Archives For September 2010

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Numbers don’t always tell the whole truth in basketball, but they can certainly offer valuable insight into player patterns, as well as some occasionally prescient nuggets about the future too. That said, we look at one or two important stats for each of the 14 expected roster players and eventually, some key numbers for the team as a whole. Part 1 of Lakers and the Numbers Game focuses on the starters (once Bynum is healthy). What stats from the starting unit pop out to you as the Lakers begin their title defense?

Derek Fisher
Key Stat: +/- 40% three-point percentage
Clutch playoff shots aside, Derek had one of the worst shooting seasons of his career in 2009-2010, connecting on only 38% of his shots from the field. More concerning than his overall field goal percentage was his sudden decline in three-point percentage last season—41% in 2007-2008, 40% in 2008-2009, 35% in 2009-2010. It’s hard to dog a guy who consistently comes through when it matters most, but his inability to knock down open shots was an impetus on the Lakers overall offensive scheme during the 2009-2010 regular season. In order to take advantage of their incredible length with Gasol, Bynum and Odom inside, they need Fisher to consistently knock down jumpers this year. On a side note, like Kobe, Derek is similarly chasing down the record books, currently sitting at sixth all-time in playoff three-point fields goals with 224. Barring injury, he’ll continue to creep up on Reggie Miller and the four others ahead of him this postseason.

Kobe Bryant
Key Stat: +/- 36 minutes per game
Kobe wound up playing three more minutes per game (39 total) than 2009-2010, while his usage rate of 29 was actually his lowest since the 2003-2004 season. In Bryant’s case, the numbers don’t lie as his productivity and decision-making has been on-point for several seasons now. As his scoring average gradually decreases, Kobes’s all-around game continues to shine—a point he emphatically hammered home with an underrated 15-rebound performance in Game 7 of the Finals. L.A. obviously doesn’t need to him to pull down 15 boards a night during the season, but they do need to keep his minutes down so he’ll be as spry as possible come April. Another number to look out for this season is Kobe’s ongoing climb up the NBA’s all-time scoring list. At 25,790 points, #24 is only 1,619 points away from passing Moses Malone for sixth all-time—a figure he should easily reach if he plays in about 60 games and maintains his 27 point-per-game average from 2009-2010.

Ron Artest
Key Stat: +/- 41% field goal percentage
Ron Ron connected on several prodigious shots during the playoffs, but struggled throughout the season with acclimating his offensive game to the ins and outs of the triangle. On a team as stacked as the Lakers, his 11-point output isn’t far off from where the team wants it, but his 41% shooting from the field leaves much room for improvement, even if his 42% shooting over the course of his career doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence for a sudden increase. More vital to the Lakers’ success than his shooting percentage, though, is Ron’s shot selection. During the Lakers’ last three-peat run, Rick Fox proved himself a strong outside shooter out of the small forward slot—and one that carefully chose his spots. Granted, the Lakers expect more offensively from Artest than they ever did Foxy, but Ron could do a lot worse than at least trying to emulate his fellow bruiser from a decision-making standpoint.

Pau Gasol
Key Stat: +/- 12 rebounds per game.
Buzz about Gasol’s quiet, but substantial improvement since linking up with Kobe and Coach Jackson seems to peak during playoff time, even if Lakers fans are privy to his continuing rise as an elite player year-round. Gasol showed up to camp in 2010 with a renewed sense of grit underneath the basket and focus on rebounding the ball. The results are hard to argue with as the Spaniard pulled down 11.3 rebounds per game last season. During the playoffs, those numbers increased to 12 against the Thunder, 15 against the Jazz and 12 against Boston. Granted, those boosted numbers came with a limited Andrew Bynum during the playoffs, but the possibility of Pau potentially leading the league in rebounding persists. With Bynum missing at least the first few weeks of the season, Gasol, along with Odom, will once again be asked to shoulder the bulk of the Lakers’ rebounding load.

Andrew Bynum:
Key Stat: +/- 60 games played.
35, 50, 65: the number of games Andrew has played over the past three seasons. With news breaking this week that the five-year veteran will be out at least two to three weeks according to Coach Jackson (possibly more if you go off of Bynum’s prognosis), there’s really no way of predicting how many games he’ll play this season. For the sake of coming up with a goal, let’s go with the assumption that Andrew misses the first 18 games of the season (includes all games up until the end of November) and doesn’t experience any lingering issues with his troublesome knee. If a similar scenario plays out, I think a solid number for Bynum to aspire to is somewhere around 60 games. In any case, it’s a figure that could very well define whether or not the Lakers are able to fend off hungry teams like Miami, Orlando and Boston for home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

April 26, 2010 Milwaukee, WI. Bradley Center..Milwaukee Bucks Brandon Jennings drives to the hoop, Jennings had 23 points and 6 assists against the Hawks tonight..Milwaukee Bucks won over the Atlanta Hawks 111-104, in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs. The Series is now tied at 2-2. Mike McGinnis/CSM.

Today, we’re continuing our league wide preview with the Milwaukee Bucks. And after the Bucks previews, we’ll get our first look at some Lakers training camp links (finally!). Enjoy:

From Frank Madden, BrewHoop: What Significant Moves were made during the off-season? Where to begin? Before the draft, John Hammond surprised many by picking up free throw-magnet Corey Maggette for the throwaway price of Charlie Bell and Gadzuric, addressing the Bucks’ complete inability to draw fouls but also raising questions over their interest/ability to keep John Salmons. Afterall, it stood to reason that Hammond (or perhaps more accurately, Herb Kohl) might think twice about committing major dollars to the 30-year-old Salmons just a week after taking on the 30-year-old Maggette’s three years and $31 million in remaining salary. Um, right?

From J.O., NBA Mate: What are the team’s biggest strengths? The Jennings/Bogut duo. Jennings, who after spending a year in Europe, was able to slot in comfortably last season as the Bucks cornerstone for the future at perhaps the toughest position to fill in the NBA. The highlight obviously, the 55-points he dropped on Golden State back in November of ’09. More importantly, Jennings played all 82 games and hauled in honest averages of 15ppg-6apg-4rpg. For a 21-year-old with great court vision, handle and speed, you’d take that any day. What also went right was the emergence (pre-injury) of Bogut, who boasted last season all-star stats of 15ppg and 10rpg. How he was overlooked for that game was downright ridiculous. He was also second in the league at almost three blocks a night behind Dwight Howard. Provided Redd doesn’t pass on his injury bug and if neither of these two consider LeBroning the franchise, Jennings and Bogut are undoubtedly the present and future pillars of where Milwaukee stands to be in 4-5 years time.

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Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher (L-R), pose for photos during the basketball team's media day at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California on Sept. 25, 2010. The Lakers will try to three-peat this season after winning back-to-back NBA championship titles. UPI/Jim Ruymen Photo via Newscom

From J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The Lakers now have Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, two players who fill offensive and defensive needs in addition to bringing in ringless players who can infuse the back-to-back champions with extra motivation … which would be a perfectly legitimate storyline if the Lakers didn’t have Kobe Bryant. “Just speaking with Kobe, I don’t think he needs any motivation,” Blake said. “His mind is set on winning again.” When Barnes entered the Lakers’ locker room for the first time he heard Bryant in a heated conversation with Ron Artest, talking about getting over screens and locking up in man-to-man defense, a discussion that might seem more appropriate for a playoff game timeout than a leisurely summer day. “If he’s that hungry, I’m starving,” said Barnes, who has landed on his eighth team in his quest to join a winner. “I don’t think the mentality of the team is to sit back and get fat.”

From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA.com: Several seasons ago, Kobe Bryant approached Nike asking for a more streamlined sneaker that wouldn’t weigh him down as much on the court as his traditional high tops, and the company obliged with a low-top alternative. Bryant announced at the Lakers’ annual media day Saturday that he is going with a new less-is-more approach this season, like his sneaker preference. The All-Star guard is electing to not wear a splint on the bothersome right index finger on his shooting hand that suffered from an avulsion fracture and an arthritic knuckle last year. “If [the finger] gets whacked, maybe a game or so I’ll have to put [the splint] on, but for the most part no,” Bryant said. “I’ve been shooting without the tape. My shot feels a lot better. I can follow through with my fingers on the ball and get a better feel for it now than I did last year.”

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Andrew Bynum said Saturday he does not expect to make his season debut until late November. “I see it more towards the end of November,” Bynum said of his return. Bynum had surgery on his right knee on July 28, and the procedure involved his doctor reattaching the damaged cartilage instead of just cutting it off, as is customary in these surgeries. The goal is to give Bynum’s knee more long-term support — perhaps wise considering he is predisposed to knee injuries and has already had so many in his short career — but requires more recovery time. Bynum said he can’t do any impact activities for four weeks. He said he got an update from his doctor, David Altchek, on Thursday.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Before it even started, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson predicted training camp would be a “bust.” And plenty of variables were on display this opening weekends to why that’s proved to be the case. To no one’s surprise, Lakers center Andrew Bynum sat out of Sunday’s practice in what will mark the beginning of a preseason rehabilitation process after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee this off-season. But what could at least be a tad consoling to Lakers fans entails the fact Jackson didn’t exactly share Bynum’s assessment that he wouldn’t return until late November, instead offering his expectation that Bynum would return in two to three weeks after the regular season starts Oct. 26 against Houston. Although Jackson believes Kobe Bryant’s efforts in recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery this off-season has proved enough to play during the preseason, Bryant sat out of Saturday’s and Sunday’s practices. He described his right knee as “feeling pretty good,” but he said he has been taking a “step-by-step” approach in improving the conditioning and strength in his knee. But it’s certainly nothing to fret over. Bryant isn’t for one: “I don’t give two [expletive]” about the preseason.

From Mike Trudell, Basketblog: The most important focus of Pau Gasol’s offseason was resting his body after three straight years of split duty between the Lakers and Spanish National Team. As he reported after Sunday’s practice, the 7-footer is certainly noticing the results. “I feel good about how fresh I am and how my body’s feeling, how my mind’s feeling,” he explained. “I’m coming in with a lot of energy and am just ready to go to work. I feel a lot different than I did last year, (when) I came in a little worn out.” That because he was busy winning a European title for his Spaniards as MVP of the tournament, and that just weeks after helping the Lakers to the 2008 Finals win over Orlando.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson (L) and guard Kobe Bryant watch the team practice for Game 1 of the NBA Finals basketball series against the Boston Celtics in Los Angeles June 2, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

It’s been a busy couple of days for the Lakers as training camp is about to begin and members of the organization have been talking to the press about the upcoming season.  Below are some of the recaps from various members of the press and/or blogosphere that were there for first hand accounts and few extra links for good measure.

*The man that everyone spoke to yesterday was Phil Jackson as he gave his annual pre training camp presser on all things Lakers.  He talked about this probably/maybe being his last stand (including a great line about Custer), about the “exhibition” games in Europe, about his decision to come back for this season, about Andrew Bynum, and much, much more.  For some excellent recaps for Phil’s discussion with the media, check out the summaries from Mike Trudell over at Lakers.com, the K-Bros at Land O’ Lakers, and Mike Bresnahan at the LA Times.

*As mentioned, one of the main story lines going into training camp relates to Andrew Bynum and how he’s still not fully recovered from his off-season knee surgery.  Which means he will not play in any of the Lakers pre-season games and may not even be ready for the start of the regular season.  This has brought Bynum some heat from the local media where questions about the timing of his surgery have been debated and young ‘Drew has pretty much been portrayed in a negative light.  I’m on the same page as Phil on this in that the surgery ended up being a bit more complex than originally estimated and that pushed back his recovery time.  And since the team encouraged ‘Drew to get away from the game for a little while, there is no blame to be laid here.  Bynum will eventually recover and he’ll contribute to the success of the Lakers this upcoming season.  That may not be in October but the team wants a healthy ‘Drew in May and June.

*Speaking of ‘Drew, over at Pro Basketball Talk, Matt Moore is also questioning Bynum and bringing up the long debated topics of laziness and work ethic and how it’s still tough to know what the Lakers have in their young Center (Moore also lists plenty of positives about ‘Drew – so go give it a read).  Let me say that while Moore makes some good points, I think the questions about Bynum’s work ethic are a bit misguided.  As I’ve said multiple times in the past, Bynum has improved too much in his career for folks to question how hard he’s worked.  When ‘Drew came into the league he was doughy teenager that had limited offensive skills.  Since his rookie year he’s transformed his body, refined his post game to the point that he’s effective finishing with both hands from both sides of the paint, has developed a good face up game, and has even picked up counters to compliment his go-to, pet moves.  He’s also worked his way back from some pretty serious knee injuries in order to become a major contributor to the Lakers’ success.  And while some of this development operated on timelines slower than what fans would have liked, the fact that he’s come this far shows the amount of work that he’s put in.  I just don’t buy that this kid is lazy or that his focus isn’t where it should be.

*Speaking of hard work, no one ever questions the effort that Kobe puts in during the off-season and this year is no different.   Based off what Phil has seen and heard from both Kobe and the Lakers’ training staff, #24 will be ready to go this pre-season and should even see some minutes during the games played in Europe after dealing with his own off-season knee surgery.  This is excellent news for the Lakers (and the paying customers in England and Spain) as we all want to see how Kobe looks (hopefully, well rested) and if his game is ready to go for next season.  One body part that may not be healed, though, is Mr. Bean’s busted index finger.  As Kevin Ding reported, Kobe has arthritis in the knuckle on that finger and there’s really no repairing that through surgery.  The hope is that he’s done enough strengthening of the finger through exercises and rehab to have it be less of an issue this upcoming year, but that remains to be seen.

*As for other training camp news, the Lakers have added a few more bodies to the roster as camp invites.  Four players in total were added and they’re back court players Trey Johnson Anthony Roberson and centers Andrew Naymick and Russell Hicks.  This brings the Lakers roster to 18 players heading into training camp.  Before anyone asks, I think it’s highly doubtful any of these guys make the team and are in Lakers camp to hopefully get some exposure around the league to make another roster or potentially get an offer from a European club (and considering the Lakers will be in Europe for part of the pre-season, this may be even more likely).  For a bit more of a background on Russell Hicks, check out the interview Henry Abbott had with his agent when talking about Russell’s invite to Lakers camp.

NBA Coaches: Who Got Next?

Jeff Skibiski —  September 24, 2010

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With Don Nelson’s not all that surprising departure from the Warriors this week, the NBA’s list of true coaching relics became one less. Sure, the usual stalwarts—Larry Brown, Jerry Sloan, George Karl, Doc Rivers, Doug Collins, Greg Popovic, Rick Adelman, Pat Riley in a management capacity and of course, the Lakers own Phil Jackson—remain active in the league’s coaching circle. However, we’re approaching a time, in the not too distant future, when the latest influx of NBA coaching talent will be asked to lead this league, similar to the way Kobe Bryant will eventually pass the torch to Kevin Durant, LeBron James, etc.

For all the talk about the new-age athleticism of the post-Y2K generation of NBA players, the league has also experienced a golden age of coaching over the same time span. As the list of longtime, top-tier coaches continues to decrease, though, who eventually replaces the Zen Master? Not just in the sense of who replaces Jackson on the Lakers bench, but which coaches will live up to the dynamic personalities and multi-layered expertise of the Don Nelsons and Phil Jacksons of the league? Five coaches who are ready to attempt to fill that eventual void immediately come to mind for me:

Stan Van Gundy, while certainly a household name after helming the Heat in their first season after for trading for Shaq and leading the Magic to the 2008-2009 Finals, is still one of the more unheralded coaches in the league today, despite winning a league-leading 69% of the 246 games he’s coached. His Magic are also poised for another run at the title his year.

The newest coach of the New Jersey Nets, the always fiery Avery Johnson, has already taken a team to the Finals in 2006 and won the Coach of the Year Award, while becoming the fastest coach in NBA history to win 150 games. Now, he gets a chance to rebuild a team essentially from scratch—a challenge the Little General eagerly welcomes with the same steadfast confidence he showed while he was playing in the league.

Mike D’Antoni has amassed a series of accolades in less than seven full seasons as a head coach, including the implementation of his now infamous “Seven Seconds or Less” offense. While he’s currently mired in New York’s extended rebuilding, the offensive juggernaut he created while with the Suns still serves as a prominent offensive model today.

Nate McMillan remains almost a hidden treasure in Portland, quietly entering a maelstrom in the Northwest in 2005 and playing a prominent role in revitalizing the image of the entire franchise ever since. Moreover, McMillan has shown incredible aplomb in the face of all of Portland’s devastating injuries.

Scott Skiles steely on-court demeanor and commitment to the fundamentals of the game has carried over into his coaching, where he has quickly cemented his place as one of the league’s best defensive minds. His eye-opening work last season with an injury-ravaged Bucks squad has given basketball fans in Milwaukee every reason to be excited to see where he leads Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings and Co. this season.

Tom Thibodeau of the Bulls, Scott Brooks of the Thunder, Erik Spoelestra of the Heat and Alvin Gentry of the Suns are other rising stars who look well-prepared to join the NBA’s future coaching elite with a few more years in the incubator.

Which NBA coaches—whether currently a head coach or an assistant coach—are your picks to take the proverbial next step?

Around the World (Wide Web)

Phillip Barnett —  September 24, 2010

Caracter

From Mark Medina, Los Angeles Times: Everywhere Derrick Caracter goes, his weight follows him. It partly contributed to his abrupt transfer from Louisville. It partly contributed to his low-draft stock after his days at Texas El Paso. And it partly influenced how he structured his eventual two-year contract with the Lakers. At each stop, he’s managed to shed pounds. But not enough to make teams and stop fans from expressing concern. That’s why, in addition to proving he’s matured since his days at Louisville, Caracter also hopes he can prove his conditioning is working better than his bulky frame suggests. Caracter said he dropped from 305 to 277 pounds after his career with the Miners because of more sleep and better eating habits. And after impressing the Lakers in Summer League, the team currently lists him at 265 pounds.

From Saurav A. Das, Silver Screen and Roll: Up until about half an hour ago I expected this post to be wholly inconsequential. I thought Caracter would be buried on the inactive list behind the Lakers’ three-headed monster of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, with accomplished vet Theo Ratliff backing them up. But now, things have changed. For the moment, they’ve only changed slightly in the overall context of the team, but that could soon change, for better or worse.  Now that Andrew Bynum is once again experiencing injury issues, Caracter will be thrust into the (relative) spotlight, with his preseason minutes increasing and his chances of being rendered active during the regular season increased exponentially. It’s up to him how he reacts to that. He could either thrive with the increased run, whilst not straying outside the boundaries and limitations attached to his role, and thus make the Lakers even stronger and deeper as a team. That, or he could either flounder in the spotlight, or get greedy and start demanding more touches and more run, becoming a distraction to the team.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Kobe Bryant said the summer for him would be all about getting healthy. So, is he now? Well … Bryant had surgery to clean up his pesky right knee and has been recovering well. Even though it was his third surgical repair there in seven years, things should be good enough on that front. Then there’s the finger … Despite some speculation that he’d have surgery to fix the right index finger that he called a “constant battle” for him last season, that didn’t happen. That’s because surgery wouldn’t really fix an arthritic finger that has so little cartilage with which to work, something Bryant found out even before July rolled around.

From Darius, Via Land O’ Lakers: Soriano: I think Kobe finishes in the top 3 of MVP voting for the 3rd straight year with a legitimate chance of winning. I expect a fair amount of backlash towards LeBron and a strong push to anoint Kevin Durant as the MVP, but if Kobe can put together another high level year (which I think he will) and the Lakers lead the league in wins (another strong possibility) I think he’ll be right there in the MVP voting at the end of the year.