Archives For December 2009

Basketball Caroling

Kurt —  December 23, 2009

You don’t want to stress out about Kobe’s knee (he says he’s fine but people in the locker room thought he was walking gingerly). You don’t want to stress out about the bench play. Or the blown layups.

You want to get in the holiday spirit, NBA style, so here are Skeets and Tas from The Basketball Jones. If this doesn’t get you in the holiday spirit, well, you can start expecting three ghosts to visit you in the night.

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Records: Lakers 22-4 (1st in West) Thunder 13-13 (9th in West)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 107.8 (14th in league), Thunder 105.3 (21st in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 98.7 (1st in league) Thunder 104.7 (7th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeff Green, Kevin Durant, Nenad Krstic

The Lakers Coming in: Bill Bridges made a great point in the comments regarding the Kevin Pelton story on the Lakers defense.

What he doesn’t mention is that for the first time in this Lakers stint, Phil has taken over the direct management of the defense. Kurt Rambis was previously the defensive coordinator.

Much as Phil is not given credit for the offense, as the triangle is the product of Tex’s genius, he is given little credit for his defense*. His defensive schemes transformed the Bulls to be the best defensive team in modern history. The last 3 peat Bulls team were the best defensive team over the 3-year stretch.

This team’s defense is less robotic and pre-programmed as last year’s SSZ looked. This team, much like on offense, reads the offense and reacts. Much like the legs of an octopus that extends and contracts, it really does look like there are more than 5 players on defense at times.

If they keep this up, their defensive rating of 98.7 will be the better than any of the Bull’s team’s and the best the league has seen since the 94/95 Knicks who basically mugged the opposition. (Their rating was 98.2)

While we like Kurt Rambis, Phil Jackson is a defensive genius and his touch on this team shows.

*10 titles. Offensive innovator. Defensive genius. Best W/L % in history – by far. And 1 coach of the year.

The Thunder Coming in: Thunder GM Sam Pristi is killing it. The Thunder have one of the best young rosters in the Association and today added rookie point guard Eric Maynor from the Jazz (plus Matt Harpring’s contract, which will save the Jazz a lot of tax money, which means not having to look at trading Boozer for economic reasons). What did the Thunder give up? The rights to a Peter Fehse, a European player drafted in 2002 but who has never set foot on these shores (save for a vacation).

Think about it: The top concern with the Thunder roster is that Russell Westbrook is not really a point guard, that he should be a two. That has been evident in recent Thunder losses. Maynor is a true point guard with a lot of potential — he had a 3-1 assist to turnover ratio in Utah, was playing about 15 minutes a game and playing smart, steady basketball for a rookie. His outside shot needs work, but this is a great fit that gives the Thunder a lot of options.

However, that does not help them tonight, as he will not suit up. As of today, the Thunder are at .500 and sit two games out of the last playoff spot in the West. This will be pretty much how it goes for this young team all season, as it scraps to get one of the bottom playoff spots in the West. It’s part of the growing process for the young team. (Of course, if they were in the East with that record they’d be the 5 seed.)

Tonight is the first of a back-to-back for the Thunder, who get the Suns tomorrow night. They are struggling right now, having lost four of five.

Blog and a request: Check out Daily Thunder.

Also, reader here Albert emailed me saying he is looking for a authentic yellow Kobe #8 jersey. Not signed, just an authentic throwback. Ideas? Put them in the comments or email me.

Keys to game: This is the third meeting this year between the teams, with the Lakers winning the first two. In the first game the Lakers were a turnover machine and that kept the game close and sent it to overtime, where the Lakers won. In the second game the Lakers dominated from the first quarter on and could seem to do no wrong, with Kobe even hitting a H-O-R-S-E shot.

One lesson there is that the Lakers need to take care of the ball — the Thunder create turnovers on 17.1% of opponents possessions, fifth best in the league. They are long and athletic and can jump the passing lanes, then when they get the steal they are hard to stop in transition. But take away those easy baskets from them and they struggle to score.

Ron Artest and his defense have been a thorn in the side of Kevin Durant the last two meetings (although Pau Gasol may get some time on him tonight). The Lakers got Durant in foul trouble early last meeting and that was a key. Durant is 17 of 53 (32%) in his last three games. The stat to know is this: When Durant is held to under 20 points, the Thunder are 0-5.

One other guy to watch, in part because the Thunder are using him more, is James Harden (ASU Shoutout Ty!). With the second unit he gets a lot of looks in the halfcourt sets, coming off screens or in pick and roll situations on the wing. The guy has a well-rounded game and can do a lot, the Lakers need to control him when he enters.

This could be a sandwich game for the Lakers — first game back after a long road trip, with the hype of Christmas day and Cleveland two days away. OKC is too good to just look past, if the Lakers do that they will get burned.

Where you can watch: Fox Sports here in So Cal, NBATV nationally, tip off at 7:30, and don’t forget ESPN 710 radio for those of you in your car (or those who don’t believe that new fangled television fad is going to last).

Keeping up with Mr. Kardashian

nomuskles —  December 22, 2009

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It’s not often that players in the NBA are able to find a true turn-around in perception and production.

In 2004-2005, Lamar was struggling like most every other Lakers player. According 82games.com Lamar was not contributing in proportion with his salary. He totaled a 45.9 win% and had a Net48 (points allowed per 48 minutes with him on the floor) of -2.1. (For the same season, Brian Cook had a Net48 of +3.5. Is that how you know you’re struggling?) The Lakers even put together losing streaks of 8 games, 6 games and 5 games at the end of the season to go 2-19 in their last 21 games. Dismal. Definitely not blaming Lamar, just providing some context. Clearly that was a team effort.

Despite the worry that marrying Khloe Kardashian would be a distraction and a negative influence on the court, this year Lamar has a win% of 71.4 and a Net48 of +9.5. Playing with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum instead of Chris Mihm and Brian Cook probably had something to do with it. To all of our eyes, Lamar has actually been a very important player the last couple of years after being a pretty big scapegoat (along with Luke and Farmar). He’s having a particularly good season so far and we should be sure to give thanks for being able to watch such a joyful player. Lamar won’t have his jersey retired with the Lakers but make sure to take note of the man who has been through a tragedy yet found a way to love life and the game of basketball anyway. A toast, then, to Mr. Lamar Odom.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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Shannon Brown is the crowd favorite. His dunks ignite the Lakers faithful like only Kobe with the game on the line can do — heck, they have their own Web site and twitter following. But more than that, he has shown potential on defense, potential under pressure situations. Shannon Brown, a relatively quiet person by nature, is getting a big outpouring of love in Los Angeles.

But, based on the last few weeks, Jordan Farmar has been the one winning the backup point guard job. The guy half the Lakers fan base wants to trade away has been staking his case to be kept after the season, or at least as too valuable to give up if the Lakers want to win a title again this year.

In the past 10 Lakers games Jordan Farmar is shooting 60.5% (eFG%) to Shannon Brown’s 43.4%, and his numbers are better from three (a key role for the PG in the triangle). Farmar is also leading slightly in assists and steals.

But the stats tell only a portion of the story (as always): Right now Jordan Farmar is running the offense better than he ever has, he is making smarter decisions on when to attack the paint, and the team is generally playing better with him in the game as the backup PG. Darius noted that after the Utah game a week ago:

He’s moving the ball well. He’s attacking the paint and not settling for too many jumpers. He’s creating for himself and his teammates all while playing to his strengths. And, most importantly, he’s playing better defense. Deron Williams has always been a real problem for Jordan. And based off that history, you saw Phil go to WOW as the PG to match up with Deron in the middle part of the game. But, in the 4th quarter when we went on that run, Phil went to Jordan and he delivered. Soon enough, it was Farmar pestering Williams – using his speed and athleticism to cut off driving angles and challenge shots. Jordan played inspired ball last night and he deserves a load of credit for his contributions to this win.

Does this mean Farmar has turned a corner with the offense and the Lakers? We’re a ways from me totally buying in to that, Farmar himself has talked about the Lakers triangle offense is “not in his wheelhouse.” He still over-dribbles at times and breaks out of the offensive sets more than I’d like. He was one of the guys who was not spectacular against the Pistons, going 1-6 from the floor, but he was a +4 on the night. But Brown seemed to struggle with his whole game, 1-9 from the floor and just looking out of synch, especially in the fourth quarter, and he finished -13. One game is a small sample size, but that seems to be a trend.

The fact is, Derek Fisher remains the Lakers starter because nobody has stepped up and taken the job away from the old man. Farmar has not, but Brown is farther behind (and getting more time at the two now because he flows better in that role). It’s also something to consider for those people looking to ship Farmar out at the trading deadline as part of a package deal – nobody on this team is showing they can replace him right now.

And he seems to be getting better as the season goes on.