Archives For November 2006

Preview and Chat: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  November 30, 2006

Let’s start with good news. The Lakers catch the Jazz on the second game of a back-to-back, and one where they have to fly in from Salt Lake. The Jazz are 3-1 on the second game of back-to-backs this season, and they come in to Staples having beat San Antonio last night.

Remembering the last meeting. Rob L. is the man — he sent me a detailed stats breakdown of the last time these two met (a 114-108 Jazz win).

I didn’t need to see the stats to remember that the Lakers need to do a better job on slowing Carlos Boozer, who had 31 points and seven offensive rebounds. (By the way, I like Boozer, just in part because that’s the best last name in the NBA.) As noted yesterday, the Lakers have struggled against the four and Boozer will get some, but the Lakers need to make him less efficient.

The Lakers also need to stop Mehmet Okur, who continued the trend of centers who can step away from the basket giving the Lakers trouble. He was 8 of 13 from the floor, 2 of 6 from beyond the arc and had 18 points.

Also, three guys who didn’t use a lot of possessions but were very efficient when they did (each had a one-game offensive rating of over 175, which is crazy good): D-Fish, Gordon Giricek and Ronnie Brewer. Need to D-up on all of them.

Then there is Deron Williams. Last meeting with LA he had 15 points and 10 assists, but what is impressive is how wisely he is using his possessions. I could spend time singing his praises, but Henry at True Hoop did it very well the other day.

Some other things to remember.
In much of the fourth quarter of that first meeting Bryant was guarded by Kirilenko — and Kobe went 0-3 from the field. Kirilenko is a long and agile defender who will slow either Kobe or Lamar, whichever he is guarding, so it is key to get the ball to the guy with the better match up.

And the Lakers have not been great about that. In case you missed it, at the end of the Bucks game, when the Lakers were down by three, Phil Jackson said he drew up a play for Odom to take the shot, because he knew Kobe would draw the double. Kobe did, but didn’t make the kick out pass, instead choosing to dribble it out himself then take a shot from four feet beyond the arc. That’s not wisely picking his spots.

Smush pouts. Smush had a rough game against the Bucks Tuesday night, and from that an Interesting note from commenter Scott, who was at the Lakers/Bucks game (and in very good seats):

It looked like Phil pulled Smush out of the game after he made a bad pass which led to a lay-up for the bucks in the third quarter. Smush reacted to being pulled by throwing off his headband and slowly walking off the court. For the rest of the second half, during every timeout, as the team was huddled around their coaches listening to what to do, Smush was just sitting by himself at the end of the bench not joining his teammates in the huddle. I think his attitude after being pulled in the 3rd quarter led to him not being put back in the game by Phil. Phil gave him a chance… he was about to put Smush back in for the last 2 minutes but again, Smush slowly took his time walking over to the scorer’s table and slowly started putting his headband on and before he even got to the scorer’s table, he had already been called back to the bench and he was never put in. I personally like Smush and I am a big fan of his play and potential, but I think that he needs to realize the position he is in and he needs to not take that for granted. A big part of being in the NBA is to know how to be benched for one dumb play, but be strong enough mentally to put that behind you right away and get back out there and help your team (Farmar does a very good job of this)


Things to look for.
Can the Lakers control the defensive boards? Last time these two hooked up the Jazz had 15 offensive boards, and they continue to lead the league, pulling down 33.1% of their missed shots. Kwame and Bynum need to snap out of the funk they were in against the Bucks and take control of the glass.

Jordan Farmar missed the last meeting between these two, should be interesting to see how he can do on Deron Williams. However, Williams is a lot stronger than Jordan right now, and that could be trouble for the rookie.

The Lakers are going to see a lot of zone until they beat it consistently. One easy way — have Bynum/Kwame flash in the paint and feed them a good pass. They will get a good shot off or can kick out for an open three. You just can’t shoot over the top of a zone; you break it down then get good looks from the outside.

Great note from Gabe Farkas over at Courtside Times previewing this game:

The big difference-maker to me will be FT’s. The Jazz send their opponents to the FT line more than any other team in the league (highest defensive FT/FG ratio). On the other hand, the Lakeshow is one of the stingiest in the league at allowing the other team to get to the line. The Jazz are middle-of-the-road when it comes to getting to the line on offense, but LA again trumps them with 0.28 FT’s per FG (good for 8th in the league). I expect this to be a close game overall.

By the way, while you are certainly welcome to chat here during the game, myself and others will try to keep a running commentary going over at Courtside Times through both TNT games tonight. Check in while you watch Shaq and Miami take on… what? Shaq’s injured? He’s missing much of the regular season? Wow, that’s not like him, with that great work ethic he has and all….

Suggested Reading

Kurt —  November 29, 2006

Two things of note I wanted to point you toward.

One is Roland Lazenby’s interview with Laker assistant coach and NBA player in the 80s and 90s Brian Shaw. Some very interesting stuff (as always from Roland):

“You have someone like Kobe who is so competitive and so dominant,” Shaw observed. “When he senses that things aren’t going right he does everything in his power to take over and try to right things. In the process sometimes, some of the other guys become an afterthought. So they struggle. It’s difficult for them to figure out how and when to fit in. When they are so young, it’s difficult.”

Lakers guru Tex Winter has often expressed admiration for Shaw as a young coach. What makes him so effective for these Lakers is that he remembers clearly those days as a young Celtic trying to find his way playing alongside a fierce competitive nature like Larry Bird.
Larry and Kobe?

“It’s like comparing apples and apples,” Shaw says.

That’s because Bryant and Bird share something special.

“When Larry would maybe miss a shot that would have won the game for us, or something like that, he’d stay after and shoot,” Shaw recalled. “He’d be there first thing the next morning, shooting, working on his game at game speed. Kobe is the same way. He doesn’t want to lose in any thing. Cards, whatever it is he’s playing. Larry had it. Michael had it. Magic had it. All the great ones do. And Kobe’s right there with him.”

Dominique Wilkins once said of Bird: “Look in his eyes and you see a killer.”

Shaw sees the same thing when he looks at Bryant. “Basically, Kobe is a killer,” he said. “I say that, meaning that he’s not going to reach out and embrace you. He’s not going to respect you, if you aren’t true to your craft and you don’t show that killer instinct as well. To him it’s a sign of weakness. As long as you’re out there giving it your all, he’ll respect you, because he is, he’s giving it his all.”

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The other thing worth reading, particularly if you are a fan of the new breed of NBA statistics, is a piece by Kevin Pelton at Courtside Times.

For those out of the loop, in recent weeks there has been a debate about what is a better system for rating players — john Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Ratings (EPR) or the Wins Produced system championed in the recent book Wages of Wins.

Pelton’s take:

My question is, “What’s the point?”…

Hollinger has said in the past that he intends PER as a jumping-off point to start a discussion about a player, as a summary of the other stats we track for players. That’s difficult, however. Intellectual laziness makes it easy to look at Chuck Hayes posting a higher PER than Jason Kidd and say that implies Hayes is better than Kidd. In Basketball on Paper, Dean Oliver paraphrases Bill James to say, “Reducing quality to one number has a tendency to end a discussion, rather than open up a world of insight.” I tend to agree.

Take a second and think about your favorite pieces of writing by Hollinger or Berri or any other APBRmetrically-inclined writer. Think about something that challenged your perceptions or made you think. Now think about this — did that writing center around a player rating? I’m willing to bet it didn’t.

I use PER fairly often on this site, but I try to use it as a quick snapshot of a player’s offensive contributions, not as a definitive statement. When I see someone like Luke Walton, whose PER jumped from a 9th man level of 11.6 last season to the good starter level of 17.8 this season, it is a snapshot that makes me ask why.

Which is why I basically side with Pelton in this debate: What’s the real point between Wins Produced or PER? The real interesting stuff is in the details.

It’s the Defense, Stupid

Kurt —  November 29, 2006

Plenty of frustration after the Lakers loss last night, and frankly there are some chilling big picture issues right now. That said, some of the frustration is misplaced.

Yes, the zone defense seemed to again befuddle the Lakers. Yes, the Lakers settled to quickly for the three against the zone. Yes, there were 19 turnovers. But the offense wasn’t the problem — the Lakers shot a reasonable 51.2% (eFG%) and finished the game with an offensive rating of 109.4 (points per 100 possessions), which is better than their season average. Bottom line, they scored 105 points — that should be enough to win.

If you play defense.

The Lakers are currently tied for 20th in the league in defensive efficiency, and the key reason is other teams are getting good looks and knocking them down — opponents are shooting 50.3% (eFG%) against the Lakers this season, putting the Lakers 24th in the league in the most important defensive category (how other teams shoot against you). It’s not just good shooters such as Redd, it’s too many average guys shooting well.

Not shockingly, the biggest problem is at the point guard spot — it was the biggest problem last season and it was not addressed in the short term during the off-season. Smush Parker is allowing opposing points to shoot 49.7% on the season and have a PER of 21.6 — basically everyone is Tony Parker against him.

But the Lakers also are giving up good games to fours (a spot tough to defend in the West with guys like Dirk/Duncan/KG/Brand at that spot, plus now Randolph in Portland) and also to opposing centers. Sure, Bynum is giving us impressive blocks from the weak side and has been better at slowing guard penetration, but opposing teams are getting 17.8 points and 13.5 rebounds per game production out of the center position against the Lakers. Those numbers need to come down.

Phil is clearly looking for defensive answers — look at the lineup on the floor in last half of the fourth quarter against the Bucks. Kobe and Odom are givens, but Farmar was at the point, Smush sat midway through the third never to return. Luke was on the floor a lot, but Phil gave a lot of run to Turiaf with the game on the line. He knew they needed stops and went with the guys who were playing defense.

What really has worried me this season is basic point differential — the best way to tell how good a team is over the course of a season is to see how much they outscore their opponents by (or are outscored by). Just ask Greg Popovich, it’s a favorite stat of his. And the Lakers are in too many close games. But good teams win close games, you say? Not so much, what good teams do is not put themselves in position to have to win many close games. Particularly in home games against teams like the Bucks.

Right now the Lakers are 9-5, but if you look at their expected wins they should be 7-7, 8-6 at best. What is really scary: play at this level the entire season and they should finish 43-39.

That can be changed, but it is going to have to be changed on the defensive end of the floor.

Preview and Chat: The Milwaukee Bucks

Kurt —  November 28, 2006

Thanks. Just want to say a quick thank you to Rob and Gatinho for holding down the fort here while I spent four days unplugged/with the family/overeating/mourning Notre Dame. Great job, as always, guys.

50 ways to beat the East. Looking for a good reason to bet the Lakers tonight? How about this: In the games so far between Eastern and Western conference teams, the West leads 51-18.

Another reason to like the Lakers tonight. The Bucks are banged up. Former Clipper and all around solid player Bobby Simmons has not stepped on the court yet. Then there was recently-acquired Charlie Villanueva, who through the first eight games of the season had been showing a consistency he lacked last season with a PER of 22.43, based largely on his good 55.7% True Shooting Percentage (like points per shot attempt) and that he was pulling down 16.1% of the available rebounds when he was on the floor. Then he tore a ligament in his elbow and is out for at least another month. The Bucks are not deep enough to absorb those losses, hence they are 2-8 in their last 10.

One more reason to like the Lakers. The Bucks have been horrible defensively, with a defensive ranking of 113.0 (points per 100 opponent possessions), next to last in the NBA. (The Lakers are 18th in the league at 107.4.) Good news for Smush (and Jordan Farmar, who found his three-point stroke against the Nets) is that point guards have been tearing up the Bucks. Bye-bye T.J. Ford, bye-bye defense, I guess. Opposing points are shooting 55.4% (eFG%), and over the course of a 48 minutes game are scoring 26 points and dishing out 11 assists.

The good news for the rest of the Lakers is the Bucks are not really defending any position well.

The Redd Rocker. The lone bright spot for the Bucks has been Michael Redd, who continues to prove he is one of the best pure shooters in the game. He carries about 26% of the team’s offense when he is on the floor — basically the same amount as Kobe does for the Lakers — and has a True Shooting Percentage of 59.7%, better than Kobe’s 59% (both are very good numbers, especially considering the offensive load).

And let me say on a personal note — Redd, your national team needs you.

Bringing up an old topic. I’m not sold that there are NBA referee conspiracies, for the same reason I don’t believe in government ones (no aliens at Area 51, no government plan to knock down the World Trade Center Towers) — to believe it ascribes a level of competence to the organization that I don’t think it has. I don’t think the US government is capable of killing JFK, covering up the evidence and keeping it quiet. They can’t do that with the little things for six months, but they can keep a presidential assasination quiet for decades?

The bigger problem for the NBA is that whether the refs are taking orders or not, a lot more people than John. R. think they are — check out this interesting post from Henry at True Hoop. Apparently some players and coaches think there is something to it. And, I think it’s safe to say that the NBA under Stern is more competant than the federal government ever has been, so….

Things to look for. The Lakers should dominate the Bucks on the boards; they are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league. The Bucks grab just 23.4% of their missed shots (next to last in the league, the Lakers are 12th at 28.5%), and they are also next to last in the league in giving up offensive rebounds (opposing teams grab 31.5% of their misses).

The guy who, if he gets hot, could be trouble for the Lakers is guard Maurice Williams. He takes the second most shots on the team but is shooting just 44.5% on the season. So long as he keeps up his season numbers the Lakers have little to worry about, but if he has a hot night the Bucks have a good backcourt.

This is the “easy” game before tough ones against the Clippers and Utah the rest of the week. This is the place good teams get a win. The Lakers need to keep winning these home games before the schedule toughens up.

His Words Were His Legacy

Gatinho —  November 27, 2006

“The first and only “voice” of the Lakers for more than 40 years, Francis “Chick” Hearn taught the game of NBA basketball to Los Angeles while providing his “word’s eye view” for an unprecedented streak of 3,333 games. His style and innovation will influence every basketball announcer and broadcast forever.”
-from the Staples Center plaque in his memory

In honor of Chick’s 90th birthday, Marge Hearn presented two scholarships at last night’s game:

Fran would love something like this,” said Marge, who refers to Chick by his given name, Frances. “He always wanted to help young people learn.” …Marge told a cheering crowd, “[Chick] would have been 90 [Monday], and I will follow in six months. But don’t worry, I’ll be here for the next championship.”

Joel Meyers wanted to put the game “in the fridge” last night, but dripping with deference to the Laker legend, he could only muster that the Lakers could, “put this one away.”

We know Chick is still where he always was, “high above the western sideline” calling this one like all the rest.

Happy Birtday to the greatest ever.

-Gatinho

All That Jazz The Lakers need to bounce back after a tough loss on the road. The Utah game went down to the wire, but the Lakers let Boozer, Okur and Williams get double-doubles. That won’t win you many games. On the positive side, turnovers were at a season low 11, Odom looked aggressive and we saw the return (albeit briefly) of Ronny Turiaf. Kwame seems to be progressing nicely as well. Now if only the Lakers defense hadn’t allowed all those backdoor cutters…

Nothing But Nets Vinsanity’s been having a good year. 51.4% eFG so far, and he’s averaging 28.4 points/40 min. But at 5-7 the Nets aren’t exactly lighting it up. They lost Friday night in Phoenix 99-93. The Nets were down by 22 in that game but fought their way back in. This was due in part to rookie guard Marcus Williams throwing up a season high 27 points. Still, the lesson from Phoenix is that New Jersey isn’t a team that will just roll over on the road.

99 Problems Yet this is a game that the Lakers should win. They out rebound the Nets on the offensive boards 29.8% to 21.6%. On the season, the Lakers have a slight offensive edge while New Jersey has the defensive edge. But the Lakers should be able to push the pace on New Jersey. I don’t expect to see a repeat of the Chicago game. Add in the Staples Center, and the Lakers should take care of business.

Marcus Williams You probably haven’t heard a ton about this guy, but he’s one to watch. Williams has not been consistent this season, and there’s a strong chance he won’t repeat Friday’s performance. (I certainly hope not.) But he’s shown flashes during the season. Don’t expect rookie of the year, but he will be dangerous in a season or two.

Final Thought I feel my turkey haze has lifted. I’m tanned, rested and ready to sit on the couch eating leftovers and watch some ball. Tonight should be a fun one.

Rob L.

Preview and Chat: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  November 24, 2006

How is Utah 11-1? The answer is offense. Right now the Jazz are the best offense in the NBA, racking up 115.2 points per 100 possessions, much better than second place Detroit (111.9) and far ahead of the 10th-ranked Lakers (107.2).

The Jazz are shooting a very nice 52.6% (eFG%) as a team, but more importantly they are grabbing a league-leading 33.6% of their missed shots — they are beasts on the offensive boards. Think about it, one out of three missed shots they get another crack at.

Driving that is the healthy and resurgent Carlos Boozer, who is grabbing 21.6% of available rebounds and combine that with his 78.6% shooting percentage inside and you see why the Lakers need to box out and crash the boards, or they get to watch some easy putbacks. By the way, Boozer is still shooting a decent 43.9% on jumpers.

Bet the over. While the Jazz have been an offensive force, they are 20th in the NBA in defensive efficiency right now, actually worse than the Lakers. Other teams are shooting a pretty average 49.3% against the Jazz, but they are creating few turnovers, and the result is giving up 107.8 points per 100 possessions.

For the record, after a couple games of good defense the Lakers defensive efficiency is at 105.6, 14th in the NBA.

You know who can play defense? UCLA. Have you watched much of them this season? Very aggressive trapping defense that is fun to watch, and is slowing other teams way down and forcing them to use up most of the shot clock every possession. You can see the frustration creep into opponents as the game wears on, leading to unnecessary risks. The Bruins are going to be very good this year.

Maybe he wasn’t a bad pick. The Jazz got laughed at by the mainstream media last year after they passed on Chris Paul to take Deron Williams. Now, Utah is laughing. The guys is running the offense well, shooting 55.4% (eFG%) on jumpers and playing good defense.

Kevin from ClipperBlog, after his team fell to the Jazz, said he was very impressed with how well Williams fits into what coach Jerry Sloan wants to do, much better than Paul would have. For what it’s worth, he also said that you can’t sleep on just how good a coach Sloan is.

Who is this Paul Millsap? What, you didn’t watch a lot of Louisiana Tech hoops last season? Millsap led the NCAA in rebounding last season, grabbing 24.5% of the available defensive boards and 18.1% of his offensive chances. But that was the college level, the WAC no less, you say? So far this season he is grabbing 17.1% of the rebounds when he is on the floor (only Bynum and Kwame have better percentages on the Lakers, and they both have at least 5 inches on the guy). As he should, Millsap has been shooting 70% inside, which means easy putbacks if the Lakers don’t box out (see a theme here?).

Best Name Since Enron Field. This past summer the Jazz made the switch from The Delta Center to the EnergySolutions Arena. The building is now named after a company that disposes nuclear waste.

Things to look for. Can the Lakers keep Deron Williams shooting from deep? He is shooting just 26.7% on threes but fills it up from the mid-range. Good on him, by the way, last year he jacked up a lot of threes but this season he’s stepping inside the line to take a shot he can hit (ahem, Jordan Farmar). Can’t let Williams get open looks in the midrange.

Crash the defensive glass or you are toast, Lakers.

Turnovers by the Lakers will be key — the Jazz are creating turnovers on just 15.7% of opponent possessions, but the Lakers have been coughing it up at a 20.2% clip. If the Lakers give that potent Utah offense a lot of extra shots with turnovers — or by giving up a bunch of offensive rebounds — the Jazz will win handily. Don’t and this should be a close, entertaining game.

I’m out of town until next Tuesday, but you are in the capable hands of Gatinho and Rob until then. Oh, and

GO IRISH!!

Happy Thanksgiving

Kurt —  November 23, 2006

Before I head off to a tryptophan-induced coma and to watch my weekly football pool fall apart, just wanted to wish all of you a happy holiday. I, like you, have a lot to be thankful for (and a first-place Laker team is on that list, albeit fairly far down), you don’t have to look far around the world to see just how fortunate we are. Be thankful for all of it, enjoy the day, and the long weekend.