Archives For October 2006

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.

30 Teams in 30 Days

Kurt —  October 1, 2006

All the best ideas seem like simple ones — there are so many NBA blogs now, so much quality information and different perspectives, why not band together for our own previews of the coming season? Thirty teams in 30 days — an idea to make Morgan Spurlock proud. And so NBA Blog Previews was born.

Jeff at CelticBlog came up with the idea and did the legwork, and even though I’m slow to compliment Celtics fans, he did an amazing job. Through the month of October there will be a new NBA team previewed by one of its bloggers every day. This process is starting in the East and moving West, so the Lakers will be up Oct. 28 (and it won’t just be me, the guys at Showtime and Jones on the NBA will be doing ones as well).

Much like that triple-shot of Laker previews at the end of the month, the first team up are the Celtics and there is not one, not two but three previews of the guys in green. I’ll be linking to this site a lot in the coming month, and I’m adding a special link in the sidebar, but I encourage you to check it out daily. This is some interesting stuff.