Archives For August 2007

It’s the Defense, Stupid

Kurt —  August 15, 2007

Up over at Ballhype is my first post for them, a discussion of Team USA and it’s defense. The numbers will look familiar to regular readers of this blog, but this new post (made after further review of my notes and other thoughts at the time of the Team USA on the international stage, I think you’ll find it interesting.

As for me, posting may be light for a few days as the family and I head off to see the in-laws in Vegas. (Because summer is such a great time to go to the desert….) You may see some posts from other familiar names in the next few days.

The Triangle and the Current Lakers

Kurt —  August 13, 2007

Rather than a post about my 12-team trade that would get the Lakers Jermaine O’Neal — and they only have to give up a rack of basketballs and two Laker girls to be named later — regular poster Renato Afonso sent in a very good breakdown of the triangle offense and how the current Lakers fit into it. I added a couple links for the people who like visuals, but these are his thoughts and his opinions — I do not agree with all of them but it is a good breakdown and a great place to start the conversation. Take it away Renato:

The Basics
As the name tells, it’s all based on two triangles that must exist at all times, no matter where a player moves to. Those triangles exist on both the strong side (3 players) and on the weak side (2 players).

The triangle is actually a system where players may choose different ways to start the play and exploit every mismatch that exists if they want to. Each option implies the existence of well defined places that players can occupy almost at will, as long as everyone adjusts accordingly. And each option has a certain degree of freedom that can and should be exploited by the offense.

One common misconception is that sometimes there’s an overload of 4 players on the strong side, which is basically wrong. Whenever you see that overload, it means one of two things: A) One player is totally out of his place; B) The player on the top of the key is not on his place, approaching the strong side to facilitate a pass from the sidelines (which causes havoc on the offense if that pass is actually made).

The Roles
Each position fills a need of the team, but when the triangle is used to perfection, it doesn’t matter who does what, as long as they occupy their place.

PG: He just has to bring the ball forward and read the defense and the mismatches that exist and exploit them. He should be taller than average not only for defensive purposes but also to allow exploring the weak side early on, allowing the PG to post up with just two passes off the dribble without compromising the play or letting the defense know that that’s the option being used.

SG/SF: They basically have the same role in this offense, with height being the only true difference between them. Since the PG (or ball carrier) chooses the side where the offense starts, playing the SG or the SF is a matter of choice or design (or luck) on each and every play.

PF: The most important player in this offense — a team playing the triangle offense without a PF able to rebound and hit the mid-range jump shot consistently won’t win (unless competition really sucks, which is not the case here).

C: Since the offense was originally designed for a quality big man inside, no further explanation is needed here.

How It Works
This offense allows great flexibility on every move or cut, allowing multiple options at all times. Of course, once every player has an option during the offensive motion, the triangle efficiency is proportional to the basketball IQ of the players on court. And that’s the reason why it takes a long time to learn and why Phil Jackson prefers seasoned vets over young guns — and the intangibles as well.

The real key is simple — whenever a pick is set, the player in motion has the option to make a small curl towards the basket allowing him to take an easy mid-range jump shot. So, the players better be good at it. (Editors note: Think about how many times MJ did that.)

What The Lakers Have
PG: For starters, the Lakers have the guards with high basketball IQ and ability to read the game. They might not be the best at it, but they are pretty capable. Maybe they lack some consistent three-point shooting touch, but we don’t have a glaring need at the spot now. Farmar might develop really well into the system.

SG: Kobe. He should rely more on the play and use the picks more wisely with better shot selection. But hey, the man does have some skill. Evans is a decent backup, although his jump shot could be better. No harm done here.

SF: Luke Walton is the perfect triangle player. Nothing else needs to be said. Radmanovic should fit perfectly as a backup, if he ever understands the system.

PF: Lamar Odom is the biggest asset we have in this system. The PF spot allows the player to play inside when he has the advantage or to draw the defender outside if he’s physically stronger. Should Lamar convince himself of the bonus his versatility brings to the offensive motion when spotting up near the top of the key on the weak side and maybe the Lakers could reach higher levels. Turiaf brings intensity on both ends, which is more than enough.

C: Mihm is nothing but a great (one of the best backups offensively) backup. Kwame doesn’t have real low post skill. Bynum is not matured yet (third year leap coming, probably).

A Word About Defense
This post is strictly about the triangle offense, and Lakers needs are far greater on the defensive end. There’s no problem on trading for defense, as long as the main concepts of each position are filled properly.

Bottom Line
We really should trade for a quality center, but if you think about it Jermaine O’Neal is not a true center. Maybe we could even improve our starting point guard, but do you think you can bring a great perimeter defender with high basketball IQ who used to play in the triangle system and who happens to be available? If you do, start a petition and I’ll sign it right away. And yes, the defense needs to be greatly improved, but is someone willing to sacrifice what Walton brings in order to get a top-notch perimeter defender? I’m not. But I’d give up Radmanovic in a heartbeat.

Everyone wants to win, and Kobe has the best NBA system in order to win titles. The path for a title isn’t easy, specially in this West, but I can bet you that this roster would be top 3 in the East with strong possibilities to reach the Finals. If I was Kobe, bringing this roster to the next level (with maybe a small tweak here and there) should be the greatest challenge of his career and in case of success, his greatest accomplishment. (I personally think he cannot do that and we should trade him fast, but that’s a whole different story.)

The best offense…
…is not the triangle. In my opinion, a pure flex is the best offense ever created, but it requires players with similar skill and who are really fast in order to exploit all mismatches. I played flex until I was 18 and then switched to a team who plays the triangle (I’m now 26). The triangle gives us far more options and can be really evil on a defense who is actually trying, but I had the most fun playing the flex… (played the flex again for 1 year when I was 20).

Hope you enjoyed this analysis and start addressing the Lakers problems properly, without thinking on possible trade scenarios (a.k.a. WTS) just to keep Kobe happy.

Renato Afonso

Lakers I Miss: Sam Perkins

Kurt —  August 11, 2007

Everyone talks about the guy drafted right before Michael Jordan, but the guy that was drafted right after him did pretty well for himself, too.

For Laker fans, Sam Perkins was the guy who gave the team its one win in the 1991 Finals against the finally mature Chicago Bulls, then helped the team during the start of the transition years before Shaq and Kobe. He was the prototype big guy with the sweet outside stroke, a guy who over his long career grabbed 11.9% of all the rebounds when he was on the floor and still shot 36.2% from three.

The Dallas Mavericks drafted Sam Perkins out of North Carolina and he played there six years before he opted for free agency and signed with the Lakers to play the power forward spot next to his college teammate James Worthy.

In the 90-91 season he provided some presence inside, helping Vlade Divac try to fill the shoes of the irreplaceable Kareem. He had some weight to throw around (he averaged 7.4 rebounds per game) but what he did best was shoot — the nickname “the big smooth” was fitting. He had a nice eFG% that first year with the Lakers of 50.7%, but after all the years of seeing Kareem and Rambis and classic inside players wearing Laker colors, a four who could shoot the three was a dramatic change. And a welcome one, spacing the floor for Magic and Worthy as they drove the lane. I remember marveling at his shot, it just always seemed that when it left Perkins’ hand it would touch only net. It was a pretty stroke.

Portland won the Pacific Division that 90-91 season (behind Clyde Drexler), ending the Lakers nine-year run atop the division. But in the playoffs, well, Portland has never fared particularly well against the Lakers. In the end, it was four games to two Lakers. Los Angels was on to the finals against a hungry Bulls team, led by another North Carolina guy in Jordan and coach by a guy named Phil Jackson.

In game one, it was a tightly contested first half, with Jordan taking charge for the Bulls (15 points and 5 assists in the first quarter) but they were never able to pull away. A third quarter run was led by Magic and some back-to-back threes (32 finished with a triple double) but Jordan and the bulls came back and took a 91-89 lead.

Then with 14 seconds left, Perkins buried a three. Jordan then missed on the other end (something he didn’t seem to do the rest of the series), Byron Scott drew a foul, hit one free throw and that was the final score.

The Lakers lost four straight after that, in large part because Scottie Pippen was moved over to cover Magic and it worked – Magic was less efficient. The Lakers never did a great job exploiting the other mismatches. Perkins hit a key shot in game three, but it was the Bulls time.

The next year Perkins missed 19 games but when on the floor he averaged 16 and 9. In the middle of the next season, Perkins was traded to Seattle, where he flourished with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp (he made the 1996 finals with the Sonics but again lost to Jordan and the Bulls). He was also on the 99-00 Pacers team that lost to Shaq and Kobe in the finals.

Perkins ended his career with a gold medal (he was co-captain of the 1984 team that won in Los Angeles) not to mention the NCAA title he won with Jordan and Worthy.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  August 7, 2007

Thoughts while waiting for the next episode of Mad Men on AMC…..

• Jermaine O’Neal wants to be a Laker. And we want him. So, what’s the hold up?

Well, a lot of things. The same things that have been holding it up all summer. And while O’Neal may have gone public with a non-demand statement, this deal is apparently no closer to getting done than it was a month ago. I’m not a fan of discussing trade scenarios in main blog posts, but the level of news here warrants a breakdown (even if this all seems a little redundant after the comments on yesterday’s post, which broke it down so well). Bottom line, this is not a pretty picture for the Lakers.

At the top of the list of hurdles apparently are the trade demands coming from Indiana (or, not willing to be given up by the Lakers, depending on what trade scenario you want to believe). I’ve said before and I think most Laker fans agree — trading both Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for JO is a lateral move for the Lakers. To seriously contend fast, per Kobe’s diatribe demands, the Lakers need JO, LO and Kobe.

But centering a package around Bynum, Farmar or Crittenton, Kwame Brown as salary filler and some other pieces (likely sign-and-trade McKie) is filled with flaws as well. Starting with, would Indiana really want that? Could they sell that as a good deal to their fans as the start of a serious rebuilding? We may like to think so from our end, but it’s a hard sell — you are trading an All-Star in his prime for two guys who likely will develop into solid NBA starters/role players in Bynum and Farmar, plus some salary cap relief. Then there is the roster problems for Indy — Hoopshype says they have 15 guys under contract, although other bloggers for that team say only 12 are guaranteed. Still, they can’t take on more than a few guaranteed deals back, and to make the salaries work the Lakers have to send a lot bodies east.

Or, there is the scenario where the Lakers send LO east, somehow convince Larry the Legend not to take Bynum, then all Laker fans go to church and light a candle for Bynum to take a big step forward and be the third offensive cog in the triangle every night. Are you really comfortable with that?

Then, as commenter Mike in the Mountain West pointed out, any trade for JO would mean the Buss family is paying a lot of luxury tax the next couple of years. Eric Pincus breaks down the numbers. We fans tend to scoff at this issue, thinking the Buss family is made of money and not running a business. But they are running a business, it’s not our money and we are spending a lot of it over the luxury tax. That — plus how to get out of the tax down the line — has to be serious considerations for ownership.

There are a lot of hurdles. I still want to see it happen, but there are a lot of hurdles.

• I think the guy at Indy Cornrows said it best about JO’s original comments — he was trying to be everything to everybody, not ticking off the fans in Indiana while stoking the trade fire. That’s a hard line to walk.

• Great stuff from friend-of-the-site Tom Ziller over at Ballhype using graphs to map out the NBA — showing who is fun to watch and who is a little dull. Amazingly well done and researched piece. For those Laker focused, well, much like their record, the Lakers often fell into no-mans land on the charts.

• Long story, but the bottom line is I got to go last weekend for a $175-a-plate fundraising event for a summer arts camp for youth last weekend (my employer picked up the tab). As my wife and I are walking by a silent auction table with very nice items way outside my price range, I see two Clippers tickets that nobody has bid on. They were for a preseason game against the Kings at Staples. So, I bid $20. And that was enough to win.

I’m not sure which is worse — that the best the Clippers could come up to donate to charity is two above-the-luxury boxes tickets to a preseason game, or that $20 was enough to win them. Either way, I get to watch me some Spencer Hawes. Now that is exciting.

UPDATE: One other link worth checking out, especially if you read the odd “Baron Davis should play in LA because h’s from here” column in the LA Times the other day. A Bay Area writer (who used to write in LA) takes that column to task. It makes me miss the old “Fire Jim Tracy” blog which took on the Herculean task of trying to point out all of Bill Plaschke’s logic errors.

Rehashing Kobe

Kurt —  August 6, 2007

Well, NBA news has slowed down considerably. KG in the East storylines are tapped out, Team USA has yet to start playing a game, what is an NBA writer to do to drum up interest…

Kobe. He’s gone silent. Los Angeles is tired of hearing from him. But maybe that flame can be stoked.

So Ric Bucher said he has heard nothing new from Kobe since the summer rants, so that is the word that stands. Henry Abbot did a more thoughtful riff off of that, comparing Kobe to Pistol Pete. (The difference ultimately being Kobe has rings.) TJ Simers and crew were talking Kobe on the radio this morning because, well, that probably draws more listeners then more Beckham talk.

Despite all the talk around them, the principals in the saga remain quiet.

Maybe that’s because there is nothing to say. Nothing to be gained by spouting off by either Kobe or the Lakers’ front office.

For the Laker brass, Kobe is the guy selling the tickets right now, and trading him to start a rebuilding project this late in the summer would lead to a revolt from season ticket holders who have already paid to watch him play. Not to mention the anger from big-bucks paying sponsors trying to reach those ticket holders. At this point, with two years left on Kobe’s deal, fans want the team to build a winner, not throw in the towel. And Laker brass has said consistently in public he is not on the market right now. What are the Lakers going to say publicly that could seriously smooth the waters?

If he’s not being traded, what are Kobe’s options? He could sit out, but for a guy who has spent the last few years working hard to rebuild his reputation — and his marketing presence — coming off as the ultimate prima donna would be a huge step backwards. Kobe would risk his legacy being about petulance rather than the championships he craves.

He could say he gets injured playing for Team USA and miss most of camp and even some games of the season. But what message does that really send? I’m unhappy so I’m going to sit out for a little but, but ultimately come back to you? Does that strengthen his position?

Or, he plays the good soldier and comes to camp ready to compete, to see how far he can take this team. This Lakers squad is not a contender, but it is not horrible either. It has little margin for error the way it is constructed, but it can be a good team. Kobe could do what he does again this year, come up with a standard line when asked about this past summers rants (along the lines of “I just want this franchise to be the best it can be”) and let his actions remind Lakers brass and fans why they don’t want him to leave.

None of those three options are bettered by him doing another cathartic round of media interviews.

Ultimately, just as he did in the Shaq situation three summers ago, Kobe has the hammer. He has the opt out in two years. He can walk. He knows it, the Lakers know it. The front office knows there is a deadline to find a way to compete. Maybe they worried about this before Kobe’s summer rants, maybe they didn’t, but they sure do now.

If a move to make the Lakers a contender can’t happen by around the next draft, maybe Mitch starts to quietly ask around about what he could get for Kobe. Maybe.

But for the coming season, the die are cast.

And I don’t think talking to the media about it does anyone any good.