Archives For August 2008

Drrayeye Looks at the Roster

Kurt —  August 31, 2008

There are going to be a variety of previews on this site between now and Oct. 28 (the first game), but with the roster largely set (at least for the guys getting the majority of the minutes) it’s time to start looking at the squad. One of our insightful members here, Drrayeye, did that in a comment yesterday and I thought it was something that deserved more discussion, so here it is.

I like the Lakers 2008-2009 squad–all of them, individually at least to number 13, and I’m likely to be happy with 14 and 15 as well when we figure out who they are. In comparing the Lakers to opponents at this early preseason point, the established Lakers are already united in team spirit and familiar with each other. Other NBA teams are still trying to sign free agents, find additional players, or, worse, trying to locate one or two starters for the upcoming season.

The Lakers at this point are not only balanced, but may have backups available to sign to restore balance in case of injury. There are some Laker fans that have lost confidence in one or more of our returning players–but not me.

Those Laker bloggers who wish to call Luke “*uke” should wash their mouths out with soap. Last season, Luke played through injuries and changing roles in an apparent confused state. It will be interesting to find out about his mobility and three point shot in the preseason. I expect to see Walton regularly in certain combinations at the small forward and I expect him to make important contributions.

VladRad had a decent season last year, but still battled nagging injuries. His role is likely to shift from the small forward to the power forward–with more emphasis and opportunity as a scorer. I expect his role to also be better defined than last year and be another bright spot on the Laker team.

Derek Fisher played the last games and the playoffs with a significant injury. It will be interesting how healthy he is when he reappears in the preseason, and it will be interesting how many minutes he will play each game during the regular season.

I’m sure that Jordon Farmar is working on his three, but many of us are hoping that he gets to the hoop more often and rotates better on defense. It will be interesting to see if another Laker is added to the point guard rotation.

The Machine should expect an enhanced role on the Lakers to go with his substantially enhanced salary. I’m sure that there will be various strategies to make his scoring more efficient and his defense more acceptable.

Lamar had his best season as a Laker during 2007-2008, and he is as healthy as he ever has been. This season, his versatility will be challenged as never before.

The real treat will be to see Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum going through an entire preseason with Pau Gasol. There are many adjustments to work out. So far, the only Laker surgery on the horizon is for Kobe Bean, but he’ll be ready and rested by the time the season starts–I hope. If not, the early season absence will be a good test for the rest of the team.

Then there are three or four members of the newby squad to be added in:

Here comes the Sun (Sun Yue) seems signed, sealed, and soon delivered–ready to find the first dim sum place near Staples (hint: it’s not too far away!).

Josh Powell has apparently been swiped from the Clippers for the “Ronny Turiaf” slot–a slot that may have to be redefined to suit Josh.

I’m convinced that the Lakers will fill only one more slot (#14), unless they sign Mbenga (#15).

That slot should go to Coby Karl, and it may, but he may overlap too much with Sun Yue. I’m speculating (with no knowledge at all) that the slot will go to lightning fast Dwayne Mitchell in the hope that he can be a point guard defensive stopper. Why else would they even hold on to a 26 year old this long?

I find it least likely that they will select Crawford, but there are still a few other players that might be asked to training camp, and other strange things could happen. Slots 14 and 15 may not be completely determined until the start of the season.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  August 28, 2008

After a few days going through withdrawals without my laptop, time to clear out the inbox in bullet point form.

UPDATED: Great stuff today from the OC Register, talking about Kuchak checking up on Bynum:

“Andrew has dedicated another summer to getting into the best possible shape,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “A month ago he was cleared from the knee surgery he had and at that point he began working on conditioning and getting into shape and I thought he looked like he has made progress.”…..

“I could see improvement in his body, his conditioning and mobility,” Kupchak said. “I didn’t see any signs of effects from the surgery.”

• There are now 16 Lakers under contract, although not all are guaranteed (Crawford and Karl, for example). As reported in the OC Register today, Kupchak plans to bring 18 players to camp. So we can expect a couple more guys to be signed, but they most likely will be camp fodder.

• Sun Yue will be in camp and his deal is guaranteed (two years, $1.2 million total).

• Can we stop calling Sun “”The Chinese Magic.” I get the correlation (tall PG) but Magic is a nickname we as Lakers fans just don’t throw around. If you want that moniker, you have to really earn it. Sun did not even start for the Chinese national team (ed. note: yes he did), is raw and is really a two-year project. He’s going to get a lot of run with the D-Fenders this year would be my guess. Save the nickname until we see if he can live up to it.

• By the way, Dwayne Mitchell is also on a non-guaranteed deal, according to Eric Pincus.

• I’m excited about college football is starting up again. Go Irish!

• A five-part breakdown looking at the correlation between the volume of Kobe’s shooting and Laker wins and losses.

• The Monta Ellis injury is just bad news for basketball fans, that is a fun player to watch who now is out for about the first half of the season. I hope his injury pattern is not something that becomes chronic.

Great read on New Orleans, the Hornets, Katrina and Gustav. (Hat tip True Hoop)

• One of my favorite blogs lately has been Eric Mussleman’s (the former Golden State and Sacramento coach).

• As I said before, one of the things coming in the next couple months will be a new look and some other changes to the site. It needs an update. But FB&G is a community at its heart and I want any changes to work well for all of you. So, before things really get rolling (and as was started in an earlier thread), throw out some ideas of what you do or don’t want to see. Or send me an email with your thoughts. From the little things (like fixing the header so it links back to the main page) to potential biggies (a section where readers can make their own posts) I am trying to think about them all. Like I said, my goal is for any changes to work well for the community, so tell me what you want to see.

What Can/Should We Expect?

Kurt —  August 25, 2008

It’s about five weeks until the Lakers head into training camp. Five weeks with really no basketball to speak of as we watch the start of football (both American and in Europe) and writers and bloggers start working on team previews.

And when those previews come out, a lot of people are going to pick the Los Angeles Lakers to win a title. There’s good reason for that — the Lakers went six games into the NBA Finals last season without their starting center and having Kobe’s finger held in place by a piece of tape.

Lakers fans have a reputation, in some part deserved, of thinking anything short of hanging a new banner and having a parade downtown is a failed season. Going into this season that certainly will be the expectation of many.

But is that fair?

I don’t think that it is. For two primary reasons, one practical and one philosophical:

1) You never know how a season will shake out. Injuries can turn a team’s season around, plus other teams will have players emerge that we didn’t expect (as Bynum did last year). This is a deep Western Conference and the difference between winning the conference and going out in the second round is pretty slim. Then there are good teams from the East to overcome. I don’t think it’s fair to expect nothing but a title in such a close, fluid situation.

2) Focusing on the end result spoils the journey.
One of the best parts of last year’s Lakers success was the unexpected joy of watching young players (Farmar, Bynum and others) start to blossom and how that changed the team dynamic. We watched Kobe evolve over the course of the last four years. Suddenly a team we had watched struggle and grow together was very good.

And while this year’s journey starts from a different vantage point, it should still be an entertaining one. This team still needs to grow, it needs to find a defensive desire and game that can compliment what will be an explosive offense. It will have to overcome adversity.

And it may or may not end in a title. But if the title is the only goal, we as fans will look past the steps it took to get there, robbing some of the joy from that moment. And I want to completely soak in that moment.

But what do you expect this season?

Gold Medal Game Time

Kurt —  August 23, 2008

Here’s my prediction — not only is the USA going to win the gold in Beijing, it will win it in London in 2012, too.

I’ll explain the second prediction first. One thing has been pretty clear in these Olympics and said by Kelly Dwyer among others — the USA is the best NBA-style team in this Olympics by a mile. It’s not a gap that other countries are going to close completely in the next four years.

And in four years (actually in two), the international game is going to look more like the NBA game.

The 3-point line will move from 20 feet, 6.1 inches to 22 feet, 1.7 inches. The NBA line is 23-9…..FIBA also will reconfigure the three-second area to match the NBA shape, going from a trapezoid to a rectangle.

FIBA is also throwing in a charge circle under the basket, as in the NBA. These rule changes favor the NBA players. For example now Dwight Howard can post deeper on the low block, and what player in the world can move him off that? All those changes will move the game toward more of an NBA style — there still will be no defensive three seconds and other key differences, but it will be more in the comfort zone of the NBA players.

Combine that with the larger three-year commitment and other things used as a structure this time around, and the USA will win the gold in London.

And they will win in Beijing too. Spain may be the most NBA-like team outside th USA in this tournament (although I expect they will break that mold some in the Gold Medal game) and as was said earlier, the USA is by far the best NBA-style team in this tournament.

Much like the Argentina game, I think for the USA to lose they would have to take the game off. Spain has a lot of talent, but not enough to withstand a focused USA team at both ends of the court. The USA has to be focused on defense and use ball pressure and stick with men at the three-point line. They have to be focused on offense and take advantage of good ball movement against a zone defense, not over-dribble and go into isolation then launch threes (Spain prefers a man-to-man but will play zone much more because Argentina had some success with it). They have to play through what will be a physical Spanish side. But they can do all that, and they have advantages. Rubio may be one of the best 17-year-old players I’ve ever seen, but he still makes 17-year-old mistakes when pressured and the USA bench should be able to run on those. The USA is a very deep team and that will wear Spain down.

As way of evidence, look at the raw +/- numbers for the Olympics and you see something interesting — no USA players in the negative. Also, whether adjusted or straight up, the two guys doing the best with plus-minus are the first two guys off the bench — Wade and Bosh. The USA brings guys off the bench that would be a team’s main weapon anywhere else.

There is no way the USA is not focused for the Gold Medal game. So there is no way they lose. And I don’t see them losing in major international play for a while now.

By the way, I’ll be up and commenting during the game (probably not a live blog, unless there is a lot of interest, but there are ones all over the Web tonight). Come by and share your thoughts.

USA vs. Argentina, and the Semis

Kurt —  August 21, 2008

I think my premise here is pretty simple:

Argentina may well give the USA their toughest test to date, but I don’t think Argentina can beat the USA unless the Americans help out.

A few thoughts to flesh that out. Argentina will try to slow the game down (the USA is at 81 possessions per game, fastest in the Olympics, while Argentina is at 69, the slowest) and because they have ball handlers like Manu that will not be coughing the ball up a lot they should be able to limit turnovers. That said they will give up some — sometimes against teams that bring high pressure and tempo it takes a while to adjust. The USA does that, with starters and off the bench. I think at some point in the first half the pressure is going to get to Argentina, maybe some subs, and the USA will go on a fast 10-0 run or so. Argentina will have to play catch-up from there, but I don’t think they can do it.

Argentina can score (their offensive rating through six games is 121 [points per 100 possessions], not bad but well behind the USA’s 129.1). They have good offensive talent, starting with Manu (Kobe on Manu is going to be fun to watch), but Delfino looked very good last game and they are a deep team (no, they are not, really). One thing the South Americans will have to do to win is hit threes — teams are shooting just 28.6% from three against the USA, to beat them you are going to have to shoot 40% or so.

But to win Argentina will need help — meaning the USA would have to be cold, particularly from the outside. The South Americans will have a hard time playing catch up on the USA, Argentina’s defense is not good enough to get a series of stops to make a counter run (they give up 107 points per 100 possessions, worst of the four teams left, compared to the USA’s 95).

That is to say, Argentina’s defense isn’t good enough unless the USA helps out. At times in the half court the USA just goes too much isolation and not enough ball movement (Kobe is one of the worst offenders). They get away with it because, well, Kobe and Wade and LeBron are very tough to stop in isolation. But Argentina has good defenders in Manu and Delfino, with Scola and Fabricio Oberto inside to help. If the USA’s offense stalls, if they shoot jumpers (especially early in the clock) and miss, it plays into Argentina’s hands. What will be key for the USA is less iso and more ball movement to get the ball into good position.

The thing to really watch is the tempo — if the USA gets turnovers and runs well, it could be another blowout. More likely, Argentina will keep it close for a while, but once the USA puts together one run Argentina will just not be able to catch up. I don’t think this version of team USA is going to help out opponents like past versions — they have been so focused on defense they will slow the Argentineans, and Argentina cannot slow them.

I’ll post some links to other previews here, starting with Basketball Prospectus. Now Fanhouse is in (from the amazing Ziller). Ball Don’t Lie links to a bunch of previews.

And one more link worth checking out — comparing Usain Bolt to Magic Johnson in a meaningful way.

UPDATE: My worst-case scenario held sway for about the first 15-minutes of the game, but in the third quarter in particular the USA’s defense took over, and that was the difference. KD emphasized the defense and Kobe’s role in his great roundup.

Craig W. said the same thing in the comments:

All the flash and dash was the reason we lost those other basketball games this last decade. The people who win these things play in the trenches and stop the other people. Players the world over can score. It is defense and how you transition both ways that wins championships – FIBA or NBA. Kobe takes the best scorer on the other team and all people talk about is how Lebron and Wade dominated the scoring. What they dominated is the defense – then they scored.

Next up, Argentina. A very good team where pace will be the key, but we’ll get to that down the line. Today we enjoy a good win.


Laugh if you want, but I think the Australia — and the following game if it is Argentina — are going to be a bigger test to the Americans than another match up with Spain. Australia may be the team most capable of the “Greece game” that beats the United States.

The reason is that Australia brings to the table a couple of the things that will slow the US.

First is what Patrick Mills brings — a point guard that the USA must respect and may not succumb to the pressure defense. So far in this tournament the USA has forced turnovers on 23% of opponent possessions, that has led to those fast-break baskets they thrive on. If Mills can again handle the pressure — which needs to come from Paul and not Kidd for much of the game — it will be one thing to slow the game.

And slowing the game will be key. The USA has averaged 81 possessions a game so far in the round-robin play, Australia is at 73 (Argentina, by the way, is at 69). If the Aussies get back on defense, if they don’t turn the ball over, that will be the first big step. The USA just needs to run — after makes and misses.

And the USA needs to force misses. Australia’s hybrid-Princeton offense is very effective — the USA has an offensive rating in the Olympics 126 (points per 100 possessions), but Australia is second at 125.1. They are deliberate but they can score, both on the back cuts that have killed the USA in the past and from three. The USA must be focused in its half-court defense, watch the cuts and close out on shooters.

That will mean Dwight Howard with a lot of one-on-one time with Andrew Bogut. Howard should be able to hold his own but he cannot get in foul trouble. While Bosh has been great Bogut may be able to be physical with him on the block on offense.

Despite all that, to lose I think the USA would have to go cold from the outside, and Australia hasn’t defended well. They have let teams shoot 60.4% (eFG%) and have a defensive rating of 110 (sixth in the games). Once again, the USA should be able to score, either in the half court or on the run.

But Australia will be the biggest test for the USA yet, and we are now in the one-and-done phase. Argentina in the next round could do the same thing (slow pace, good outside shooters, a defense as good or better than Spain’s).

Play focused, play like they have and the USA wins. But take a night off and……

By the way, I think Lithuania and Spain should move on, but the Greece/Argentina game could be interesting.

Vacation And Other Thoughts

Kurt —  August 18, 2008

I just got back from a vacation that included Chicago and the Detroit suburbs, and first things first, thanks to Reed for the breakdowns, Darius for his game thoughts, Gatinho for his history and game thoughts, and Nomuskles for filling that live-blog Jones we all had. This site never misses a beat with them around.

So, here are my pent-up thoughts on a whole range of issues.

• Chicago is an amazing and fun place, and hats off to a city willing to invest so much in fantastic public art like at Millennium Park. Those are the kind of things that really make a city. Of course, ask my kids what the best part was and they say pizza.

• We should get into the Lakers news. A couple weeks ago we were talking about “Tractor” Traylor and others as the possible back up big at the end of the bench next season, but it appears Josh Powell will get that role.

It’s a nice pick-up, one that fits with the team Mitch Kupchak has built in that he is a player whose skills fit what the Lakers do and need. Powell has good energy and is scrappy, and that shows mostly on the boards (he grabbed 15.6% of available rebounds last year with the Clippers, that’s the same percentage as Odom). He scores mostly at the basket but has a nice midrange jumper, although was a little slow to use it last year, and he sets a very good pick away from the basket. If he can do those things with the Lakers he will get some decent minutes.

Why take my word for it, look at what the brilliant Kevin at Clipper Blog said about Powell last season:

Josh Powell continues to show that he’s a serviceable frontcourt bench guy who can give you a quality screen up high.

I’d like to offer another endorsement of Josh Powell as a bona fide useful NBA piece. Back at NC State, he was an extremely active frontcourt player on both ends with more quickness than your average power forward. “Energy player” is a often a euphemism for a guy who is neither a small nor a power forward and I was initially skeptical that Powell could find a place on the floor except in those rare instances when a Boris Diaw-type is playing the 4, but his post defense has been solid. In addition, he’s improving in help situations with each passing week. Offensively, his mid-range game is what I remember from his ACC days – instinctive and with a better touch than you’d think.

• In Chicago we came across a few good jazz street musicians. I just love that in an urban setting. I wish LA had more of them.

• I only caught one Team USA Game while on vacation — USA vs. Spain, But that told me plenty. I’m not going to add on to the superlatives already seen at this site and summed up so well by KD. The USA put on a great performance.

But I will say that the USA still can be beat. And with the one and done games coming up (starting with Australia, it appears, who gave the USA fits in a tune up playing without Bogut) the USA cannot lose its focus. For the USA to lose, a few things have to happen:

1) The opposing team cannot turn the ball over. I think one of the most misused stats in basketball is “points off turnovers” (it bugs me how much Joel Meyers loves it) but in the case of team USA it is telling. You cannot give them easy baskets. They are unstoppable in the open court.
2) The opposing team has to shoot a high percentage, making the USA take the ball out not rebound and run. Bottom line with this and the first note, the opponent will have to slow the game pace down, and they have to get back on defense.
3) The USA has to be cold from three in the halfcourt. If they are hitting like they did against Spain, there is just no way to stop the scoring machine.
4) Score on the USA with back cuts and ball movement.

It may be hard to do all that in the face of the USA’s ball-pressure defense, and the USA is going to have to help the cause with an off night, but it’s not impossible. When they play again for the gold I think Spain will be able to deal better with the USA’s pressure, with turnovers down. But I doubt that will be enough.

• I watched that game on the Canadian Broadcasting Company feed (you get that in the Detroit area) and it was a pleasure to hear a game broadcast without all the hyping of stars that happens on ESPN and ABC.

• Ricky Rubio is just 17? He was Spain’s best PG by a mile, and dealt better with the USA’s pressure than Calderon. He’s got some flash but just kept making the right plays.

• China loves them some Kobe-a! Jones on the NBA breaks it down.

• It’s a ways away, but we’re starting to gear up for the season, and one way to do some review and look ahead is to check out an interview I did with Empty The Bench that covers a lot of ground.

• If you haven’t seen this yet, the account of how one woman became a Lakers fan is a fun read.

• If you go to Chicago, it’s not all that cheap ($30), but the boat architectural tour up the river is a must. Thanks to Matt from Blog-A-Bull for that suggestion.

USA Passes Latest Test

Gatinho —  August 17, 2008

Do you think you made other teams fear you with tonight’s performance?

Kobe Bryant: “Maybe a little bit because everybody knows what a great team Spain is. I think we sent a pretty strong message tonight.”

They did it with defense. This is a team that is not relying on the fact that it is bigger and stronger than any other team in the tournament, even though it is. A total commitment on D and a set offense that is finding its rhythm is beginning to take the drama out of the tournament.

Fast break points:
USA 32…Spain 0.

But 12-25 from behind the arc? KD, as usual, said it well:

Sure, Team USA had 16 steals and caused 28 turnovers, but the team’s stroke from long-range is what turned this into a laugher … early. That said, the D was spot-on. When you hold the NBA-veteran troika of Jose Calderon, Jorge Garbajosa, and Juan Carlos Navarro to 1-12 shooting from behind the arc? A shorter arc? Something’s working.

The intensity of this team was evident. The seemed edgy, as if they were upset that Spain wasn’t putting up a bigger fight. Unfortunately it led them to do some NBA style griping that had been missing in previous games.

Lebron James had 4 steals and Chris Paul had 5.

Pau was himself. About what was to be expected from him. He struggled with the strong USA double team committing 5 turnovers. Proving what we all already know, he’s not a 5.

Younger brother Marc has NBA size but not NBA fitness.

17 year old Ricky Rubio has a mountain of internet hype to live up to, but he seems poised beyond his years. Flashy but fundamentally sound. I’d like to see what he could do in the NBA, but with three years left on his contract with Joventut, watch while you can.

Up next: Dirk, Chris Kaman and the 1-3 Germans. The USA has already qualified for the next round, so look for Coach K to control the minutes of some of the older guys.

Watching on No commercials, no commentators, and you could frequently hear the chatter from the players and coaches.

And thank god that the music is only played during breaks for basketball. The in-between-every-point music in the beach volleyball matches is maddening. Do they really think that lowly of our attention spans?

The Next Round is One and Done: The quarter finals begin on August 20th, with the semis on August 22nd and the Gold Medal Game is on the 24th.

41 strides: I’m glad Usain Bolt‘s coach let him try the 100m.

Note: When commenting on games that are in progress or recently played, please give other commenters a SPOILER ALERT.