Archives For March 2007

First Draft Thought

Kurt —  March 8, 2007

Since last night’s game is not worth discussing on any level, and others already are doing a great job finding the video evidence to question the Kobe suspension, I figured this was a good time to look ahead a little and see who the people who follow this stuff have the Lakers taking in the draft.

As of right now, the Lakers are picking 20th overall, which means one thing — take the best available player, regardless of position. There are no franchise guys to be found where the Lakers are picking, so you get the best guy you can.

The recently redone but always brilliant Draft Express has the Lakers taking 7-1 center Aaron Gray out of Pittsburgh. I haven’t seen him play, but Draft Express describes him as big, strong guy with soft hands — “He is a bear for opposing defenders to defend if they are trying to front or three quarter front him.” He also is a great rebounder. Downsides: He struggles even in college against guys who can face up or take him outside the block on defense.

Don’t like that? Well, NBAdraft.net has the Lakers taking the athletic shooting guard Nick Young out of USC. He is exciting to watch, can shoot (47% on threes this season) and can finish at the rim. Also, in watching him, he looks like he has the rare good mid-range game, something that would fit well in the triangle. The downside: As my Trojan fans friends will back up, he is inconsistent, not seeming focused every night. Particularly on defense. I personally have an aversion to guys who don’t bring it every game in college, some become great pros while others become way too comfortable with the NBA money and lifestyle. Young would be fun, however.

The Lakers should not draft a PG just because it’s a weakness — Smush may well be gone and Farmar will develop. I’d rather bring in a veteran with Farmar as the primary back up, developing into a starter. Another center makes some sense, Kwame is in his last year and is trade bait with the expiring deal, Bynum is clearly the man of the future but who can you get to back him up cheaply?

But at this point, you take the best player and fit him in, regardless of position. There are countless workouts and video sessions ahead as the list becomes refined, but those are two guys who may be around when the Lakers draft you may want to watch during thee NCAA Tournament. A few others: Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina), Dominic James (PG Marquette), Alando Tucker (SF Wisconsin).

Any other suggestions?

Tonight could get ugly — Kobe has been suspended for tonight’s game by the league for the play on Jaric. While we could well argue that the league should just allow people to hit Jaric (Clipper fans will back that up), there was little doubt this was going to come down today. This play was almost identical to what happened against Ginobli, so the league had no choice but to be consistent.

Tough way to come in to take on the Bucks: No Odom or Kobe, plus last night Cook played 49 minutes, Evans 44, Smush 42, and the list goes on. Add to the tired legs the hard loss last night and we’ll see how much fortitude this Laker team has tonight.

That fortitude has to start with finding a way to cover Michael Redd — last meeting he dropped 45 on the Lakers while shooting 61.6%, leading the Bucks to the win. He is one of the best shooters in the game, although he is weaker from the midrange on the right side of the court. But you can’t give him good looks from anywhere, my guess that will fall to Evans and Sasha.

Overall the Lakers have to play better defense than the first meeting when the Bucks shot 54.7% (eFG%) and 43.8% from three.

Also in that game, Odom had 21 points and 13 boards, Kobe had 27 and Walton added 14 points. Those have to be made up somewhere — but even still the Lakers should be able to get some offense going. The Bucks are the second worst defensive team in the NBA, and are second worst in opponent eFG%.

Also, the Bucks are the worst defensive rebounding team in the league — Bynum, Kwame and others need to crash the boards, get a few easy ones on misses.

One thing to drool over tonight: Bucks PG Mo Williams will be a free agent this summer. The bad news is I think there is little chance the Lakers will be able to afford him.

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Sometimes, I regret watching a game on TiVo after knowing the outcome because I just get frustrated. The double OT loss to Minnesota was one of those games — and there was plenty to be frustrated about. How hard is it to execute an inbounds play? When did Mark Blount learn to shoot threes? (That one is one of those where I say “good on him” for making the play, if you told me that the T-Wolves are going need Blount to hit threes to win the game I’d take that chance.) Why is the zone defense so baffling for the Lakers? Why can’t they shoot free throws? How do you not know the shot clock? Then there’s “the technical” or Phil not subbing out anyone in the overtimes when it was clear guys were dragging.

But, as you commenters noted, a lot of that comes back to the rash of injuries.

McKie should not be making inbounds passes, Luke Walton should be. He would have seen Cook standing unbelievably wide open with the chance to win the game. But, you say, Cook could not throw a pea in the ocean in that game (thanks Chick), even if he had gotten the ball he would have missed. But Phil didn’t have Radmanovic to turn to as the hotter hand that night. And he didn’t have Odom to take on Garnett, he had to go with Cook. The result was Cook having to play 49 minutes often matched against one of the league’s best players, leaving the Lakers with other bad matchups, including on Blount.

I’m not trying to make excuses — McKie is veteran who should make better decisions. Cook asked for chances and needs to take advantage of them. Guys need to step up. But there was a reason that McKie has sat much of the last two seasons, reasons Cook is not given key defensive assignments. Right now the collection of injuries is forcing Phil to make player and matchup choices he would prefer not to, just because he sees it as the best option he has. We can question some of those decisions, and should, but there are not great answers on the current roster. And that is hurting the Lakers and costing them games.

What’s up with Luke? Turns out he has tendonitis in his ankle. In a radio interview this morning (one that was a classic example of why it is hard to listen to sports talk radio in LA) he said he was relieved by the diagnosis because it could have been worse.

Don’t expect him back for another week or two.

The Wolves are slumping. The Timberwolves are 3-7 in their last 10 (same as the Lakers) and have lost six of the last seven, and three straight. That includes a loss to the Celtics, the one team the Lakers had little trouble with lately.

Don’t fret for Minnesota. Things are going to turn around there because they have the best GM in all of sports in Kevin McHale. Forbes magazine says so. (Via True Hoop.)

Last meeting. Back in December the Lakers beat the T-Wolves in what may have been my favorite game this season — LA went on a 34-5 run in the fourth quarter where all the starters sat and the lineup was Farmar, Sasha, Evans, VladRad and Bynum. As a team the Lakers shot 61.7% (eFG%) and 47.1% from three in that game.

Garnett had 22 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the loss.

Garnett is not slumping. While he has basically nobody around him, KG is still, well, KG. Against the Celtics he had 33, 13 and 10, his third triple-double of the season — all in the last month. In the last 10 games he is shooting 50.6% on his way to 23.7 PPG and 13.5 rebounds per game.

He’s not the LA savior. I’ll believe KG will ask out of Minnesota when it happens, I wouldn’t hold your breath. But even if it does, there are several teams that can put together as good or better packages than the Lakers. Including teams like Chicago, which meets the standard superstar trade criteria of making sure he goes to the other conference.

What I’m saying is I’m not a fan of pinning your hopes on this kind of long shot in general, and this one in particular. Better to focus on what you can do, not count on KG riding in to save the Lakers.

The other T-Wolf to stop. Last meeting with the Lakers, Ricky Davis scored 22 on 9 of 16 shooting. In his last 10 games he’s been shooting 56.7% (eFG%) and 44.2% from three. KG is going to get his, but you can’t let Ricky Davis beat you — and close out on him on threes. He’s a pretty good midrange shooter but better from deep.

Things to look for: If the Lakers play defense like they did against Phoenix they will win handily. If they revert back to the Sacramento game defense, they could lose to Artesia High School.

Don’t turn the ball over — the T-Wolves are 27th in the league in creating turnovers and have won just 35% of their games against the 10 teams that turn the ball over the least in the league. That is not the Lakers (they are middle of the pack), but if they can curb the turnover habit for a night it will go a long way toward getting the win.

I’d love to see another big game from the bench tonight. The Lakers are depleted, but the Wolves are thin.

As I said yesterday, I’m curious about how Smush comes out after his benching at the end of last game. My guess, he comes out gunning. But I hope I’m wrong. Also, I’m curious to see how Phil deals with him in the lineup, and the front line rotations. Because of the injuries Phil seems to be experimenting again.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  March 5, 2007

Lots of notes and random thoughts in a grab bag today:

• We learn the fate of Lamar Odom today, and there will be an update here as soon as word comes down. That said, I’m not optimistic, and neither is the Will Carroll, who made a comment here:

Unfortunately, I don’t have the same sources I do in basketball that I do in baseball. I think that Odom’s significant labrum tear is likely to end his season. He wont be able to reach up strongly for rebounds, would have significant pain if hit or worse, has his arms pulled or chopped, and I have to think it would affect his shot. It’s a bad, bad injury.

UPDATE: Odom is going to do a mini D Wade move, rehab it for a couple weeks then decide whether to come back or go under the knife.

• I don’t believe in moral victories at the professional level, but some losses sting less than others. The loss to Phoenix didn’t hurt much. If the Lakers play defense like that the rest of the way they will win plenty of games.

• I’ll add, I think it helped that the Lakers played the Suns last year in the playoffs. During the regular season there is little time for NBA teams to practice and most scouting and preparing for a team is of the video/grease board variety. But the Lakers had game experience in what to do against Phoenix, what their preferences were. It showed.

• The best part of the ABC broadcast — did you see the post-game interview with Steve Nash? He gets asked about the 2 for 11 first half and why he played better in the second half and his response is (not an exact quote), “I spent most of the pregame warm-ups in the bathroom with diarrhea… I probably shouldn’t have said that.” Honesty can be damn funny.

• Forget who starts, let’s look at the Lakers lineup for the final 5 minutes against Phoenix: Shammond, Sasha, Kobe, Cook and Kwame. The squad that Phil perceived as playing the best defense (we could argue some of those).

• What was getting Smush in trouble with Nash (at least more than the other guards) is the classic Smush problem — he would go for the steal and that opens up a lane for a good ball handler. Shammond just tried as best he could to stay in front of him, which is why he got the crunch-time minutes. I think it will be interesting to see how Smush responds to this at the start of the next game. Does he learn and change a little on the defensive end? Or does he try to go on a scoring binge, saying basically “you can’t afford to lose my offense right now?”

• For the game, Bynum was a team best +9, Kwame a team worst -15. It’s one game, so take that with a lot of salt. But I’d say right now Bynum offers a lot more offense, but even the rusty Kwame does a better job defending the pick-and-roll. In the comments on the game there started to have a good discussion about that.

• Pippen and Jackson talked. While Pippen was barbequing. Here’s the thing: I think Pippen could be a help but there is no way you sign him unless he comes for a workout. There wasn’t much in the tank two years ago when he played, and he admitted that as of last week he hadn’t played five-on-five recently.

The Lakers may be desperate with Odom out, but how much can Pippen really contribute? We can’t think of him as the 1997 Pippen, we need to evaluate the 2007 model. And there are questions that need to be answered before McKie is cut and a contract signed.

Preview & Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  March 4, 2007

Who gets the playing time with Odom out? Odom is out for at least this four game road trip, so who gets the minutes? It will depend on the matchups, but with Cook the only healthy four (and he plays more like a three) I would expect Phil to try to go small more, maybe start Smush, Kobe, Mo Evans (who is back), Cook and Bynum, with more time for Shammond, McKie and Sasha (and Farmar) off the bench. One other option against bigger teams is to pair Turiaf with Bynum/Kwame along the front line.

Get out and run. Despite what Coach Norman Dale told us, some interesting work at 82 games suggests that teams that play at a faster pace tend to be more efficient on offense. Rob (from this site) broke it down earlier this season with the Lakers, they tended to be more efficient and win more when the pace was up.

150?
If the Lakers play defense against the Suns like they did against Sacramento on Friday, how many points can the Suns score?

It Takes Five. While certain players bear the brunt of our frustrations with the defense, the loss to the Kings was a total team effort of crappyness on that end of the floor. Kobe is often considered the Lakers best defender and maybe his lack of focus was the catalyst for the entire team’s let down. To illustrate the total team “effort” let’s go over those first 10 Kings points:

• After winning the tip, the Kings work it around a little then get the ball to Artest high out on the wing, who dumps it in the post to Kenny Thomas, being covered by Brian Cook. Thomas spins to the middle and gets into the key, so Kobe decides to sag off Kevin Martin (the best and hottest shooter on the Kings) to double the 5 PPG Thomas. Thomas wisely kicks the ball out to Martin at the three point line straight away, Kobe is forced to run at him to prevent the three, Martin makes a ball fake and then steps right past Kobe, moves to his left and hits the clean 13-foot look. 2-0.

• With 13 to go on the shot clock, Martin has the ball right wing just beyond the three point line, where Ron “I love this city — just look at my haircut” Artest sets a pick on Kobe. Odom (on Artest) hedges to prevent Martin getting another good midrange look, while Kobe does a good job fighting through the pick and recovering. Artest, being ignored, takes a step to his right and sets up beyond the arc, Martin gets him the ball, and Odom is far too slow to recover, giving Artest a clean look at a three. 5-0.

http://scores.espn.go.com/nba/photos?photoId=1453818&gameId=270302013

• Bibby grabs the rebound on an Odom miss and pushes the ball up the court, but there is nothing there. He hesitates out top for a second and Thomas comes out to set a pick. But Bibby goes to the crossover away from the pick and Smush is caught flat-footed. Bibby drills the 21 footer. 7-0.

• After a Cook miss the Kings again push the ball up and while nothing develops several Lakers are forced to cover the closest King (not their man) to prevent a fast-break basket. The Kings kick the ball back out top to Bibby, who gets an uncalled moving screen from Brad Miller and drives the lane at Bynum. Meanwhile, some of the Lakers switch back to their assigned men but some don’t — namely Kobe, who rather than track down Martin plays a one-man zone. So Martin slides to the open spot, gets the kick-out from Bibby and has time to set his feet, line up his shot and cook a four-course meal before shooting the three. 10-0.

Missing Odom.
Of all the teams to not have Odom in the lineup for, Phoenix is a tough one. He is one of the few Lakers with the length and athleticism to slow the Suns’ deep front line. Plus, last time these two met he threw in 34 on 50% shooting. He will be missed.

Things to look for: Defense. Any sign of it.

Also, remember last season the Lakers lost the first three regular season games to the Suns when Kobe was option one, two and three in the offense and he scored 40+. They won games in the playoffs pounding the ball inside and with other guys stepping up. Granted, it’s harder to pound it inside this year with Amare swatting balls into the fourth row, but they need to start that way.