Life Without Kwame

Kurt —  January 3, 2007

Coming into Sacramento on Thursday, the new Laker starting five (Smush, Kobe, Walton, Cook and Bynum) have played a total of 16 minutes together this season, over four different shifts. The results: They scored 31 points shooting just 46.3% (eFG%); they gave up 38 points and let opponents shoot 57.4%; the lineup took 70% of its shots as jump shots but let opponents get 44% of their shots in close to the basket; they were outscored in three of the four stints.

Sobering.

Of course, that is just 16 minutes of time. More importantly, what will be the biggest factor for the next couple weeks is which Andrew Bynum the Lakers get on any given night. When Drew had the starting job the first weeks of the season he had very good games (Chicago) and games he didn’t seem to be on the court (Toronto). He played like a 19-year-old, motivated and focused some nights and daydreaming the next.

Both Kwame and Bynum have played good defense — the Lakers have a defensive rating of 104.7 (points per 100 opponent possessions) when Bynum is on the floor and 105.4 when Kwame is playing (both better than the overall Laker team average). Bynum is grabbing 17.6% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor, Kwame 14.6%. Bynum’s length helps him grab those boards.

But two things are different when Kwame is on the court compared to Bynum, one measurable, one an observation.

First, when Kwame is playing the Laker offense has been better, to the tune of 5.2 points per 100 possessions. Or, look at it this way: When the regular five starters (Smush, Kobe, Walton and Odom) are paired with Bynum they outscore opponents by 1.1 points per 48 minutes, but put Brown in with them and its 4.5 points. It’s not shooting; their shooting percentages are almost identical (55.9 for Drew, 56.1 for UPS). The difference is in how the offense seems to flow with them — Kwame has about 16.8% of his possessions end in an assist while 15.7% end in a turnover, but for Bynum it is 12.6% assists and 18% turnovers. It’s not a lot, about one more turnover per game, but it’s a sign of what happens.

The observation is that Kwame has become fairly consistent. He still has bad games (see Charlotte) but those are fewer and father between. Bynum is a 19-year-old roller coaster who seems to get up for the challenges but can slack off in games where he doesn’t see that challenge.

One other thing we can’t overlook is that Brown’s injury will mean more time for Ronny Turiaf — when he was paired with the regular starting four they outscored opponents by an average of 44 points per 48 minutes. Turiaf makes some young mistakes as well, but the energy he brings is infectious and the second unit should thrive with him in there playing more minutes.

Hopefully the time on the bench and the chance to prove himself again will spark Bynum and keep that fire lit for a couple of weeks. We need it, because two weeks without two starters — and a few tough games — is going to be a very challenging stretch.

Kurt

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16 responses to Life Without Kwame

  1. I, unlike some Laker fans seemingly, am not ready to jump off a bridge. I’m looking forward to seeing what the team comes up with while two of our bigs are sidelined.

    I am preparing myself for seeing some losses, though. Not necessarily because I don’t think the team can hang, but rather because after watching Phil coach this team over the years, I expect him to use this time as an opportunity to experiment with lineups.

  2. I’m not jumping off a cliff, but without both Kwame and Odom I’ll stake a .500 record until they get back.

  3. I think the team should start Turiaf, this would really light a fire under Andrew, who still looks like he feels he deserves everything. Also, Turiaf is a better fit with the starters, and Andrew would be able to continue to anchor the low post scoring with the second unit. Turiaf fits much better with a lineup that usually sees Kobe take the majority of possessions, this lets Ronny crash boards and hit 10 ft jumpers. Either way, I dont want to see any Brian Cook at the 5, any, period, please no

  4. This entire month is going to be an experiment. I don’t think Phil needs to add any motivational/observational changes into the mix.

    If we can get a smooth running team and stay at or above .500 this could be a fantastic boost to the team’s confidence.

    Unfortunately, individual player ‘ups and downs’ are likely to cost us games now. Time to act like this is the playoffs.

  5. Overall, here is my feeling on this team as we look ahead. We are good, but no way in hell are we going to crack the top four in the playoff seeding. This is not our fault, but a testament to the brilliance of the the top 3 teams in the west (PHX, SAS, DAL). So, we are in a dogfight for that 5th seed . Teams we are battiling include the Nuggets, Jazz (winner between Jazz and Nuggets take the division & the 4th seed), Rockets, Kings, & Warriors. We must win these head-to-head battles with these teams. A 5th seed could at least get us to the 2nd round. The 2nd Round, who knows what happens with the best player in the game and a core group of talented players. As long as we don’t lose too many games this month, I like our chances to get that seed. We have proven that we are a team that can beat quality teams. We’ll get healthy, but it might take us till the All-Star break. Whatever the case, we are a fun, promising group to watch that should get better as the days progress.

  6. Looking through the stats, individually Bynum seems better than Brown in many ways. His PER is higher, Opponent PER lower (by a lot), field goal percentages better on both sides, blocks are better, rebounding is a better ratio. These are the individual stats, center v center, and by these measures, replacing Brown with Bynum would be an upgrade.

    Team-wise, however, that’s less true. As you noted, the Lakers are significantly better on offense with Brown, despite the fact that he is a weaker offensive player than Bynum, because:

    1) they get 6.1% more offensive rebounds with Brown out there;
    2) all 4 regulars get fewer free throw attempts with Bynum out there, by a large margin with Kobe especially (11.0 to 5.3) and by a lot with Odom as well (6.6 to 4.2). Overall, the Lakers are +6 in net fouls with Brown out there, and dead even with Bynum out there.

    I suspect those two facts are related, and that because Bynum has more offensive skills, the Lakers go to him more than Brown, which means the rest of the team is driving to the basket less, resulting both in fewer fouls as well as fewer people near the basket to get an offensive rebound. In short, the challenge for the Lakers is to make sure Bynum doesn’t become too much the offensive focus, which would be a surprising problem to say the least with a 19-year-old.

    One other huge factor is turnovers. When Bynum’s on the floor, the Lakers get four fewer turnovers than when Brown’s on the floor. Some of that is Brown v Bynum directly, but a good part of that is obviously the rest of the team. It’s likely that shows up in the overall stats as much if not more in the offensive end than defensively, since turnovers lead to easier buckets.

  7. I think that for the Lakers to be successful over these next few weeks without Kwame and Lamar, Kobe is going to have to be the Kobe of last year. As much as we all love how well Kobe is playing within the offense this year and how he has really changed into a different type of dominant player, we are going to need him to average over 30 until we’re back at full strength. When we are at full strength, we are at the level where we can overpower the other team with our depth and execution in the triangle. Without Lamar and Kwame, its gonna have to be the KB24 show for a little bit. Of course Kobe can still play like he is and we can be okay with hovering aroung .500 for a while and be happy, but thats not enough in LakerLand. We want to win 2/3 of our games (at least) even without Kwame and Lamar. Now is Kobes time to emerge as an MVP candidate!

  8. So now we have the third major incarnation of the Lakers this season. The upside, Phil and the coaching staff are going to know how the different line ups play. This could be nice in the playoffs (assuming the Lakers get there) as it would make coaching adjustments during a series less of a guessing game. Also, one of the reasons the team has weathered injuries during this season is the team execution of the triangle. (Maybe Tex would disagree.) While the Lakers may not be winning a ton of games with major players out, they’re sticking to 500 ball. That doesn’t seem great, but it’s an accomplishment. I’d hate to see the team back off that now for the sake of a game here or there. Now I’m not talking about Kobe taking over a game for a stretch of minutes. That’s why you have a guy like that. He can turn it on when the offense isn’t clicking. But the focus should be running the offense. Next time you watch a game, see if the team is sticking to the 2 second rule. When you have the ball on offense, make the pass or make your move within 2 seconds. If the team is generally in that zone, I guarantee it’s during a stretch the Lakers are playing well. If not, grab another beer.

  9. very good point with the 2 second rule. when we move the ball around quickly i see a lot of open shots. when people (including kobe) start dribbling too much, the triangle can turn pretty ugly and so can the look on phils face

  10. For the record, I may have another beer whether or not they are following the 2 second rule. Or winning or not.

  11. …or playing or not.

  12. I guess we all want to jump into the “let kobe take over” bandwagon while lamar and kwame are out, but this is the time to “run the offense” as well as for other players to “step up”. Guys like Andrew, Vlade, Evans, and Farmar have a chance to play major minutes and roles while the two are out. For Kobe, this will be the “real” test if he is willing to stick to the offense and get everyone involved.

    On a related subject, what about trading or signing a veteran big man while Kwame and Lamar are out. I don’t know who is available in the FA market, but we could trade Chris Mihm’s expiring contract (since he won’t be playing this season). I’m sure there are teams willing to take an expiring contract and are looking to unload someone without taking a roster spot back. If Mihm is healthy, then the team can re-sign him after this season.

  13. I think the Lakers are definitely thinking about the possibility of another big man to carry some of the load while Kwame and Lamar recover, but I don’t see them doing anything just yet.

  14. Laker brass told the LA Times they were going to see how things played out then decide if they needed help at the five how to get it, a trade or a 10-day free agent contract. I would hope it is just a short contract, the Lakers don’t need to have another big on the roster full time.

  15. chris henderson January 4, 2007 at 11:02 am

    all these injuries might prove to be a blessing in disguise, in that Kobe, lamar, and now Kwame will have had to play less that the full 82 games scheduled, and this give PJ a real chance to let some of this strong second unit play and see how they respond. I’m sorry to see some of our guys get an injury, but I’m happy to see some of these back ups get serious playing time. Evans has shown great potential. Bynum as well. I’m wanting to see Vlad get his game going, I’ve seen it in the past, and really want to see the “lakes” benefit from that long range bomb. Cookie has been much more consistent this year, even playing some D and getting some boards. And, Famar will be the “steal of the draft”. I think now it’s time to let Kobe play within the team system, more than ever. and let the coaches see who evolves without the pressure of staying even with PHX, these injuries will allow a forgiveness as we explore the possibilities of this deep team.
    I’ve said it before and will say it again, I’m sure glad we have such a great coaching staff! they are smart and will use this time wisely.

  16. Let’s keep two things in mind:

    1. All NBA teams have injured players during the season.

    2. The Lakers are a TEAM that has some depth.

    The Lakers may remain about as competitive right now as any other time in the season.

    Trying to connect the loss of a particular “star” player to the likely outcome of an abstract “game” is fallacious thinking. There are too many conflicting possibilities.

    For example, the Lakers might have lost to the Bobcats because Kwame didn’t foul out whereas several Bobcats did. A fresh Turiaff might have switched out better on defense. Or not.

    A worn down Odom facing some serious emotional issues might continue to have roller coaster oerformances–especially against certain teams. Eager backups might do better for a month and allow Lamar to come back refreshed. Or not.

    This is a time to rethink team defense and to execute it regularly every night. That doesn’t have anything to do with specific players as individuals–but rather a willingness to be part of something bigger than themselves.

    To regress to a Smusher-Kobe/playground mentality is a sure way to turn an opportunity to exploit Laker team depth into an admission that the Lakers only “talk the talk” about things like the triangle, turnovers, and team defense. If anyone still believes that a Kobe shoot-a-thon is an “answer” rather than a “disease,” maybe they should try to get a chance to look at that game against the Bobcats again.

    This Kwame injury may really be the opportunity for Ronny that many of us wanted anyway. Though it may depend on specific matchups, Turiaff may do BETTER than Kwame in many games with sustained playing time: more blocks, more switches on defense, more rebounds, and more scoring.