Archives For December 2008

Preview & Chat: The Milwaukee Bucks

Kurt —  December 7, 2008

Lakers vs Wizards
Records: Lakers 16-2 (1st in West) Bucks 9-12 (11th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.2 (2nd in league) Bucks 102.8 (24th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.5 (3rd in league) Bucks 104.5 (11th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bucks Luke Ridnour, Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson, Malik Allen, Andrew Bogut

Lakers notes: It’s a sign of how far the Lakers have come that they won two of three on an East Coast road trip and fans are complaining.

It’s the way those games went that draws the criticism, the blown leads in the fourth quarter. I’ll reiterate what I’ve said in the comments — the play of the second unit late in games on the road is something to be addressed. But that is why there is an 82 game season before the games that really matter, and we are just 22% of the way through it. Anyone who thinks they know now from watching the Lakers or Celtics so far what could happen in June (if both teams even make it that far) thinks they know too much.

That said, it is a concern. DrRayeye had a great idea in the comments, putting together a “hold em” squad that features Lakers bench guys who make smart decisions with the ball, guys like Walton. Could work. Personally, after rewatching the Washington game, what is frustrating is how the Lakers start to go away from what works on offense. The second unit seems to suddenly either be out for themselves or just showboating a little and losing focus, then Kobe comes in and dominates the ball rather than running the offense. The defensive problems seem to feed off of this (and the Wizards gained confidence) but the Lakers woes seem to start when they get away from the offense.

Jackson has sent the message through the media that he may reinsert the starters in the fourth even with a big lead. Maybe he was lighting a fire under that second unit, maybe he means it, but either way the message about focus and staying with the offense have been sent.

The Lakers should get to test that out tonight. Should.

The Bucks Coming In: The Bucks looked better in their last outing a win over the Bobcats, in large part because the team is getting healthy. Most recently the $60 million man Andrew Bogut is back and playing. Redd missed the first 14 games.

As you might expect of a Scott Skiles team, they are playing hard on defense. Most of the time. But Skiles was fired for not using all the offensive firepower in Chicago well and now he has Redd and Jefferson and…. well, some guys who need to be put in the right position to succeed. And that is not happening a lot so far (but the injuries tie in here).

Milwaukee is home to the Luke Ridnour Reclamation Project (a great band name), but the guy to watch is Ramon Sessions backing him up. Sessions has the second best PER on the team (behind that Redd guy). Richard Jefferson is shooting just 48.1% (eFG%) and his true shooting percentage is well off his career numbers.

I’m also looking forward to seeing UCLA product Luc Mbah a Moute, who is carving out a role for himself as a hustle guy off the bench. I wasn’t sure how his game would translate to the next level, but you just can’t underestimate desire and hustle.

Keys To The Game: Here are a couple reasons I think the Lakers should get a big lead to try and hold tonight. First, the Bucks are one of the worst second quarter in the NBA while the Lakers are the best second quarter team in the Association. Meaning the Lakers bench should dominate. Next, the Bucks are one of the worst teams in the league at defending the three, meaning the suddenly hot Radmanovic as well as Fisher, Kobe and the gang should be getting good looks from deep.

I haven’t watched a lot of Bucks ball this season, but you don’t need to see much to figure out this is a jump-shooting team (Bogut and others just did not impress in and around the rim). The Lakers need to close out on the shooters and they need to dominate the boards. On offense, they should be able to get big nights out of Gasol and Bynum because the Bucks have not defended the four and five well this season.

Where you can watch: Standard Sunday, 6:30, Fox Sports night.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers
Records: Lakers 15-2 (1st in West) Wizards 3-13(15th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.1 (3rd in League) Wizards 106.0 (16th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.8 (2nd in League) Wizards 111.3 (27th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Wizards : Dee Brown, DeShawn Stevenson (the pride of Fresno), Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, JaVale McGee

Lakers notes: Just one note today, according to an interesting post at the still-going-strong Supersonics Soul, Lakers television ratings are up 9% on Fox Sports so far this year.

1789 The District is a great place to visit, and I’m not sure I ever enjoyed a meal more than at 1789, an amazing old-school Georgetown restaurant. Plus the bar below that is right out of St. Elmo’s Fire.

The Wizards Coming In: To get a little insight into the Wizards, I asked a few questions of Truth About It (and if you head over there he has my answers about the Lakers).

Q: When Eddie Jordan got canned, the consensus around the Web was he was unfairly axed because the real issues were injuries and the roster. Is that a fair assessment? How much did he contribute to his own demise?

I really hated to see Eddie go and would have rather him finish out the remainder of the season. At one point, the Washington Post had a poll showing that 72% thought the firing was unfair. However, I think I can speak for many Wizards fans in saying that no one was exactly devastatingly heartbroken over Jordan’s departure. Out of all the players, Caron Butler probably took it the hardest, initially refusing to speak to the media.

Yes, Jordan drove a hapless franchise into the playoffs for four consecutive seasons. However it was becoming more and more apparent that the team didn’t have the goods to make a title push. Defense wins championships. Before last season, the Wizards tried to hire Tom Thibodeau to be their defensive guru, but he opted for Boston instead, and I believe you guys know the rest of that story.

Option #2 became Randy Ayers, who is now the lead assistant under Ed Tapscott. Ayers, I believe, provided some positive results. But in the end, I think GM Ernie Grunfeld felt that it was just time to completely change the coaching philosophy from the top. I 80% doubt that Tapscott will be at the helm next year, so it will be all about who the Wizards hire for the future. Wanna loan us Phil Jackson?

Q: Lakers fans still have a soft spot for Caron Butler after his time here. His numbers look good. How is he performing?

And Wizards fans still have an intense hatred for Kwame Brown. Thank you, thank you, thank you Mitch Kupchak! Funny….at the time, I was slightly miffed that the Wizards did not get more for Brown, such as a throw-in 2nd or 1st rounder.

Caron Butler puts the team on his shoulders the best he can, and is highly respected on an off the court. He is such an admirable person, I really hope “Tuff Juice” retires as a Washington Wizard.

But as much as he does, Caron cannot carry a team alone. He doesn’t have the handles/quickness to create for himself and/or others, mainly in late game situations when teams are focusing on him. And that’s why the Wizards miss a scorer like Gilbert Arenas so much.

Q: What is wrong with the Wizards defense? (That answer could probably fill a novel, so summarize.)

First and foremost, the absence of Brendan Haywood hurts. But even when he is healthy and in the lineup, the Wizards defense isn’t that great.

Problem #2 is that the Wizards “Big 3″ of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison are all sub par defenders. It’s a far cry from having someone like Kobe or Kevin Garnett setting the tone on D for their respective teams.

The best “stopper” is DeShawn Stevenson, who is horribly inconsistent on offense, which at times affects his focus on defense. The second best stopper may be Dominic McGuire, who is only a 2nd year player and is severely challenged offensively.

Look out for the JaVale McGee kid. He may be the steal of the draft when all is said and done. He has the potential to be an amazing shot-blocker, but is rail thin and must add some muscle to really hold his own against the big boys of the league.

Otherwise, the Wizards mostly must resort to the gimmicky match-up zone, along with doubling the rock off ball screens. Good rebounding and/or passing teams take advantage of these aspects by racking up second chance points or draining open three-point attempts.

Keys To The Game: Every team does it — play like crap on the last game of a road trip. Frankly, I think the Lakers had their crap game of this trip at the start, so they had better show up focused tonight.

As for the rest, I turn it over to the scouting report at Lakers.com:

Defensively, the Wiz are a long and fairly athletic team. They have more potential than their record shows. This is a team (with Butler and Jamison once again setting the tone) likes to jump into the passing lanes for steals. Once again the adage of ‘fake a pass to make a pass’ comes into play. After some free throws we may see some full court pressure. Another defensive strategy that Washington has employed against some excellent scorers is to simply trap and take the top option out of the equation. With the various offensive weapons we have and Kobe’s willingness to move the ball this would be a risky option but we will be ready for it anyway.

The final part to beating this team is to control the paint/boards. If we control this area we can control the game. This team beat up New Jersey and then went down to the wire against Portland so even though they have a poor record, lately they are definitely improving. If we play against their record we will get beat. If we respect them and show that respect by attacking them then we will be successful.

Where you can watch:KCAL 9 here in LA, nationally you’ll need League Pass or one of the several Web streams for the game. Remember, 4 p.m. tip off.

That Vaunted Lakers Defense

Kurt —  December 4, 2008

I don’t think anybody watching the last couple of games thinks the Lakers are playing as good of defense as they did to start the season. The numbers back that up (the Lakers have fallen to second in the league in defensive efficiency). The question is: How serious an issue are we really talking about here?

There has been concern after some games that the Lakers didn’t adjust their defense for a particular opponent, but Darius does a good job explaining that is not the goal of the new defense.

Understanding that we are 15-2, and what we’re doing *is* working, there is something to be said for making the opposition adjust to what we’re doing. As Kurt posted with his Strong Side Zone post and his reference to what Pelton wrote on in his post on our defense, we are playing a very aggressive defense conceptually. That means that we are dictating to the opposing offense what we want them to do. So, while it might make sense to play a particular player straight up or in a different manner than what our defensive game plan is currently showing (like the suggestions made in defending Andre Miller), we must understand that we are playing a consistent strategy to win every game against any opponent by dictating to them what we want them to do. So far, with a 15-2 record, I would say we’ve been mostly successful. Sure, there have been some lapses and some spotty execution sprinkled throughout the games, but overall I think the Lakers are playing well.

Execution has been an issue. Those mental lapses come from a comfortable feeling that can come from knowing you can win every night, and easily, and the result can be slow rotations or closeouts (for example). Most teams pay a price for that in losses, but they don’t have the Lakers offense to bail them out with high scoring wins.

To my mind, there are going to be nights like that, the job of the coaching staff is not to let it become a trend. Bottom line, with a 15-2 team in December, I’m not sure there are serious problems, just a few things to watch.

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers, Game 2
Records: Lakers 14-2 (1st in West) 76ers 8-10 (10th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.5 (3rd in league) 76ers 101.3 (26th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.2 (2nd in league) 76ers 101.2 (4th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
76ers Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand, Samuel Dalembert

Lakers notes: A few thoughts out of last night’s game.

As for those saying that the Lakers are struggling with the TJ Fords and quick point guards of the league — you are right. But if you think this is just a Lakers problem, I suggest you watch any team trying to defend Ford or CP3 or the other quick PGs in the league. Nobody can stop them one-on-one, since they started calling any touch on the perimeter a foul you can’t slow these guys with one player. It takes a team, it takes bigs rotating and blocking the paint. The Lakers have their strategy and some nights they execute that, some nights they don’t, like last night. But there is no silver bullet in the form of another player — particularly a backup PG — that can solve this issue.

Another topic is Andrew Bynum and people here saying he should have been in to help with rebounding late in the game, and that the second unit deserved more run. I don’t buy the second part of that — that second unit built the lead then Farmar tried to force plays, there were turnovers galore and things needed to be shaken up. It may not have worked, but the later stages of a game you can win on the road is not the time to “let the guys play through it” as he might have in the second quarter.

You can make the argument Bynum should have been in more than a few seconds near the end, but Bynum had his chance to grab a rebound and save the game but didn’t (although Pau should have boxed out Murphy, Bynum had closed out on Rasho at the free throw line, that said Drew was not exactly quick reacting to the play at the basket). What I really like is that he was ticked he didn’t get more run.

Anyway, the lessons about last night are that the Lakers front line may be long but you can’t take a night off from boxing out and grabbing boards, and that every team has guys who can score in this league so the defense can’t rest either. Neither of those are issues that are going to freak me out 16 games into the season.

The 76ers Coming In: This is the second game of a back-to-back for both teams, the Sixers lost to the Bulls last night (but Andre Miller didn’t suffer much embarassment at the hands of Derrick Rose this time around). In fact, the Sixers game went to overtime and they won.

The Sixers are another team (like the Pacers) that are good on defense and spotty on offense.

On defense, they do well not really by keeping the other team from shooting well (opponents shoot 48.6% eFG%, 12th in the league, middle of the pack) but they do a good job on the boards, don’t foul a lot and create a fair amount of turnovers.

On offense, their key shooters should be better than this — Miller, Brand, Iguodala are all good players – but they just aren’t shooting well. That starts with Brand, a career 50.4% shooter who is at 45% this year (and not getting to the line a lot either, his true shooting percentage is 50.1%, well off his career pace of 55%).

Those numbers kind of replicate themselves across the board. Iguodala is at a 48.9% TS% (although he can still light it up for a game and comes in hot off a 25 and 9 performance with 5 assists last night in the loss). Andre Miller is at 49.1% TS%.

Young, the team’s three, is the one exception to the rule, with a TS% of 54%, the highest among the 76ers regular rotation. The other guy to watch off the bench is Marreese Speights, the rookie out of Florida who is putting up nice numbers in his 14 minutes per game.

This team really needs a shooter to space the floor, ideally a big as Dalembert and Brand occupy the same place on the floor too much.

Keys To The Game: Hopefully the Lakers learned some lessons about focus on defense last night and helping out to stop dribble penetration, because that is what the Sixers do. Their offense is not complex and it relies on guys breaking down their defender off the dribble or on pick-and-rolls. Tonight is not about innovation but execution.

What didn’t work great last night was packing the paint and letting the Pacers have some good longer looks, but that may be a strategy to stick with tonight in that the Sixers are not flush with shooters. You can’t let Brand or Dalembert get good looks inside, but if they kick it out for a jumper this is not a team that can hit those anymore.

Another night, with both teams in the second game of a back-to-back, where the Lakers depth should be key. The second unit should get some run and could get the Lakers another big lead. The question is, can they hold on to it this time?

Oh, and don’t forget to crash the boards.

Where you can watch: 4 pm start again out West, KCAL 9 in LA and League Pass everywhere else.

Preview & Chat: The Indiana Pacers

Kurt —  December 2, 2008

California News - November 18, 2008
Records: Lakers 14-1 Pacers 6-10
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.3 (3rd in league) Pacers 103.2 (24th in League)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 98 (2nd in league) Pacers 103.1 (7th in League)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Pacers TJ Ford, Marquis Daniels, Danny Granger, Troy Murphy, Rasho Nesterovic

Attention iPhone users. Just a quick site news note. One of the top issues with the new site design was that it did not read on iPhones. Now, that problem is solved for you and other people struggling with the new look on mobile phones.

Over on the sidebar, under the “Contact FB&G” section is a new little box where you can get a link to the new mobile site for FB&G. Just put in your phone number and you will get a text message with a link the mobile site. That site has the same content and comments as this site, just in a more phone-friendly format.

As always, if there are problems with this, shoot me an email and I’ll try to help.

Lakers notes: The Lakers take to a three game road trip, and Mike Trudell of Lakers.com sent along this note — “Indiana is cold.” The good news is that Canseco Fieldhouse is temperature controlled.

While you can nit-pick the Lakers tepid first half play lately, remember two key things: 1) Other teams are jacked up to play the Lakers right now and are throwing their best punches early, so it is hard to pull away; 2) Kobe and Pau are still sitting the fourth quarter a lot. That is the kind of thing that keeps legs fresh when the games really matter.

The Pacers Coming In: The good news, the Pacers are really better than a 6-10 team. They’ve beaten the Celtics and the Rockets, and have played the entire season without Mike Dunleavy, due to some knee problems. While they are losing games, the Pacers are not getting blown out. Their Pythagorean record (based on point differential) is 8-8.

The bad news — Pacers have lost five of their last six and are struggling to find an identity on offense. The only identity the really have is as a team that wants to get out and run, but execution by their guards has been inconsistent.

Let me be clear about one thing up front — I covet Danny Granger. He came into the league with a well-rounded game and built it from there. Someday he is going to be a key cog on a very good team. And his numbers are good this year again — he has to use 29% of the offense when he is on the floor (that’s a lot, 11th highest in the league) but he still has a very respectable True Shooting Percentage of 58.7%.

The problem is, after Granger’s 24 points per game, the team’s next two highest scorers — TJ Ford and Marquis Daniels — have TS% of 50% and their shooting from the floor has been weak. What that means is a lot of inefficient trips down the court.

And as a team, the Pacers live a bit too much on the perimeter and don’t get to the line a lot.

What the Pacers do well is play solid defense. Nothing spectacular and flashy, they don’t generate a lot of steals, but they play their positions and make you take more outside shots than you’d like (68% of opponents shots are jumpers and people are shooting just 42.5% eFG% on those). That said, opposing power forwards and centers have had success against the Pacers this year.

Keys To The Game: This is going to be a track meet — these teams play at the third (Lakers) and fourth (Pacers) fastest paces in the league. The team that plays better transition defense will get the win. And, this would be a good game for Fish to lay off the PUJITs.

The Lakers should even slow the pace down with the first unit, the Pacers have not defended the four and five spots well this year (both opposing centers and power forwards average a PER higher than 17) so is a good game to pound the ball inside early, get Gasol and Bynum involved and make the Pacers really defend the paint.

When the Lakers do push the pace, be smart about it and get good shots.

One Laker to watch — Jordan Farmar. He has had big nights against the Pacers in the past.

Where you can watch: Remember, early 4 p.m. tip-off on the West Coast. In LA, you can watch on KCAL 9. Nationally, it’s NBA TV to watch online.

The Skyhook

Kurt —  December 1, 2008


It is the most devastating single shot in the history of the NBA.

It is a key reason that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finished his career with 38,387 points (best in NBA history), had six MVP trophies and two Finals MVPs on top of that, played in 18 All-Star games and finished with more than one handful of rings.

It is the Skyhook. It was a hook shot but one unlike any thing before or sense. And nobody — not even Andrew Bynum learning at the master’s feet — has tried to duplicate it.

In a recent discussion in the comments, Darius broke down the shot.

While Duncan (and Shaq on occasion) can shoot a running hook, that shot requires the player to put the ball on the ground and then fire off the shot in a sweeping manner similar to the path of a driving/swooping scoopshot. The player takes his momentum forward in a parallel path to the basket and executes the shot. The jump hook is a hybrid of Kareem’s sky-hook as it is executed from a post up/back to the basket move. However the jump-hook comes from a 2 legged base and the shooter turns his body almost completely toward the basket on the follow through. This shot is almost like a shot put at the basket where the players solid/two-footed base gives him the balance to elevate into a defender and still shield the ball (though not as effectively as the sky-hook).

Kareem’s skyhook (like the running hook) is executed off a one-foot release. However (like the jumphook) it is performed, typically from a back to the basket initiation (especially in Kareem’s later years). Also, the Sky-Hook is released with the player only half-way turned to the basket so that he can create a natural buffer between the release point of the ball and the defender, by using his (the shooters) body.

Bill Bridges added something later that really fits in with that last point.

Kareem’s skyhook was distinguished (amongst other things) by the almost total reliance on the wrist snap as the mode of force transmission. Prior to Kareem, hook shots were launch via the swing of the arm. This statue like pose and the seemingly downward trajectory of the ball was unique then and now.

Darius builds upon that:

What made Kareem’s Sky Hook different as well was the fact that it could be taken from much further distance because of the touch put on the ball. A touch that is established because the shooter has much more control over the ball (almost exactly like a jumpshot, but without the guide hand). Kareem could sink that skyhook out to 15-16 feet if needed. A player would never attempt a fifteen-foot jump hook, as he wouldn’t have the touch (based off the typical shot put motion). The Sky Hook was just so unique because no one could block it. (I have seen the same highlight looped over and over again of Wilt as a Laker, jumping as high as he could trying to block the young (Milwaukee Buck) Kareem’s skyhook and falling short).

Underbruin added some salient points:

(Body position) is really the key to the success of the skyhook. While Kareem was indeed an excellent passer and a skilled center, the truth is that barring an enormous amount of pressure from behind it didn’t matter how many people would guard him. Because of his ability to shoot with the ball on the opposite side of his body from the hoop, even 2 defenders were usually unable to prevent his shot. Kareem could fake a move, forcing both players to overplay his back side somewhat, then spin back and shoot over them.

But, you say, every shot can be defended. That was truly the brilliance of Kareem — he was no one-trick pony.

If you overplayed his left shoulder to stop the skyhook, he spun right into the lane (which is what should be your defensive priority) and basically had a layup. So, why not double him? Well, people did, but Kareem could pass very well out of the post. And as a Buck he had Oscar Robertson and others who could hit the outside jumper that opened up. As a Laker, by 1980 he had Jamal Wilkes and Norm Nixon (and later Byron Scott and others) who could make you pay for leaving their man.

And, don’t forget, Kareem had a straight-up jumpshot that he could hit out to about 15 feet. At least early in his career.

But maybe the best way to explain just how devastating it was is to watch for yourself.