Archives For August 2010

Master Movements

Darius Soriano —  August 21, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (L) drives to the basket on Boston Celtics guard Ray Allen in the first quarter during Game 4 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Boston, Massachusetts June 10, 2010. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

In this post, we continue our look at Kobe Bryant and how his commitment to fundamentals has helped make him the player that he is today.

As we’ve stated in previous posts, it’s easy to appreciate Kobe Bryant.  He typically makes at least one jaw dropping play a game that gets Lakers fans and opponents fans alike out of there seats and in awe of what he just did.  I’ve argued before that Kobe is one of the most fundamentally sound players in the game and that his footwork is the foundation for his ability to play the game at the level that he does.  And when you combine his footwork with his ridiculous ability to hit tough shots, you get one of the all time great offensive players that can seemingly do anything he wants on the offensive side of the ball.  And while this ability to hit tough shots can sometimes lead to thoughts of wildness and outside of the box play, I’m a firm believer that Kobe’s game is rooted in fundamental basketball (with a flare for pushing the envelope) and that it’s all the little things – the minute details – that drive Kobe’s game and make him the all around threat that he is.

So today, I share with you a few videos on Kobe’s attention to detail when dealing with everyday offensive situations.  We start with getting open on the wing and executing a catch and shoot jumper.

The threat of Kobe’s jumper is probably his greatest strength as an offensive player.  With nearly unlimited range on his jump shot, a potential made basket is only a flick of the wrist away and Kobe uses that to his advantage when defenders are force to play him on an island.  Notice how Kobe speaks of getting into the triple threat position and then using his jab step as a way of feeling out the defender before he makes his move.  This is why we often see Kobe hold the ball a bit more than we’d all like, but it’s all for a purpose – he’s evaluating all levels of the defense and then deciding what his next move should be.

Next, we see how Kobe uses the threat of his jumper to his advantage by then using his first step to drive by an opponent to get to the basket.

Kobe may not have the lightning first step that he had during his younger days, but that does not mean that’s he no longer a threat to drive to the basket.  At this point in his career, rather than just catching the ball and attempting to drive right by a defender, Kobe often uses his array of jab steps, ball fakes, and hesitation dribbles to get to the rim.  Notice how in the video Kobe speaks about disregarding the primary defender almost immediately.  Understand that when the offensive player is a key focus of a defense’s scheme (as Kobe is), it’s often the secondary (help) defender that can cause the most problems on any given play.  The awareness that Kobe shows when saying that he’s reading the second defender and using that players’ positioning to decide on what side of the basket he should attempt to finish his shot is also something that should be noted.  Kobe literally has multiple decisions to make in the matter of fractions of a second in order for a play to be successful or not.  The fact that he so often chooses right is what makes him special.

Finally, we see what is probably Kobe’s most feared weapon: his pull up jumper.

Executing a pull up jumper at the proficiency that Kobe does is what makes him such a fantastic offensive player.  As the video shows, Kobe is taking into account every little detail when evaluating what he should do on any given play.  He’s reading the body of the primary defender, he’s then moving his eyes to the help defender, he’s looking at his teammates to see if someone flashes open…really he’s just examining the entire floor and looking for an option that will deliver a made basket.  There are few players that can shoot this shot the way that Kobe can.  He’s very strong going either left or right.  He’s just as good using one dribble to get to his spot as he is using multiple dribbles.  He can easily find his rhythm, set his feet, and establish the necessary balance to execute this shot at any given time.  As he relays in the clip, this is the shot that truly makes him a versatile offensive player and the shot that most puts defenders in a position where they’re guessing what’s going to come next.

As we’ve been saying for our entire series of posts, Kobe is truly a fantastic offensive player.  He’s a force with the ball and his variety of moves once he makes a catch is unmatched amongst perimeter players in the league.  Sure, other players may be better shooters or better drivers or even better finishers once they get into the paint.  But no player (although Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant are very close), show the variety of offensive moves and the complete offensive games that Kobe does when working from the wing.  Enjoy watching this guy, folks as it’s pretty rare to see this type of talent with this attention to detail execute the fundamentals of perimeter basketball.  We truly are lucky to watch #24 night in and night out.

Forward Thinking

Darius Soriano —  August 20, 2010

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In recent weeks, the topic of the “positional revolution” has become a hot topic amongst basketball thinkers.  It started with a thought provoking post by Drew Cannon at Basketball Prospectus and has been expanded upon by more thought provoking entriesby Rob Mahoney at The Two Man game.  The concept is a simple one (at least my cliff notes version is): as basketball players become more skilled and are able to perform multiple (and varied) tasks on the basketball court, the confines of traditional positional labeling is becoming too constraining.  And as players evolve, so does the game they play and thus conventional thinking about players’ position(s) can then become obsolete.  A perfect example of this is Dirk Nowitzki as he’s a sharp shooting, ball handling big man that is called a Power Forward but really performs (offensive) tasks on the court that are quite similar to what we traditionally see from Shooting Guards or Small Forwards.  The Mavs run the offense through Dirk at the high post and use him as a ball handler in P&R situations.  However, on defense he falls into a more traditional role as he defends big men and rebounds at a very good rate.  Obviously, Dirk is an extreme example, but he’s not alone in his diversity as a player and his break from traditional roles typically assigned to a player that is labeled a specific position.

And this brings me to our Lakers as others have chimed in on the evolution of the game that we all love – including Kobe Bryant.  During a media session at the World Basketball Festival at Rucker Park in New York, Kobe spoke about the evolution of the game and the influence of international players on the NBA.  An excerpt from an Austin Burton’s entry at Dime Magazine:

Kobe said the influence of international players in the NBA has helped create a “hybrid” culture, where players of all sizes possess skills in all areas and can conceivably play any position on the floor.

“That’s the one difference I’d like to see us kind of shift to,” Kobe said.

This vision of five basketball players, devoid of traditional positional constraints, passing and cutting and posting and shooting and dribbling with equal aplomb, is near.  The concept of players assuming a definite position on the floor and sticking to that role is fading away like one of Kobe’s jumpers, as a new age of hybrids begin to take over the game.

Over at FanHouse, Matt Moore has been following the conversation started by Cannon and expanded by Mahoney and also picked up on what Kobe was saying, adding this:

It’s not surprising that Bryant would lean towards this kind of approach. After all, he himself is not only willing, but voracious in approaching any position on the floor. You could tell Kobe “go guard Nene with one arm” and he’d make a go of it (and Nene would likely walk away wincing a bit, even if he won the war). But the meaning is very relevant. This is one of the greatest basketball players and minds on the planet saying that essentially, the goal should be not only for us to get away from traditional positions, but eventually to homogenize personnel to be able to play within any construct we have. It’s a bold idea, since all of our previous constructs are devoutly built on the idea that a player is defined by what he can and can’t do. Removing limitations from the equations leads us to a new kind of basketball nirvana, where Andrea Bargnaniis not a problem because he’s not a 5, and Tyreke Evans is simply regarded as being of the “awesome position.”

And over at TrueHoop, Kevin Arnovitz is also exploring Kobe’s comments and adds that one reason Kobe (and other members of the Lakers) may be more open to this line of thinking and flashing multi-faceted skills is because of the system that they run:

There’s a reason the Lakers have “a lot of versatile talent that evades convention.” It’s because the team features an offense that de-emphasizes traditional positions in favor of function. In the triangle offense, Derek Fisher — the nominal point guard — acts as a spot-up shooter in the confines of the half court (particularly in corner sets) far more often than he does as a distributor. The wings in the triangle are often the trigger men, and the Lakers can maximize Bryant (their shooting guard) in the post without disrupting the sequential flow of the triangle.

Kevin takes the words right out of my mouth (though he said them much better, of course).  When you look at the Lakers’ roster, there are several players that defy classic models of “positions” in basketball.  Whether we’re talking about Kobe or Fisher, Odom or Gasol, the Lakers have a roster of players that are expected to perform roles within a system that don’t always cleanly match up with the roles of their labeled position.  As Arnovitz points out, Fisher is not a “point guard” in the classic sense as he’s not necessarily a primary ball handler or initiator of offense (though he does perform these roles).  For a more extreme example, look at Lamar Odom.  When LO is in the game, he’s often used as a facilitator of offense and a primary ball handler – all as a “power forward”.  And while he does find himself in the post on occasion, he’s used much more frequently as a creator of offense in isolation sets from the top of the key or as a slasher off the ball that slides into open space when others (Kobe, Pau) draw the opponents defensive attention.  None of these acts are ones that are usually assigned to a team’s power foward.

Even on defense, the Lakers don’t often stick to traditional roles.  For example, as the WCF against the Phoenix Suns progressed, the Lakers started to switch the Amare/Nash P&R where Gasol (or Odom or Bynum) then got matched up on Nash for long stretches of Phoenix’s offensive possessions.  The Lakers’ big men then became defenders of one of the best PG’s in the game and were expected to keep him out of the paint and contest his shots in space.  Meanwhile, Nash’s original defender either rotated to the diving big man or switched to another player on the wing as the Lakers’ rotations took hold and every player was expected to show enough versatility to potentially guard any player on the court.  Other examples of the Lakers defying positional labels on defense are Kobe being switched onto PG’s like Rondo and Westbrook while Fisher guarded SG’s like Ray Allen and Thabo Sefalosha.  Even during the regular season when Kobe sat out injured against the Blazers, rather than starting Shannon Brown (as would typically occur), Phil Jackson decided to start Lamar Odom (with Fisher, Artest, Bynum, and Gasol) so that LO could match up with Andre Miller (a PG that excels at posting up).

There are countless other examples of the Lakers’ philosophies on offense and defense promoting the concept of a position-less team – Kobe as a primary post up player, Gasol as a wing player making entry passes, Ron Artest guarding PG’s, etc – but the overall point is that this is a concept that bears watching in the coming years.  Players are becoming more diverse and we may indeed see that players are filling “roles” on teams (creator, rebounder, etc) rather than being expected to perform the duties typically associated with a specific position on the floor.  And if this does indeed occur, I do believe the Lakers – at least as currently constructed – will be a team that will excel in this type of classification of players as they’re already implementing these concepts into their everyday style.

Dueling Three-Peats

Jeff Skibiski —  August 19, 2010

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As the Lakers look ahead to a possible second three-peat in the last 11 years, ‘Forum Blue & Gold’ plays a game of compare and contrast between the 2000-2002 Lakers and the current back-to-back defending champions. Who would win in a head-to-head match-up of these two teams (assuming we could clone Kobe and Derek Fisher, of course—scary thought for the league)?

The game has changed a lot since the glory days of Shaq + Kobe and Co., especially when it comes to the parity that exists in today’s NBA. During the Lakers’ last three-peat, the tandem, along with a venerable cast of role players, simply overpowered opponents with Shaq’s unmatched size and Kobe’s freakish athleticism. To that end, I vividly remember a Sports Illustrated cover circa 2000 that depicted Kobe and Shaq, with a giant headline that simply read: “Steamrolling.” NBA teams—the current L.A. squad included—still have the ability to dominate the league, but in recent years, the number of teams capable of doing so has drastically increased. Gone are the days when one NBA superpower is head and shoulders better than the remaining 29 teams.

The Lakers opponents in the Finals the past two years—Boston and Orlando—would likely have their way with the opponents that the team faced in the 2000-2002 NBA Finals. Reggie Miller’s Indiana Pacers club represented a solid, well-balanced opponent in the 2000 NBA Finals, but the Philadelphia 76’ers and New Jersey Nets nary offered a fight in the ensuing two Finals, winning a combined one game. In fact, you can make a case that in the championship runs from 2000-2002, the Lakers Western Conference Finals opponents—Portland, San Antonio and Sacramento—would have had their way against the Pacers, Sixers and Nets too.

From a player standpoint, the league has never been more competitive, with an influx of prominent players like Yao Ming and Tony Parker from overseas becoming mainstays on NBA rosters, along with All-Star teams. Sure, the Lakers from the previous three-peat team had to go up against the likes of vintage Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, but today’s NBA is chalk-full of like-minded athletes capable of leading their teams to titles (LeBron, Wade, Howard come to mind). While the NBA has historically been a superstar-heavy league, the pure global talent on rosters in 2010 is uncanny.

Whereas the Shaq and Kobe Lakers struggled to find a reliable third scoring option—excluding a brief cameo by Glen Rice—the current Lakers have an offensive arsenal that rivals any of the great L.A. lineups. Assuming Pau Gasol is cemented as the default number two option on offense, who even knows what the 2000-2002 Lakers could have accomplished with a player like Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest or Lamar Odom to fill the void as a third scoring option.

While the Lakers of yesteryear boasted several proven veterans like Robert Horry, Ron Harper, Rick Fox and Brian Shaw, they lacked the scoring punch that the 2010-2011 Lakers figure to have off their bench. By 2002, aging role players like Robert Horry and Rick Fox had moved into the Lakers starting lineup, leaving their bench exposed. After an offseason overhaul of the current team’s bench, the Lakers figure boast several weapons off of their bench, which should help dramatically in their bid to three-peat. Moreover, the 2000-2002 Lakers never had a sixth man anywhere near the caliber of Odom. The Lakers won their previous championships in large part due to the sheer magnificence of Shaq and Kobe (and some timely shooting from Horry, Fisher, Fox and Shaw, etc.), but this year’s title-contender will offer a much more balanced attack. Unlike the past two seasons, the Lakers will also throw proven veterans like Steve Blake and Matt Barnes at opponents, which was a key difference between the old and current Lakers prior to this offseason.

From an offensive standpoint, the ever-present triangle offense remains key, though this current Lakers squad strays from it on a more regular basis. The principle inside-out game is still central to the Lakers offense, maybe even more so on the current team thanks to its superior size over the 2000-2002 Lakers. Both teams make defense a priority, as evidenced by the Lakers latest display in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals.

Through it all, one thing that has remained unchanged between this year’s Lakers quest for a three-peat and the 2000-2002 Lakers has been the brilliance of Kobe Bryant and clutch shooting of Derek Fisher. As staples of the team’s past five title campaigns, Bryant and Fish have anchored the team’s focus and chemistry. While Bryant showed signs of greatness during his first three-peat, he is personifying it in this second attempt. His evolution as a leader is, in my opinion, the greatest difference between the 2000-2002 dynasty. If this current team joins the 2000-2002 team in NBA lore, Kobe figures to be the primary reason why.

Unfortunately, barring an epic NBA LIVE duel, we’ll never get to find out what kind of magic would go down if these teams faced off against one another in a best of seven series, so we’ll have to leave the result to our imaginations. Who wins in your ultimate battle of these (possible) three-peat teams?

If you haven’t had the chance, you should go read Dave McMenamin’s article on Jerry Buss’ media session held at a fundraiser event for the Lakers Youth Foundation.  In the piece, you’ll read the the good Dr. spoke on a variety of topics including the Lakers’ payroll, his hall of fame indcution, Shaq to the Celtics, and much more. 

However, the part that interested me the most were Buss’ comments on the Miami Heat.  Here’s a sample:

Suddenly there’s this juggernaut out there that we have a chance to play against and that excites me, that really excites me because, quite honestly, I think we can beat them and I’m looking forward to playing them.  I don’t think it’s automatic that Miami will be our biggest opponent come the end, but on the other hand, I must admit they have the world’s attention and that means we’re going to be on center stage when we get a chance to play them.

He then spoke about the Lakers’ personnel moves of this past summer in relation to the “super team” that the Heat have assembled:

Our intentions were to sign those players prior to Miami coalescing all of the talent that was left over.  I don’t think we reacted to them. Once the season is over, we look backwards on the season and say, ‘Were there any weaknesses? Could we do something to improve this team?’ And we did that quite independently of Miami. … I think we just prepared ourselves for the general war, not specifically for anyone.

All of this interests me not because of the reference to the Heat or because Dr. Buss semi-discounts their chances of being the top contender by lumping them in with other very strong teams like the Magic or the Celtics.  But, it interests me because we got a little insight into the mentality of the Lakers brass when building a team.  You see, the Lakers were intent on not standing pat.  Their goal was to build as strong a team as possible that could manage to defeat any opponent rather than gearing up for one specific team. 

And this is a mentality that has been lost on other contenders over the past couple of seasons.  Look at the 2009-10 Cavs for example.  That team aquired Shaq during the off-season to deal with Dwight Howard and then traded for Antawn Jamison at the trade deadline in order to better match up with Rashard Lewis, both of whom play for the Magic.  This would seem like common sense considering the Magic eliminated the Cavs the previous Spring.  However, these moves proved to be short sighted as the Cavs never faced the Magic in the 2010 playoffs and instead were dispacthed by the Celtics in six games.  You see the Celtics had the perfect counter to the moves that the Cavs made to “improve” as they attacked Shaq in P&R and off ball screen actions that took advantage of his limited mobility on defense while smothering Jamison with a long and (still) athletic defender in KG.  This forced the Cavs to turn to a Lebron-centric offense that the Celtics are built to shut down over the course of a playoff series.  Really, the results were inevitbable as the Cavs roster was not built to beat all comers, but was instead built to beat ones that depended on big man play (the Magic or Lakers) that they never ended up facing.  (I understand that this is a simplistic view and that there is much more nuance to the Cavs/Celtics match up that was not explored.  However, this was essentially the key to the series as the Cavs didn’t have the variety of offensive threats on the wing and their big man that could actually score – Shaq – was a liability on defense while their best defensive big man – Varejao – could not score against the C’s dominant defense.  This left Lebron on an island and even though he performed well on most nights, it was not enough.)

Meanwhile, look at teams like Boston and the Lakers.  These are teams that continue to self scout, identify general weaknesses that matter against every oponent, and them attempt to address them through their personnel decisions.  This past off-season, Boston knew that it was short on big man depth and acquired the O’neal’s (Shaq and Jermaine).  They also knew that they were short on perimeter defenders and back court scoring and then sought to retain Marquise Daniels (who is better than the showed in an injury riddled season last year) and Nate Robinson.  When you combine those moves with the retention of Ray Allen, Pierce, KG, and an improving Rondo and you have a versatile roster that can match up with any team in the league by scoring enough and clamping down on defense.  As for the Lakers, you see the same approach of identifying weaknesses and then moving to improve those areas.  Need a steadier point guard that can play with either the starters or the resevers?  Enter Steve Blake.  Need a back up SF that can defend, rebound, shoot the three ball, and slash off the ball?  Go get Matt Barnes.  Even by retaining Shannon Brown and drafting Ebanks/Caracter, the Lakers addressed their youth and athleticism concerns.   This is how you build a team.

So, while Dr. Buss was speaking on any and all topics I was listening to the parts where he was talking about how this organization was intent on staying on top.  A good friend of mine has always said that even championship teams need a certain amount of turnover to stay competitive.  We saw this last year with the addition of Ron Artest and see it again this season with Barnes, Blake, and Ratliff.  No one can be sure if this will be enough for the Lakers to remain the class of the league, but I’m grateful to Dr. Buss for opening his wallet and to Mitch for working his magic with the agents and players to bring in guys that have made a strong team even stronger by suring up weaknesses with quality contributors.

More Mailbag!

Darius Soriano —  August 17, 2010

Lamar Odom tries to shoot around a reporter's microphone while being interviewed at a U.S. national basketball team practice in Las Vegas, Nevada July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Laura Rauch (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

It’s time for another installment of the FB&G mailbag.  If you’d like to submit a question, click here and fire away.  Thanks again to everyone that has sent in questions.  Here we go…

When Phil Jackson retires, does that mean the end of the Lakers’ championship window? After all, the all-powerful team has been struck down a notch and the HEAT has garnered a year of experience for themselves. As a Laker fan, it is the season after this that has me most worried.


I think losing Phil Jackson will be a blow to the Lakers.  However, I would not say that the Lakers championship window would “close” based solely off the fact that Phil would no longer be the coach.  Because, while extremely important, there are many other factors that go into winning a championship besides coaching.

At the top of that list is talent and, even without Phil as the head man, the Lakers will still have one of the best rosters in the league when Phil departs.  Just when looking at the Lakers top 5 players – Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Odom, and Artest – you have the makings of a championship roster, even if we’re talking 3 years from now.  And this only references talent that is in house and on the court.  When you look at Mitch Kupchak’s recent ability to build a championship team by drafting well and winning trades, it’s easy to forecast the Lakers continuing to build a strong roster even as the team ages – especially when considering the market advantages the Lakers possess by being based in Los Angeles and the brand advantage they have of being one of the most storied organizations in all of sports.

And while I agree that there are fast rising teams around the league (Miami, OKC) and traditional powers from the past few seasons (Orlando, Boston, Spurs) it’s still unknown how those teams will develop and grow over the next few years.  Will the new collective bargaining agreement be an impediment to building upon their already impressive rosters?  Will the Heat and Thunder respond to heightened expectations and beat back the pressure in a manner that leads to them dominating the league?  I don’t pretend to know the answers to the these questions nor do I want to cast doubt on either of these teams.  But in the end, I believe the Lakers will be right there battling for the title for seasons to come.  And as a fan, that’s really all I can ask for.

Do you think that with the recent additions of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake that the Lakers get into the top 10 in 3 point shooting?  I know these past few years the Lakers have not been a great perimeter shooting team (for example, when facing the zone defense vs. Phoenix in WCF).


Considering the Lakers tied for 23rd in the NBA in 3 point FG% last season, if next year’s Lakers were to jump into the top 10 would seem like a miracle.  However, it’s actually not that far fetched.  Consider the following:  last season the Lakers shot 34.1% from behind the arc, making 532 of their 1,562 attempts.  As I mentioned, that ranked them 23rd in the NBA in 3 pt. FG% (tied with Minnesota).   Denver was the 10th ranked team in the NBA, shooting 35.9% on their long ball attempts.  Using this past year as a template, the Lakers would have only needed to hit 33 more three pointers on the same number of attempts to raise their percentage to 36.2% – a percentage which would have ranked them 9th in the NBA right above the Hawks.

Now also consider that this past season both Kobe and Derek Fisher shot below their career averages by shooting 32.9% and 34.8% respectively (compared to 34% and 37.3%) and were well below their averages from the season before (35.1% and 39.7% respectively).  So, if Kobe and Fisher revert anywhere close to their career averages, the Lakers should be a better three point shooting team next season overall considering that combined, Kobe and Fish took about one-third of the Lakers attempts from deep.  Then, when you replace Farmar with Steve Blake and consider the possibility that Ron Artest will be more consistent from three point land next season and you have the ingredients for a major jump in three point shooting accuracy.

This isn’t to say that I’d call this particular Lakers’ team a great shooting team.  Nor am I guaranteeing that all the things I mentioned earlier are sure to happen or are even likely (I could see Kobe struggling from deep again and/or Fisher continuing his regression as a shooter), but the potential for a big jump in three point accuracy is there for this team.  And in the end, I do believe that the Lakers will shoot better to the point that if they aren’t in the top 10, they’ll be right on the cusp.

I understand that Shannon and Sasha have different weaknesses and strengths.  But why did Sasha fall out of favor with Phil and the coaching staff and not get any burn last year while Shannon got a lot despite a regression in his game?  Is it a personality issue?  Is it because Sasha got almost the entire 09 regular season to show what he had and Phil finally lost patience? 

If that was the case, was last year’s regular season the same principle applied to Shannon?  He had a great 09 playoff run so coaches gave him the entire 10 season to work through his game like they did with Sasha in 09. 

Will Shannon be on a tighter rope this year and the coaches looking at him and Sasha equally?  Or does Sasha’s personality bother the staff so much that he’ll be glued to the bench unless there’s a huge separation between him and Shannon.


Not being in the locker room or in the practices, I can’t speak to any potential personality issues that exist between Sasha and the coaches.  And while Sasha did have that spat with Brian Shaw that earned him an extended stay in Phil’s doghouse, Sasha’s minutes were sporadic at best to that point in the season.  So, I believe that Sasha’s shorter leash has been based off his experience in the league and specifically his tenure on the Lakers and in the Triangle offense.  Essentially, Sasha should been better tuned into how the coaches wanted him to play and acted accordingly.  The fact that he still made the same mistakes that he’s been making for several seasons all while not bringing the consistency as a shooter that earned him time in 2008 led to a diminished role and a lower tolerance of his mistakes.

Meanwhile, this past year was Shannon’s first full year with the team.  To be fair, he was still learning his role and was still feeling out the Lakers’ sets.  And while Shannon made plenty of mistakes too, those could easily be explained away by his relative inexperience in the Triangle at a time when the Lakers coaches were (seemingly) imploring him to explore more facets of his game.  Personally, I was frustrated at times with Shannon’s decision making, but along the same lines, players do not improve if you don’t give them room to fail and then learn from those mistakes.

All that said, I do believe this season will be the litmus test for Shannon and that there will be greater expectations on him to perform well and do so within the confines of his role.  I think the coaches will be less patient with him and that he may too find himself glued to the pine if he doesn’t “play the right way” by making the correct reads and moving the ball in the manner that every player is expected to do.  Remember too that Shannon saw his minutes greatly reduced in the Finals when he made several defensive mistakes against Ray Allen while struggling on offense himself.  Phil then turned to Sasha as a defensive presence against Allen and the Machine performed well in his limited minutes.  So next season, even though Shannon just got re-signed and Sasha is reportedly on the trading block, I believe this competition may be more open than a first glance suggests.  I think that Shannon definitely has the upper hand as he’s the more athletic player, seemingly takes coaching better, and has more upside as a contributor on both ends of the floor.  But, that doesn’t mean that Sasha can’t/won’t have a role if he’s on the roster and next season may prove to be the year that the Machine makes his way back into the rotation.

For the last 3 years the top of the West has been in a constant state of flux. We’ve faced 3 different teams in the WCF, and the first 2 (San Antonio and Denver) have both failed to win a playoff series the following year. That trend looks likely to continue with Phoenix losing Amar’e.  With all that said, who do you see emerging as the main threat to the Lakers’ conference supremacy in 2010/11? I think Portland and Houston will be very dangerous IF their big men are healthy. What’s your take?


I think the easy choice in who will truly challenge the Lakers are the Thunder.  The argument is easily made that, besides the Celtics, OKC gave the Lakers the stiffest challenge of any competitor and that with the experience they’ve gained and the continued growth of Durant and Westbrook that they’ll make a major leap next season and be a team that makes the conference finals.

However, the team that I’m probably most high on is the Houston Rockets.  In a recent post at TrueHoop, I mentioned why I believe Houston has a chance to step up and challenge for the #2 spot behind the Lakers and I’m not wavering in that belief.  Yes, a lot will depend on the health of Yao and Kevin Martin.  And as I mention in TH piece, I’m skeptical about the individual defense of Aaron Brooks, Scola, and Brad Miller.  However, when it’s all said and done I think their combination of top notch talent (I truly respect Yao Ming and think he has a tremendous impact on both ends of the floor), role players, and coaching will take them a long way this season.  Plus, I really like the acquisition of Courtney Lee in the Ariza trade.  While I love Trevor and think he’s getting a bit of a raw deal in the analysis of how he played last year, I think Lee is a great combo guard that will bring some of the guard skills that Ariza lacked.  I also think he’s a versatile enough defender that he can play some PG against the CP3/Deron/Paker/Nash/Westbrook’s of the world that Houston doesn’t always need to close the game with Brooks or Lowry while also being able to play next to either of those guys if the line ups dictate it.  Mind you, I don’t think Lee is some sort of star, but he’s another very good role player that will compliment the games of Martin and Yao very well.

(With Lamar Odom joining Team USA for the World Championships this Summer) Do you think the wear and tear will affect Odom come the season? Will he get the training camp jitters out now or will he be bringing in a new sense of discipline this year?


There’s always the concern that playing for Team USA will wear Odom down.  He’s not the most durable player to begin with (though he’s been much better in recent seasons) and there’s surely a chance that he could end up suffering during the season from tired legs or just feel the affects of playing summer ball at the World Championships.

All that said, I think this is a great thing for Odom and will serve him well in preparing for the upcoming season.  Based off his tenure in the league, Odom will be a leader on this team and that will require a focus and discipline that should help him when the Lakers pursue their third straight championship.  I also think playing some Center in the international game is a good prep for his role on the Lakers as it will require that LO rebound and defend the paint while also moving well off the ball when teamed with explosive guards and wings.  Plus, just as with the Lakers, Odom will come off the bench for Team USA so there will not be a big change in his current role in LA.  Really, outside of the injury/fatigue risk, this should really help Odom in getting ready for the upcoming season and I’m really happy that he’s getting the opportunity to play.  I’m a firm believer that nothing get’s you ready for a season quite like playing with other excellent players and Odom will get that chance with this group.  And while the most talented guys won’t be on this particular U.S. team, this should still be a beneficial experience for LO and one that helps the Lakers.

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Andrew Bynum’s progress during his first five seasons in the league has been a tale of two cities for the Lakers. The 2009-10 season was no different as the center once again showed promising flashes of his enormous potential, while also disappearing for long stretches. At this point in his career, that is essentially become Andrew’s M.O.—tease fans with moments of brilliance when he’s been able to stay on the floor, then miraculously find a way to become invisible or at best, irrelevant, at other times.

On the season, Bynum’s averages were virtually equal to 2008-09 as he boosted his scoring average a point to 15, while pulling down 8.3 boards a night. The big difference for Andrew was in games played, where he managed to play in and start 65 games, despite giving Lakers fans a gigantic scare when he missed a series of games in March due to a strained achilles tendon. The 65 games was a dramatic improvement over the 35 he played in 2007-08 and 50 in the following season. In fact, for Andrew, his most significant area of growth last season was arguably his relative ability to stay on the floor. Regular playing time breeds consistency and that has been one of Andrew’s largest problem areas the past few seasons.

Health issues aside, Bynum surprised many fans and critics by unveiling a newfound attitude and sense of maturity last season. Even after suffering debilitating season-changing injuries each of the past two seasons, Andrew maintained a positive outlook when he hurt his achilles tendon—a devastating injury for many athletes—just as the team was gearing up for another playoff run. Not only that, once he did return just in time for Game 1 against the Thunder, he showed little drop-off, putting in a reassuring 13 points and 12 rebounds in that first game back from injury. The excitement was short-lived though as Andrew suffered a slight tear of his meniscus in Game 6 of the same series, dramatically decreasing is mobility for the rest of the title run. However, like a true champion, Bynum persevered, throwing together a timely 17 point, 14 rebound performance in Game 2 against Utah and an even bigger 21 point, seven block outing in Game 2 against the Celtics. Through it all, the center showed a level of passion and grit that was previously absent from his game and earned a lot of respect from teammates, critics and fans.


Andrew certainly posted higher totals during the regular season (especially during the first month of last season when he looked like a sure-fire All-Star), but his gutsy (and underrated) 39 minute, 21 point, seven block, six rebound effort in Game 2 of the Finals was by far his impressive, revealing performance to date.


Measuring Andrew’s success five years into the league is still a somewhat difficult, not to mention, divisive task. On one hand, the still incredibly young 22-year-old continues to provide sneak peaks of the type of dominance that has entered his name into the discussion of the league’s top centers. On the other, he’s neither completed an entire NBA season, nor shown the ability to maintain his performances night in and night out. Luckily for the Lakers and Andrew, they still have time to figure those kinks out. Without much roster turnaround expected until at least the season after next, the Lakers still won’t need to rely as heavily on Andrew as an option A or B on offense, though he has certainly shown that he has the potential to be that type of force.

Looking ahead to next season, one of the largest contributions Bynum can make is simply staying on the floor. Andrew was a difference-maker on defense in the playoffs, even when limited by injury. His size and length are invaluable to the Lakers as a last line of defense and when he’s at the top of his game, the forum blue and gold are virtually unbeatable. With Kobe, Gasol, Artest and Odom in tow, the Lakers have shown that they can surive—and still flourish—without a monster scoring night from Bynum. However, they need every bit of the seven footer’s still evolving defensive game against presumed NBA powers like Oklahoma City, Boston, Orlando and Miami.


From Adriano Torres, ESPN Los Angeles: Nearly four weeks after undergoing successful arthroscopic knee surgery, Kobe Bryant was moving well Saturday morning at a Nike basketball clinic at Rucker Park in Harlem to celebrate the World Basketball Festival. L ater Saturday, Bryant made a guest appearance at Niketown and watched a private scrimmage between Team USA and the Chinese national team at Madison Square Garden. The reigning NBA Finals MVP, whose surgery was reported by the Lakers on July 23, led youngsters through different drills at Rucker Park and at one point stopped a layup line to demonstrate proper technique. As a few dozen photographers snapped pictures, Bryant conducted a Q&A with Nike spokesman KeJuan Wilkins.

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: Since the end of the 2010 NBA season, most of the members of the Los Angeles Lakers organization have been enjoying their summer hiatus.  Some of the players went to South Africa to check out the World Cup.  Some went to Asia.  Pau Gasol even scrubbed in on a surgery.  I imagine the less wealthy members of the staff filled their time with less exotic pursuits, but there are plenty of coaches, trainers, security, PR people, and administrative assistants who are enjoying the fruits of a well-earned vacation right about now. But not Mitch Kupchak.  He’s been one busy dude.  Now, with news that the Lakers two 2nd round draft picks are either signed or agreed to terms, he can stand over the precipice of what he’s accomplished, and know that his work is pretty much done until October.  I’m sure his plane tickets to Aruba are already purchased.  Before he goes, I just wanted to deliver a message from all of us in Lakers Nation. Take a bow, Mitch, take a bow.

From Tom Hoffarth, LA Daily News: There’s been a star for the past four years on the Hollywood Walk of Fame recognizing the accomplishments of Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss. Look closer at the bronze logo embedded in the terrazzo plaque near the corner of Hollywood and Highland: It’s not a Lakers logo, a dancing girl or Jack Nicholson’s footprint. It’s a TV set. Twenty-five years ago – or just six seasons after he purchased the Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke and set off a magical chain reaction that took over the sports landscape of the city – Doc Hollywood figured out how to put “Showtime” in as many Southern California homes as possible.

From Austin Burton, DIME Magazine: After Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Michael Jordan showed up at Rucker Park for the morning session of yesterday’s World Basketball Festival, there was only one way Nike could potentially one-up themselves: Bringing Kobe Bryant up to 155th & Frederick Douglass for this morning’s session. While a group of local kids were running through their paces at the Chainlink Fundamentals clinic, Kobe suddenly appeared in front of them — causing about half of them to freeze in their defensive slide drills while jaws hit the floor.

From John Schuhmann, Hang Time Blog: Just how good has the defense been? China and France scored a total of 104 points against it on 156 possessions. That’s an efficiency of just 66.7 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, the U.S. has scored 184 points on 158 possessions, which is 116.5 per 100. Of course, teams like Spain, Greece and Brazil will be more efficient offensively. And that won’t allow the U.S. to run as much. So their half-court offense will need to improve quite a bit over the next couple of weeks if they want to beat those teams. The good news is that, though Brazil is in their pool-play group, the U.S. doesn’t need to be perfect in those first five games. They basically have nine more games (three exhibition games, five preliminary games, and a round-of-16 game against a not-so-great opponent) before they really need to be sharp.

From Rob Mahoney, Pro Basketball Talk: In establishing the hierarchy of teams competing in the FIBA World Championships, Team USA and Spain are clearly on the top tier. Both squads have superior talent to the rest of the Championship pool, and while both have their respective kinks to workout before the competition really ramps up, they’re rightfully considered co-favorites. However, it’s no stretch to say that Spain may have the slight edge over the Americans, particularly since Team USA has yet to prove itself against a worthy competitor. Thus far, USA has only played friendlies with China and France, neither of which is a particularly competitive squad. Spain, on the other hand, is a proven team with long-established chemistry and plenty of depth. Overlooking any game with the Spanish national team is an easy way to take a loss.

From Red’s Army: I was all prepared to hate Kobe Bryant today.  He is fresh off beating the C’s for a title (ugh, still hurts) and he made me wake up way too early to cover his event.  So I was looking forward to just flat out hating on him all morning long.  And I couldn’t do it.  He showed up at Rucker Park around 9:30 for the Chainlink Fundamentals clinic (part of Nike’s World Basketball Festival which is going on this weekend in New York).  He spent time observing… talking to the kids… and then going from station to station and giving individual instruction.  He was getting involved, talking to the kids, and doing it with passion.

Conserving Energy

Phillip Barnett —  August 15, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (C) greets his teammates Pau Gasol (16), Jordan Farmar (1), and Sasha Vujacic(18) as they made their way to the bench during Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Los Angeles, California, June 15, 2010 .   REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

With the recent signings of Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks, the Lakers roster should be officially set. As we know, the Lakers are going into next season as the two-time defending champions. Their goal will be, as it always is, to bring home the Larry O’ Brien Trophy, but during the course of the season, the Lakers will set a series of miniature goals to help them reach the ultimate goal. One of those miniature goals will be to reduce the minutes of the Lakers’ starters. Kobe Bryant will be entering his 15th season as a Laker, Andrew Bynum has been injury prone, Derek Fisher is receiving AARP magazines in the mail and Ron Artest was one of the most beat up Lakers at the end of last season. Only Pau Gasol is heading into the three-peat season looking like he can take on as many or more minutes than last year as he will be taking his first summer away from international play in quite some time – but even with a set of fresher legs, it would be nice if the Lakers can win games with Gasol playing fewer minutes. If the Lakers can reduce the minutes of the starting unit, it not only keeps them fresh for the post-season, but it also means that the Lakers reserves are getting more meaningful minutes during the regular season. Considering the learning curve of the triangle offense and the fact that there are five new additions to the Lakers roster, more minutes for those guys will do wonders come the playoffs.

So how does Phil Jackson slash minutes from the starting unit? Mitch Kupchak has already given Jackson a head start with improving on a roster that just won its second straight NBA title. Up top, the Lakers feature Fish, Steve Blake and Shannon Brown. On the wings the Lakers can play any combination of Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Matt Barnes, Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton. Up front, they have Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and newly acquired Theo Ratliff. Phil is just going to have to work out a steady rotation that allows a more equal distribution of minutes.

To start games, the Lakers will throw out a Fisher-Bryant-Artest-Gasol-Bynum lineup. A trend that we’ve seen from Phil Jackson is him letting Kobe and Pau play 10-12 minutes in the first quarter while giving Bynum and Fisher early breathers. What this has done in the past is forced the Lakers to play without both Kobe and Pau to start second quarters. More often than not, the Lakers would have the lead with Kobe/Pau on the floor only to watch that lead get chipped away. Kobe and/or would have to come back into the game much earlier than Phil would have liked, adding to their respective minutes logged.

To combat this problem, Phil can move Kobe to the bench with Fisher and Bynum, bringing in Blake, LO and Barnes. Now, to end the first quarter, we’re looking at a lineup that features a Blake-Barnes-Artest-Odom-Gasol lineup. They may lose a bit of scoring with this lineup, but they really don’t lose anything defensively. Then, to start the second quarter, Jackson can keep Barnes and Odom on the floor, bring in Shannon Brown and bring back any two the starting trio (Fisher, Kobe, Bynum) that left earlier, giving Jackson a Fisher-Kobe/Brown-Barnes-Odom-Bynum lineup to start the second. This keeps either Kobe or Gasol on the floor for the majority of, if not all of the first half. Gasol will be able to take his breather for the first six minutes of the second quarter, and come back in to close out the half strong.

It would be ideal to have Shannon Brown starting the second instead of Kobe, and have Kobe come in for Barnes a few minutes into the quarter. This will have Fisher playing 12-15 first half minutes, Kobe playing 15-18, Artest playing 15-18, Gasol 15-18 and Bynum playing 12-15. Of course, these things never work out exactly as planned, but this lays a blueprint for how the Lakers can attack this issue. Keeping these guys under 20 minutes not only addresses their collective MPG problems, but it also allows the starting unit to have fresher legs to close out fourth quarters or better – open up the second half strong enough that the reserves get to close out games. I know that it’s extremely early, and roles haven’t been defined yet, but it’s never too early to talk about ways to win and keep players healthy. Do you guys have any ideas on how the Lakers can reduce minutes? Share them in the comments.