Archives For December 2006

The Switch

Kurt —  December 7, 2006

At one point during last night’s Laker loss, color commentator Stu Lantz said he didn’t want to see the Lakers playing zone for too long because it sends a message to the team you don’t trust their man-to-man defense. I thought that sounded like a pretty good message to send, especially watching how the Lakers defend the pick-and-roll.

For the last couple Laker games, I have been watching and tracking how the Lakers are dealing with the screen and roll this season — and last night the Hornets won in part by exploiting how the Lakers defend it (or in this case didn’t).

First, the ever so brief refresher: There are really four ways a team can defend a pick-and-roll, and I’ll just steal the descriptions from an amazing article Kevin Pelton did last year for 82games.com:

Switch it – The players defending the ball handler and the picker switch, usually creating a mismatch.

Trap – Both defenders go towards the ball handler and aggressively trap him while the other three defenders zone against the four remaining offensive players.

“Show” or “Hedge” – The player defending the picker briefly steps out into the ball handler’s path, slowing him up enough that the player defending the ball handler has time to recover. Then the player defending the picker recovers to his original man. It’s worth noting that this is how the Spurs usually defend the pick-and-roll.

Go under the pick – Done only against weak shooters, the player defending the picker steps back to allow the player defending the ball handler to go between him and the screen and get to his man. This leaves an open jumpshot for the ball handler.

Occasionally a player can fight through the top of a pick, however if the offensive pair sets a good pick and runs off it well, that doesn’t work.

Last season the Lakers were all about the “show,” it’s what they did 46% of the time and it was quite successful, also last season the Lakers varied how they approached the pick-and-roll more than this season.

Right now the Lakers switch, and do it 65% of the time. My guess is that the Laker coaching staff sees its long and versatile lineup and thinks the team should be able to switch and still be effective much of the time. My observation from the last few games is that how successful teams are in exploiting the resulting mismatch fron the switch goes a long way to how effective their offense is against the Lakers. As I noted the other day, the Pacers at one point in the third quarter ran a pick and ended up with Jordan Farmar covering Jermaine O’Neal in the post, and the Pacers never got the ball inside, instead settling for a jumper.

The Hornets, on the other hand, made great use of the pick to free up the insanely quick Chris Paul. In the first half they put the “high” in “high pick-and-roll,” often running Paul off a pick just a few steps inside the half court line (as opposed to near the three point line, where most teams run it).

Now, Kwame Brown, seeing his man 35 feet from the basket, sagged way off, so Paul would run around the pick and then just take off toward the basket. The defender often tried to go under the pick but it was fairly useless, Paul was too quick and at best the defender was running along side Paul into the lane. Kwame then had to try to pick up the speeding Paul, other Laker “help the helper” rotations were slow and the shorthanded Hornets were living in the paint. (To be fair, the Lakers tried other things as well on Paul and all were unsuccessful.)

One thing the Lakers are doing some this year that they didn’t much before is try to trap the ball handler, taking advantage of the Lakers’ length. They don’t do it much, just a handful of times a game trying to catch a guard unaware. The results have been spotty — it led to some turnovers and easy buckets, but also a couple times (including once against the Hornets) the point guard made the correct pass and it was an easy basket.

Another thing of note, Jordan Farmar tries harder and has more success fighting over the top of the pick than any other Laker, something he does 16% of the time I tracked it. When he does it’s very effective, often leading to a reset (and usually another pick).

The Laker coaching staff is varying how the team defends the screen and roll depending upon the team and situation to a degree, but I think they like the Lakers versatility and think they should be able to switch and still have a reasonable matchup. My sample size for this post is very small (from the last several games), but it is something that needs to be watched as the season goes on, and maybe the strategy adjusted if it isn’t working.

Man, Byron Scott had a sweet stroke. I was inclined not to like Byron Scott when he came to the Lakers because he was traded for personal favorite Norm Nixon (the guy I wanted to model my game after, as much as a fifth grader could in the YMCA league). But Scott could shoot, providing the perfect three-point counterbalance to Kareem, Worthy and Magic getting into the paint. I loved that he played his high school ball a couple blocks from the Forum at Inglewood High. I loved that quick catch-and-shoot jumper (but he could still create his own shot). Man, he was just fun to watch.

Not that I can root for his team to win tonight.

Let’s talk about Bynum. His removal from the Laker starting lineup and Phil Jackson’s comments to the media about his work ethic led to a lot of ink and talk show air time along the lines of “Phil rarely publicly criticizes his players, he must be really frustrated” articles. I’m sure he was a little frustrated; Bynum had a few down games in a row and made some poor offensive and defensive decisions.

But Phil is the master motivator, he goes to the media for the effect. It was a calculated public slap on the wrist because Phil thought that would work better than a private conversation. Nothing more, nothing less. Let’s not read too much into it.

Finally. So you said to yourself, “Kurt, those new NBA stats you use are nice, but why can’t we apply these concepts and equations to things that really matter?” Well, someone finally has: Babemetrics.

Congratulations to Jon from Dodger Thoughts being named to Los Angeles magazine’s list of the most influential people in the city. He’s not sure he deserves it, but I am. For my money, the best blogger in Los Angeles can’t get enough credit.

Whither Kobe? He will be a game-time decision (I’ll update this as soon as I see any word). My personal thought: it’s a long season, don’t rush back for one game and have the problem linger. If Kobe does play, look for a lot of both Rasual Butler and Desmond Mason to cover him (often at the same time). If Kobe sits, Mo Evans will get more minutes.

It’s not just Kobe. The Hornets are banged up too, with three/fifths of their starting lineup out tonight. Try not to be shocked by this: Peja Stojakovic is injured (back spasms). Also out are Bobby Jackson (cracked rib) and forward David West (strained right forearm).

And the injuries don’t help this:
The Hornets are the worst shooting team in the NBA right now, shooting just 45.9% (eFG%) as a team. Chris Paul is the go-to offensive guy but he is shooting just 47.1% on the season.

Then there is the fact Desmond Mason (he of the 39.5% shooting percentage and 7.9 PER) is starting. And guys like Marc Jackson and Rasual Butler (both with PERs under 10) are playing 19 minutes or more a game.

The bright spots. Chris Paul is the focal point and he is good, he’s averaging 19.9 points and 10 assists per 40 minutes (he uses about 25% of the Hornet possessions, and a third of those are assists).

And Tyson Chandler is a beast on the boards — so far this season he is the second best rebounder in the NBA, pulling down 21.3% of the available rebounds (only Dwight Howard is better). He’s not a scoring threat (7.1 points per 40 minutes) but the Lakers need to keep him off the board.

Old School blogging. If you’ve been at this a couple years you’re considered old school, but Hornets 24/7 is still doing well because it’s such a good and smart read.

Things to look for. The Hornets have actually been a good defensive team this season (eighth best defensive rating in the league) but where they have struggled is to stop good power forwards. This is a game Odom can do a lot of damage.

When the Hornets have the ball it’s pretty simple: The Lakers must not let Chris Paul control the game. Defending the point has been a big Laker weakness, and while some of that falls to Smush (and Farmar) we can’t expect anyone to stay in front of the speedy Paul. Rotations inside will be key. Also, make Paul work on the defensive end a little.

Day to Day

Kurt —  December 5, 2006

Kobe’s “moderate” ankle sprain from last night’s solid win over Indiana has him listed as day-to-day — but, then again, aren’t we all? The Lakers should be fine for a game or two without Kobe, and I’m not going to worry unless he misses the game against San Antonio Sunday.

Kwame Brown had his best offensive game of the season, scoring 17 on 8 of 12 shooting, but he grabbed only four boards. Odom was the force on the boards, doing his Magic impersonation by grabbing 13 boards and often taking the ball up the court himself to lead the break.

The Laker defense was solid, holding Indiana to 47% (eFG%) shooting as a team. I loved Phil’s moving of putting Odom on Harrington and letting Walton have the larger but less dangerous Foster. I’d like to see more of that, hiding Walton on D if possible. Also, part of the good Laker defense was Indiana doing a poor job of exploiting their advantages. Case in point, with about six minutes left in the first half the Laker defenders switched on a high pick and roll, leaving Jordan Farmar on Jermaine O’Neal. So what did the Pacers do? They swung the ball around the perimeter for a long jumper they missed.

One other note from the game — this was all about the Laker starters outplaying their counterparts. All the Laker starters were at leat +16, while everyone off the bench was in the negative.

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I think my favorite thing I’ve read in the last few days is from Jones on the NBA — a list of the best international players ever in the NBA. Of course, that list includes Vlade Divac.

Vlade Divac is another one of the O.G. European players to make it big in the NBA. He first made his mark with the Los Angeles Lakers back in the 1989-90 season, replacing Kareem as the teams starting center. During his stint with the Lakers he slowly evolved into one of the top centers in the game and was one of the young Lakers that helped turn around the franchise during the 1994-95 season. Vlade would eventually move on to the Charlotte, after being dealt to the Hornets by the Lakers in exchange for Kobe Bryant

Side Note: How great of a trade was that for the Lakers? Seriously it’s up there with Red Auerbach’s draft day two for one deal that brought him Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

Preview and Chat: The Indiana Pacers

Kurt —  December 4, 2006

What Laker has the best +/- number this season? When you ask what player is most often on the court when the Lakers are doing well, the standard answer is Kobe. But so far the guy leading the way this season is Kwame Brown — the Lakers are +11.7 (per 48 minutes) when he is on the court (Kobe is +0.2 per 48). Kwame’s impact is largely on the defensive end – the Lakers give up 100.9 points per 100 opponent possessions when he is on the floor, which jumps to 108.3 when he is sitting.

Or, look at tit this way, the regular starting four with Bynum at center have outscored their opposing five 53.8% of the time they have been on the floor. Sub Kwame in for Bynum, and that jumps to 71.4%.

In case you wondered why Kwame is in the starting lineup.

Not to sound like Bill Simmons….
The Pacers come in to LA with a 9-9 record, which is the fourth best in the East. Out West, nine teams have above .500 records.

And they come in tired. Check out what the Pacer beat writer for the Indianapolis Star, Mark Montieth, said on his blog about the Pacers for tonight’s game:

They’re playing the sixth and final game of a nine-day trip, so they’re tired. The Lakers, meanwhile, haven’t had to leave town for more than a week. The Lakers (11-5) also happen to be good.

In other words, the Pacers have about as much chance of winning this game as Evan Bayh has of becoming the next president.

Thanks to Henry from True Hoop for finding that.

Good glove, no bat. The Pacers have been playing pretty good defense this season, holding opponents to a defensive rating of 105.7 (points per 100 possessions) and allowing them to shoot just 48.3% (eFG%).

However, their offense is the weak point. They have an offensive rating of 103.2 (points per 100 possessions), 26th in the league. For some comparison, the Lakers are 7th in the league with a rating of 110.2. What is holding the Pacers back? Well, they shoot just 47.6% (eFG%) as a team, but to make up for that they turn the ball over on 18.8% of their possessions (28th in the league, tied with the Lakers, but at least the Lakers shoot 52.1%). As we well know, turnovers on offense can also lead to easy baskets for the other team and a tough night defensively.

Jermaine O’Neal is good. So far this season he has been by far the best thing on the Pacers, with a PER of 20.52. But his shooting has not been special (just 51.6% true shooting percentage), what he is doing well is passing out of the double teams he gets (13% of his possessions end in an assist, third best percentage on the team) and he is rebounding well, grabbing 15.5% of the available boards (or 11.1 per 40 minutes).

But maybe the biggest sign of his impact is +/-, the Pacers are +14.0 per 48 minutes when he is on the court. However, two other starters, point Jamaal Tinsley and forward Al Harrington (both who have above average PERs of higher than 16) have some of the worst +/- numbers among starters in the league at -9.2 (Tinsley) and -8.3 (Harrington). Think about that for a second, they get to play a fair amount of their minutes with the strong +/- of O’Neal, so all that drop off has to come in the limited time he sits and they play.

Stephen Jackson can’t shoot. He’s hitting just 40.4% (eFG%) of his attempts, but is still taking 19.2% of his teams shot attempts when on the floor (almost one in five shots). That will slow a team’s offense. That said, this stat is just here so I could write that kicker.

Things to look for. Two teams that are near the top of the league in turnovers, so if one of them could curb that habit for a night they’d have a big advantage.

If you just look at the numbers, you’ll see the Pacers playing at the fourth fastest tempo in the league right now. But that is a little misleading: The three fastest teams (Denver, Phoenix and Golden State) are way out in front of everyone else, then from the Pacers at four to the Wizards at 12th fastest, every team is within one possession a game of each other. The Lakers are in that group.

I haven’t seen the Pacers play yet this season, but just looking at the numbers you would think if the Lakers can come out and play good defense (like against the Clippers the other night, although the Clips helped us there) they should get the win. The Lakers other strength, the deep bench, also could be an advantage as the Pacers lack depth.

The Pacers have won just one game against the Lakers in LA since 1992. They are tired and at the end of a long road trip. It’s a game the Lakers SHOULD win, which has me worried because the last one of these games was against Milwaukee and we all remember that disaster.

Updated note: great thought from Kwame a. in the comments, so I moved it up:

I will be looking at our perimeter defense, especially Walton on Harrington and Kobe on Jackson. Teams with two wings who can attack have hurt us (Seattle w/Allen and Lewis, Det w/Rip and Prince). This is good preparation for teams like S.A. and Dallas, who have multiple perimeter options. Hopefully we can rotate and recover, limit the number of open looks and keep our bigs out of foul trouble

Slowing Kobe. All eyes will be on Bryant after his version of “The Closer” on TNT Thursday. And remember, the last time he faced the Clippers Kobe put up 20 in the first quarter. The Clippers in that game, and likely tonight, went with Quinton Ross on Kobe, the Lakers countered by posting Kobe up so he could use his size and strength. Tonight I expect Ross to get a lot of help in his job.

Little help here. Last meeting, Kobe shot 54.5% (eFG%), the rest of the team shot just 37.1%. Kobe is going to need some help tonight.

Kwame starts.
In the wake of Kobe’s explosion I’ve neglected to mention the change in the starting lineup, with Kwame in and Bynum out. It seems warranted to me, Kwame has been pretty consistent while Bynum has been up and down, and more down the last week or so. I expect Phil will go with the hot hand in crunch time each game.

Slowing the Clipper stars. In the last meeting both Elton Brand and Corey Maggette finished with 20 points, but combined they shot just 45.5%, not terribly efficient. With Chris Kaman out tonight Kwame and Bynum should be able to help more on Brand, hopefully slowing him some.

Out of their slump. You know how sometimes you see slumping teams start to execute better even as they lose another game or two at the end of a streak? The Clippers did that against Sacramento two games ago, at least according to Kevin at Clipperblog — Los Angeles ran its offense and got the shots it wanted, they just missed them. They missed 68 of them. In one game. That’s pretty much the definition of an off shooting night.

But against Memphis the shots started to fall again and the Clips picked up an impressive win coming into the Laker game.

Things to look for. The Lakers had a lot of success in that first meeting with a high pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop, look to see more of it.

Sam Cassell had his way with Smush in the first meeting, although the Clippers went away from that match up late. The Lakers as a team are going to have to do a better job on him. Also, Shaun Livingston has had a couple good games in a row, if he continues he should get big minutes (and the Lakers might counter with Sasha).

The Lakers likely will see some zone defense. Get the ball inside, either by a pass or Kobe penetrating off the dribble, and the zone will break down.