Archives For September 2009

 

Golden State Warriors vs Los Angeles Lakers

The other day, I read an interesting piece over at Silver Screen and Roll about what players the Lakers should deploy as their second unit.  It focussed mostly on the Lakers’ backcourt rotation and who should play behind Kobe and Fish to allow the team to perform its best at all times.  You should check it out if you have a minute.  Anyways, that post and Kurt’s recent portrait of how Artest will fit into the Triangle got me thinking about roles, minutes, rotations, and style of play.  It got me thinking about how this team will play over the course of a full 48 minutes and what we can expect on a nightly basis from the starters and the bench.  And it had me wondering, how much will next years team look (and play) like the one that just won the title?

First, let’s look back at last season.  When the season started, the contrast in style between our first and second units was stark.  Our starting group of Fish, Kobe, RadMan/Walton, Gasol, and Bynum were a traditional half court team.  Yes, they got out and ran when the opportunity presented itself.  And yes, they strayed away from running the Triangle as consistently as past teams coached by Phil Jackson.  But, for the most part, this first unit played in the half court and with a controlled, deliberate style.  I understand that when you look at the pace that the team played at last season (5th fastest in the league) that this doesn’t quite add up.  But in reality, our pace was increased because we often took the first “good shot that presented itself – think Fisher or Kobe pujits, P&R’s on the secondary break, one-pass-then-shoot jumpers, post-lane sprints by our bigs, etc.  But when we really evaluate the Lakers’ first unit, they ran their sets, pounded the ball inside, and played the pick and roll with Kobe and Gasol/Bynum.  Ultimately, this unit’s goal was to punish teams with their ability to play efficient half court basketball.

Then, after about four or five minutes of this style of play, the Lakers would bring in Odom, Farmar, and Ariza and everything would change.  On almost every single possession, the Lakers would push the ball.  Farmar would get the outlet pass and get the ball upcourt as quickly as possible.  Odom would snatch defensive rebounds and proceed to quickly change ends in the hopes of creating an easy basket.  Ariza would pressure ball handlers, force steals, and fill lanes looking for a lob from Jordan or an easy tip in off a missed attempt in transition.  The pace only ratcheted up more when Sasha would replace Kobe and the Lakers would have an entire unit looking to run at every opportunity.  This contrast in styles was one of the main reasons our second unit was so successful when the season started.   I often compared it to the NFL when a team would use a big, bruising running back to soften up defenses and then replace him with a change-of-pace speedster to catch the opposition off guard and put them on their heels.  When teams played us, they not only lacked the depth to tangle with a team that went ten deep, but they also didn’t know how to deal with a team as diverse as ours.  I mean, how do you prepare for this type of schizophrenia from a team?  The fact is, teams really couldn’t prepare and fans saw leads balloon and our bench universally hailed as one of the best in the league.

As the season wore on though, this diversity dissipated.  Farmar got hurt and Fish played more minutes.  Bynum also went down and Odom became a starter.   Then, Walton ceded his starting position to Trevor.  Gradually, the quickness and frenetic pace of our second unit got blended with our starting group and our bench became a snail of its former self.  Gone was the lineup based on speed and agility and put in its place was a more steady and controlled group (Walton, Powell, Mbenga) that looked like a watered down version of our first unit.  They became a more half court team where post ups of Luke, stagger screens for Sasha, and pick and pops for Powell were the complements around the all around games of Gasol (playing huge minutes) and Kobe (still not getting the type of rest many thought would come with a team this deep).  When Farmar finally returned, the second unit tried to return to its running ways, but the transformation to a slower unit was almost entirely complete.  Ultimately we saw Jordan struggle with a hodge-podge lineup where Ariza and Odom were replaced with Walton and Powell and the uptempo style that was so effective earlier in the season was no more.  (On a side note, this is around the same time that Jordan started questioning his “role”.  Soon, the Lakers would also trade for Ammo and WOW.  Then the playoffs would start and any semblance of what our second unit used to be was scrapped for the methodical nature of the second season.  But I digress.)

Now let’s look at this upcoming season.  Regular commenter Stephen makes a great point about the potential style of next year’s team in the comments about integrating Artest into the Triangle:

The reason is Ron and the Triangle pretty much have to work well as the team’s quick-strike fast break attack has taken a major hit.  Ariza was a key ingredient to the break and this yr’s team has no speed on the wing w/Artest,Walton or Morrison.  This year’s Lakers are going to have to do a lot of half-court grinding it out type games. Of course the team is well equiped to do just that.

Think about the ten players that are most likely to play significant minutes every night.  Fisher, Kobe, Artest, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Walton, Farmar, Brown, and Sasha.  Of those ten players, only Farmar and Sasha are players that consistently like to play at a fast pace (more on them later).  And even though Brown is a player that is capable of making some W-O-W plays, he has played his best ball when he got significant minutes with the starting group and he could play a half court game where he got open shots off the movement and motion of the offense.  And while Gasol and Bynum are players that like to run the floor and are athletic enough to beat their man down the court as they quickly change ends, they are still best suited setting up in the half court and punishing opponents with their ability to post up, pass, and get offensive rebounds.  This same sentiment holds true for Odom.  Yes, he is fantastic at initiating the fast break after securing the defensive rebound – and next season I expect he’ll still do plenty of this.  But, I also know that Lamar has been at his very best (for the Lakers) as an active body in the half court where he can be rewarded by playing with gifted passers and Bigs that actually require attention from defenses by cutting to open spaces, getting offensive rebounds, and (when working to get his own) penetrating against the slower PF’s that are matched up with him.

So when evaluating the pace and style of the next seasons’ second unit, I anticpate a higher priority to be placed on slowing down the tempo and executing the offense.  I expect for the second team to play a very similar style to the first unit and to punish teams with execution.  And Farmar and Sasha will either adjust or ride the bench.  I actually think this style of play will benefit both players as (last season) they were allowed to free lance too much (Farmar) or did not get enough minutes with players that create shots for them (Sasha) and it led to forced looks in transition and the firing up of shots that weren’t in the best interests of the offense.  When it comes to Farmar, I do think he can excel playing a controlled half court game.  We saw this in last year’s playoffs against Houston in the game that Fisher was suspended.  Farmar did a very good job of running our sets and gettting open jumpshots through the motions of our sets.  He shot the ball with confidence and it crossed over to the other aspects of his game (defense, overall decision making, focus).  As for Sasha, who really knows?  I think he’s capable of having a bounce back year and I also think that despite the presence of Artest (and Ron’s ability to play minutes as the Kobe of the second unit), that Sasha will be needed for extended stretches and we will need him to produce.  Can he do it?  If you know the answer to that, please pass along tomorrow’s lottery numbers to me as well.

Again, look at the Lakers’ roster and, specifically, the players that will likely make up our second team: Brown/Farmar, Sasha, Luke/Artest, Odom, Bynum.  At any given time, Farmar and Sasha are likely to be playing with Odom, Artest and/or Luke, and Bynum.  Besides Odom, none of those players are fast break players and all of them play better in the half court than they do in transition.  I think the coaches recognize this, will adjust their mindset accordingly, and it will be reflected in the philosophy and approach of how this team plays.  As Stephen stated, this team is well equipped to play a grind it out style.  This goes for our first team and our second team.   Only time will tell if this comes to fruition, but I think we can expect a more consistent approach to how we’re going to play on offense this upcoming season from unit to unit.  Basically, I think we’ll see a similar style from the first and second units.  Part of this is our personnel and part of this is the grooming of our young players (I’m looking at you Farmar and Brown) to perform roles that we’ll need in upcoming seasons.  But this is just a hypothesis as I look at the current make up of the team.  What do you think?

-Darius

Media Day Thoughts

Kurt —  September 28, 2009

NBA 2009: Lakers Beat Jazz 113-100
A few thoughts to take you into Media Day, then check back here for comments and thoughts during and after the press feeding frenzy.

UPDATE: Media day featured a lot of what you’d expect, a huge media circus around Odom who couldn’t and wouldn’t talk about the wedding, a lot of photos of Sasha’s new hair and everybody saying all the right things. Maybe the only bit of news was Andrew Bynum saying he will need to wear a knee brace for the rest of his career. This quote from Kobe sums everything up pretty well:

“You got to come with it. We have the talent to win another one. If we don’t, it’s because our lack of focus or an injury.”

Best line of the day was overheard by the always sharp BK of the LA Times Lakers Blog:

Ron Artest to the Dodgers folk taping scoreboard spots: “You want ME to do the Code of Conduct?”

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• You may have seen by now, Kobe went to Houston to work out with Hakeem Olajuwon and learn some of his post moves. For our younger readers who don’t remember, Olajuwon was maybe the smoothest players this league has ever seen in the post (and one of the quickest). He was one of the two guys taken in front of Michael Jordan, but was the one nobody looks back on saying “that was a big mistake” (and he finished his career with two titles). He is often overlooked as one of the games great centers.

Olajuwon said his style of play in the paint is really suited for a guy like Bryant.

“In my mind most of my moves for a guy (with) that agility can use it better than the big guy,” Olajuwon said. “Because my moves are not really for the big guy.

“It’s for the guards and small forwards. So he would benefit most on the post because of his agility.

“It was so much fun because how he picks it up. I worked with him for two hours, step by step.”

I think this fits into what we have been saying — look for a slower, half-court Lakers team this year that will work to exploit its length in the post more. Bynum, Gasol, Odom, Artest, Walton and Kobe all can play out of the high, mid or low post and the Lakers are going to exploit that a lot this year. If they can steadily knock down threes to keep the floor spread they will be very, very tough to defend.

• Thursday (Oct. 1) the NBA will be streaming live video from the Lakers training camp online at NBA.com starting at 10 am, then will air it later on NBA TV at 3 pm. We’ll be watching to see if we can glean anything, but really it would be more fun to just watch Phil make the team run suicides until they puke. That’s always fun when it’s not you doing it.

• I’m not that worried by the Dodgers crappy play of late. Baseball is the one sport where how you play going into the playoffs has little bearing on what happens when you get there. Especially with all the backups getting playing time right now.

• ‘Tis the season for previews, and there will be a lot of them. One often discussed figure around here, John Hollinger, has the Lakers winning the West by 10 games. That means for the next half an hour, many Lakers fans will think he is brilliant because they agree with him.

• Media day is a nice start, but man I want to see some real games.

You’ll Be Missed, John Radcliffe

Kurt —  September 28, 2009

Lakers_Playoff_Game_6-10-08_016_270x202
One of the good guys, the Los Angles Lakers official scorekeeper since the days of Wilt and West — John Radcliffe — passed away last week.

He was a fixture at Laker games, keeping score for the team since it played at the Sports Arena (before the Forum, let alone Staples), the longest continuous employee of the franchise. And a man who was friends with everyone he met and popular in the organization.

My deepest respect and condolences to all the members of the Radcliffe Family. I shared a special place next to John at the Lakers scorers table for the past 26 years. He was a consummate professional…a gentleman…and I will miss my friend.
—Lawrence Tanter

But for thousands of students in Torrance High School, he was much more than that. He was the school’s baseball coach, as well as at times coaching track, football, volleyball and softball, plus serving as the school’s athletic director.

One of the students who was touched by Radcliffe was our own Gatinho.

As a graduate of Torrance High School, I was lucky to have Coach John Radcliffe as my athletic director. But you can imagine how cool we thought it was that he was the official scorer for the Lakers. He would frequently hand out Laker tickets to track athletes who broke personal bests or other athletes that played exceptionally well or showed outstanding sportsmanship. Every time I watched a game and there was a discussion at the scorer’s table, I would make sure to spot him.

Track and field seemed to be his love. He was constantly asking the best athletes to participate in track. To quote a friend, “He knew an athlete, and when he saw one, he asked them to run track.”

RIP John Radcliffe
BORN: May 28, 1936
DIED: September 22, 2009

He shall be missed, by the Lakers and students in Torrance alike.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  September 25, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets Game 2 NBA Western Conference finals in Los Angeles
Finally the amount of Lakers news to discuss will pick up as camp opens, starting with Phil Jackson speaking to the press Friday. Then there is media day next Tuesday (followed by the start of camp). Honestly, the words spoken on media day may be the most useless thing in the NBA. The problem is useless is better than nothing, so we’re watching.

• PJ really didn’t say much unexpected at his sit down. He wants to keep Fisher to about 22 minutes a night and let someone else step up, something we all basically expected. He said he is going to experiment with lineups, including maybe a Kobe/Artest/LO/Gasol/Bynum lineup at points. Again not a shock, the versatility of this team is one of its biggest strengths and PJ has a lot of options to go with and look at (although I really do look forward to seeing that grouping). He said defense will be key and Artest makes them better there. He said the Lakers are better “on paper” but chemistry matters and we have to see how that plays out.

Basically, he said the things Lakers fans have been talking about all summer. Can’t wait for games so we can start to see these things play out.

• Not to give away too much of my season previews early, but here is my general take on the upcoming NBA season: Any one of five teams can win the title as currently constructed: Lakers, Spurs, Cavaliers, Celtics and Magic. (Other teams, such as Denver, could enter that elite grouping with a trade, but may be just short right now.) Of that group, the Lakers are the team with the largest margin for error — things do not have to go perfectly for the Lakers to win it all (they won last year despite a one-legged Bynum in the Finals). The Spurs and Celtics need to stay healthy, and that may be asking a lot. The Cavaliers need Shaq to defend the pick and roll and Mike Brown to be a good end of game coach. The Magic need Vince Carter to fit in.

I honestly believe going into a season there are tiers of contenders, the Lakers are in the best spot on the top tier. That’s all you can ask of a GM and owner. Making it a reality takes a combination of will from the players, coaching and luck that cannot be predicted right now.

• One thing I am rooting for with the Cavaliers — Coby Karl to make the team. He just got a camp invite. I liked him here in LA and at Summer League he looked like a guy who belonged on an NBA roster. Not a starter, but the guy can contribute (just not too much if it is with the Cavs, please).

• Really fascinating piece over at TrueHoop about fouling at the end of the game when your team is up three and the opponent has the ball. Phil Jackson said last year his rule of thumb is to foul in that situation with five or fewer seconds left (Stan Van Gundy got the same question and said six). Now people are bringing math to problem and… there is not yet a definitive answer. There are just so many variables (How good a free throw shooter is the guy you foul? Can you foul him on the dribble so he can’t get into the act of shooting? How good an offensive rebounding team is the team your playing, should they make the first and try to miss the second?). And no answer is going to be right 100% of the time, which makes it all the more intriguing.

• For those of you that watched Flash Forward last night, we have no idea where Kobe or the Lakers will be on April 29. If you’re going to watch the show, here comes the SPOILER ALERT: In the show, everybody on the planet blacks out and has a vision of a specific time in the future, the evening of April 29 (10 p.m. LA Time). One of the characters, reading the sports page on the john, says that he reads a story about Kobe blowing out an ACL and being out for the season. Well, he’d be out for the playoffs as the Lakers end the regular season on April 14. No way to know what the Lakers schedule will be then yet. But let’s hope that this show doesn’t foreshadow anything.

• Speaking of television, my two cents on Top Chef Las Vegas: Kevin is my guy. Like his high-end Southern food and anyone that does candied bacon jam is my hero. But I would be good with Jen or either of the brothers winning as well. So far in the show, the only person I’ve been sad to see go is Hector, everyone else seemed out of his or her league. And there are a couple more of those left (hello Robin). Also, I thought the Joël Robuchon episode was one of the best ever. That was a true test of what these chefs face in the real world, not who can make food that doesn’t taste like crap cooking on a campfire. But so far, really enjoying this season.

• FB&G is more a community than a blog. As we head into this season, if there are things you want to see us do — from specific posts to general things with the site — let me know. Put them in the comments or shoot me an email (link is over on the right). I may not be able to do it, or maybe I can, but I want to hear what all of you want to see, too. Just don’t say you want the details on Lamar’s wedding.

How Do You Fit Artest Into A Triangle?

Kurt —  September 23, 2009

Ron Artest with the LA Lakers
Ron Artest’s “blame me” statement was a great bit of PR/playing to the fans. And it worked. It got front-page play in a bunch of newspapers and now Bill Plaschke is on board with Ron Ron (so we can all rest easy).

But let’s be clear — if the Lakers don’t win the title next year it probably won’t be Ron Artest’s fault. I wasn’t a huge fan of bringing Artest here and yet I can come up with a dozen scenarios where Artest plays well and the Lakers don’t win it all. It all seems a bit simplistic, but that still sells.

To me, the larger looming question is how to fit Ron Artest into the Triangle offense. Phil Jackson, in an interview with Matt “Money” Smith (the Laker pre/postgame guy I’m going to miss, no offense Mason) and partner Petros Papadakis, Phil Jackson said he has been thinking about it too. But he didn’t say much else.

“I’ve spent some time thinking about it. Ron has a real knack of being a top defender and an aggressive player on the defensive end of the court…. But we think overall that we probably have a more balanced and difficult team to defend and to score against on this team. I think Ron’s going to be a really big addition to this team. Not only defensively, but he can do some things offensively that’ll be able to help our team and people will be surprised.”

The best breakdown I’ve seen so far comes from Wilt in the blog over at Lakersground, and this is really a must read. His basic premise is that Artest needs to play the three spot out on the perimeter in the offense.

Artest’s main spots in the offense will be the wing and the two-guard front. Given that Chicago’s version of the Triangle did not have as many options, the Lakers will probably put Artest primarily on the wing position, which requires less reading and initiating. Thus, Kobe and Fisher will be the primary ball handlers in halfcourt, while Artest will be expected to execute the initial post entry pass.

(Describing one Triangle option) As a wing, Artest’s (O3) first option is to pass to the post, establishing the deepest penetration possible. Here, he passes to Gasol or Bynum (O5) and then sets a screen for Kobe (O2) at the top of the key. Artest is a very quick cutter and can seal off his man very effectively due to his strength. In this instance, D3 and D2 are confused about how to defend the top screen, leaving Artest just enough room to cut to the basket for a precise pass from the center.

Read the whole post, there’s a lot of truth in it (and it comes with great graphics). First, Artest really doesn’t have the handles to initiate the offense, that role will be largely Kobe and Fisher (I also wouldn’t be shocked to see Phil give the “Odom as point forward” thing another go as well). But asking Artest to make the post entry pass to the low block from the wing, then have him set the screen and cut to the basket, is a good fit for him (he is a good passer when he chooses to be).

What I think you are going to see a lot of is when Artest comes from the weak to strong side to establish position on the low block (likely getting his post pass from Gasol/Odom, or maybe Kobe/Fish). If not that, there are countless ways you can establish him down low, including running the high-low action with Gasol in the high post that was effective with Bynum the first half of last season. With Artest playing the three, and with other teams will have to but their best perimeter defender on Kobe, Artest will have mismatches he can exploit, particularly on the block.

One thing that will be different with Artest is where he will line up to shoot the three when the ball does go to Gasol/Bynum on the block. Traditionally the three in the triangle gets the ball in the corner for the three, but Artest is not a strong corner three shooter (just 31% from there last year, from the wings and straight on he shot better than 40% from every slop on the floor). If there is one thing Phil Jackson does better than any coach right now (besides cell-phone commercials) is put players in positions where they can succeed, and give them confidence to make their plays.

Artest’s game is actually fairly cerebral, he just has moments where he abandons that and tries to take over on both ends. With this lineup, he doesn’t have to, and intellectually he knows that. There may be a couple moments where his competitiveness gets the better of him early in the season, but look for Kobe/Gasol/Jackson to curb that impulse quickly. With the lineup the Lakers are throwing out there, mismatches will be created for someone every night. So long as the Lakers attack those mismatches, and everyone buys into that system and the offense, the Lakers will be hard to beat. And even Plaschke will be right.