Archives For December 2009

Tracking Andrew Bynum

Kurt —  December 28, 2009

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What is up with Andrew Bynum’s shot? In his last three games he is shooting 38.5% at the rim, although he is 2-4 from the rim out to 10 feet (Bynum rarely shoots beyond that range). In the last five games that improves to 57.9% at he rim (thanks to a good showing of 5 of 6 against Detroit) but that number is still low for what you would hope he could do. And this doesn’t even bring up the questions of rebounds and defense.

Things can change fast, the back-to-back that starts tonight is one where Bynum can break out — the Suns and Warriors cannot handle him on the block, he has had success there before. These are the games that could boost his confidence.

What needs to change? Last night I rewatched the last two Lakers games, simply tracking Bynum, and here are a few notes:

• He’s just missing shots he can make. For the most part, these are not terrible shots, they are 5 to 9 foot jump hooks or other shots where he is single and sometimes double covered, but stuff he can make. He’s just not. Call it a shooting slump or a confidence issue or if you want blame Dr. Facilier’s black magic (hey, I have young daughters, what movie did you think I watched this weekend?). Whatever the reason, he is missing shots he can make.

Perfect example, the Lakers first possession against the Kings: Gasol is out at the three point line and feeds Bynum on the left mid-block, then makes his cut baseline and moves through. Bynum waits for the double but it never comes hard (Kobe has slid over as the three point release for Bynum and people are afraid to double off Kobe for some reason), so Bynum makes his move to the middle on Spencer Hawes and gets a good look 8 footer that rims out (Gasol tips it in).

• At times he seems to try to do a little too much. Not trusting the simple jump hook to fall, there are moments he seems to try to put on a couple moves when one would do. Again against Hawes on Boxing Day, Bynum had the ball on the low block and tried a fake middle, spin back through move but Hawes does a good job just keeping a body on a body. Bynum drops the ball, picks it up and tries to dribble again and gets called for it.

• On defense, he has been inconsistent at protecting the rim, and had some bad luck. A couple times he was back on Tyreke Evans and forced him to alter his shot, it’s just that Evans is a wizard and makes them anyway. But then there was when Ime Udoka drives and Bynum picks him up forcing him baseline, but Udoka stopped, spun back into the paint and with a head fake got Bynum up and out of position, The result was basically a layup.

• Drew is passing, and I don’t just mean that beautiful three-quarter court baseball pass to Kobe last game.

If the double team comes early, Bynum usually recognizes it and makes the pass to the right relief point (and often good shots ensue). But if the double comes once he puts the ball on the floor and starts his move, he is pretty likely to shoot, once his mind is made up he just goes.

• Bynum’s one basket against Sacramento is something I’d like to see him do more of (and get touches that way). He is the big on the weak side of the triangle and when the ball swings out top again he goes from low to high post and gets the ball from Adam Morrison at the elbow. Ammo then runs the standard little rub cut off he big — essentially a pick and roll action — and Bynum hands the ball off to him, but now both defenders go out on Ammo to trap and cut him off (I’m not sure that was great player recognition by the Kings), so Bynum rolls to the hoop, gets the pass back and has a clear path. I think he can be effective in that role more.

Preview & Chat: The Sacramento Kings

Kurt —  December 26, 2009

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Records: Lakers 23-5 (1st in West) Kings 13-15 (13th in West)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 107.5 (15th in league), Kings 109.1 (9th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 99.4 (2nd in league) Kings 110.4 (27th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Kings: Tyreke Evans, Donte Green, Omar Casspi, Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes

Talking Lakers at NBA Breakdown: The NBA Breakdown is talking Lakers today and they have two interviews up: One with Jeanie Buss and one with me (done prior to yesterday’s game). Check it out.

Ron Artest Out: Ron Artest tripped over a box and will now miss the Lakers Boxing Day game. He was at home last night and tripped over a box and down a flight of stairs. He was taken to a hospital, got stitches in the back of his head and on his left elbow. He was released last night and will visit with a neurologist today (Saturday) and any decisions on the Lakers Monday/Tuesday games will be based on that.

It will be interesting to see what Phil Jackson does here. He likely starts Odom at the three and goes big. But he can play Shannon Brown at the two, have him guard Evans, and slide Kobe to the three.

The Kings Coming In: Do not think the Kings are just a give me win, they are 4-6 in their last 10 and that includes taking the team that just thumped the Lakers (the Cavs) to overtime. They also had that great comeback against the Bulls — most teams down 35 with 18 minutes left and on the road roll over, and they fought back and won. That says this team is building something.

If the voting started today, Tyreke Evens would be rookie of the year. He has taken on the Dwyane Wade role for the Kings, as the guy with the ball in his hands who has to score and create for the other team. He is big and strong – 6’6” and he can bull rush you or beat you with quicks. He gives the Kings a player to really build around (although as a two it may mean Kevin Martin is on the move).

Also, Casspi has been a great surprise for the Kings. There were a lot of questions about how developed his game was. I’m not sure what the scouts were looking at, although he looked solid but not THIS good go me at Summer League. He has shown range all over the floor, you can’t leave the guy anywhere on the court. He also hustles on defense and is a solid rebounder. Just a good rookie.

By the way, they still really hate the Lakers in Sacramento.

Keys to game: The Kings have one of the very best NBA blogs out there with SacTown Royalty. Tom Ziller is a hero of mine. Also, Zach at Cowbell Kingdom is doing great work.

Keys to game: For the Lakers, it’s going to start with stopping Evans and his penetration. He shoots 58% when he gets to the rim, but if the Lakers big can cut off the path then he becomes a weak shooter — from the rim out to 10 feet he shoots 29%, from 10-15% it is 13%. He also is not a good three point shooter. Make him a jump shooter, keep him away from the rim. That means the Lakers bigs need to rotate.

The other deciding factor tonight may be the Pau Gasol/Jason Thompson matchup at the four. Thompson can be the kind of physical defender that gives Gasol difficulty. Even so, the Lakers still need to work the offense more through him and less in the ugly isolation stuff we saw against the Cavs. The Lakers need to run the offense.

Along those lines, the Lakers have the height advantage — especially with Odom moving into the starting lineup — will be hard for the Kings to match. The Lakers need to run the offense inside-out. Pass it in the post, cut off of that, kick-out if the double comes but repost sometimes. Just run the offense. The Kings are not a good defensive team, exploit them, make them pay.

What I really want to see is the focus and the effort of the team tonight.

Where you can watch: 7 p.m. start on KCAL here in Los Angeles, and of course ESPN 710 radio.

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Last year, the Boston Celtics came in to Christmas Day as the defending champs and a team with just a couple losses — they came in the best team in the NBA. And the Lakers thumped them in crunch time. Thumped them good.

The Celtics went on to lose six of their next eight. They were never quite the same team after that (although clearly injuries added to this). They were never really a title threat.

The Lakers are the defending champs. They had the best record in the Association. They got thumped by a contender on Christmas day.

I don’t care about the one game. One game in December will not matter five and six months from now, when the games do matter. What I want to see is how they respond to this loss the next couple of weeks. Does it shake their confidence or to do they shake it off? This is the biggest test so far this season. Let’s see if they respond like real champions, the kind that repeats.

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The Lakers actually got to the rim more than the Cavs — the Cavs had 24 shots at the rim, the Lakers 31. The difference is the Cavs shot 79% at the rim, the Lakers 52%. Close out the easy ones, something the Lakers have struggled with for a couple games now.

Regarding the referees, what bothered me more than the calls was how the Lakers dealt with it. And how poorly they dealt with it. Very un-champion like.

Zephid added this about the game:

1.) Off the ball movement
I’m pretty sure the Triangle offense is predicated on off-ball movement and spacing, and our team sure didn’t have a lot of it today. I saw a lot of trying to force the ball into the post; this led to a number of easy turnovers when guys like Delonte West and Jamario Moon just jumped up and intercepted the entry pass into the post. The triangle has built-in releases in case the post pass is not there, but our guys just held onto the ball way too long, eating up the shot clock, and then forced way too many bad passes.

Similarly, the Cavs off ball movement was superb, which got a lot of open dunks for Lebron, Hickson, Moon, and Varejao. Guys like Artest, Kobe, Brown, and Farmar got killed on off ball screens and back door screens. Then, our bigs were either too slow on the rotation or weren’t in the proper position to help. Pretty sure it wasn’t Mike Brown, but somebody on the Cavs coaching staff deserves some credit, because the Lakers seemed genuinely unable to adapt to these off ball movements.

2.) Post Play
On defense, Shaq really punished Andrew. Out of anyone in the league outside of Kendrick “Babies for Breakfast” Perkins, I think Andrew has the best chance of taking on Shaq 1v1. But, Shaq repeatedly got good position in the post and made Andrew pay with a plethora of dunks. And as always, the activity of Varejao was difficult for Gasol and Odom to handle.

On offense, both Bynum and Gasol got manhandled by Shaq, Varejao, and Big Z. Andrew was definitely not aggressive in his post moves, which given his ineptitudes with passing, made his post game very inefficient. Part of the blame goes to the perimeter guys for not properly spacing the floor, but when Andrew gets the ball, he needs to show Shaq he’s the boss now.

Pau, on the other hand, seemed really bothered by Big Z. A number of his shots were blocked/altered near the rim, and his mid-range shot looked even worse. This is a game where we really needed Odom to bring some energy (much like the game in Cleveland last year in February), but he just didn’t bring it on the boards or on defense.

3.) Pace
The Lakers played way too slow. Our front court is somewhere between 4 and 500 times faster than the Cavs front court, and we didn’t take advantage of this. The only guy who had a couple of good post positions was Artest, and that was when he was pissed for not getting fouls called for him. However, our backup guards, like Farmar and Brown, forgot that when you push the pace, that doesn’t mean you should take the first open look you get. Farmar and Brown both put up some pretty awful shots in semi-transition, where I would’ve preferred for them to wait for help and get it into the post.

4.) The Triangle

To the Lakers: Run it. Through Pau. A lot.
That’s all that needs to be said.

Preview & Chat: Lakers & Cavs

Kurt —  December 25, 2009

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Records: Lakers 23-4 (1st in West) Cavaliers 22-8 (3rd in West)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108 (12th in league), Cavaliers 109.5 (8th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 99.2 (1st in league) Cavaliers 103.3 (6th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Cavaliers: Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, LeBron James, JJ Hickson, Shaq

Happy Holidays: As Ramona Shelborn reminded us, today we celebrate something very special: The 24th anniversary of Rocky defeating Ivan Drago in Moscow. There is probably something else, too.

Whatever you choose to celebrate, I want to wish you a happy holidays and I hope that Santa and 2010 bring you everything your heart desires. Thank you for being part of the community here, and it is going to be a fun next six months (and beyond) at FB&G.

Now grab an egg nog, sit down and let’s talk hoops.

Quick Lakers notes: The Lakers will be at full strength, that includes Kobe who said he knee was fine.

Pau Gasol officially signed his deal, which will likely be worth about $57 million ($7 million less than had been reported before). The first thing is that the formal amount will not be known until the new CBA kicks in for the 2011 season (there’s still the tinsy little matter of negotiations) as that will set maximum raise and other thing that could tweak the deal. The good news that over the course of the contract, Gasol took less in raises — and far less than he might of made on the open market — to stay in Los Angeles. With guys like LO and Artest also playing for what might be below market value in their eyes, the Lakers have a team of guys willing to sacrifice to keep winning. That is an impressive thing.

Keys to game: Artest on LeBron, now that is a Christmas Day present I’m excited about. It is going to be fun to watch.

One other simple key to watch: The Cavs are the best three point shooting team in the NBA at 42.3%. The Lakers are the best at defending the three in the league, opponents shoot just 30.1% against them. If one team controls this area, huge advantage.

Great note from John at Cavs the Blog on the Lakers defense (and something to think about with LeBron attacking the rim):

Here’s the oddest thing about how the Lakers play defense. Even though the goal of almost every NBA offense is to get shots at the rim, the Lakers allow more shots at the rim per game than any other team in the league, and still manage to have the best defense in the league. There are two reasons for this. First of all, the Lakers are extremely good at defending shots at the rim; only the Cavs and Celtics allow a lower field goal percentage on close shots than the Lakers’ mark of 56.7%. Second, and even more important, the Lakers don’t foul. They only allow 25.6 free throw attempts per game, which is tied for the lowest mark in the league.

The Cavs offense is a lot of high screen and roll action, with LeBron and Mo Williams when he is out. It’s effective, the Cavs spread the floor with shooters and LeBron will make the pass when the defense collapses. In overtime against Sacramento, the Cavaliers offense was fairly simple and unimaginative, but it worked: LeBron would drive and the Cavs spread the floor. The key was this — Kings bigs would go to protect the rim, and Big Z would stand in the corner where he’d drain the corner three. (Ohh, sorry Joel, “short corner three.”) You have to stay on him out there, he is one of the Cavs better outside shooters.

JJ Hickson starts on Pau Gasol: Biggest mismatch on the floor. From Kevin Pelton at Basketball Prospectus:

I’ve railed about this before, but J.J. Hickson simply is not a very good basketball player at this stage in his career, which makes it odd that he is starting and playing 19 minutes a game for the Cavaliers. They are 10.0 points worse per 100 possessions on defense with Hickson in the game, and the upgrade he offers on Anderson Varejao as a partner for Shaquille O’Neal in the frontcourt comes nowhere near offsetting this problem. Hickson should also never be let anywhere near Zydrunas Ilgauskas).

Shaq hasn’t been the defensive disaster many (myself included) expected, but the lineups when he is on the floor are not as strong offensively. It’s a spacing issue, there is just more traffic in the paint and less spreading of the floor when he is out there.

Frankly, the best lineup I’ve seen the Cavs run is a small lineup — LeBron at the four, Varejao as center. They spread the floor with three guards who can knock down shots and they are much quicker and more athletic. We’ll see how the Lakers adjust, hopefully by making them pay a price in the paint with Gasol or Bynum.

Where you can watch: I don’t know if you picked up on the subtle promotions, but ABC will have this game. Starts at 2 Pacific (check out Boston/Orlando, too, that one should be fun).

Festivus, Lakers Style

Kurt —  December 24, 2009

Today, we celebrate Festivus, Lakers style.

First, we need to get the Festivus Pole. (It requires no decoration. I find tinsel distracting.) For our purposes, this is the Lakers Pole. About the best we can do here is a Polish Lakers Web site. It will have to do.

This is followed by the Festivus Meal, although we are going to skip straight to the dessert which is Jack Nicholson’s treat (he was going to share with everyone until Kwame Brown got near it and…)
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Next, we have the Airing Of Grievances — I got a lot of problems with you people! And now, you’re gonna hear about it.

• Bynum, they’re layups, make them.
• I’ve now seen more of Shannon Brown than ever needed to.
• Joel Meyer’s use of the word length.
• The people who don’t bother to show up for their expensive, third row seats.
• The drunk guys in the 300 section who think they have a shot with the Laker girls
• PUJITs
• Puppet Kobe having a goatee when the real one doesn’t.
• Flopping
• The Portland Trailblazer television announcers.
• $10 beers at sporting events
• The color green.
• The LeBron/Kobe debate.
• The Amway/Jupiter Jack commercials on NBATV.
• Shaq saying the feud between him and Kobe was “marketing.”
• Shaq saying anything about Lakers ownership or management

Finally, we have the Feats of Strength.