Credit The Second Unit

Kurt —  November 19, 2007

I made this note yesterday but it bears repeating: The top four Lakers in +/- per 48 minutes this season are Jordan Farmar, Andrew Bynum, Luke Walton and Vladamir Radmanovic — all guys who come in off the bench. It is that second unit and this team’s depth that has carried it to a 6-3 record that surprised even the team’s optimistic fans.

Last night’s win against Chicago a perfect example — the run that put the game away came with Walton and Farmar making the key plays. They were running a beautiful two-man game on the weak side of the triangle and the Bulls could not stop it.

Let us review, we pick up the action at 2:02 left in the third, just after Kirk Hinrich hits a 15-footer moving to his left to cal a 9-1 Bulls run and bring the score to 63-60 Lakers.

63-60 Lakers: The Lakers do a nice job running the triangle, Walton with a good pass from the high post (he really looked comfortable there last night) to a cutting Farmar who kicks it out to Kobe who makes a nice move and… Chris Mihm was enjoying all this crisp passing so much he stood around and watched it. In the key. Three seconds called and a turnover (that was 19 by the way).

Hinrich comes off a high screen but slips to the ground (but maintaining his dribble in a move the Globetrotters would be impressed with), giving the defense time to reset. Kobe gives Hinrich space to shoot, so he does but clanks the three. As was said before the game: Kirk is struggling, let him shoot.

Again Walton comes out in the high post (well, nearly top of the key this time, so it’s hard to call that a post spot), Farmar gets it to him then cuts around him to the basket, and Walton gets Farmar the ball back. Farmar gets fouled driving and throws up a shot to get a couple free throws. Which he hits.

65-60 Lakers:
Ben Gordon got the ball on a “Rip Hamilton play” — they start him on the weak side wing and run him off three picks, he gets the pass 18 feet out and tries to go up quickly. He misses, and Thomas fouls Mihm going for the board. Mihm’s not a bad free throw shooter.

67-60 Lakers: Hinrich brings the ball up, moving across from the left to the right wing and takes a quick shot that Mike D’Antoni would like, but not so much Scott Skiles. It clanks.

Walton gets the rebound and pushes it up himself, drawing some defenders so he kicks it out to Jordan Farmar on the right wing, and Farmar decides he’s open (he’s not that open) but drains the high-arcing three.

70-60 Lakers. This time it is Gordon out top with the ball and he is waiting for Hinrich to come off the screens, and Kirk gets the ball at the elbow (the corner of the key). But Farmar never gives up on the play, comes up behind Kirk and knocks the ball free to Walton, who passes back to a streaking Farmar for a lay-up. Farmar’s defensive effort is the catalyst for this team right now.

72-60 Lakers. Gordon comes off a high screen but Mihm plays it well, keeping him from getting inside, Farmar recovers and so with no good shot Gordon passes out to Duhon, who gets a good look at the three, but misses it. Tyrus Thomas makes a very athletic play going for the tip in, but misses that.

The Lakers work the ball around the perimeter and it ends up with a Mo Evans three from the corner, which misses, but Mihm gets the offensive board and the Lakers reset. Farmar decides he is going to wait for the last shot of the quarter, drives with seconds left and kicks it out to Luke Walton beyond the arc, who headfakes and Thomas bites like a starved hyena. Walton misses but draws the foul and heads to the line with 0.9 seconds. Walton hits all three.

75-60 Lakers, start of the fourth quarter. Lakers get the ball out to start the quarter. Farmar again comes off the high pick and is looking to get into the lane but the Bulls have seen this move and rotate quickly to cut that off with two guys. Farmar steps back like he wants to rethink this then tries to split the defenders, gets in the air and makes an ill-advised pass to Mihm that is picked off. See, he does make mistakes.

Early in the clock Gordon gets the ball on the right wing and drives the lane but a host of Lakers are there to greet him, so he passes out on the opposite wing to Ben Wallace. Gordon then runs behind Wallace as a screen, gets a drop pass and goes up with a decent look from 21 (Mihm was closing) but misses.

Farmar brings the ball up and the Lakers set up the offense, Walton out top gets it to Mo Evans in the high post, who slides into the paint then tries the 14-foot fade away, missing but getting fouled by Nocioni. He hits both,

77-60 Lakers. The Bulls probe the right wing but find nothing and Gordon decides to throw it back out top and reset. Except that Gardner gets the pass back out top and things that is an invitation to shoot from two feet behind the arc. He misses and Skiles hair gets a little more gray.

Then the highlight play — Odom pushes the ball up and gets it to Walton in the high post, who passes between his legs behind himself to a cutting Farmar, who lays it off for Mihm, who gets the dunk. Staples Center erupts and I wake a child with a scream of delight.

The Lakers score another basket before a Duhon three gets the Bulls off the slide, but by that point the game is over.

Things are going well for the Lakers and I’m enjoying this. Look around at how pissed Bulls fans are right now (and the very thoughtful and slow-to-anger Knickerblogger has started calling for his coach’s head), and you see what my worst fears for this season were. The first nine games have been more like a dream (not a perfect dream, but pretty damn good).

Don’t wake me.

Kurt

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39 responses to Credit The Second Unit

  1. I had the good fortune to be in attendance for last night’s game and one thing that saddened me a little (as much as I could be saddened during a 28 pt Laker victory) was how much better the offense seems to run when Kobe is not in the game. It’s a point that’s been made before, but it was more noticeable to me in person than it has been on TV.

    I’m a huge Kobe fan, but Luke, Lamar and Farmar do a tremendous job of running the offense when 24 isn’t out there; when he is, it stagnates. It seems as though the team’s facilitators start thinking a little too much in an effort to make sure Kobe gets his touches, rather than just playing their game.

  2. Kurt,
    Good game last nite. The only thing that bothered me was the 1st quarter TO’s. I think it becomes bad habit in every game now. Lots of TO’s in first and second quarters, although they finally cleaned ‘em up at the second halves. I wish Lakers could play more careful in the first few minutes of the game.

  3. The Lakers have impressed. [Edited, this is not a trade forum]

  4. Any of you guys interested in joining the grassroots campaign to get Antoine Walker (and Shane Battier) on the all-star team? It’s over at RealGM:

    http://realgm.com/boards/viewtopic.php?t=729258&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0

  5. I’ve had the same thought recently, Ryan. The flow hasn’t been very good when KB is in the game.

  6. (Caveat: I am not a Kwame Brown fan)

    But I am a little bit worried about his injury. He is a slow healer and his 3-game expected out time is probably closer to 2 weeks.

    Bynum is definitely a better player than Kwame, but Kwame is a good fit for the 1st unit. Although they have been a little sluggish as of late the first unit is more than fine offensively with kobe, odom, fish, turiaf. Bynum’s offense is not needed with that lineup, but Brown’s D does.

    He can neutralize most elite big men on the defensive end while his teams pick up the slack on the offensive end. While I think Bynum will one day become a better position defender, Brown is currently well ahead of him in that department. (Keyword: position defender)

    Bynum brings an extra punch to the 2nd unit with his offense and his defense is much more suited for a 2nd unit because he doesn’t have to worry about an elite big man to guard and can be a better help defender and weak side shot blocker which he is better at.

    Presumably Mihm is going to start in Brown’s place but he is much closer to Bynum than he is to Brown so we lose that solid low post defense of Brown for Mihm’s offense which is needed as much.

    So I am basically say I hope Brown comes back soon because he gives our team a better balance.

    I actually like Phils rotations as he is playing units that play better together than just sticking the best players in the same lineup regardless of chemistry.

  7. sorry for some grammatically typos in the previous post. I’ll proof read next time.

  8. I watched that through-the-legs pass 4 times on the DVR last night and yelped each time with excitement. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: in my opinion Luke’s the best non-guard passer in the league, and I’m thrilled he seems to be adjusting to his role off the bench.

    I second (or third or fourth) the opinion that the Farmar/Lamar/Luke/Bynum group looks much smoother on offense without Kobe around. Those 4 are such marvelous passers that it’s beautiful to watch. If it’s a close game at the start of the 4th, I feel pretty confident that 2nd unit can pull us ahead of just about anyone (starters or subs). If it’s still close as the 4th winds down, then I got faith in Kobe no matter how cold he’s been to gut it out. It’s a good dynamic. Very anxious to see how we handle the test of the Celtics on Friday.

  9. Is that through-the-legs pass on youtube?

  10. 7 – HAHAHAHAHAA!! If that was on purpose, then bravo dude.

  11. Ryan O,

    I generally agree with your point re the offense. I would point out, however, that Luke has had exactly one good game this season and has on many occassions taken it upon himself to stop running the offense and force terrible shots. Also, Lamar has historically had trouble adjusting to Kobe. I pin that flaw on Lamar more so than Kobe. Finally, regarding Farmar, becausel he is far and away the best point guard on this team so it doesn’t surprise me that the offense runs good when he is on the floor. All that is to say, I see your point, but lets not get carried away. My position is that Bynum and Farmar should obviously be starting for this team. But because we have less skilled players out there with the starting five that first unit doesn’t look as good.

    Although is it great having such a strong bench, when push comes to shove your first unit wins/loses big games so why we don’t have our best players at each position starting is beyond me. I should add, I don’t think the unique circumstances of the Spurs and Dallas, which both have best players at a particular position coming off the bench, apply to the Lakers.

  12. 10 – Sadly it wasn’t, I will blame it on being Monday and move on. =(. I basically lost all credibility on my post huh? lol oh well.

  13. we need to let the second unit stay as the second unit, and I feel PJ is aware of this. it’s really becoming a trend, the first unit plays close, so we are a few points apart one way or another. the second unit comes in and builds a slight lead, then in the second half, again, first unit plays about even, and second unit builds the lead.
    this is a great strength of this years squad, we had glimpses of this last year, but with the injuries, the second unit got mixed up into the starting unit. I’m hoping we stay healthy this year so we establish this trend for the strong bench.
    the cool thing is that Ronnie and Fisher anchor the first team, bring the hustle and flow..
    then we’ve got Farmer leading the second team, with the scoring punch from the likes of Bynum and Radman, with the passing of Luke and Farmar, the added hustle of Evans…mighty impressive bench fellas.
    I hope we get to see these 2 units continue like this, and build on it, so as we come down the stretch and into the 2nd season, I think this would be a first, in my experience, that a team had 2 such strong units to play, I for one would love to see that.

  14. I think we’re not giving enough credit to our starters. statistically they maybe outshone by our bench, but the beginning of every game is the most difficult, since you don’t know what fouls refs will call, etc.

    veteran savvy is needed to get through the first quarter without too many fouls while trying to get the opposing team to accumulate some quick ones.

    once they’re softened, and have adjusted to dealing with Kobe (who i think could kill you in any stage of the game if you let him), our bench comes in. a team with a totally different color (PJ admits to having adjusted the offense for Farmar) that deals with either softened starters or the opposing bench.

    it’s like having a great fastball and a good changeup. you get used to one thing and get thrown off by the other. sure it maybe the changeup that gets the out, but you need that fastball to set them up.

  15. The point is crystal clear – we have the best bench in all of NBA today. How about the starters? We need some players in there that will be able to build a lead and as soon as our 2nd unit enters, they put the game away. Thats the killer instinct I am looking for. I would not be content if the 1st unit only came in there sparingly just to break even. They should be the one to pounce on the competition.

    That said I think the Lakers need to re-think options. I’m not saying we fix what ain’t broken but we need to constantly seek to improve.

    Instead of Kwame, Kurt Thomas anyone?

  16. Oh and just a couple of observations…

    Luke plays well when Lamar is on the floor with him. So does Farmar and Bynum. They should get some minutes together and we shall see the benefits. Mo Evans is the odd man out in this equation (just as in the video) (Walton’s pass was SICKKK btw) therefore Kobe needs to figure out a spot playing with the 4 guys. They are the best 5 on our team anyway.

    Kobe needs to tell the guys “you can forget about my touches if we’re playing this well…” then he can do what he is supposed to do – be one of the guys, only better. He is the leader and therefore he needs to set the example. More of this “life w/o Kobe” wins will only convince Buss the Lakers can actually go deep w/o Kobe.

    Lamar and Luke are the best passing forwards in the game. The little glitch with Luke is that his defense is not that good (that’s to modestly put it…). However, when things are doing well, esp with a team that is not imposing offensively like Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio, Luke can have the best of them. Even Houston and Utah is not that great offensively as with the top 3.

    Houston has those isolations for Tmac and entry passes for Yao. Utah has the endless pick and roll. But the Lakers are playing a hybrid of Utah and Phoenix’s offense. If I may call it, its systematically-organized chaos.

  17. “Lakers Center Kwame Brown had his injured knee examined by team Doctor Steve Lombardo Monday. The MRI showed that Brown has suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee. He will be sidelined indefinitely. “

  18. Kwame sidelined indefinitely.

    I guess that about tears it. I like Kwame’s defense and his presence works well with the 1st unit, but he just doesn’t hold up. Hope we get him back in JAN and traded by the deadline. I don’t like to say that, but we can’t start really depending on his defense and then always have him going down.

  19. Bad news about Kwame. Here I was hoping PJ would only play #24 and LO 30 minutes a game. That’s kind of out of the question with Cook and Vlad picking up fouls like they had a dirt devil. Would be nice to see the entire Laker team “well-rested” through most of the season.

  20. There goes Kwame’s contract year.

    We need his presence come playoff time. Without him anchoring the middle, the Lakers will now be forced to play Mihm at the center spot for 20-25 mins / game. Its time we considered outside help, someone who could hold ground vs. the PFs of the West.

    Kurt Thomas anyone?

  21. 19. You can’t say “Kwame doesn’t hold up” about this one, it was not some “he landed wrong” injury that happens to the fragile — Ben Wallace fell into his knee. That is an act of god thing that could have happened to any center.

    And Warren, we already have a deep front line — Turiaf, Vlad, Mihm, Bynum, even Cook (although, not my favorite choice). No need to panic and sign someone we don’t really need at too big a price. Lets wait and see who is on the market in a couple months.

  22. If the goal is the have the best bench in the NBA why not start

    Mihm
    Cook
    Walton
    Evans
    Fisher

    and have our second unit be

    Bynum
    Turiaf
    Odom
    Kobe
    Farmar

    I’m pretty sure we would have the best second unit in the league and as an added bonus all those guy would be well rested for the playoffs at which time they would surely out play the oppositions bench.

    What do you guys think?

  23. I think Turiaf needs to remain a starter, and Walton needs to remain a reserve. I hope Mihm can hold up, right now he and a healthy Turiaf are the keys to this whole thing.

  24. the other Stephen November 20, 2007 at 9:15 am

    when i saw the game, i was like–FREAKING KWAME. AGHHHHH. and none of those feelings have changed since then.

  25. I appriciate where the “start the best 5″ people are coming from, but to me you don’t change what is working. Right now the team is winning, you can play Bynum and Farmar off the bench in the fourth if you want, so just ride the wave of winning and talk about changes when the slump comes.

  26. Funny how the commentator mentioned the “guys on the bench” meaning starters on that video huh?

    Kurt I know its too early in the season to be assuming anything but I do have a few questions for the whole forum to answer.

    #1 – What if the Lakers finish 54-28 and seed 5th? Will it still be a guaranteed 1st-rd exit or is there an outside chance of moving to the next round?

    #2 – Assuming we do get past the 1st rd, is there by the slimmest hope we get to the WCF?

    #3 – At this stage, we will be quite certain that Kobe will stay for at least a year more, do we stand pat once more and simply re-up our players?

    #4 – At the peak of our wave, around December, what if JO’s asking price lowers to Bynum, Vlad Rad, Kwame and Crittenton? Do we pull the trigger?

    #5 – Assuming we win the next 2 games in Indiana and Miwaukee, do we consider Odom “tradeable” at this point?

  27. I agree with Kurt, there is no need to panic right now and start picking up players, or changing the line up.
    Kwame could be back as early as 4 weeks.
    I bet he’ll just move Mihm up into the starting C position, and continue to bring in Andrew as he has all season.
    all this really means is that we’re going to give the minutes to Chris to see if he pans out as a starting center. Chris has good hands, a nice mid range jump shot, and we might all be surprised as he gains confidence with the added minutes. if I remember correctly, he had a couple nice dunks in the last game.
    chris also needs to start because he’ll be warmed up after the pre-game shootaround and coming off the ankle injury, it’s better if he starts.
    that, and the fact that Andrew is playing so well in his role, coming in off the bench, why would anyone want to change that??
    all we really lose right now is Kwame strength at keeping other bigs from their favorite spot, let Chris work on that, force the other bigs to have to come out to guard Chris, play to his strength rather than Kwames, (actually Kwame was pretty much a zero on the offense).
    no need to panic fellas.

  28. We’re coming to a historic game of sorts. We’re about to play Indiana, a team we should beat.

    If we look to last year, this is the type of game we should lose by 20 points!

    Winning the next two would be the first sign that this is truly a different team.

    What do you think?

  29. Have we learned nothing from Greg Popovich? Pops struggled a few seasons ago trying to start Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. All players were established all-stars and seemed to warrant a start. What happened? Not enough roundball for all those guys. Think about it. Your starting group already has a slashing, penetrating super-quick point guard AND the best post player of the last 10 years. Do you really need more primary offensive options than that? No. What are the Spurs doing nowadays? Parker and Duncan start, Finley replaces Ginobili. That and other shooters like Bowen give Duncan and Parker targets to hit after breaking down the defense. Ginobili comes off the bench and grills other team’s second units, and occaisionally finishes games when other team’s starters are just too damned tired to resist a tri-pronged attack. However, starting the game with all three slowed down the offense and weakened the bench.

    The Lakers right now have a similar situation. While LO is not on the level of say a Parker or Duncan, Kobe alone is enough to scare opposing defenses, although LO does help. The two of them along with shooters/team players like Fish/Turiaf and defenders like Kwame is enough for the first unit, they just need to get on the same page (Fisher’s first season with the new team, Kwame never looked comfortable anyway, Turiaf now a starter). Starting either Bynum or Farmar right now would produce lackluster results, even if people think putting the ‘best 5′ on the floor is the best strategy without accounting for depth and chemistry.

  30. The only games the Lakers have played against decent teams at full strength and on full rest they have lost (Rockets, Hornets & Spurs). Although I am pleased by the Lakers nice record out of the gate, the 6-3 is more show than substance. Phoenix & Utah on their first back to back of the season. Detroit with no Billups, Houston with no T-Mac, & Chicago with no Deng–for those keeping track, that is the best player on each of those teams. T-wolves are a joke.

    Instead of being content with the status quo I think we should be aggressively trying to get better. Moving Bynum into the starting spot and playing him big mintues allows us to actively shop Kwame’s contract, perhaps coupled with Evans, Walton and/or Odom to land an impact player. To me, starting Bynum and upping his minutes is going to be critical to the Lakers success this season.

    I’m less concerned with starting Farmar b/c I get the whole “start Fisher he is a leader and then don’t play him much because he isn’t very good” theory. As long as Farmar is getting the bulk of minutes at point like he deserves then starting isn’t a big deal I guess. The main reason I want to start him is the set the tone early for the Tony Parkers of the league that they are going to have to play both ends and put up with a quick fiesty Farmar all game. I also think Farmar would help the first unit play better offense.

  31. I knew Kwame was going to miss more than 3 games. Well here’s hoping that Chris Mihm can play some solid D.

  32. Mike in the Mountain West November 20, 2007 at 11:37 am

    If we really want to emulate the Sprus strategy then we should start Bynum and Walton and have Odom as our sixth man. Odom’s and Kobe’s game don’t mesh that well together because they both need the ball in their hands to create. We’ve seen the way Odom thrives when Kobe is either out of the game or not asserting himself. With Odom coming off the bench he’ll be able to really thrive. Plus, imagine Odom and Farmar playing as a tandem with Radmanovic and Vujacic (my choice for Kobe’s backup) spacing the floor and Mihm or Brown holding down the middle. Now that would be a dynamic bench.

  33. Mike, Nice thought!

    I seem to remember the majority of the comments during the dog days of summer being that we were probably going to go 2 & 8 out of the gate and this season would start successfully if we were able to crawl up to .500. Well we are over .500 and now I hear comments about how our wins don’t mean anything. Hey – glass half empty folks – we have done better than we thought we would so let’s celebrate that, period. Continually downgrading our wins sounds like Steve Hartman talk (Fox’s resident Laker critic). Instead I would rather concentrate on the fact that our young guns have begun to come into their own and are making some noise in the tough Western Conference.

  34. 29)

    I think you make a great point. It’s nice to see the three wins in a row, but extending that to 5 games in a row against teams we “should” beat would definitely be enough to convince me that these guys are for real (I’m not there yet).

  35. 11. Yeah, I’m not really suggesting they change anything, just making an observation about the team’s chemistry with and without Kobe on the floor.

    One example from Sunday’s game: Bynum passes the ball to Kobe while both are behind the three-point line. Kobe tries a drive into the lane but gets bottled up by two defenders, pump fakes looking for a shot, at which time Bynum starts cutting to the basket, probably anticipating a shot and a rebound (not a bad assumption, considering who has the ball). But Kobe tries an ill-advised, behind-the-back, no-look bounce pass to the spot where Bynum had been standing during the initial pass–turnover. Bynum didn’t do anything wrong here, but that didn’t stop Kobe from walking over to him and pointing at the spot where he threw the pass like Bynum should’ve still been there. It’s stuff like this that messes with chemistry; rather than being a leader, Kobe seemed like he was more concerned with maintaining his own infallibility on the court. Guys get concerned about “messing up” in Kobe’s eyes, and they have to worry about it even when they’re not doing anything wrong (though granted, they often times are doing something wrong). When he’s not on the floor, they’re far looser and more confident.

    I don’t really know if there’s a solution to this problem; Kobe is still obviously the single greatest basketball asset any team has, so you have to live with his downsides. I just worry that the rest of the guys won’t have enough confidence in themselves to function in the playoffs until Kobe has confidence in them, and he clearly still doesn’t. Hopefully if the second unit can keep up its stellar play KB will begin to realize that there’s actually some talent on his team after all.

  36. Sorry for the double-posting, but I’d also like to add that while Luke has indeed had a slow start to the season stat-wise, I’m convinced that if the league tracked passes leading to assists (like hockey), Luke would be leading the league in that category. I’m of course making that assertion with no real evidence at all, but look at the through-the-legs pass; Luke set that whole play up, but Farmar ends up with the assist. I don’t think stats really do Luke’s game justice.

  37. 30. Anonymous,

    You just compared a team with three veteran all stars to a team that has exactly ONE all star. Not enough roundball for Timmy, Tony, and Manu is in no way analogous to not enough roundball for Bynum, Odom, and Kobe and to suggest otherwise is just silly. The Spurs are SO GOOD (remember how many titles they have) they are able to have Manu come off the bench. The Lakers, converesely, are at best a second tier team and need there players on the floor.

    34. Craig,

    I’m not downgrading anything. Rather, I’m calling it like it is. People predicted we would go 2-8 out of the gate because we assumed T-Mac, Billups, and Deng would actually play. Are the Lakers playing pretty good, but there are a lot of things they are going quite poorly. Are the Lakers all the sudden a contender because they beat Detroit, Houston, and Chicago–of course not. Those team were missing their best players.

    Sure, you can only beat the team you play, so hats off the the Lakers for doing that, but to suggest that we are now this amazing team that should stand pat and not fix what isn’t broken is a bit myopic. This team is broken, which is why we are not a contender.

    Alas, 9 rings has more b-ball knowledge than I ever will so I’m going to drop this whole lets actually start our best players campaign. To me it is obvious that we should start Bynum. Pretty much everyone disagrees so I guess I don’t know what I am talking about.

  38. Lamar Odom is the biggest piece of garbage in the NBA. He makes mistakes that you would expect from a High Schoo player. 7 points and 4 TO tonight against a Utah team that Okur and Boozer didnt play in. Hey big man start earning your ridiculous paycheck by playing hard and backing up your team or go to a team that you would fit in like the Knicks.