Archives For March 2007

A Wonder to Watch

Kurt —  March 24, 2007

Kobe’s streak hits four, and (as ESPN’s Marc Stein said [insider]) with Golden State and Memphis up next, the streak could reach six.Forget the defense (the Lakers have), Kobe’s amazing play is simply one of those times we should sit back and be amazed. This is fun to watch.

Preview & Chat: NOOCH

Kurt —  March 23, 2007

Kobe is amazing. Here’s the thing, while he’s scored 175 points in three games (which is just crazy) he’s doing it efficiently. He’s shooting 60.8% (eFG%), or if you just want to go old-school field goal percentage you still get 54%. He’s shooting 53.6% from three-point range.

It’s one thing to take a lot of shots, but to score this efficiently while taking on that much of the offense is all the more incredible.

Understanding Kobe’s drive. Roland Lazenby, from a perspective that only he can provide, talks about Kobe’s psychology:

His ambition has been blamed for wrecking a Lakers dynasty. He has battled himself, his teammates, his coaches, the game itself. He has done so fearlessly, relentlessly, with little sign of regret or doubt, only the dogged pursuit of his vision of what he is supposed to be.

There was no question that Bryant could on any given night be blinded by his own brilliance, just as his teammates could be mesmerized by it.

Soon many fans came to equate his every action with selfishness, so that no matter what he did, or how brilliantly he did it, his accomplishments were met with derision.
The realization of this first drove Bryant to despair; then it drove him to compromise.

I like to hammer Phil Jackson in this column, almost as much as I like to extol the virtues of Tex Winter. Both men deserve much credit for their work with Bryant. Winter guided and nurtured him through the harsh phases of his career.

And after being Bryant’s uncommunicative enemy for several seasons, Jackson has become his ally, the man responsible for guiding him toward a team mind-set.

Often Jackson and Winter have differed in their opinions on how to handle Bryant. Now, though, they seem to agree that the Lakers absolutely need Bryant and the full firepower of his arsenal to push the team out of its doldrums and back on track toward the playoffs.

As a result, Bryant is now realizing his vision of 50-point games, of dominating, of “being the man.”

The latest elbow. You can see the video here. To me, Jones is running at Kobe, who puts his arm up to create a little space and inadvertently caught him in the face. I can see calling the foul there, although Jones embellished to draw the foul, but it’s not a suspendable act. Or you wouldn’t think so.

An item for us stats guys. If you stat friendly types have not been following the most recent thread of discussion on Dave Barri’s work over at APBR, you should be. Non-stat types, Henry at True Hoop did a quality wrap up.

I do not believe there is a “holy grail” stat out there that can summarize a player. I use Hollinger’s PER, but to me it is a snapshot stat, one that gives you the big picture. The real info is in the details.

The value of an assist. In the comments a few posts back, Ian started a little talk about the value of an assist, with of course Nash taking center stage. But as I said there, sometimes people ignore there are two parts to the assist — the pass and the guy who made the shot.

What would happen if you took Steve Nash and put him on New Orleans? The only two guys on the Hornets who play significant minutes and shoot over 50% (eFG%) are Peja and Tyson Chandler. And you don’t want Chandler to shoot a lot. (Compare that to the Lakers, where 8 guys are over 50% and Odom is at 49.5%.) While Chris Paul is no Nash, our Canadian friend’s assist total would drop if he needed David West and Desmond Mason to drain shots and not Stoudemire, Marion and Bell. Chirs Paul gets a lot of assists but he’d get a lot more if he had guys around him who could finish.

The only two things to watch tonight:
1) Will Kobe continue on his torrid pace? (To answer a common question [via Skigi and old friend Dan Reines— and I mean OLD — in the comments] Wilt scored 50+ in 7 straight, then did 5 straight another time. He was a true man among boys.)

Will the Lakers play any defense? While the Lakers have won three straight it’s because the offense has bailed the defense out, or maybe it is more accurate to say Kobe has. Last time the Lakers played NOOCH they lost, giving up 113 points — and that was without Chris Paul in the lineup (David West had 26 and Rasual Butler had 20 and was 4 of 7 from beyond the arc). The Lakers need to play better than that, better than the last three games.

I’m happy Memphis is so bad. For purely selfish reasons, I’m glad they picked this season to go from the playoffs to the worst team in the NBA — it means I may get a close-up look at Durant or Oden. Memphis is one of two teams (the Lakers the other) already committed to the 2007 Summer Pro League in Long Beach. They also are going to have a lot of ping-pong balls in the draft lottery hopper. So the chances are good I should get to see one of the two up close at the Pyramid come July.

And maybe Kobe will swing by the Pyramid and talk to Durant. For the first time.

The Lakers miss the synthetic ball.
Injuries, sminjuries. The ball is the problem. (Good work Nate and Goo.)

Offense shouldn’t be a problem.
The Lakers should be able to score plenty tonight — Memphis is the worst defensive team in the NBA. They give up 109.3 points per 100 possessions, and as bad as we think (or know) the Lakers are defensively this season the Griz are 4 points worse per 100 possessions. They allow teams to shoot 52% (eFG%) against them. They don’t defend any position on the floor well. Or look at it this way: last meeting between these two teams the Lakers put up 118 points, without Lamar Odom.

This is one team Kobe could get 50 on fairly easily, but it’s also a team where he may not have to.

But will the Lakers play any defense? The Lakers lost that last meeting because they let the new up-tempo Grizzlies score 128. Seven Memphis players scored in double digits, led by Mike Miller and Pau Gasol with 25. As a team Memphis shot 53% in that game and took control in the third quarter never to look back.

In the last two Laker wins, they have done it in spite of allowing opponents to average 122 points per 100 possessions. Think about that — the Griz are last in the NBA this season at 109. The Lakers need to shore up the defense starting tonight and stop counting on Kobe to bail them out with offensive fireworks.

Other Grizzlies to watch. Outside of Gasol and Miller there are really only a few Griz playing well this season — super rookie Rudy Gay (who has moved into the starting lineup), Hakim Warrick and, on offense at least, Chucky Atkins. Now, they are all starters, after them the drop off is pretty dramatic.

No Brian Cook. His ankle isn’t right, so he will sit. Because if every Laker was healthy at the same time it would be the seventh sign of the apocalypse.

Things to look for: Odom had 21 against the Griz earlier in the season, but was injured for the last game. Look for him to bounce back. He also should get plenty of minutes with Cook out.

Defense is a team thing, but a couple things we should hope to see: 1) Don’t let Miller shoot uncontested threes, he is pretty mediocre from the midrange but deadly from the three, in the last 10 games shooing 34.7% from three (40% for the season); 2) There isn’t a lot of spots to push Gasol to where he can’t score and he’s hot lately shooting 55.6% in the last 10 games, but he shoots a lower percentage from the right block/baseline side than the left.

This should be a night the Laker bench, the depth that was so key earlier in the season, starts to make resurgence.

It would be nice to get an early lead and get some key guys rest with another game tomorrow. But a win is the key.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  March 21, 2007

Lots of new readers here today (via True Hoops move), make yourself and home, put your feet up on the coffee table and feel free to poke around a little. Check out the defacto “mission statement” to see where I’m coming from. And be sure to read the comments here because I really just start the talk, there are lots of smart basketball and Laker fans who pick it up from there.

Now, on to clearing out my overflowing inbox.

• This whole “which Kobe is better for the Lakers” debate in the mainstream media is, well, fertilizer. Kobe’s game plan has been pretty consistent all season — try to make this a team game and get everyone involved, but if that isn’t working take on more of the scoring load himself. Lately he’s had to take on more scoring to get the wins.

There also is no doubt that this team is better when Kobe sets up his teammates more — remember in the book Seven Seconds or Less (about last season’s Phoenix Suns), where they tell the story of finding the Laker game plan left in a hotel room. The strategy (as we all know now) was to get other players involved and pound the ball inside. And what was the reaction of Suns’ coaches — the Lakers are more dangerous when Kobe is the passer. That hasn’t changed.

• As always, the latest from Roland Lazenby is a must read.

• Thanks to reader Josh for pointing me to an interview with Summer Pro League favorite JR Pinnock, who is back in the United States and back in the D-League. Great stuff here about the risks of playing in Europe:

…. this team that I played with — usually I wouldn’t even speak about it, but since they went ahead and spoke bad about me I’m going to return the favor now — it was the worst organization I’ve ever been a part of. No training staff. No facilities. We worked out at like a public high school. The general manager was fired during the middle of the season. The head coach quit because he wasn’t get paid. Players weren’t getting paid. They offered me a big contract that they couldn’t even pay, so they started taking money from other guys to pay me. I didn’t want any part of that.

• The question of “do good teams win close games” still is up for debate, at least in my mind, but the latest from the always brilliant Kevin Pelton makes some good points:

Good teams win close games more frequently than bad teams, but the difference is not as dramatic as it is for games decided by at least six points. This makes sense conceptually. Think of the difference between the one-and-done NCAA Tournament and the best-of-seven NBA postseason in terms of upsets. The better team comes up empty far more frequently in the NCAA (occasionally, like Wisconsin or Texas, ruining your bracket in the process) because the series is shorter. Anything can happen in a single-elimination tournament, and the same is true of the last five minutes of a close game.

Or look at it this way (an analogy I stole from Pelton): If the very bad Rudy T. year Lakers of two seasons ago faced the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, but the games were decided by one possession, the Lakers would win a fair amount. Anything can happen in one possession, and most close games come down to one or two possessions. However, if those Lakers and Bulls squads play a full 48 minutes, I’d take the Bulls and give up the 12 points. The Bulls would win 95 out of 100 meetings, and the other five would only be because the entire Bulls team came down with food poisoning. Good teams don’t put themselves in position to lose close games.

• I’ve got a post up at LAist (with a headline stolen from the NBA Fanhouse — the sincerest form of flattery) talking about the big college players in town and what the NBA thinks about them.

• I’m hearing all sorts of things about the coaching search at Long Beach State, all off the record. Let me say two things I’m pretty sure about: 1) This was the right move for the health of the program long term; 2) The AD and university president have a guy in their back pocket and this hire is going to happen fast.

Just What Should We Expect?

Kurt —  March 19, 2007

Two fun-to-watch wins, a team getting healthy physically and psychologically (with a few softer games ahead to help gain some momentum).

The Lakers are starting to look like the team we saw earlier in the season — even if Kobe has to drag them back into the light with 50-point games. While he rightfully gets plenty of accolades, anyone who had watch the Lakers through the Dark Ages of the last month realized just how much better this team is with Walton and Odom back in the fold — heck, even Smush Parker had nine assists (and shot 8 of 10 from the floor, making smart decisions every time he had the ball).

But what are the realistic goals for this team right now? Back last summer Mitch Kupchak hinted the goal was 50 wins and reaching the second round of the playoffs. Well, unless the Lakers win out they aren’t reaching 50. A solid 10-5 last 15 games gives them some momentum and the same win total as last season (despite far more injuries). That seems realistic.

What about winning in the first round of the playoffs? Most likely that means knocking off San Antonio (yes, it could be Phoenix, we’ll see). It’s not impossible — they’ve taken two out of three from the Spurs, although that was when the Lakers were healthy and playing better in December and January, while the Spurs were playing worse.

But there is one thing the Lakers have to start doing if they are going to win a playoff series against anyone — play better defense. They can win a game or two with the offense carrying the load (much like they did the last two games, when Kobe took over), but to win a series they have to get more stops (because San Antonio will).

For the season the Lakers are allowing 106.2 points per 100 opponent possessions (which puts them 24th in the league), and opponents are shooting 50.2% (eFG%) against them. In the last two games, those thrilling Laker wins, they allowed 122 points per 100 possessions and allowed opponents to shoot 50% (eFG%) from the floor. And those are teams without a Duncan/Parker/Ginobli lineup (or, worse yet, Nash/Stoudemire/Marion).

That’s what I want to see as the season closes out — the Lakers to get better on defense. If they do it, they stand a chance of knocking off anyone.

But, more importantly, getting the defense right is what takes this team to another level next year. And while some of that will have to come with personnel changes, some of it has to come from better play from the guys on the roster. That’s what I expect to see from here on out.