Archives For July 2012

During his eight-year run in Phoenix, Steve Nash led the NBA in assists six times, and five times in assists per game and Assist Rate, finishing in the top three in each category every year. He turned in a record four seasons in which he made 50% of his field goals, 40% of his 3-pointers and 90% of his free throws, missing narrowly on two other occasions –2006-07 (89.9% FT) and 2010-11 (39.5% from 3). Three times he quarterbacked the Suns to the conference finals, missing trips to the championship round consecutive years due to Joe Johnson’s face and Robert Horry’s ass.

For his trouble, Nash earned six All-star selections, three All-NBA First Team nods (and a pair of Seconds) and a pair of league MVP trophies. Additionally, he earned charter membership in the League Pass Hall of Fame, gained the inside track on entry into that other Hall and cemented his status as one of the great player representatives in NBA history. What… whah?

Yessir. We occupy a world in which Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa, Channing Frye and Lou Amundson have pounded paychecks totaling more than $220 million. This figure will approach $250 mill by 2015. Tim Thomas has been paid nearly $25 million since 2006. Give kudos to the David Falks of the world if you must, but…

So three weeks ago, a Laker offseason soaked in questions and seemingly destined to hinge on an all-in play aimed at upgrading the always vital “occasional pain in the ass, sublimely gifted big man” spot took a dramatic turn with the acquisition of the aforementioned virtuoso. Nash’s arrival on the Lakers’ roster did little to quell the questions that swirl around this team.

In the weeks to come, we’ll continue to discuss Dwight Howard’s future home. We’ll question the ability of Kobe Bryant to coexist with an assertive, pure point guard (I say this ends extremely well. Nash is Kobe’s kind of player – tough, detail-oriented and a workaholic. Plus, fair or not, he could throw an MVP trophy on eBay and still match Bean’s tally). We’ll wonder aloud about Pau Gasol’s future with the Lakers (he was just gifted a playmaker for whom his game was seemingly custom made), as well as that of Andrew Bynum (who knows? I’m not comfortable handicapping his internal dialogue).

In due time, however. For me, since the announcement of Nash’s relocation to Staples, one recurring question has dominated… which completely average Laker will he Point God into national prominence and an eight-figure payday? A walk through Nash’s days in the desert reveals beneficiaries past, and provides a template for those to come…

Andrew Bynum/Amar’e Stoudemire (with a side of Tim Thomas) – Ok, so I tweaked this one. ‘Drew – like Amar’e before him – is already a star. Also like STAT, he’s got an injury record that’s too significant to ignore, but (in Stoudemire’s case, until the spring of 2011) has done little damage to his professional standing. That’s because, also like STAT, he has more talent than any reasonable person knows what to do with. So much in fact, that he occasionally becomes flummoxed, and does virtually nothing at all.

To extend the comparison, if Bynum is the Lakers’ starting center this season, Nash will extract more of his best than we’ve ever seen. Look for at least 20-12 from ‘Drew in 2012-13, along with a starting nod for the All-Star Game and (if you’d like to call me crazy, here is your first opportunity) a dalliance with MVP candidacy.

Unlike many former Suns for whom Nash has secured tens of millions of dollars, Andrew Bynum does not stand to benefit financially from Point God’s presence. Barring an unforeseen turn of events, Bynum is a virtual lock to be showered with max money, either by the Lakers or someone else. Thanks to Steve Nash, however, he’ll deserve those fat checks more than ever before.

Christian Eyenga/Leandro Barbosa (pipe dream: Shawn Marion) – Perhaps the biggest reach of the bunch. A 23 year-old whose career point tally (320) falls short of that any month churned out by Kobe Bryant in 2005-06, compared with a former Sixth Man of the Year who, at his best ranked among the game’s most incisive attackers, let alone a four-time All Star, who in six full seasons as the evolutionary James Worthy managed no worse than a 19.8 PER.

That said, since the start of 2009-10 (Barbosa’s last season as a Sun) and 2007-08 (the season in which Marion was dealt to the Miami Heat) neither has topped his worst True Shooting Percentage or PER mark of the “Seven Seconds or Less” era.

Though the comparisons are meant somewhat in jest, who’s to say that a super-athletic (again, 23 year-old) wing – albeit one desperately in need of on-court reps as well as a jump shot – is incapable of linking up with one of history’s great playmakers and developing into, say, two thirds of prime Barbosa?

Jordan Hill/Channing Frye – A pair of former Knicks’ #8 overall picks for whom the NBA transition proved tougher than originally expected. After an excellent rookie campaign in New York (12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, 47.7% from the field), Frye fell off, leading to a trade to Portland following his second season. After a pair of increasingly lackluster seasons with Blazers, Frye found himself in free agency in the summer of 2009.

Fortunately for Channing, the Phoenix Suns – well, Steve Nash, really – were on hand with a lifeline. On essentially a one-year deal and presumably playing for his NBA future, he returned to the form that made him a prized prospect as a rookie, averaging 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, and connecting on a career-high 43.9% of his 4.8 3-point attempts per game… and scoring $30 million over the next five years.

Cut from a similar cloth, Hill took the floor a whopping 24 times for the Knicks (not terribly at that, averaging 14 and 8.7 per 36 minutes, with a 15 PER), before heading to Houston in a February 2010 trade. In 127 games between the trade and the spring of 2011, his (again) solid play (13 and 10.5 per 36; he averaged 15 minutes per game), and Hill was again sent packing, this time to L.A. In 19 games as a Laker, Hill provided a desperately needed spark, nearly pricing himself out of the budget in the process, with seven games of 6 and 6 or better (in just 11.7 minutes per game), averages of 14.6 points and 13.5 boards per 36 and an NBA best 18.9% Offensive Rebound Rate in 12 postseason games.

Metta World Peace/Raja Bell – Defensive stoppers with a propensity for, err, enthusiastically imposing their respective wills on the cranial region of opposing two guards, each with a headbutt of sorts with Kobe Bryant under his belt.

Having made at least 37% of his 3-pointers in nine of the last 10 seasons, compared with just two in 12 full seasons for Metta, Bell is pretty clearly the superior perimeter marksman. However, as the least potent member of a unit in which all remaining members command the attention of multiple defenders – but with a physical presence on defense that will keep him on the floor – Metta is in line for a steady stream of open looks, as both a spot-up man and a cutter.

Matt Barnes*/Matt Barnes – Though he suffered through his worst defensive season as a pro (per Basketball Reference, he allowed 111 points per 100 defensive possessions), Barnes’ 2008-09 campaign – his only one with with Nash and the Suns – was his best as a passer (3.7 assists/36 minutes; 14.5% Assist Rate), and his second best as a scorer (13.6 points/36), perimeter shooter (34.3% on 3-pointers) and defensive rebounder (18.5% DRR).

Whether it’s reasonable to expect a 38 year-old Nash to coax 28 year-old form out of a 32 year-old Barnes is debatable, but there few lead guards at any age I’d rather bet on to manage the feat.

Andrew Goudelock/Quentin Richardson – Ask the average fan about Q-Rich’s lone season with Nash and you’re likely to be regaled with anecdotal tales of knockdown shooting. The fact is, however, that while Richardson averaged eight attempts (freaking EIGHT), making 2.9, from beyond the arc in 2004-05, he connected at an above average (for a decent shooter) 35.8%, but shot just 38.9% overall from the field.

In 10 minutes per game as a rookie, despite connecting on just 39.1% of his field goals overall, Goudelock connected on nearly one (0.7) of 1.9 – or 37.3% – 3-point attempts per game. Per 36 minutes, that’s a Quentin-esque 2.4 of 6.4. Assuming nothing more than the normal growth in minutes than comes with a year of experience (to say, 15 minutes per) along with the benefit of spotting up for Steve Nash passes, off of Steve Nash penetration, and ‘Lock may in line for a payday that neither Derek Fisher, Ramon Sessions, Steve Blake nor his agent could have secured for him.

Josh McRoberts/Lou Amundson – A pair of unproductive but energetic “glue guys,” for whom an NBA paycheck will remain a thing longer than logic would dictate it should, thanks entirely (ok, in large part) to Steve Nash.

A season removed from having earned ~$210,000 playing for three different teams and failing to post a double digit PER in any stint with any of them, Amundson joined the Suns, where he enjoyed the only above average years of his career, earned another two years in the NBA and $4+ million.

A superior athlete of higher pedigree and spectacular finisher at rim, look for Nash’s lobability to not only turn McBobs into a highlight reel darling, but to bank the former Dukie seven, maybe eight figures he’d otherwise never see.

Devin Ebanks*/Jared Dudley – Dudley is an excellent Twitter follow and, by all accounts, a really nice guy. Running alongside Steve Nash, he’s established himself as a pretty above average player that can bury an open jumper.

However, in Nash’s absence, with faster, quicker, more athletic defenders no longer having to sag into the lane while protecting against picture perfect kickouts, it’s difficult to envision anything but a bruising fall to mediocrity.

Ebanks, on the other hand, while a decidedly inferior shooter (in far fewer opportunities), is precisely the type of young running mate that Nash raises to prominence. An atheltic 6’9″-215, Ebanks (who now, in his third year, should see the floor for 20-24 minutes per game) should present Nash with a excellent target on the break. Whether Devin’s got the all-around game to truly crack Nash’s stable of clients remains to be seen, but, again, if it’s going to happen with anyone…

*Assuming he remains a Laker

 

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  July 25, 2012

From all apparent indications, the Orlando Magic’s new GM, Rob Hennigan, is taking an uber cautious approach when it comes to trading Dwight Howard. It’s probably a wise choice, Howard being the biggest chip on his table by far. There’s some talk of any prospective deal being shelved until the deadline but what else is he going to say? If the right deal presents itself, he’ll take it. None of us knows what that really means, he has received plenty of proposals and none has floated his boat so far. As for the Lakers, management will have to decide on the best course of action with regards to Andrew Bynum, an elite big man who’s been with the team since the age of 17. My guess would be that there’s some sort of plan beyond waiting on Orlando. Then again, we all remember how last season played out with Pau. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that his happiness factor was compromised just a wee bit. Lessons learned, hopefully.

Janis Carr at the OC Register wonders if Andrew is here to stay.

Andy Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers, writes about Christian Eyenga and summer league play.

Mark Medina at the L.A. Times has five things to take from Team USA’s win over Spain.

Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie, examines Shaq’s displeasure with Orlando, as regards the coaching search and Brian Shaw.

LJ Hann at Clips Nation, looks at Adam Morrison’s summer stand, and urges the Clippers to pay the man.

Ryan Ward at Lakers Nation wonders if Michael Redd would be a good fit for the team, and also reports on interest being shown in Roger Mason.

James Herbert writes one of his typically fine articles for Hardwood Paroxysm, this time about Jerome Randle, a player on the fringe.

Ian Levy takes a look at the aging of basketball players, also for Hardwood Paroxysm.

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For now, the week proceeds apace. Jordan Hill’s back in the fold, making for a nice, deep bench when it comes to the bigs rotations. There were some quick rumors about Delonte West before the Mavericks re-upped him. Here on the FB&G front, J.M. introduced a great best-of series, and will keep it rolling throughout the coming weeks. Other tasty features are looming as well. If anything of the urgent news variety comes across our feeds, we’ll break into the regularly scheduled programming. Y’all do the same, please.

- Dave Murphy

Throughout the rich history of the NBA, there have been some great teams, and then there have been some legendary ones. The league saw its first dynasty emerge during the 1950s as the Minneapolis Lakers won four titles in the decade with George Mikan leading the way.

The team then moved to Los Angeles prior to the 1960-61 season and thus began the apparent NBA Finals curse. Indeed, the Lakers were defeated a whopping six times during the 1960s in the Finals, with each defeat reinforcing the idea that the Boston Celtics perpetually owned the Lakers.  Indeed, the Celtics won nine championships during the decade and defeated the Lakers in six of those nine championship appearances.

But the team’s fortunes changed in the 1970s as the team finally managed to capture a title after moving to Los Angeles. Since the relocation, the purple and gold has won 11 NBA titles; with many of those title teams holding a great historical significance to the league.

It begs the question: which Lakers team since the move is the best of all?

Glad you asked. The FB&G staff looked at the 11 titles teams and voted in order to rank these squads. Whether it’s their historical significance, their trampling of opponents or simply erasing the curse by finally conquering the Boston Celtics in the Finals, we managed to put these Lakers teams from worst to first.

And without further ado, the team that clocked in at #11…

The 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers

In the Shaq and Kobe era, many view this team as the weakest of all the title teams and the voting of the FB&G staff reflected that as well. After winning 67 and 56 games respectively in the previous two seasons and also winning back-to-back titles, it was widely assumed that this team should get back to the Finals and complete the three-peat.

The 2001-02 Lakers boasted the second best offensive efficiency and sixth best defensive efficiency in the league, mind you they flew a little under the radar as the Sacramento Kings (61-21) finished with the best record in the league and the San Antonio Spurs (58-24) finished second in the Western Conference standings.

With that said, the purple and gold still had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Both players were in phases in their careers where they could assert themselves offensively seemingly on command without necessarily stepping on the toes of each other. In addition, the roles players on the roster had grown comfortable in their tasks and understood the pecking order on the team; but they never shied away from big moments.

Robert Horry provided clutch daggers against the likes of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the 2002 playoffs, Derek Fisher helped space the floor against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals and Rick Fox gave his teammates some scoring, rebounding, passing and strong defense in the Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings.

This Lakers team was an impressive 15-4 during their postseason run on their way to the title, but many will recall them as somewhat of an underachieving bunch because of their 15-1 playoff record during the 2001 playoffs. In addition, unlike the season prior, the 2002 Lakers were tested and faced elimination.

Phil Jackson’s unit lost Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Sacramento and had to win Game 6 back in Los Angeles — which they did — to force an epic Game 7 showdown for the ages back in Sacramento.

The Lakers ended up winning Game 7 on the road in overtime against the Sacramento Kings — three of their four wins in that series were by six points or less — and then went on to sweep the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals as Shaquille O’Neal earned his third straight NBA Finals MVP trophy.

Although the Lakers easily dispatched the Nets in the title round, the accomplishments from previous seasons created expectations that would have been difficult for this team to match despite finishing the season with a title. Indeed, statistically, the 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers are one of the best championship teams of all time, boasting a regular season scoring margin of plus-7.1 and a playoff scoring margin of plus-3.8 with Shaquille O’Neal leading the way during the playoffs with averages of 28.5 points per game, 12.6 rebounds per game and 2.8 assists per game on 52.9 percent field goal shooting; but in terms of the rich history of the franchise post-relocation, they are the least impressive title team.

The Shaq and Kobe pair will always be one of the greatest dynamic duos the league has ever seen, and the 2001-02 season will be remembered as the final chapter of their championship days together.

The 2002 Lakers might be the “worst” Los Angeles Lakers championship team, but in the grand scheme of things, they still managed a title and completed the ever elusive three-peat.

Lakers fans will tell you, that’s a great way to finish last…

In a move many Lakers’ fans have been hoping would come to fruition, Jordan Hill is set to return to the Lakers next season. Reports say Hill will earn a shade under $8 million dollars over the next two seasons, giving the Lakers the second back up big man (after Antawn Jamsison) they needed to complete their front court rotation.

After being acquired in the trade that sent Derek Fisher away, there weren’t many hopes that Hill would be anything more than a placeholder that could provide spot minutes should the Lakers’ reserve big men continue to falter. After nursing an MCL sprain almost immediately after he was acquired, those hopes nearly disappeared entirely. However, as the Lakers reserve bigs continued their up and down play, the hope that Hill would get his chance to play started to become more prevalent. When Hill finally got his shot and was inserted into the lineup he never relinquished his role as the Lakers’ primary back up to Gasol and Bynum.

In those last few regular season games and into the playoffs, Hill showed a knack for attacking the glass, flashed good quickness and instincts in defending the pick and roll, and generally embraced his role as an energy man that would fill in the gaps next to his more skilled front court partner. His hardhat mentality fit perfectly next to both Bynum and Gasol as he consistently attacked the front of the rim on offense (gobbling up offensive rebounds and getting easy baskets in the process) and provided solid secondary help as a rim protector on defense.

HIs game game wasn’t filled with skill, but the Lakers didn’t need it to be. Hill played hard, never ventured too far outside of his skill set, and seemed to provide exactly what the coaches asked of him. The fact that he showed just enough range on his jumper (he can knock down shots out to about 16 feet when he’s set and unguarded) meant he could play off Bynum and his ruggedness around the rim and ability to carve out space made him a nice partner for Pau. He didn’t always play well – what reserve really does? – but when he did, he brought a level of production that had been missing from any reserve big man on the roster.

With Jamison now in the fold, Hill’s minutes and role might be a bit different but his ability to play either PF or C will aid him and the Lakers next season. He’ll give his coaches flexibility in lineup choices and, maybe most importantly, allow the Lakers primary big men to get the rest they’ll need to stay fresher throughout the course of the season. Remember, last season Gasol was 2nd in the NBA in total minutes played and 7th in minutes per game while Bynum’s per game average and total minutes played were the highest in his career. With Hill (and Jamison) in the fold, both Bynum and Pau should get more rest with the hope that they can be fresher and more productive.

Beyond helping to keep his front court partners fresh, the hope is that Hill can continue to improve. With Steve Nash in the fold, Hill should get easier baskets as a screener in the P&R. And, if Bynum continues to improve passing out of double teams, Hill should also get more (and better) touches at the front of the rim against a scrambling defense. If he continues to be active on offense by making smart cuts and moving into the open space allowed to him by a defense that must focus on his more heralded teammates, Hill can become an even more effective garbage man than he was last season. How that translates to nightly production remain to be seen, but the potential for 8-10 points and 6-8 rebounds a game is there simply by continuing to work hard, changing ends aggressively, and keeping his hands ready to make a catch.

Hill’s return isn’t the flashiest of moves, but it certainly bolsters a Laker team that really needed another capable big man to play behind Gasol and Bynum. His contract is not only reasonable in terms of total dollars, but its length allows the Lakers to maintain their long term payroll flexibility by keeping him on the books only through the end of the Kobe, Pau, Ron, and Steve Blake’s contracts. And, by adding another capable bench player, the Lakers have further strengthened their reserves and have taken another step forward in shoring up one of last year’s biggest weaknesses.

All in all, there’s no downside to this type of move for the Lakers. It may not be the type of move that vaults them into contender status, but it certainly gets them closer. And that’s the goal, isn’t it?

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  July 20, 2012

Heading into a summer weekend, there doesn’t seem to be much new on the Lakers front, although the recent Antawn Jamison pickup is a nice move for the money. The long running process of a potential Dwight Howard trade, has certainly allowed for plenty of columns to be written and filed. To be honest though, it doesn’t feel as if there’s anything really different or concrete to report. If a transaction does indeed come to fruition, it will be handled outside of media channels, apart from the seemingly endless supply of unnamed sources. This isn’t a slam on people who contribute timely hints and details. It’s only an acknowledgment that Mitch Kupchak does his business quietly, and carefully. If he indeed pulls the trigger on a deal, we’ll all hear about it. On a different, but no less intriguing level, Adam Morrison had a terrific game last night, playing against the Lakers in summer league action. Morrison’s been lighting it up with the Clippers and while they didn’t win last night, he kept them right in the game. Prior to Las Vegas, he played for the Brooklyn Nets in the Orlando Pro summer league. I’ve always been a fan, have always wanted the guy to succeed. I hope he makes it back to an NBA career.

Ben Rosales at Silver Screen and Roll, offers a recap for the Lakers summer league, with impressions and predictions.

Dave McMenamin from ESPN Los Angeles, also looks at the Lakers summer squad, with some great anecdotes about Chuck Person and his staff.

Andy Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers, considers the upcoming training camp under Mike Brown.

Mark Medina at the LA Times, reports that Vegas oddsmakers are split on whether Dwight Howard would help the Lakers win a championship.

Ramneet Singh at Lakers Nation, writes about Jerry West and Shaquille O’Neal.

Scott Schroeder contributed this piece for SB Nation, about Adam Morrison’s summer league quest.

Vince Marottta at Arizona Sports, reports that Shannon Brown has re-signed with the Suns.

Our old pal Vlad Rad has signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bulls. So says Aggrey Sam at CSN.

Eric Freeman at Ball Don’t Lie writes about Doug Collins and his onetime rookie center Kwame Brown, who he envisions as a starter with the 76ers.

Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie offers an interesting article about Dennis Rodman meeting his father, after 42 years.

This article’s a few days old and has nothing to do with the Lakers. I liked it though, and wanted to share – James Herbert at Hardwood Paroxysm, on Damian Lillard’s birthday.

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As I’ve been compiling these links, a slow-moving process that has stretched from late morning to afternoon, I’ve returned time and again to twitter and other places of breaking news – ready to include any tangible evidence that might point to a new piece of business from the Lakers front office. There’s nothing at the moment to report, although that certainly could change over the weekend. We’ll be sure to keep an ear out and report back, and readers please do the same. Enjoy the weekend everybody.

- Dave Murphy