Archives For August 2012

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  August 31, 2012

There may not be a lot going on at this time of the basketball year but that doesn’t mean there aren’t topics of interest to discuss. So, let’s go around the league (and beyond it) with some fast break thoughts…

  • We’re at an interesting point in the Lakers-as-super team news cycle. We have, essentially, completed the inevitable circle of coverage that occurs when moves like this happen. The stories went from ” Wow, I can’t believe the Lakers got Nash and Howard, they’re going to be amazing” to “Look at everything they can do on offense/Here’s how the Lakers will be amazing” to “Here are some things that may hold the Lakers back from being amazing” to “Let’s not crown the Lakers yet, the Thunder and the Heat are still the best teams until proven otherwise”.
  • For what it’s worth, I’m still of the mind that we need to see some games before we know anything beyond what their potential is. That said, based off talent alone the Lakers have catapulted themselves into the conversation of having the best team in the league. And, since talent matters so much, this is pretty important. So, at this point, my analysis stops at “the Lakers are one of the 3 to 4 teams that have a legitimate shot to win it all”. And, frankly, that’s enough for me.
  • I don’t know about you, but I’m still getting used to the fact that when I see a link to a Dwight Howard story it is, essentially, now a Lakers’ story. It hit me again the other day when I clicked on a link about Dwight playing pop-a-shot in China and there he was in his home Lakers #12 jersey. It’s still sort of surreal.
  • Speaking of Dwight, Eddy Rivera (and his crew of fine writers at Magic Basketball) have been producing fantastic content as part of their Dwight Week series. You should visit and learn everything you’d ever want to know about the newest Laker big man.
  • There’s a general sense that the Spurs are boring. It’s been talked about for years and has come to be what they’re known for. Well, I know of at least one Spur that isn’t: Greg Popovich.
  • One thing I love most about the off-season is that it gives me a chance to watch film, dive into the numbers, and give me a bit more insight into the league at large heading into the next season. In that regard, I’m always looking for more places to help me learn more. So, you can only guess at how happy I was when Tom Haberstroh (of ESPN and the Heat Index) dropped a link to VORPed. There’s so much time lost surfing around that place. Be careful.
  • Thing I can’t stop smiling over: Steve Nash’s shot chart from this past season. In case you were wondering, green and yellow are the colors you want. Good luck double teaming off that guy.

  • Lastly, a while back several of us at FB&G did a roundtable review of Jack McCallum’s Dream Team book. One of the themes touched on in that book was that regardless of what other guys had accomplished at that point of their careers, the trio of Michael Jordan, Magic, and Larry Bird were always held at a higher level of esteem. They were the exclusive club that no one else could penetrate. I’d imagine that today, the same is likely true. Those names ring out like few others in basketball history. Last week I was reminded of this by a great video. Check it out for yourself:

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  August 29, 2012

It doesn’t seem so long ago that I’d buy a newspaper and pour through the sports section, looking for something/anything to whet my appetite. I couldn’t have imagined how things would change in the digital age, from sparse team notes during the dog days of summer to an infinite supply of blogs and online tools. It has changed sports conversations in the same way that it has changed most conversations. We walk, talk, click and type. Opposable thumbs have trumped turning the page. Would I put it back in the bottle and return to clipped out articles? No. Gimme my links:

Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will be getting his stature sometime this year, outside the Staples Center. Mark Medina at the L,A, Times has the story, recounting Kareem’s criticism of Lakers management last year on several fronts.

Anthony Macri at HoopsWorld writes about the challenge of offensive integration.

J.O. Appelgate has a phenomenal basketball comic strip blog, BounceX3. Check out his latest.

The Kamenetzky brothers at the Land O’Lakers offer a podcast about the new-look Lakers, and how they’ll match up against key teams.

Gary Lee at Lakers Nation has some great Kobe versus Jordan moves on display.

Thanks to readers Snoopy2006 and Any_one_mouse for a couple links yesterday that are worth repeating – a Mike Trudell interview with Jesse Buss about scouting for the Lakers, and Zach Lowe’s excellent piece in SI about Kobe Bryant and how he’ll mesh with new teammates and a new offense.

Sekou Smith at Hang Time Blog offers a few words of caution about prejudging a season before it even begins.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register writes about Lakers television and the new Time Warner deal.

From Robert Johnson’s seminal blues to myths and metaphors, Jordan White writes an intriguing piece for Hardwood Paroxysm.

***

Training camp is still a month away, September 29, but players have begun trickling in to the Segundo facilities. It’s a far cry from this time last year, when gym doors were locked and the season was in doubt. It is still a time of transition though, with eight new players and three new assistant coaches. The arrival of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash fuels obvious speculation, and much of it comes from beyond Lakers-centric media sources. The Kobe narrative was attached quickly and none of us should be surprised – these type of storylines have always driven the media, it’s only the access that has changed.

- Dave Murphy

Lakers Countdown: At #3…

J.M. Poulard —  August 29, 2012

The NBA has seen its fair share of dominant guard and center tandems that managed to reach the mountaintop. Indeed, Oscar Robertson and Lew Alcindor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain and perhaps the most famous one, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were not only great pairings, but they made their teams great and helped them win championships.

Consequently, the idea of putting a do it all guard next to a dominant center has always made perfect basketball sense given what the players could for each other, although one group would lead many to question if their union would ever truly be harmonious.

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant will forever be linked to one another given their accomplishments as well as their public disagreements. But make no mistake, they could at times complete each other as teammates like very few have done in the history of basketball.

Clocking in at the third spot in our Los Angeles Lakers title teams countdown…

The 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers

With Phil Jackson joining the franchise in 1999, many assumed that the Lakers would finally get a chance to fulfill their true potential and win a championship with Shaquille O’Neal leading the way.

And although the team faced some tough playoffs tests during the 2000 playoffs, they not only delivered, but they were good enough for the FB&G panel to vote them in as the eighth best L.A. Lakers title team.

Considering the purple and gold were armed with the most dominant player in the league and a superstar guard in the making, it only made sense to assume that these Lakers would become a dynasty.

However, they would have to do it the hard way.

Shaquille O’Neal showed up for training camp out of shape after celebrating his first title and the rest of the roster seemed to follow his lead as well. Kobe Bryant on the other hand not only showed up in shape, but he had improved his game both offensively and defensively.

With the big man playing himself into shape, Bryant sought to assert himself more on offense, somewhat at the expense of his teammates. O’Neal was not fond of the approach, figuring instead that he should be the first option on the team since the unit had won a title the season prior by using that formula.

Although the logic made sense, O’Neal was in and out of the lineup with minor injuries due to his poor conditioning while Bryant was playing with a chip on his shoulder, eager to prove to his teammates as well as the league that he was perhaps the best all around player in the NBA.

The perception out in the public was that the Diesel thought that the guard was selfish and that Kobe saw his teammate as fat and lazy.

Rumors started to come out that Bryant might get traded and the masses began to question which player was more important at this juncture to the franchise.

For all of the turmoil brewing around the team, they played well in stretches during the regular season and had a pair of five-game winning streaks as well as three different four-game winning streaks.

The team was good but they were not the same crew that won the title the year prior. Indeed, O’Neal’s defensive effort paled in comparison to his MVP season; which was his way of pouting for not getting what he felt was an adequate amount of touches.

The Lakers finished the 2000-01 regular season 14th in defensive efficiency, a far cry from their mark from just a year before, where they had the best one in the league. Luckily, their sixth best offensive efficiency would help carry the team and keep them afloat.

Late in the season, Kobe missed 10 games and the team won seven of those contests with O’Neal once again playing his dominant brand of basketball. Bryant returned to the team with a new resolve, asserting himself only in key stretches when the situation called for it. The guard and center combo helped the Lakers win eight games in a row to close out the season.

The Lakers ended the regular season with a respectable 56-26 record and a plus-3.4 average scoring margin; which really is hardly the stuff of legends. But it looked as though they were peaking at the right time.

Phil Jackson’s squad opened up the playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers (50-32) and took them out in three games, winning every contest by an average of 14.7 points per game.

Next up, the Lakers faced off against the Sacramento Kings (55-27), who proved not to be much of a match for a Lakers team that was clicking on all cylinders. The purple and gold dispatched the Kings in four games, winning by an average of 9.3 points per game and setting up a terrific Western Conference Finals against the league leading San Antonio Spurs (58-24).

Many expected this series to be one for the ages, but the Lakers had no interest whatsoever in keeping things interesting.

With the Spurs alternating between double-teaming O’Neal and playing him straight up, it created lanes for Bryant to get shots off and create havoc for San Antonio’s defense.

The superstar guard was simply unstoppable as he put up 33.3 points per game, 7 rebounds per game and 7 assists per game on 51.4 percent field goal shooting in the conference finals. His dazzling scoring combined with his playmaking would destroy the Spurs’ defensive game plan and not only allow O’Neal to do damage on the interior, but also set up the likes of Rick Fox, Robert Horry and a scorching hot Derek Fisher to convert open jumpers.

What was supposed to be a series for the ages between arguably the two best teams in the league ended up being a cakewalk for the Lakers, as they thoroughly dispatched San Antonio in four games, winning them by an average of 22.3 points per game.

And just like that, the Lakers made it to the NBA Finals with a perfect 11-0 postseason record, ready to take on the Philadelphia 76ers (56-26).

Game 1 would provide great theatrics as Allen Iverson exploded for 48 points and led Philly to a victory at Staples Center despite Shaq’s almost outrageous line of 44 points and 20 rebounds.

Facing a must win situation at home in Game 2, O’Neal dominated the 76ers frontline and provided one of the most hidden gems as far as finals performances are concerned with 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and eight blocks.

With O’Neal playing like an all-time great, Philadelphia just could not do anything to stop him despite the presence of Dikembe Mutombo — he won the Defensive Player of the Year award that season — as the Diesel would run roughshod through the Sixers as Los Angeles went unbeaten in the remainder of the title round.

Shaquille O’Neal won the Finals MVP award on the strength of his 33 points per game, 15.8 rebounds per game, 4.8 assists per game 3.4 blocks per game on 57.3 percent field goal shooting in the five games in the NBA Finals.

Although the Lakers would “only” sport a plus-6.8 average victory margin in the 2001 Finals against the 76ers, their performance has to be considered as perhaps the best postseason run ever seen in the NBA.

The ’01 Lakers’ defeated four teams that won 50 games or more and also managed to take down three of the four — the purple and gold would be the fourth one obviously — best teams in the league and did so while only losing one game.

Their 15-1 playoff record still stands as the best postseason record in league history and their plus-12.8 playoff average scoring margin is the best of any of the Los Angeles Lakers title teams.

Should we compare this team to any of the Lakers from the 1980s, they might not match up favorably in terms of star power and Hall of Fame caliber talent available on the roster; but if we simply look at what this unit did in their own right on their way to the title, it’s awfully tough to not come away impressed with the way they outclassed the best teams in the NBA on their way to the title.

After what’s been a stellar offseason of work for the Lakers, the questions about this team are starting to come up more and more. It’s not so much that there are doubts about how good they can be (over the past week we’ve heard several players comment about how good the Lakers are on paper), but rather a closer examination of some of the things that can potentially trip this team up from reaching their ceiling.

One such question revolves around leadership. After all, the Lakers have brought in two players in Nash and Howard who are accustomed to being the face(s) of their team(s). With them joining Kobe and, to a somewhat lesser extent Pau Gasol, the Lakers now have multiple players who are used to having a voice in the deciding the direction of a team.

The initial question — Kobe/Nash question — is one that’s been raised by several people, but most notably Henry Abbott at TrueHoop. In a very good post that explored multiple angles to the potential pitfalls of their divergent leadership styles, Abbott cites some situations that show this partnership in leadership could work out quite well. In referencing the perception that their leadership styles won’t mesh:

Not so, says former Suns front office guy Amin Elhassan, who knows Nash well and carries a healthy fear of Bryant. He told me on TrueHoop TV recently that he sees the pairing as “the perfect marriage of good cop, bad cop. Kobe’s the guy who gets on guys — which some people would criticize and say Steve didn’t do enough of in his career. And on the other hand you have Steve to kind of build guys up and build their confidence up, which obviously has been a criticism of Kobe. … I think it’s a perfect, perfect marriage.”

I started to wonder if there were examples of teams that really had paired both kinds of leaders side-by-side. How did that turn out?

A clue comes from a footnote of Bill Simmons’ “The Book of Basketball.” In the tiny type at the bottom of page 478, there’s a Phil Jackson quote, borrowed from a must-read 1999 S.L. Price Scottie Pippen profile in Sports Illustrated:

“On the Bulls,” says Jackson, “[Scottie Pippen] was probably the player most liked by the others. He mingled. He could bring out the best in the players and communicate the best. Leadership, real leadership, is one of his strengths. Everybody would say Michael is a great leader. He leads by example, by rebuke, by harsh words. Scottie’s leadership was equally dominant, but it’s a leadership of patting the back, support.”

Wow. Take a note, Laker fans. Elhassan is looking like a genius: “Good cop, bad cop” is how most people’s pick as the best team ever was led.

I’d point out that you don’t have to actually stray far from recent Lakers’ (and Kobe’s) history to find an example of good cop, bad cop working out quite well. Derek Fisher and Kobe shared a similar leadership dynamic for a recent group of players that went to three straight Finals and won back to back championships. Much like Nash is perceived to be, Fisher was the man that would inspire his mates through his words and pick them up when they were down.

Of course, this current incarnation of the Lakers isn’t just a good cop and a bad cop. They’ve also added Dwight Howard to the mix. And with the big man comes a more fun loving approach to the game (an approach that’s received a fair amount of criticism, I might add) that can surely affect a team and its locker room.

However, I don’t think Howard’s loose, kind of goofy ways will be much of a problem (if one at all), even though there are some doubts. As I told D.J. Foster of ClipperBlog in a recent conversation, I think Dwight’s approach can actually provide another balance to the leaders already in the room.

When the Lakers made their surprising run to the Finals in 2008 one thing that stood out to me was the fun that team had playing together. That team enjoyed being and playing together; had fun on and off the court together. One of the reasons for that was having some young players like Bynum, Farmar, Sasha, and Ariza and the exuberance they had in making that run.

But another reason was because of Lamar Odom. LO was known to keep the locker room loose, to never get too up or too down, and to always have a smile on his face. While they’re certainly different individuals with different life experiences (and levels of — perceived, at least — maturity), that sort of sounds like Dwight Howard. Having him in the fold may end up being the perfect compliment to aging, grizzled veterans Kobe and Nash. Every team needs to take their jobs seriously, but they also need to enjoy playing the game together in order to mesh fully. A team can only reach its full potential if they’re 100% together, after all.

Of course, leadership is never that simple and the characterizations presented above are a bit simplistic. I’ve seen Dwight be as demonstrative as any other player in talking to a teammate. The same can be said of Nash, who I’ve observed barking for one of his guys to get to the right spot on the floor. I’ve also seen Kobe take a guy aside and explain to him calmly what to expect on the upcoming possession (as well as heard teammates recount all the times he’s taken them under their wing to aid in their development). All these guys are complex; they’re human. They’re going to show all sides of their personality when trying to get the most out of their guys.

Next year, we’ll see the many sides of these men in their quest to guide this team to where they want to be. But, from where I sit, they look to have the right mix of personalities to get where they want to go. And, I’d much rather have that be the case than not.

Lakers Countdown: At #4…

J.M. Poulard —  August 26, 2012

Sometimes unfair labels get cast on athletes or teams and for whatever reason they just tend to stick. At times it’s because the label itself has some minor truth to it even though previous events have proven to the contrary, and at times it’s just easier to roll with them.

As the story went, the Boston Celtics owned the Los Angeles Lakers; and they always would. It didn’t matter which year, which decade or which millennium it was, the Celtics had the ghosts on their side that always tipped the scales in their favor. Whether it was a missed shot at the end of regulation, a critical injury, a bad pass that led to a game going into overtime or an inability to execute in crunch time, Boston would always get the breaks at the expense of the Lakers…

Until they no longer would.

At some point, the curse would eventually come to an end.

Clocking in at the fourth spot in the Los Angeles Lakers title teams countdown…

The 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers

Larry Bird would lead the Celtics to a victory over the Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals after a tough seven-game series. With the championship lost, the purple and gold would spend an entire summer hearing about how James Worthy was a choker — with the Lakers leading by two points in Game 2 and the game essentially won, the Lakers inbounded the ball with the shot clock turned off and Worthy lofted a pass that was intercepted by Gerald Henderson that led to a score that sent the game to overtime where the Lakers lost — while Magic Johnson would be named Tragic due to his inability to deliver late in ball games and the Lakers would be seen as a team lacking mental toughness.

Consequently, when training camp opened the following season, the Lakers knew they needed to play better and get tougher; but they also needed for their big guns to rise to the occasion and lead the way.

And yet, the start of the season wasn’t necessarily impressive by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, the road back to redemption would start with back-to-back losses to open up the season and a 13-7 record. In the first 20 games of the season, the Lakers had eclipsed 130 points four times, but the defense had yet to catch up with the offense.

That theme would hold true until mid-January, when the Lakers lost a tight contest in Boston, which dropped Pat Riley’s record to 26-14 for the 1984-85 season. Not a bad record at all, mind you the Celtics were now 33-6 and seemed poised to continue to take over the regular season as well as possibly the postseason that was still a little over two months away.

The Lakers’ defense wasn’t bad, but given the pace at which they played, they gave up a lot of points but didn’t necessarily always put enough on the board. But with the loss to Boston, the Lakers seemingly opened things up even more and allowed themselves to truly unleash Showtime on the rest of the NBA.

After faltering against the Celtics on the road, Magic Johnson and his teammates went on a 36-6 run to close out the regular season with a 62-20 record.

The Los Angeles Lakers finished the regular season with the best offensive efficiency in the league and the seventh best defensive efficiency in the NBA. In addition, they had three winning streaks of nine games or more during the regular season, which helped them sport a plus-7.4 average scoring margin.

The regular season mind you would hardly matter. It would come down to the playoffs and vanquishing the Celtics in the title round should they be there waiting for them.

The Lakers would obliterate the Phoenix Suns (36-46) in the first round, sweeping them out of the playoffs and winning each game by an average of 20.3 points.

The second round would pit them against the Portland Trail Blazers (42-40), who would hardly prove to be a match. The Lakers would dispatch them in five games, and sport an average scoring margin of plus-11 in the series.

The Western Conference Finals would prove to be the same type of yawner as the Lakers would also take out the Denver Nuggets (52-30) in five games and even put up a whopping 153 points in the clincher. L.A. defeated another western opponent by an average of double-digit points to set up a rematch against the Boston Celtics (63-19) with all the chips on the line.

The NBA Finals would open up with the famed Memorial Day Massacre as Boston would spank the Lakers in a 148-114 victory in which Kareem Abdul-Jabbar looked every bit of his 38-year old age on his way to 12 points and three rebounds.

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer would rededicate himself and get into better shape with a few days off between games and lead the Lakers to a Game 2 victory at the Garden thanks to his 30 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists. Read that stat line again, he was 38 years old.

With the games now shifting to the Forum, the trio of Magic, Worthy and Abdul-Jabbar led their unit to a Game 3 blowout victory over the Boston Celtics and a 2-1 series lead. The Celtics would bounce back in Game 4 and steal one on the road to even up the series, thus setting up a monumental Game 5 at the Forum.

Magic would orchestrate things masterfully, scoring 26 points and dishing out 17 assists, but James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would combine for 69 points on 29-for-45 shooting from the field to win the contest and give themselves an opportunity to close out Boston in the Garden.

Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Dave Cowens and John Havlicek to name a few had given the Celtics an aura of invincibility in the title round. Consequently, to say that the team and its fans were confident at home would be putting it mildly. No road team had ever celebrated the title at the Boston Garden and their ghosts and leprechauns would make sure of that in Game 6 and Game 7.

Mind you, the Lakers never got that memo.

The Lakers would prevail in Game 6 on the road and finally avenge their 1984 NBA Finals defeat. The center labeled as too old would win the Finals MVP with averages of 25.7 points per game, 9 rebounds per game and 5.2 assists per game on 60.4 percent field goal shooting.

James Worthy who had been called by many a choker kept showing up with big performances in the finals while the player dubbed Tragic led many to wonder if he was perhaps the best maestro the league had ever seen given his ability to score, rebound, pass, run the offense and lead.

The ’85 Lakers would not only win the title, but do so in convincing fashion. They would end their title run with a 15-4 postseason record as well as an impressive plus-10.7 playoff average scoring margin despite the huge score differential in their Game 1 loss to the Celtics.

Between the good regular season and the terrific postseason showing, the ’85 Lakers were a no-brainer for many of the FB&G staff at the fourth spot, and it says something about the three teams left in the countdown for this squad to finish this “low”.

Three teams to go…