Archives For November 2009

Game Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  November 12, 2009

Leandro Barbosa of the Phoenix Suns
Records: Lakers 6-1 Suns 8-1
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.1, Suns 115.4
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 102.5 Suns 108.4
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Amare Stoudemire, Channing Frye

Short preview today as Bill Bridges did a great job breaking down the Suns.

The Lakers Coming in: I’m not sure I’ve ever spent as much time discussing a man’s let as I have Pau Gasol’s hamstring. I

Two great things out there worth reading. First, Dexter Fishmore over at Silver Screen and Roll did the smart thing — he emailed sports injury blogging guru Will Carroll. I’m not going to post his comments verbatim here, go check out the post, but basically he said calm down. He said to think of it as two injuries, the first one then the one he got trying to come back to fast. That is often why hamstrings linger.

Also, Kevin Ding has a great story saying Gasol is smart to take his time, and Gasol is about as smart a player as there is in the league.

Bottom line for me: If it’s Thanksgiving when he gets back, then we’ll give thanks. A healthy Gasol in April, May and June matters. November does not (especially when you are 6-1).

Keys to game: The Lakers need to get this win, because tomorrow night they have to travel to Denver for the second game of a back-to-back. That is a schedule-makers loss — play then travel over night to altitude and play a very good Denver team (with fans hyped for playoff “revenge”). The Lakers need the front end of this back-to-back.

The good news is they get the Suns on the second game of a back-to-back. (All these back-to-backs is anther way of saying don’t think what happens in these games can be extrapolated to May.)

As for what the Lakers need to do, I’d like to see Artest on Richardson and Kobe on Hill (allowing him to roam a little more. From there I’ll let Burgundy take over (from the comments):

The game plan is essentially this:

1) Use most of the 24 second clock each possession.

2) Go Inside.

3) Go inside (I mean, they were doing this with Kwame Freaking Brown [in 2006] and it was working because the Suns’ middle is so soft).

4) Don’t shoot three pointers unless it is late in the shot clock and you are wide open (we’ll see how Farmar and Sasha handle this directive).

5) Sag way the heck off Nash on D and keep him out of the lane. [Bill Bridges added a great point this morning, Nash prefers to drive to his left, if you force him right he is still good but it starts to throw what the Suns do off.]

6) Stay home on the shooters.

7) When Nash runs the pick and roll with Amare, double Amare off the pick and deny, even if it means Nash can get to the cup for two reasons:

A) An athletic big (like Lamar) can recover in time and still challenge the shot, because Nash is ground-bound and thinks “shoot” last.

B) Even if Nash gets a layup, the important thing is Amare DOESN’T. The less involved Amare is on offense, the less involved he is on D, and ultimately, the less involved he is in the game.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start on TNT nationally (well, more like 7:45 because you know the early game will run over) and Fox Sports here in LA, or listen to Spero on 710 AM, ESPN.

The Suns is a Phoenix

Bill Bridges —  November 12, 2009

Sixers vs. Suns
Most pundits have been surprised by the Sun’s success this year. These are the same pundits that picked the Lakers to finish 8th or out of the playoffs in 07/08. Of course the Lakers made it to the NBA finals. I’ve watched most of the Suns games this year and their success is not a shock to me. This is the best Suns team since Nash has been in Phoenix.

Last year, they had the wrong or new personnel playing in the wrong system for the wrong coach. Yet, they barely missed the playoffs. This year the wrong personnel  (Shaq) is gone, the new are now familiar, and the right coach who is Mike D’Antoni 2 , except this one also coaches defense.

The most successful Suns team is the 06/07 team that made it to the WCSF and lost to the Spurs. The team won 61 games in the regular season and started Nash, Bell, Diaw, Marion, and Stoudemire. The bench consisted of Kurt Thomas and Barbosa. No other player got any meaningful minutes.

This team is an upgrade at every position except perhaps PF.  New Amare is better (especially on defense) than the old Amare. Hill looks like the one that played in Detroit and is significant upgrade to Diaw. Nash is still Nash – except this one seems to have a healthier back. Jason Richardson is playing like Andrew Toney. Marion is better than Fry. But Fry might be a better fit.

It is the bench that is the most drastic difference. Whereas D’Antoni didn’t trust his bench and played 7 deep the entire season. Gentry’s bench is deep and productive. Barbosa might now be the 7th or 8th man behind Amundson and Dudley (one of my new “Favourite Players not on the Lakers”). Dragic is the best Slovenian PG in the NBA and Robin Lopez has yet to play who brings their only size off the bench. Amundson is like David Lee who plays Defense.  Barbosa might have lost something but is still very dangerous.

On offense this team has versatility missing on previous teams. Not a single player on the old team had a reliable post game. (Diaw was the closest; but whereas he had the skills, he lacked the will). That team was exclusively based on high screen-roll. Stoudemire picks for Nash, rolls to the hoop or pops. Nash passes to Stoudemire, or dribbles closer either for his own shot or a kick out to a shooter. Deadly efficient at the pace they played but still predictable; and in a playoff series, ultimately stoppable.

Now, this team runs a variant of the triangle/Princeton sets and posts up Richardson (and less frequently Hill) on the left block. They are good enough from the post to draw doubles and are very good at kicking it out for open 3’s.

There is some truth to the statement that some of the Sun’s success is due to the unfamiliarity of most teams to playing against a team with such pace. But of course, if pace alone were the determining factor, the Warriors would also be successful.

1. Nash penetration. Usually to his left. Swing out with his left hand to the right corner 3. Or a further swing from the corner to the key and wing for open 3’s
2. Kick out from left block by Richardson or Hill after a double. Usually to the right wing to Fry/other shooter for open 3
3. PUJIT – no need to say more
- Amare tends to pick to Nash’s left – this naturally leads to his rolling from the right side or popping for a shot on the right and Amare is a strong right-handed player.
- Nash has a deadly jumpshot off the dribble to the right. He is not nearly as comfortable shooting over his right shoulder.
So force Nash to the right to discourage penetration and live with the jump shots.
Do not double the post player. Force Richardson and Hill to make the turnaround J. They can make this shot but perhaps not as well against Kobe and Artest. A contested turn around from the block has a much lower EFG% than an open 3 (76% for the Suns – crazy!), and much easier to rebound.
The Lakers can minimize the PUJIT by being disciplined on offense; limiting turnovers and trying to have the Suns begin their break by taking the ball out of bounds each and every possession.
The Suns also are very good at swarming the post causing turnovers. Bynum and Kobe will have to be mindful of this when they get the ball. As a side note, in Jared Dudley the Suns have possibly the best or second best post defender at the guard position. Kobe will have to work harder to establish position and get the ball. Dudley is extremely good at fronting his player and denying the pass. The huge advantage Kobe has with other teams who have guards that treat the paint like alien territory is not there against Phoenix.
The Nash/Amare screen roll is probably the most devastating single play in the NBA. You have to try to get Amare to pick to Nash’s right than left. Much like Denver tried to disrupt the Kobe/Gasol screen roll by severely shading to Kobe’s right forcing Gasol to pick to Kobe’s left, the Lakers have to do the opposite. Shade Nash severely to the left to force Amare to pick to Nash’s right. This impedes Nash’s penetration, and forces Amare to begin rolling or shoot from a less comfortable position of the left side of the lane. If Fry is screening, I’d go under the screen so that Fry’s man can stay with him. Fry doesn’t roll and will drift to the three point line looking for the drop off from Nash. Of course you leave an open 3 to Nash – but you always give up something to take away something.
What a terrific game so early in the season. This game will test the Laker’s weaknesses this year. They will have to control the defensive boards (the Lakers are the worst in the league), not turn the ball over, make the proper rotations to cover the weak side three point shooter, and run a disciplined offense to control the tempo. All doable but challenging.

Let’s examine the few things the Suns do extremely well.

They shoot the 3 at 48%. Unheard of.  Such efficiency is a product of good shooters getting open looks from their favourite spots in rhythm. Disrupt any of these factors and the percentage drops. These open looks in rhythm come in 3 primary ways.

1. Nash penetration. Usually to his left. Swing out with his left hand to the right corner 3. Or a further swing from the corner to the key and wing for open 3’s

2. Kick out from left block by Richardson or Hill after a double. Usually to the right wing to Frye/other shooter for open 3

3. PUJIT – no need to say more

Unlike most right handed players, Nash tends to penetrate going left. This is function of two factors,

– Amare tends to pick to Nash’s left – this naturally leads to his rolling from the right side or popping for a shot on the right and Amare is a strong right-handed player.

- Nash has a deadly jumpshot off the dribble to the right. He is not nearly as comfortable shooting over his right shoulder.

So force Nash to the right to discourage penetration and live with the jump shots.

Do not double the post player. Force Richardson and Hill to make the turnaround J. They can make this shot but perhaps not as well against Kobe and Artest. A contested turn around from the block has a much lower EFG% than an open 3 (76% for the Suns – crazy!), and much easier to rebound.

The Lakers can minimize the PUJIT by being disciplined on offense; limiting turnovers and trying to have the Suns begin their break by taking the ball out of bounds each and every possession.

The Suns also are very good at swarming the post causing turnovers. Bynum and Kobe will have to be mindful of this when they get the ball. As a side note, in Jared Dudley the Suns have possibly the best or second best post defender at the guard position. Kobe will have to work harder to establish position and get the ball. Dudley is extremely good at fronting his player and denying the pass. The huge advantage Kobe has with other teams who have guards that treat the paint like alien territory is not there against Phoenix.

The Nash/Amare screen roll is probably the most devastating single play in the NBA. You have to try to get Amare to pick to Nash’s right than left. Much like Denver tried to disrupt the Kobe/Gasol screen roll by severely shading to Kobe’s right forcing Gasol to pick to Kobe’s left, the Lakers have to do the opposite. Shade Nash severely to the left to force Amare to pick to Nash’s right. This impedes Nash’s penetration, and forces Amare to begin rolling or shoot from a less comfortable position of the left side of the lane. If Frye is screening, I’d go under the screen so that Frye’s man can stay with him. Frye doesn’t roll and will drift to the three point line looking for the drop off from Nash. Of course you leave an open 3 to Nash – but you always give up something to take away something.

What a terrific game so early in the season. This game will test the Laker’s weaknesses this year. They will have to control the defensive boards (the Lakers are the worst in the league), not turn the ball over, make the proper rotations to cover the weak side three point shooter, and run a disciplined offense to control the tempo. All doable but challenging.

—Bill Bridges

Artest Is Doing Things Big and Little

Kurt —  November 11, 2009

NBA Basketballgrizzlies@lakers
Thursday night against the Suns, the Lakers will have Andrew Bynum back in the lineup (no Pau Gasol yet, but people Phil was joking about Christmas), which means we can expect a healthy dose of Kobe in the post, Bynum in the post, Lamar Odom on the boards and — hopefully — continued solid bench play.

But the key to it all may be Ron Artest. To this point, Artest has blended in with the Lakers better than even Shin Shin could have hoped. It was expected on the defensive end, but on offense he is starting to really find his way. To get an idea why, I rewatched some recent games and focused on Artest, plus looked at some numbers.

Here are a few highlights.

• Artest leads the Lakers in +/- so far this season — LA is outscoring opponents by 13.5 points per 48 minutes when Artest is on the floor. LA is being outscored by opponents by 20.2 points per 48 minutes when Artest is NOT on the floor. That is a 33 points per 48 minutes swing he is creating.

• He is relentless. He hustles when others slack. A simple example: Remember the first play of the Hornets game, where New Orleans won the tap and Kobe stole the ball from Devin Brown out high and had a virtual break away dunk? Artest was the only Laker to get back down for a potential rebound. Nobody else runs after Kobe on a breakaway (because, well, why would you?) but Artest did.

• He makes good entry passes (this came up time and again in the video). With no Gasol (or Bynum of late) the Lakers are posting up Kobe a lot more, which puts Artest on the wing. He did not come here with the reputation of a good passer, but Ron makes smart, well placed entry passes to the post. With how often the Lakers plan to go to the post this season, that is no little thing.

• He finds the open man and makes the extra pass. Remember Fisher’s buzzer-beater to end the first half against the Hornets? Assist from Artest who had a man running out on him (Fish was totally wide open, like any receiver running through the Notre Dame secondary, damn Charlie Weis). Then with 1:45 left in the third quarter against the Hornets, Artest drove the lane from the top of the key and when the defense collapsed he made an impressive “hook pass” over his head to a wide open Luke Walton for the corner three. He shows court vision and awareness.

• To sum up those last two notes: 18% of the possessions Artest uses end in an assist, a great number for a forward.

• He is getting his shots at the rim or from three. He is taking 4.3 threes per game (and shooting 36.7% so far). He is getting 3.4 shots per game at the rim (and shooting 50%). He has shown some midrange game, but that is not where the shots are coming from at this point, he is attacking the rim or finding places he likes to spot up. Both good things.

• He has held opposing small forwards to 31.5% shooting (eFG%),

• The Lakers offense is 14.4 points per 48 minutes better when he is on the floor, the defense is 21.1 points per 48 better when he is on the floor. Bottom line, both ends of the court are better for the Lakers when Artest plays.

The Suns Are 7-1? Seriously?

Kurt —  November 11, 2009

Heat vs. Suns
Thursday’s game is a showdown of Western Conference powers, as much as there can be a showdown in November (which is to say not much of one). But if before the season we’d said showdown of WC powers, you would have assumed it was the Lakers playing the Spurs, Nuggets or Blazers.

The Suns? I thought the Clippers might pass them this year. Turns out I was wrong, and I am not alone. So what is happening there? I asked Brett Pollakoff of Fanhouse — who lives in Phoenix and goes to the games as part of his NBA beat — to talk some Suns for us:

The Suns are the story eight games into this season, and with good reason. This is a team that traded Shaquille O’Neal for nothing more than cap relief, and even though they brought back aging stars Steve Nash and Grant Hill to play alongside Amar’e Stoudemire and Jason Richardson, that’s where the talent (on paper) was supposed to run out.

But it hasn’t. The team has been getting loads of production from starting center Channing Frye, who’s tied with Richardson for second in the league in made three-pointers with 22. And as a team, the Suns lead the league in three-point shooting percentage, hitting a blistering 47 percent of their shots from downtown.

That’s tough to deal with for most teams, especially when you have a rejuvenated Nash penetrating at will and getting the shooters around him wide-open looks. Nash leads the league in assists with almost 13 per game; there’s only one other player in the NBA that’s averaging over 10, and that’s Utah’s Deron Williams.

Phoenix’s weakness would appear to be their ability to get defensive rebounds, given their undersized front line. But Alvin Gentry has made this a point of emphasis in the early going, and the team has responded by being in the top eight in the league in this category, ahead of much bigger teams like the Celtics, the Jazz and the Clippers.

Kurt Rambis may have said it best, when his Timberwolves were in Phoenix on November 1: “During the regular season, they’re just extremely difficult to prepare for,” Rambis said. “Unless you have a team that’s used to playing them and understands who they are. But when the pace slows down, what are they going to do defensively? That’s what has been, and will continue to be their issue.”

So far, teams haven’t been able to slow things down, and that’s why the Suns are sitting at 7-1 at this early point in the season.

Get Well Cap

Kurt —  November 10, 2009

kareem_abdul_jabbar_skyhook
Laker legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar announced in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that he is battling Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia. It’s a relatively mild form of cancer that usually can managed through daily medication, but it is something that Kareem will have to have watched for the rest of his life.

All of us here at Forum Blue & Gold wish Kareem the best in his ongoing fight against the disease, and are heartened to hear this will not dramatically change his lifestyle. It’s also a reminder to all of us not to ignore the little things our body is telling us, they could be signs of bigger things.

If you want to know more about Kareem , we have a great post here on his legendary Skyhook. Or, check out the man’s Web site.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  November 9, 2009

Golden State Warriors vs Los Angeles Lakers
Centers? We don’t need no stinkin’ centers.

• This season, 36% of Kobe’s shot attempts have come out of the post. Last season that was 14%.

• I don’t expect the percentage to stay that high for Kobe when Gasol and Bynum return and need post touches — Phil Jackson said as much postgame the other night — but if team’s don’t adjust the Lakers should keep giving it to Kobe on the block.

• Without two key starters, it’s about getting the wins and little else. And the Lakers did that efficiently this weekend. Did you see the Orlando score last night? Without Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis they lost big to the Thunder. (Granted, the Thunder has the scoring talent to beat anybody if they are hot for a night.) The Lakers have shown their versatility and gotten good bench play on their way to two wins in potentially dangerous games. All a good sign.

• Phoenix on Thursday will be a much better test of this team. If you haven’t seen them, the Suns are back to spreading the floor, Nash is playing like his MVP years and Amare seems like he is all the way back. (That said, this is a team that needs some key older players like Nash and Hill to stay healthy through the long grind to compete come the spring.)

• The Lakers played solid defense last night. But it’s against the Hornets, a team it’s fairly easy to make into shoot jumpers. Can anybody but CP3 get to the rim and finish on that squad? (By the way, for those into advanced stats, great one from Royce Webb, one of the ESPN.com NBA editors: CP3 has created three estimated wins so far this season on a team with two wins. That is not a good supporting cast.)

• Kobe is shooting 58.8% the last two games. That came after shooting 46.2% on the back-to-back road trip. That ties back into the first note — he is getting the ball on the block and in places he wants. And in the last two games he has had defenders he could post easily on him.

• I like that early in both games, the Lakers got the ball to DJ Mbenga on his cuts. Not because Mbenga used those chances well, but because it forced the defense to respect him as an option.

• It is amazing how far the Hornets have fallen. New Orleans was seventh in defensive efficiency two years ago, ninth last year, and this year they are terrible on the defensive end. And that’s not all just missing Tyson Chandler (although that is part of the equation).

• There’s been a little less Xs and Os on this site so far this season, but that is because with the roster in flux it has been hard to take away a lot of lessons. There is more post play, much more Kobe in the post, obviously. But to take that away and discuss how it will be with Pau and Drew back in the fold is hard.

• I have loved the way the Lakers have gone after the mismatches.

• Got to root for the Globetrotters — Flight Time and Big Easy — to win the Amazing Race. Not just because of the hoops connection, mostly because they seem to be having more fun than any other team on the race. And that’s what it should be about — enjoying the journey, no matter how stressful.

• Honestly, I find the Fisher/Brown debate both tedious and moot. Fish is the starter. Brown and Farmar will have the season to prove they should be the man next year. The team is 6-1, no changes are coming in the near future.

nba_a_paul_kobe_576
Records: Lakers 5-1 Hornets 2-4
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 106.9, Hornets 107.1
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 103.3 Hornets 113.9
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, DJ Mbenga
Hornets: Chris Paul, Devin Brown, Julian Wright, David West, Emeka Okafor

The Lakers Coming in: Second verse, same as the first: no Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol again tonight. That will put some pressure on DJ Mbenga, who will have to protect the rim against Chris Paul, defend the pick and roll and deal with Emeka Okafor. While Mark Gasol is a good player, the Memphis offensive scheme was basically a straight line (that started late in the shot clock). New Orleans presents a bigger challenge.

In the preseason and after the first game, there were some on this site really questioning why Josh Powell was getting so much burn, and my defense of him was pretty tepid (“hey, he’s a solid pro playing or the minimum, what did you expect?”). But after the last game Phil Jackson called Powell the most consistent player the Lakers have had off the bench this year, and he’s right. Powell said post game he worked on his shot this offesason and it shows — he’s played the role of spot-up shooter at the four, but he is shooting 64.1% (eFG%) showing he is hitting those shots. He can hit that corner three if you leave him. He has been solid on the glass. Flat out, he has been professional.

Basically, J-Peazy deserves credit for stepping up and playing quality minutes when called upon.

The Hornets Coming in: First, let us wish well to Hornets’ owner George Shinn, who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Hope he makes a full recovery.

It is really hard to overstate how well Chris Paul is playing right now. His True Shooting Percentage is 74.9% (Kobe is at 56.1%, Bynum is at 59.7%). He is shooting 72% from three point range. He is doing his scoring (28.5 points per game) from range — nine of his shots per game come from outside 16 feet, Even with that, 31% of the possessions he uses end in an assist. He leads the NBA this young season in PER.

David West remains a great fit at the four to compliment what CP3 does, he can spread the floor with shooting range (all the way out to three) or play inside. He’s also a good passer, if not much of a rebounder at the four. Emeka Okafor also has had a good scoring start to the season and provides more scoring punch at the center spot than the Hornets have had in years.

But the Hornets defense has been so bad that doesn’t matter. Teams are shooting well against them, especially from three (38.3%), and basically are above the league average in every category. Well, save one, the Hornets don’t foul much. But that’s a pretty dim silver lining if teams keep making shots. Also, the Hornets rebounding at both ends has been bad. Now, are the two things mentioned in this paragraph tied to letting Tyson Chandler go?

For the first six games of the season, Mo Peterson was the starting two guard for the Hornets, but coach Byron Scott is making the switch to Devin Brown tonight. Peja remains the two guard off the bench for the Hornets, and the Lakers cannot help off him at the three point line (Kobe, that means you).

Blogs and Links: Be sure to check out Hornets 24/7.

Keys to game: The Lakers need to slow Chris Paul. Not stop him, that’s about like saying you are going to shut down Kobe or LeBron — CP3 is playing that well right now. The hard part is that the book used to be “make him a jump shooter, keep him out of the paint” but so far this season he is killing it from the outside.

Despite that, I think the key is to “Steve Nash” him — make him a shooter. Ideally an outside shooter, but the key is you’d rather CP3 shoot than rack up 18 assists, because those assists tend to go to guys dunking or in spots where they like the ball. Derek Fisher had one of his smarter defensive games against Memphis, we can hope that carries over and that the bench guys (this might be a good Brown night with CP3’s strength).

Defending Paul starts with defending the pick-and-roll well — the Hornets offense is usually a high screen for CP3 then let him make good decisions. This will put a lot of pressure on Mbenga and Odom to show out on those picks, then recover to their man. One good thing is that Lamar Odom and those long arms of his tend to frustrate David West (when he has gone off on the Lakers as generally been when Odom is out). Odom needs to have another one of those games.

On offense, Devin Brown is going to be on Kobe. The Lakers went at the mismatch of OJ Mayo on Kobe last game, and when Memphis didn’t really adjust the Lakers kept going at it. Some complain Kobe shoots too much, but you win NBA games by exploiting mismatches (and creating good looks by forcing doubles or on drives). Memphis didn’t stop him — you keep going at the weak spot. I expect Brown will get help on Kobe, but that means Artest and others need to hit their shots when things open up.

Also, New Orleans is not a good team on the glass. Even without the two seven-foot starters, The Lakers should be able to get some offensive put backs and, more key yet, limit all the second chances they have given up this season. The team that wins the battle of the boards will have a big advantage.

Where you can watch: This game tips off at 6:30 pm Pacific, on Fox Sports here in Los Angeles. Also, 710 ESPN Radio has the game.

History of the Carry-Over Call

Kurt —  November 7, 2009

Rockets @ Lakers Game 1
Last night during Phil Jackson’s pregame talk, he was asked questions about the unique talent that Allen Iverson is, a small player who could get to the rim among the trees and finish. Phil talked about a couple things, including the discontinued dribble (carry over, if you want to call the game old school), which Iverson “brought into the game in all its glory.”

Then Phil went into an interesting history of calling that rule through the last 20 years:

The basic rules have changed in basketball over the last 20, 25 years. You know, we kind of joke about it. But when the hand goes under the ball, that is considered a carry, and you couldn’t do that at all at any level when we played basketball back in the 60s and 70s.

You know, Jimmy Walker came in with the innovative “spin dribble” and he cupped the ball when he did that and they called him, they wouldn’t let him do that and it changed his game. College had allowed him to do it. Earl Monroe was doing the same thing at the time but he kept his hand on top of the ball so they allowed Earl to have that move, which became his patented move.

As the game progressed, that pronation of the hand, as we call it, under the ball became part of dribbling. Now it’s discontinuing, when the ball doesn’t continue at the normal pace, is what they try to register, and that is very difficult to do. So my hats off to these guys, they are trying to do something very difficult.