Archives For November 2007

Records: Lakers 0-1; Suns 1-0
Offensive ratings: Lakers 96.1; Suns 99.5
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.4; Suns 87.9
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Kwame Brown;
Suns: Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Grant Hill, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire.

Lakers Notes: It was the Lakers offense that looked out of sorts in the season opener, but remember that was against the best defensive team in the NBA last year and a team with two of the best shot-blocking centers in the league patrolling the paint. They make a lot of teams look awkward. The question is how do the Lakers come out and respond tonight — and do other Lakers step up early so Kobe doesn’t feel he has to take over the game single-handedly.

One thing the Lakers did much better than in the past against Houston is defend the pick-and-roll. The bigs showed out — meaning they stepped out on the small guard and forced him away from the basket — then the rotations and recovery behind them were good. It was the best we’ve seen the Lakers defend that in a long time.

Which is good, they are going to see a lot of it from the Suns. Like every trip down.

Two great Kobe posts: In all the media noise about Kobe and trades, there were two that I wanted to point out to people. First is the latest from Roland Lazenby, which talks about the Lakers and Kobe being together for better or worse.

The second is Matt from the great Blog-A-Bull, talking about the dead-for-now trade from a Bulls (and very rational) perspective. It is worth the read. (This link does not mean we are opening this comment thread up to Kobe trade proposals — I don’t care how you think the Lakers can make a fair swap with the Bucks, we’re not talking about it. For right now, the Kobe trade talk is dead and this will not become a message board trade forum.)

The Suns Coming In: Tonight will be the second game of a back-to-back for the Suns, with travel in between as well. Last night the Suns looked very rusty for three quarters but pulled it together for a very Suns-like 12 minutes at the end and knocked off the Sonics 106-99.

It was the Suns Bench that led the way back — Phoenix started its run with a lineup of Marcus Banks, Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw along with Amare Stoudemie and Grant Hill. Barbosa led the way with a +8 for the Suns, but the bigger shock to me was the Marcus Banks looked much more confident and comfortable in the system than he did last year. It should be noted that only seven Suns played significant times.

Most of what I saw was a very sloppy Suns defense (which in turn was hurting their fast break), with Amare getting in first quarter foul trouble and unusually slowness from Marion (something I think he will not do two nights in a row).

But offensively there was no great new wrinkle — it’s the break and then the pick-and-roll, and the wisdom of Steve Nash running the show. Grant Hill still seemed to be finding his way, spending more time than he should hanging out at the three point line for spot ups. We’ll see if he adjusts for tonight’s game.

For more Suns background, check out Phoenix Suns Rising.

Note That Would Interest Only Peter King: For those of you other NBA stats fans out there, you need to check out this new site, Basketball Value. Not only does it have a lot of individual stats, it has a great breakdown by five-man units. The sample sizes are way too small right now to mean much, but this is going to be a great tool as the season wears on. (For the record, I did not use Basketball Value’s offensive and defensive ratings at the top of this preview, I used Hollinger’s off, the two are different, likely because they are using a different multiplier for pace. I need to see which is using what, but haven’t looked around their sites.)

Note That Would Interest Only Peter King, part deux: Jerry Buss is serving a two-game suspension, part of the penalty for his summer DUI in San Diego (that and a $25,000 fine from the league). So, exactly what good does suspending an owner from attending a couple of game do again?

Keys To The Game: Most teams struggle with the Suns because their style of play is an anomaly in the season. After seeing somewhat similar offenses for a month, in come the run-and-gun Suns, and with the grind of the NBA season there is little chance to really prepare for what is coming, and before they know it teams get swept up in the style.

The Lakers are different — after two consecutive years of playoff series against the Suns, the Lakers know how to defend and play the Suns. The basics are pretty simple — pound the ball inside, pound the glass and make Nash a shooter and not a distributor — but are easier said than done against such an athletic lineup.

Tonight a lot of the Lakers success will be on the Bigs — can the deep Lakers rotation take advantage of the smaller and shallower Suns lineup. The Sonics were able to get Stoudemire in foul trouble last night (Amare averaged 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes last season) and the drop-off from him to Brian Skinner is pretty far. The Lakers can run a lot of guys — Kwame, Bynum, Turiaf, Mihm, Radmanovic — at the Suns, but those Lakers need to have a good night for it to work.

If the Lakers are grabbing a lot of offensive rebounds, it’s a good sign. Making Nash shoot a lot would also be good, although he certainly can score (he had a good shooting fourth for the Suns last night). But a Nash shot is less dangerous than a Marion dunk, so make the Canadian shoot.

One other key — can Farmar and the rest of the second unit keep Barbosa from tearing them up. He killed them in the playoffs last year.

Thoughts/Prediction: This is the best situation the Lakers can hope to catch the Suns in — it’s a back-to-back with travel for them, so their legs shouldn’t be as fresh. That said, as it is the Suns home opener, they will be pumped.

I might have predicted a Lakers upset if Odom were healthy — Marion just can’t handle him on the block and Odom may have been the best player on either team in last spring’s playoff series. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lakers win, but the Suns have beaten the Lakers in eight of the last 10 regular season meetings, so I’ll say the Suns 103-99.

Where you can watch my prediction go up in flames: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), nationally you get ESPN, and online check out the scoreboard page.

Here is what we know — Kobe used 43% of the Lakers possessions against the Rockets, and that is too many. If other players are not more involved and producing more, the Lakers cannot win consistently.

But with that information comes a big question: Is this disparity Kobe’s fault for not passing the ball; or his teammates fault for not doing anything with the ball when they get it?

In the game against the Rockets Tuesday, the Lakers ran the triangle offense pretty well with the first team out there, but things started to change in the second quarter. I’ll let a great note from kwame a. in the comments take it from there:

The Lakers ran the offense until the second unit couldn’t score the ball. Then Kobe (probably rightfully so) began shooting the ball to keep us in the game. The problem I forsee is how will the Lakers get back into offensive balance after one of Kobe’s scoring binges.

By the fourth quarter, it appeared to me that Kobe had stopped looking for teammates. But over at True Hoop a detailed breakdown showed Kobe did make a number of fourth quarter passes, but outside of Fisher’s game-tying three nobody did much with them.

To try to get an idea of how Kobe’s seeing his teammates, let’s examine how (his fourth quarter) passes turned out.

•Five passes to Luke Walton. Four times it comes back to Bryant, one time Walton gets fouled.
•Two passes to Jordan Farmar, leading to two missed jumpers by other players.
•Twice to Ronny Turiaf. One time it comes back, the other time it’s a missed jumper.
•Once to Maurice Evans, who passes it right back.
•Once time to Andrew Bynum, who passes it back.
•Once to Derek Fisher for the game-tying basket.

After considering how productive Bryant was on his own, and how little came out of his passes, one could make the argument that in his head, most of his teammates were not worth passing to with the game on the line.

In almost every case — before that pass to Fisher — Bryant ends up seeing a missed jumper or getting the ball back anyway.

This is not a new problem, and the question of whether Kobe or his teammates are primarily at fault has been an issue for going on three years now (and is in some ways at the heart of Kobe’s frustrations). But the answers are not simple.

On one side, is it simply a matter of a lack of confidence in the other Lakers? Are the other Lakers intimidated by Kobe? Shaq and veterans like Fox and Horry would never have tolerated Kobe not passing like this, then again they would not just have passed the ball back to Kobe when he gave it to them. They wanted to take the big shot. Fisher certainly has never shied away from a big shot, but what about Walton? Or Bynum? Or Odom?

Is it possible for Kobe to take these guys under his wing and turn them into more confident, more clutch players? Or is that the responsibility of said player?

The problem here is there is not a simple black-and-white answer. Kobe needs to diversify the offense, but there are times he needs to take it over, to do what superstars do. And finding the balance between those two things has long been a struggle for Kobe, he trusts himself and no player on the current Lakers — save Fisher — has seemingly earned his trust in those tight spots. When he gets in his “take over the game” mode as he did Tuesday night, he and the rest of the Lakers offense never snaps back.

Maybe some teammates need to have a talk with Kobe (or maybe Phil Jackson does), but those players have to take responsibility and do something with the chances they get. Maybe Kobe needs to learn to trust more. Most likely the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Whatever the case, until some balance of trust and responsibility is found between Kobe and his teammates, there will be a lot more games like the season opening loss.