Archives For November 2006

Getting The Point

Kurt —  November 13, 2006

Kobe moved to the initiator spot out on top of the triangle Sunday night, Odom moved onto the block and the triangle returned to shape against Memphis. I remember someone floating this idea in the comments a week or two ago (I couldn’t find it), and I balked because I am among those who instinctively wanted Kobe in the Jordan role and Odom as Pippen. It just made sense to me.

Now maybe it’s time for that experiment to end, or at least take a hiatus — Odom is not Scottie Pippen. What Odom brings is versatility. He’s a beast down low, and if other coach takes that away by throwing someone big on him you just get Odom the ball on the wing and let him drive. He can do a lot of things, but is clearly more comfortable getting the ball closer to the basket than creating his own shot starting out by the three-point line.

Remember, Kobe was the initiator out top of the triangle during the Shaq era, and while different parts of the offense are emphasized now he still knows how to run it and to get his shots. He drove the lane a few times, other times moved through the offense and got the ball in an attack position on the wing and scored that way.

Another thing I saw was how much better the rebounding looked — Kobe grabbed 6 boards (he had averaged 3.6 per game) and several times pushed the ball all the way up on the break ala Magic. Odom had 16 boards, well above his 7.6 average.

Part of how well things went is that Memphis, sans Gasol, is a good match up for the Lakers. But with four days off, the Lakers have time to practice and get used to Kobe out top more. The Lakers can still switch things up — have Smush or Odom set the table at times, depending on matchups.

But Kobe out top was a stabilizing influence out top, and consistency at that spot is something the Lakers have lacked. With Kobe out top we should see much more of it.

About that last game. This was one of those games that last season Kobe would have just taken over, scored 50 and at least kept it close. Right now, he is not capable of doing that. Again Odom made a couple nice plays to start the game then faded (and again had a tough defensive match up). Between the top two options, midway through the third quarter they didn’t have 10 points combined.

It spiraled after the Lakers got behind – needing the scoring and someone to shoot over the zone Brian Cook got a lot of court time, some at the center spot, while Turiaf sat, so the team defense got worse. Cook finished -17. The only guys who had a decent game were Farmar and Evans. It’s best we just try to forget about this game.

Living in the Twilight Zone. The Lakers looked like Team USA in Japan when the Pistons went into a zone defense. That is to say, completely confused. As the NBA is a copycat league, the Lakers can expect to see a lot of zone until they prove they can beat it.

The triangle has formations that beat the zone – either by overloading a side while keeping spacing or using someone like Kobe or Lamar to beat their man and penetrate from the wing, making others to cover and creating inside-out and interior passing lanes. If someone knocks down shots from the midrange and three it helps. The Lakers didn’t really do any of that against the Pistons.

Hold on to the ball. The good news is 17.8% of Laker possessions end in an assist, but the worse news is 20.4% end in a turnover. That’s way too high and is the fourth-highest rate in the NBA. They need to limit those and that starts with Kobe – 18% of the possessions he uses have ended in a turnover.

So much for that big deadline trade. Chris Mihm is going under the knife to fix that bad ankle and is out for the season. I hope he recovers, he’s a good player who was one of the better Lakers last season. This hurts the Laker depth and means the idea of a midseason trade is highly unlikely now. Also, I’d be surprised if the Lakers cut him and eat the $4.2 mil.

What about the Grizzlies? I saw Rudy Gay at the Summer Pro League and I think Jerry West made the right move on draft day – this guy is a future force in this league. Combine that with Hakim Warrick and Stromile Swift and you have a very athletic team.

They’d be more of a threat with Pau Gasol in the starting lineup, but he remains out from the injury he got in the World Championships this summer.

The Griz are a very young team that hasn’t found its way on the offensive end yet – as a team they are averaging 100.6 points per 100 possessions (that is 9.4 fewer than the Lakers). Their leading scorer is the guy in front of Gay – Mike Miller, who is shooting 50.9% (eFG%) and 44.4% from beyond the arc, plus the Griz are +17.4 per 48 minutes when he is on the court. Warrick also has also been a force, shooting 51.1%. The also have athletic guys like Eddie Jones and Damon Stoudamire in the starting lineup.

Things to look for. With Gasol out, Bynum can have a big night matched up on Jake Tsakalidis, a guy shooting just 30% on the season and allowing opposing centers to shoot 44% and with a PER of 20.9. Memphis also likes to go small with their athletic players (although they don’t push the ball much, preferring the half court), Bynum should be able to be a force inside. (Kwame too, if he plays, it’s a gametime call.)

And if Memphis goes small, Odom should be able to post up some as well and get points.

Former Laker Chucky Atkins is the backup point for Memphis and this should be a good test for Farmar – Atkins can fill it up (and has used a lot of shots on the second team despite shooting just 41% on the season) but is not much of a defensive guy. Well, that’s being kind, Farmar and Smush need to be given the green light to penetrate when Atkins is on the court.

Final thought: The Lakers are 4-3, which if they continue on this pace would be 12-8 through the first 20. That would worry me; the Lakers are in the soft part of their schedule and need to get 14 wins or more in that span. This is a game the Lakers should win.

Preview & Chat: The Detroit Pistons

Kurt —  November 10, 2006

Bet the Over. It’s early, so let’s not read a lot into this, but right now the Lakers are second in the league in offensive efficiency at 108 (points per 100 possessions), while Detroit is fifth (105.2). And neither team is playing great defense.

What’s the Under/Over on Ts? Four games in, Rasheed Wallace has four technicals, and while other vets are getting some slack on the new “no sass” rule Wallace seems to be on the short leash. Which led to Natalie from Need4Sheed’s brilliant idea of an online petition to David Stern. Not that it’s going to work, but it is a classic idea.

Aren’t the Pistons a defensive force? Well, two seasons ago they were a force and last season, even with a more offensive minded coach, still finished fifth in the league in defensive efficiency. But so far this season they are 1.5 points per 100 possessions worse, which drops them to 14th overall.

The reason, well Chauncey Billups told ESPN that out of habit they are still funneling guys into the paint where Ben Wallace used to be waiting. Nazr Mohammed is nice but no Ben Wallace defensively.

Spread offense.
I caught the end of the Pistons game against Sacramento Wednesday night (after the Laker game ended), but by the time I tuned in the Pistons were down double digits, Mohammed was out because they were trying to come from behind so they put the shooters on the floor, and they really spread the floor and tried to drive and dish. It was isolation basketball.

One thing the ESPN guys said Flip Saunders told them: Detroit goes as Rasheed Wallace goes. Which may be why they are off to a slow start: He is shooting just 45.4% for the season. His line against the Kings two nights ago: 0 points and 15 boards. Apparently he was doing his Ben Wallace impersonation.

Getting Odom involved.
After a couple of passive games from Lamar Odom, theories are flying around, but Kwame a. made a great point in the comments:

Take a look at where Odom is receiving the ball, in the first 3 games he was moved all over the court, and got some post-touches, free-throw extended and the perimeter. The last two games he’s been stuck behind the three point-line, and that’s just stupid, he’s not a spot-up shooter, he needs to be closer to the hoop and have the ball more, this will allow him to create for others and score, otherwise, expect games like last nite from LO.

In today’s LA Times Odom himself echoes that same thought.

“Try to catch the ball closer to the basket, not rely on the three,” he said. “Get back to the free-throw line. I haven’t been to the free-throw line the last couple of games. I just need to concentrate on driving the ball a little bit more.”

Something to look for early.

Keep passing the ball. So far this season 17.8% of Laker possessions involve an assist, the third highest percentage in the league. They are moving the ball around, or at least are doing so when they play well.

Things to look for.
The Lakers may catch a break as Rip Hamilton is questionable for tonight. If he can’t go that means more Flip Murray, who is shooting 55% (eFG%) on the season and 45% from beyond the arc.

The Lakers have a couple of tough matchups for the Lakers here, with Rasheed at the four and Prince at the three. Luke Walton is going to get one of them and have to play some of his best defense of the season. The other is Smush (and Farmar) on Billups — he’s shooting just 40.7% (eFG%) on the season but is getting into the paint and getting to the line a fair amount.

The Lakers get Kwame Brown back, which should be good for the Lakers and Bynum. In the Orange County Register yesterday, Laker coaches were quoted as saying they think Bynum fades after six or seven minutes of game time, that is conditioning is not where it needs to be. This gives the Lakers more depth.

Bynum goes up against Nazr Mohammed in an interesting matchup. Both have had surprisingly good offensive seasons so far (Mohammed has a PER of 23.6, Bynum 24.7) but Bynum’s defense has been much better. This could be a good night for him.

Watch out for Jason Maxiell of the bench, he has a PER of 19.8 so far this season and the Pistons are +5 (per 48) when he is on the floor

Thank You

Kurt —  November 10, 2006

Today is the two-year anniversary of Forum Blue & Gold, and I just wanted to quickly say thank you to all of you who have made this place a regular stop.

The comments that came in last night are a perfect example of why I’m proud of what this little blog has become. In case you missed it, John R. made a comment and threw in some stats about the Lakers getting favoritism from the refs. What followed was an interesting discussion, with both Derek Banducci and Rob using statistics they keep to bolster their arguments. It’s well worth the read (and maybe it’s own post next week).

It’s those comments — and many more like then from many more commenters — that make this so enjoyable for me. Smart discussions take place and I learn new things and alter my views from what I learn from the people who stop by. That’s more than I ever expected. And many new doors have been opened for me. The site has grown from that first day when I had 21 visitors (thanks Mom), now more than 230,000 have stopped by. But even with hundreds and hundreds coming by every day now, the site has retained its intimate feel (as intimate as one gets on the Web). And, most importantly, the discussion has remained sharp.

So thanks. And keep coming by, this is shaping up to be a very fun season.

Did I Just Say That?

Kurt —  November 9, 2006

The Lakers have a lot of young talent to play in the paint — Turiaf and Bynum lead the way — but they need to be more consistent.

We’re counting on Kwame Brown to bring that steadiness.

Wow. Never thought I’d type that.

Bynum’s Big Test. What a game from Andrew Bynum last night, obviously his best as a Laker — 20 points with a true shooting percentage of 74.6%, pulls down 14 boards, blocked three (changed many more) and is a team-best +14 on the night. He anticipated well on the defensive end and controlled the boards. It was a breakout-type game, I could spend the rest of this preview on superlatives.

But the biggest challenge for Bynum has been conditioning and focus game in and game out —he needs to be ready to go tonight.

A couple nights ago I caught a chunk of the Portland game against the Clippers (mostly the part where the Trailblazers went to a zone that confused the Clips for a while). The front-line combo of Jamal Magloire and Zach Randolph are a force inside. Randolph really impressed me, in the past he has not been able to put his entire offensive game together (a career 46.8% eFG% shooter) but this season he seems to have put it together (51.4% on the season), is just lightning quick off the block and is showing a hustle off the ball that I don’t remember. While he is the four and Bynum may be assigned Magloire, he is going to help out on Randolph or he will put up another 35, like he did on the stout Clipper front line.

Other Trailblazers who impressed.
Brandon Roy just looks professional, like a veteran. The Lakers catch a break however as he is not going to play due to a foot problem. Jarret Jack will take is place and looked very quick, which could be trouble if our guards don’t stay in front of him. Travis Outlaw seems to be doing everything (and the team is +30. points better per 48 minutes better when he is on the floor).

This is a very athletic team now, who could be very good in a couple of years.

Is Tex right? Was it just me, or did Odom just seem more aggressive when Kobe was resting? Odom started slow, 0-4 in the first quarter. But some of that was just missed open looks, by the end he has warmed up and was 3 of 3 in the fourth quarter. Now, in Odom’s defense, he had the assignment to guard KG all night and that needed to be his focus, but still he just looks tentative when Kobe is out there.

And it’s not just him, when the T-Wolves made their fourth-quarter run it was in part because the Laker offense stopped moving and became Kobe (or Odom or Smush) trying to beat a guy one-on-one with few cutters or other semblance of an offense. It works, they need to run the thing

Kwame nearly ready. Kwame Brown is expected to be cleared to play Friday night against Detroit. I’d wait a couple games to start him, bring him in behind Bynum for a while, until he proves he’s really ready.

Blazers bloggers rock. Portland, in my mind, has the best team of bloggers out there (with the Celtics a close second). Blazer’s Edge is one of the best in the biz (well, biz implies he gets paid, but you know what I mean). The Oregonian’s blog changed writers but still has more info than 99% of the other blogs on the planet. Blazers Blog is very solid, and the Rose Garden Blog is also a quality read. And they also have the “King of all NBA bloggers” Henry of True Hoop. If the Blazer team ever catches up the quality of their bloggers, watch out.

Give the man a blog. I’m a little late to this party, and it’s off topic, but let me throw this out there — Kelly Dwyer should have a blog. See, this is where mainstream media editors just seem to miss the boat, they have Dwyer writing (well done) features and standard fare stuff, but when he just rants, as he has done in two emails to Henry at True Hoop, the stuff is gold. KD is witty and knows his hoops. Editors, let your talent breathe, give it room to do what it does best. That’s how you drive original traffic to your site, not rehashing what I can read elsewhere.

Things to look for tonight. First, even when the Trailblazers sucked the Lakers struggled in the Rose Garden. The Blazers have won just 41% of their home games overall the last two seasons, but have taken three of four from the Lakers. This is not a gimme win.

The Lakers need to push Randolph away from the basket — he’s got a jumper but it’s not nearly as good as when he’s in close and can use his quickness in the post. He’s shooting 61% in close but just 38.3% on jumpers. Easier said than done, but it’s a goal. Use Odom, Turiaf, Bynum, whoever it takes but keep this guy off the boards.

The Laker guards have got to stay in front of Jack, if he gets into the lane, forcing bigs to rotate off their men, things will really open up for the Blazers. Smush and Farmar have to play their best defensive games in a while.

Second game in two nights, the Lakers need to move the ball and themselves in the offense. If they get slow, if it becomes isolation rather than crisp passing, it could be a long night. These aren’t the Blazers of three years ago, these guys can play.

Don’t Even Start. Yes the Timberwolves are in town but nobody should be mentioning a trade of that guy to this team. Not going to happen this season, probably a 1% chance it would ever happen. So stop it. Just stop it. Live in the moment.

Sit Kobe? You need to check out the latest conversation between Tex Winter and Roland Lazenby:

Will Odom defer to Bryant as he has in seasons past?

That’s a concern to the Lakers, said Winter. “After all, there is only one ball. Odom might defer. The whole team might.”

Chief among those concerned is Bryant himself.

“It’s not Kobe’s fault,” Winter said, adding that Bryant keeps encouraging Odom to be aggressive, to emerge as his own man.

Odom averaged 28 points over the first three games of this season, including one game in which Bryant returned to the lineup after a long layoff following knee surgery.

But in the fourth game, Odom and the rest of the team reverted to old form and deferred to Bryant, Winter said. Not surprisingly, the Lakers suffered their first loss of the season against Seattle.

Can we stop Mike James? New year but there has not been a dramatic change here – opposing point guards have been the position giving the Lakers the most trouble. Just four games in but the opponent PER is 21.7 (basically Tony Parker level numbers). In part that is guys out top not being able to stay in front of their man — both Farmar and Smush at different times — part bad rotations behind them.

But it’s too early to hit the panic button on the Laker defense — while the numbers are not good it’s just four games, and three of them against some of the best offenses in the league.

As for Mike James, I asked Tom from Sactown Royalty how he looked last night against the Kings and he said James is clearly still struggling to fit into a system with KG and Ricky. So the Lakers have a chance to look good defending the point tonight.

Keep either Kobe or Lamar on the floor. Last season Phil would never go without either of them on the court, the fact he tried it in the second Sonics game says something about the depth he sees, but still…

Along those same lines — once again in the second game against Seattle the Lakers went with a front line for a stretch of Cook and Radmanovic, (with Evans, Smush and Walton) and once again they got burned with a -11 in just a few minutes of play. However, those two were again the front line (with Kobe, Sasha and Farmar) when the Lakers make the meaningless little run in the fourth. Still, I’d prefer that either Bynum or Turiaf be on the floor at all times.

Don’t Watch the Game Until You Vote. I don’t care who you vote for (well, that’s not totally true, I care but I’m not about to tell you that you should think like me), but vote. It matters.

I Love Turiaf. I do all but profess such in my latest at LAist.

Speaking of second round steals. Meet Craig Smith, the second round T-Wolves pick out of Boston College that is already playing nearly 17 minutes a game (way more than the heralded Randy Foye). Smith, playing the four, is shooting 61.5% on the season and has a PER of 20.3, second best on Minnesota so far this young season. He’s averaging 26.9 and 7.3 rebounds per 40 minutes. I guess he’s not too small for the next level.

Don’t forget that KG guy.
Garnett has started the season with, well, Garnett like numbers. True Shooting percentage of 70.8% (crazy, crazy good), he’s averaging 24.7 points and 12.8 rebounds per 40 minuets and has a PER of 30.7.

How do you stop him? Well, no one does. But you’re better off if you can keep him away from the basket. Also, he prefers the left block to the right (this season he’s shooting 63.6% from the right block, 40% from the left), so try to force him to his weaker side. And good luck with that.

Things to Look For. Minnesota is playing well, so the Lakers need to step it up. The Lakers need to get the movement back in the offense that was there for the three wins and missing in the loss. They need to rotate better on defense and do what they cannot to let KG dominate the game himself.

And run — the Wolves are in the second game of a back-to-back, having played last night in Sacramento. This is one the rested Lakers need to get.

Tall Ball

Kurt —  November 6, 2006

Small ball — or, trying to emulate the success of the Dallas Mavericks circa 2004 or the Phoenix Suns now — is clearly all the rage in the NBA, with teams from Golden State to New York giving it a shot in various forms.

But a few teams — several that have looked successful so far — are going with some counter programming to the trend. The Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers back east, and the Lakers, Jazz and Clippers are having success so far with “tall ball.”

First, let’s define “small ball,” which is not as easy as it sounds. I would characterize it as going with a quick, athletic but not as tall lineup in an attempt to speed up the tempo of the game and take advantage of the current way the game is being called on the perimeter, with every touch a foul (and a foul for anyone within 18 inches of Dwayne Wade). Phoenix is the poster child — their starting center is 6-9 Kurt Thomas (Amare, when he’s full back, will up that to 6-10).

Let’s compare that to the other front-lines having early success. The Lakers have 7-1 Andrew Bynum (to be replaced when healthy by 7-0 Kwame Brown), 6-10 Lamar Odom and 6-9 Luke Walton (who could someday give way to 6-10 Vladimir Radmanovic). Then there are the 6-6 and 6-4 starting guard combo of Kobe and Smush. The Lakers are off to a 3-1 start because they took advantage of their height and got 40% of their shots close to the basket according to (a very high percentage, and many of the shots classified as jumpers are inside 10 feet).

Now, you can argue (and some have) that the Lakers don’t really represent tall ball because Odom is a classic 3-4 combo forward and Radmanovic (and Walton) are perimeter players. But I would counter that while not a classic station-to-station NBA team, the Lakers are working to be both tall and athletic take advantage of the way the game is being called.

Regular commenter JonesontheNBA made a good comment about Phil liking to go tall:

The Bulls last three peat and the Lakers first championship under PJ had a similar line up with all 6′7″ and up guys in their starting lineup. With playmaker such as Kobe, Lamar, and Walton all on the floor together, I could see that being a successful lineup. The question is how well that lineup could defend the pick and roll…

Look at some of the other teams having early success. Utah is 3-0 with a big front line of 6-9 Andrei Kirilenko at the three, powerful 6-9 Boozer at the four and 6-11 Mehmet Okur at the five. I think we all know the Clippers may have the best classic front line in the NBA, with Kaman (7-0) and Brand (6-10), plus they are starting 6-6 Livingston out at the point.

Look at the two trendy picks in the east: Chicago starts 6-9 Loul Deng at the three, 6-11 P.J. Brown at the four and I-don’t-care-what-he’s-listed-as Ben Wallace at the five; Cleveland gives you 6-8 LeBron, 6-10 Drew Gooden and 7-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Can the length of the big teams clog up the lane for the smaller teams? The Lakers were able to do it to the Suns on opening night, even without Kobe.

But, it also depends on talent — you look smart going small when you can have Steve Nash dishing to Marion and Diaw and Stoudemire. You can go small if you’ve got the horses, if not you look, well….. like this.

It’s too early in the season to start saying, “The bigs are beating the smalls” or visa versa. But apparently some favorites are betting that big and talented will beat small and talented at the end of the day.