Archives For December 2009

Preview & Chat: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  December 9, 2009

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Records: Lakers 16-3 (1st in West) Jazz 12-8 (5th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.7 (12th in league) Jazz 110.3 (6th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100 (3rd in league) Jazz 106.7 (17th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Jazz: Deron Williams, Wesley Mathews, Ronnie Brewer, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur

The Lakers Coming in: In case you missed the news: Kobe Bryant missed the Lakers shootaround this morning, unable to leave his house thanks to some armed gunmen in the development. But don’t worry, not even armed gunmen can keep him from a game.

The Lakers are finally getting some good tests, which is a good thing. The Lakers rose to the occasion against the Heat and Suns (well, barely against the Heat but we’ll take it), but these two games in the next four days against the Jazz, along with the upcoming road trip, are good things. Simply put, you can’t sharpen a knife against a soft sponge, you need a hard stone. The Lakers look good but not June good, they need to get sharper as the year goes on. They need this kind of competition.

On another note, there will be some changes in the Lakers broadcast booth for upcoming games. On the radio, Mychal Thompson will miss games because of the death of his mother, so Luke Walton will fill in. On the television side, Stu Lantz will be out from December 11-20to help his wife through a surgery, so “Hot” Rod Hundley (who played for the Lakers and was a color guy next to Chick Hearn many, many years ago) will fill in. Our best go out to Mychal and Stu, as well as their families.

By the way, did you know Hundley has his number retired as a Laker? He wore 33 in Los Angeles. Sure the jersey hanging in the rafters says Abdul-Jabbar over the name, but it’s Hundley’s number.

The Jazz Coming in: It’s snowing in Salt Lake City, so the Jazz may be happy to get away from that. But as they have lost a dozen straight games to the Lakers at Staples, they may not be that happy to be here. They are also very banged up — no Andrei Kirilenko (at least not expected to play), no Kyle Korver, no Ronnie Price, no Matt Harpring.

They still do have Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, and those two are the heart of the Jazz now. Boozer gets overlooked in the discussion of the best power forwards in the league but he was on the Olympic team with good reason and he is having another good season — 21.2 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 61.6% and he is grabbing 18.7% of he available rebounds when he is on the floor. He can step out and hit the midrange (from 10 feet out he is taking about 7 shots a game and shooting 46.5%).

Then there is Deron Williams, one of the best point guards in the league. He can shoot — 34% from three and 52% from 16-feet out to the arc. He also can get to the rim. And he sees the floor well and passes beautifully — 9 assists per game, and 4 of those are guys at the rim, he is getting them easy baskets.

One other guy to watch off the bench a little is Eric Maynor, Williams backup. There is a lot of potential there. Maynor has struggled with his shot so far but I’ve seen him play and you have to like the way he runs the floor.

Blogs and links: Check out Salt City Hoops.

Keys to game: No team in the NBA executes its offense better than the Jazz. Everybody on the planet knows what they are going to do — it’s the same offense that Stockton and Malone ran. Yet the Jazz are sixth in the league in offensive efficiency because they execute it well.

The basic action of the offense is a pick near the elbow, something they run to either side of the floor. D-Will usually is the ball handler, and Boozer or sometimes Okur set the pick. D-Will makes it hard because he is smart and will go away from the pick if the defense commits too early, he will go through the pick then reset it and come back the other way, he can pull up for a midrange jumper or dive to the hoop. Boozer (and Okur) can both roll to the basket or pop out (Okur loves the pop). The other guys space the floor on the weak side well for catch-and-shoot chances, plus there are a lot of motions and cuts away from the ball, far more than most teams. It leads to a lot of back-door chances if teams fall asleep.

The Lakers defenders need to be disciplined — bigs need to show out and recover, guards have to fight through the picks fast, the weak-side defender needs to be ready for the roll to the hoop. Also, they sometimes throw the ball to Boozer at the elbow and he LOVES to go left. He can go right, but a quick move left is preferred and hard to stop because of his speed.

The Jazz have not been a good defensive team, and with AK-47 out they really lack a good shot blocker to protect the rim. The Lakers need to go at the rim, but they need to expect to get hit — the Jazz are physical inside. They foul a lot (25th most in the league per field goal attempt) but the refs become desensitized and a lot of calls are not made. A few Lakers players have a penchant for whining to the refs, not getting back on defense and losing focus. Drew, I’m looking at you. Keep your head in the game. Expect some bad calls and move on.

One other matchup advantage is that Wesley Mathews is going to have to cover Kobe or Artest — the Lakers should go at that.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start at Staples Center, you can choose between Fox Sports or 710 ESPN radio.

Supplies are limited and all the cool kids at school will have them. Don’t miss out — operators are standing by.

(Joke stolen from the twitter account of friend of this site J.D. Hastings, who you should follow for the art and jazz talk, too.)


There has been some talk in the comments about Kobe’s defense — his penchant to save energy for the offensive end and gamble more than makes people comfortable at times. I think Darius had a great point and a great place to keep the conversation going:

I don’t see the need to harp on his defense. There are probably 5 or 6 SG’s in the entire league that are main contributors to their teams offense – Wade, Roy, Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton, Eric Gordon, Monta Ellis (throw in Manu if you want, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two) – and Kobe plays hard on defense against all of them for every minute they share the court. For the players that aren’t true offensive threats or focal points for their team, Kobe takes a different defensive strategy. I really don’t see a problem with this. Could he close out harder at times? Sure, but do you really want to run out hard at Ronnie Brewer or Sefalosha? Do you really want our main perimeter threat, a player that despite his fundamental and precision on offense, expends the most energy on offense of any player on our team running around and chasing low quality offensive (non)threats just to show that he’s committed to defense? I’d lean towards no on questions like those. On a side note, it’s not like Phil treats Kobe the same way he treated MJ when he was at this stage of his career (and by that I mean years in the league, games played, minutes accumulated, etc). By the time Jordan was a 13 year vet with all those minutes played, Phil put Jordan on the weakest possible wing offense player or a player that Jordan could use his size and smarts against to disrupt while leaving the bigger threats to Pippen and Ron Harper. But with Kobe (pre Artest), Phil often put Kobe on the best wing offensive player for long stretches when he knew he needed that defensive presence – guys like ‘Melo, Lebron, and Pierce even when those guys aren’t natural match ups for Kobe.

Fun With Numbers

Kurt —  December 8, 2009

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Just some notes from looking at the advanced stats sites around the Web. (Information comes from, Hoopdata.)

• Looking at +/-, there are just two Lakers that when they sit the other team outscores the Lakers: Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest. (Fisher is very close at +0.4, almost a wash when he is off the court or on, suggesting when he sits there is not much if any drop off, despite other key players often being out as well.)

• Great note regarding Artest from a post at HoopData: “Artest has evolved into an inside-outside threat for the Lakers as nearly 81 percent of his shots come from behind the arc or around the hoop. Just two years ago in Sacramento, Artest’s mid-range game took up nearly half of his shot selection. This adjustment should serve him well since he’s a horrid shooter from these areas.”

• The Lakers starting five of Fish, Kobe, Artest, Gasol and Bynum is outscoring the opposing five they are on the floor with 80% of the time, and if they played a full 48 would average outscoring their opponents by 52 points.

• Two seasons ago, The Machine was hitting 43.7% from three point range, this season that is off to 36.8%, which is almost identical to last year. For the record, that is not a bad rate for a lot of guards, but it’s low if you are a three-point specialist. Where the Machine is really broken is inside the arc — he is shooting just 32% on shots 16 feet out to the arc (down from 46% two years ago) and he is shooting just 25% on layups at the rim this year. Not that he gets to the rim that much anymore, he has just four shots at the rim all season.

• The Lakers lead the NBA in opponent True Shooting Percentage — opposing teams shoot 50.5% against the Lakers. The next best in the league is Portland at 51.4%, a considerable gap, and the league average is 54%. Opposing teams are shooting just 29.8% from three against the Lakers.

• As we said before the last game: The Lakers are still running. They are averaging 97.9 possessions per game, fourth fastest in the league. Faster than the Knicks and Suns (to be fair, it’s almost a statistical dead heat between the three).

• There has been some concern about Kobe’s minutes, and how that compared to Michael Jordan. Jim had the answer in the comments: “MJ averaged 37.7, 37.9, and 38.8 minutes per game in his final 3 seasons with the Bulls. He averaged 34.9 and 37 minutes per game in his last two seasons with the Wizards. Kobe is right in line with that.”

• The Lakers are shooting a very impressive 46.8% (eFG%) in the last four seconds of the shot clock. (For comparison, opposing teams against the Lakers are shooting 31.7% in that stretch.)

When the Impressive Becomes Routine

Kurt —  December 7, 2009

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It was near the end of last night’s game, when I was pitching in at the ESPN Daily Dime live chat, when Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysms asked me a question: How do you stay interested during all these blowouts?

Good question in a sense, but the fact this was even a blowout — now twice against the Suns — shows how much we can take this Lakers team and its accomplishments for granted. The Lakers just easily dispatched a 15-5 team that is third in their conference. A team with a couple of legitimate All Stars and some quality players. Players and a system other teams struggle to beat.

The Lakers have distinct matchup advantages against the Suns, to be sure. But while this may have felt like a routine blowout, we need to remind ourselves it wasn’t. That was a quality win. We need to appreciate just how good this team is and how well they are playing

A few other thoughts.

• Going into this season, we all looked at the schedule and said: The Lakers should get off to a fast start, they need to with all the home games and a softer schedule. Well, mission accomplished. Despite not having Gasol for a while. Things are going to get tougher, there will be some road tests and some nights when Kobe’s off-the-wrong-leg-and-yes-I-called-bank shots don’t bail them out, But they have built up a good start to the season and started to really integrate Artest and find a rotation. The Lakers have focused on and been a good defensive team. The Lakers have done exactly what they needed to do so far.

• As golve32 pointed out in the comments: The Lakers have three of the top five players in the NBA in scoring their points in the paint. Bynum leads, with Kobe fourth and Gasol fifth. If you want to know why the Lakers are shooting a good percentage this year, getting shots closer to the rim helps.

• For the first time in a year and a half, I won my office football pool. The key: being too busy to make the picks myself so the computer chose randomly for me. Again, I am out performed by a random number generator.

• Why do I have a hard time taking anything Tim Donaghy says seriously?

• I love the rain, except for that I’m supposed to finish hanging the Christmas lights tonight.

Preview & Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  December 6, 2009

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Records: Lakers 15-3 (1st in West) Suns 15-5 (3rd in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.1 (14th in league) Suns 115.3 (1st in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.3 (3rd in league) Suns 110.5 (25th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Amare Stoudemire, Channing Frye

The Lakers Coming in:Well, I asked for it. I said I wanted to see the Lakers tested and we got that. You can thank me later, because without that we get no dramatic Kobe bank shots.

But we should not be under the impression the Lakers played a great game. In particular, their fourth-quarter pick and roll defense was painfully bad. It’s not the kind of thing you freak out about in December, but it gives the team something to think about and work on as they start to travel a little and play some more quality teams (two games against the Jazz coming up, then there is that Cleveland team on Christmas).

The Suns Coming in: The Suns may mot play the best defense in the league, but they wouldn’t let a guy tie his shoe during the game and do nothing about it.

Phoenix comes into this game on the second night of a back-to-back, having beaten Sacramento last night (Phoenix in Sacramento then LA, they should call this the Purple Road Trip for them). The Kings put up a good fight and none of the Suns stars got to take the fourth quarter off. The Suns had lost their two previous games to the Knicks and Cavs.

The Suns have played 17 of their first 26 on the road and apparently have no friends in the NBA Schedule Maker’s office.

What’s been interesting, especially after those two losses, was the words coming out of the Suns locker room. Coach Alvin Gentry said the team seemed to lack confidence. Nash and Amare echoed those thoughts (as did some opposing players). It’s interesting and odd to hear a 15-5 team say they lack confidence, especially a Suns team that a few years back played with such swagger. Their system and style is only going to work if they play with that kind of confidence, and apparently that is lacking somewhat.

Blogs and links: A couple good Suns blogs out there, Valley of the Suns and Bright Side of the Suns.

The quote of the day comes from Get Banged on (via JE Skeets): “If Brad Miller jumps … does he really leave the ground?”

Also, off topic, long time reader/commenter here AusPhil is coming out to Los Angeles from Australia for a few days starting later this week. He wants to attend a Laker game or two, so if anyone has tickets they want to sell to the upcoming home games (T-Wolves, Kings, just not the Cavs on Christmas) shoot me an email and I’ll try to hook you two up.

Keys to game: We tend to think of the Suns as the run and gun squad, the Lakers slowing it down and getting the ball in the post. But so far this season, the Suns average 0.3 more possessions per game more than the Lakers — the two teams play at almost the exact same pace. Part of that is that the Lakers do push the ball off turnovers and Bynum/Gasol run the floor well and get early position down low and score quickly that way. (Plus, other teams are working hard to slow the Suns down.)

The Suns are shooting well from three as a team, 43.8%. They get good looks from their the same way they generate all their offense — via Steve Nash’s great decision making. Bill Bridges did a great breakdown of the early season Suns last meeting and his description of how they get points is still spot on:

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.

In the past we have called this the “Steve Nash treatment” which is to let him dribble (no player in the league holds on to his dribble better) and make him the shooter. He’s a pretty good shooter, there is a price to pay, but better Nash scores 25 and has 7 assists than if he scores 14 and has 14 assists, that is when the Suns are dangerous, when the whole team is flowing. The Lakers did a good job with this last game, and Nash got frustrated and frustrated with the officiating (remember he made the glasses gesture to Violet Palmer?).

On offense last meeting, the Lakers won by establishing themselves in the post, both Bynum and Kobe. Bynum really gives Stoudemire fits. But tonight the Suns can give minutes to a true center in Robin Lopez as a counter. Of course, last meeting the Lakers were without Gasol, so the Lakers have their own counter move waiting.

Hopefully this is another game where we get to see The Taco Unit.

Where you can watch: 6:30 start at Staples Center, you can watch on Fox Sports and listen on 710 ESPN radio.

First off, sad news about Greg Oden losing this season to a fractured patella.  Much as I dislike the Blazers, sports-hate only goes so far (I feel so dirty using a Bill Simmons term).  We Laker fans can sympathize with seeing your young big man go down for the season; it’s a feeling like a punch to the gut that won’t go away.  Best wishes to Oden and a quick, full recovery.

Now, I wonder: after a pretty busy summer, it seems like Mitch Kupchak has it pretty easy these days.  However, I wanted to take a look at what is potentially on his plate and I came up with three things: getting Kobe to sign a contract extension, shedding salary, and bringing in someone to improve the bench play.

1.) According to the LATimes, the Lakers have offered Kobe a max extension, which he summarily rejected.  In a recent article for the NYTimes, Larry Coon tells us that this was probably the smart move, given that the CBA will expire in 2 years at which time the formula for the calculation of maximum salary (Kobe’s salary) may be decreased.  All signs point to Bryant coming back to LA (he’d be pretty crazy to leave), so it’s just a matter of when and at what price.  Perhaps we should just take our minds off it with another look at the ridiculousness from Friday night.  Boy am I glad I didn’t go to bed early.

2.) Going along with our recent discussion of the Taco Unit (love the name, btw) and Adrian Wojnarowski’s couple lines about the Lakers FO wanting to cut salary, I figured I would also take a look at his options to purely cut salary.

Disclaimer: There will be no overt trade speculation allowed in this thread.  This means no statements in a form isomorphic to “the Lakers should trade Player X for Player Y.”  In short, I want to limit the discussion of players.

According to Wojnarowski, Mitch Kupchak is looking to cut salary from the Lakers monolithic $91, 377,313 pay roll.  Frankly, I wouldn’t blame the FO is this was the case.  With a pay roll that size, I can imagine Dr. Buss staring at his poker funds while sitting at some table second-guessing an all-in decision.  He has already shelled out a ton of cash for the team; asking much more of him is just greedy.

So what does this mean for potential trades?  Well, it means that the Lakers are looking to send salary to other teams without taking back salary in exchange.  There are two ways to do this: First, trade to a team with cap space like was done last year with Chris Mihm being sent to Memphis.  Second, trade with a team over the cap that has a large enough Traded Player Exception and is willing to part with it in exchange for a player.

The first option is a little bleak.  The salary cap is currently $57.7 million and according to, only 4 teams are under that level: New Jersey (56.7), Portland (56.7), Memphis (54.7), and OKC (52).  New Jersey doesn’t want to take on any more salary because they want cap room for the Bonanza of 2010, Portland’s only intent seems to be moving Andre Miller, and OKC has been extraordinarily frugal during this time of recession.  So unless Chris Wallace feels like helping out the Lakers (*coughagaincough*), I don’t see the FO going this route.  (Note: in the event that one of these teams does accept one of our players for “free,” they do have to give us something in return.  This is usually the form of a heavily protected 2nd round pick, similar to what we received in the Mihm Trade.  Also, we would probably have to shell out some cash to help pay the outgoing player’s salary ($3 mil max), but this will still save us money due to luxury tax payments doubling all of our salaries at this point.)

As for the TPE option, I did a little searching and it turns out that has an excellent list of Traded Player Exceptions by team, including name, monetary value, and expiration date.  Of these, the only teams with large enough TPE’s ($4 mil if you want to trade away one of our $5 mil players) are: Miami (Banks), New Orleans (Butler), and Orlando (Turkoglu).  Of these teams, New Orleans wants to cut salary now (because they kinda stink and are way over the tax line), and Orlando’s payroll is comparable to ours.  So in other words, we’ve got one potential dance partner (Miami), and they’re definitely not taking on any contracts that extend beyond this year.  (Note: According to Larry Coon, TPE’s cannot be combined.  So even if Chicago wanted to take a a hot, heaping, steaming pile of Adam Morrison, they wouldn’t be able to with just their TPE’s.)

So what’s the rub?  Even given that Mitch Kupchak has made the bench available basically for free, the number of teams that would actually take one of them without us taking any salary in return is very, very small (by my count, 2).

3.) That brings us to the last point: improving bench play.  This may involve trading some of our current Taco Unit guys and maybe even rotation players like Farmar, ShanWOW, and maybe even Fisher.  However, for each person we send out, we would either have to sign another player for a minimum contract, or receive at least as many players in return.  This makes trading Mbenga or Powell pretty pointless, considering they make the minimum and we would have to replace them with a live body anyway, ruling either of them out.  Luke is still hurt, and I’m pretty sure most teams wouldn’t want him for $20 mil over 4 years, so he’s out as well.  And as I said before, no one wants Sasha, even for free.  Most teams would probably rather take a swig of elephant poop juice than take on Sasha’s contract (and Sasha’s play, for that matter).

For me, that leaves us with 4 potential assets that we can move: Derek Fisher’s expiring contract, Ammo’s EC, Farmar, and ShanWOW.  I’m pretty sure we would all riot and storm the Staples center if Kupchak traded ShanWOW, so that rules him out.  Fisher also seems like he’d be tough to lose, considering he knows the system and is a great locker room guy (However, if he’s willing to get traded, take a buy-out, and wait 30 days without flapping his mouth, Jerry Stackhouse-style, there is potential for a great trade for us).  Farmar has also been playing pretty well over the past few weeks, and it’ll be really hard on Fisher for us to part with his primary back-up without bringing someone back to take off some of the load.  So that leaves us with Ammo’s EC.

So what can we do with Ammo’s EC?  First, it is somewhat unlikely that we’ll trade an EC for an EC: one team is going to end up screwed because salaries have to be within 25% of one another.  However, I could see someone wanting to send us a more talented player with a larger EC (say around 6 mil) in exchange for Ammo, saving them some $2 mil this year in salary and luxury tax payments (this kinda defeats the purpose of wanting to cut salary, so it’s also unlikely that Mitch would do this unless he gets an offer he can’t refuse).  However, it is much more likely that we would have to trade Ammo in exchange for some player with a multiple year contract.  If we do this, we’ll end up taking on just as much salary next year as we did this year, which doesn’t seem like it would float Dr. Buss’ boat. So the Lakers may be better off just eating Ammo’s salary this year and letting his contract expire off their books.

In summary, if Mitch is really serious about cutting salary, he’s got his work cut out for him.  Then again, I thought trading VladRad’s contract would be impossible, and Mitch turned him into Ammo’s valuable EC and ShanWOW, so I guess you can’t really rule out anything in this league.

P.S.: According to Kurt, Lamar and ShanWOW are not included in Mitch Kupchak’s “Free Bench Players” Giveaway.

The Taco Unit

Kurt —  December 5, 2009


A tribute to the guys that make all the Lakers games interesting. I hope to see them again soon (and a lot this season).

Credit to Han for the artwork.

Nothing more need be said.