane Battier have hit 40% of theirs. Wade was great against China. Dwight Howard is a force on the boards as well. But those are the only people worth mentioning. This team clearly misses what Redd and Kobe could bring.

The next game, against Slovina, should give us a better idea of this team’s capability. I still expect them to get through group play undefeated. Hopefully the remaining games will give the team the chance to work on its deficiencies before things get serious.

Lakers I Miss: Cedric Ceballos

Kurt —  August 18, 2006

I look back on Cedric Ceballos the way I look back on a couple of crazy ex-girlfriends — when it was good it was exciting and wild, when it went bad it crashed and burned spectacularly.

There was thee 50-point game against the Timberwolves, the start of the 95/96 when he scored 25 for six straight games, the highflying dunks, the explosive offense. There was no defense. And there was the trip to Lake Havasu.

I think most NBA fans remember Ceballos as a Sun — in fact he still works for the team, as the public address announcer. Most of the photos on his Web site are from the Phoenix years. And with good reason, those were good years for him, complete with the spectacular blindfolded dunk that won him the contest in 1992.

But not surprisingly, I picture him from the couple years he wore Laker colors. And, just like those first few months with the crazy girlfriend, his first year or so in Los Angeles were a lot of fun. His first season with the Lakers he shot 39.7% from three point range, had a true shooting percentage of 57% and averaging 21.7 points per game.

It was a fun team with Sedale Threatt, Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Anthony Peeler George Lynch and “Pig” Miller just to name a few.

The next season, 1995-96, the Lakers were a 53-win team with a powerful offense led by Ceballos — those Lakers averaged 111.5 per 100 possessions (compare that to last year’s Lakers rating of 109.8). It was another high-wire act with a lot of dunks and Ceballos seemed to drive the lane more (his TS% climbed to 59%). They finished the fourth seed, but were knocked off by Rudy T’s Houston Rockets in the first round.

That summer Jerry West made two big moves — signing Shaq and drafting a kid straight out of high school named Kobe Bryant. We Laker fans pictured Shaq alongside Ceballos and thought of an unstoppable offensive force.

But instead, a spectacular crash and burn was in store. Ceballos bought a couple new Jet Skis and took his family to Lake Havasu — eight games into the season. He missed a team flight and game against Seattle while being completely AWOL (he did blame mechanical failure for being stuck out on the water, unable to make a flight). Fans and the media were in an uproar.

Within a few days he was gone — traded for Robert Horry. The Lakers still won 56 games that season and the foundation was set for a championship run a couple years later.

Years have softened the edges around Ced for me, I look back at the Lake Havasu incident and laugh the way I kind of fondly look back at how crazy some of my ex-girlfriends were. I kind of enjoyed those days — but I’m glad I moved on and don’t want to go back.

What NBA Player Are You?

Kurt —  August 15, 2006

Here’s a fun little sumer diversion (via the always amazing Henry at True Hoop): Over at the site Rum and Monkey you can answer a few questions and, just like that, find out what NBA player you are.

I’m Jason Kidd (although I swear I have never hit my wife).

Staples Apathy

Kurt —  August 14, 2006

I was there the night the building opened, when Bruce Springsteen walked on stage for the first notes of “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” I cheered later when he looked out at Staples Center and said “too many (luxury) boxes.”

I was there for maybe the defining basketball moment in the building’s history — the fourth quarter of game seven against Portland in 2000.

I’ve been there for hockey playoff games, U2 concerts, tennis matches and gone to the SkyBox bar just to meet friends. I’ve driven there and taken the Blue Line. A lot of great memories were formed there.

So, why am I so ambivalent about the Staples Center?

I never expected I would have the sentimentality for it I do for Dodger Stadium. But I have more emotional attachment to the “Fabulous” Great Western Forum, even though I have no real desire for the Lakers to play there again. I understand the need for revenue streams that the “too many” luxury boxes provide. I get that the locker rooms and team facilities are a huge upgrade from the Forum. I get that the food offerings for we visitors are improved. I like the exterior architecture, which I think has a nice rhythm with the urban downtown. I like the view from the third-floor outdoor dining area.

But it still feels generic. Once inside it feels like the Fleet Center in Boston, the MCI Center, the Pond, just about every other NBA arena I’ve been in. It’s like the Wal*Martization of NBA arenas. There is nothing that makes me passionate for it.

Staples has a few special little things that bug me. Usually my seats (at any event) are in the 300s, above the luxury boxes. When you’re taking the escalators up to the upper echelons — where your choices for food are the usual stadium fare of dogs, burgers, nachos, fries and the like — you get a perfect view of the chef, complete with the poofy white hat, thinly slicing roast beef or turkey right on to the bread for the people in the luxury boxes.

That’s always grated on me because it feels like a caste system, the kind of segmented society we like to delude ourselves into believing doesn’t exist in the United States. Maybe it bugs me because it an accurate reflection of what’s outside the doors of Staples.

But ultimately, that’s not what keeps me from loving the building. It’s just a general lack of charm. The fans that come to the games still make it fun, still create a fun atmosphere I wish I could attend more than just a handful of games a year. But the building seems to do nothing to add to it.

Am I alone in my apathy to Staples Center?