Archives For August 2012

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  August 14, 2012

With the Olympics over and training camps still more than a month away, it will be a while before there’s meaningful basketball to discuss. To be honest, getting a break is nice but I still find myself wanting for more hoops. I guess that’s what happens when Nash and Howard become Lakers in the span of six weeks. Right now, they’re the big boxes under the Christmas tree screaming “open me!” only to realize we just ate our Thanksgiving turkey. Lots of waiting in front of us. Sit tight, you guys. It will be here before you know it. In the meantime, some thoughts on what’s happening with the Lakers and around the league…

  • Yesterday the Jodie Meeks signing became official. We went over what he brings to the table already but it’s nice to review: Meeks offers a viable back up to Kobe while also giving the team a shooter they’ve been seeking. For what he’ll be paid, he’s a great signing solely for those two reasons. The fact that his defensive numbers are better than you’d expect and this signing looks fantastic.
  • Devin Ebanks also signed his offer sheet yesterday. We’ve yet to fully see what Ebanks is capable of but the hope is that he can bring some of what Matt Barnes did over the past two seasons. Devin has good size, is a decent athlete, and seems to have nose for the ball with an understanding of space. If he can be a slasher off the ball and a guy that fills the lane when the Lakers run, he can be a nice addition on offense. If he can start to hit his jumper (even if it’s only an 18-20 footer) his value goes up immensely for a Laker team that will need all the spacing it can get. It remains to be seen if he’ll rebound as well as Barnes (which, at this point, is asking a lot) but he should be able to contribute there as well. Ultimately, it’s good to have him officially back in the fold.
  • With Meeks and Ebanks in the mix, the Lakers have a very nice 10 man rotation of Nash, Kobe, Ron, Pau, Howard, Blake, Meeks, Ebanks, Jamison, and Hill. A group like that allows the Lakers to play countless lineups and get all their main cogs the proper rest in the process. There’s not a lot of positional versatility there (I see Blake, Jamison, Meeks, and Ebanks as only being able to play one position effectively) but the versatility of Kobe, Pau, Ron, and Hill still gives Mike Brown a lot of options to mix and match personnel to find effective groupings. Training camp will be key to start to sort some of that out.
  • What may interest only me is what happens with the bottom of the Lakers’ roster. Outside of the aforementioned 10 players, the Lakers also have Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Chris Duhon, and Earl Clark under contract for next year. They also hold the draft rights to Robert Sacre and Darius Johnson-Odom. If you’re counting at home, that’s 16 players and the Lakers can only carry 15 in the regular season. At least one of those players won’t make the roster and maybe more.
  • The Lakers rarely carry a full roster, however. They typically carry 14 players, allowing them roster flexibility should they make a trade where they take back more players than they send out or if there’s a player on the market via a buy out that they’d like to add. It will be interesting if they take that approach this year and if they do, who is on their way out. Remember, Goudelock’s contract is not guaranteed so he could end up being a bubble player even though he has an NBA ready skill (his shooting). Also note that even though Earl Clark is listed as a PF, he’s not a “big” in the classic sense. This leads me to believe that Sacre may have a shot at making the team solely for his size and as insurance against injury/to be a practice body even though I expect Clark to stick due to his contract being guaranteed.
  • Moving away from hoops for a second, with the summer winding down are there any good books you’d recommend? The last book I read was Jack Macallum’s Dream Team and that was excellent. your recommendation doesn’t have to be sports related but, if it’s not, I’d prefer to read fiction.
  • Finally went and saw the new Dark Knight Rises movie last week. It was well worth my $12 (for a matinee!). If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d recommend it. Though, since it’s the 3rd part of a trilogy, seeing the other two first would be advised.
  • Some site news: I’m considering a slight redesign of the site. Anything specific you’d like to see? New banner graphics? Something else? Let me know in the comments.
  • Finally, in the weeks leading up to the season, I want to do some more mailbags. Send me a question by clicking on the contact me button in  the right sidebar. I’ll also start soliciting questions via twitter so follow me on there @forumbluegold and you’ll get some details on submitting questions via that platform too.

Soon, we’ll have camps, pre-season games, and other matters surrounding the team to discuss. And, even sooner than that, we’re going to be doing offensive and defensive breakdowns on what Dwight Howard with looks at potential sets the Lakers can run to maximize their personnel. Just because basketball has stopped doesn’t mean we will.

The Los Angeles Lakers pulled off the seemingly unthinkable last week when they hit one of the biggest homeruns in franchise history by acquiring Dwight Howard in a four-team trade. Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss have proven that their commitment to adding more championship banners to the franchise has never been more strong given the way they have shaped up the roster in this offseason.

The purple and gold acquired the best center in the league, a certified game changer at both ends of the floor, but it’s still worth visiting what exactly that means for the Lakers when we break things down. In order to do so, Forum Blue & Gold reached out to Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball to obtain some insights on the big man:

“With Dwight, you’re getting the best defensive player in the NBA (only LeBron is his peer defensively). I think Mike Brown will have a field day coming up with schemes tailored to maximize Dwight’s strengths on defense. On offense, 1/5 pick-and-rolls with Nash and Dwight will be devastating. And with the mere presence of Nash, Kobe, and Pau on the court, Dwight should have a field day in the low post with his scoring and passing. 

“Dwight represents a far better fit with the new-look Lakers, as opposed to Bynum, because of his ability to get the most out of Nash (and vice-versa) in pick-and-roll sets, as well as his ability to make a far-reaching impact on defense — like hide Nash’s defensive deficiencies, for example. And because of that, I fully expect L.A. to be a devastating team based on talent and fit alone. How good they can be ultimately falls on Brown’s coaching ability.”

Most will look at what Howard brings to the table defensively and honestly, it would be hard not to do. Indeed, according to basketball value, last season the Orlando Magic boasted a defensive rating of 101.52 with the big man on the floor, but that figure ballooned to 108.60 when he was off the court. A big reason for that was his ability to protect the paint.

D12’s gifts on the defensive end shine bright when he is asked to be a help defender as he finds ways to either block or simply change shots all the while avoiding fouls. Howard’s instincts and basketball IQ make it as such that he is constantly in a position to help out his teammates should they get burned on the perimeter.

And yet, he still has more to offer defensively.

The big man’s foot speed, long arms and defensive technique make him one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in the league given that he is able to successfully execute every type of coverage needed to thwart the screen roll action. Howard can hedge out strong on the ball handler and recover in time to protect the paint, trap the man with the ball or play off him without necessarily exposing himself to getting burned off the bounce.

Consequently, teams that are anchored defensively by Dwight Howard promise to protect the paint like a fortress. According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, when the former Olympian was on the court for the Magic last season, Orlando only surrendered 33.4 points in the paint per game when projected over 48 minutes. When the former Defensive Player of the Year was off the court mind you, those figures went up to 44.1 points in the paint per game (once again, projected over 48 minutes).

The Lakers as a whole last season gave up 41.5 points in the paint per game and thus stand to benefit from the big man’s presence on the defensive end.  

Howard is a defensive ace that should more than likely upgrade the Lakers’ defense, but he also brings something else to the table: offense.

As Eddy Rivera stated, Howard will be a perfect fit when playing with Steve Nash because of his ability to catch and finish in the pick-and-roll as well as Nash’s ability to deliver the ball in such a setting. According to MySynergySports, Dwight Howard converted 74 percent of his field goal attempts — he shot the ball 73 times in such situations last season — last season in the screen-and-roll action. That’s a staggering conversion rate, but given that he does a good job of catching the ball and then going up and finishing strong over defenders, it makes sense.

But just for comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at Andrew Bynum in the same situation. Given that the former Laker big man often towered over his defenders and did a good job of getting position right next to the basket as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, one would expect him to convert more than his fair share of attempts in this setting. MySynergySports tells us that the All-Star center converted 57.1 percent of his field goal attempts — 35 such attempts — last season as the roll man in the pick-and-roll action, which is an impressive figure all by itself. And really, that puts into perspective just how much of an excellent finisher Howard is.

This becomes quite tricky for opposing defenses when Howard keeps setting screens and rolls to the basket because he typically attracts of wave of defenders; which is how the Magic shooters consistently got open last season.

Although the Lakers only converted 32.6 percent of their 3-point field goals last season (tied for 25th in the NBA), Howard will help them consistently get open looks from long-range but it will also open up the court for midrange shooters such as Kobe Bryant, Antawn Jamison, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash to name a few. And well, let’s just say that if you had to rely on these players to hit an open jumper to save your life, you’d feel pretty confident about your odds.

Howard comes to the Lakers with an effective but not quite aesthetic post game as well as athleticism destined to bring more highlights to the franchise but he also comes with a glaring weakness. Those that followed the Lakers in the Shaq era are quite familiar with it: the team will get in the bonus early and probably lead the league in free throw attempts, but they will miss their fair share as well given D12’s inability to convert a high percentage of his freebies.

With that said, provided that he is the same player prior to surgery on his back, the Lakers are getting a once in a generation type of talent that just happens to perfectly fit with his new roster.

Can we get the season to start already?

Lakers Countdown: At #7…

J.M. Poulard —  August 12, 2012

When the Decision happened, LeBron James became the symbol of the spoiled athlete that failed to understand just what was happening around him in “real life”. The end result was that he instantly became a villain and represented everything that was wrong about professional sports in the minds of many. Consequently he was booed in every road arena even though he never truly understood why.

How history treats him remains to be seen, but James certainly was not the first athlete to make a questionable decision in terms of how he conducted himself as a professional.

For instance, Kobe Bryant requested to be traded in 2007 but that has since been swept under the rug after winning back-to-back titles afterwards.

Winning tends to make people forget things.

But sometimes, odd actions can make people forget winners.

The best illustration of this clock in at #7 in our Los Angeles Lakers countdown of greatest title teams…

The 1981-82 Lakers

After winning the NBA championship in Magic Johnson’s rookie season in 1980, many thought the Lakers had a chance to get back to the mountaintop in the ensuing season.

Mind you, Johnson was injured early in the season and thus only appeared in 37 games. Despite the prolonged absence of one of their best playmakers and rebounders, the purple and gold managed to win 54 games on the strength of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes’ scoring. Also, Norm Nixon’s ability to run the offense helped a talented Lakers squad play at a high level.

The team seemed as though they might make some noise in the postseason but then they fell apart in the first round of the playoffs just as the team was getting used to playing with Magic Johnson.

With the team having faced an early season exit, they made some minor tweaks and acquired Mitch Kupchak and Kurt Rambis to help shore up the rebounding in the offseason; and later acquired former three-time scoring champ Bob McAdoo early in the ensuing 1981-82 regular season.

The franchise made news by signing Magic Johnson to a 25-year $25 million contract that led many to wonder if owner Jerry Buss liked Magic Johnson just a little too much.

The Lakers started out the season by once again being a very talented squad but some around the team felt as though head coach Paul Westhead was holding the team back with his half court offense. They had stopped being Showtime and instead became a team that brought the ball up the court and executed instead of consistently outrunning their opponents.

Magic went on to voice his complaints and requested to be traded, feeling as though his talents weren’t being maximized under Westhead. And just like that, Westhead was fired despite a 7-4 record at the time.

Had Kanye West been the artist back then that he is today, everyone would have said that the lyrics from his hit song Power were tailor made for Magic:

“No one man should have all that power.”

The former Michigan State Spartan was booed in every opposing arena and was viewed as an athlete with a sense of entitlement and a man possessing far too much power with his franchise. In an odd way, this situation somewhat overshadowed just how deep and talented the team was as well as what it accomplished.

The 1981-82 Los Angeles Lakers had four Hall of Fame players (Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, McAdoo and Wilkes) as well as a stud point guard in Norm Nixon — yes, he was listed as the team’s point guard and Magic was listed as a guard/forward — that helped make plays.

The team may have had one of the best guard pairings ever when we look at their production during the 1981-82 regular season:

  • Norm Nixon: 17.6 points per game, 8 assists per game and 1.6 steals per game on 49.3 percent field goal shooting.
  • Magic Johnson: 18.6 points per game, 9.5 assists per game, 9.6 rebounds per game and 2.7 steals per game on 53.7 percent field goal shooting.

As good as the guards were, things became infinitely more difficult for opponents when the frontcourt became involved when arguably the best center in NBA history had two exquisite guards feeding him the ball when the team played in the half court.

And just in case that wasn’t problematic enough, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was surrounded by great scorers in Bob McAdoo (coming off the bench) and Jamaal Wilkes.

With Pat Riley at the helm, the Lakers finished the season with a 57-25 record, tops in the Western Conference. They sported the second best offensive efficiency in the league and the 10th best defensive efficiency.

The Western Conference playoffs were a mere footnote for the Lakers who obliterated the Phoenix Suns (46-36) in the first round by an average scoring margin of 12.7 points in a four-game sweep.

The following series against the San Antonio Spurs (48-34) proved to be quite similar to the outcome against the Suns, as the Lakers swept them and won every game against the Spurs by an average of 8.7 points.

The Los Angeles Lakers entered the NBA Finals — at the time, a team only needed to win two rounds to advance to the finals — as underdogs to the Philadelphia 76ers (58-24) given that they did not have home court advantage.

And yet, as if to come full circle, Magic Johnson led the purple and gold to another title against the same 76ers team that had lost against them two years prior in the title round.

Los Angeles won in six games and kept Julius Erving’s title drought alive for one last season.

The ’82 Lakers boasted an impressive 12-2 playoff record and sported an average scoring margin of plus-6.1 during the postseason. In addition, when we consider the roster top to bottom, there is no doubt that this is one of the greatest teams to ever hit the hardwood.

Why seventh then?

For a team as loaded as the ’82 Lakers, one can only wonder why they only won 57 games especially in a rather weak Western Conference. In addition, they dismantled their conference opponents during the playoffs but both teams fail to even win 50 games during the regular season, thus making the accomplishment a little less impressive.

In addition, this squad may have only had two losses during their postseason run, but they were by 16 and 33 points; meaning they were blown out of the building. Perhaps it’s nitpicking, but as we climb along the ladder of best Los Angeles Lakers teams in franchise history, these small details will add up and end up making the difference.

For weeks we’ve been discussing the Lakers’ need to find a capable wing player, especially one that could back up Kobe Bryant. There were several capable options on the market but the Lakers were clearly looking for the right fit both in terms of skill set and price. It looks like they’ve found their man in former 76er, Jodie Meeks. Via Dave McMenamin’s report, it’s a two year contract worth $3 million with the second year a team option.

In Meeks, the Lakers have grabbed a player that crosses off several boxes on the wants side of the ledger. First off, he’s young. Meeks just completed his 3rd year in the league and is only 24 years old. Second, he’s relatively inexpensive. After reports that Meeks wouldn’t sign for the minimum, the Lakers dipped into their mini mid-level exception to give him a slightly larger starting salary, but they’ll pay him around what they pay Antawn Jamison next season, so he represents value for someone they clearly see as a rotation player. The fact that the second year of his contract is a team option gives the Lakers flexibility moving forward to decide to move in a different direction should they deem it necessary. Third, Meeks has been a starter and a bench player in his career so he should have few issues adjusting to a bench role backing up Kobe.

From a skills standpoint, Meeks is the exact type of player they’ve sought. He’s known as a shooter and is someone that does his best work off the ball. Via My Synergy Sports, Meeks shot 37.9% on 3 pointers in spot up situations and 37.5% on 3’s coming off screens. Whatever offense the Lakers plan to employ next year, Meeks is a guy that can work off the talent that surrounds him and knock down open shots afforded to him when the defense reacts to his teammates. Playing on the strong or weak side, spotting up or running off picks, Meeks’ ability to catch, shoot, and hit shots will be a valuable asset to a Laker team that possesses so many players that draw defensive attention.

Where there may be some concerns is when digging deeper into his shot chart. Meeks only shot 25.9% on corner 3’s but did hit 39.3% of his 3’s from the above the break in the arc. If these trends continue into next year, the Lakers may find issues with sending him to the corner to simply camp out and provide a threat that will space the floor. That said, if Mike Brown and his coaches can find ways to use him higher on the floor – something that an offense utilizing a two guard front (like the Princeton Offense) would allow more of – Meeks’ ability to hit those shots with consistency would be a big weapon. Time will tell how Meeks is used and on what spots of the floor he’s most successful, but this will be something to monitor.

Defensively, there are also some positives to bringing in Meeks. He has decent size (6’4″), has played for coaches that preach defense first (most recently Doug Collins and before him Scott Skiles), and will give good effort on that side of the floor. Numbers wise, when he played shooting guard he held his man to a PER of 8.5 this past season and the Sixers were a bit better defensively when he was on the floor versus when he was on the bench. Via Synergy, Meeks also posted very good numbers guarding ball handlers in the P&R and when guarding his man coming off screens or receiving hand-offs. His numbers in isolation and in guarding spot up shooters were only average, but with better help defenders in Los Angeles (hello Dwight Howard) the hope is that his numbers in these areas will improve next year.

Of course, not everything is roses with this signing as Meeks does have his limitations and does come with some question marks. He’s not a guy that will create his own shot. He’s got relatively good size but offers little positional versatility and will likely only play shooting guard. In the playoffs, his minutes dwindled and his role was reduced in favor of players that offered more well rounded games. And, though he’s a “shooter” his overall FG% is not eye popping.

But even with those caveats, the Lakers did well here in finding a good role player at a moderate price who can help the team. Meeks isn’t a difference maker as an individual talent, but he’s certainly a quality player within the team structure that the Lakers offer. His offensive skill set and ability to relieve Kobe of playing heavy minutes make his signing worth what the Lakers paid. When you add in the fact that he’s a capable defender, is coachable, and has never seemed to chafe when his role shifted, the Lakers got a very good player to compliment their roster. Considering they’ve already added Nash, Howard, Jamison, and brought back Jordan Hill, this signing caps off a nice off-season for the Lakers. This team is now built to seriously contend and Meeks aids in that pursuit. From that perspective, I’m very happy he was added.

*Statistical support for this post from NBA.com

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  August 10, 2012

It’s the day after the night of the big news, and I don’t know that there’s anything I can say that hasn’t already been said (although you can be sure that it will be said again, many times over). The arrival of Dwight Howard after a prolonged and sometimes awkward dance, is a major milestone in the Lakers’ timeline. Credit Mitch Kupchak, who swung for the fences this summer in his measured and quiet way, and parked a couple well over the fence. There’s also the matter of the Olympics – Team USA is in the midst of their semi-final, playing against Argentina. If they advance, they’ll play Spain. Do I seem at all distracted?

Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo Sports was the first to break the news yesterday, and updates his report this afternoon.

Brian Kamenetzy at the Land O’Lakers examines why it was so crucial to keep Pau in the fold, during the Dwight trade.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register writes about Mitch Kupchak and the magic of the crystal ball.

C.A. Clark at Silver Screen & Roll, reports that it’s official, and breaks down what we got and what we sent.

Mark Medina at the L.A. Times looks at five ways in which Dwight helps the Lakers. Mark also just reported on Jodie Meeks signing for about $3 million over two years.

Ramneet Singh at Lakers Nation brings us Kobe’s reaction.

Steve McPherson at Hardwood Paroxysm takes a Glengarry Glen Ross look at the Lakers’ newest acquisition.

***

To say that the Laker roster looks to be in good shape, is only saying a little. As fans, we have every right to be happy and unapologetic about our good fortune. Yet, it’s still the middle of a long, hot summer. Training camp is months off, and then come the adjustments and acclimation for a team that will look, and play differently. There will be an 82-game regular season and I for one, don’t expect any romp to the finish line. Darius wrote a nice goodbye to a kid that we all watched grow. And best wishes to Josh McRoberts as well. I always liked his hustle and his attitude. From halftime to the start of the 4th quarter as I write – Durant and Carmelo are bombing away, and USA is opening up their lead. Enjoy the weekend, everyone.

* Okay, I cannot NOT update this, moments after posting. Team USA blows it open and goes for gold Sunday!  Yes!!

– Dave Murphy