Suggested Reading: Phil Jackson and Lakers Defense

Kurt —  December 21, 2009

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While Lakers fans are arguing over the franchise’s top 50 players, two really good things have appeared on the vast Internet worth discussing more.

First is the rather silly “is Phil Jackson going to come back next year?” hand wringing. How the Los Angeles media deals with Phil Jackson versus the national media is different. Phil loves mind games, and is happy to play them with the press. Local writers know that, they tend to look past the literal interpretation of what Phil Jackson says, knowing some of it is done with a wink and a nod. National writers often miss that.

Enter a good, smart national writer, Chris Sheridan of ESPN, who before the game in New Jersey starts asking about next year. And Phil starts playing games a little — he said that if the Lakers win a title would have an impact (something aimed at the locker room as a little goose) and that he was unsure of Jerry Buss would pay him that much again. The second part of that is funny. Jackson was brought back in after the “Rudy T. year that will not be mentioned” to calm season ticket holders and a fan base still pissed about the Shaq trade. Phil was expensive, but paying it was a sign to the fan base that management wanted to win. Phil Jackson is the one coach in the league who can mean ticket sales, and for that reason alone he is worth the $12 million he gets this year. And Buss will pay it again.

I will say (and this is sort of a Lakers media room consensus) that Phil looks as spry and energetic as he has in years so far this season. He seems to be in less pain, seems to be enjoying himself more. Those are the reasons he will or will not come back. Things could change, but if I were to bet now I’d guess he’d return.

However, the story everyone should read is from Roland Lazenby, about storm clouds on the horizon — the potential post-Jerry power struggle between Jim and Jeannie Buss.

Frankly, I began wondering about two months ago and trying to figure when the shoe was going to fall. You see, the drama, or the latest act of the drama, actually began at the start of the season when Lakers owner Jerry Buss brought son Jim out for his yearly meeting with the media. Jerry picked the moment to announce that he was stepping back and turning the franchise over to son Jim. Think about the insult of that for the power couple of daughter Jeanie Buss and longtime boyfriend Jackson.

I think with the Lakers things are going to stay pretty much as they are for the next several years. I hope those storm clouds never get here.


The other thing worth reading if from Kevin Pelton at Basketball Prospectus, talking about how the Lakers have become a defense-first team this season.

When the Lakers got off to a good start defensively this year, it looked like more of the same or the effect of Andrew Bynum playing nearly 40 minutes a night at center in Gasol’s absence. Instead, the success has proven more durable. The Lakers are still battling the Boston Celtics for the top spot in the league defensively, and nobody in the league is holding opponents to a lower effective field-goal percentage.

Some of the credit should go to swapping Trevor Ariza out for Ron Artest. Though the former has a solid defensive reputation, Basketball Prospectus’ statistics show Artest holding opponents 8.8 percent below their usual production. By contrast, they were 7.3 percent better against Ariza.

The bigger factor, however, seems to be the Lakers’ improved perimeter defense. All the trapping they did left them vulnerable to allowing open three-point looks on the weak side of the floor. Opponents attempted about a quarter of their shots against the Lakers from beyond the arc last year, the league’s fourth-highest percentage. That rate is down to 21.2 percent this season, below the league average. The success rate on threes is down as well, from 34.9 percent to 30.0 percent, which is best in the NBA. By cutting down on their aggressiveness in trapping and doing a better job of rotating, the Lakers have made life very difficult for opposing offenses.


Finally, a few of you may remember that Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp was a force on the hardwood as well, playing on a high school powerhouse team along side Sheldon Williams. Well, Kemp just hosted a fundraiser basketball event, and he’s still got some game. (Via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.)