Archives For July 2007

Your 07-08 Laker Roster?

Kurt —  July 19, 2007

The Lakers have resigned Chris Mihm for the coming year, so far the terms of the deal are not public. (Hat tip to Kwame a. in the comments for the link.)

That brings 14 players under contract on the Lakers roster (once D. Fish puts pen to paper), and the team said they were only going to carry 14. So, baring any big trades, this may well be it for the fall:

PG: Jordan Farmar/Derek Fisher/Jaravis Crittenton
SG: Kobe Bryant/Mo Evans/Sasha Vujacic
SF: Luke Walton/Vlad Radmanovic
PF: Lamar Odom/Brian Cook/Ronny Turiaf
C: Kwame Brown/Andrew Bynum/Chris Mihm

(Yes, some of the SF/PF may play out differently, but this is fairly close.)

How does that lineup make you feel? As I said before, I think this roster (if it stays healthy) is marginally better than last year’s roster, maybe more than marginally. Then again, much of the West is better, too. One thing is clear, this roster is not a title contender.

Summer League Stats, Thoughts

Kurt —  July 18, 2007

Before we wave goodbye to Vegas, let’s take one more look back at the Summer League. (If you’d rather read my thoughts on Los Angeles’ mood about Kobe, read this post at True Hoop.) Let’s start with the stats — I’m only putting up the stats for four of the Laker players because, well, only two likely will make the team and only two others sparked any kind of interest. So, here are the numbers.

Name eFG% 3pt % TS% Reb. Rate Ast. 40 Pts. P40 PPG
Crittenton 50% 25% 53.7% 6.3% 4.2 23.8 17
Farmar 42.2% 33.3% 51.8% 9.5% 6.6 17.4 11.6
Karl 63.8% 47.1% 66.7% 5.1% 2.5 20.6 12.2
Turner 50% NA 55.2% 17.7% 1.5 13.5 7.4

Here’s a little guide to those stats for those that are new here:

eFG%: Shooting percentage combining two and three pointers
3pt.%: Shooting percentage from beyond the arc
TS%: True Shooting Percentage, think of this as points per shot attempt, it covers twos, three, free throws all adjusted to be a percentage.
Reb Rate: Percentage of available rebounds a player grabbed while on the floor.
Ast. P40: Assists dished per 40 minutes of playing time.
Pts. P40: Points scored per 40 minutes of playing time.
PPG: Points per game

Now a few thoughts. And from me, just a few because unlike past years I only got to see one game of the Summer League and that was online. So I will rely heavily on the thoughts and comments of Reed, who attended the majority of games live (at great risk to his marriage).

Javaris Crittenton stood out as a pleasant surprise, he was more athletic and seemed to shoot better than I had imagined. I think the stats showed what we all thought going in, that his shot needs to be more consistent, but his form looked good, which is a good sign. While I liked him, Reed loved his game:

I saw numerous games in person last week, and Crittenton has as much “wow” factor as anyone else I watched. He made fans buzz in the stands. Over the course of the week, my stance on him progressed from, “great trade bait pick,” to “maybe he’ll challenge Farmar for backup point guard minutes next year,” to “keep him at all costs, he is a star in the making.” To me, he’s a “type 1 player” – definite star potential…. Crittenton really doesn’t have any obvious holes in his game. He is the total package physically: tall, strong, quick, great balance, explosive leaper. He has a well-rounded offensive game. He combines speed, strength, and a great handle to get to the paint in a variety of ways – isolated on the weak side, splitting the defenders in the screen and roll, lightning fast cut off the elbow weave, etc. Once in the paint, he (unlike Farmar) has the strength to bull through defenders and absorb contact to finish effectively right at the rim (though, he seems to overly favor going right and finishing with the right hand). On the perimeter, he has a consistent, soft spot up jumper out to the college three, but doesn’t seem to have consistent nba three point range. He also seems to lose accuracy when pulling up off the dribble, but the footwork and mechanics are there, suggesting he’ll quickly improve there. Javaris also showed controlled, but effective playmaking, setting up big men for high percentage layups and avoiding turnovers (though his college numbers suggest we should expect a high turnover rate for a while). He played brilliantly off the ball, consistently making smart cuts and finding openings in his wheelhouse on the perimeter when Farmar penetrated. On defense, I think Crittenton has the tools and focus to be a lock down defender. He is long, quick, and strong. He struggled a big in knowing when to come over the top of screens and when to switch, but he took well to Brian Shaw’s constant instruction on the issue.
Now, I’m not suggesting Crittenton is ready to come in right away and start. I’m not even sure that he’ll be a valuable rotation player this year. But, the tools are there for him to eventually be a dominant point guard. And, sooner than I previously thought.

Jordan Farmar.
His stats for the Summer League won’t wow you, but he showed leadership on the floor with a young team, something you like to see from your PG. And, his three-point shooting wasn’t amazing but 33% is an improvement over last summer and last season. But then, we knew he’d get better, his work ethic is one of his strengths. Again, here’s Reed:

Farmar’s game is not tailored to summer league success. Roughly speaking, there are two types of basketball players: (1) stars, aggressors, those who drive the action and carry teams, and (2) role/dependent players, those who react to the situations created by stars and fill in the cracks. Farmar is a classic type 2 player. He is never going be a star or capable of carrying a team offensively; his success will be dependent on him feeding off of the stars…. when placed next to a mishmash of raw summer league teammates, most of whom don’t understand the offense and aren’t concerned with doing anything other than shooting as soon as they get the ball, Farmar is going to struggle a little. We saw that throughout the summer league.

However, we also saw a lot of bright spots. Farmar was at his best when Crittenton joined him on the floor, for then he had a talented finisher to capitalize on his playmaking and deft management of the triangle. Jordan repeatedly broke down the defense with penetration off the weak side screen roll or triangle weave, culminating in him hitting a cutting or spotting up Crittenton for an easy basket.

Coby Karl. The kid can shoot (43% from three, that’s amazing in your back yard, let alone in real NBA competition). And there is always going to be a payday for smart players who can shoot. That may be in Europe, Karl’s lack of athleticism (he gets that from his father) may hold him back in the NBA, but he will get paid to play. Again, Reed:

As I noted in Thursday’s post, he is an interesting case because he does not have the requisite speed or ballhandling skills to be an effective point guard or the size of a shooting guard. Despite those limitations, he played very well in spurts, particularly in the early games, and displayed a coach’s son’s feel for the game. He has deep range with a quick release, rare passing instincts, a keen understanding of floor spacing in the triangle, and a relentless work ethic on defense. The Lakers strongest lineup consistently featured him, Farmar, and Crittenton, with Karl providing spacing on the perimeter and creative passing from the high post (including a crafty between the legs pass to a cutting guard from the free throw line). However, despite these virtues, I just see too many limitations that are unlikely to disappear. On offense, Karl is really only a stand still shooter. If a defender closes down on him and forces him to pick up the dribble, he does not have the speed to create real separation or the leaping ability to rise up and get off a high % jump shot. Instead, he is forced to pass the ball out to the reset the offense, or, at best, bull his way into the lane in the hopes of creating contact for free throws (which he did effectively a few times).

Larry Turner. He’s a bulky 6-11 center out of Tennessee State who proved he could board with the best and showed good effort on defense. It’s a long shot he makes the squad, but he deserves a camp invite. Some final thoughts from Reed:

If the Lakers look to the summer roster to bring in a cheap big body for insurance frontcourt depth, I think it has to be Turner. He is a legitimate 6’11” and built like a chiseled mountain. Huge upper body and fairly mobile. In both the Wednesday and Saturday games, the Lakers made big second half runs to storm behind from big deficits and capture the lead (though ultimately losing on Saturday). During both runs, Turner keyed the defense with aggressive (but relatively foul-free), pick and roll trapping, solid low post defense, strong board work, and a nose for loose balls. He is ok on offense, capable of catching and dunking or throwing up a decent righty jump hook. I see him as a poor man’s Ronnie Turiaf or Anderson Varejao.

Summer Progress Report

Kurt —  July 16, 2007

After the Shaq trade, I think most Lakers fans realized it was going to take three to four years to really rebuild this team around Kobe, and that was if everything was done right. Contenders are not made overnight (look at how Phoenix, San Antonio and Dallas were assembled).

How has it gone? Well, I’ve tried to block from my mind that first, Rudy T. coached year (but the barrage of threes still haunts my REM sleep). Phil Jackson returned in year two and gave the Lakers’ ship direction, progress was made. Then came last year, which was a step back (in part due to injuries).

After the season Kobe demanded that the team not just make up for that step back but rather make the big leap forward. Then he demanded the franchise do that or trade him (then just to trade him, which won’t happen this season). In my mind, in the original plan, year three of the Phil 2.0 era was to be the year the Lakers vaulted back to contention. And after two years we had a pretty good idea of what needed to be done to make the big step — I laid out my thoughts in four steps in the “Winning Now” post right after the season.

So, how are the Lakers doing on reaching those goals come mid July? (When things traditionally slow down.) Well, let’s break it down. (Note, the four items listed are out of order from the original post).

Improve the point guard position. First off, there is a certain amount of addition by subtraction here — Smash Parker will be a fine backup PG somewhere, but the Lakers should improve just by not having him as the starter night in and night out. At the end of the season my thoughts were to fill Smush’s shoes by making a big move, bringing in a quality PG that may be here for five years, and let Farmar be the backup. But I’ve come around to like what the Lakers did — draft Jarvis Crittenton and sign Derek Fisher for three years to bring some stability and leadership (likely off the bench) while two young talents find their footing in the NBA. It may be a bit of PG by committee this season, but this was a good long-term move. So, I consider this one done.

Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream. This one was really pretty easy and never really in doubt except by bored columnists. The Lakers have been building into a triangle team and losing to Phoenix did not mean the Lakers should change styles and try to emulate the run and gun. They haven’t. And this is good because we know the Triangle offense can win titles.

Defense first. Remember, the Lakers (despite all the injuries) scored 103.3 points per game last season, fifth best in the league. However, they have up 103.4. It was the lack of defense that held this team back. And will again if things don’t change.

That’s why I said every off-season move needed to be made with defense in mind. Fisher is not that — he can draw a charge and get a few steals, he’s a decent team defensive player, but he is not a solo stopper. He’s not solving the defensive issues. Having Farmar out top should help — he’s a better defender than Smush and will soak up some of Smush’s minutes — and Crittenton has the look of a good defender, we’ll see what he can do.

But for that trio to improve the Lakers perimeter defense, there needs to be a more threatening presence in the paint behind them than Kwame Brown.

Consistency in the paint. Nothing yet on this front. Next season is going to go down one of two ways for the Lakers front line, lets look at them.

• They make a big trade. This is the one thing that can vault the Lakers into contender status (as long as too much is not given up as to gut the team around the stars). If — and these are mighty, mighty big “ifs” — a Jermaine O’Neal or Kevin Garnett could be acquired at a reasonable price, the Lakers would have made the big move. (Other deals are possible, but those are the only two where we know there were talks.) The threat of either of those guys swatting Tony Parker’s lay-up into the third row would make our PG by committee defense instantly better. (To be fair, Parker has that pretty little running floater he likely would loft over KG’s outstretched arms, but I’m not going to think about that.) I think this is what most Lakers fans hope to see, and while the public chatter has died down I’d like to think Mitch Kupchak has not in trying to make a deal along these lines work.

• They come back with Kwame/Bynum/Mihm. This is not the end of the world, but it would mean more of last year. Kwame has had off-season surgery, so he should be healthy, and he’s in a contract year, so the locker-room joker should be motivated. Bynum has improved every year and reports are he’s been working with Laker coaches all summer. And some depth with Mihm is a plus (he could supplant Kwame if he returns to form). Basically, we can at least expect mild improvement here if they come back, and if that is the case and they stay healthy we get average play. And that likely means the Lakers land between 42-48 wins again.

The bottom line on where the Lakers stand — right now they are marginally better than last season, but then you could argue so is much of the Western Conference. Right now the Lakers have treaded water while setting themselves up to make a big splash. The question is, can Mitch find a way to take the plunge and make that splash.

Summer League First Person

Kurt —  July 12, 2007

One of my favorite parts of this blog (and I think some of the better stuff) came from my first-hand reporting of the Lakers happenings at the Summer Pro League in Long Beach the last couple of years. But, the Lakers have joined most of the rest of the NBA in Las Vegas, and I couldn’t get out there this year. Fortunately, commenter Reed lives in Vegas and he provides a front-row view from the game against Portland. Enjoy.

I finally found my way to the NBA Summer League last night. I had high hopes to see Oden and Durant, but, of course, they were busy with tonsillectomies and the Espy’s. If you swing through Vegas this weekend, make sure to stop by. It is a really, really different NBA experience – very informal, unregulated, open, intimate. Everywhere you turn there are NBA coaches, GM’s, players, foreign scouts, recognizable media, etc. Sam Presti looks all of eighteen. Aaron Afflalo likes a lot of ketchup. Nate McMillan is very, very sober.

I sat right behind the Sonic’s bench for their game against Milwaukee. Robert Swift must have spent the summer with Scott Pollard — has a long red pony tail, tattoos up both arms, and an assortment of lip and ear piercings. He spent most of the game leaning over and whispering awkward jokes to Jeff Green, who tried hard to ignore him.

I also sat directly behind the Lakers bench during their game. Close enough I could observe the coaches and players, hear trash-talking, and read Tex Winter’s stat sheets. Thoughts on the game:

• Kurt Rambis is eminently likeable. He reminds me of Larry’s agent in Curb Your Enthusiasm – the kind of person you would enjoy being around. He spent much of the first half playfully making fun of the players to Brian Shaw. When Jabari Smith forgot to jump for the opening tip, he sarcastically yelled, “Great Jabari, way to just stand there, that’s just what we need.” Rambis also has “presence,” more so than Shaw. He seems to command the players respect. Though, that may not be hard to do with a roster of desperate journeyman and rookies. He never stops teaching the fundamentals during timeouts and dead balls. He’s an asset as an assistant coach.

• Coby Karl is an interesting case. He really is too small and unathletic to play shooting guard, and not a good enough ball handler or fast enough to play the point. Martel Webster (the sixth overall pick in 2005) ate him up on offense — just too big, fast, athletic, and powerful (Webster looked incredible, a real breakout candidate). Webster blew by him and rose up over him for easy jump shots consistently. Yet, Karl still managed to positively impact the game. He has a quick shot with deep range, sees meaningful passes before most players, and plays with real tenacity. At one point, after Karl’s over-intense defense on Webster led to a deflection, Webster turned to him mockingly and said, “You better save some of that energy Coby.” Intentional or not, I was happy when the two got tangled in transition a few possessions later and Webster took a nasty fall — destroying his rhythm for the rest of the game. Karl’s basically a smaller, better shooting Luke Walton. If he can be hidden on defense by tracking a non-threatening opponent, he can be a solid rotation player in the league. Smart, well-schooled, and fundamentally sound. But, he’ll get absolutely dominated by the league’s better wing players. Tough call. I think he’s worth signing and putting in the D-League.

• Besides Farmar, Crittenton, and Karl, no one else has any chance of making the team. The bigs are… big. Nothing more. Jabari Smith is long and he tries hard, but he makes Kwame Brown look like Kevin McHale on the block. Just no game. He’s the type of player that approaches every timeout by smashing something on the bench after picking up a cheap foul or blowing an easy putback, followed by the coaches gently encouraging him. High on intentions, low on results. Larry Turner is massive. He’s has a Kwame physique, yet is even less polished than Jabari. White, Graves, Patterson, Gay, and the rest have little to offer at the NBA level. It’s a three man show with the big men around to get rebounds and feed the guards.

• Farmar and Crittenton look fantastic. Although it is only summer league, they clearly got the better of two skilled first round point guards in Sergio Rodriguez and Petteri Koponen. The two combined for 43 points on 15-28 shooting, 7 rebounds, 3 assists (some statkeeper wasn’t counting diligently…), and, most significantly, zero turnovers.

• Crittenton is more impressive physically — taller, thicker, stronger. He covers all the point guard skills well: lightning fast penetration, great finisher, good spot up shooter, controlled playmaking. His jump shot gets a little sketchy when he is forced to pull up off the dribble, but that won’t be his role on the Lakers for a few seasons. He scored 26 efficient points in every possible way. Very, very impressive. Yet, you can tell he’s only 19. He seems a little in awe of the situation and doesn’t quite realize how good he is. That’s the difference between watching Randy Foye and him right now — same ability, but Foye knows he’s better than the competition. Javaris seems a little surprised every time he does something well. I’m skeptical he will be ready to contribute against the best teams or in the playoffs this year, but his potential is greater than Farmar’s.

• Farmar was the best player on the court. He got less minutes and didn’t put up the same stat line as Crittenton, but he was the better player. He has the confidence that he’s been there before and knows he’s “the man” (of the summer team, anyway). He has obviously put some time in the weight room, with a much thicker upper body. On the court, he was flawless — patiently running the offense, creating plays in the paint, hitting open jump shots, finishing difficult layups, setting up Crittenton’s finishes, etc. Although the box score only showed two assists, many of Crittenton’s baskets came via Farmar breaking down the defense. Jordan could have scored 25 or 30 without any trouble, but he reigned in his opportunities to control the game. Very encouraging.

• As a side note, Farmar carries himself with quite an attitude. He’s “that guy” we’ve all played with that dramatically smirks when his teammates are out of place, aggressively directs traffic, and pouts when he gets called for a foul. He’s constantly coaching his teammates, giving butt slaps, and chatting/arguing with the coaches. Maybe he’s just filling a needed leadership void on the team, but let’s just say if I were choosing teams for a pick up game, I’d probably go a different direction… Unexpectedly, Rambis started Crittenton over him (I think to try and get Javaris into the flow early after a lackluster game 2), and Farmar incredulously asked why. Rambis just gave him a mischievous shrug and grin, as if to say “You’re not all that yet, so go sit down.” He sulked, but then came in and dominated. (Ed. note: The Lakers have always mixed up the starters at the summer league, changing it from game to game with little apparent reason other than to give everyone a shot.)

• Portland is loaded with young talent. Although Oden and Aldridge didn’t play, they still threw out four recent first rounders (Webster, Sergio Rodriguez, Petteri Koponen, Joel Freeland) and a few underrated second rounders (Josh McRoberts and Taurean Green). Webster has the talent to be a star. Rodriguez and Koponen (two late first round point guards) both really know what they are doing. They are skilled ballhandlers, understand when and how to distribute, have nice range, etc. Portland will probably stash them overseas and bring them up in a year or two when they are really ready. Rodriguez in particular really controlled the offense. McRoberts was a steal. His upper body lacks any kind of definition (in sharp contract to almost every other big man I saw), but he has a great feel for the game. He consistently made impressive passes from the high post and hit nice fall away jump shots from the baseline. He’ll struggle for a few years, but once he fills out and develops the consistent 20 footer, he’ll be a nice power forward in the league.

Final thoughts:

After watching the Laker point guards this summer and tracking free agency, I think it would be a colossal mistake to sign Steve Blake, Mo Williams, or any other top tier free agent point guard to a full five-year midlevel contract. While Farmar and Crittenton are not ready man the point of a contending team this season, they both have the potential to quickly match or surpass the production of Blake/Williams. (I recognize Williams put up big numbers last year and do think he is talented, but I also think it was a case of an above average player putting up big statistics on a terrible, injury-depleted team. Remember, Ruben Patterson also averaged 15 points on that team last year.) Signing a free agent point guards to a five or six year deal makes no sense. What would we do with Steve Blake and his 6M for years 4-6 when Farmar/Crittenton has surpassed him? If we had cap room to pursue Billups that would be one thing, but there isn’t an impact free agent available to us. All we need is a veteran who can give us short term stability at the position while our young point guards are groomed. A placeholder that can immediately contribute. Learning the triangle and how to mesh with Kobe takes time, even seasons. Fisher is the one point guard out there who can seamlessly step in and fortify the position without jeopardizing the long-term growth of our young gems. Farmar and Crittenton are skilled, athletic, well-rounded talents with great instincts for the game. As none of the available free agents has any more upside than our two point guards, signing Fisher, who is ready to contribute now, to a shorter, smaller deal makes great sense. (For more of Reed’s thoughts on the Fisher signing and what it means, be sure to read this.)

Fish Back on the Menu

Gatinho —  July 10, 2007

Fisher changed agents over the weekend to be represented by Rob Pelinka, Bryant’s agent…

The OC Register is reporting 3 years at about 16 million dollars.

Is this too much money for an aging but gutsy player with playoff, triangle, and Kobe Bryant experience?

If you saw his performances in this year’s playoffs, you know the same heart still beats big in this man’s chest.

Kurt has posted his defensive stats here recently, and they were not promising and at this point in his career can they get better?

But for all his past gloriesFisher returned from injury to convert 35 three-pointers throughout the playoffs, setting an NBA record with 15 threes in the four-game series against San Antonio… and his veteran and stabling presence, his ability to tutor these young bucks in the ways of the offense…

There are intangibles in play here that can’t be measured.

Welcome back Mr. Lucky Shot.