Archives For October 2006

Preview & Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  October 31, 2006

UPDATE: Kobe will be sitting this one out, he posted it on his official Web site. I’m disappointed, although it is best for him to be ready rather than come back too early and have a chronic problem all season long. Thanks to J. for posting this in the comments, via True Hoop.

The Monster M*A*S*H*: Fitting for a Halloween game, both of these teams are dragging some busted-up limbs and other body parts into the season opener.

For the Lakers, the biggest question is obviously Kobe’s knee — he’s going to play, but how effective will he be? Will Lamar Odom and the other Lakers step up and take some of the slack, rather than thinking Kobe’s back and they can just throw him the ball and watch from really good seats?

Also in the walking wounded category will be newcomer Vladimir Radmanovic and his banged-up hand (which now may not be better until off-season surgery), plus two centers Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm.

The Suns are no better, Shawn Marion — he of the team-best PER of 23.9 last season — is questionable because of a bad back. Amare Stoudimire is not all the way back, his knee is sore (sound familiar?). Raja Bell’s hip hurts, but yet I do not weep.

Coming of Age: So, is it trick or treat from Andrew Bynum? Last season’s curiosity gets a baptism of fire to start the season, a couple of weeks where he is the starting center and will be counted on for big minutes. Confidence matters, and as I said yesterday, starting the season against two smaller teams is a plus.

What I hope to see out of Drew: good defense, solid rebounding, hustle and points out of that. Don’t force it, let the game come to you.

The Suns Can Score: What the Suns do offensively is brilliant statistically — shoot better than anyone else (team 53.7% eFG% last season, best in the league) then play as many possessions as possible (95.1 per game last season, most in the NBA). The result is a league-leading offensive rating of 113.9 (points per 100 possessions). The bottom line: they bet you can’t match that.

One glimmer of hope is that the Suns have been less impressive in the preseason — shooting just 50.5% as a team. Two key guys have been off: Raja Bell destroyed from beyond the arc last season shooting 44.2%, in the preseason that is down to 31.9%; second Amare shot 55.9% in his breakout season, but he is at just 50.5% in the preseason. Now, as I have said with the Laker numbers, these are preseason so don’t read much into them.

And they can play defense: Yes they can. As of last January they were actually fourth in the NBA in defensive rating, than the injuries and lack of depth caught up with them. If they can defend even decently, they become a force.

Getting deeper: I really like what the Suns did this past off-season, they became deeper and better defensively. Part of that was bringing in Marcus Banks to back-up Nash (who like Kobe needs to be on the court less to rest nagging problems, in this case a back). Banks is a solid defender and is quick and can run the floor. I also like the Jumaine Jones pickup, we remember from a couple of years ago he is good at finding spaces and drilling threes, so he should be a good fit in Phoenix.

More importantly, of course, they get Amare and Kurt Thomas back. Those two guys give them an inside presence, particularly on the defensive end.

Things to look for: This is a little hard to do at the start of the season, but here are a few things.

Can the Lakers force Marion to shoot from the midrange? He is a force close to the hoop, shooting 74%, but that drops to 43% on jump shots (he is especially cold from the left side, for some reason).

Can someone, anyone, slow Steve Nash? By the way, I’m not one to talk but I really hate his hair now.

Lamar Odom destroyed Marion in the playoffs last season, and tonight he may not even have to face someone that athletic. If the Lakers are going to win. Odom will have to play big.

What is the under/over on the start time for this game? Sure, TNT says 7:30, but the first game of their double header always runs long. So, 7:45? Does the game start at that time but TNT not flip over to it until 8? Honestly, I really hate being the second game in this double header.

For the Record: The Suns are my pick to win it all this season (knocking of the Cavs in the Finals). I think they win the Pacific too. But they are still going to pick up 22-27 losses this season, and banged up to start the season might be a time to catch them.

It’s the first game of the season, you’ve got to be optimistic.

I can’t wait; it feels like that ticker to the right is moving painfully slowly. As we wait, here are a few notes heading into the big game.

• While I have yet to see the official notice, Devin Green is expected to be cut today, meaning Aaron Mckie gets the final roster spot. We’ve said before that could be paving the way for a midseason trade, but also is $2.5 million that the Lakers don’t have to eat.

• There may be no two better teams for Andrew Bynum to get his first two starts against than who he faces in the next couple days. Phoenix lacks a classic NBA center and Bynum could establish an inside presence (like Kwame did in the early parts of the playoff series against the Suns last season). Then there is Golden State, where Troy Murphy will spend time at center. Enough said.

• Did you really think Kobe wasn’t going to play? He’s too much of a competitor to miss it. It’s fair to wonder how effective he will be, although 60% of Kobe is still damn good, and the Suns have to respect what he can do.

• One thing I’m curious about is the “Lights Out” look. In case you haven’t heard, the Lakers will be keeping the arena outside the court much darker this season, it will look more like classic boxing match lighting than what we’re used to at basketball games. I can’t wait to see what that will be like for watching games from the seats at Staples, I think it will be cool. But I have no idea how it will play on television.

• Today the last NBA blog preview went live, as friend-of-the-site (despite being a Kings fan) Tom Ziller from Sactown Royalty nearly goes Martin Luther. There is some great stuff in these blog previews, and while we fans tend to be optomistic the information is first rate and worth a read.

• Matt from Blog-a-Bull has a fun Eastern Conference preview up:

12. New York
– There’s a difference between a ‘bad coach’ and ‘coach trying to deliberately sabotage the team to try and force a power play between himself and the GM resulting in the GM’s firing’. So you may read in a lot of places that the Knicks will be better because Larry Brown is gone. But they still won’t be any good, since before he was an awful GM, Isaiah Thomas was a coach of some underachieving Pacers teams. And the words ‘Knicks’ and ‘underachieving’ go together like ‘Larry Brown’ and ‘jackass’.

• Ryan at Hoopsaddict has started his own magazine — actual, not just online. But you can check it out from your computer.

• Jerry Buss is getting a star on the Hollywood walk of frame today, ostensibly for his help in founding Prime Ticket (now Fox Sports Net West). It just feels like he should have one whatever reason they could come up for it.

• Buss getting that star was the first topic for my latest writing gig – I’m now the Laker contributor for the LAist blog. The stuff there will be aimed at the more casual fan (fewer stats and minutia, more big picture), but you can expect my favorite themes to appear. By the way, you can’t imagine how thrilled my wife was when I told her I found another place I could write for free.

Final Preseason Stats

Kurt —  October 29, 2006

Regular commenter Rob L put his Excel program to work and came up with some Laker stats for the preseason and was kind enough to send along, A few of these are interesting – but again, remember this is preseason so don’t read too much into them.

First is that the Lakers picked up the pace in the preseason – they averaged 95.4 possessions per game. That is 4.8 more possessions per game compared to last season. Remember that the Lakers’ coaches talked about pushing the ball on fast breaks before camp even opened, and it looks like the players have responded. Let’s see what happens when the regular season gets going, but I like the pace.

Andrew Bynum shot the ball very well in the preseason, an eFG% of 71.1% and a true shooting percentage of 74.1% and 18.2 points per 40 minutes played. He did a good job of picking his spots and running the floor, let’s hope he can keep that up.

While Radmanovic and his injured hand struggled (30.6% eFG%), Brian Cook shot 65.22%. And, one that surprised me, Shammond Williams shot 66.7% for the preseason. Also, earlier in the preseason Smush’s numbers were way in front of Farmar’s, but not any more.

Here are the numbers:

NameeFG%TS%Pts. P40

There are more stats – the Lakers offensive rating was 102.9 (well off last season’s numbers, but what do you expect with Kobe sitting) and a defensive rating of 102.8 (much better than last season, but there were a lot of subs on the floor for opponents) All of which just goes to show you don’t want to read too much into preseason numbers.


Kurt —  October 29, 2006

“To be a successful coach you should be and look prepared. You must be a man of integrity. Never break your word. Don’t have two sets of standards. Remember you don’t handle players–you handle pets. You deal with players. Stand up for your players. Show them you care–on and off the court. Very important–it’s not ‘how’ or ‘what’ you say but what they absorb.”
—Red Auerbach

Lakers Preview Day

Kurt —  October 28, 2006

Everywhere you turn today, Laker previews are popping up.

The Basketball Jones has its Pacific Division preview podcast up, which includes myself, Kevin from Clipperblog and Tom from Sactown Royalty talking NBA (plus the always fumy J.E. Skeets and Tas). Lots of good information, the downside is you have to hear my voice.

If you prefer the written word, you’re in luck because it’s Laker day at NBA Blog Previews, where there is a triple shot — friends of the site Jones on the NBA and Yannis from Showtime have theirs up. And then there’s mine.

If clicking those links is too much work for you, well, you are incredibly lazy. But, just to accommodate you, here are the highlights:

Growing from within:
While trades and free agents are what excites the fan base in the off-season, the key to the Lakers’ success this year is growth of guys already in the system. It’s a nice Zen-like concept (which is fitting). After a season to get the complex triangle figured out, this is the season we see who can really fit in this system and who should be kindly escorted out.

Questions include:
Can Lamar Odom continue to assert himself like he did the last couple months of last season? Can Kwame play, well, if not like the first overall pick at least like he should have been picked? Can Andrew Bynum play older than his 18-years? (He’s going to have to because of injuries at the start of the season.) Can Smush Parker not look baffled any time the opponent runs the pick-and-roll?

Key Additions: There are three guys coming in — the big name, the sleeper and the future favorite.

Vladimir Radmanovic got most of the ink this summer, moving from Donald Sterling’s condominium to Jerry Buss’ Playboyesque mansion (which one would most men chose?). Vlade’s main skill is no secret and will help him thrive in the triangle — he’s a big who can space the floor. He’s been described as bringing what Steve Kerr brought to those 90s Bulls teams — you know you can’t leave him alone, and that is one less guy to collapse on Kobe driving the lane, or a little farther to go on a rotation that gives someone else a good look. And he will get his looks, too.

Maurice Evans was a little discussed draft day pickup but may have a bigger impact this season than any other change. The reason is the guy he will spell much of the time — Kobe Bryant. Last season the Laker were +4.5 points (per 48 minutes) when Kobe was on the court and -7.9 when he sat. The reason was it’s a very long fall from Kobe to Sasha Vujacic and LaRon Proffit. The end result was Kobe played a lot of minutes, carried a lot of burden. Evans is no All-Star but he is a very solid NBA player — he can hit the corner three (39.1% from his favorite left corner last year), he can defend and he can make smart plays. All of that means a little more rest for Kobe’s knee (especially to start the season), which is huge.

Then there is Jordan Farmar, who was already loved in LA after taking UCLA to the brink of another title. He walked on the floor with a confidence that gives Lakers fans a vision on strength at what for a couple of years has been a weakness. He is already better leading the break than any other Laker, and he is already as good a defensive point guard as we have. What he lacks is a consistent outside shot (something the triangle demands of its PG), some time in the weight room to help defend the stronger points in the NBA, and experience. He won’t start, but by the end of the season he’ll be getting key minutes.

What is the Lakers’ biggest strength?
Um, have you seen Kobe play? At points in the preseason Laker fans have been hyped about all impressive and improved side dishes we have this season, but the main course is what will make or break the meal. And the Lakers have one of the best in the game.

We could fill up the rest of this preview talking about what Kobe brings to the table, but instead let’s talk about another strength — creating match up problems. Let’s say you’re the coach facing the Lakers, it’s clear that your best perimeter defender has to guard Kobe so you can hope to hold him to 40. But what do you do with Odom? But a sloth-like power forward on him and he steps outside and burns you J, or just drives past the pylon and into the lane. Go with someone small and, well, look what he did to Shaun Marrion in the playoffs in the post.

What is the team’s biggest weakness? Perimeter defense. Simple to name, hard to fix. Also the key to how well they do this season.

When opponents ran the high pick-and-roll last season, Laker defenders acted like they were carrying the Hantavirus. Laker bigs didn’t trap or show well on a consistent basis, Smush Parker fought through the pick as often as the Raiders win football games. But the problems went beyond that: Smush just had trouble staying in front of his man, any big who could step out 15 feet and hit a jumper was given free reign to do so.

This is where the growth part of getting better really comes in – because only one personnel move might have an impact and that is even borderline. When he walked in the door Jordan Farmar was as good a defender at the point as the Lakers had. In a year or two, with experience and some physical strength he’ll be an upgrade, but we’re not previewing 2009.

Returning assistant coach Jim Clemons is the guy at the forefront of fixing this problem from within. And improvement is possible — the Lakers were dead last in the league in defensive rating two seasons ago (points per 100 possessions), last year they were 15th. If the coaches can get players to understand their roles, make steals and not fear the pick-and-roll, they can improve again. And that would mean improvement in the record.

What are the goals for this team?
The Lakers are one of those few franchises in all sport where fans have come to expect the team to be in contention annually. We all have that at our gut level, even the rational ones among us who know that there won’t be a parade through downtown every year. At the Summer League, GM Mitch Kupchak suggested that the goals should be 50 wins and a second round playoff berth.

This season we’ll see if the team is really moving in the direction of hosting another parade or not – not just on a team level but also with individual players within the system. Mitch’s goals, if met, would suggest they are on the right tack.

Predicted Record: 49-33, followed by a first-round playoff win (likely and upset).

Roster Moves

Kurt —  October 27, 2006

The Lakers have cut Von Wafer and Danilo Pinnock. Not a surprise, although I’m disappointed that Pinnock just didn’t shine in camp like I thought he could.

So, still on the roster are two guys for one spot, and who gets it says a lot about the Laker plans. On one side is hustling youngster Devin Green, on the other side is fading and injury prone Aaron McKie, who has a guaranteed $2.5 million deal for this year.

I’d been thinking it, but Eric Pincus said it well in a Hoopsworld piece:

Though the Lakers have historically been reluctant to make a mid-season trade, McKie’s salary could be useful should the Lakers find a deal. For example, if the Lakers were inclined to send out Chris Mihm in trade, the most salary they would be able to bring back would be $5.36 million. However Mihm and McKie packaged together would work for an incoming salary of $8.49 million.

Again, a deal is not likely, but Green probably won’t have a long list of NBA teams looking to sign him. Keeping McKie short term on the off-chance a deal comes together makes more sense, especially if the Lakers could then sign Green mid-season should a roster spot were to become available.

With the Lakers cap strapped and with no mid-level exception to give out this year, trades are the only way to get quality veterans. Which means keeping McKie on the roster makes sense. If Green is kept it means the Lakers may be looking to stay pat.

Pacific Roundtable

Kurt —  October 26, 2006

The Pacific may be as deep a division as there is in the NBA this season, with more storylines than Los Angeles has stripmalls. Well, maybe not that many, but there are plenty. So for the past few weeks some very good bloggers of teams in the division — Tom from Sactown Royalty, Kevin from Clipperblog, Lucas from The Rising Suns, Justin from Golden State of Mind and myself — emailed each other in a lively discussion of the Pacific teams and players. The first two parts are already up, here’s the next part:


Tom: Let’s talk about the major subtractions Pacific teams saw
this offseason. Bonzi Wells is clearly the big name here, though the
Clippers and Suns both lost rotation players as well. How much will
Bonzi’s exit hurt the Kings?

Lucas: Yes obviously Bonzi was the biggest subtraction, but it
is yet to be determined how big. Meaning, will it really effect
Sacramento or will they fare just fine without him? Will Bonzi keep
playing intense ball since he is still going to have to play for a
contract? It seems to me that guys like this would do better to always
be playing for a contract. Maybe if they paid per game he would play
his heart out.

Another less large subtraction that hit me was the loss of Eddie
House. Eddie won at least 5 games for us single-handedly last season
due to his ability to catch fire when the team was in dire straights.
Eddie had amazing form and execution to his jumper but he was not
always the smartest player. In the beginning of the season he played
within the team’s strategy and hoisted up good shots and made lots of
them. Towards the end of the season he was rushing every shot off the
bench and couldn’t buy a bucket. He was a liability defensively,
couldn’t play the point, but his awesome shooting kept him in the
rotation. When he began rushing everything, and missing, he lost his
spot in the rotation. He is now on New Jersey and just had knee
surgury. I would think that is a good fit for him playing with Jason
Kidd because Kidd can guard bigger two’s and create for Eddie who can
shoot with the best.

Kurt: I think we may overrate how much Bonzi meant to
Sacramento based on the playoffs — not that they don’t matter but
you’re talking about six games with specific matchups that may have
favored him versus the 52 games he played in the regular season where
he had less of an impact. Look at it this way, he averaged 13.6 ppg
during the regular season then 23,2 in the playoffs. What I’m driving
at is that a full season of Artest and the continued growth of Kevin
Martin may more than make up for the loss.

And while we’re talking silver linings, the loss of House can only
help Phoenix’s defense.

Tom: Kurt is right about Bonzi’s overblown departure, to a
degree. The first half of the season, Bonzi was arguably the team’s
best player. Of course, the team was eight games under .500… I
digress. Bonzi is essentially Artest-lite, only he’s a worse shooter,
worse ball-handler, worse distributor, worse defender and better
rebounder. Kevin Martin fits this starting lineup much better.

House seems to get ignored in the bigger scheme of all things Phoenix.
But he has not been replaced on that roster – no one but Leandro
Barbosa on that team can gun like House could off the bench. And
Barbosa was on the team last year, so it’s a net loss in bench
shooting. That puts some pressure on guys like James Jones and Jumaine
Jones, I think.

Yeah I suspected Bonzi wasn’t as good as the hype.
I did have him on my fantasy team and he was inconsistant but even
from the start of the season when the Kings were underachieving I was
just waiting for them to snap out of it and play like I knew they
could. I also think Shareef was a bit under-utilized.

Lucas: The thing about House and his shooting is that more
often than not it was a detriment to the team. Sure he had probably 5
amazing quarters in the season where he was really hot and brought the
team back to win but the majority of the time he played ole defense
and chucked up poorly timed and awkward shots that really hurt the
team. The shooters that we currently have will take better shots than
Eddie and do much more overall than he did. Steve, Raja, Leandro,
James Jones, Jumaine Jones, and Piatkowski are all good shooters and
more than fill the void of Eddie.

Kevin: Maybe I’m crazy, but I think the reports of Sacramento’s
demise are greatly exaggerated. I keep reading that Bonzi-to-Salmons
is a real dropoff, but why isn’t anyone considering Kevin Martin in
the equation? Perhaps I’m biased because every time the Clips played
Sacramento, the Kings handed our heads to us and Martin was always a
key ingredient. But I thought allowing Bonzi to walk was a smart
decision from the outset, and not just as a “rebuilding” maneuver, but
because it was the right move. Is Miller aging, yeah, but he’s still
formidable. And with Artest and Thomas, you don’t need all that from
Miller defensively. He’s in better physical shape this season, at
least that’s what I’ve read.

Tom: Let’s talk about the future a bit. Which team is set up
best right now for long-term success? The Lakers, with a few more
years of Kobe and soon meaningful minutes from Andrew Bynum? The
Clippers and Shaun Livingston? Amare and Diaw in Phoenix?

Lucas: As for long term success I think Phoenix wins out on
this one. Bynum and Livingston have yet to prove themselves and I
think the Suns young players, Amare, Diaw, and Barbosa have more than
proven themselves. Amare did his thing in 04-05 but how good he
returns is still debateable. I think he will be fine in the long run.
Diaw and Barbosa had breakout years last season with Boris racking up
multiple triple doubles and stepping up his game in the playoffs,
averaging 25ppg 9rpg against Dallas in the Conference Finals. Leandro
stepped up his game as well and killed the Lakers and Clippers with
his quickness in the playoffs. Combine these three with a few more
years of Shawn Marion and this team is stacked.

Aside from Phoenix I would say the Clips are the next best off for the
long term. I think Shaun Livingston will be an extremely good point
guard but he has yet to prove himself. I think this season will be his
breakout year. The Clips also have Brand and will probably lock up
Kaman so with these three they should be dangerous for years to come.
As long as they get Donald Sterling to continue to spend money.

Kurt: Yes Amare and the core of Phoenix is young — except for
some guy named Nash. I think that is the big long-term question for
the Suns, who can step in when Nash isn’t there to run an offense
built largely on a smart point guard finding and exploiting mismatches
and running the floor. Can Banks really become that guy? Barbosa?
They’ve got the F1 car, the question is can they find another driver
as good as Schumacher/Nash. Fortunately, they have a couple years to
shop around for that guy while still being title contenders.

I think both the Lakers and Clippers have long-term potential but need
a couple pieces down the road as well. I’m a big Livingston fan, if he
can stay healthy. If not this year, in a year or two he should be a
force. As for the Lakers, Bynum shows flashes but the guy everyone may
be sleeping on is Jordan Farmar. He is showing the classic point guard
skills, he is pushing the ball and showing he is great in the open
court. He could be a big impact the the Lakers — a solid starting
point guards is invaluable in a perimeter league — in a few years.

Tom: So, is it unanimous then that the Warriors and Kings are
kind of trapped with what they have? The Kings did their best to prop
that contending window open – and it could still stay open through
next year. But Bibby could leave after this season, Miller has hit age
30, Shareef Abdur-Rahim is signed through age 34, and among the
youngsters, only Kevin Martin has shown the ability thus far to break
out. Ron Artest is signed through the end of 2007-08. There is nothing
in the pipeline (unless you’re a big believer in Ronnie Price or you
think Francisco Garcia can be a starting point guard). Geoff Petrie
has to work some magic for this team to survive long-term without
first hitting bottom.

As for the Warriors – Monta Ellis and Mickael Pietrus are exciting,
and Jason Richardson should be an All-Star. But there are too many
really bad contracts there.

Kurt: I think it’s just harder to tell where Sacramento and
Golden State will be in five years. The Kings have some young talent,
but key cogs (Bibby, Miller) will be on the downside if not gone
outright. A couple of smart moves and they could still be a threat. As
for Golden State, by bringing in Don Nelson they have essentially
changed what kind of team they want to be. Going small and fast could
be good, again there is some young talent, but they have to start
drafting/signing to the the system, then stick with the system for
more than two years.

88 Lines about 44 Lakers

Kurt —  October 25, 2006

With apologies to The Nails

Cooper was the defensive type
Except during the Coop-a-loop
Cederic Ceballos liked to drive
But to ‘zona, not the hoop
Byron Scott’s outside shot
Was the key to many wins
While any Chuck Nevitt shot
Belonged over by the bins

Frank Brickowski’s touch was better
Than his name would suggest
Elden Campbell played for years
But never really did impress
Magic led the Showtime break
His passes made our jaws drop
Vlade Divac smoked and played
Plus he knew how to flop

Riley’s hair was stiff with gel
He promised us back-to-back
Jackson’s style is much more Zen
He wins with a different tack
Vern Mikkelsen is in the Hall
The game’s first power four
Mark Madsen could be hard to watch
Both on the court and dance floor

A.C. Green did hit the boards
But then did not hit the clubs
Rick Fox sure loved that scene
Still was one of the super subs
Kareem ‘s skyhook did amaze
Just ask Parish what he thinks
Shaq’s game is power based
He gives you dunks not dinks

Robert Horry did not miss
If a game was on the line
Glen Rice could fill it up
Rarely seemed to drop a dime
George Mikan is an all-time great
He won titles by the lakes
Kobe’s won some titles too
Guys bite on his head fakes

Smush Parker may not be great
But people love his name
Jim Pollard’s kangaroo hops
Were the secret to his game
James Worthy filled the lane
Ready for a Tomahawk
Connie was already known
Everyone just called him “Hawk”

Goodrich was a crafty guard
And he sure knew how to win
Wilkes had a funky shot
That always just seemed to just go in
Sam Perkins was “The Big Smooth”
Had a silky outside shot
Rambis was a cult hero
Who always seemed on the spot

Mitch Kupchak was a player first
Now he makes all the trades
Mychal Thompson had played too
Now he is known for tirades
Harriston was called happy
But he could crash the boards
Sedale Threatt was a fav
Who never got his just rewards

Elgin Baylor was a first
Played his game above the rim
Eddie Jones could shoot the rock
But always looked very slim
Jerry West may be the best
Whether player or GM
Nick Van Exel got his points
Because he was quick to the rim

Stu Lantz played a couple years
Then got a nice color gig
Lamar Odom’s three point shot
Is very good for a big
Chamberlain got a second ring
Russell must have haunted him
If McAdoo shot the ball
It never seemed to touch the rim

Derek Fisher’s name will be
Forever hated by the Spurs
Luke Walton is a passer first
At least that is what he prefers
Norm Nixon earned two rings
He was quick with an assist
Chick Hearn, you’re one I miss
I chose you to end this list

88 lines about 44 Lakers