Archives For October 2006

Three Games In

Kurt —  October 16, 2006

Three preseason games matter about as much as a politician’s promise, and the game against Phoenix Sunday was particularly hard to base any big-picture thoughts on because of the lineups used. Still, everything is starting to come into a little better focus, and here’s what’s rattling around in my head:

Starting 5:

Smush Parker
Kobe Bryant
Luke Walton
Lamar Odom
Kwame Brown

The only surprise here from what the conventional wisdom was pre-camp is Luke over Vlad. This is not about Vlad and his shooting – he’ll be fine and has yet to play off Kobe yet. It’s just that right now Luke is playing too well, looking too confident not to start him. He is earning it.

First guys off the bench:

Vladimir Radmanovic
Maurice Evans

Bringing these two guys off the bench provides some versatility to exploit matchups. You can have Vlad go in for Luke and Evans for Smush and go big. You can have Vlad sub out Kwame and have Evans sub out Luke and go small. Both of these guys has looked okay but still seem to trying to be getting the hang of the new offense and new teammates.

What about backup point guard?

Sasha Vujacic/Jordan Farmar
ShammondWilliams

Shammond Williams had his best game against Phoenix, and Sasha looked good in the one game he played, but Jordan Farmar has been one of the most impressive Lakers in camp. Yes he’s a rookie, yes this is a Phil Jackson team, but Farmar is earning minutes, earning his chance. Bottom line, they all should get some chances and whoever plays the best “D” will get more and more time. But I stand by my prediction that by the end of the season we’ll be seeing more and more Farmar. He could be part of an end-of-the-quarter energy team.

The other bigs:

Ronny Turiaf
Brian Cook
Andrew Bynum

While these guys may see time, how much is unclear and may be decided by matchups night to night. Turiaf had a nice game in Vegas Sunday night, made good defensive rotations, and seems to be working his way into the rotation. We have talked a little on this site about whether Cook or Turiaf will be the back-up four — they might actually play well together, with Turiaf as the “center” and Cook the four. Bynum will play some, he had his best game of the preseason against Phoenix but how much duty he gets may depend on matchups.

Um…..:

Aaron McKie
Chris Mihm

Mihm is injured so I just put him here for now but when healthy and in shape he’ll get minutes. Aaron McKie has looked okay, but as good as Devin Green? I’d still rather give the roster spot to the young guy with a future.

I’m still calling it the Pond

Kurt —  October 13, 2006

So, what did you all think of the first televised game? Here are a few notes from my late night TiVo viewing of the Laker game after a couple of martinis and dinner at Musso & Frank.

• Is it just me, or does Kurt Rambis’ hair look like Jerry Seiinfeld’s in “The Shower Head?”

• A second good shooting game from a team without Kobe. As a team they shot 57.4% eFG% (especially good considering the slow start). And against the Sonics 72.3% of the Laker baskets were assisted — which seems to confirm my observation that they are moving well without the ball.

• I love Farmar’s energy. More importantly, he may have the best lateral movement of any of the point guards defensively.

• Through two games, Radmanovic is shooting 23.3% (eFG%). He did look better when he put the ball on the floor, even if the results were not ideal.

• Luke Walton looks far more confident with his shot. He is shooting 66% through two games.

• When did Turiaf become an offensive machine?

• Brian Cook also looked good, and apparently the Lakers may sign him for beyond this season (although, beware of what agents say).

• Kwame Brown did a nice job establishing physical position against the thinner guys defending him.

• I love Luke Walton’s fade away

• If Aaron McKie is bought out, is Green ahead of Pinnock for that spot? He had some explosive plays against the Sonics, particularly that third quarter block.

• Marcus Douthit and Mamadou N’Diaye are the first cuts. No shock there. Now there are 18 left on the roster, three more cuts to go before the season.

Droppin’ Dimes

Kurt —  October 12, 2006

Here’s a brief Lakers preview by yours truly from the pages of Dime Magazine.

I was one of 30 bloggers contacted to do a “your team in 100 words” preview, which was a challenge since I can barely say hello in 100 words. But I got something together and so did the other bloggers, so if you’re looking for a quick tour of the NBA check it out.

Straight Outta Fresno

Kurt —  October 11, 2006

Phil Jackson is a smart man, timing that hip surgery to avoid a trip to Fresno. I’d go as far as a root canal to avoid spending any time in Fresno, but Phil went above and beyond.

I didn’t see the Lakers’ first exhibition game last night, but here are thoughts based on listening to much of the game on the radio, looking at the box scores and notes from people and media who were there.

• As a team the Lakers shoot 59.6% (eFG%) — so much for not liking the new ball. Better news is the Lakers held Utah to 43.5% as a team.

• Lamar Odom rightly has been focused on personal issues this summer, but he didn’t look out of step once back on the court. He scored 18 points on 83% shooting (eFG%) and by all reports was very active on defense as well.

• New Laker Vladimir Radmanovic had a rougher start, going 2 of 7 from the floor (and I think the two makes were both layups), plus there were a couple bad passes that led to turnovers. We can just chalk that up to an off night.

• Meanwhile, Luke Walton started at the three and went 5 of 8 from the floor with six assists. Now, this is just one game, but I think it’s fair to ask the question: Could Walton keep his starting job? He had it last preseason then lost it to injury, but by the end of the season had won it back. I think most of us, including Vlad, had the newcomer penciled in as a starter, but in Seattle they thought Radmanovic was better suited as a change-of-pace off the bench. If Tuesday’s pattern were to continue…

• Kwame, deep breaths. Don’t rush your shots.

• Maurice Evans is dangerous if he gets the ball in the corner. And his presence is going to really help keep Kobe fresh this year, dropping his minutes by a few a game.

• Kwame a. wondered in the comments who would get the job as the backup power forward, Brian Cook or Ronny Turiaf. Again, just one game but Turiaf 21 minutes, Cook 9.

• Pinnock 5 minutes, Farmar 4 and Devin Green 4. Not even getting on the floor: Aaron McKie, Von Wafer, Marcus Douthit and Mamadou N’diaye.

• Just passing along a conspiracy theory out of True Hoop: Remember how Kobe (and a number of other players) wore those Nike tights last season? Is it a coincidence those have been banned this season right as Adidas comes on board as the league’s official clothing sponsor?

• Speaking of things Kobe does getting banned, another new rule for this season is players may not have a wristband on the upper arm or forearm. I’m really hard pressed to see any logic behind that one.

Things I Want To See

Kurt —  October 9, 2006

There’s a long list of things I want to see this exhibition season. That starts with the Lakers’ first game Tuesday up in Fresno — I want to see it but don’t have the chance. It’s not on television and you need a much better reason than a Laker preseason game to get me to drive to Fresno. I guess I wait until Thursday.

So, starting Thursday, there are things I hope to see:

• Defense against the pick-and-roll. Or at the very least good rotations.

• Jordan Farmar shoot consistently from the outside. And, if he wants to earn minutes when it matters, I want to see good, hard-nosed defense.

• Kwame Brown to consistently collect the passes that come his way.

• Kobe to play in at least one game.

• Radmanovic to find the spot-up spaces within the triangle.

• Maurice Evans to grow more comfortable in the offense (some reports are suggesting he’s having a hard time getting used to the triangle, although if everyone has been running it for a year or more and you come in cold, that’s hard).

• Nobody to blame their 3 of 13 shooting night on the new ball.

• Someone to step up and say, “I love the new ball!” Not because I think it should stay (why change what’s working) but just because I love contrarians.

• Aaron McKie to be bought out to make way for Pinnock or Green (or whoever steps up).

• Pinnock to step up and earn that roster spot (I think he has the most long-term potential).

• Shammond Williams. Really, I just want to see him, I have no idea what to expect.

• Kwame to stop saying things like “”You can’t do nothing without the rock.” (A quote from a Los Angeles Times interview). Ignoring the painful grammar of that sentence, you can do a lot without the ball: set picks, get into position for rebounds, move to a space where you can get the rock or at least keep the floor spaced. Plus, there’s defense. If he’s going to be successful he needs to do all of those things without the rock.

• What the Kings and Suns look like (not sure how much you can tell in preseason, but I’m curious).

• Kurt Rambis to get tossed from a game for arguing with a referee.

Blogs, Glorious Blogs

Kurt —  October 6, 2006

You could argue that what the Los Angeles Times and Daily News are doing for the Lakers are not really “blogs” in the spirit of the word. (But I don’t want to get into a debate about semantics.) You could also argue that notoriously tightfisted ownership of the papers is looking for ways to squeeze more copy out of overworked writers in an effort to drive more traffic to the Web site to try to appease fleeing advertisers. (But I don’t want to get into a discussion of newspaper economics.)

But for Laker fans right now — when the team has yet to play even an exhibition game and news is scarce — these blogs have become must reads. These guys have access (something the Lakers traditionally are loath to do for electronic media not tied to papers they want to be on the good side of) and cannot only give us the main storylines but also some interesting tidbits out of practices.

From Ross Siler at the Daily News:

Andrew Bynum did have a spectacular block against Von Wafer in practice that knocked Wafer off his feet and sent him tumbling to the floor. Without a doubt, Bynum has the best shot-blocking instincts on the team.

Kobe Bryant said he was still running three days a week on his injured knee. He’ll put in another morning of work Friday. “We don’t want to rush it,” he said. “We’re just taking our time, just getting stronger, letting the scar tissue heal.”

And from the Kamenetzky brothers at the LA Times:

As they practiced, Kurt Rambis reminded players to remain in motion, especially upon receiving passes, where players can’t just stop as the ball is heading their way. “You must keep running until you get your hands on the basketball.” Keeping the movement theme, Tex Winter harped a bit about the need to keep cutting and cutting.

Whether it’s a “getting used to the new ball” issue or not, most players were susceptible to some bricks or missed layups. The notable exception was LO, who hit a string of mid-range jumpers.

There’s more, and there will be more down the line. I’m not one to traditionally point you to the mainstream media, but whether or not these are “blogs” they are providing some access and info at a time we’re all looking for it, and that is a good use of time and space.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  October 4, 2006

Notes and thoughts on the Lakers and the opening of camp — while I keep an eye on the Dodgers and Mets:

• The first day of training camp focused on defense. Good. So should the second, and the third, and the…..

• I was less than thrilled this summer when I learned that John Hollinger’s Basketball Prospectus was not coming out this year, that rather everything was moving online, to ESPN.com’s Insider. I can’t begrudge a guy making a few bucks, but if I didn’t respect Hollinger so much I’d be screaming sell out.

Just about the time the book would have arrived in my mailbox, I went online Monday to read his analysis of the Lakers and predictions for the coming season — and I think it’s pretty fair and accurate. I don’t agree with everything he said — for example, Hollinger question the Lakers biggest off-season move but I’ve said before Radmanovic brings more things to than table Cook, plus Hollinger and I can agree to disagree about the Lakers offensive strategy against the Suns in the playoffs — but for the most part its fair.

I’m not going to quote it at length, because it’s not fair to do that for material you are supposed to pay to see, but I think his bottom-line prediction for the coming year is accurate.

The Lakers are at least a player short from serious contention, but they’ll have a puncher’s chance in any playoff series…. the Lakers were better than their record indicated a year ago — they had 49 expected wins, but finished with only 45 wins. So even if Bryant slipped a little, they would be able to make up for some of it just with better luck…. All told, I expect the Lakers to be at least as good as they were a year ago, with an outside shot at a top-four seeding in the West.

• Kevin at Clipperblog is just smarter than me — Mike Duleavy in Anna Karenina. And it works.

• All that talk about trading Chris Mihm is going to have to wait until he proves himself healthy — and by all reports his ankle is still not great after last year’s severe sprain and off-season surgery. He won’t be taking part in practices for at least two weeks. His being slowed in preseason means he could end up like Luke Walton last season, injured in the preseason and slow to get back into the rotation. If the Lakers are looking to trade him look for him to get showcased starting around Christmas, or just after.

• Mihm’s situation opens up the door for Andrew Bynum to get minutes. The question is can he step through it.

• Word out of Golden State camp is that Troy Murphy will be spending time at center as the Warriors go small. Not a surprise with Nelson as coach, but I like that match up against the tall and long Lakers.

• Mamadou N’Diaye and Marcus Douthit were signed by the Lakers as training camp fodder.

Just how much better?

Kurt —  October 3, 2006

The opening of NBA training camps is, well, pretty cold and professional, especially when compared to the youthful exuberance of “midnight madness” for college teams. But, just like the Dodgers at Vero Beach in the spring, optimism abounds — Laker fans just feel their team is going to be better this season. Logical reasons can be found, but the first day of camp is not a time of logic, it’s a time unbridled optimism. Even in Atlanta.

However, Laker fans can fall back on recent history to feel a little more secure in those feelings — look at Phil Jackson’s track record and it’s a safe bet that 06-07 Lakers will be better than the version on the court last season.

We can all agree, the Lakers made no dramatic moves in the off-season. Yes, there is the signing of a new starter in Vladimir Radmanovic, added depth with Maurice Evans (plus maybe Shammond Williams) and drafted point guard Jordan Farmar, who showed promise at the Summer Pro League. But the Laker roster was not shaken up top to bottom, no huge trades were made.

Rather, the Lakers are counting on a second year in the triangle offense, a second year of Phil Jackson’s tutelage to bring improvement from within. But just how realistic is that? How much do teams improve in Jackson’s second year?

I looked back at Phil Jackson’s other two coaching stints — the run in Chicago and the first tenure in Los Angeles — and compared how his first year teams did compared to the second year.

Bottom line: We can be sure the offense will get better, and maybe the defense as well.

The bottom line for last season’s Laker offense was that it was surprisingly similar to the first time Jackson took over the Lakers. In 98-99 season (under the coaching of Del Harris, Kurt Rambis and Bill Bertka for one game) the Lakers had an offensive rating of 107.5 (points per 100 possessions), second best in the NBA. The first season in the triangle the Lakers won the NBA title but the offense earned a rating of 107.2, almost identical to the season before.

However, the next season, after a season to figure out the triangle, the Laker offense jumped up to a rating of 109 (second in the league). That second year pattern was also true when Jackson headed the Bulls — his first season the rating was 112.5, but the second season it was a league-leading 114.9.

Last season the Lakers offensive rating was 108.6 (eighth best in the league), almost the same as the 108.2 in the Rudy T./Hamblin disaster year. But this year, with key players such as Odom and Kwame Brown having seemed to grown into the system, plus the sharp shooting Radmanovic and the depth provided by Evans, an improvement seems likely. A rating in the top five in the league is within reach.

What may ultimately determine the Lakers fate is how much the defense improves.

Last season the Lakers made big defensive improvements — in the 04-05 season the Lakers had the worst defense in the league, with a defensive rating of 111.3 (points per 100 opponent possessions). Last season that improved to 105.5, 15th in the league, based in part on the fact that the Lakers started creating turnovers (thank you Smush).

That’s pretty similar to the impact Jackson had his first time around —he got a peak-form Shaq to play aggressively in the middle, surrounded by role guys who new how to play team defense, and that propelled those Lakers to a championship. The 98-99 Lakers had a defensive rating of 104.4, 24th in the league. The first year under Jackson, the rating was 98.9.

The next year, that Laker team took a step backward defensively for much of the season. They finished, with a rating of 105.6 (21st in the league). But that is a bit misleading — the last month of the season that team flipped the switch and again became the best defensive team in the league, then steamrolled through the playoffs with just one loss on the way to another title.

Back in Chicago, Jackson’s team got even better defensively his second season, improving from mediocre defensive rating of 108.8 to 105 (6th in the NBA). They won an NBA title.

I have concerns that this year’s Lakers could be more like their former Laker counterparts than the second Bulls season under Jackson, I’m concerned we’re still to slow on the perimeter. But if another year in the same defensive system, the return of Jim Clemons as an assistant coach (with a good defensive reputation), maturity and a little luck can help this Laker team follow in the footsteps of Jackson’s second year Bulls squad, then watch out. That optimism will be well deserved.