Archives For August 2010

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.

-Anonymous

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).

-Daniel

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.

-Jason/Chownoir

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?

-Joel

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?

-Travis

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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SEASON REVIEW:

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.

PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:

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.

NEXT SEASON:

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.

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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.

Happy Birthday Magic

Phillip Barnett —  August 14, 2010

Magic-Johnson

Today marks the 51st anniversary of Ervin “Magic” Johnson’s birth, so to celebrate, we’ve found a highlight reel set to Tupac’s “California Love.” If you’re planning on joining a pick up game at anytime today, be sure to make the extra pass in Magic’s honor. In fact, let’s dub August 14th “National Extra Pass Day!” Eh, maybe not. Just enjoy this highlight reel.