Archives For February 2009

Trade Deadline Thread

Kurt —  February 19, 2009

Rumors are flying around the NBA at a Lindsay Lohan pace. As things become reality I’ll post updates and a few thoughts here, and keep the comments going.

First, thoughts on Tyson Chandler going back to the Hornets. I would say if Chandler is healthy, that makes the Hornets a potential threat again, except that apparently he is not healthy, at least in a way that is going to impact how he pays for the rest of this season (and maybe beyond). The Lakers have really had the Hornets number, they just don’t match up all that well with LA, and the only way to change that was for them to take on more salary. That is not going to happen. I just get the feeling the Hornets are stuck a step behind the Lakers for a little while, which may frustrate Chris Paul to no end.

Golden State Warriors vs Los Angeles Lakers

BREAKING NEWS: The Lakers have traded Chris Mihm to the Memphis Grizzlies for a second round pick. The move saves money for the Lakers — the rest of this year’s salary (he is making $2.5 million for the season) plus the full $2.5 against the luxury tax, which is calculated at the end of the regular season.

I really wish things had worked out better here for Mihm. In the first year after the Shaq trade, Mihm was maybe the second best Laker, not in terms of talent but in terms of nightly effort. He cared and tried. Unfortunately, injuries robbed him of his legs and after missing two seasons with injuries he has been able to do little this year, and has had trouble getting off the bench on a deep team.

We wish him well, and hope he gets some run and his game back in Memphis.


Pace: 97.6 (1st)
Off. Rating: 108.7 (12th)
Def. Rating: 112.3 (28th)
Lineup: Crawford,Ellis,Azubuike,Jackson,Biedrins

Pace: 94.5 (4th)
Off Rating: 114.3 (1st)
Def Rating: 105.5 (8th)
Lineup: Fisher, Bryant, Walton, Odom, Gasol

Warriors Coming In:
This is not the same team the Lakers played in January. That was a team that was starting Marco Bellinelli and Brandon Jacobs while waiting for Monta Ellis to return from a moped injury. (Hey, at least Jeff Kent was riding a motorcycle).

Monta is back, and coming along quickly are his springs and his speed. (I’d take him over Devin Harris in that end-to-end race.)

Despite Tim Kawakami‘s assertion on local radio that Monta would never wear a Warriors uniform again after the acrimony created coming out of the situation, Monta’s rounding into playing shape and has these “6-Seconds-or-Less” Warriors on a 3 game winning streak.

They have won 7 of 9 over the last month and are 6-5 since the Mississippi Bullet’s return. Things started to click for the Warriors after beating a certain green team on December 26th. And the Dubs would be looking at a .500 record since then and a 12 game home winning streak were it not for a series of buzzer beaters (Kings, Thunder, Cavs) and blown leads (up by 12 with 8 minutes to play against the Spurs).

But the credit for their improvement also goes to a healthy Stephen Jackson, who has been getting Monta the ball in comfortable places while knocking down his own jumpers. If Captain Jack is hot, this team is trouble. The rest of the Warrior-lings feed off of his confidence.

As should be expected, Warrior fans have taken to Ronny Turiaf and his infectious demeanor. Turiaf comes off the bench for the Dubs (he started the last 3 in Biedrin’s absence) and has been a factor on their recent upswing (11 points, 7 boards over the last 5 games). Turiaf’s rebounding bump has been caused by the Warriors perimeter D. The D has tightened up as guys become healthier and this has allowed Turiaf to box out rather than hurrying to block weak side shots, which puts him out of position to rebound.

The Warriors are returning to full strength with the return of Bellinelli and more importantly Biedrins. The fans are pining for another big, but can they get that big without sacrificing Ellis? Unless something shocking happens at the deadline, the Warriors will live with Biedrins and Turiaf. In fact, Nelson likes the contrast in the two players games. The back to the basket, solid rebounding game of Biedrins replaced by the face up game and shot blocking hustle of Turiaf creates a change of pace that keeps opposing bigs off balance.

The Lakers will have to keep Turiaf off the offensive glass, his 7 offensive rebounds were a big piece of the Portland win.

The Lakers Coming In: Winning the second game of a back to back has become a measurement of the professionalism and grit that this team lacked last year (or so I’ve been told). The newest human victory cigars were out last night (Crazy block, Shannon), and the ice was on the knees early, so fatigue should not be an issue.

The Lakers will want to control the pace by pounding it inside to Pau in hopes of some early foul trouble for Biedrins. Run the offense and the size advantage will do its magic.

Defensively they need to keep the water strider out of the middle and close out on Jackson on the perimeter. Make Magette a jump shooter and keep him off the line. He gets there almost as often as Kobe.

LO Does Windows: 74 rebounds in 4 games.

Not in Phoenix, but what about the HOF?: The Warriors were one of the few teams that had zero representation during the All-Star festivities, but they do have 3 candidates on the HOF ballot. Don Nelson, Chris Mullin (as a player not a GM), and coach of the ’75 Championship team, Al Attles.

Warriors-Lakers History: Chick calling Game 4 of a 1987 series between Lakers and Warriors. Sleepy Floyd: 29 points in the quarter, 39 in the half, 12 consecutive field goals in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 51 points. What’s more impressive is that he was being guarded by the NBA’s Defensive POY.

Where to watch: 7:30 start. Nationally this game will be on ESPN, and those who watch online can check out the ESPN 360 Live Stream.

Preview & Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

Kurt —  February 17, 2009

Records: Lakers 42-10 (1st in the West) Hawks 31-21 (4th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.5 (1st in league) Hawks 109.5 (8th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (7th in league) Hawks 107.5 (15th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Hawks Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford

A couple of links: You may have heard there was a fight at the Lakers practice yesterday between Chris Mihm and DJ Mbenga. Check it out for yourself. I think this would have been more fun if Tim Floyd coached the Lakers.

Sasha Vujacic has a new Web site, and I have to say it’s a good one. Find out what Sasha is reading, some game and strategy stuff, just a good all around site. Check it out.

Who Is The Lakers Moneyball Player? The thing that has had me thinking the most lately — and had the NBA blogsphere buzzing — is last weekend’s piece in the NY Times Magazine about the statistical steps taken by the Rockets and how they plucked Shane Battier from obscurity to make him a key players. (I’m not sure how a guy recruited to Duke and selected sixth overall ever gets thought of as obscure, but we’ll let that question slide.)

It got me thinking (and emailing people to discuss) — who is the guy who fits that role for the Lakers? The guy whose contributions don’t always show up in the box score. And the first answer is: A lot of them. Ariza. Odom. Walton. Fisher. Farmar. The Lakers have assembled a team of good players by the new metrics, but they did it the old fashioned way.

I think Odom may be the poster boy for the Lakers guys who do the little things. It’s very hard to define Odom’s contributions because he’s a bit of a chameleon. He does just about everything on a basketball court well, but nothing spectacularly well. Still, the roundness of his game allows him to slide into the cracks and fill in this Lakers team’s weaknesses in a matchup on any given night. He rebounds well, and gets into the lane to shoot (59% of his shots are inside according to 82games), he creates mismatches at the three or the four. He is a better defender than he gets credit for. And, I think this gets overlooked, he’s a leader. He’s the guy in the middle of the circle doing the rap while the players bounce around before a Lakers game. In the Lakers locker room you can tell he is liked and respected.

I think there is one key difference between Battier and Odom, something Reed pointed out: Battier gives thought to what he is trying to do Odom plays on almost pure instinct. Those instincts lead to the “O-dumb” mistakes (coming off three point shooters to help inside when the other team just needs a three, for example). But that is what Odom is, an instinctual player whose natural tendency is to sort of fill in what the team is needing on any given night. With Bynum down the Lakers need scoring, so you see him pick that up. But, to borrow a phrase from Darius, you can’t “tie down or burden him with the expectation of statistics.” He just does what he feels needs to be done. But that that has translated to the best +/- on the team — when he is on the court the Lakers are just better. It’s that simple.

I want to add that I find the NY Times piece fascinating it seems to miss the team concepts of basketball. I mean the story does, not the Rockets staff. The story makes it sound as if Battier is out on an island. Battier is a good man-on-man defender, but what he also does very well is shade his man, pushing him toward a help defender. And, when your help is a 7-6 guy with long arms, you get guys pulling up and taking jumpers rather than trying to finish at the rim. Battier is smart to take advantage of this help, but he has it. He’d be less effective if the big help defender behind him was David Lee.

The Hawks Coming In: To find out a little more about the Hawks, I asked Brett from the smart Hoopinion about his team, and if they really are as perimeter oriented as they seem.

They’re as perimeter-oriented as they seem to be. But, they’re able to succeed with that because Smith, Williams, and Horford have all improved their back to the basket games enough that any one of them can create offense from the low post: Williams almost always for himself (he’s close to being a really good offensive player) but Smith and Horford are both good passers.

I can’t overstate the importance of Williams, Mike Bibby, Flip Murray, and Maurice Evans each having career years from behind the three-point line. I’m naturally pessimistic so take my sneaking suspicion that this year’s offensive success is neither sustainable nor fully by design.

Woodson is never going to run the offense through anyone other than Joe Johnson, matchups be damned, but he does give Bibby a free hand to do whatever he wants to do and Bibby can still get himself open 8-10 times a game and, thus far, he’s been making those shots and taking some of the offensive pressure (some of which is self-imposed, I believe) off Johnson.

On the other hand, the machinations the Hawks put themselves through to try and hide Bibby defensively border on the comic and Johnson may have taken on as much of a defensive load because of Bibby as Bibby has lightened Johnson’s offensive responsibilities. Or, Johnson might be showing the wear of attempting to finish in the top 4 in the league in minutes played for the fifth time in six years.

Keys To The Game: Let us repeat our mantra — pound the ball inside. This is not a team that protects the paint well (look what the Knicks did to them). This is another case where if the Lakers go to their length and skill advantage inside they will open things up on the wings. But things work best inside out.

The Lakers should also be able to control the glass at both ends. Easy points off offensive rebounds would be huge for the Lakers.

This might be a good night for Olympics Kobe to show up — as Brett noted above the Hawks run their offense through Joe Johnson. Nothing fancy, just isolations and some high screens out at the elbow extended. The Lakers know how to defend this, if they are focused. Shut Johnson down, make the other guys make the plays, and your chances of winning go up. Their other guys are capable, but Johnson is at the center of it all.

On defense, make Josh Smith a jumpshooter. Easier said than done, but he is a 35% jump shooter and 65% if you let him get in close. Pull back, take away the drive and dare him to put up a jumper.

On offense, the Lakers need to be smart with passes — the Hawks are long and athletic and will play to deny the pass, particularly on the wings. The Hawks are a good transition team that can be slowed down, but turn the ball over with sloppy passes and you will give them a lot of easy buckets that they need to win.

The other thing is the Hawks, to make up for their size, will double the post. That will leave room for Pau to hit cutters — it could be a good night for the Gasol/Odom high-low game.

Where you can watch: Back home for a 7:30 start at Staples. Fox Sports locally and NBA TV nationally (which means you NBA broadband people will be scrambling. Sorry).

Basketball and Blueprints

Kurt —  February 16, 2009
Phoenix Suns v Detroit Pistons

Terry Porter is getting axed in Phoenix because GM Steve Kerr and owner Robert Sarver made long-term mistakes but they can’t fire themselves.

Not that Porter did a great coaching job, but he was brought in specifically to change the style of play the Suns had been successful with for years. Sarver begged Kerr to take the job, come in and shake things up. In part because a lot of people thought the Suns style couldn’t win a championship (great for the regular season, doesn’t work in the playoffs). I never bought that argument, but to delve into that would be off-topic from what I really want to get at.

Porter did what he was asked, and he is being fired for it. Now Alvin Gentry is going to bring back the old style of play. You know, the one that sold out the building and had the team talked about as contenders.

This is a recurring theme here at FB&G, but I think it is a point that is hard to repeat often enough — winning organizations have a blueprint and stick with it. They know what kind of team they want to be, they hire a coach that will execute that type of play on the court, and then they go get players that fit that system.

I loved what the Collangelo/D’Antoni Suns did, and they followed that plan. They decided they were going to go with a certain style — seven seconds or less, up and down, entertaining — and then they went and got players who could do it. Their stars — Nash, Stoudemire and Marion — were athletic and could run. Borris Diaw couldn’t get off the Atlanta bench but was built for the Phoenix system. Raja Bell was seemingly nothing special, but he brought some shooting to the two and a little defense that the Suns needed.

The Suns defense was average on a per-possession basis, that was not what hurt those teams. What undercut the Suns was depth — as j.d. Hastings pointed out from the George Karl/Doug Moe section of the NBA Coach’s Handbook, if you are going to run like that you need a lot of legs, or the legs you do have can wear down by the playoffs. Sarver, trying to save money, forced the Suns to trade picks and that cut some depth that could have been drafted into Phoenix. That was where the depth could have come from. Instead, D’Antoni ran a seven-man rotation. Legs (and Nash’s back) got tired.

When Kerr came in, the honest thing to do would have been to say “we are blowing this thing up,” except that I don’t think Kerr and Sarver thought they were. They thought that these players could be equally good in another, more Pistons-like style. If they just bring in Shaq everything will be better because of the defense. But that is not how basketball works — only a few players can really transcend style of play. Kobe and LeBron will be impossible to stop if you ran the Four-Corner offense. But that is not the case with 95% of NBA players, the difference between thriving and surviving for them is style of play and fit.

Now the Suns are a mess and getting worse. Amare is off, likely to Chicago (which is another franchise that can’t seem to figure out what it wants to be). Shaq is 37 and now is a second-tier player on a title team. Nash wants out. Sarver needs to cover his financial butt and shed salary (especially after the Porter firing will cost him about $4 million).

Look at that team now and tell me what the Suns want to be.

Here is Los Angeles, Mitch Kupchak took enormous heat (often for things like the Shaq trade that were decisions made way over his head). But when Phil Jackson returned he and the organization there became a clear focus — this was going to be a triangle team. And Mitch went out and got players who can fit that system. Credit also should go to Jerry Buss for letting the basketball people do basketball.

Luke Walton is not as valuable to other teams as he is the Lakers. Derek Fisher is a point guard who doesn’t demand to run the show and have the ball in his hands. Lamar Odom is a power forward who can get a rebound and take the ball the length of the court. Sasha Vujacic can bomb threes. Pau Gasol is the best passing big man from the high post in the game and can drain an 18-footer consistently. Trevor Ariza. Jordan Farmar. The list goes on and on of guys who are not just good players but good players who fit the Lakers system.

The Lakers stuck with their blueprint. So has San Antonio over the years. The Pistons did until they made salary cap moves this season, but you just know Dumars is going to rebuild that franchise the right way in the next few years. Cleveland is getting there, finding a system and guys to fit around their star. It looks like teams such as Portland and even Oklahoma City may be doing it right.

But if those up and coming teams want a lesson on why not to change horses in the middle of the stream, they need only to look to Phoenix.

All Star Weekend Chat

Kurt —  February 14, 2009

NBA All-Star Game
If you read just one thing this weekend, make some time to read this NY Times article, based around Shane Battier but really about the use of statistics in basketball. Yes, it talks about Kobe, but I think the point about how to value basketball players is really the interesting part, and well worth the read. I think we’ll talk more about this, but I want to do it justice. (Thanks to Zephid for the link.)

Aside this, this is the thread to talk about all the All Star fun. Should be an entertaining night of dunks and trick shots on Saturday. Come Sunday, it will be interesting to see which star shows up and wants to be MVP — there always is one who puts out the extra effort going for the prize.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  February 13, 2009

I don’t get all that pumped up for the All Star game, although I think the H-O-R-S-E competition can be fun (I refuse to call it by the corporate name). But this beauty — from the people at Didn’t Draw Iron — should help. It’s a 2009 All Star Preview done 1980s style.

• I suppose this is a Lakers blog so I should say something about the Lakers, but that loss in Utah doesn’t bother me much. It was a schedule loss — second night of a back-to-back after a tough road trip, while the other team (a potentially very good team) is sitting at home for two days resting. The Lakers looked flat, tired and I can see that. Get some rest over the break and let the fun start with Atlanta next Tuesday (that is no gimme).

• What are the greatest Lakers All Star moments?

• Really interesting breakdown by Kevin Pelton on Amare Stoudimire. The conclusion — Shaq isn’t why his numbers are down, the fact that the Suns have gone away with the pick-and-roll at the top of the arc Nash and Amare is the problem. That play was nearly indefensible; I’m not sure why you’d go away from it.

• Speaking of Basketball Prospectus, here’s a great read on what is going on at UCLA this year — their offense is very good. (They lost last night because their defense was off and Arizona State couldn’t miss, they shot 61% from three.)

• Going to be a really interesting trade deadline, not just because of Amare, but because if you were the GM in Denver or San Antonio or New Orleans right now, wouldn’t you be looking for a little move that could push the team onto the Lakers level? The bigger question than even if that move is out there is if the team’s owners will allow them to do it right now. Teams are fighting to cut payroll, so somebody willing to take a little on could get a steal. But who is going to do that.

• Speaking of that, ESPN is reporting Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon to the Miami Heat in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. Sounds to me like Toronto is trying to free up some cap space early to keep Bosh in town. Also, certainly Marion (if he can be resigned at a fair price) is a good fit if the Raptors are trying to build a running team. I’m just not sure what they are trying to build. As for Miami, pretty much a lateral move I think. Maybe Beasley can play the three now and feel a little more at home.

• I love what Bill James said about the A-Rod situation: “Baseball allowed a situation to develop in which it was in the self-interest of players to use steroids. Now we are very angry with people because they did what the system rewarded them for doing.”

Preview & Chat: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  February 11, 2009

Records: Lakers 42-9 (1st in the West) Jazz 29-23 (tied for 8th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.5 (1st in league) Jazz 110.1 (7th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (7th in league) Jazz 107.4 (14th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Jazz Deron Williams, CJ Miles, Ronnie Brewer, Paul Millsap, Mehmet Okur

Lakers Coming In: Last night was what I would call a “professional win.” It may not be inspired but it’s the kind of win good teams should get. They did not blow the Thunder out so Kobe did not get sit on the bench in the fourth quarter and complain about the music at Staples. But, the Thunder are a pretty good team and to their credit never folded, they kept coming. Secondly, that was the kind of game where a younger Lakers team, a lesser team lets down and ends up with a game decided at the buzzer. The Lakers got a professional win, so I’ll take that.

Of course, after an uninspired game I don’t have a lot to write.

The Jazz Coming In: This is what injuries will do to a team. Before the season, we all thought the Jazz were going to be in the top four teams in the West — but take away Carlos Boozer and AK-47 for long chunks (neither is playing tonight) and you get a much lesser team.

What’s kind of amazing is that the Jazz are an average defensive team this season, and by all accounts have been worse than that lately. Lethargy was the name of the game in a loss to the Warriors on Sunday, at least according to someone who watched the contest. And Jerry Sloan. That said, the Lakers can’t count on that — the Lakers will not get a lethargic opponent against them the rest of the season. The target is on their back.

The other thing that hurts the Jazz defense is that they foul a lot — only four teams send people to the line more often than the Jazz. That was their style in the playoffs, to take teams out of their rhythm by being physical. But the calls have caught up with them in the regular season. Also, surprisingly, they are no a good rebounding team — 25th in the league in defensive rebounding. That is too many easy putbacks for the opposition.

When Boozer first went down Paul Millsap stepped up for small college players everywhere and played like an All Star. But, battling through two sore knees, he is not the same player now — but he is still giving the Jazz 13 and 9 every night in the last 10, shooting 52.5%. He can board.

The one guy who hasn’t let up is Deron Williams. He is averaging 27 points and 10 assists per game, shooting 59% (eFG%) from the floor and getting to the line seven times a game for the Jazz. He remains one of the best PG’s in the game and the Lakers need to be ready and smart about their help on him tonight.

Keys To The Game: Traditionally at this blog we talk Xs and Os as the primary keys to a game. But just as traditionally, the last game before the All Star break has players mailing it in. Coaches mailing it in. Fans mailing it in. Just a lot of mail. One of these teams tonight will show up focused, and the one that does will get the win. That simple.

The Jazz on defense use a “pack-the-paint” strategy, so for once when the Lakers get the ball inside early (via pass to Gasol or penetration from Kobe) kick-outs to open shooters is welcome. In their last 10 games, opponents have shot 38.7% against the Jazz from three. This is a game where Fisher and Sasha among others can have a big night by burying the open looks.

On offense, the Jazz run the pick and roll virtually every time down. Okur creates a bit of a problem in that he can pop so his defender needs to step out. That leaves Millsap’s man to be the help in the paint when D-Will comes charging in, and the Lakers need to be smart about that. One trick may be to go under the pick, force Williams to shoot from the outside, particularly from three (he’s shooting 32.6% from there in his last 10).

The Lakers also need to board — back on Jan. 2 Millsap had 8 offensive rebounds because his man left to help and then nobody boxed him out. Do that on the road and the Jazz get some easy buckets and gain a lot of confidence.

Where you can watch: 6 p.m. start in Utah, on KCAL. Good news as it means this game should be over in plenty of time to watch Top Chef. It’s time for Leah to go home.