Archives For January 2007

LO He practiced Thursday. He felt great. He wants to get back on the court. Judging from his radio sound bites, even more so than we want him back. I haven’t seen anything official, but Lamar Odom should be in uniform for the first time since December 10th. And it couldn’t come at a better moment…

This Time It’s Personal Tonight the Lakers face the Charlotte Bobcats. They’re last in the Southeast Division. They have the third worst offense in the NBA. Their defense isn’t much better. But the last time these teams faced off in Charlotte, they handed the Lakers a triple overtime loss, 133-124.

That game took place on December 29th, so the Lakers were without Lamar. The Laker defense was awful in a game that became a shootout. The Bobcats had an offensive rating of 148.7 that night, when they only average 102.8. Part of the reason why is because Emeka Okafor owned the paint with 22 points and 25 rebounds. Gerald Wallace burned them for 28 points, Matt Carroll for 27 and (continuing the Lakers quick guard weakness) Raymond Felton for 22.

Out Of Whack The Lakers also had four players score in double digits. Smush had 12, Luke 14, Kwame 11 and Kobe had 58. Yes, 58. While I normally love that sort of thing, on that night, it was a bad sign. Without the whole team involved in the offense, they seemed to lack focus on the defensive end. You know things are wacky on a night where the Lakers have 8 steals and 11 blocked shots, yet still give up 105 in regulation.

The Good News The team still needs to look out for Felton and Wallace (who recently returned from injury), but this game is at Staples. And did I mention that Lamar Odom is supposed to playing tonight?

That 3OT game should have lit a fire under the Lakers’ butts. I just can’t see how they let the Bobcats take one at home. I’d say this game has a 40% chance of becoming an And1 mixtape on the offensive side. But what I’d love to see, is a nailed-down Lakers defense that’s been re-energized by the return of Odom.

-Rob

Welcome Back We all want to know if Lamar Odom will return to the court this Friday against the Bobcats. Well, judging by this LA Times article, Odom should be ready to roll. Practice on Wednesday seemed to go well for him. Kwame Brown is another story. It looks like we may have to wait for his return a little bit longer.

Mid-Season Report Ladies and Gentlemen, the Lakers have played 42 games out of an 82 game season. That’s about half-way through the year. I am happy to report that the state of the Lakers is strong, indeed. They hold a 27-15 record which is currently good enough for the 5th playoff seed in the West. They have accomplished this in spite of Lamar Odom missing 21 games, and Kwame Brown missing 18 games. All in all, not too shabby.

The Highlights Being at the half-way mark started me thinking about the best plays so far this year for the Lakers. There have been many great ones, but I think this one is my favorite. It may not be Kobe’s most spectacular dunk ever. But I feel that blowing by “Kobe-stopper” Bowen to jam it over Duncan more than makes up for any lack of theatrics. It’s such a power dunk I can hear Kobe thinking, “Yeah!” as he does it.

Now I know everyone out there has their own favorite play in mind. Please post them up in the comments section. I’d love to hear them.

-Rob

I Beg To Differential

Rob L. —  January 24, 2007

Rankings, Rankings, Rankings The NBA is far enough into the season that rankings such as Stein, Hollinger, Sagarin and FOTS (Friend of the Site) Knickerblogger generate heated debate. We the fans often go with our gut in response to outsiders ranking our team.

“Come on, Hollinger! The Lakers aren’t even in the top ten. They’re totally a top ten team.”

As we yell at the top of our lungs, the Staterati attempt to explain the why and how of their systems. There are real differences among the rankings, but one thing you’ll hear just about everyone mention is point differential.

A Win Is A Win, Right? The concept is simple. How much has a team outscored its’ opponents by? This idea migrated to basketball via Bill James. James found a strong correlation between runs scored/allowed and winning percentage in baseball. You can find the formula James used, as well as Dean Oliver’s basketball version here. Because this formula predicts team success fairly accurately, many use it to state what a team’s expected win % is.

And the short hand version of that is, “What’s that team’s point differential?”

Best In The West Which brings us to the debate raging over which team is currently tops in the Western Conference. The three teams in contention are the Mavs, Suns and Spurs. For whatever reason, most people (myself included) think of the Spurs as a little too old. This leaves the Mavs and Suns. Some go with record and pick the Mavs. But there are those out there that look at the point differential and pick the Suns.

All statistics compiled through Monday January 22, 2007

Mavs 34-8, +7.1
Suns 32-8, +8.9

The Mavs had played two more games than the Suns, but their records were comparable. Yet the Suns, on average, beat their opponents by 8.9 points per game. The Mavs, only by 7.1. In fact, the Suns sported the the biggest point differential in the NBA. And that’s just points per game. If we break it down into offensive and defensive ratings (points per 100 possessions) the Suns sport a +10.4 differential and the Mavs +7.7. The Suns are even further out ahead.

Here’s why I think that doesn’t tell the real story in this case.

Strength of Schedule Phoenix has had a much weaker schedule than Dallas to this point. Here’s how it breaks down.

Mavs vs Top 10 Teams 12-6, vs Top 16 18-6
Suns vs Top 10 Teams 4-7, vs Top 16 12-7

Sagarin’s Top 10 Teams are, in order: Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Utah, Houston, LA Lakers, Chicago, Washington, Denver and Detroit. The Top 16 include: Cleveland, Orlando, Minnesota, Indiana, Toronto and New Jersey. If you look only at win-loss record, everything would stay the same except that the Bulls and Cavs change places in the 10/16 breakdown.

The first thing you’ll notice is that Dallas has played 18 games out of 42 against Top 10 teams. 24 out of 42 against Top 16 teams. That’s slightly more than half against the top half of the NBA. Phoenix has played only 11 games out of 40 against the Top 10. They played 19 of 40 against the Top 16, which is much more comparable to Dallas’ schedule. But it is clear that Dallas has faced more elite competition. My thought then, is that the Suns point differential is in part so high because they have beaten up on lowly teams.

The Test What I did was look at the Mavs first 42 games and the Suns first 40. (I know, the sample isn’t identical, but I’m just looking for close estimates.) I compiled point differentials for both teams against Top 10 teams and Top 16 teams. I further compiled two sets of Top 10 numbers: One where the Bulls were in it, the other had the Cavs instead. My hope was to see how the two teams played against similar opponents. Here’s what I found:

Mavs Top 10(Bulls) +2.11, Top 10(Cavs) +1.53, Top 16 +3.83 points per game
Suns Top 10(Bulls) -0.27, Top 10(Cavs) +1.36, Top 16 +5 point per game

And if we switch to offensive rating:

Mavs Top 10(Bulls) +2.39, Top 10 (Cavs) +1.73, Top 16 +4.33
Suns Top 10(Bulls) -0.29, Top 10(Cavs) +1.43, Top 16 +5.25

In both examples the Suns still hold the edge in point differential against the Top 16. But if we look at the Top 10 the Mavs hold the advantage. So at the moment, I’d have to say they are the better team. After Phoenix plays some more Top 10 teams I might come to a different conclusion. But I reserve judgment for now.

[Neither team has that many outlier games. The Suns had one win by 19 and another by 30. But most were closer to ten or less. The same is true of the Mavs who had wins of 27, 19 and 19 along with offsetting losses of 31 and 22 (the first was early season).]

Wrap It Up, Man! Point differential makes sense. It is a useful tool that has proven itself over time. But we must be careful not to use it without thinking. The current Mavs-Suns case is an example of how other factors can corrupt point differential.

Oh yeah. The Lakers are 9-7 against the Top 10, 17-7 against the Top 16. But their point differential is only…

“Whatever. The Lake Show’s going all the way, baby!

-Rob

Offense: 105.5
Defense: 106.8

Throw the numbers out for this one. The Warriors are feeling like they hit the reset button with their recent trade, and this whole season could turn into a do over for them. Whether that means a playoff berth is still iffy, but the future just got brighter, so sayeth The Oracle.

Jackson and Harrington made their Warriors debut against the Cavs at home this weekend. The Warriors played a great 3 quarters of ball but gave up 16-2 run in the fourth to let the Cavaliers back into the contest, where they finally succumbed to them in overtime. But Warrior fans we’re still smiling.

Stephen Jackson’s Warrior honeymoon lasted three quarters, where he scored 24 of his season high 29. He would make only one more bucket and a couple of free throws in the fourth and would miss all of his shots in the OT period.

The trade’s particulars and their impact: Warrior fans in general are and should be digging this trade. They save 33 million dollars in contracts and acquire Harrington, who they courted heavily over the summer. Chris Mullin has begun to breathe life into this flagging franchise after some initial missteps (see Dunleavy and Murphy’s contracts), and with the return of Don Nelson he now has a philosophy to fit players into.

Nellie’s one criticism of Mullin since his re-hire was that maybe Mullin was playing a little too loose with owner Chris Cohan’s money, but Mullin now knows what kind of eggs to buy, and whose basket they are going into and that should make player movement a more directed activity in the Bay Area.

Harrington, whose Warrior debut featured a 4-21 shooting spree that was cushioned by 12 rebounds, is a prototype Nelson player and complained about Indiana’s “walk-it-up-so-Jermaine O’Neal-can-get-his-touches” offense.

The downside of this trade would be the pariah that is Stephen Jackson. Can Jackson change his spots in Oakland? We’ve seen what athletes can do with their behavior when they realize that they could be looking at their last chance to change their overall perception. (Rasheed Wallace was doing a great job of this up until this season, but Isaiah Ryder also comes to mind) Jackson is facing a probation violation and has been compared on several occasions to fellow Looney Tunes Ron Artest.

Finally, the most overlooked aspect of this trade is that the Warriors now have the necessary cheese needed to pay up and comers Monta Ellis, Mikael Pietrus, and Andres Biedrins.

Teen Titans: AB vs AB: The Warriors’ Andres Biedrins is establishing himself as a future force to be reckoned with. Over the summer he dropped 15 pounds of fat while adding 30 of muscle due to weight training and a change in diet. Don Nelson has deservedly heaped praise and minutes on the neophyte Latvian. He is shooting 52.4% eFG and is half a rebound shy of averaging a double-double. But, like Bynum, his youth and inexperience have kept him from the ever elusive consistency that haunts young players (and young teams). Bynum against Beidrins should be a nice little side show to keep your eye on.

What else to watch out for: Unfortunately, we have all already thought about this. Fortunately, all the losses to lesser teams have occured on their floor and not ours.The Warriors will be running high off the fumes of this trade, and Baron Davis was suspended for the Cavs game for throwing a punch at Quinton Ross and has yet to take the floor with his new ‘mates. Smush and company will have their hands full with speedster Monta Ellis and Baron Davis. The Lakers will have to resist running with the Warriors and make sure that they rely on their biggest asset this season, the Triangle offense. Transition defense has to show improvement.

Around the NBA: The great Melo-AI experiment begins tonight. It’s on NBATV if you’re curious what it looks like to have two guys who average 30 pts a game on the same team and are too young to have watched Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in action.

NBATV is also celebrating the one year anniversary of KB24’s historic performance. For Laker fans it is a barometer for how far we’ve come in a year.

Update: no Odom or Brown until Friday.

-Gatinho

The Travesty Just because I like dredging up bad memories, let’s talk about that Dallas game for a moment. There’s no need for deep analysis on this one, the Lakers stunk up the joint. No one should ever out rebound the team 53 to 28. Never. This could be indicative of how gassed the Lakers seemed after the first quarter. Except that even in that first quarter they were out rebounded 17 to 6.

More food for thought, not a single Laker had a positive +/-. Cook and Ronny came closest at 0 for the game.

The trouble here isn’t that the Lakers lost to the best team in the NBA on the Mav’s home court. The trouble is how they lost.

The Good News Saturday night it’s NOOCH time. As of this writing, New Orleans boasts the worst offense in the NBA with an ORtg of 100.8 (points per 100 possessions). Although their defense is much better at 105.8, good enough for 10th in the league.

But the Lakers offense should get the job done, especially as that Chris Paul guy’s out with a sprained right ankle. New Orleans also plays the Spurs Friday night. It’s a lucky break to catch them on the second half of a back-to-back.

“Lucky!?” you say. That’s right, because this is exactly the kind of team the Lakers have overlooked all season long. In fact, the Lakers overlooked this exact team on December 6th at Staples. The Hornets are in elite company as far as the Lakers go. They are one of only four teams to beat them at home this season. Detroit, Milwaukee and Washington are the others. (Curse you, Agent Zero!)

The last meeting looked like this:

Chris Paul 26pts 123 ORtg 26% tpu (team possession usage)
Rasual Butler 22 pts 145 ORtg 15% tpu
Jannero Pargo 21pts 129 ORtg 16% tpu

The Hornets had an ORtg of 115.4 as a team. The Lakers had an ORtg of just 97.8. Well below their season average. This was due in large part to an off night from Lamar.

Let’s Get It On I am sure Phil and Co. will be focusing on ways to stop the Hornet guards from chewing up the lane. Though this will be an easier task without CP3 on the court.

Key Numbers Tyson Chandler and David West’s rebounds. The final score. (And I mean that. The Lakers need to show they can at least play shut down defense against the worst offensive team in the NBA.)

Rob L.