Archives For November 2008

“The 6’8″ Jackson’s wingspan was so prodigious that Bill Fitch (Jackson’s coach at the University of North Dakota) would often have him show off to NBA scouts with something called “The Car Trick,” in which Jackson would sit in middle of the back seat of a 1950s Buick and open both doors simultaneously.”

-Phil Jackson’s official Bio

Length… Sometimes referred to as a player’s wingspan or simply stating, “he’s long.” The famous poster of Jordan’s life size image with reaching “wings” while palming a ball comes to mind.

It’s the distance from the tip of the right middle finger, across and over the barrel of the chest, to the tip of the digits on the left.

Like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, most of us are square, symmetrical. Our wings comparatively clipped and matching the distance from the bottom of our feet to the top of our head. Embodying the architect Vitruvius’ idea that we were a walking 1 to 1 ratio.

“We found the proportion of Height to Wingspan to be 1.023 which is within 2.3% error of the established value of 1. The one-sample T-test concluded that there is not enough evidence to say the proportion is not 1.”

-Size of a Human: Body Proportions, The Physics Hypertext book

In his own lanky form, it seems Jackson would start to create a prototype of a defensive player. Of course coaches have always coveted length in players, but for Phil and consequently the Lakers, it now seems firmly ensconced as an organizational philosophy.

A philosophy that would begin with Phil himself and solidify in the 7 foot long outstretched arms of Scottie Pippen. The Bulls’ defense would be predicated on his quickness coupled with length.

The commitment to fielding a front court founded on length would be undeniable after the 2004 Finals, when one Kobe Bryant was single covered by Pterodactylean ridiculousness.

“Kobe had a hard time shooting over Prince,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said afterward. “I’ve never played against somebody that long before,” Bryant said.

Felix Gillette, Slate magazine, discussing the 2004 Finals and praising of the “lanky brilliance” of Tayshaun Prince.

(Gilette would also invoke Leonardo and Vitruvius and quote a study in the Journal Biometrika,“Only 9 percent of adult males have wingspans that exceed their heights by more than about 2 inches.”)

So when we see… Good close outs on three point shooters…rebounds kept alive by tips leading to second chance points…passing lanes being filled properly in the strong side zone preventing the skip pass…fronting the post effectively…altered or blocked shots…fundamental stay on the floor go straight up defense…say it along with Joel Myers…“The Lakers length is once again a factor .”

“The team is neither soft, nor scared of physicality, it’s just a little light in the pants. This is why our speed and length will be so important. What we lack in girth (not physicality) will be made up in speed and length, allowing us to choke off angles and get into passing lanes.”

Kwame a.

“The ball is just calling my name…I just go after it.”

Trevor Ariza

“He’s a legitimate, 7-1, long-wing-span, natural shot blocker, so add Andrew, it takes us to another level defensively.”

Phil Jackson on the Pau Gasol trade

You can’t teach length, but you can draft and trade for it.

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho

The Lakers and Trendy NBA Offense

Kurt —  November 6, 2008

Starting last season, Phil Jackson loosened the reins some on the triangle offense — not only was the team encouraged to fast break more, but within the first seven seconds of the clock they are allowed to freelance before setting up the offense. Maybe the biggest beneficiaries of this have been Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, who run down and get deep early post position and some easy baskets.

But the Lakers are not alone in this, a lot of coaches are promoting some freelancing, and a great story in the NY Times yesterday talked about the level of scouting in the NBA, which led Kevin over at TrueHoop to add on more:

Jonathan Abrams deftly explains something I’ve heard a lot in recent weeks: “…the prevalence of video, the proliferation of advance scouts roaming from city to city and the encyclopedic memories of most coaches have dramatically reduced the actual surprise of what teams see from the other side. Nearly ever wrinkle in the game is immediately seen and studied, rewound and rehearsed – from the triangle to the Princeton offense.” This is one of the primary reasons you’re seeing teams run more early offense — it prevents the defense from leveraging that expertise.

I’ll add that one of the advantages of the “read and react” triangle offense is that you do not have to call out plays.

• The Lakers missed a lot of shots last night (both teams shot an identical 43.5% eFG%) but the difference in the game is the Lakers grabbed 31.9% of their misses and got to the free throw line 30 more times (remember that the 22-0 run in the fourth started with free throws from Farmar and Kobe). Somewhere I can hear John R saying “see, the Lakers get all the calls.” But in the NBA, the team that gets the calls is the team that is the aggressor, that gets the ball inside and goes to the rim. The Lakers did that last night.

• You want more from last night, check out the Clipperblog recap. It’s very good.

• Four games in, but the Lakers are playing at the fourth fastest pace in the league, behind only the Knicks, Nuggets and Pacers. That said, the pace they are at is very close to last year.

• Phil Jackson has mentioned concern with teams beating the new Lakers defense by using the skip pass to someone for an open three. The Clippers started to do that, particularly Davis hitting Mobley for some open looks. I think this is one of the things we can expect to see a fair amount of this year. (Here’s a fear of mine, Chris Paul and David West on the strong side drawing a lot of attention and a quick skip pass over to Peja behind the three point line.)

• By all reports (including the comments here from game attendees) the crowd was a little quiet last night. Honestly, I had a little trouble getting into the flow. Maybe it was a post-election hangover, but also games where the Lakers get 22 trips to the free throw line in the fourth quarter just don’t seem to have a flow.

• I watched some of the Pistons game last night, and I’m very curious to see how Iverson blends with that squad. They are very good. I didn’t love the short-term ramifications for the Pistons of the big trade, but after watching them I think with AI they could be a real threat to the Celtics in the East. If, and that’s a big if, he can really blend in with his teammates on the court and become a little more efficient.

• Happy 29th birthday Lamar Odom.

• Kevin at True Hoop also gave me my best laugh of the day, talking about how Carmelo wanted to score 44 points last night to honor Barak Obama.

Unfortnuately, Anthony finished with only 28 points on 13-30 shooting from the field. In doing so, Anthony pays homage to the nation’s 28th President, Woodrow Wilson (D-NJ).

• Finally, a little late but here they are, your Pacific Division previews:

gsw.gif lac_medium.gif lal_medium.gif pho_medium.gifsac_medium.gif

 

Golden St. Warriors
Rob Mahoney: Upside and Motor

LA Clippers
ClipperSteve: Clips Nation

LA Lakers
Kurt: Forum Blue & Gold
Josh Tucker: Respect Kobe
Trevor Smith: HoopsAddict

Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Stan: Bright Side of the Sun

Sacramento Kings
Tom Ziller: Sactown Royalty

Also see links to all the previews at CelticsBlog.com


Records: Lakers 3-0 Clippers 0-4
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.7 Clippers 91.8
Defensive ratings: Lakers 88 Clippers 116.4
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Clippers Baron Davis, Cuttino Mobley, Al Thorton, Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman

Lakers notes: First things first, Bynum is fine and will play tonight. Apparently he tweaked his shoulder Monday trying to block a Chris Mihm shot in practice, but it was nothing serious.

Along the lines of the most recent post here about the Lakers defense, some people suggested what the Lakers are doing is similar to what Boston did last year. However, Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus broke down what the Celts did in a post last year and when I bounced the thought off him he said they are different. The Celtics defense is far more traditional, he said, adding that they didn’t do much different than most teams, they just did it far better. The Celtics did very little trapping, while the Lakers new defense seeks to punish ballhanders who go near the trap.

Can the Lakers contain Baron Davis tonight with that defense? It will be one big thing to watch.

The Clippers Coming In: The Clippers finally have the lineup they hoped to have at the start of the season — with Baron Davis at the point and Marcus Camby at the four — healthy and ready to go against the Lakers.

Having Camby back may help the Clippers with their biggest problem so far — giving up points in the paint. So far this season 45% of opposing team’s baskets came close to the basket (for comparison, just 34% of baskets against the Lakers are in close). As is fairly obvious, the closer to the basket you shoot the more likely that the ball goes in.

Kaman is a capable defender inside, but he has gotten no help so far. In the fourth quarter two nights ago, Tim Thomas drew the assignment of the young and energetic Paul Millsap, and Millsap destroyed him — 15 consecutive points, five boards (three offensive) and a +13 for the quarter. Millsap dominated Thomas in the paint, which brings us back to the point above.

However, as Kevin from Clippersblog points out, there were stretches in the second quarter where you got what Clipper fans have hoped for — good spacing and Camby “lording over the paint.” This team is just starting to get healthy, it is starting to show flashes of what it could be.

The problem is, in the West, there is no time to wait until January to figure out what kind of team you are and then hit your stride in the playoffs. Get too far behind in this conference and you will never catch up.

Last Meeting: In the second game of the season, Baron Davis helped the Clippers to a solid start, and the game was close through the first quarter and a half. But, midway through the second, the Lakers went on a 17-0 run (largely with a lineup of Farmar, Ariza, Kobe, Gasol and Bynum), and never looked back. The Lakers won 117-79. It was a complete blowout with seven Lakers scoring in double digits.

Keys To The Game: Last meeting the Lakers had big play inside — Bynum outplayed Kaman and Gasol had a big night against Thomas — and the Lakers should probe inside again. The Lakers dominated the boards and that needs to happen as well.

Camby is a good help defender but his on-ball defense is average. The Lakers, with Pau, should go at him, get Camby in foul trouble and make him work on the defensive end. Also, when he does try to come and help on Bynum or on penetration, look for Pau who should be open.

Through four games the Clippers have been the worst shooting team in the NBA, at just 40.9% (eFG%) and the Lakers need to keep them out of the paint and shooting jumpers. That means not turning the ball over and getting back in transition so as not to let Davis have room in the open court.

In the half court sets, don’t bring a guy to the strong side off Camby around the elbow, that guy is reliable out to 18 feet. The problem is what they like to run is Davis driving off a Kaman pick, Kaman rolling to the basket, a shooter (Mobley) in the corner and Davis driving the lane. It gives Baron a lot of options, so the Lakers need to play that pick and roll well.

Where you can watch: Here in LA you can watch the Lakers broadcast of Fox Sports Net or the underrated Clipper broadcast team on Channel 5 (which now has some convoluted name involving networks nobody watches). No national broadcast, so it’s League Pass or streaming video for the rest of you.

The Strong Side Zone and You

Kurt —  November 3, 2008


Lakers fans, these three words are your new mantra, your new best friend:

Strong Side Zone.

When the season started we were generally saying, “if the Lakers defense can just be in the top 10 in the league we’ll be in good shape.” Well, three games is an infinitesimal sample size, but so far the Lakers have the best defense in the league, giving up 88 points per 100 possessions. Every time I see that number my jaw drops like a character in a Tex Avery cartoon.

The reason is two-fold, one is a mental commitment to defense and the other is the strong side zone they have committed to. What is that exactly? Why is it working? What are other teams going to do to counter it? Let’s talk about the strong side zone, and why it is good for you.

Simply put, whatever side of the court the opponents have the ball on, the Lakers do two things: 1) They pressure the ball with that players’ defender; 2) They try to float another defender (usually Gasol or Odom at the four) over to the side the ball is on (or strong side). The team essentially plays a sort of zone behind the man pressuring the ball (although it can look like the Lakers are playing a soft man-to-man, it is more a matchup zone).

The reason for doing all this is pretty simple — to stop penetration. It killed the Lakers last year when Chris Paul or Paul Pierce beat their man and drove into the lane at will. Now, if Pierce (or someone else) gets the ball on the wing, Radmanovic might be out pressuring him and taking away the jumpshot, but he is also “shading” him, trying to get him to drive one direction — to where the additional help is now located. Essentially, trying to drive him into a trap (of Gasol, Bynum or Odom). When the ball is at the top of the key, the Lakers have more of a 1-2-2 zone, but with man-to-man matchup principals.

Phil Jackson said in an Eric Pincus story at Hoopsworld that the motivation for this change in philology from his prior love of strict man-to-man was how the game is being called. His old Bulls and even Lakers teams (from the threepete years) could take away penetration by being far more physical, hand checking guys out on the wings. But in today’s no-touch NBA (at least on the perimeter), nobody singlehandly can slow a Chris Paul or a Tony Parker or a host of other players (including Kobe). What the Lakers are doing with this strong-side zone is slowing the penetration by overloading the side with the ball.

Having all those bodies on the strong side also helps the two weakest Laker man defenders — Fisher and Radmanovic — by giving them a lot of backup and allowing them to force a guy a direction rather than just try to stay in front of him. (Similar to how Pierce and Allen are covered for in Boston.) The Lakers are doing all this with long players, which (as a few of Gatinho’s friends said) also takes away some passing lanes. Darius also adds this:

We’re using the zone primarily to slow penetration, but to also show any offensive player who catches the ball the 2nd defender immediately and then make that offensive player either shoot quickly while not getting to the basket or to pass the ball (and hopefully make a forced pass where we can get in the passing lane and get a deflection or a steal).

It should also be noted that the Lakers second unit seems to be more aggressive with the trapping aspect of the defense. The guy pressuring the ball stays on the hip of the penetrator and pushes him into the corner or out in a location he can be trapped on the wing when he picks up his dribble.

So far the strong side zone has worked. Portland seemed to have no idea what hit them and settled for outside shots. The Clippers made some good plays but also made some pretty horrific skip passes and turned the ball over.

But no defense is perfect, it all can be beat, either by smart play or overwhelming individual effort. Can’t do much about the latter, that just happens, some nights a Gilbert Arenas goes off and you just have to admire him. But the former, smart play, we started to see out of the Nuggets (of all teams) and we can expect to see more from the top squads.

One thing Denver did was slip the screen (meaning a bit would go out and look like he was going to set the high screen for a pick and roll, but would roll out of it early and the defenders would not recognize it fast enough, leaving him open going toward the basket). Darius can explain:

Last (game) Nene did this several times and while he didn’t always receive the pass, it broke down the integrity of our rotations and it led to openings on the weakside for easy baskets because we couldn’t recover back to perimeter quickly enough to cover shooters after we tried to help on the diving player (or when we did actually recover to the perimeter, we were not closing out under control and the offensive player was able to penetrate easily past that closing out defender). (On a side note, realize that in an NBA zone, the paint can actually be a difficult part of the court to cover if the offense doesn’t plant a player in the post. Because of the defensive 3 second rule, we can’t stack our zone with a 3rd defender just covering the paint (with the other two creating that strong side zone look that we’re showing) and that makes the slip/dive on the P&R a tough play to defend. We end up with players straddling both sides of the paint and it leaves the area right under the basket open.)

Now, when you bring an extra defender over to the strong side, you are by definition leaving one less guy on the weak side, making you susceptible to skip passes (or just very quick ball movement). Also, as the season wears on, expect teams to counter what the Lakers are doing by setting screens on the weakside trying to shake a man free of his defender then having him flash to a location for the ball and a shot (or drive).

Quick guards are still going to give the Lakers fits, by the way. Iverson showed that (plus, you know, Iverson is an offensive force). Against Denver Iverson so badly beat the man covering him a few times that rather than going into a trap situation with the second defender, he was in a one-on-one with that defender, and from there passes to cutters and others open up, and the integrity of the defense breaks down. Chris Paul, D-Will, Parker, others are going to create this problem at times as well, and the person pressuring the ball (Fisher last night) needs not to lose his man that completely.

Clearly, the Lakers players have bought into this defensive philosophy, and that is as or more important than the philosophy itself. They are not doing the zone every time down, there is still man-to-man, but it is another arrow in the quiver and Jackson clearly is not afraid to use it. Other coaches are as well, I’ve seen a lot more zone this year than in years past, largely for the same reasons I would imagine.

Learn to love the zone, Lakers fans, it could help bring you a pretty new banner to hang in that place we call home.

The Wild West

Kurt —  November 3, 2008

Apparently, the Denver Nuggets hate losing to the Lakers so much they thought it was time to make big changes. Iverson out, Billups in. McDyess is in Denver, although rumors are he may be bought out (for luxury tax reasons).

I kid about the Lakers end of that, sort of. It’s not just the Lakers, but the Nuggets were spending a lot of money on a team that was going to be in the second or third tier of the Western Conference, they had no choice but to make a big, bold move.

What are Nuggets fans thinking? Here are the thoughts from Pick Axe and Roll:

My number two off-season priority for Denver was finding a point guard. I guess three games into the season is close enough to the off-season where we can say they got the job done. When I laid out the specifications after last year that I would like to see in a point guard Chauncey Billups is almost a prefect match. He is unselfish, knows how to set up his teammates and can run an offense, he has the size and willingness to play defense and he can shoot it from downtown. He is nearly a perfect fit.

Keeping that in mind the question is does Billups accomplish what AI could not and make the Nuggets a contender? I think this trade clearly makes the Nuggets a better team right now, and probably next year too, but I have to say at this point they are still not a contender at the level of the Lakers, Hornets and Jazz. I do think this trade will put them firmly in the playoffs ahead of teams like the Spurs, Suns and Mavericks though and they will be a much tougher out than they have been the previous five seasons. With the new defensive focus and intensity we have seen and with the addition of a player in Billups, who will fit better than AI in a half court setting and will add another player capable of hitting 40% of his threes to pair with J.R., the Nuggets are going to be a team to be reckoned with…..

The Nuggets now will be starting Billups, J.R, Melo, Kenyon and Nene. That is a very good starting five capable of both scoring and playing stout defense. For all the hatred spouted at the Nuggets over the Camby trade, there is no doubt that today the team is better than they were at the end of last season and to top things off they are far cheaper as well.

I think that’s a good assessment. The Nuggets are now a better team (at least once everyone meshes) but are they really on par with the Lakers or Hornets (or maybe even Rockets)? My first reaction is no, you never know how things will shake out but are they deep enough? They did get better, however, no doubt.

As for Detroit. Welcome to the youth movement. They may or may not keep AI after this year (can they get him at a greatly reduced price?), but they clearly have decided to go with the Rip/Prince/Amir movement for the long term. If they let AI walk at the end of the year they can sign a near-max player this summer and still have room for a max deal in the highly-valued summer of 2010. That’s quality and fast rebuilding.

Just a couple of other random thoughts to throw in there:

• After watching a lot of games last week, and a lot of team introductions, I have to say that Chicago’s digital “running of the Bulls” through the streets of Chicago may be one of my favorites.

• As for least favorite things this season, Bryan hit the nail on the head in the comments:

One thing that stood out so far: the Timberwolves play on an abomination of a basketball court. Between the three point lines it’s varnish orange/brown, and inside the three point line it’s a light wood (with the key being painted team colors). Seriously, every time I see a game played there right now, I think I’m watching the Wizard of Oz in Technicolor. Something must be done before every Minnesotan goes blind. I can’t even find an image of it online – even the internet knows not to show the world this eyesore.

• If you do just one thing tomorrow — get out and vote. No discussion here of who and what to vote for, just that it is important to vote, to make your voice heard.

Now, if you had to vote for a Laker for president, who would it be?

Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  November 1, 2008


Records: Lakers 2-0 Nuggets 1-1
Offensive ratings: Lakers 115.9 Nuggets 104.1
Defensive ratings: Lakers 84.3 Nuggets 101.1
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nuggets : Allen Iverson, Anthony Carter, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene

Lakers notes: Um, just keep playing like the last couple of games. Keep playing with that same level of defensive intensity. What else is there to say?

The Nuggets Coming In: The good news for the Lakers is they catch the Nuggets on the second night of a back to back, with travel, as they beat the Clippers in LA but had to go to overtime to do it.

The bad news for the Lakers is the Nuggets get Carmelo Anthony back from a two-game suspension. It showed how much then missed him in the first game — Denver played Utah tight (without D-Will), but when it got down to crunch time and they needed someone to take and make the big shot, there were no answers for the Nuggets. Carmelo would have been that answer.

The Nuggets last night beat the Clippers by going to the pick-and-roll heavily, and running it well. Really, their offense consists of: 1) Try to fast break; 2) Pick-and-roll. AT least it did last night and I think we can expect more of the same tonight

Here is what the very wise Jeremy from Pick Axe and Roll said about last night:

Tonight the Nuggets learned how to win with defense. They learned how everyone taking personal responsibility for rebounding will lead to great team rebounding. They learned that it is possible for hem to win without scoring a lot of fast break points. They learned how deadly the pick and roll can be when run correctly. Nene learned how to play with foul trouble. Allen Iverson learned how to play basketball again after a poor preseason. J.R. Smith learned how to take over a game without dominating the ball and taking bad shots. Once they learn these things they will have turned an important corner. I think they may have learned these lessons tonight, but only time will tell….

The way the Nuggets played in the second half, this was a team that I could buy into. They played together on defense, attacked on offense and gave a great effort. Regardless of how much you hate George Karl or want to see Allen Iverson traded or think Kenyon Martin is a thug or hate the front office no Nugget fan could have watched the way they played in the second half and felt indifferent.

Remember that the Nuggets bring a couple very good players off the bench — J.R. Smith and Kleiza

Keys To The Game: For the Lakers, it starts with transition defense — the Nuggets want to get out and run on every possession, they push the ball off misses and makes. If the Lakers don’t get back it will lead to a lot of easy Nuggets buckets, if you make them run their offense (based on pick and rolls almost exclusively) they bog down some. But they have a lot of guys who can score, they will get their points. Just make them work for them.

Also, crash the offensive glass hard, slow the break by forcing Denver to stay in and protect against offensive rebounds.

Even though it is the second game in as many nights for the Nuggets, this is their home opener so they will have some extra adrenalin early. The Nuggets will make a run. The Lakers need to withstand that run and not get flustered.

I think it’s an advantage to play a team you faced in the playoffs last year, because you’ve studied their tendencies. For example, you can slow Melo if you overplay his right hand and make him use the left more. The Lakers did a good job helping on defense in that series, forcing the isolation baseline and being there to with the second man. We need to see that again.

The Nuggets don’t have a defensive answer for Kobe (remember he had 49 points and 10 assists in game two of the playoff series last year). This could be a good night for his fantasy fans. Of course, they had no answer for Gasol in that series either. And they didn’t have to deal with Bynum.

Where you can watch:KCAL 9 here in Los Angeles. Nationally you’ll need league pass. Check the comments for live streams.