Archives For March 2007

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.

Kareem vs. Bruce Lee: The guys at NBA Fanhouse have been mining Youtube and found a classic.

Dare we say “winning streak? Here are the next five Laker games — Minnesota, Memphis, New Orleans, Golden State, Memphis. All winable, and a chance to get their confidence back heading toward the playoffs.

Last meeting. These two teams got together for a double-overtime game two weeks ago, a game where Minnesota stayed close in the fourth quarter because Mark Blount suddenly thought he was Jason Kapono and went 3-3 from three-point range. Minnesota eventually won in double overtime.

For the most part the Lakers played pretty good defense in that game, even Rickey Davis (who had 33 points) was 10-23 from the floor (but got to the line a lot and was 12-12 there). Garnett also shot under 50%.

It was the Laker offense that sputtered in that game, particularly late — there were the three failed inbounds plays, and the team being baffled by the zone defense. Outside of Kobe the Lakers shot 41.3%.

But this time the Lakers have Odom and Walton back.
Walton is expected back tonight.

Things to look for: I’m guessing we won’t see Kobe throwing his arm out and hitting Jaric in the face again. Jaric will likely get the primary Kobe assignment, as Trenton Hassell is not completely healed from a sprained ankle.

With Jaric trying to overplay Kobe and deny him the ball, other guys should be able to get good matchups and looks, Odom, others need to step up.

Hopefully the Lakers will have better defensive rotations out to the three-point line — it was a weak spot against Portland. They need to get out there even if the guy shooting is some 7-foot center, like Blount.

Look for a big game from Smush on offense — the T-Wolves are worse at defending the point guard spot than the Lakers (Smush had 24 in the last meeting on 64.3% [eFG%] shooting). Of course, they also struggle to defend the two, and I think that guy who plays the two for the Lakers can score pretty well too.

Our Kevin Garnett Offer

Kurt —  March 17, 2007

As I said before, this blog entered a hypothetical bidding war with the Celtics and the Bulls for the rights to KG. This was really a group effort, my original proposal changed dramatically after reading at your comments, seeing your votes and thinking of how to make a proposal work. I put the proposal in the form of an open letter.

To Minnesota General Manager Kevin McHale;

Hello, we’re looking forward to doing a little business with you. Can we call you Kevin? Okay, Mr. McHale it is. Anyway, we know you don’t want to give up the guy who has been the cornerstone of your franchise for the past decade, but since he asked out you want to be a good guy and help him out. We understand. And we want to help you out.

See, we have some experience with trading superstars, we did it just a few years ago. And, let me tell you, no matter what you do, you’re going to get excoriated for it. That said, do it right and you can start a rebuild the team for the future with this move — clear out some cap space and really start to restructure the roster. We want to be fair, so we’ll give you an offer comparable to what we got when we traded our superstar away a few years ago:

Lamar Odom
Kwame Brown
Brian Cook
Vladimir Radmanovic
2008 First round draft pick, unprotected


Kevin Garnett
Mike James

Odom gives you a legitimate star you can run the offense through, Vladimir is a great third option who can shoot outside but is better around the basket than we thought when we got him, Brian Cook will give you some scoring punch off the bench, Kwame Brown is a $9 million expiring contract (and Odom’s deal has just two more years), plus we hear the at 2008 draft is going to be great. You get to make Garnett happy and clear out that ugly Mike James contract (VladRad’s contract is ultimately worth the same amount as James’ but spread over one more year and you get a better player). If you want to take Radmanovic and James out of the deal, we can do that.

You’re asking about Andrew Bynum? Sorry, we’ve talked it over and, to be honest, we’re pretty split on the idea of including him in a deal. But, when you look at the NBA champions of the last decade we keep seeing guys like Duncan, Shaq and Ben Wallace in the paint, guys who anchor the middle for their respective teams. We’re not sure how good Bynum will be ultimately — maybe a healthy Brad Daugherty? — but we see him as the anchor beyond the three or four years Kobe and Garnett could have together. So, he’s off the table.

That’s the offer. If you don’t want to take it, we understand (but we’d still like to talk to you about being the third team in a Jason Kidd deal).


The Laker Fanbase

65 To Enjoy

Kurt —  March 17, 2007

Kobe had the kind of performance you just need to sit back and watch a few times.

Light at the end of the tunnel. The first quarter last night, when the “these were the guys we are supposed to have out there” starters were in the game, the Laker offense looked like a triangle again. Guys were moving without the ball, Kobe was drawing the double team then dishing (and guys actually hit the shot). There was spacing and passing lanes. As a team the Lakers shot 60% in the first quarter. It gave me some hope — once Luke and Lamar get their legs under them again, the offense could get back to where it was.

That light at the end of the tunnel could be an oncoming train. While the offense looked good for a stretch, the Laker defense looked, well, like the Laker defense. It still sucks. Steve Kerr gets it and said this last night:

“Despite the fact that (Kwame Brown’s) numbers aren’t great and he’s taken a lot of heat this year, he’s a big reason for (the Lakers’) lapse in defense, they miss his body and his inside presence. Because of his absence and that of Chris Mihm, the Lakers have been very porous defensively.”

The third quarter run by the Nuggets started when Bynum subbed in for Kwame with the game tied, the next thing you knew the Lakers were down 11. And it got uglier from there. For the game the Nuggets shot 60.5% (eFG%), 69% in the third quarter, and you’re not going to win games allowing your opponents to shoot like that.

The last meeting with Portland looked like last night. The Lakers fell to the Blazers last month, Portland pulling away with a 16-2 run in the fourth quarter. It was maybe the Lakers sloppiest defensive game of the season. Jarret Jack abused Smush for 30 points on 9 of 12 shooting, Zach Randolph stepped away from the basket and Bynum didn’t follow, so he had 22.

During the key stretch, Portland relied primarily on the pick-and-pop, with Roy and Aldridge a couple times, with Dickau and Randolph another time. The Lakers misplayed it just about every way possible. I think the Lakers can count on seeing a lot more of this tonight.

Another big difference was how much the Trailblazer bench outplayed the Laker bench.

Things to look for: Phil did one smart thing last night, sitting Lamar and Walton when the game got out of reach, resting them for tonight.

I’m curious to see if the offense runs smoothly for longer tonight. That said, play defense like last time these two met and the issue is moot.

Defensively, it means forcing Randolph into the midrange and then — unlike last game — don’t give him time to set and get a perfect look from there. He’s not a great mid-range shooter if you get a hand in his face.

And for the love of God, somebody stay in front of Jack. At least sometimes.

Hard drive crashes suck

I had a preview ready to go for tonight’s matchup, complete with numbers and some analysis that I thought was pretty good, but it now lives in a limbo land (the same with the final on the KG trade ideas, but that will be up later tonight).

Anyway, what the story said is that Iverson is scoring at about the same pace he was at in Philly, but he is shooting a little high percentage. While Carmelo has gotten some bad national press, his numbers seem to be about the same as well. And Camby has been thriving.

For the Lakers, we could see the old starting lineup of Smush, Kobe, Walton, Odom and Kwame back tonight, which would be a welcome sight. Cook is out because, well, only one power forward at a time on the Laker roster.

I hope the days of frustration will start to fade for Laker fans. That said, Smush is still the starting point and that made Goo wax poetic in the comments (and sing this to yourself as a Christmas classic):

You can just shoot
Or you can just drive
Your points will follow suit
I’m telling you why
Smush Parker is coming to town
He’ll lunge for a steal
Or get caught in a screen
Watching him play defense
Makes me lunge for morphine
Smush Parker is coming to town
He watches when you’re shooting
Though he’s 15 feet away
He hacks at every shot you take
So just try a few pump fakes!
O! Just wait till he pouts
Then you can just blow by
Tell your mom to watch the game
Cause you’ll score a career high
Smush Parker is coming to town!

Why waste time — who do you have in your Final Four? I’ve got Florida, Kansas, Georgetown and Texas A&M, with Kansas beating A&M in the finals.

There is no shortage of information on college teams out on the Web, but if you want some of the stats I use here to help with your picks check out Ken Pomory’s site, which has more quality info than just about anywhere. And, if all you care about is the NBA and you’re watching the NCAA games just as draft scouting, be sure to check out the NBA Fanhouse series College Eye For The NBA Guy where they break down potential draft picks to watch.

As for a few thoughts on the local teams…

If you don’t know much about Long Beach State, check out my primer over at LAist. They bring the Phoenix Suns “small ball” — but with a more gambling defense — to the college game. They start three guards and the tallest player is 6’6”. They average 68 possessions a game, the 19th fastest pace in the nation (out of 366 teams), with an offensive rating of 109.6 (points per 100 possessions). The guy to watch is Aaron Nixon, he has just about unlimited range, well beyond the NBA three, and he is fearless about shot selection (in both the good and bad way). Plus with five seniors starting and seven in key roles, Long Beach can be dangerous.

Except that they get a bad match up (but a fun one for fans), Tennessee plays almost exactly the same style but do it better. They are 15th in the nation in pace (73 possessions a game) with an offensive rating of 115.1. For fans this will be a fun game to watch, up and down pace and a lot of scoring and steals. Bet the over and enjoy.

For USC, I want to see them match up with Texas in the second round. Nick Young and Kevin Durant could put on quite a show, and that would be a lot of quality athletes on the floor at the same time. Texas will win, but that will be fun.

As for the Bruins, I really like them — I just like Kansas better, hence I have UCLA losing in the elite eight. But they play great defense (Laker fans, that’s what a defensive rotation looks like, in case you were wondering) and any team that does that has a chance. Plus, Collison at the point is a great floor general who gets the ball to the hot hand and to guys in good positions. I’ll be pulling for them to screw up my pool.


Just a few Laker things while we’re at it:

• Kobe’s wayward elbows have gotten him in more legal trouble. Really, we all should have seen this one coming.

• Very interesting post (aren’t they all) by Roland Lazenby wondering what Phil Jackson is up to:

Where Phil’s relationship with Michael and Shaq worked because of a strong supporting cast, Phil’s relationship with Kobe is now perhaps suffocating a superstar.

Once he forms a relationship, Phil tends to cut off communication between the rest of the coaching staff and the superstar. It’s Phil and the star, with little outside interference tolerated.

This season for the Lakers is mostly kaput. IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

So Phil needs to lighten up a bit with Kobe. Let him loose to enjoy whatever they can find in this year’s circumstances.

But Laker fans also have to lighten up. Phil’s basic premise, his MO of forming a strong bond with his superstar, is a proven thing.

The Lakers must start again next season, once again bringing along the supporting cast as Kobe matures into the star and leader he can be. When they were healthy and growing dynamically as a team, they earned the fans’ patience and forbearance.

In this case, “wait until next season” is not a platitude. It’s a legitimate strategy.