Archives For August 2007

Argentina and Other Thoughts

Kurt —  August 31, 2007

I got injured the other day just watching Beckham play…..

• Well, if Argentina wants another shot at the USA, they should get it in a few days. But after watching the first meeting I’m not sure the second one will turn out any differently.

• News flash: Kobe likes big games.

He scored the first eight USA points in classic Kobe fashion — if you are not right up on him he thinks he’s open and hits the shot. He drained his first couple shots that way theen, two trips later (after Carmello’s three), Kobe gets the outlet pass but chooses not to get the ball ahead to Kidd who is pushing the pace, brings it up himself and takes a heat-check three from NBA distance — something else very Kobe but not something he needs to do with this team.

Still, Kobe was relentless against a defender that could not begin to handle him. He drove right past his man one trip down in the first quarter for a nice layup, then in the next half-court set he got a high pick from Howard, Kobe’s man remembered what happened the time before and went under the pick to prevent the drive, so Kobe stepped back and burried he three. He can be an instoppable offensive machine.

• Defensively, the USA seemed to step up the physicality throughout the tournament, really adjusting to the international game and banging a little.

They also changed up their looks on Argentina’s vaunted pick and roll — they switched at times and showed hard at other times (with the defending big stepping out on the ball handler until the defending guard can recover), and they did a pretty good job rotating behind the two defenders to pick up the guy rolling to the basket (the atheticism of the USA bigs also allows them to recover quickly). That said, I thought Argentina was a little sloppy in the first half setting the picks.

• Argentina has read the book on the USA, and early on they were getting back in transition and being patient on offense. When you play a team that can score like the USA, fewer possessions is better. But they didn’t take advantage of it. In the first half they were just missing some open looks from three and finished the half 1 of 12 from downtown (for the game 5 of 21). Think they miss Ginobli?

All those missess allowed the USA plenty of the fast break chances, where the USA thrives.

• The USA was having no such trouble hitting from three — 8 of 17 in the first half.That’s part of the reason the second half was a laugher.

• Sometimes when you’re on the one coast you don’t see as much of some players on the other coast, and when you do get to see then you remember how special they are. Jason Kidd has been that for me — man is he is fun to watch.

• I like Luis Scola. He showed a nice handle and hustle for first basket. Later he shows good footwork with a couple moves in the post, one time recognizing Tayshaun Prince was on him so he posted Prince up and abused him. He also drained some nice shots from the midrange. He is going to fit in great with Houston.

• Next up is the only game that really matters — if the USA beats Peurto Rico again they get their ticket punched to Bejing. If you want to read more on what the first meeting of these two teams was like, you should check out The Painted Area.

• Great trip in the Way-Back Machine to when the Lakers and Bulls met in the 1991 NBA Finals.

• Man, we all miss Chick. Things have not been the same without him. (Via Henry at True Hoop, who I swear reads every word written on the Web.)

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  August 29, 2007

Thoughts while waiting for the Notre Dame/Georgia Tech kick-off……

• Yesterday in the comments I asked for thoughts about what makes Kobe “KOBE.” Great answers, particularly Craig W. All of that pushed me into giving better answers to Tom Ziller from Fanhouse (and Sactown Royalty) on why Kobe deserved their ranking as the number one “cornerstone” player in the NBA. You can read his post with my comments — inspired by yours — here.

• Interesting that the smart folks at Fanhouse went with Kobe over Wade and LeBron. Not to knock Kobe, who I think is the better player right now, but LeBron would be my choice as he is much younger. However, if you are saying who do you take without age or contract mattering I take Kobe. Well, unless I can get Shaq circa 1999-2000 and keep him frozen in time.

• Sort of looking forward to the USA/Argentina game Thursday, just to see if anyone can push the USA in this tournament. Like many of you, I find myself tuning out early in USA games because they are so dominant it’s just not fun to watch. Team USA is starting to look bored as well.

• All that matters for Team USA now — win Saturday. Do that and you get the Olympic hall pass.

• Just got my first HDTV, made sure I set it up, so I can watch those USA hoops games in low def. At least the US Open is in HD — the tennis looks a little better, but the establishing shots of New York in HD are stunning.

• Great note by former Laker beat writer Ross Siler, now with the Salt Lake Tribune, about the “Wiki-Walton” phenomenon during this tournament (hat tip to True Hoop):

The story of the tournament, if anyone wants to write it, has to be the opportunity these blowouts have presented for Walton to detail the cultural and political history of the U.S. opponents, as well as their major geographical landmarks.

Who would have guessed, for example, that one man knew so much about the Sea of Cortez? It’s like Walton’s playing Trivial Pursuit against himself from behind the microphone. He is his own Wikipedia.

We learned Monday that Mexico City is home to the world’s second-largest public square and that Latinos in America have a purchasing power of some $800 billion. We learned that Walton used to cross the border growing up in San Diego to play basketball in Tijuana.

We heard about the devastation of Hurricane Dean, about the Baja Peninsula being the world’s third-longest peninsula (not to mention that the main road wasn’t paved until the 1970s) and one man controls 14 percent of Mexico’s entire economy.

Just imagine what Walton will come up with for the Uruguay game on Wednesday. And imagine how great it would have been to lock Walton and Chavez in a room somewhere in Caracas this summer.

• Walton and the ESPN crew are doing these games from a studio in Bristol, not in Vegas. They did that last year in Japan, and I got that, lots of travel there. But Vegas? Strikes me as another sign of the focus on the Entertainment and not so much the Sports at ESPN these days.

Forgive the corny Hope/Crosby headline, but the USA looks like a lock to go to the 2008 Olympics — and first and foremost this is what had to happen in this Tournament of Americas we’ve all been glued to. (Well, maybe glued isn’t the right word….) After watching all four USA games plus a little here and there from other games, and I think we can safely say the USA is the class of this tournament.

The numbers back that up. Look at some key stats from the top four teams in the tournament.

Team eFG% Pace Off. Rating Def. Rating
USA 66.4% 80.2 138 82.3
Brazil 50.2% 75.9 113.9 110.6
Argentina 57.2% 78.5 119.6 96.6
Uruguay 50.2% 77.2 107.1 107


(A quick key for those of you new here: eFG%: Shooting percentage combining two and three pointers; Pace, possessions per game; Off. Rating, points scored per 100 possessions; Def. Rating, points given up per 100 possessions.)

The USA not only has its expected best offense (although they still revert to the one-on-one game too quickly), it has been playing the best defense as well. Now, what they have done has not totally eliminated my defensive concerns from last year in Japan — there has been no change in philosophy, they have just put out better defenders and upped the pressure (great story by Eric Neel about the new USA attitude). That’s been more than good enough here, will it be good enough next summer is the question.

The numbers suggest that even without all their best players, Argentina is the second best team, although I think Brazil is pretty close. (Remember, those stats are from just four games, and one of Brazil’s games was against the USA while Argentina has yet to play them.) My guess is that these two teams could meet in one of the semi-final games next Saturday, with an Olympic berth on the line, and that will be quite a game.

After that, the talent drops off pretty far. Uruguay is 3-1 and in second place in their division, but look at their numbers and they should be a .500 team (one of their wins was in overtime against Panama, a team that also took Argentina to overtime). They are a one man crew — Estiban Batista is leading the entire tournament in points and rebounds, averaging 23 and 15. Curious to see him against the USA front line.

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The best way to get into what the USA is doing right is to get into a breakdown of the plays that helped them pull away last night against Brazil.

As we pick up the action it was a two-point USA lead with 8:10 left in the second after Barbosa outran the entire USA team down the court, caught the long-heave and laid it in.

USA up 2: After trying a couple other things the USA goes with the pick and roll out on the wing with LeBron handling the ball and Howard throwing a nice elbow into the LeBrons man to slow him, but Nene switches well and handles LeBron, who kicks it back out top of the key to Billups. Chauncey surveys the situation and whips it back into the corner to LeBron, but this time Nene has laid off him, so LeBron drains the three from the corner.

USA up 5: Brazil runs Barbosa off two screens (much like UCLA used Afflalo last year) but Kobe does a good job fighting through them and stays with him. Barbosa is the heart of the Brazilian offensive machine and Kobe put the lockdown on him in this game — Brazil’s other players picked it up for a while but they couldn’t sustain it. Anyway, Barbosa gets the ball as he curls by the free throw line but Kobe is there and Kidd sags down on him, so Barbosa kicks out to Marcelo Machado for a good look three, and while he’s shooting 35% from distance for the tourney he misses this one.

Kidd gets the outlet and pushes the ball up, draws three defenders in the key so he passes to LeBron baseline, who gets trapped by two defenders but makes a nifty bounce pass to Carmelo under the basket. Carmelo misses the first reverse layup but fights to get the ball back, and hits a five-foot fade away using the glass.

USA up 7: After working the ball around a little bit and finding nothing, USA draft legend Tiago Splitter gets the ball out by the three point line just left of the top of the key, and proceeds to blow by Carmelo Anthony and get the layup. Splitter impressed me in this game, he can play. And, not shockingly, he is a good international player who is the property of the San Antonio Spurs.

USA up 5: Off an out of bounds pass (Billups drew a foul from Nene), Kobe comes out on the side to set a pick for Carmelo, but Carmelo goes away from the pick and right at Splitter, and draws the foul while shooting. He hits both free throws.

USA up 7: Brazil’s Joa Paulo Batista gets the ball out by the three point line and shows scouts why he should not get the ball out by the three point line, looking confused and almost making a turnover. Brazil’s Garcia (who is trying to pick up the Barbosa slack as creator) runs up to bail Batista out, gets handed the ball and then blows right past Mike Miller for the layup. (Redd has been great in this tournament, Miller should plan his family vacation next summer in Europe, he’ll have the free time). That would be the last field goal of the half for Brazil.

USA up 5: Kobe quickly gets the ball on the wing and does something very Kobe — destroys his man driving past him baseline, draws two defenders near the basket, and still nearly makes the reverse layup while drawing the foul. He hits one of two.

USA up 6: Batista gets the ball down on the right block and shows scouts why he should gets the ball down on the block, making a neat little bounce pass in the lane to the cutting Garcia, who is fouled while shooting. He hits one of two.

USA up 5: Good recognition of the match up by team USA, Garcia is tasked with covering Kobe, and even the slimmed down version of Kobe is way too much for Garcia on the block, so the USA gets him the ball in the low post (Carmelo steps out on the wing to allow Kobe to post up, then makes the entry pass). Kobe backs Garcia down and scores with a finger roll.

USA up 7: After Amare almost steals the ball from Bastista out by the three point line (what did we say about him away from the block?), Brazil gets a second chance but this time Kidd does get a steal, knocking the ball free from a driving Garcia. This leads to a fast break the other way, where Kidd draws the foul but only hits one of two from the line.

USA up 8 (5:09 left): Brazil calls a timeout, then runs a nice out of bounds play that has Kobe trailing Garcia behind a pick, but while Garcia gets a good look at the three he’s only shooting 20% from distance in the tourney, and true to form he misses. So Kidd pushes the ball up again, but Brazil is back and picks up everyone. Well, everyone but the trailer LeBron, who gets in deep then hits a high archer over the closing defender.

USA up 10: Still not enough shots of the hot Brazilian women you know are in the crowd for this, instead (after a ball knocked out of bounds) we get to watch Valter Da Silva made a nice drive from the top of the key and draw a foul on Kidd. Don’t know much about this guy, but nice free throw stroke.

USA up 8: Brazil decided to press full court and tries to trap Billups, something they tried a few times during the game — trapping the USA guards. It failed just about every time because the USA guards were taller and just passed over the top of it. In this case Billups’ pass out is tipped but still gets to LeBron, who drives from half court into the lane and once every defender is on him he kicks to Kobe for a wide open three from the wing.

USA up 11: Brazil tries the USA’s no-motion offense, apparently just intimidated by the USA pressure defense. When forced to do something with the shot clock winding down they throw the ball out of bounds.

At the other end Brazil chooses do double-team/trap Billups again and with some quick passing around the perimeter Michael Redd gets a good look at a three. He’s shooting 51.6% from downtown for the tourney, but this was part of the other 48.4%.

Brazil comes down with the intention of getting the ball to Nene on the block, but Amare overplays him so the guard moves his entry pass away from Nene a little — out of bounds “a little.”

Back at the USA’s end, LeBron and Amare Stoudemire run a highlight pick and roll — both defenders go to LeBron so he passes for an impressive Amare slam.

USA up 13 (2:53 to go): Brazil wants to go to Nene but Amare is just way too much for him and playing intense defense (and, Nene just looks tired and a little heavy). After Amare knocks one ball out of bounds he eventually forces Nene to take an ugly runner that hits the side of the backboard.

The USA pushes the other way and Redd ends up with the ball in the left corner for a three, but the defender is closing, so he puts it on the floor baseline and as he draws defenders near the basket kicks out to LeBron, who holds it for a second then passes back to Redd, who just continued running through to the opposite corner. His defender did not, Redd gets an open look and buries the three.

USA up 16: Out of a timeout, Brazil is still not coming up with anything good offensively against the USA pressure, the result is a horribly wild three, however Da Silva is under the basket and catches the air ball, then gets fouled trying to shoot. De Silva still has a pretty stroke from the line, I bet that guy could hit 50 in a row.

USA up 14: LeBron draws every Brazilian this side of the Wynn, so a quick pass and Billups gets an open look at a three but misses. At the other end it looks like Brazil is waiting for their playmaker, Barbosa, to shake free of Kobe but he can’t, so De Silva drives, passes near the basket to Nene, who moving toward the rim shoots up into the bottom of the rim (did I mention Nene looks tired?). Ball bounces to the USA, and at the other end it’s LeBron’s turn to play one-on-one NBA-style ball, both inside and out, but Nene plays him well, so LeBron ends up missing the three.

Barbosa looks like he’s got the rebound but before he can take two steps Kobe knocks it free and the USA sets up another possession. They work it around to Redd who shows he can drive the lane too, and scores the layup.

USA up 16: After a foul by Redd that led to an out of bounds play, Marcelo Marchado makes a horrible pass in a crowded lane that LeBron picks off, launches ahead to Kobe, who wants to make the fancy no-look, behind the back pass but misses badly. Fortunately he gets bailed out by the foul. Kobe hits two.

USA up 18… and I could go on, but why bother. Well, there was LeBrons running three to end the half, that was pretty fun. But by that point the game was over.

And pretty much the tournament as well.

Former Laker coach Butch Van Breda Kolff, who had a sometimes controversial but always colorful career on the sidelines with 13 teams in three professional leagues and at various colleges over a span of nearly four decades, has died. He was 84.

Imagine a 2003 Shaquille O’Neal being traded to last year’s Phoenix Suns.

He’s still athletic, but he is becoming increasingly comfortable with doing nothing more on offense than setting up camp in the post while his guys toss it in and cut off of the entry pass.

How would Mike D’Antoni feel?

Now we can begin to understand why, when Wilt Chamberlain was traded to Lakers in 1968, Butch Van Breda Kolff was angry.

He was at a house party at Bill Bertka’s, and he didn’t take the news in the way one would imagine upon learning his team had just been dealt the greatest offensive and rebounding force the game has ever seen.

“…Butch didn’t have anything against Chamberlain…but you had to have Chamberlain in the post, and that dictated a style of offense that Butch didn’t really like. He’d rather have all five men moving, all five men interchangeable and sharing the ball.”

-Bill Bertka from The Show

Born from the now infamous Princeton offense, it’s not hard to see why Van Breda Kolff had a dilemma.

Before Bill Sharman persuaded a more willing Wilt to focus on the “other end” of the floor, Van Breda Kolff would do the same but not without damaging the relationship beyond reconciliation.

Thus the clash of egos commenced.

Wilt would eventually acquiesce, and the Lakers would hold the opposition to a stingy 94.7 points per game.

“We’re doing well enough without you”

The low point of Van Breda Kolff’s roguish career unfolded in Los Angeles. At the worst possible time, and in the worst possible place.

In 1969 the Lakers felt they would finally break through. They had home court advantage after a 55-27 regular season that saw the Celtics finish fourth.

“Most of the years we played they were better than we were. But in ’69 they were not better. Period…”
-Jerry West

They took a 2-0 series lead, but The Celtics fought back to send it 7 games as per the ritual. But the uniqueness of finally having game 7 occur in LA caused owner Jack Kent Cooke to overflow with confidence. His Lakers would finally be freed from the “Garden Curse”.

So confident was he that he had balloons, that were to be released at the final buzzer, trapped in a net in the rafters of the Forum. The band was instructed to play “Happy Days Are Here Again” when the moment finally arrived.

Legend has it that the sheet of paper containing the instructions for the Forum staff on what to do when the Lakers won made it into the hands of the Celtics. Motivation that a hobbled and aging Celtics team could desperately use.

The fourth quarter arrived, and the Celtics took a 13 point lead when Russell, who in the ’68 Finals as player-coach had out-coached Van Breda Kolff, scored and gave Chamberlain his fifth foul. Van Breda Kolff left The Dipper in because in almost 900 games, Chamberlain had never fouled out. But Wilt came down wrong with 5:45 left and removed himself from the game.

This was too much for Van Breda Kolff and even Russell himself, who would later comment that even if his leg was broken, Wilt shouldn’t have come out.

Over the next 2:30 minutes, with those balloons still menacing the players from above, the Lakers would even the score while Chamberlain idled.

When Chamberlain asked to return to the game, Van Breda Kolff refused.

It was then that Van Breda Kolff would utter the words he would unfairly be most remembered for.

But this is but one moment in an illustrious career that included coaching the NBA, ABA, NCAA, as well as women, and eventually high school. And the trail that he blazed across the basketball world is one that is a testament to something we can all connect with: An unconditional love for the beauty of the game.

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho

What Kobe Wants….

Kurt —  August 22, 2007

Just as I went on a few days of vacation a new rash of “What Does Kobe Want?” and “What Will Kobe Do?” stories and speculation hit the media. The LA Times, ESPN, just about everywhere.

I’m already sick of it, and as a Laker fan I guess I’m going to have to get used to a season full of it. Because everytime the Lakers head to a new city for a road game, that story will resurface. Let alone the constant drumbeat this issue is going to get in the local media (talk radio will beat it into the ground alone).

Personally, I think Kobe has been pretty clear about what he wants:

He wants to win. That’s it. He’d prefer to do it as a Laker but if the front office can’t pull it together he’ll look elsewhere.

Where the issue gets complex is how to make that a reality — issues of trades for other players to the Lakers or Kobe out of town are fraught with player quality and luxury tax issues. But from where I sit Kobe’s core message has always been very simple.

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I’m not going to blame the coming wave of Kobecentric speculative stores on the “mainstream media monster” because we asked for it.

Not us personally, I could live without it, but the fact of the matter is these Kobe stories draw readers/viewers. To use an example, you and I may mock “Around the Horn” but it wouldn’t be on the air if it didn’t get decent ratings. Say what you will about the media, but it is now a corporate-owned beast driven by the bottom line — which means if you are not reading or watching something, it goes away. Fast.

In a world where the goal is to generate “eyeballs” the “what does Kobe want/say?” stories are going to be a staple of the coming season.

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RIP, Eddie Griffin.

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Team USA gets going tonight against what-do-you-mean-we’re-not-hosts Venezuela. I’m going to be watching, although I’m not sure we learn much about the team from this game.

If you want to read more smart blogging about Team USA and the tournament as a whole, start with the good work at The Painted Area.

UPDATE: Quick thoughts on the game last night: It didn’t really tell us much. Yes, Kobe played good pressure defense and as a whole the USA forced 19 turnovers. Yes, Jason Kidd’s passing got players the ball in positions to succeed, something that became infectious. Yes, the USA as a team shot a reasonable 38.5% from three. Yes, the USA also showed some adjustment to the international game is still needed. But to my eyes this game looked a lot like an early game at the Worlds last year — this team is just way too talented for the competition it faced. The USA overwhelmed Venezuela. Until they play Brazil or Argentina I’m not sure how much we can tell. The coming destruction of the Virgin Islands tonight will look a lot like last night’s game.

My other thought — the mascot for this tournament may be the worst I’ve ever seen. One of the more creative bloggers out there needs to go after this one.