Archives For October 2008

I think the Lakers are in trouble here. Kobe is a very good on-ball defender, but I don’t see how he can mark Messi…..

Now that the obligatory soccer joke is out of the way, let’s talk hoops.

For a look into what we can expect from Barcelona, we turn to one of the long-time readers and most knowledgeable people at this site, Xavier. For you that don’t know him, he is a Barcelona resident and professional basketball coach. (In fact, he just got a great new job as the head coach at the El Masnou youth team and development program, the place that developed Ricky Rubio from ages 7 to 13. Great position for him and we wish him the best!)

What does he tell us about Barcelona?

FC Barcelona had a very irregular season last year and still managed to play the ACB finals. For what I’ve seen this preseason, they are doing lots of good things to solve it.

First and more important, JC Navarro is back home. He might have been a sub in the NBA but in Europe he’s a basketball god (ala Jasikevicious/Spanoulis). He’ll probably have more enemies in US because of what he said after the Olympics final (regarding the traveling calls), I’d better prefer to forget silly arguments from both sides and remember it as the one of the best finals ever. I don’t know if he’ll be ready to play big minutes, he’s back from an injury and just played 4 minutes last game. We’ll see this Saturday how it goes.

David Andersen (from CSKA Moskow) and Daniel Santiago (former NBA and Unicaja Malaga) are the new centers of the team. Andersen might be considered a better player but who I really like under the basket (at least at a FIBA level) is Santiago. They might not start together so they spare minutes at the 5.

We Will not see Andersen and Santiago as starters because the kid called right after Bynum in 2005 draft has just waken up. I don’t know why Fran Vazquez got drafted so high and the question marks in my head are bigger when I ask myself why he didn’t go to play in Orlando. Since then, he’s not being playing good… since this season. He’s starting to show the beast he was before being drafted. I like him better and should be one of the reasons for this team to battle for every title.

Ersan Ilyasova plays the multiskilled do it all role. Had an adaptation year last season and started clicking by the playoffs. Basile will give an extra scoring punch from the bench.

Jaka Lakovic and Andre Barrett will handle the PG. Lakovic is more of a scorer while Barret will be setting more plays for the team.

Every other player, Sada, Grimau, Trias, Barton… would be core players in other euro teams but play the role of glue guys

They are a very well balanced team. Every single backcourt player is a threat from three point line and the reborn Vazquez along with Andersen, Santiago and Trias set a good inside level.

Matching the Lakers:

Neither Lakers or Barcelona likely will play this game as a regular season one, Lakers in pre-season and Barcelona already 3 games into competition need to have their players in optimal conditions for the titles that really matter.

That said, I’d like to see how can the Lakers defend the pick and roll. That will be interesting because if they close lines and try to stop the penetration they will have shooters outside killing it or bigs with soft hands and if they wait for Gasol or Bynum to get from the week side they will see why in Europe we still use the mid range.

Outside defense is not great, the Lakers should try to beat them off the dribble to force them close inside then start ball movement we all like.

I like that the Lakers are going to have to deal with a good pick-and-roll team, they are going to see so much of that during the season and into the playoffs that this is a good test. As will be defending a team that moves well off the ball and can pass like the Lakers can.

Should be a fun one to watch.

Really?! With Kurt, Reed and Darius

Kurt —  October 16, 2008

So you want to trade Lamar Odom? Really? You think it’s obvious and simple? Really? You want to bring in a real three and rely on Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga to play more minutes along the front line? Really?

We’re just a couple of weeks camp and already trade talk is popping up all over the Web. This prompted an email conversation yesterday between a couple of Forum Blue & Gold regulars, which I am going to excerpt here. But I think the bottom line was summed up well by Darius:

If the goal is to get a championship, it won’t come down to who we play at SF, but moreso how we evolve as a team on defense and whether or not we mentally take that next step where we don’t lose 20 point leads in the Finals.

Let me be up front, I can see a scenario where trading Odom is a good idea. But to my mind, the key to that equation will be Odom’s attitude in his role this year — which could be off the bench, which may well be in a less defined role than the past and based more on matchups. Can he adjust to that and be a good team member? Or will he lose focus? I don’t think we can answer that right now.

But if talk of trading Odom were to get serious, there are a lot of factors to considered, because Odom’s versatility covers a lot of potential wholes for the Lakers. Reed explains:

When you look at possible playoff series, Odom gives us critical insurance against foul trouble. When we play against the key playoff contenders, we will often face a PF that could put our bigs in quick foul trouble (Duncan, Boozer, West, Yao, Amare, Garnett). It would be a big relief to know that if Gasol or Drew got two quick ones, Lamar could come right in and we wouldn’t lose much (as opposed to Powell or Mihm). I think this would be very important in any critical series.

Darius echoed that point:

I think that when you have a player like Odom, he’s a one-man contingency plan for so many of our weaknesses. Rebounding, Ball Handling, Passing, PF, SF, he does a lot for us. And he does it playing multiple positions. However (after these pre-season games and what he’s been for us since he came to LA), I feel like his work at SF is going to be severely limited to spot match-ups and that most of his time will be spent playing PF next to either Bynum or Pau at center. Like I said earlier, those backup minutes could easily become starter minutes if one of our bigs goes down. But while I love having contingencies, I don’t think you coach or GM to large contingencies like this one. …

A lot of talk about trading Odom has focused on bringing some of the better (and potentially available, depending on who you ask) small forwards around the league. The problem is, if you swap out Odom straight up for a three, now you rely on Powell, Mbenga and Mihm to play more minutes, key minutes if there are fouls and injuries.

And, you create a worse logjam at the three than there already is: Ariza, Walton, Radmanovic and at times Kobe all play the three, Bring in another and you are cutting minutes and dealing with frustrated players on the bench (guys who would start or play key minutes a lot of other places).

Darius added this nugget about the roster right now:

I actually think Phil would prefer to have a little less talent in players 9-14 if it means having a better 1-8 that had clear, defined roles.

Reed basically put all the pros and cons into a few bullet points about moving Odom:

• While Radman (and potential trade pieces) can play the 4 in a pinch, none can rebound or defend adequately against the versatile post players that are on almost all contending teams.

• Odom provides instant insurance against injury (in the regular season) or foul trouble (in the playoffs) as to Bynum or Pau.

• Odom gives us a tested lineup combination that gives opposing rivals fits (Utah, San Antonio) given his and Pau’s length, speed, and skill sets. No one had an answer for the Fisher, Kobe, Sasha/Radman, Odom, Pau lineup until Boston.

• We don’t currently have a maximally dominant 5 man unit that we can go to against any team. While our depth gives us great flexibility in adapting to various teams, it also is a sign that we don’t have a single lineup devoid of some glaring weakness (whether it is outside shooting b/c of Ariza or Odom, defense in Radman, or size/defense in Sasha). An upgrade for the right SF would solve this problem.

• Odom was an absolute beast after the Pau trade, shooting 59%, playing incredible team defense, controlling the boards, and giving slow opposing bigs fits.

• Odom does not have the ability to be effective on the perimeter so long as Pau and Bynum are clogging the lane. He cannot play SF next to them in key playoff series.

Which is why, as I said before, I think it all comes back to Odom’s mental state. If he is happy in whatever his new role turns out to be, he is a big asset. If he is a distraction, he may have to go but getting something for him is not that easy. Remember, soon Andrew Bynum is about to get a big deal, and the Lakers likely want to keep Ariza and Farmar’s new deal is just a couple years away. And Kobe could opt out and want to get a new max deal. That’s a lot of money. Odom’s contract comes off the books at the end of this year, and he would resign for less. (How much less, that is a good question.)

I’ll give Darius the final word:

But if the season starts and Odom is playing well in whatever role that he has for us, then do we still want to make a move? (I mean, all these issues would still be there, just lurking in the background and waiting to resurface right at the wrong time). And that’s where the gray area is. We all like LO, we all appreciate what he provides. He’s NOT easily replaceable and that’s why we’ll always struggle to actually trade him.

The Lakers are slogging through long practices in a long preseason. To give you some interesting reading options, Bloggers from around the NBA are previewing their teams, and recently it was the guys in the Southwest Division (look for my formal Laker preview close to the end of the month).

Dallas Mavericks
Mavs Moneyball

Houston Rockets
The Dream Shake

Memphis Grizzlies
3 Shades of Blue

New Orleans Hornets
At the Hive
Hornets Hype
Hornets247.com

San Antonio Spurs
48 Minutes of Hell

Also see links to all the previews at CelticsBlog.com

Here are a couple other things worth checking out:

• Tom Ziller at Fanhouse ranks Kobe as the third best player in the NBA

One of the greatest crimes against Kobe’s legacy is that his otherworldly scoring ability isn’t sufficiently credited. Eighty-one points gets headlines, and a streak of 40-point nights the same. But for reasons unknown, Kobe’s singular ability to explode for massive scoring games carries a heavy discount in our consciousness. We credit Kobe for his all-around game, or his steady consistency, or his heart, or his passion, or his clutch ability, or his touch from unfathomable ranges. But no one ever makes the case for Kobe as simply the most fantastic scorer of our time. It’s really that simple.

• Roland Lazenby talks about Jerry Krause and his role in the Bulls dynasty (it was more than just breaking it up).

Thoughts Through Three

Kurt —  October 14, 2008

UPDATE: Sasha Vujacic is not going to be playing much if any before the season starts. The Lakers officially shut him down for the next couple of weeks due to a avulsion fracture, which, Web MD is “ligament or tendon to tear off (avulse) a small piece of a bone to which it is attached.” (Web MD, good for more than just baseball!) Two weeks off would get him playing right about the start of the season, and expect him to work his way back in slowly.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled post, already in progress…..

I wrote a few paragraphs for NBA Fanhuse recently (part of the Pacific Division preview) and said something along these lines: “If your biggest preseason problem is where to fit in a 14 and 10 guy who is 6-10 and can run the floor, play inside and out, you’re in pretty good shape.”

Sometimes we need to remember that. And sometimes we need to remember that A+B does not always equal C.

Lamar Odom came off the bench in the third preseason game. Odom had his best game of the preseason. Ergo….. not so fast, my friend. (Oh crap, I just quoted Lee Corso, I could have my blogger’s license suspended for that. I promise it won’t happen again, and you can be sure I’ll never quote Herbstreet.)

Odom did play his best game of the preseason Sunday night, showing aggression on the boards, really pushing the ball up on the break and just generally looking more comfortable than he did in the first two meaningless games. Bottom line, whether you were in the “start Odom” or “sixth man Odom” camp, you came out of that game with some fuel.

On one hand, Lamar had his best game in one where he came off the bench, plus he and Jordan Farmar showed some chemistry together.

On the other, by far the best play we have seen this preseason came from a lineup of Fish, Kobe, Ariza, Odom and Gasol to start the third (and kept going when Bynum subbed out Gasol midway through the quarter). The play was good because the defense was the best we have seen so far, with aggression on the ball and pretty good closeouts. With those five starters on the floor, the Lakers started to look like the kind of team you should fear.

Of course, right now that is not the starting five. Apparently Phil likes Radmanovic in as a starter, and on offense you can see why. He had seven first quarter points and two assists, stretched the defense and generally looked solid. His defense isn’t as bad as its reputation (although good would not be a word I’d use either). When Bynum and Gasol are on the floor, Radman is a good option because of his sweet shot and the open looks he should get.

When you think about Odom’s versatility and what a match up nightmare he is, there is no doubt he will get key minutes. Which all comes back to, defense and matchups. I trust Phil to find the measure there. And I don’t expect him to have the answer after three preseason games.

Just a few other thoughts, because I’d like to talk about something other than Odom (he’s just the big issue now).

• Happy birthday John Wooden!

• As a fan I’m not that concerned yet about all the Lakers turnovers, it’s preseason. If I were a coach, I’d be talking about it constantly to the team.

• One of the more interesting columns we’ve seen in a while is from former Daily News guy Ross Siler, talking about how to improve the preseason.

Start with location: Spring training has the benefit of being in two places – - Arizona and Florida – - where fans want to vacation. I proposed having the NBA gather all its Western Conference teams in Las Vegas and Eastern Conference teams in Miami for a tournament….

There’s no league that does it, but a preseason tournament could generate interest. It’d be sort of like a big-time D-League showcase and might even give coaches a reason to bring back the starters in the fourth quarter of an exhibition game.

The NBA also should borrow a page from spring training and increase access for fans. Teams should be required to hold practice outside their facility at least once during the preseason. Go to a small gym and let fans get as close as they can to the action…..

I’ve seen firsthand just how people can be drawn to watching these guys whenever they hold shoot around at some college or health club. They’re so big and so athletic that they can’t help but draw a crowd just doing full-court drills.

There also should be no ticket to any NBA preseason game that costs more than $25. I know that’s a hit in Larry Miller’s pocket, but I think it would send a message to fans. Upper deck tickets should be $5 and general admission seating.

Anyone else have some ideas?

This is the latest in a series at FB&G that will run through the start of the season, focusing on some of the top teams in the West and maybe a couple from the East.  In this installment we’ll touch on one of our biggest rivals over the past decade, the San Antonio Spurs.  (Cue the Deathstar music) ~Darius

Last Season Record:  56-26 (tied for 2nd best record in the conference with the Hornets, 3rd seed in the playoffs due to tiebreaker)

Last Playoffs:  Lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals in 5 games

Offensive Rating:  107.2 (15th in the NBA)

Defensive Rating:  101.8 (3rd in the NBA)

As Reed pointed out in his epic “Know Your Enemy”: The Phoenix Suns post, the San Antonio Spurs are our most traditional rival in the last decade.  They have the combination of Coach, GM, and players that have posed the biggest challenge to us since Phil Jackson first started (not) pacing (and really, just mostly sitting on) the sidelines and leading the Shaq/Kobe teams to post-season glory.  They are a model franchise in the NBA, with 4 Championship rings in the Popovich/Duncan Era and contiue to make trips deep into the playoffs every spring.  If there is one team (besides the Lakers) that will be remembered from the immediate post Jordan period of the NBA, it would be the San Antonio Spurs.

Last season was the typical effort from the Spurs.  They battled their way to over 50 wins for the ninth(!) consecutive season and advanced deep into the post-season.  And, just as in every other one of those stellar campaigns, it all started with Tim Duncan.  Duncan continues to be the catalyst for the Spurs, and even though some have argued that he’s lost a step, he’s still one of the elite players in this league, combining fundamental play with exceptional basketball IQ to do what is needed to help lead his team to victories.  His tremendous defensive instincts (both in one on one play and in the team structure) powered one of the NBA’s best defenses and helped smother opponents to the tune of 90.6 pts. allowed per game and also placed him on the All-Defensive (2nd) team, a feat he’s accomplished every season that he’s been a pro. 

But we all know that Duncan is not alone.  He’s flanked by two of the premier players at their respective positions in PG Tony Parker and SG Manu Ginobili.  Parker continues to grow as a player and his game is now considered the prototype for an NBA PG.  Lightning fast off the dribble and a one man fast break, Parker uses his speed and handle to blow by defenders, get in the lane, and finish amongst the trees.  He makes his living off the screen and roll with Duncan, where he’s gained enough confidence in his jumper to be a threat when defenders go under the screen, and can turn the corner like the roadrunner and dash into the lane, setting up himself for the easy two or dishing to a teammate when defenders try to chase him over the top.  He shot 49.5% on the season (his lowest in 2 seasons shooting 52% and 54.8% the previous two), which is amazing considering his size and the fact that he is not a natural jumpshooter (but, as I stated before is steady enough).  Teaming with Parker in the backcourt is Ginobili, one of the best wing players in the game today.  Manu is a fearless competitor with one of the most unique games in the league.  He brings the soccer pitch to the hardwood every night (both in how he changes direction and embellishes to earn the whistle) and shows a creativity that is a pleasure to watch every single night.  Just as dangerous off of the bounce as he is shooting the jumper, he uses his craftiness and shifty left hand to create angles that other players just don’t see and can finish with authority at the rim or with finesse around bigger defenders.  The guy has a complete game, and is one of my favorite guys in the league.

But as a team, last season would not be the Spurs’ year.  Coming into the season as the defending champs (which is already a strike against them, considering they’ve never repeated as champs in three previous tries), the Spurs had a tough hill to climb as injuries to key players and improvements from other teams made their quest to repeat an extremely difficult task.  In the playoffs they easily dispatched of the Phoenix Suns in the first round, but were then pushed to the limit by the upstart Hornets (where only experience and some Game 7 moxie helped them pull out the victory), and ultimately fell to our team in a series that many thought would go longer than the 5 games that it actually took.  And although the Spurs were clearly hampered by an obviously not 100% Ginobili in their loss to the Lakers, I think that they would have struggled to beat us even if Manu was healthy considering Kobe’s ability to score at will with his jumpshot and how the Spurs didn’t have the bench to play with our 2nd unit.  So, as in seasons past, the Spurs look to retool on the fly and compete in a tough divion, and an even tougher conference, hoping for another chance to win a title.

This upcoming season will be an interesting one for the Spurs.  Over the past few seasons, they watched their role players get old and have not been able to find young players capable of stepping in to replace the production that their steady veterans have provided.  But this year, they will not have a choice and will need some of their young players to make strong contributions.  Gone are Robert Horry and Brent Barry.  And while Michael Finley and Kurt Thomas return, they are now just spot players and should not be counted on for major contributions, even if they are feeling younger by practicing some new training techniques.  So the Spurs will be looking for solid minutes from younger players that are unproven in this league.  Guys like Ian Mahinmi, their 2005 first round pick out of France who’s shown very good improvement over the past year in the D-league and has flashed good athleticism that could help boost the Spurs frontcourt.  The Spurs understand that Mahinmi is still raw, but he’s got talent and they’ll be looking for his size, length, and the bounce in his step to add a dimension to their rotation.  They’ll also be looking to Salim Stoudamire, the former Hawk whose long distance jumper and ability to handle to ball (some) will hopefully replace some of what Brent Barry has provided recently.  Besides them, rookie guard George Hill from IUPUI will get some run and try to help bolster their PG rotation after they traded away Beno Udrih early last season (if Hill’s name sounds familiar, it should.  He’s the player that the Lakers brass was supposedly very high on in this past draft, hoping to snag him with our 2nd round pick, instead picking up Joe Crawford).  However the one young player that the Spurs were hoping they could rely on will not be available to them this next season.  Tiago Splitter is the Brazillian big man with first round talent whose rights are owned by San Antonio.  He’s played very well in Europe over the past two seasons and the Spurs were hoping to bring him over this next season to have him bolster  their F/C rotation.  Splitter’s bruising style on offense and defense combined with his hustle and energy would be valuable to any NBA team, but match what the Spurs need to help Duncan almost exactly.  But Splitter decided to stay in Europe instead and signed a contract to remain with Tau Ceramica of the Spanish League.  Splitter’s decision was doubly hurtful for the Spurs as many think it was their reliance on a future this upcoming season with Splitter that swayed them to trade Luis Scola to the Rockets before last season.

Can the Spurs make another run?  Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili remain.  And while Ginobili is still on the mend from surgery, the team (and even more importantly the head coach) has a positive perspective as he can now, finally, heal from the injuries that plauged him during the playoffs and the Olympics.  Injuries that sapped him of his trademark explosiveness and ability to play to his full ability.  And even though some of the Spurs players are getting older, they are still contributors and continue to fill roles that help win games.  Bruce Bowen, though not the all world defender he once was, is still a major irritant to wing scorers and can still hit that corner 3 pointer.  Jacque Vaughn is still a decent back up PG that has refined his mid range jumper and avoids mistakes.  Fabricio Oberto is still a quality big man that works well in tandem with Duncan, hustles on defense and the glass, and brings a craftyness and savvy that few big men operate with.  And Ime Udoka is becoming the new Bowen…making timely jumpers and providing perimeter defense, putting a strong body on the leagues top scorers and playing within the Spurs team defensive concepts.  There’s also new addition Roger Mason (from the Wizzards) who is another wing player that can hit the 3 pointer and play a good enough all around game to crack the rotation, helping to replace the departed Brent Barry and be a contingency for a declining Michael Finley. 

In the end, the Spurs are still a western power.  Especially when they have 3 all-star players and a head coach that I’d take over every other coach in the NBA not named Phil Jackson.  Can they combine new pieces with their veteran core to make another run?  I’m not sure (I wouldn’t bet against it, though).  But I do know that, when healthy, they’re as tough an out as any team in the league.  Ultimately, I see the Spurs competing hard for their division title with the Hornets and the improved Rockets and still in contention for a top 4 seed.  If they can survive the first part of the season when Ginobili is out and have Duncan and Parker stay healthy, they’ll be in the mix.  Their time is not over yet, and though there are other teams that are improved and will be strong as well, I see our longtime rival being right there this season…again.

-Darius