Archives For November 2008

Preview & Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  November 20, 2008

Records: Lakers 8-1 Suns 8-4
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.9 Suns 108.7
Defensive ratings: Lakers 94.8 Suns 105.7
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Suns : Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Matt Barnes, Amare Stoudemire, Shaq Daddy

Note to the mainstream media covering the game tonight: The vast majority of Lakers fans have moved on from the Shaq/Kobe feud. Stop trying to fan the flames, a fire needs fuel and nobody here cares enough anymore to provide it. Please join us in 2008.

Lakers notes: We’ve talked a little in the comments about the lack of explosiveness from Andrew Bynum the last few games, plays that used to be thundering dunks are soft-little lay-ups. Part of the reason appears to be health — after practice yesterday Bynum had his knee wrapped in ice and limped toward the team huddle, according to Mike Breshnahan at the LA Times (and he’s good). Normally I’d say this would be a good night to try to cut Bynum’s minutes so he can rest that knee, but he needs to play minutes matched up on Shaq (Mbenga or Mihm may get a little run too, even if it is just to foul Shaq).

A valid question is, do the Lakers keep Radmanovic in the starting lineup, and if so for how long? I’m not on the “make the change” bandwagon yet, as the team is 8-1 and Radman is not getting key minutes late so the rotations are working well. Plus his defense has been better than expected. But it’s a question worth asking.

The Suns Coming In: It’s early, but the 8-4 Suns are tied for the second best record in the West.

He may not be getting the media headlines, but any discussion of the Suns this season has to start with Amare Stoudemire, who is putting up MVP like numbers at the four. He leads the team with 23 points per game and is doing so with a crazy-good 66.9% True Shooting Percentage. The Suns are +17.5 per 48 minutes when he is on the floor. He’s been big on the glass, getting blocks and steals, just being the force he was pre-injury. And it’s not a huge leap to figure out why — what other four in the league can hang with him athletically. Gasol is a great player, but this is a brutal defensive task for him.

Shaq has come into the season in shape and playing some of his best basketball in years. He is averaging 15 and 8, with a 61% TS% (Shaq, for all the things that would occasionally drive us nuts as Lakers fans, always shot a high percentage). The fact is, he is not the 2000 Shaq, but for a night (or a half) he can be pretty close. And even the 2008 Shaq is a force on the block.

The guy suffering, at least in terms of numbers, is Steve Nash. I’ll let the blog Bright Side of the Sun explain from a recent post:

We haven’t seen Nash distribute the rock on the fastbreak like we are accustomed to seeing. We haven’t seen as many jaw-dropping passes and marveled at his vision as much as we used to. In fact, he’s had only one game this year of 10+ assists.

Let’s start by looking at Nash’s numbers before the Shaq trade (November 2007 – January 2008):

17. 3 points per game, 11.8 assists per game, 3.5 turnovers per game

Then, Nash’s numbers after the trade (February 2008 – April 2008):

15.7 points per game, 10.3 assists per game, 3.6 turnovers per game

Sure, there was a small decline in scoring and 1 less assist averaged per game but there is no significant evidence that Shaq affected those numbers. More than likely, it was due to fatigue and playing the third highest minutes total of his career….

Nash’s numbers to date for the 2008-2009 season thus far:

13.7 points per game, 7.5 assists per game, 3.27 turnovers per game

These stats lead me to conclude that new coach Terry Porter and the new style of play, not Shaquille O’Neal, has had the biggest influence on the decline of Nash’s stats thus far. This isn’t necessarily unexpected, but I didn’t think it would be as noticeable as early in the season.

This also got me thinking of how much I miss the old Nash. Sure, our team is built to make a long run in the playoffs. We have more depth, a better defense, and more scorers. But, selfishly, how much more fun was it to watch Nash create instead of dumping it into the post to Shaq?

By the way, the same site has a great post about the all time NBA tandems.

Keys To The Game: First thing to remember, these are not the run-and-gun Suns, they are actually in the middle of the league in terms of tempo (5 possessions per game behind the Lakers pace so far). They can still get out and run, Nash is still Nash in the open court, but that is not the team MO any more.

The Suns offense starts (particularly early in games) by getting the ball to Shaq on the block. That puts pressure on Bynum, but Shaq is a vet and the Lakers cannot give him one defensive look all game. Trap him sometimes, play him straight man others, bring help when he puts the ball on the floor another time, double him with a small trying to swat at the ball. Variety, the spice of life.

But when the game is tight the Suns halfcourt offense looks pretty familiar — Steve Nash running the pick and roll. With Amare setting the pick it is very hard to defend. The Lakers will need to play some of their best P&R defense of the season (I’m looking at you, Gasol). Also, you have to close out on their three point shooters — Bell, Nash, Diaw can all drain it.

I think this game will be won in the paint — the Suns get 35% of their shots right at the rim but hold other teams to 27% of their shots in close. The Lakers have been getting 39% of their shots in close. Can they do that with Shaq and Amare in the paint? If so, they get the win, but if the Suns dominate the paint and turns the Lakers into a perimeter team, it could be a long night.

Where you can watch:National broadcast on TNT, so expect to miss the first 5 minutes of the game when the first half of the double header runs long. Again. 570 radio locally.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  November 19, 2008

I just got done checking the NBA Rulebook, and it turns out the NBA does not award style points.

So, while we Lakers fans can nit-pick another win, remember that this team did what it needed to do — they stuck with the game plan and got the bigs involved early and often, they forced a turnover on 20% of the Bulls possessions and they held them to a 45.7% shooting (eFG%). The Bulls hung in early because Drew Gooden hit shots, and frankly if he’s the guy beating you then so be it, that’s what you want to force as a defense. But the Lakers did adjust and the Bulls couldn’t really counter that, and then the Lakers started to pull away (the first time). Plus, that Rose guy is pretty good. The game got a little sloppy at times and once again the Lakers seemed to try to avoid playing the triangle, but I think that was in part because of the pace (109 possessions, which is a little faster than the Showtime era tempo).

It’s a win. They don’t all have to be perfect and pretty, particularly in November.

• Apparently the tiff between Ariza and Sasha was because Ariza got mad at Sasha for not moving the ball in the offense. It’s a valid point, but if that’s Ariza’s beef he’s got a lot more people to be pissed at than just Sasha.

These kind of frustrations bubble up occasionally on every team and will likely be dealt with behind close doors. By the end of the game, everyone on the bench was laughing and having a good time. Anyone media member trying to make much more of it than that at this point is trying to invent controversy.

• The best part of having Kevin from Clipperblog now employed at TrueHoop is that his amazing analytical eye on other teams more often. Last night he broke down Rose and it is a must read.

What Rose seems to have, though, is the ability to improvise with purpose. It’s a rare gift, even among pro ballers. The league is littered with open-court players, but how many of them make good tactical decisions on the spot — not just in terms of how to use their body, but how to use the court?

• Matt from Blog-A-Bull had some good insights after the game:

Gordon was cold all night, but was at least still attacking the rim. Rose tried to pull them back with spurts of brilliance, but he wasn’t enough.

I thought Luol Deng looked pretty terrible, including two awful early turnovers: one where he got caught in the air, and another inbounding the ball. Though he was charged with guarding Kobe, and that usually warranted Kirk Hinrich a free pass on the offensive end.

But it’s the frontcourt that really separates the Bulls and the Lakers, and it showed tonight. Drew Gooden was in foul trouble, Noah had a particularly ineffective first half (he was better in the 2nd) so it meant a lot of Aaron Gray….

Bulls got the Lakers in the penalty real early in the 2nd quarter, but did nothing with it.

Pau Gasol sure looked like someone worth trading for.

• I want to echo part of what Matt said: I’ve now watched the last two Bulls games, and I have no idea what happened to the Loul Deng of two years ago. During all the Kobe trade BS of a couple summers ago, I kept if you’re forced to make this deal you don’t do it without getting Deng. He was the star the Lakers needed back. I haven’t seen enough or followed it closely enough to know why he isn’t THAT GUY anymore, maybe it’s the offense, maybe it’s that he is out tonight with a groin injury. But he has not impressed.

• And Bill Simmons is right — can you imagine how much better the Bulls would have looked with D’Antoni as the coach? With Rose running the show, that is a roster that could thrive in his style, and Vinny hasn’t quite figured out how to get them there yet.

• I can’t tell you how excited I am that Top Chef is back for a new season. Seriously. Outside of hoops, Top Chef, Entourage, Mad Men and The Amazing Race are probably the only other shows I watch religiously. I’ll tune in to the occasional ER, and Big Bang Theory makes me laugh but they are not regulars. Loved the first season of Heroes, but man it lost me. Tried again the start of this season and threw in the towel.

Preview & Chat: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  November 18, 2008

Records: Lakers 7-1Bulls 5-5
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109 Bulls 103.5
Defensive ratings: Lakers 93.9 Bulls 102.1
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bulls Derrick Rose, Ben Gordon, Loul Deng, Drew Gooden, Joakim Noah

Lakers notes: After beating up the Lakers offense in a couple of posts around here, maybe we should talk a little bit about the positives.

First, the Lakers crash the offensive boards hard. They are grabbing 31.5% of their missed shots, which with their length means a lot of putback dunks and easy baskets. Along those same lines, the Lakers have been one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the league (opponents grab just 24.4% of their misses).

Pushing the pace also has been good for the Lakers — they are getting 43% of their offense in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, and they are shooting a very good 57.7% (eFG%) on those shots. That despite those horrible pull up jumpers from Fisher.

The Bulls Coming In: The Bulls enter Staples Center with one of the best backcourts in the league — and that starts with rookie Derrick Rose. If you haven’t seen him play yet this season, you are in for a treat. Watching him to start the season reminds me of CP3 a couple years ago in the sense that you watched him and thought “damn, he is going to be very good.”

Matt from the brilliant godfather of hoops blogs Blog-a-Bull passed along these thoughts:

It’s been a real pleasure watching Rose so far this season. There was a worry that he’d take time to develop in comparison to Beasley and other rookies, but he’s already arguably the best player on the roster.

And the Bulls are not shy in relying on him, he’s 2nd on the team in usage rate (behind only gunnin’ Ben Gordon) and leads the team in minutes with 38 per game…and it’s been over 40 minutes in the week since Kirk Hinrich got injured.

He’s been surprisingly aggressive with his shot: it seems that teams are daring him to not pass, and his jumper looks better than advertised (including a somewhat respectable 35% on 3-pointers). But what really makes him special is the way he can get to the rim. His athleticism for his position is unmatched in the whole league. He’s tremendously quick, and has great strength and body control for a PG, to where getting hit around the rim doesn’t seriously alter his shot. And his touch when attempting layups is phenomenal.

While Rose and Gordon are starting to mesh well, the front line is struggling to adjust to the new game, and that is what is really hurting the Bulls. Matt explains:

Luol Deng is coming around but his game is not a stand/shoot one, so it takes some time to incorporate his off-ball slashing ability in with Rose. By contrast, Andres Nocioni has had some great games realizing that all he needs to do is find the 3-point line and wait for Rose to give it to him.

The truly bad news thus far has been the disappointing young frontcourt of Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. They’ve been reduced to spectator status outside of the lane, which is giving them little chance to be effective. And to make matters worse they’re not producing in the other aspects of the game enough to keep them on the floor…rebounding and forcing turnovers and then running the court so Rose can find them.

Keys To The Game: First things first, this should be an up and down game, with two athletic teams that want to get out and run (fifth and sixth in the league in pace this young season). In these instances, the team that plays the best transition defense gets the upper hand.

The Lakers, however, may want to slow it down a little. The Bulls with Noah/Gordon/Thomas along the front line are struggling to defend the paint — opposing fours are averaging 21 and 10 while shooting 51% (per 48 minutes), opposing centers are averaging 20 and 16. The Lakers have great production and rebounding out of their bigs, they need to get the offense going tonight by working the ball inside out.

The Lakers need to get back to what they were doing well defensively to start the year — with crisp traps and rotations in the half court. This perimeter-based Bulls team, as great as Rose may be some day, plays right into the Lakers plans. If they can push Rose, he is going to make a few great plays but a few big mistakes as well. This might be a team that can be rattled by the more aggressive defense. If the Lakers remain sloppy on rotations of the bigs, Rose could have a huge night.

The Lakers, particularly the bigs, need to play the screen and roll well because they will see a lot of it with Rose and Gordon tonight.

Where you can watch: Locally watch Fox Sports in LA or listen to the guys at AM 570. Nationally, check out the NBATV broadcast.

Pete Newell: Basketball Royalty

Gatinho —  November 17, 2008

The Guru, The Godfather, The Teacher…

A hall-of-famer who coached teams to an NIT championship, NCAA Championship, and an Olympic gold medal, Pete Newell’s impact on the game we all love should come out of the shadows now that he has passed away.

His first success would come coaching the USF Dons when he would lead them to an NIT championship, then the decider of the National Champion, in 1949. He would have another successful run at Michigan State before moving on to the University of California.

At Cal he would do something that alone could be reason enough to honor him; he beat John Wooden’s UCLA teams. It was Newell who would hand Wooden some of his only 2nd place finishes from 1956-1960 in the then Pacific Coast Conference. He would end his successful tenure with an NCAA title that had his team beating powerhouse Oscar Robertson and his Cincinnati team in the semifinals, followed up by a one point victory over Jerry West and his West Virginia Mountaineers.

Newell would retire from coaching abruptly at the age of 44 after leading West, Robertson, Jerry Lucas, and Walt Bellamy to an Olympic Gold medal in Rome in 1960. A squad that was the original dream team and proved as much by averaging 101 points a game and having four players average in double figures.

He would become the Lakers GM in 1972, and it was his close friendship with Milwaukee GM Wayne Embry that would be instrumental in the Lakers landing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Newell would guide the Lakers through the 70’s and place them in the capable hands of Bill Sharman once Sharman’s coaching career ended.

As Laker GM he would begin the most enduring part of his legacy, tutoring players in footwork. And that tutoring would center around the post.

Newell would draft Kermit Washington, most notorious for almost killing Rudy Tomjanovich with a punch in an in game fight. Washington had played as a center at American University and Newell was looking to make him a power forward due to his 6’7″ height. Newell spent the summer teaching Washington post moves and face up moves, joined by then UCLA star Kiki Vandeweghe.

This would be the genesis of Pete Newell’s Big Man Camp. Which would be attended by a number of NBA and college players, including an 18-year-old Andrew Bynum, and would be centered around the intricacies of proper footwork to enable a post player to move efficiently and be able to counter the defense with a myriad of moves in the pivot.

He longed for coaches at all levels to get back to teaching: “If a player knows why he’s doing something, he’s more likely to do it naturally.” And he co-authored books with Bobby Knight that would become gospel for many. But more importantly he would begin a basketball family tree that would include Knight, Jerry Tarkanian, and the inventor of the Triangle himself Tex Winter.

Tex’s senior year in high school in Huntington Park he would be manager of the Loyola freshman team, coached, or rather taught, by none other than Pete.

Peter Francis “Pete” Newell
b. August 3, 1915 – d. November 17, 2008


Experimenting With The Offense

Kurt —  November 17, 2008

Nomuskles called it a “lopsided polygon,” but whatever term you want to use what the Lakers have been running on offense of late is not the triangle. The off the ball movement is minimal (particularly with the starers) and the passing that made this team a joy to watch late last year has been replaced with more isolation and relying on talent rather than the offense.

Bill Bridges, one of the smartest members of the family around here, broke it down in the comments, and his thoughts deserved a broader audience and discussion:

If the first half of the season can be devoted to experimentation such as determining the rotation and the best fit combos, we are now a fifth of the way through this stage. I would strongly urge that Phil devote the second fifth toward a different set of lineups and rotations.

If we discount the 3 games against the Clippers and Mavs and the first game against Portland (where they were obviously affected by first game jitters and the loss of Oden). The Lakers are 3 – 1. During many of these games and even against Dallas and the Clippers the starting unit put the Lakers in a hole to climb out of.

The first unit is just not working as well as the rest of the rotations. I would contend that the balance is wrong. The notion the Vlad’s 3 point shooting “opens” up the court for Pau and Bynum just has not worked out. What would really open up the court is a few possessions that the Lakers actually run the triangle to the 2nd or 3rd options possibly resulting in a corner three for … Pau! (who apparently beats Sasha regularly in 3 point shooting in practice). Or running the triangle’s corner sequence resulting in a pass in from the corner to Bynum who’s sealed his man for the dunk (remember Fox to Shaq?)

A quick examination of players’ tendencies may shed some light.

1. Kobe does not play well without the ball. His best position in the triangle is the mid post (right block). He has rarely been seen in this position this year.

2. Fisher. Does not play well without ball except to rotate for open 3’s. He shoots 40% lifetime on layups but insists on disproving Einstein’s observation about insanity. When hot is a good catch n shooter but also likes to dribble and shoot. Will keep shooting , hot or not.

3. Bynum’s a low post player. Best initiation point is low left block.

4. Pau’s best initiation point is low left block. but also right high post.

5. Vlad … Not good without the ball except like Fisher sliding on the perimeter for open 3’s . Very unreliable finisher at the rim.

The starting 5 then has 3 players who like playing with the ball in Kobe, Pau, and Fish. Nobody who really plays well off-the ball. And no slasher other than Kobe. As Kobe has basically decided not to slash this year, there is no slasher in the starting 5. (In the 1st quarter, Kobe is playing “facilitator”, and in the 4th, he seems to be relying almost exclusively on jump shots – blame it on the long season, or his age… but that he is taking it to the hole less is obvious)

This composition creates a few problems. The triangle requires players to catch, read, pass, and move. All 5 players rotate around until one has a good shot. Both Pau and Kobe’s natural inclination is to catch and hold the ball and look for cutters. Fisher and Vlad are drifting on the perimeter (and if they were to cut , you wouldn’t want to pass it them). Bynum has not been establishing deep low post position to be a position to receive the ball.

The result, stagnation, short shot clock, shots out of rhythm.

Time to change the mix.

1. Ariza for Vlad. You get excellent movement off the ball. A slashing finisher to receive Pau and Kobe and as good a 3 pointer as Vlad – at least from the corner.

2. Sasha for Vlad. Kobe moves over to 3. This is the line up I believe to be the best against Boston. Sasha runs around covering Ray, Kobe plays Pierce. Sasha is much more aggressive than Vlad and much more consistent. Kobe initiates much more from an attacking position.

3. Luke for Vlad. Can’t be any worse . Remember the start of the 3rd against NOH? Vlad had a sequence of ignomy – turnover on first possession, foul, missed 3 etc…
At least Luke would keep the ball moving in the triangle.

4. LO for Vlad. LO became quite proficient at slashing to the rim and receiving passes from Pau.

I would also replace Fish, but Jackson would never do this. In vlad and fish we have two inconsistent perimeter shooters who are not good finishers and only average at best moving with out the ball. In Pau and Kobe we have two play makers looking to find non-existing cutting teammates.

Time for the second phase of the experiment….