Archives For Fast Break Thoughts

I will forever be fascinated by team building and the construction of rosters contrasted against the direction of the league. How players are grouped and assembled to form a team + the defining style of play of winning basketball will almost always go hand in hand as general managers and coaches look to steal ideas (and players who fit into specific archetypes) from each other in a race to the top.

After the Lakers won their second title in as many years in 2010, you saw this first hand as some of the western conference teams (most notably the Thunder in their acquisition of Kendrick Perkins) added size and physicality to their front line to match up against the Gasol/Bynum/Odom trio the Lakers hammered teams with up front. By the end of 2011, however, things started to shift again.

Those playoffs, in their quest for a three-peat, the Lakers were unceremoniously ousted by the hot shooting, and eventual title winning, Mavs. The reign of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh then began with two consecutive titles, followed by the Spurs return as champions last season after their heartbreaking defeat the season before. This season, the Warriors posted a historical season with 67 wins and top-2 rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. All of these teams relied heavily on outside shooting to fuel their offensive attacks, a drastic shift — at least aesthetically — from what the Lakers had offered in their title winning years.

Today, at SB Nation, Tom Ziller and Paul Flannery discussed these ideas, using a recent Phil Jackson tweet as a jumping-off point to their conversation. Ziller and Flannery covered a lot of ground, but a key part of their discussion centered on whether, as the style of play around the league shifts, we are too dismissive of “old-school” thinking about three pointers:

FLANNERY: I want to go back to something. Do we run a risk by dismissing wise old heads like Phil Jackson simply because they don’t conform to the style of the day?

ZILLER: Absolutely! It’s easily one of the most dangerous facets of the New NBA, where an increasing share of decision-makers come from business or law school in lieu of a fuller basketball background. We as a chattering class are, at this point, so much quicker to wax skeptical about Phil Jackson’s positions than those of Sam Hinkie. We’ve joked before that the nerds won. It’s legitimately true.

I feel guilty for ridiculing the concept of the Basketball PhD and the theory of its demise as a professional credential in the NBA. The presentation of the concern was worth ridicule; the concern is not. There is knowledge gathered from learning and excelling in a field that cannot otherwise be obtained. That doesn’t mean we need ex-players running every team, but it speaks to the value of their voices and theories.

Every theory ought to be judged by its merits, not by the ideology it fits within or the orientation of its presenter.

FLANNERY: It doesn’t help that each side can drip with condescension when it wants to either. There are insights and intel to be gleaned from vets, quants, scouts and cap gurus. Sometimes it doesn’t jive with a preconceived notion, but that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. It should be embraced. I feel like the best organizations are the ones that blend all that stuff together into a basketball bouillabaisse. Of course, there’s a difference between having all those people on staff and giving them all a voice.

What’s interesting to me isn’t whether Phil is right or wrong, it’s that as the league moves forward and embraces whatever innovations that can assist in winning, it’s easy to forget that there actually are multiple ways to win and that most successful things build on previously used concepts as foundation for their success.

Phil actually spoke to this, somewhat, in the tweet following the one that got so many in an uproar:

In it’s most simplest form, basketball is about penetration. The Triangle used penetration in the form of the dribble, the pass, or a shot – this is one of the key principles that Phil and Tex Winter often harped on. The advent of “pace and space” style offense that optimize three pointers uses penetration against a spaced floor to accomplish this. And, as Phil noted with the Heat, the dive out of the P&R to collapse the defense in ways that open up the outside shot was key to their runs. What people also often forget is that Phil consistently used Kukoc, Horry, and Odom as stretch-y PF’s on his best teams and that, at least with the Lakers, his teams were consistently in the top half of the league in three point field goals attempted.

For the current carnation of the Lakers, they too would be wise to understand where the league is going, but not forget there really are multiple ways to win. Byron Scott got himself in some hot water by downplaying the value of the three pointer, but as the season went on his team did shoot more shots from behind the arc and opened up their offense to incorporate more P&R that helped space the floor. Finally playing Ryan Kelly at PF also helped. Having enough flexibility and finding that proper balance between optimizing inside play and being able to space the floor via effective shooting should continue to be a priority for Scott and his coaching staff.

The playoffs have been a great mix of high quality, intense games and top flight teams dispatching their more inferior foes unceremoniously. Some might disappointed with the lack of drama the latter brings, but I’m more of the mind that the cream really rises in the second season and if you’re a team that can’t compete, the quicker you find the exit the better. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love for every series to offer what the Clippers and Spurs did, but both of those teams were conference final quality and that simply won’t exist when over half the teams in the league make it to the post season.

In any event, the playoffs go on, and as the games get played we also get sprinklings of Lakers’ news and quality takes on where the team is and where they are going. With that, some quick thoughts…

*I’m for the Lakers getting better next season, not making lateral moves nor treading water to try and make a big push next summer when the cap explodes. Grabbing useful players — even if they’re not stars — and using them to up the talent level is an approach I strongly endorse.

*In saying that, they shouldn’t chase guys just because they have name recognition, which is why I’ve been against pursuing Rajon Rondo. Here is a great case against chasing the former Celtic (and Maverick) this offseason.

*Byron Scott will represent the Lakers at the draft lottery on May 19th. If the Lakers actually keep their pick or move up, I’m wondering if he will unfold his arms in celebration or not.

*Speaking of the draft, should the Lakers keep their pick and draft in the top 5 there will be no shortage of good articles to read on the top prospects. A good place to start, however, is with Chris Herring’s reports at the Wall Street Journal. Here are his columns on Jahlil Okafor, Karl Anthony Towns, Justise Winslow, and Willie Cauley-Stein. The articles are Knicks-centric (he covers them for the WSJ), but the information in them is great.

*It’s NBA award season and Steph Curry was the MVP over James Harden. Both were deserving candidates, but Curry would have been my pick. And, for the record, I also would have picked Draymond Green for DPOY, Kerr for COY, and Lou Williams for Sixth Man of the Year. If those picks seem a bit Warriors heavy, I think when a team wins 67 games, it’s usually because they had many high level contributors performing at or near the top of the league in what they do best.

*My 2nd round playoff predictions: Warriors in 5, Rockets in 7, Hawks in 7, and Cavs in 7.

*Other notes on the playoffs to this point and moving forward:

  • The Spurs showed, again, how taxing consecutive deep playoff runs can be. After two straight trips to the Finals, making a third run was always going to be very tough. Yes, home court advantage would have helped against the Clippers, but getting through two more rounds against the Rockets and then the winner of Warriors/Grizzlies is a nightmarish gauntlet that I simply do not think they would have conquered.
  • Blake Griffin’s evolution as a player has been something that should be discussed more. He went from being just a supreme athlete who could finish over the top of a defense to a multi-skilled PF who can handle, pass, shoot with some range, and operate in the hub of an offense as a scorer or a facilitator. I would not mind one bit if Julius Randle looked at Blake as a guy to influence his game.
  • If the Cavs are going to beat the Bulls, I think they need to play LeBron at PF for the majority of his minutes and get good shooting from James Jones and Mike Miller (who has not been a big part of the rotation this season). LeBron will need to guard Pau, but he’s more than capable of doing so if he’s willing to expend the energy to front the post and battle on the glass as he has in past years.
  • John Wall really is a great player. He doesn’t always come to mind when talking about the league’s best PG’s, but I’d have him only a slight notch below they Curry, Paul, Westbrook group with Kyrie (and Parker). He’s not the shooter/ball handler Kyrie is (few are), but he’s the better defender and has better court vision in my opinion.
  • It’s a shame we won’t get a full series with a healthy Mike Conley to see how hard the Grizz could have pushed the Warriors. Memphis misses their floor general severely on both sides of the ball so much. Tony Allen can’t guard Steph and Klay at the same time and Conley would have at least made Curry work on both ends. Calathes and Udrih are fine backups, but are just not in the same class as Conley and the Dubs will make the Grizz pay for that nightly.
  • Assuming Paul is healthy enough to play the entire series, the Rockets/Clippers match up will turn on how well Barnes can defend Harden without fouling. If Barnes can stay in the game and not get fooled/frustrated by Harden’s tactics, the Clips have a real shot. If I were a betting man, though, I’d say Harden wins this battle and, with it, Houston claiming the series.

*Thank you to everyone who read my post asking for contributors and for sending emails expressing interest. I am in the process of reading through everything that you all sent and will have updates in the coming week or so.

There is no better indicator of a season gone awry for the Lakers than what was experienced over this past weekend. On Saturday the playoffs started and rather than participating, the Lakers found themselves at home for the 2nd straight year. This, the fallout from a season that saw them lose their most games and post their worst winning percentage in the history of the franchise.

Getting to the post-season used to be the natural result of whatever type of year the Lakers had. If it was one of their better ones, they were angling for a top seed in the conference and home court throughout the playoffs. If it was simply an average one, they were still in the hunt for home court in the first round or two.

Today is a far cry from that, but I’m not here to eulogize the team. We know they were bad. If you read excerpts from the team’s exit interviews, they know they were bad. No sense in really chronicling it too much more (though, of course, we will eventually).

Speaking of the exit interviews, that’s where we’ll begin our fast break thoughts while also getting into the playoffs, free agency, and the draft:

Continue Reading…

The Lakers enter all-star weekend with only 13 wins to 40(!) losses. I remember back when Phil Jackson was the coach and the Lakers were competing for a top seed in the conference, his philosophy was to always try to get to 40 wins before getting to 20 losses. The thought was, if you could get to that number, you could spend the last 25 games (or so) getting into playoff form and preparing for what would be, hopefully, a long run deep into May or June. Clearly, the Lakers are a long, long way off from those days.

What they are also a long way off from is having any sort of place in this “mid-season” showcase of the league’s best. Yes, Kobe was voted into Sunday’s game, but after having surgery to repair a torn labrum that will cost him the season he will not even make an appearance in New York. Similarly, Julius Randle’s broken leg kept him out of Friday’s rookie/sophomore game where he could have helped the “USA” team in the new format where American born players faced off against players born from the rest of the world. And with no Lakers competing in any of the other events, this weekend will be a far cry from what we’ve been used to in year’s past.

Maybe that’s for the best. I’m sure many Lakers fans are actually happy for the escape from watching their guys and are ready to invest some time in the talents the rest of the league has to show. Speaking of which…

*Friday’s “Rising Stars” game showed some nice players from both teams, but I was particularly impressed with Andrew Wiggins of the T’Wolves and Rudy Gobert from the Jazz. Both showed off superior athleticism and nice instincts on both sides of the floor. Gobert is clearly still a bit raw, but the tools are there and with his size, length, and athleticism he can turn into a force if he keeps his current development trajectory. On twitter I said that Gobert is like JaVale McGee if JaVale wasn’t so…JaVale. Just a great canvas to develop into a top big man.

*I’ll put it on the record now. My winners for tonight’s contests are: Team Curry in the Shooting Stars Event, Isaiah Thomas in the Skills Challenge, Kyle Korver in the 3 point shootout, and Zach LaVine in the Dunk Contest. Yes, that’s a lot of “chalk” in my group of winners, but this seems like a weekend where guys who do what they do best are actually in the contests they should be in and they’re going to remind everyone of why they were chosen.

*I know that everyone is looking forward to the three point shootout; that group of participants is as deep and talented a shooting class as has ever competed. But, honestly, I’m still most looking forward to the dunkers and, specifically, LaVine. It’s been 15 years since Vince Carter wowed the crowd in Oakland with a performance that redefined the event. And while I don’t think LaVine can match that effort, but I do believe the hype around his above the rim ability is warranted.

*Speaking of Vince’s night back in 2000, you should read this long-form piece by CBS’ Zach Harper on the Night Vinsanity was born. Just a great piece.

*Another great read comes from friend of the site Andy Kamenetzky who writes on Magic Johnson’s latest comments about Jim Buss. I could not agree more with what AK wrote if I’d typed the words myself.

*Lastly, the actual date was a couple of weeks ago, but it was 5 years ago that I took over Forum Blue & Gold from Kurt Helin who departed to run Pro Basketball Talk. With that, I just want to say thank you to everyone who has continued to support me and site over the years. That includes all the contributors who have provided such excellent content on the main page, those who visit the site to read that content, and the commenters who make up one of the best communities in the NBA blogosphere. Without all of you, this site wouldn’t be what it is today.

Happy Holidays from FB&G

Darius Soriano —  December 24, 2014

The Lakers’ win against the Warriors on Tuesday night was both surprising and fun. The team played with energy, played together, and had one of those nights where their shots were falling at a very nice clip. This allowed the fans to get into the game which only perpetuated the good feelings in the building. The fact that Warriors were playing sloppily, came in on the second night of a back to back, and could have had their guard down a bit due to Kobe being out and a look forward to facing the Clippers on Christmas day didn’t hurt things either.

In any event, most of the talking points today fall squarely at the feet of Kobe with the notion that it is him who is holding this team back. Taking a strong-line position on that topic is as silly as saying that it is completely off-base. As with most things, the truth of the matter isn’t on the outskirts of the black and white, but in the gray area. I’m all for Kobe making adjustments to his game and for the coaches to reinforce that by preaching team play and holding every player accountable to that standard. But in the win against the Dubs the Lakers shot nearly 52% from the field and made 12 of their 26 three point attempts with Ronnie Price falling only two points off his career high by shooting 6 of 10 from the floor for 17 points while chipping in 8 assists. In other words, some of what we saw was definitely the result of better team play and some of it was just flukey.

It’s probably best to not jump to too many conclusions, enjoy the win, and take some of what we saw as a what to build towards while understanding that some of it is simply not sustainable. I know the #hottakes will supersede that in some corners of the internet, but this is not one of those corners.

With that, I just want to wish a Happy Holidays to you and yours. This site would not be what it is without those who take the time to visit, read, and comment on the posts. I truly am grateful for the support you all show me here and in the other parts of social media that I am active on. We may not always agree, but that is part of the fun and what makes being a part of this community rooting for this team so engaging. So, enjoy some time with your friends and families and get back with us before game time against the Bulls on Christmas Day.