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:

Name eFG% TS% Pts. P40
Odom 52% 55.6% 18.7
Walton 56.2% 58.3% 16.7
Bynum 71.1% 73.1% 18.2
Evans 43.6% 48.1% 16.8
Parker 55.8% 59.8% 17.3
Cook 65.2% 68.4% 24.9
Farmar 54.9% 57.3% 18.2
Vujacic 56% 57.6% 19.1
Radman 30.6% 34.7% 12.6
Willaims 66.7% 62.1% 12.1
Brown 46,2% 42.8% 11.9
Pinnock 17.9% 19% 5.6
McKie 50% 52.1% 3.1
Turiaf 55% 56.4% 13.3
Green 39.4% 48% 14.9

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).