Archives For November 2006

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 82games.com (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.

I suppose we should start with Kobe: He wasn’t the explosive Kobe that strikes fear into the hearts of mere mortals. There was certainly some rust. It appeared as if he looked to pass first and shoot second, feeling his way into the offense.

All that said, Kobe did a good job of blending in to a team that has been playing well, taking the ball to the hole when the opportunity presented itself and setting guys up other times. He finished solid stat line: 23 points on 8 of 15, a team best six assists and a +8 for the night.

The best news is Kobe practiced Saturday (although sat out a scrimmage) and his knee responded well.

Defense? Friday night certainly wasn’t the best four quarters of defense the Lakers have played, but they held the Sonics to 39% shooting in both the first and fourth quarters, and that was enough.

While he racked up 30 points, the Lakers actually did a decent job of keeping Ray Allen from being efficient in getting them — for the game Allen shot 47.9% (eFG%). The Lakers did a particularly good job in the fourth quarter, when Allen went 0-6 from the floor. Lamar and Kobe split time on him in the fourth, and both did well.

However, no Laker gave Rashard Lewis much trouble as he shot 57.1%.

Feed Me! Among the things I want to see more of in the second game of the home-and-home is the Lakers getting the ball inside to the post. The Sonics, like the Lakers, were down to their third string center but they finished with six more points in the paint than LA.

Particularly, get the ball more to Bynum on the block. When they did, Bynum made some nice plays and some crisp passes, but he didn’t get as many opportunities as the first two games. They need to feed the big man, and preferably early.

Things I don’t want to see again: One of the great things about all the depth on the Lakers is the coaches are playing around with lineup combos. They should, and they should take notes.

In the middle of the second quarter, the Lakers went with a lineup of Farmar at the one, Evans and Kobe at the two/three, Radman at the four and Cook at the five. Ugliness ensued. Farmar had trouble staying in front of Earl Watson (all the Lakers did) but the combo of Cook and RadMan along the baseline were slow to rotate and provided no shot blocking threat. That’s when the Sonics went on their run. Chris Wilcox and Damien Wilkins had some of their best play of the night. I’m sure the coaches made note.

By the way, while Farmar had his off moments he also had one play in the fourth quarter where got slowed by a Wilcox pick but recovered, caught up with Ridnour and blocked his shot. You remember Smush ever doing that (not to mention Atkins)? That hustle shows why he’ll be getting more minutes down the line.

Sonics that impressed: Damien Wilkins played well, 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting, and was +13 (best on the Sonics). Also I thought Earl Watson gave the Sonics a boost off the bench.