Archives For September 2007

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  September 28, 2007

Unless there is some sort of actual breaking news (and no, this doesn’t count), this post and comment section will be a Shawn Marion/Lakers trade free. The previous post comments is where that talk can continue.

• I’m a few days late to this, but it is still worth more discussion.

From his first Summer League with the Lakers, conditioning has been an issue with Andrew Bynum. While his footwork, moves and other fundamentals improved in the last couple years, his physical conditioning seemed to lag behind (you could still see the baby fat). That led to him getting tired (particularly in back-to-backs). And tired leads to sloppy. Which is why it is great to see the off-season focus on conditioning for Drew. It would be a huge boost for the Lakers if he can take a big step forward in his third season — and he is capable of it. (Thanks to Chise for the link.)

• Mitch Kupchak also praises Bynum’s work ethic in an otherwise pretty bland Q&A (what did you expect from the official team site, a Mike Wallace interview?). Part two of that interview is now up.

• Back when there were just a handful of NBA blogs (three years ago, which doesn’t seem that long but in blogging terms its virtually an eon), Matt from Blog-A-Bull (then Bulls Blog) came up with the idea of a Carnival. A chance to link to other NBA bloggers. I’ve hosted once, and it’s a great way to find out about new blogs. The 50th NBA Blog Carnival has been done, and it’s appropriate that Matt is the host.

• Speaking of new blogs….

Kevin Broom has written for RealGM, is active in the NBA statistical online community (he was one of the first to try to improve defensive figures) and bottom line is a guy who just knows the game. When the Lakers traded for Kwame Brown, Broom (who lives in Washington DC) was one of the first guys I talked to. Now he has his own blog, and as you would expect it’s really good. (Hat tip to the omni-present Tom Ziller.)

• A preview of the Southwest Division — in Festivus format, of course. (Another Ziller creation.)

Pre Training Camp Thoughts

Kurt —  September 25, 2007

Just some Lakers and NBA thoughts as we are just days away from training camp in Hawaii. Well, by we I mean the Lakers, I get no paid vacations in Hawaii. Not that I’m jealous. Nope, not at all.

UPDATE: For now, all things Marion are being discussed in the comments on this post.

• Maybe the biggest concern for the Lakers heading into this season is health — it derailed last year’s team and this year’s squad can again not deal with missing games from key players. Which is why these notes from Kevin Ding in the OC Register are of concern:

Lamar Odom is behind schedule in recovering from shoulder surgery, will be limited in training camp and might not be ready for the Oct. 30 start of the regular season. Odom postponed surgery last season to play the Lakers’ final 23 games. Then he had the tear in his labrum in his left (shooting) shoulder repaired May 15.

The Lakers hoped he would be ready in time for the start of camp, but the rehabilitation has been a slow process. Odom also had surgery in 2004 for a separate labrum tear in that shoulder.

Kwame Brown is recovering well from his shoulder and ankle surgeries and has already been going full speed on the court, albeit with some discomfort. Fellow center Chris Mihm, who missed all of last season after ankle surgery, is also not yet 100 percent but has no limitations.

• The first, second, third, fourth and likely one-thousandth question asked at next week’s media day will be about Kobe and his off-season demands. There is no way to fully put this behind him — every time the Lakers go into a new city on the road another story will be written on the topic (plus when an NBA columnist needs an easy topic one day) — but Kobe needs to say something that will at least keep the media storm at bay to a degree. Then his teammates and team management need to read from the same playbook. The way to deal with this is make it a non-issue, as much as that can be done. Repeating the same short quotes over and over pretty much will do that.

• Camp hasn’t even opened and I’m sick of the what’s next for Kobe stories. Even the good ones.

• I hope Barron Davis stays healthy for an entire season. He may be my favorite player to watch in the NBA, when he is healthy.

• How good was Kobe in at Lower Marion High School? Pretty damn good. But who were the best of the best in high school?

• Regular commenter Renato Afonso wants to put together a Forum Blue & Gold fantasy basketball league among the regulars here for the NBA season. What say you?

• For those of you who follow the sports blogging universe, very interesting stuff that Jamie Mortram, the man behind the powerhouse AOL Fanhouse blog(s), is taking his magic to Yahoo!. To my untrained eye, Yahoo! has long had the position and power to be the 800-pound gorilla of sports blogging. They are starting to head down that road.

• By the way, over the summer I think Tom Ziller has been the most prolific, creative and smart NBA blogger out there.

• I’m looking at the schedule and thinking about what Lakers tickets to get, but what I really need to figure out is how to get USC/UCLA game tickets in hoops. That is going to be fun this year.

• Be warned, with actual basketball camps and news about to start, my tolerance in the comments for unsubstantiated trade speculation will shrink dramatically. Comments could just disappear, like guys who owe Peter “Shakes” Milano money.

Improving The Defense

Kurt —  September 24, 2007

All summer long, it’s not just that knowledgeable Lakers fans have been waiting for a roster move — they’ve been waiting for something specific. I don’t mean a move for one particular player, I mean a move that focused on improving the Lakers biggest weakness:

Defense.

And nothing happened. No shot-blocking powerhouse for the paint came. No additional shutdown perimeter defenders came. There was very little roster movement at all.

So, how do the Lakers get better on defense?

That needs to be question number one and two for Phil Jackson and his staff when the team opens training camp in Hawaii. Last year Jim Clemons was brought in as an assistant coach with a defensive reputation, but the Lakers went from giving up 105.5 points per 100 possessions in 04-05 (15th in the league) to a horrid 109 points per 100 last year (30th 25th in the NBA).

Where did the Lakers get worse last year? In the paint.

Yes, defense at the point (or whatever it was that Smush played) was a favorite whipping boy of this site, and it was bad last season. To use a broad measure, the average PER of an opposing point guard last year was 17, the equivalent of having Kirk Hinrich playing against you every night. But that is actually lower than it was the year before, when it was 17.9.

What changed for the Lakers last season was how much worse the interior defense got. In 05-06, the average power forward playing against the Lakers had a PER of 16.8 and shot 45.8% (eFG%) from the field — last season that jumped to a PER of 18.7 and 51.6%. It was even worse at center, where the 05-06 numbers of 15.3 (PER, right at the league average) and 48.1% shooting jumped to 18.4 (PER) and 51.5%.

Part of that was injuries, to be sure. A young Andrew Bynum, who at times looked more confused than Rex Grossman, had to play big minutes. And while Laker fans often talk about Chris Mihm as an apparent foul sponge on defense (soaking up every foul near him) the fact of the matter is when he played in 05-06 opposing centers had a PER of 15.2. And he tried to come from the weakside and help on penetration, which led to many of those fouls he absorbed.

But will a healthy Mihm, an older and more experienced Bynum and a Kwame Brown in a contract year make the Lakers a better defensive presence inside? And what about at the four, will having Lamar Odom healthy and available for more than 56 games make a difference?

Personally, I feel better about the point — last season Jordan Farmar fought through picks in a way Lakers fans haven’t seen in years. Farmar’s effort was reflected in the numbers — an opposing PER of 15.2 (right at the league average) and shooting 47.7%. A summer in the weight room to make him stronger and that year of experience makes him better. And with Derek Fisher — not a great defender anymore (opposing numbers of 16.9 and 50.2%) but a veteran who can make plays when needed — and Crittenton the Lakers should be better out top.

But in the NBA, where top scorers simply cannot be covered one-on-one, it is going to come down to something we saw little of last year — team defensive play. Good rotations. Smart switches.

The poor performance in those areas last season begs the question: Was it the coaches not getting through or the players not listening or caring? My guess, based on Phil’s history as a coach, was that this was more on the players. Then again, it is the coach’s job to get through to them and make them listen and care.

And right now, getting them to listen, to care, and bottom line play better on defense should be what keeps Phil Jackson’s mind occupied.

A Few Weekend Links

Kurt —  September 21, 2007

Sorry for the slow week of posting, things will really pick up in the next couple of weeks as we start to head to camp. That will start with a more substantive post coming Monday, but for now here are some links worth clicking while you wait for Notre Dame to win a football game.

• It’s out early, but it’s going to be hard to top an Atlantic division preview based around Festivus, as Tom Ziller has put up at Ballhype. As a side note, one of the things I’m probably going to do more of this year is NBA-wide posts and links and notes.

• Want to see the Lakers/Bulls game this year from a luxury box at Staples? The California State Parks Foundation is auctioning one off to raise money for its very worthy causes. It won’t be cheap, but you get to write it off and the price includes food, wine, beer and the dessert cart. Check out the auction, there are a ton of cool things if you’ve got the money. Me, I just bought a house.

• In the previous post about playoff slots in the West, I struggled with where to put Denver and the Lakers. After reading your comments and thinking about it, I should have given them a different header: “Depends On How Well They Play Defense.” For both of these teams, that is the key.

• Interesting only to me note of the day: football blogger Michael David Smith and I used to work together at our day jobs. Great guy. Better blogger.

• When I first was going to start an NBA blog, I emailed Jeff over at Celtics blog for some advice. I took some of it, and learned later I should have taken all of it. Well, now Jeff has posted his advice for young bloggers up at True Hoop and if you’re thinking about getting into blogging this is a must read.

Shaking Out The West

Kurt —  September 17, 2007

I’m a little late to the Greg Oden “woe is us” party, but I genuinely feel bad for the guy. Really, is there any basketball fan that didn’t feel saddened by the news that Greg Oden will be out for next season? Even those who wrote hubris-filled “I told you so” columns felt bad. Anyone who loves basketball wanted to see what Oden — paired with so much great young talent around him — could do in Portland.

And we still will. I think the brilliant Shoals was the first to mention this (that I read), but here is a teenager whose game is more about defense, rebounding and back-to-the-basket scoring. Is it possible he’s never be quite as explosive as before the surgery? Yes. Would that dramatically curtail his game? Not so much. Plus, at his age he should bounce back well.

But all of that is two or three years away — what about this year? My first reaction is that without the defensive anchor in the middle Portland becomes a bit of a donut (insert Zach Randolph joke here), and while they will win more than 32 games, they are not quite a playoff threat.

So, where does that leave us in the West? Well, here’s a rough sketch, pre-traning camp breakdown.

The Big Three

San Antonio. They are the defending champions, they were second in defensive rating and fourth in offensive rating in the league — and they basically have the same squad back. So by default they are the favorites. My guess, losing Jackie Butler doesn’t hurt them much. (Yup, that’s a big statement, but I feel strongly about it.) Think about this: Next year they get better by adding Tiago Splitter to the mix. Ugh.

Dallas. Had the best record in the NBA last season, then got a bad playoff matchup and got tossed early. Yes, there is a blueprint on how to beat them, however not many teams have a Barron Davis to help do it. Dallas had the second best offensive rating in the league and a surprising fifth best defensive rating. They are still very good and still a contender.

Phoenix. I didn’t love their off-season. Yes, Grant Hill > Kurt Thomas, except when you’re trying to defend Dirk or Duncan. So maybe they are better in the regular season but take half a step back in the playoffs. Their defense got better but was still 13th in the league, and losing Thomas doesn’t help that. Bottom line: if Steve Nash’s back feels good come the playoffs, they still are contenders.

The Next Tier

Houston. If everything comes together for the Rockets, they can compete with the big three. But that means a healthy T-Mac and Yao for the majority of the season (and for the playoffs). I like the additions of Luis Scola and Steve Francis and how they fit in with the existing pieces. More importantly, the addition of Adelman on the bench helps this team win by opening up the offense. I think they will be in the mix with the big three, but until they prove it I keep them here.

Utah. This is a good physical team with a top point guard that didn’t do anything earth shattering in the off-season. That means they are still a good, physical team with a top point guard. Remember, this team was third in the NBA in offensive efficiency last year (trailing only Dallas and Phoenix) and their defense could get better if AK-47 shows up focused. The Jazz won 51 games last year and they are going to win a lot of games this year too.

Teams With No Margin For Error


These teams will likely make the playoffs, but it doesn’t take much (injuries, chemistry issues) to knock them out of the running.

Denver. Bringing in Chucky Atkins gives them a good outside shooter to complement the slashing of Iverson and the inside/outside game of Carmello. But with Iverson/Melo/Atkins on the floor, who is playing defense? Marcus Camby is just one man. They were ninth in the NBA in defensive efficiency last year, but can they maintain that level? I think not, but if they can they are a force.

Lakers. This could be a good team — if they play defense much better than last year, if they can stay healthy along the front line, if the Farmar/Fisher/Crittenton combo can be a good point guard situation, if they execute the offense and don’t try to go one-on-one too much. That’s a lot of ifs. Just like last year, a potentially good team but can they maintain that level of play for a season?

One Playoff Spots, Six Teams

I think any of these teams could get the final playoff spot (or slip past one of the two above if they falter). I’ve put them in my early order of likelihood, but all of these teams could be better or worse than suggested here — these teams will likely all be fighting it out for a trip to the post season.

New Orleans. Despite Chris Paul running the show this was a horrible offense last year, 23rd in the NBA. This year they get Peja back from injury and add Mo Pete to shoot from the outside. They get better, but imagine if Tyson Chandler could score….

Golden State. Last season’s playoff run (and the last month of the season) was magical and so much fun to watch. It was also a fluke — it happened because Baron Davis and Jason Richardson were healthy at the same time (and they got the perfect playoff matchup). Now Richardson is gone and Marco Belinelli may be good but he can’t make up for the losses. I think they take a step back, but I’ll still love to watch them play.

Sacramento. They add Mikki Moore to bring some youth and athleticism to an older front line, they bring in a new coach, and they still have Mike Bibby and Speedracer. They could be better than last year, I think they will be, but good enough to make the playoffs?

Memphis. Mike Conley runs the show and the combo of Gasol and Darko Milicic could bring some scoring to the front line. I think Rudy Gay will thrive in the more open offensive system of Marc Iavaroni. While everyone talks about Portland and Seattle as teams of the future, Memphis could be quite good in a couple years. But probably not playoff good this year.

Clippers. They still don’t have a great point guard, and now whoever does handle the ball can’t just toss it in to Elton Brand. This could be a tough season for the Clippers, but they do have some good, professional players still on the squad and they won’t roll over.