Archives For October 2012

This Lakers team is improved from last season. Simply look at their roster.

The additions of Nash and Howard are upgrades to the players they replaced and that’s true even though one of the guys who’s departed was second team all NBA last year. And though it may not seem like it, this is also true for the players occupying the team’s bench.

Consider the following:

  • Jodie Meeks should be Kobe’s primary back up, a position that was manned by Jason Kapono, Andrew Goudelock, and Steve Blake last season. Kapono isn’t currently employed, Goudelock may not make the Lakers’ roster, and Blake is a point guard.
  • Devin Ebanks will be the primary back up at SF replacing Matt Barnes. Barnes is the more proven player, but early returns say Ebanks is very much improved from last season and offers tangible qualities like size, length, and speed that Barnes either lacks or are diminishing. Even if you call a Barnes/Ebanks swap a wash (which would be fair), I’ll take the younger player on the upswing and not look back.
  • Antawn Jamison is the team’s swing forward and replaces Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts. Murphy, like Kapono, doesn’t have a job at this point and McRoberts is trying to find his way in Orlando. Even though Jamison hasn’t yet looked great off the bench, he’s a superior player to Murphy and has a better skill set for this Lakers team than McRoberts.
  • Jordan Hill is a returning player but is worth mentioning here because of his small sample of games for the Lakers last season. Once he became a rotation player, he never relinquished his spot and proved to be valuable contributor down the stretch of the season. Like Jamison, he’s a superior player to Murphy (while also being a superior player to McRoberts as well) and, health permitting, having him for an entire season will be an upgrade.

Go down the line and this group trumps last year’s. Considering how much lack of depth hurt the Lakers’ last season, this is a good thing.

That said, when you zoom in on this group of reserves there’s a common theme. None of these guys are stand out players as individuals. They are, in the truest sense of the word role players. Their skill-sets are ones that are meant to complement others, not shine on their own. (Contrast this to the Kings who brought Marcus Thornton and Aaron Brooks off their bench, both of whom could start for several teams in the league and have been ‘instant offense’ players their entire careers.)

For the reserves to be at their best, then, they’ll need to be integrated into lineups with starting players, not trotted onto the floor together like an NBA version of a line change in hockey. These guys simply don’t have the requisite talent as individuals to carry a unit and shouldn’t be asked to.

This seems to be something that Mike Brown understands even though he’s not yet shown it this preseason. Before the Lakers’ first exhibition game against the Warriors, Brown spoke at length about what he wanted to see from his team in that game and through the exhibition season. One thing he commented on was that the odds were very high that at least one and probably two of his big four would be on the floor at all times when he sorted out a regular rotation.

Due to injuries, that plan hasn’t yet come to fruition, but we did start to see some of that Sunday night against the Kings. Before Brown brought back in all his starters to close the game, he used the lineup I’ve argued would be the best P&R lineup when Nash, Meeks, Ebanks, Jamison, and Howard all shared the floor. We only saw that lineup for a short time, but it was good to see that combination if only briefly.

When the season gets into full swing, however, we will need to see more of that. The Lakers don’t have a modern day version of Vinny Johnson to bring off their bench. There is no James Harden or Lamar Odom waiting in the wings. Brown will need to supplement his reserves with the right combination of starters to maximize his bench production. And, if he does this correctly, the bench may still be outscored in the classic sense but we won’t see nearly as many long stretches of poor play when substitutions are made.

The preseason hasn’t quite proven this true yet, but this Lakers bench is better. They’ll just still need help from the starters to make sure they’re affective.


I’m just kidding. Don’t panic. Yes, the Lakers lost again. And, yes, they now have as many wins this preseason as the number of points I’ve scored in the NBA. In going 0-6 so far, the team has shown strides but is still a ways away from being the team many think they can be.

This is a good thing considering we’re still a long ways away from when the Lakers will need to be that team. The goal is to be the best they can be in May and June so there’s good news in the fact that today is October 22nd. The work in progress continues but at least there is progress. And while it’s a bit concerning the Lakers starters closed the game and came from ahead to lose, it was always going to be a process with this team.

Now, for some observations from the game especially on Dwight Howard…

  • Howard looked healthy, but this shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s been practicing, full contact, for some time now and reports have had him doing things in practice that he’s been doing in games his entire career. That said, seeing that athleticism translate to the floor was great to see. It was also nice to see him take some shots, deliver some of his own, and not be any worse for the wear when the game was over. He played 33 minutes and while his conditioning did suffer by the end of the game, he looked pretty much like the physically imposing guy the Lakers traded for.
  • The rust in Howard’s game was evident, however. He lost the handle on a couple of back down moves. He got stripped of the ball on multiple occasions, both when he was diving to the rim and when he was set up as a passer at the pinch post. On a play where Kobe hit him with a pocket bounce pass out of a P&R, Dwight bobbled the ball before securing it and going up to finish. He made the basket and earned a trip to the line but the way he didn’t make a clean catch stood out to me more.
  • Dwight’s defensive activity — even with a couple of high stakes, late game plays where he didn’t help fast enough — was exactly what the Lakers have been missing on a consistent basis. It’s natural to compare Dwight to the man he’s replacing, and I’ll try not to do too much of that this season. Howard is simply in a different class in terms of his instincts on how to move around the floor, the ability to get from spot to spot, and in how he challenges shots to really alter them. In the first half alone Dwight hedged and contained a ball handler perfectly on a P&R set, rotated to a penetrating King and challenged the shot without fouling to force a miss, and even hedged out on a curl play where he stepped out to contest a jumper when his wing teammate couldn’t get around the screen. What stood out wasn’t just the ease and effort in which he did these things, it was the way he did them naturally. Simply put, Dwight has a tremendous aptitude for defense and last night, even in his first game back, it showed.
  • Things that need work: just because Dwight can catch lobs, doesn’t mean you have to throw them. The team had several exciting plays that made the highlights. Howard’s first basket was a fantastic high/low action between him and Pau. Kobe threw a “three flies up” moon ball out of a hand-off sequence that Dwight hammered home. Nash even got into the action with a sweet lob from the arc when Dwight walked his man up the lane line and then spun back-door. But, several of the Lakers’ 22 turnovers were on lobs to Dwight. Some were tipped away, some were off target, and some Dwight just couldn’t handle. The lob will be a weapon this year, but they went to it a bit too many times.
  • Nash still looks to be looking for the right mix of running P&R’s and getting the Lakers into their Princeton sets. I know it’s easy to blame Mike Brown every time Nash runs a standard set and he ends up just camping out around the arc but we should remember that Nash has the freedom to run what he wants. He can start possessions with a P&R, he can pull the ball back and run another if he wants. He’s Steve freaking Nash, no one is going to get mad at him. To my eyes, it actually looks like Nash is purposefully running a lot of traditional sets to help everyone (including himself) get acclimated to the new scheme. After all, Nash knows he can run a P&R and create a good shot but getting everyone on the same page in this new offense still has question marks. They need the extra reps.
  • There will be several jokes made about Kobe’s leaning, fading, contested three pointer to tie the game at the end. I happily acknowledge that I thought that was a suspect play call and that there had to be a better option available considering the amount of time in the game. Now that that’s out of the way, Kobe scored 21 points on only 12 shots. For the preseason he’s shooting 50% from the floor, 87% (41-47) from the FT line, and has a TS% of 66.5%. Yes, it’s only preseason. And no, we shouldn’t take too much away from this. But, it’s fair to say that Kobe has looked good this exhibition season and while Nash and Howard get the headlines, Kobe is still chugging along doing well.

The Lakers play the Kings for the second time in 3 days tonight, this time back at Staples Center after returning from Las Vegas. In the last contest, the Lakers showed as much desire to get a W that they have the entire exhibition season but still could not get it done. The Kings were hot from the outside and kept the Lakers at arm’s length all night by knocking down key shots every time the team tried to make a push. Kudos to them. Seriously. The young Kings looked into the game and as much as the Lakers didn’t want to lose you could tell the Kings really wanted to get a win.

Tonight, though, the Lakers may be getting reinforcements. Dwight Howard is officially listed as a game time decision but I’d bet that he plays. While the team has been cautious in bringing him back, Mike Brown said after Saturday’s practice that if Howard were cleared by the doctors he’d be in the lineup tonight. With news out of Lakers’ practice not giving us any indication that Dwight would be ruled out, I’m using that lack of a declaration as an affirmation that he’s likely to play. Of course, I could be wrong, but I’m of the mind that it’s doubtful he suffers any sort of setback between now and game time and that he’ll be ready to play.

For the Lakers, this is good news (and that is an understatement). Not that I expect Howard to be up to the standard he’s set throughout his career tonight. He’s not played in an NBA game since April and he’s sure to show signs of rust. There may be some missed rotations on D, some missed shots that he’d normally make, and a general sense that the game is moving a bit too fast for him. All of this would be normal so adjust your expectations accordingly.

That said, the Lakers are deep enough into the preseason that there’s now little else they can learn about this team without starting to get all their injured players back on the floor. Howard, of course, is the most significant of these players. Having Howard back allows Mike Brown to start to experiment with rotations that he’s more likely to use in the regular season and, thus, start to find a comfort zone with which player combinations work and don’t.

Brown can also start to see how his offensive and defensive sets look — in a non practice environment — in live action with Howard anchoring the pivot. This information will only help inform him further in starting to develop his team as a cohesive unit. That process must begin somewhere and the sooner Howard is in the fold, the better in that respect.

All that said I’ve been of the mind that the Lakers should hold off on bringing Howard back until he’s absolutely ready and still believe that. So, if he ends up sitting tonight I’d be okay with that. I’ve also been preaching patience in this preseason in terms taking too much stock in the results of the games and my position hasn’t changed on that either.

These games aren’t to be judged on wins or losses, but more about the positive steps the team is taking towards becoming better. These last couple of games the Lakers have moved forward and, despite the losses, that should be looked at as progress. Getting Howard back would be another step in the right direction but if that doesn’t happen tonight, the team can take solace in the fact that it will happen relatively soon.

I can’t lie, though. I do hope it happens tonight.

The Other Kobe-LeBron Debate

J.M. Poulard —  October 20, 2012

For the past few seasons, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have been the two biggest names in basketball and thus have been endlessly compared to each other.

The conversation is about to take a new turn as people in the media and fans alike have begun to stir the narrative in a different direction as it pertains to both athletes.

Although there will be times when it happens, the argument of rings (five versus one), MVP trophies (three versus one), Finals MVPs (two versus one) and All-Star game MVPs (four versus two) is now a thing of the past.

Instead, the conversation has slowly shifted to the inability of both players to consistently deliver late in ball games, but with a twist: both are now being compared to each other.

In what has become perhaps the most fascinating and yet somewhat under the radar topic in the NBA, many are clamoring for one superstar to emulate the next one.

Advance analytics has made it as such that many feel as though Kobe Bryant is overrated in crunch time, and thus should take a page from LeBron James’ book and hit the open teammate if the situation calls for it late in a tightly contested ball game. Mind you, those that “simply watch the games” will stand by Bryant and speak of him in reverential tone given the many hearts he has already cut out.

On the other side of the spectrum, the game watchers will tell you that LeBron could learn something from Kobe’s assertiveness down the stretch of games given his penchant for dishing off the ball whenever he senses the extra defender approaching whereas Bryant is more than happy to take the big shot regardless of the amount of defensive attention. However, stat geeks will argue that James’ production in the clutch goes far beyond just the shot, as he defends at a high level, rebounds well and helps his team produce high percentage shots.

In a nutshell, the argument has become as such: Kobe needs to be more like LeBron; but James needs to embrace his inner Black Mamba.

It’s an intriguing conversation considering the many views involved with respect to the Mamba and the King. Seriously, both players faced heavy criticism last season for their shot selection or lack thereof late in ball games and yet the narrative has become that they should both try to follow in each other’s footsteps.

Try to wrap your head around that one.

Obviously, the debate completely ignores how terrific both athletes are in the last five minutes of the game in facets other than scoring.

Kobe may coast during games on defense, but when things get tight late in the fourth quarter, he typically turns on the intensity as well as his level of aggression and bumps, grabs, pulls and gets into the personal space of whichever perimeter player has it going. His brilliant 16-year career has afforded him a level of respect with the officials that most players can only dream of, but the Lakers superstar still understands how to get up into his opponent and force him towards his help defenders all the while avoiding getting exposed off the bounce.

Also, he is a terrific playmaker that understands how to anticipate defensive rotations and either takes advantage of them by creating a shot for himself before the help can get to him, or by feeding a teammate on occasion for an easier shot.

Lo and behold, LeBron James has some of the same qualities in his game.

The newly crowned NBA champion is an excellent on and off the ball defender late in ball games that uses his chiseled frame to keep opponents away from the basket by bodying them up, and much like Bryant, he keeps his hands low into his defensive stance but high enough to contest jumpers without fouling. Watching both players operate on the defensive end late in ball games is a thing of beauty, given that they not only take advantage of angles and the knowledge of where their help is coming from, but they also understand how to defend areas as well as individuals quite physically all the while avoiding the whistle.

Furthermore, some may lament LeBron’s assertiveness in late games, but he actually does a good job of creating shots for both himself and for teammates. Many will point out that he shrinks in the big moment and prefers to defer to either Dwyane Wade or possibly another teammate; and there is some truth to that. There have been occasions in which he has been more than comfortable relinquishing the reins to Wade and camp out on the weak side of the court as his superstar teammate went to work and brought the game home.

Mind you, to think such has been the case for the entirety of his tenure in Miami would be completely erroneous considering the plethora of plays he has made with games hanging in the balance.

Part of the problem for Kobe and LeBron is perception.

During the 2010-11 regular season, LeBron missed a couple of game winning shots in a couple of nationally televised games in a row and the narrative eventually became that he could not seal the deal in crunch time. As it pertains to Bryant, once clutch statistics became available, people started paying more attention to the amount of missed shots in the final minutes of ball games and thus the perception has become that both players need to learn from each other because of perceived failings.

The irony of it all of course is that both players are not only great in clutch situations, but one could make the argument that they are the best perimeter players in the league when the last five minutes of the game rolls around. Have a look at how they stack up against Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade; players that currently carry huge reputations for clutch production; below is a spreadsheet with their clutch figures — clutch situations are defined as the last five minutes of the game with the scoring margin within five points — courtesy of’s advanced stats tool, projected over 40 minutes (points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage, field goal attempts and free throw attempts per game):








Carmelo Anthony







Kevin Durant







LeBron James







Kobe Bryant







Dwyane Wade







Between scoring, setting up teammates, rebounding, defending, making shots and getting to the free throw line, there might not be two players better than James and Bryant in the NBA when the game is up for grabs. Their output during the entire course of the game as well as its final moments is matched by very few; and yet the current debate centers around their inability to come through with the game on the line.

Superstars that can avoid these situations are far more valuable than those that cannot, but should it arise nonetheless, there are very few players in the league that are more trustworthy in the clutch than the pair.

Neither needs to become the other one, instead we should simply embrace how unique both superstars are and how they achieve success in different ways.

A basketball player is far more than his final shot, and yet this seems to be how superstars are measured at the moment. But if we look at the totality of the contests, we’ll notice that there is far more to being great than just making the final shot of the game.

*Statistical support provided by

The Lakers’ preseason tour continues tonight, this time in Las Vegas against the Kings. The Lakers are still looking for their first win of the preseason while the Kings are….uh…(google search)….2-1 but coming off a loss to that preseason juggernaut Warriors team.

For the Lakers, they’ll still be without two-thirds of their big man rotation as Dwight Howard still isn’t ready to play (but will be Sunday, maybe) and Jordan Hill isn’t yet cleared for contact while recovering from his own back issues. The good news is that Pau Gasol will play this evening so at least four of the Lakers’ starters will be in the line up tonight.

On the reserves front, everyone is available but sorting out who will actually play is another story. Last game Douglas-Roberts and Johnson-Odom saw to no time in favor of playing Goudelock, Morris, and co. Meanwhile big men Ronnie Aguilar and Reeves Nelson also saw heavy minutes. Of course some of this is related to injuries (and the fact that Pau sat out to rest) and doesn’t really mean that much beyond not giving fans the consistency in lineups that they’d like to see.

Ultimately, though, this will change soon. Within the next week, we’re sure to start to see cuts and the rotations will normalize. But that’s for a later discussion.

Tonight, the Lakers face an intriguing young Kings team that is looking to finally put together years of lottery picks and become a player in a crowded Western Conference. This past June they selected Kansas forward Thomas Robinson, a do it all forward that can play down low while also showing talent to play high on the floor.

He’ll be paired in the front court with DeMarcus Cousins, who seems ready to take the leap into one of the best young bigs in the league with head coach Keith Smart guiding him. Cousins shows a complete game — including being one of the best offensive rebounders in the league — and must only start to better finish at the rim before he’s just a total beast.

In the backcourt, the Kings remain a work in progress but do have some bright spots. Second year man Isaiah Thomas had a nice rookie year running the point and hopes to build on that bright spot of a campaign. Marcus Thornton offers real scoring punch on the wing and can get buckets from nearly any spot on the floor once he gets going. And Jimmer Fredette is also starting to find his comfort zone more, not looking as overwhelmed this preseason as he did last season.

The real question mark in this group is Tyreke Evans. The former rookie of the year is entering a make or break season for the Kings. His game, for all intents and purposes, has progressed only marginally from his superb rookie campaign and the Kings need more from him if they’re to take the next step as an organization. A lot is riding on him improving, not only his future (he is seeking a contract extension) but his team’s too.

Tonight, though, it’s the preseason and these are storylines to monitor as the year progresses. So, sit back and enjoy the game. Hopefully, on Sunday when these two teams face off again, we’ll have something “super” to look forward to.

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  October 19, 2012

Mike Brown went into last year’s lockout-shortened season with little in the way of training camp and a team that was to put it mildly, evolving. Similarly, he’s entering his second season with another crop of new faces – some are stars, some are journeymen and some are just starting their NBA journeys. The longtime face of the franchise of course is Kobe Bryant and while he brings a sense of stability and purpose in the present, there is still the expectation of change. Bryant has hinted at his retirement when his present contract runs out and recent talk has been as much about free agent possibilities in 2014 as it is about a run for the ring this year. As for the right here, right now – all eyes are on Dwight Howard who may be eying Sunday for his long-awaited return to game action.

Ramona Shelburne for ESPN GO also looks at Dwight Howard’s state of readiness, and the butterflies that he anticipates for his Lakers debut.

Brian Kamenetzky for ESPN’s Lakers Report, writes about how improving fundamentals improves Howard’s health.

Also on the subject of improving health, Yahoo Sports via the AP, reports on Jordan Hill’s return to practice.

Eric Pincus kicks off his new gig at the LATimes, Lakers Now blog.

Kevin Ding of the OC Register talks with Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss about the 2014 season and cap room for a major free agent signing.

Actuarially Sound for Silver Screen and Roll, wonders if we’ll witness history being made this season

Suki Thind at Lakers Nation reports on Kobe Bryant’s mission to help those in need, including a fundraising walk.

Curtis Harris at Pro Hoops History remembers Minneapolis Laker great Slater Martin who passed away yesterday at the age of 86.

There were some recent reports about NBA referee Greg Willard and his battle with cancer. Nobody has written about it more poignantly in my opinion, then Elliott Teaford for Inside the Lakers.

While much is expected from this year’s Lakers, there is no certainty in sports or in life. Only that it is ever changing and that the end date often feels too soon. The beauty of the yearly draft is that we’re continually treated to new faces and sometimes, new legends in the making. Still, for the constant influx there are also the constant exits, though often delayed, drawn out and sometimes hard to watch. I have no real evidence to back this up but I don’t suspect that Kobe Bryant will play out the long slide. I think he’ll be here and relevant one season and gone the next. There will be time for goodbyes of course and the time isn’t yet. Tonight he suits up for preseason game number five, against the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas.

– Dave Murphy

How’s this for some breaking news?

Apparently, the day Lakers fans have been waiting for is getting closer. According to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Dwight Howard could be taking the floor for the Lakers in an actual game really soon:

Barring any complications with Howard’s back over the next couple days, the Lakers are optimistic the All-Star center will make their first appearance for them on Sunday. “He is making progress,” one Lakers source told Yahoo! Sports. “There is a good chance he can play Sunday.”

Howard has been getting closer and closer in recent weeks. He started camp doing only non-contact drills, escalated to contact work in non-scrimmage settings, and then was finally cleared for all activity — except playing in actual games — shortly after. In recent days, he’s spoken of needing to get his conditioning up so that he could be prepared for real game situations.

Well, it seems that day is almost here. Soon enough we’ll see those Nash/Howard pick and rolls, high-low actions between Howard and Gasol, and Howard working with Kobe in two man games on and off the ball to help each other get easy looks. We’ll see him be a presence on defense, work the glass. and help set that physical tone that’s been missing so far this preseason.

Of course there will be some rust in his game and he may not be the exact player we expect (that 20/20 game may have to wait), but at least he’ll be back on the floor soon. Hopefully, as the report states, that will be this Sunday.

From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los AngelesAndrew Bynum is the Philadelphia 76ers’ to worry about now. The Los Angeles Lakers have quite enough to keep them up at night as Dwight Howard continues to work his way back from offseason back surgery. But with Monday’s news out of Philadelphia that Bynum received another injection of Synvisc — a gel-like substance that sometimes provides relief for inflamed tissue — in his knee, it raises a larger question: Whose problems would you rather be saddled with: Bynum’s chronically painful, injured knees or Howard’s still-unproven back? It was a question Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak had to answer over the summer before he made the trade that sent Bynum to Philadelphia in a four-team deal that brought Howard to Los Angeles from Orlando.

From Mark Medina, LA TimesAnytime the Lakers reserves stepped on the floor, an offensive drought ensued. They would cough up leads. They’d go on long stretches without a field goal. The Lakers were left wondering who would lead them out of the darkness. The team believed they had solved that problem by adding 15-year veteran Antawn Jamison, who’s averaged a career 19.5 points both as a starter and a reserve. The Lakers acquired this piece at the veteran’s minimum, no less. Yet through four preseason games, Jamison has hardly provided such scoring punch, averaging only 5.8 points on 27.6% shooting. But the Lakers hardly seem worried.

From Brian Kamenetzky, ESPN Los AngelesMark Stein delivered the news Tuesday afternoon. The original assumption, that CBA rules prevented Derek Fisher’s return to the Lakers until March 15, turns out not to be true. Because Fisher was bought out by the Houston Rockets following last year’s deadline deal before he was eligible to pick up his extension for this year, he’s able to sign wherever he’d like, including with the Lakers. Stein reports at least theoretical interest from both sides, though I’d be almost shocked if it actually happened. Still, for a lot of fans, the lure of Fish is still strong. I get it. This is a Lakers blog. If you need the significance of Derek Fisher explained, I suspect you’re new around here. But strip away the sentimentality, and it becomes clear bringing him back isn’t a good idea.

From Jeff Miller, OC RegisterHe arrived with three names. Kobe Bryant didn’t know any of them. So, for the first couple of days of Lakers training camp, Bryant called him “Rook,” as in rookie, as in maybe you made a name for yourself in college but here you show up as a nobody. You start at name zero. “And then one day it was ‘Odom,’ ” Darius Johnson-Odom says. “The next day it was ‘Johnson-Odom.’ The next day it was ‘D.J.’ So you can kind of feel it. You can kind of feel when you gain their respect.” From the outside looking in, the Lakers have a dynamic collection of big personalities and large talent, a starting five at least 80 percent of which should end up in the Hall of Fame. But what about from the inside looking out? Apparently, the view isn’t much different, especially when you’re still something of an outsider yourself.

From “Basketball Reasons”, Silver Screen & RollWith the talent at hand, hitting the ground running may be as simple as plug and play for Nash and company. However, the level of execution needed to reach the top for the Lakers is going to take time. With the newly implemented Princeton principles still in the infancy stages, the offense is still a work in progress. The cast is still learning the script and defining their roles. The Lakers are reinventing the wheel for one last shot with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, while mustering all the incentive they can dig up for Dwight Howard to stay with the Lakers long term. At the heart of all of this, Nash will have to find a way to balance the flow of the game on his shoulders while it slowly comes together. The ball, and even more importantly, the offense is in his hands.

-Ryan Cole