This Friday’s Lakers are riding a high note, coming off a convincing win against the Mavericks, including some throwback acrobatics from the Mamba. It seems strange to me, that we’re already at the top of the stretch – only 19 games until the playoffs begin. Ramon Sessions’s arrival has brought an infusion of pick and roll energy and the effect on his teammates, and the game itself, has been obvious.
Zach Lowe, the Point Forward: Ramon Sessions has played four games with the Lakers, including three against defenses ranked 18th or worse in points per possession — Houston, Minnesota and Utah, though the Jazz played some stingy D in beating the Lakers on Sunday. Sessions has logged a grand total of 100 minutes with his new team after being traded from the Cavaliers. Those 100 minutes might prove totally meaningless in the long haul, such as there is a long haul in this compressed schedule. With all that said, you cannot simply ignore early trends, and the results suggest that Sessions, as many predicted, could have a larger impact on the Lakers than his middling individual numbers in Cleveland indicate he should. Sessions might be only a league-average point guard, the thinking went, but league average would be a giant upgrade over the Derek Fisher/Steve Blake combination — an improvement that might add up to something greater than the difference between Sessions’ individual stats and those of the players whose minutes he would take. Sessions’ numbers have been fantastic. He’s averaging nearly 18 points and nine assists per 36 minutes, shooting a totally unsustainable 57 percent, hitting enough outside jumpers to punish defenders who leave him open and assisting on better than 40 percent of the Lakers’ baskets while he’s on the floor. Even more encouraging: He has transformed the offense, Los Angeles’ weak link, both in terms of increased production and better shot distribution. The Lakers rank 15th in points per possession and have been around that mark all season. Teams that play average ball on one side of the floor rarely compete for championships; the Lakers’ defense has been solid, but not quite good enough to carry a middling offense through four brutal playoff rounds.
Matt Moore at CBS/Eye on Sports: When the Lakers acquired Ramon Sessions at the trade deadline from the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for the “rotting corpse” contracts of Luke Walton and Jason Kapono along with a first-round pick in 2012 and the right to swap picks in 2013, Lakers fans got excited. Here was a real-life point guard, not just a game-managing, “give the ball to Kobe and go sit in the corner patiently” fill-in. Derek Fisher is many good things for a basketball team. Dynamic is not one of them. Sessions, on the other hand, is exceedingly dynamic. The Lakers’ offense under Mike Brown is nothing like it was under Phil Jackson. There were some natural fits at the start of the season. Pushing the ball through the post more to Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, was, in a big way, a good idea. It took some time, though, because of the fact tat Kobe Bryant was the that primary backcourt initiator. Criticize Bryant and you ignore his elite scoring ability, his place in NBA history, and yes, his five championship rings. Ignore those faults, and you’re feigning obliviousness to the simple reality that often times Bryant’s own supreme confidence in his abilities, the very thing that makes him such a phenomenal offensive force, can override his decision-making with regards to the right play. Put simply… dude doesn’t like to pass. He will, he’ll do it, he does, quite often. But if he has his druthers, he’s putting up a FGA. That’s just who he is. How he responds to less control with Sessions running the offense is something to keep an eye on.
Henry Abbott, True Hoop: Going into last week’s trade deadline, the Lakers had various priorities, but, interestingly, not all of them had to do with fielding the best basketball team imaginable. The package they traded for point guard Ramon Sessions included the stale contracts of Luke Walton and Jason Kapono. And that’s no small part of the reason the team had to ship out a potentially valuable first-round pick to get the Cavaliers to agree. Similarly, they recently traded Lamar Odom for a pick (albeit as part of a larger scheme to get Chris Paul that famously fell apart). They have saved money in various deals through the years, including Vladimir Radmanovic, Chris Mihm and Adam Morrison. Not to mention, during the lockout, they took the step of aggressively trimming all kinds of staff, cutting loose various video guys and the like. Meanwhile, isn’t the story that this business is made of money, in the best media market in the NBA, with insanely high ticket prices, no competition from the NFL and one of the richest local TV deals in the history of sports? Forbes says the local TV deal alone will bring the team an average of more than $200 million a year for the next 15 years. Why on earth would they ever do something like fire the video guy, or give up a pick in the name of ditching a contract? There are various answers. One is that they’re paying more than $85 million in salaries this season. Also, while a lot of NBA teams are hobbies for their owners who make their billions elsewhere, the Lakers are the primary business of the Buss family — who are wealthy compared to you and me, but not compared to many in the owners’ club. And, of course, the various layers of luxury tax negotiated into the new CBA will punish the team mightily this year, and even more severely in the future, which requires some planning now. But the biggest answer has to do with one of the crown jewels of last summer’s multi-faceted lockout talks: The NBA now has aggressive revenue sharing. And sources say that alone is set to cost the Lakers very close to $50 million this year, and something similar every year of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Kurt Helin, ProBasketBallTalk: This tweet from Darnell Mayberry from the Oklahoman, says all you need to know: “Derek Fisher just walked into the Thunder’s locker room”. It’s what he brings to that locker room — more than on the court — that got the Oklahoma City Thunder to sign the five-time champion Derek Fisher. The team has confirmed the signing, Fisher cleared waivers at 6 p.m. Eastern. and signed minutes later. Fisher will be in uniform for the Thunder Wednesday night against the Clippers. Go ahead and circle March 29 on your calendar now — that is when Fisher returns to Staples Center to face the Lakers. The Lakers traded the veteran to the Rockets at the trade deadline, a move made to clear the way in the locker room politically for the arrival of Ramon Sessions. No doubt Sessions is the better player at this point, but Fisher sitting on the bench could have created problems. The Lakers traded him to the Rockets, and Fisher gave up his entire $3.4 million player option next season to be bought out and be made a free agent. Because Fisher wanted to win another ring (he has five as a Laker). Something he thinks could happen in Oklahoma City.
Another article that is well worth reading is Understanding Advanced Stats: The Difficulty of Defense, by Clint Peterson for Hardwood Paroxysm. I didn’t include block text because it’s an article the presents best by reading it in its entirety, with accompanying charts and video. Clint is one of the smarter, and better writers in basketball. Check it out.
A week after the trade deadline and its notable arrivals and departures, the Lakers may finally be finding their stride. They host the Trailblazers tonight – a team that has seen its share of shakeups and difficulties this season. The Lakers are holding onto a solid 3rd slot in the west. Portland is currently in 12th place, although interestingly, only four games out of 5th – that’s how bunched up the lower half of the bracket is.