Archives For February 2007

A word or 75 on Detroit. Some teams just have your number, teams where the matchups all seem to be in the other guy’s favor. The Pistons are apparently that for the Lakers, because the two Laker games against the Pistons may have been their two worst this season. All you can do in these cases is forget it and move on. If we have to face them again, well, by that point we’ll all be in a really good mood.

Speaking of moving on… The Brian Cook incident at the start of the fourth, well, that’s a guy wanting to play venting. That happens over the course of the season, professionals let it go and move on. And I think everyone involved is professional.

Is there a bigger surprise in the NBA? Toronto is pretty good — and pretty good is more than enough to lead the Atlantic by 3.5 games. But take away the division lead and they still have the fifth best record in the East, and that is far better than one would have thought.

So how are they doing it, particularly with a coach that everyone thought would be in the unemployment line by now? I asked someone who watches a lot of Raptors games, Ryan from Hoops Addict. And credit due to Brian Collangelo:

I think the driving force this season has been a combination of Chris Bosh playing strong, a legit supporting cast and Sam Mitchell finally having players that can run his offensive and defensive sets. If you look at some of the players the Raps relied on heavily last season (Charlie V, Matt Bonner, Mike James, Loren Woods, etc) a few of those players aren’t in the NBA anymore and others are performing much worse than they did with us. I think the additions that Bryan Colangelo made this summer were huge!

The other huge change in Toronto this year is they are playing solid defense. And again, Ryan credits Collangelo.

I think a big reason why the Raps are playing better team defense is they are communicating better and they have players that are willing to play hard on both ends. Last year Mike James was only worried about padding his stats and rookie Charlie V (even though he’s a personal fav) was horrible on D. With players like Rasho and Anthony Parker improving the D and Bosh and Mo Pete maintaining their defensive intensity it’s allowed the Raps to make big gains on that side of the ball.

Bosh is a stud. He’s shooting 51%, scoring 23.3 points per game, grabbing 16.6% of the available rebounds and is the driving force of the Raptors offense – they are 8.1 points per 100 possessions worse when he sits. What makes him dangerous is you can’t just leave him on the perimeter; he’s shooting 37% from three and a respectable 42.3% on all his jumpers.

Still, you’d rather have him shoot jumpers than get in next to the basket, so Andrew has some work to do tonight.

My new personal mantra: Nobody tells this Wookie what to do!

Things to look for: The best place to attack the Raptors is inside, they’re weakest defensively against the three, four and five. So, pound the ball inside early. Kobe and Smush take it to the hole. Try to get a foul or two on Bosh.

Defensively, try to get someone other than Bosh or the two-headed point guard to take the shots.

But what matters most is which Laker team shows up last night. Do they go into a funk or do they pull out of it – and if they are slow to come out Kobe needs to just take over and drag them out of the funk.

And one glimmer of hope: This is the third back-to-back on this road trip, in the previous two the Lakers lost the first game and won the second.

The John Amaechi story. I’m not going to break far from this blog’s long-stated purpose of trying to focus on the court not off (remember, I started this site in frustration of the lack of stories and media discussion actually about basketball and not the soap opera in LA in the wake of the Kobe/Shaq feud), but I want to point you to a couple of things. First, Kevin at Clipperblog, who is gay, writes an absolute must read. Second, I thought both Henry at True Hoop and Raptors coach Sam Mitchell made great comments.

Deeeetroit Basketball. They are the top seed in the East, and come June expect this team (or maybe Chicago) to be the sacrificial lamb to Dallas/Phoenix.

Under Flip Saunders, the Pistons offense has become a force, they are the fourth most efficient in the NBA. What’s surprising is they don’t do it by shooting particularly well – they are 20th in the NBA in eFG% — but they turn the ball over less than anyone in the league (just 14.1% of their possessions end in a turnover, compared to 16.5% for the Lakers) and they are very strong on the offensive glass.

Leading the way is Chauncy Billups, who is putting up 18.3 points per game while shooting 51% (eFG%), and you can’t leave him alone beyond the arc where he’s shooting 42.5% in the last 10 games. What really makes him tough is that not only can he score, but also 31% of his possessions end in an assist. When he is on the floor, the Pistons are 13.1 points better than their opponents per 48 minutes (for some comparison, Kobe is +7). Looking at the hot zones, the best bet is to make him a midrange shooter. Good luck with that.

Richard Hamilton takes on the largest part of the offense, taking 26% of the team’s shots and scores 22 a game. He’s shooting a respectable 48% for a guy taking on that much of the offense. He does his best shooting in the middle of the floor, you want to try to keep him on the wings (although he can score from anywhere).

Chris Webber has a little bit in the tank. Since he got the “get out of jail free” card in Philly, he has shows that reports of his demise were a little premature. In his 11 games in Detroit, he is shooting 59.6% (eFG%), much better than the 45.3% he had in Philly. In the last 10 games he’s averaged 13.6 points per game but he’s been efficient in getting them and is using 19.6% of the offense when he is on the floor, less than the 22% he had to take on before the trade. The Pistons are +10.5 per 48 minutes when he is on the floor. And don’t forget, he is still one of the better passing big men in the game.

Ready to see some zone? The Pistons pretty much manhandled the Lakers back in November, and did so in part because the Pistons went to a zone and the Lakers were flummoxed. Kobe was still slowed by his knee at that time and had just two points in the first three quarters. Lamar Odom was 6-14 and unimpressive, but then none of the Laker starters played well. The bench guys (along with Kobe) helped the Lakers make a 14-2 fourth quarter run so the Lakers would only lose by 14.

The Pistons play a lot of zone when they think the goal is stopping a star (ala Kobe). How you beat a zone is Kobe passing, getting the ball into the soft underbelly of the zone (then hitting threes on kickouts) and pounding the offensive glass.

No Walton. No Kwame. Walton was supposed to be back in the middle of this road trip, but his ankle is on its own schedule. He is not expected to play tonight, and may not over the weekend. In case you missed it, Kwame is out for another month.

Pistons Blogs of note. Both Need 4 Sheed and Detroit Bad Boys are great reads.

Things to look for. The Lakers need to pick up the pace — the Pistons are the slowest-playing team in the NBA, averaging 88.6 possessions per game (that’s six fewer a game than the Lakers). The Pistons are just 6 and 7 against the 10 fastest-paced teams in the NBA. Bottom line, if you can run on the Pistons you can give them problems, if you slow it down you are playing their game.

I expect there will be a lot of zone, but if the Lakers can bust that then Tayshaun Prince on Kobe Bryant should be fun to watch.

Also, last meeting Prince scored 31 on 56.3% (eFG%) shooting, so the Lakers need to do a better job defending him. Kobe’s knee being back closer to 100% should be a help.

Hot Zones

Kurt —  February 7, 2007

If you want to slow Kobe Bryant from beyond the arc, you want him to shoot from the left side of the court, not the right side.

I know that because of my favorite part of the site, the Hot Zones. Shots from every NBA player are charted and put into one of 14 zones on the court (I use the same zones when charting shots, save that I also break out dunks and lay-ups separate from other shots right around the basket). Just to make it easier, when players shoot well from an area it’s colored in red, cold it’s blue.

This is a useful tool for us fans because it (along with some observation) can give us insights into the shooting strengths and weaknesses of players. (Coaches have this information already, and should have it in more detailed forms.)

Let’s talk Kobe for a second — he clearly feels more comfortable setting up on the right side of the court. As you could have guessed from watching a few games, Kobe takes most of his threes from a wing spot extended. From the right wing side he is shooting 43% on threes (40 of 93), but from the left wing extended he is at 29.3% (22 of 75).

Kobe often drives out of those wing positions and again he seems to prefer the right side — he shoots better than 50% from the right side from three to about nine feet out. What makes Kobe so tough is that there are no other real weaknesses — he still shoots over 40% from everywhere inside the arc. And often these are running or off-balance shots after he has created room to shoot. Or shots with a couple hands in his face.

For fun, let’s look at some of the other Lakers:

Lamar Odom is an odd mix of hot and cold spots on the floor. He’s good at the free throw line extended on either side of the court, plus shoots very well in the paint and around the basket (55.4%). He’s not as strong from the right side baseline, and really takes few shots from either baseline — he’d clearly rather get to the basket from those positions, usually driving baseline.

Smush Parker clearly prefers the right side of the court, particularly for threes — he is shooting 46% on threes from the right side wing and corner combined. And when he’s in that right wing position for a three and someone makes a run at him, he can make a fake, step inside the arc and shooting 52.9% from that wing. However, outside of that one comfort zone Smush is not a good midrange shooter.

Andrew Bynum, save for the odd late-game three (which I clearly thought was more amusing than Phil did), gets nearly all his shots right at the basket (and is shooting 58% on them). It shows his need to develop that fade away (or a skyhook?) to give him a shot he is comfortable with from 6 to 8 feet out. You could say the same things (maybe even more so) about Kwame Brown.

Radmanovic likes his corner threes — he’s shooting 45% from the two corners combined — and that is a spot he seems to be finding more and more in the offense as of late, particularly for kick-out threes. What is hurting his game is that the midrange seems to be gone, he is cold from everywhere. His threes not from the corner also have been off some this season, although that may be improving as of late (at least it seems it has).

Luke Walton also likes the threes from the corner (shooting 45.2% from there) but he has a better midrange game than Radman. Luke is shooting well straight on and at the right elbow, a spot he gets the ball a fair amount as the triangle offense.

Brian Cook can hit the three, but what makes him so dangerous on offense is he has a very good midrange game from just about everywhere. The book on him is still to make him put it on the floor — he’s looked a little more comfortable at that this year but has not really been tested.

There’s been talk (from me included) about Jordan Farmar needing to be more consistent in his shooting to get more time. But, look at the shot chart and it’s clear the boy can shoot the rock.

Preview and Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

Kurt —  February 5, 2007

Did you see Smush play defense? The Lakers had maybe their best defensive game of the year against the Wizards on Saturday, and Gatinho sat down with a pen and paper and tracked Smush:

Well, last night was an over all good game for Smush. He used his length to bother Arenas and was savvy enough not to leave his feet on jump shots. He was blown by twice in the game, but overall he kept Arenas out of the paint by playing him for the drive but over playing his right hand to force him left. Twice Arenas had to go behind his back to go left, one resulting in a spectacular play the other ending up in a turnover.

His offensive game was positive. No early in the shot clock forced threes, which in my opinion he should never be able to take. He made his man pay for doubling off him by going to the hoop for a couple easy chippies. He clanked a couple wide-open threes early but they were within the offense. I don’t really consider unsuccessful forays to the basket negatives because it is crucial that he does this to keep the defense honest. Most of the times he was unsuccessful were due to his indecision as he got close tot the basket. He’s just not that great of a finisher.

He had only one stretch in the third where he affected the momentum of the game. He missed wide open three and then fouled Daniels for an and one, but before that he had stolen the ball from Etan Thomas.

But the defensive effort against Arenas was crucial to this win. He got a lot of help and with Jamison out the Lakers were able to focus a little more on Agent 9-29.

Marching on Atlanta.
Yes the Hawks are at the bottom of the lEastern Conference standings, but they are 5-5 in their last 10 and that includes a win at New Jersey yesterday.

Leading the way is Joe Johnson, who is averaging 27.8 in the lat 10 games shooting 53.1% (eFG%). He shoots well from both wings (the only spots his numbers are not good is straight on). When the Lakers played the Hawks back in December he had 30 points and shot 53.9%.

Also in the last 10 games the Hawks have gotten solid play out of Josh Smith (16 and 8 a night), but he is all about getting to the basket, he has no midrange game and if he lines up to take the three — let him. Then there is Josh Childress (12 a game shooting 53.2% in the last 10) but he is all threes and drives to the basket, force him into a midrange game and he crumbles.

About that last meeting. The Lakers got a team high 25 points on 10 of 13 shooting from Luke Walton, who is still expected to miss this game. They also got 13 from Kwame Brown, who is out.

On the other hand, this was one of the games Kobe missed. So it pretty much balances out.

Lotta Love. I watched a chunk of the high school basketball game on Fox Sports involving Kevin Love, and I have to say if you are a UCLA fan you should be pumped. To me, he is kind of the opposite of Andrew Bynum coming out of school — Love is very polished to go with his great natural touch and feel for the game. That, plus being 6-10, 250 makes him a force in high school, and he will do well in college. He stepped out and drained a three, could score with either hand, just seemed to have a knack for being where the ball would be for rebounds and passes very well out of the post and on outlets.

It’s a ways away, but I wonder how he’ll do in the NBA. This is not a blow-you-away athlete, and at some point he’s going to face better athletes who have touch and basketball IQ as well. I don’t know how that will go — how would a below-the-rim player ala Bill Waton fit in today’s high flying game? What about in the perimeter-based NBA? One game is not enough to make much of a projection long term (how much can he improve), and the kid will have a place at the NBA level because he can board, outlet and be solid inside. But an NBA star…..

Things to look for. Defense again. The Hawks are 29th in the league in offensive efficiency (the average 7 fewer points per 100 possessions than the Lakers, and remember there will be about 90 possessions in this game). They are the third worst shooting team in the NBA, 46.9% (eFG%), and that has not improved in the last 10 games.

The key is not letting their athletes get to the basket. This is a quick team that plays great isolation games, but outside of Johnson nobody shoots well from the outside. If the Lakers play like they did in Washington, they can really slow the Hawks and make this easier on themselves.

Run the offense. This is along the same general lines as the defensive comments — the Hawks are athletic and young. Try to make this an individual game and it will be close, play team basketball and the Lakers can win handily.

Nice to catch the Hawks in the second game of a back-to-back, with the first game going to overtime. Another reason to win this one, and even get a big lead early and rest the starters late.

I’ll Take the Colts

Kurt —  February 4, 2007

I’ve got no emotional attachment for today’s Super Bowl, all I really am rooting for is a good game.I’m leaning that way because the most logical thing I heard this week was ESPN’s (and former Bronco lineman) Mark Schlereth say that teams like Indy wear down cold weather power defenses in the fourth quarter, and that the Colts would pull away late. The stats guys at Football Outsiders have no idea but lean Bears.

My allegiance can be swayed here, so make your best argument. An enjoy America’s unofficial national holiday.

A word or 164 on Indiana. Is it just me, or did the Lakers last night remind you of last season’s version? The ones that, if Kobe wasn’t on top of his game, couldn’t step up to help out. The ones that had absolutely horrible defensive rotations so their defense only worked when they could create steals. The ones with no good play off the bench. The ones with the passive Lamar Odom. The ones that could not stay in front of a point guard (and cue the defensive rotation comment again).

I’m also going to lay a little of this at Phil’s feet: Why change four out of the five guys on the floor to start the fourth quarter when you’ve been on a 22-8 run with them? Indiana had made some changes, going to their bench as well, but this the chance to put the game out of reach, then rest the starters the last 8 minutes. Instead, the momentum swung and the Lakers never got it back.

Gilbert vs. Kobe. First, let me say this — these two starts are going to get theirs tonight. The team that plays the best around their star will get the win.

That said, slowing Agent 0 would be a big help. Last time these two met Arenas used 37% of his team’s possessions, shot 60.9% (eFG%) and dropped 60 on the Lakers. After which Kobe made the oft-repeated and ironic “he has no conscience” statement.

But it wasn’t just Arenas.
A lot of the Wizards shot well. All-Star Caron Butler used 22 possessions and shot 50% (eFG%) and got to the line a lot, so his true shooting percentage (think points per shot attempt) was a very good 65.5%. DeShawn Stevenson shot 71.3%. Jamison shot well too, but he will not be playing tonight due to a knee injury.

Bottom line: The Lakers are going to have to play a lot better team defense than they did last time these two squared off. Or than they did last night.

As for the Lakers last meeting. Kobe and Vladrad put on a shooting clinic of their own on. Kobe shot 77.1% on his way to 45 points, Radman shot 84,4% on his way to 27. As a team the Lakers shot 58.5%, which will get it done if you play any D.

Injury update. Luke Walton is expected to start playing again on the road trip, possibly in Atlanta. However, Kwame is slower to heal from his sprain, will see a specialist next week and is still a couple weeks away.

Things to look for. While the media attention will be all over the Kobe/Arenas rivalry (and that could lead to some amazing shot making) the game itself is really is all about the Laker defense. The Wizards are second in the NBA in offensive efficiency (113.6 points per 100 possessions, besting the Lakers at 110.5, 6th best). To balance that, the Wizards are 28th in the league in defense. The Wizards play at the fourth fastest pace in the league. What they want to do is turn this into a shootout. The Lakers can’t do that and win, especially on the second night of a back-to-back.

The Lakers need to make their shots, crash the offensive boards to at least slow the Wizards break a little, and then in the half court rotate on defense.

Let’s hope the team bounces back from an embarrassing game last night.

Last time these two got together. The Lakers won pretty handily, 101-86, leading from the middle of the first quarter on and the game was never really in doubt. The Lakers did it on the strength of their starters — all five of the regular starters (Smush, Kobe, Walton, Odom and UPS) were at least a +16 and everyone but Smush scored in double digits.

That said, I’m not sure how much we can take from that game — the Lakers are without two of those starters and the Pacers look very different than the team the Lakers faced in December.

What about the new guys? It was just a couple weeks ago when the Pacers sent Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington to bother Nellie and the strip clubs in the Bay Area. In return they got Dunleavy Jr. Troy Murphy and Ike Diagu. The Pacers were one of the worst offenses in the NBA and these guys were expected to help change that. So, how have the newbies done?

We’ll start with the former Notre Dame star Murphy, who is averaging 28.2 minutes per game and is averaging 9.7 points and 10.5 rebounds in those games. He’s shooting 49.1% (eFG%) since the move, which is pretty much where he was at before. The one difference is rebounds, he’s grabbing 21.3% of the available boards since moving east, far better than with Golden State.

Then there is Mike Dunleavy Jr., who is playing 31 minutes a game and is averaging 11.2 points per game as a Pacer. The problem is he is shooting just 43.1% overall and 31.6% from three. He’s also rebounding less and clearly has yet to be comfortable in the offense.

I like Ike, but the people in Indianapolis probably don’t that way (of course, they may have been too focused on some little football game to notice). His minutes have dropped to 6 a game, he is shooting just 33% as a Pacer and his PER is a kicked-out-of-the-ABA level 1.99.

Guys who are playing well.
No shock, Jermaine O’Neal is a force. He remains one of the NBA’s elite and in the last 10 games he has been a 21 and 10 guy, although he is shooting just 42.5%. And, of course, there are the 3 blocks a game.

The guy to watch may be second-year man Danny Granger, who is stepping up. In his last 10 he is averaging 17 points and shooting 57.7%. His hot spot — Granger loves the right-corner three, where he is shooting 55% this season from beyond the arc. Can’t let him get a good look from there.

Things to look for. Last time these two faced each other, Kwame Brown and the Lakers did a solid job on O’Neal, who was a -28 but shot a respectable 50%, However, the rest of the Pacers were 21 of 51 on the night. The Lakers again need to shut down the supporting cast, Granger in particular.

The Pacers are one of the worst offensive teams in the league, even the Lakers should be able to keep them from scoring many points. The key will be to be efficient on offense, as the Pacers are one of the top 10 teams in the league in defensive efficiency. The Lakers were able to do that last time

Kwame Brown had a big game last meeting, scoring 17 on 8 of 12 shooting. The Lakers need something like that out of Bynum.

Remembering Lucious Harris

Kurt —  February 2, 2007

I was a little bit lucky. The year I moved to Long Beach was the year that Long Beach State may have had its best basketball team ever. And, since I didn’t know many people and I had plenty of free nights, I went to a lot of basketball games that year. And that 92-93 team grew on me like few others have.

They were led by Lucious Harris, who not-so-coincidentally gets his number retired by Long Beach State Saturday night.

Most of you probably remember Harris from his recent NBA play, where he was a key guy off the bench for the Nets when they went to the NBA Finals a few years back. I remember Harris as the skinny and lightning quick kid who seemed unstoppable his senior season — he averaged 23.1 points per game shooting 60.2% (eFG%) and 41% from beyond the arc.

I talked with his old Long Beach coach this week, Seth Greenberg (now at #16 Virginia Tech) and he said they tried to use Harris’ quickness off the dribble by setting up a lot of isolation plays for him. But they also ran him off a lot of picks and down screens, trying to get him room for that quick jump-shot release (much like UCLA this year runs screens for Aaron Afflalo). It worked because Harris was such a smart player, even at that young age he seemed able to find the seams and holes in a defense that gave him room to get off shots (a knack he brought to the NBA).

What I remember is you could count on Harris, but it worked because that team had some balance, with Bryon Russell playing the role of the strong guard who got posted up more and used his strength to get off his shots.

What I didn’t know then was how much easier the work ethic of those two, trying to out do one another in practice, made Greenberg’s job easier.

“When you’re two best players are your best practice players, you can do a lot,” Greenberg said,

Lucious Harris saved his best play for the Big West Tournament that season, where he was named the MVP and led the 49ers to the title. It was all good enough to get the 49ers and 11 seed in the NCAA tournament that year, but they faced a strong Illinois team and lost in the first round 75-72.

Harris was the first pick of the second round of the NBA draft that year, taken by the Dallas Mavericks. He played a dozen years in the NBA.

I learned a lot — and had a lot of fun — watching Lucious Harris and those Seth Greenberg-coached teams. When I saw he was getting his number retired, well, it just reminded my how much fun basketball can be.