Archives For August 2011

I didn’t get a chance to catch this game live, so I watched the replay on ESPN3.com while I was at work and documented Pau’s progress during the game. As the title suggests, Pau finished with 29 points and (an unofficial) six rebounds. This is broken down by quarter with each note ending with how many points and rebounds he had when I made said notes.

1st Quarter

– Pau wins opening tip. Sprints to the right block to post up, Marc Gasol travels on his way to the basket. 0 points, 0 rebounds.

– Can’t tell whether or not Pau’s first shot is a long two or a three pointer. It’s a miss either way. On Spain’s next possession, Pau gets the ball in the paint on an out-of-bounds play from the baseline and gets fouled. Makes both free throws. 2 points, 0 rebounds.

– Pau’s 1st rebound of the game comes after a Rudy Fernandez miss. He misses the put-back, but another Spanish ORB leads to Juan Carlos Navarro getting into the paint and finding Pau, who is fouled again. Pau misses the front end, but makes the second. 3 points, 1 rebound.

– Pau gets the ball in the post for the first time about three minutes in the game. After a couple dribbles, he kicked it out to Jose Calderon for a three-point attempt. After the miss, Pau grabs his second offensive rebound and puts it in with is left while being fouled. Basket counts, free throw made. 6 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau’s second look in the post ends with a lefty hook in the lane. He’s been very patient in the paint thus far. 8 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau’s 1st defensive laps comes with about five minutes left to play in the quarter. Poland’s Lukasz Koszarek drove the lane toward Pau who failed to step over and help, allowing a wide-open layup (cue Dallas series memories). 8 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau gets the ball on the left block for the first time. Again, he’s very patient. With his back to the basket, he looks over his left shoulder for available cutters. With no one open, he takes one dribble and makes an awfully decisive move to drop step with his right foot and finish with the left hand off the glass. Fantastic footwork, great patience and he finished while being fouled for the second time. So far, Pau has not been double-teamed. At the 4:45 mark, Spain has 13 points, Pau has 11 of them. 11 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau takes his first break with about 3:30 left in the first. Very solid first quarter.

2nd Quarter

– Pau re-enters game at around the 7:10 mark. 11 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau receives a great entry pass from JCN and what appears to be an open lane to the basket. Instead of taking the layup, Pau passes the ball immediately, which results in his first turnover of the contest. 11 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau was fouled away from the ball while trying to come off a screen to get to the weak side block. With Poland in the penalty, Pau gets to put in two more free throws. 13 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau records his most interesting basket of the game as he brings the ball out to the perimeter with no numbers on the fast break. He gives the defender a few crossover dribbles before starting to back him down from 15-feet in. Then he picks up his dribble, gives the defender the drop step with is right again, reverses it, then goes back toward the basket to finish while he’s fouled. He misses the subsequent free throw. 15 points, 2 rebounds.

– Spain goes into the half with a 44-31 lead largely due to the efforts of Pau and Juan Carlos Navarro (11 points). Pau also finished the half with two blocks on the defensive end of the floor, where he did some nice things. Spain’s defensive philosophy revolves around getting ball handlers to the sidelines and keeping them out of the paint. For the most part, Pau is doing his job, showing on the high P&Rs, and keeping penetration at a minimum. However, I don’t recall one defensive rebound from Pau, just the two offensive boards from the first quarter. It would be nice to see him get a little more active on the glass in the second half.

3rd Quarter

– Poland goes to a zone defense to start out the second half. Pau catches the ball at the left pinch post (where he’s spent a lot of time in the Triangle), and attempts a touch pass to Marc Gasol who is on the left block. The pass is high and goes through Marc’s hands. This is Pau’s 2nd turnover by my unofficial count, both from quick passes. Considering Poland is in a zone, this might be an opportunity for Pau to take advantage of some backside rebounding. 15 points, 2 rebounds.

– Right on cue, Pau picks up his 3rd offensive rebound on Spain’s next possession. It was a long one on the back side after a Navarro three pointer. Looks as if Pau is going to be working solely in the high post as long as Poland is in a zone. Pau hasn’t even taken a step closer than 15-feet in these two possessions. 15 points, 3 rebounds.

– On the same possession, Pau gets a 2nd offensive rebound that just happened to fall into his lap right next to the basket. He puts it in immediately for the easy deuce. 17 points, 4 rebounds. Still no defensive rebounds.

4th Quarter

– Pau left about midway through the 3rd quarter with Spain holding a comfortable lead. He comes out to start the fourth with Spain only leading by nine. 17 points, 4 rebounds.

– Pau gets the ball on the left block. He turns, faces up and knocks down a smooth 12-footer. 19 points, 4 rebounds.

– Pau spots up and knocks down a three pointer. The announcers say that he has 20 points, but I have him at 22. I don’t know where I added an extra three points, or why they’re behind two, but I’m hoping to figure this out before the game ends.  22 points, 4 rebounds.

– Pau grabs his first defensive rebound that I can remember with just under eight minutes left to play in the game. 22 points, 5 rebounds.

– Pau gets the ball in the low post with an extremely undersized defender guarding him. The announcers wonder why Pau doesn’t take the ball to the basket instead of kicking it out to Rubio who ends up traveling. Pau, however, makes the right decision. There were two defenders waiting to double once Pau made his move, depending on which direction he decided to go. Even though the results don’t agree, Pau made the right decision here.

– After Poland gets the deficit down to five points, Spain goes right to Gasol, who gets fouled. He knocks down both free throws with 3:30 left to play in the game. 24 points, 5 rebounds. (In case you’re wondering, my score now matches with what the broadcast has.)

– With only a six point lead, Poland’s Thomas Kelati drives right by Pau to cut the lead to four. Another horrible display of help defense, this time in a much worse situation. Pau grabbed a defensive rebound on an earlier possession. 24 points, 6 rebounds.

– On the ensuing possession, Pau catches the ball at the three point line, straight away. He dribbles a few times between his legs while moving toward the basket. He’s fouled and heads to the free throw line. He misses the front end, makes the second. 25 points, 6 rebounds.

– After Poland cut the lead to three, Spain went right back to Pau who made himself big on the inside. Caught the ball and finished in the paint while being fouled. He knocked down the free throw. 28 points, 6 rebounds.

Pau would go on to knock down one more free throw with just a few seconds left on the clock. Overall, Pau had a great showing in Spain’s opening EuroBasket game. The thing that stuck out the most was Pau’s ability to finish with contact in the paint. Spain looked to him on possessions when a basket was crucial, and he delivered more often than he didn’t. I’d like to see Pau attack the glass more and play better help defense as this tournament goes on. There aren’t too many negative things you can say about a guy who finishes with 29 points and an unofficial six rebounds.

J.M. Poulard is a friend of the site and contributor to fellow TrueHoop Network site,Warrior’s World. Over the summer he’s been doing excellent work at FB&G and continues those efforts today . You can reach him by email here and find him on Twitter @ShyneIV.

Shawn Carter has been known to step inside the booth and bang out classic hits despite never writing down his rhymes. Jay-Z’s gift though is his ability to turn words into short movies that slowly but surely develop themselves in the fabric of our minds as we listen to his songs. Whether talking about his father in Moment of Clarity or putting his emotions out there in Song Cry; there are few entertainers that can match the Jigga Man.

Much like Jay-Z, Kobe Bryant has excelled at his craft for over a decade and continues to be one of the best in his field. He routinely does things on the basketball court that we are not sure we have ever seen before. His mastery of footwork, pump fakes, angles as well as his unmatched scoring creativity make him one of the best players today and easily an NBA legend. And yet, throughout the course of his career, he has been met with criticism, doubt and blame.

For years, basketball fans have showed a great deal of antipathy towards Bryant, for reasons that were once unclear. However, after reading Roland Lazenby’s Mad Game, one can obtain a greater understanding of his trials and tribulations; and how people on the outside looking in viewed them and consequently, viewed him.

The Lakers star joined the NBA at an age where most people are getting ready for their freshmen classes in college. Given his youth, Kobe kept to himself and rarely if ever communicated with teammates. The idea was that he wanted to accomplish his goals and did not trust people from outside of his inner circle; because they could potentially steer him away from his objectives (he wanted to be the greatest player ever).

Despite his isolation and failure to communicate with his teammates, Kobe was still a truly gifted NBA player at an early age. He found ways to consistently create shots in practice and convert them at a decent rate.

His rookie season saw him get sporadic playing time because he played behind seasoned and talented players such as Eddie Jones, Rick Fox and Nick Van Exel (Kobe played some back up point guard early in his career). On the rare occasions that Bryant got into games, he hit the court exclusively looking to score. The young star in the making had always been a scorer; however Kobe did it in ways that often disrupted the offense.

Then Lakers coach Del Harris failed to implement a solid system on offense and had very lax practices. The end result was that far too often the ball would go into Shaquille O’Neal while the other players just stood there watching him, failing to move without the ball. Furthermore, the lack of attention to detail in practice meant that the Lakers defeated teams with their talent as opposed to their execution.

Tex Winter offered this point to Lazenby prior to joining the Lakers coaching staff:

“I don’t think he’s selfish at all. The impression I get with him is his indecision, because they don’t seem to have a system, other than space the floor and move the ball inside to Shaq. I asked him if they had an identifiable system of play and he said he didn’t think so.”

This explains why Los Angeles often fell at the hands of experienced teams in the playoffs such as the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs.

Harris’ inability to properly coach the Lakers meant that Kobe could not commit to him. Thus, when Harris called for adjustments from his young guard, he rarely acquiesced. Further exacerbating the issue his following season, when the Lakers met with the Bulls and Kobe had a chance to play against Michael Jordan; MJ took the youngster aside and offered him this piece of advice: “You gotta stay aggressive”. Kobe took those words to heart; he took them to mean that his Airness understood what he was going through and wanted him to remain confident in his abilities.

If things had been difficult for Kobe Bryant then, they were going to become increasingly hard for him after the 1998 NBA All-Star Game. The rising star had been voted as a starter and went on to dazzle those in attendance. His confidence had reached a new level and it was obvious by his body language.

Several had interpreted Kobe’s silence with his teammates as a sign of arrogance. They thought that this kid figured he was so much better than all of them that talking with them was beneath him. Or so they thought. But then this new Kobe came out and started trash talking with players and teammates who had routinely done the same to him.

This was par for the course in the NBA, but the Lakers players and coaching staff felt as though they needed to rein him in. His minutes were squeezed a bit and all of a sudden Bryant started to realize that he was not getting the ball as much out in transition. He thought they were out to humble him.

These issues altogether led to the purple and gold becoming a less cohesive team. Consequently they had to hold a few team meetings to air out their grievances but the truth is that the players always danced around the topic. Kobe was playing a brand of basketball conducive to making himself look good but was hurting the team in the process; however no one ever said it. The meetings were always about avoiding the temptation of playing selfishly and trying to help out each other, but it was never explicitly stated that Kobe was the problem.

Things took a turn for the worse with Shaquille O’Neal. By virtue of his presence, talent and enormous contract, he was the leader of the team. He attempted early in Kobe’s career to integrate him to the team but when that failed, he began telling management, players as well as the coaching staff that the biggest problem the team had was Bryant’s play. He would criticize him in the media and even asked for the team to trade him for Penny Hardaway.

But for all of his jabs and insults, Shaq never sought to understand the youngster or tried to guide him. In his opinion, his role was that of a leader, not a baby sitter. And the way he lead his ship was to turn everyone against Bryant. Things were bad to the point that during the 1999 lockout, O’Neal slapped Kobe Bryant during a two-on-two basketball session.

By the time Phil Jackson arrived in Los Angeles in 1999, the team was clearly talented enough to win an NBA title but it lacked discipline, continuity and chemistry. Jackson’s biggest role as a head coach would be to repair the relationship between O’Neal and Bryant.

But a funny thing happened when Phil Jackson and Tex Winter joined the Lakers: they realized that most players on the team (especially O’Neal) harbored ill feelings towards the play of Bryant. They could not appreciate Kobe for the talent he was; instead they kept seeing the young player that made countless mistakes in the past and that had a penchant for becoming trigger-happy. When the Lakers won, things went smoothly, but if they lost, it was Kobe’s fault. If Bryant took an ill-advised shot or committed a turnover, the whole team would get deflated given their history with him.

Derek Fisher had this to offer on the issue:

“The coaches voiced to us that they weren’t seeing the same things we were seeing when they watched film and when they watched what was going on. They didn’t see the same selfishness or one-on-one play that we saw. What I tried to tell the other guys is that this is our fourth year now. Me, Shaq, Robert [Horry], Rick [Fox], Travis [Knight], so we still had issues that we had dealt with before. It was kind of similar to a relationship between a man and a woman where you get upset with all of these things from the past that come up. That’s really where a lot of this stuff stemmed from. The coaches saw that a lot of this stuff would come in due time. But we were so impatient because we had dealt with it before.”

Thus, Jackson obtained video clips of Bryant’s play and showed them to the team in order for them to finally understand that their star guard was doing exactly what he was being asked to do. He made mistakes on the court occasionally, but he was still one of the best players in the league and he played like it.

Mind you, in order for the team to have any sense of normalcy and harmony, it was important for Jackson to create and cultivate a strong bond with the star center. At times, that meant that Kobe was left feeling like an outsider.

What made their dynamic so intriguing was the fact that O’Neal was clearly at the time the best player in the league, but he rarely worked at it. He would often use the season to get himself into shape, his poor conditioning led to injuries and did nothing to improve his game.

Kobe on the other hand practiced hard, was always looking to improve, played hurt and made sure he was one of the best-conditioned athletes in the league. And yet, Jackson always sided with O’Neal (which was obviously good strategy given his stature and how his mood affected the team’s).

And that’s what makes the relationship between fans and Kobe Bryant so fascinating. Here we have a hard working player that has rarely thrown a teammate under the bus, but he is still received amongst many as the basketball anti-Christ. One could even say that throughout his career he has always been the victim whenever conflicts arose and yet he managed to stay above it all. Perhaps, it’s time for the court of public opinion to let him walk, because whatever it was he was accused of, there seems to be at least some…

Reasonable doubt.

-J.M. Poulard

This has been the longest summer I’ve experienced in quite a while with the limited amount of NBA news. While the NBA and the Players Union are billions of dollars apart in their negotiations right now, we can take some solace in the fact that actual basketball is going to be played with the FIBA Americas and FIBA Euro Basket tournaments starting this week.

Tomorrow, the FIBA Americas tournament starts at 10:30 a.m. ET on ESPN3.com with a Dominican Republic vs. Cuba match. At 5 p.m. ET, you might want to check out Paraguay vs. Argentina as the Argentinians are the most experienced team and boasting NBA Players Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino.

On Wednesday, FIBA’s Euro Basket tournament begins at 8:15 ET (5:15 for those of us out West) with two games: Serbia vs. Italy and Spain vs. Poland. Of course, I’ll be watching the Spain vs. Poland game for obvious reasons (Pau amongst many more fantastic players). A little later that morning, France’s tips off their first game against Lativa. France’s team is looking nice with the likes of Tony Parker, Mickael Pietrus, Boris Diaw, Joakim Noah, Ian Mahinmi and Nicalos Batum.

I’m also excited to see Turkey, Greece, Great Britan, The Dominican Republic, and Brazil play. A lot of NBA guys playing with their home countries on those teams. Expect a lot of beautiful basketball in these games, which will be a great change of pace from all of the summer league pick up games we’ve been subjected to this summer.

To see the full viewing schedule for this week’s games, head over to ESPN3.com and click on the “Upcoming” tab to find out what times the teams you want to see play.

Who Belongs In The Post?

Darius Soriano —  August 26, 2011

On the heels of our look at the construction of the Laker roster, we’re going to play a little guessing game. Below are four Lakers with basic stats from this past season. These are stats measuring how effective each player was in the post (all stats via Synergy):

Player A: .90 points per play (67th in NBA), 46.8% shooting on 237 plays
Player B: .99 points per play (30th in NBA), 49.3% shooting on 272 plays
Player C: 1.23 points per play (3rd in NBA), 64.6% shooting on 82 plays
Player D: .90 points per play (67th in NBA), 43.1% shooting on 476 plays

To give this data further context, the Lakers – as a team – were the 3rd best post up team in the league based off points per play, tallying .93 points every time a shot went up from the post. Simply put, this is an obvious strength of the team. (It’s also one of the main reasons many of us pulled our hair out when long jumpers were fired up from the perimeter before the ball even sniffed the post, but I digress.)

That said, I wouldn’t have posed this as a guessing game if the answers to who these players are didn’t lead to further questions. You ready for the big reveal?…

Player A is Andrew Bynum, B is Kobe Bryant, C is Lamar Odom, D is Pau Gasol.

This leads me to ask, who belongs in the post?

The data tells me the most effective players in the post last season were clearly Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant. They shot the highest percentage and produced the highest points per play. Lamar Odom’s sample size is the smallest, but  considering he lapped the field in efficiency, I’m not going to discount his numbers. Right behind LO is Kobe and his nearly 50% shooting from the floor and point per play production. As we’ve seen in recent seasons (and even in pick up games), Kobe’s comfort in the post is only expanding. Taking and making more shots than Bynum from the post this past season is proof positive of that.

But that last sentence is what makes me ask the aformentioned question in the first place.

Mike Brown has spoken about using his big men more, lifting X’s and O’s from his Spurs days to create a twin tower effect to maximize the skill sets of Gasol and Bynum. However, that now seems to sit in at least partial conflict with his statement that he wants to get Kobe Bryant the ball in “his spots”.  Is there room enough in the low post for 3 players that all do very good work from the block?

Kobe could stand to give up some of his possessions to other players (his league high usage rate is exhibit A in this argument) and giving them to Pau and Andrew is the type of easily drawn conclusion we all come to without thinking for more than a few seconds. However, I find it most wise to ask Kobe to cut down on the low efficient shots he hoists each game, not the ones where he’s making nearly half his tosses at the hoop. Hoop Data tells us he’s least efficient in his long jumpers from two and three point range while shooting at least 48% from every angle 15 feet and in. Shouldn’t that latter level of effiency be maximized?

And what of Lamar Odom? It’s fair to say that last year was a career year for LO and that some sort of regression should be expected. But,  his ability to score from the post is a valuable asset that needs to be utilizied in order to get the most out of his versatility. I, for one, don’t want to see Odom relegated to shooting outside jumpers or seeing his offensive chances restricted to shots taken off dive cuts and offensive rebounds. He mustn’t be the forgotten man in the Lakers offensive equation.

Meanwhile, Gasol and Bynum are skilled 7 footers whose height, reach, and skill have them doing their best work 15 feet and in. While many other teams employ stiffs in the pivot, the Lakers have the ability to field giants with moves that would have Pete Newell beam with pride. Shouldn’t they too get their touches down low? Any responsible coach would answer affirmatively here. Don’t get me wrong, I like that Gasol is showing off his range for the Spanish national team by making three pointers. It’s also encouraging that as last season evolved, Bynum showed a developing face up game extending out to 16 feet. That said, I like my big men shooting close to the basket for maximum return on their inherent size advantage.

So back we circle to the question at hand. Who belongs in the post for the Lakers? When looking at the numbers, the answer is probably all of the above. But making that work is just another on a long list of challenges that Mike Brown seems to have going into next season.

Henry Abbott over at TrueHoop has a fancy chart diagramming the 2011 NBA CBA Negotiations. The Player’s Union and the League are set to meet within the week, and you can read about some of what the Union has been up to here and here. Grantland’s Malcolm Gladwell has a great “big picture” piece on NBA Ownership here.

NBA.com has a great piece about how nothing put Jerry West at peace except playing basketball. From the story:

“If you didn’t come into the game breathing fire every night, Jerry couldn’t understand it,” said former Lakers teammate Tommy Hawkins. “And I never saw him have back-to-back bad nights. Until he could replace a bad performance with a good one, his soul was not at rest.”

Mike Trudell has a retro game diary of a Lakers-Warriors game from 1991 in which Magic Johnson scored 44 and Chris Mullen scored 41. For those of us not old enough to have watched Magic, this is a great piece to get a little view of how great Magic was during his playing years. Ball Don’t Lie’s Kelly Dwyer takes a look at the Game 6 of the Lakers-Pistons 1988 Finals – the game that Isiah Thomas dropped 25 points on a busted ankle here.

Matt Moore of CBS Sports ranks Kobe the NBA’s sixth best player: With any luck, this summer’s treatment on his knee should allow Bryant to keep on trucking towards Michael Jordan’s all-time point scoring total, a chase that will captivate the NBA’s media as he gets closer and closer. At this stage of his career, it’s less important where Bryant falls in the top-100 and more important where he winds up in the Greatest Of All Time discussion. While he will almost certainly continue to fall on the former, he should only keep rising on the latter.

With FIBA Eurobasket set to start next week, the LA Times’ Mark Medina believes that Pau Gasol will benefit from playing with his Spanish teammates.