Archives For Fast Break Thoughts

And Now, We Wait

Darius Soriano —  April 19, 2016

It’s been nearly a week since the Lakers’ season ended with Kobe Bryant adding to his myth by scoring 60 points on 50 shots while also slaying a dragon and eating an entire extra-large pepperoni pizza at the same time. Okay, two of those things didn’t happen, but maybe in 50 years, and the story is retold they will have.

In the days since the performance, the focus of those who we look to for Lakers’ news has been undeniably and unabashedly Kobe. This was to be expected, of course. 20 years of playing the game at the heights he did with the approach he took requires, no, demands, a retelling. The good, the bad, and everything in-between.

If you’re looking for more of that, look no further than Ramona Shelburne’s latest for ESPN/The Undefeated. Shelburne used great access to give us a peek inside Kobe’s world, from the rehab table to his Kobe Inc. office to the training room to the diner breakfast table and so many other moments that have not been told to this point. The entire thing is a fantastic read and is worth your time.

It’s articles like that, though, that you need now. You need them because while the rest of the basketball world moves forward, the Lakers’ world has not. The playoffs are in full swing, teams are letting go of their current coaches, hiring new ones, and interviewing big names with aims of managing the sideline and running the front office all at the same time.

Meanwhile, we wait.

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Twelve games ago Byron Scott decided he wanted to shake up his starting lineup. The move was a controversial one as he demoted Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell — the two players most considered cornerstones of the team’s rebuild and future — from the ranks of the starters to reserves. The young players have said all the right things, but when pressed have expressed a desire to start (at least Russell has – Randle has taken the “control what you can control” approach with the media).

With the change now 12 games deep and exactly three weeks old, now is as good a time as any to take stock and look at some of the numbers and trends which have emerged since the switch. Please note that while Randle has been a reserve for all 12 games, he has missed a contest with a sore ankle and that Russell did start two of the 12 contests while Jordan Clarkson sat out with his own ankle issue.

With that, let’s dig into some numbers:

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My longform thoughts on what I believe the Lakers can and will be this year are pretty clear. If you don’t know them, click the link!

While that’s how I think things will go, though, that’s not why I watch. Whether my predictions or analysis holds up as the final word of truth isn’t why I run this site or why I make time for the Lakers. I love the game and I want to see the team I root for play it.

Underneath it all, too, I actually am optimistic about this team and where they are going. I believe the young players — especially Randle, Russell, and Clarkson — are going to be very good. I like the veterans brought in over the summer. And I still really enjoy watching Kobe Bryant. I like this team.

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Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  August 27, 2015

It’s late August. There is no NBA action anywhere in sight. What better time for a hodgepodge of links and notes than now? Onto our latest edition of Fast Break Thoughts…

*Yesterday we talked about the pressure D’Angelo Russell is facing as a #2 overall pick and playing for a Lakers’ organization looking for their next great player. Well, yesterday Russell also made an appearance on ESPN Radio and did an interview with Mike Trudell and Mychal Thompson. The interview was transcribed at Lakers.com and can be found here.

*The entire interview is worth your time, but one quote that stood out to me was when he discussed playing next to Jordan Clarkson:

I feel like we’re dangerous for our team. We both rebound. We both can push the break, and we both can run the wing. So if he gets it and I’m running the wing, he can set up the offense or make the right decisions and vice versa with me. I feel like it’s dangerous, and we can play together easily. I think it will just take some time.

*I’m glad Russell added the caveat that “it will just take some time” to his answer, because it will. The relationship he describes is only developed through reps and feeling each other out on the floor. Russell is correct that both guys can do a lot of the same things on the floor, the process of how they sort out how they get on the same wavelength is what will be interesting to watch.

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The moratorium has been lifted and free agents are able to sign the contracts they verbally agreed to during the dead period of July 1st through the 8th. If you’re logged onto twitter, expect to see a lot of team accounts posting pictures of players putting pen to paper, making the deals official. We’ve already seen some of that with Anthony Davis’ extension, Ed Davis going to Portland, and DeAndre Jordan going back to the Clippers.

Speaking of Jordan, his drama filled situation kept everyone plugged into the final hours of the moratorium in a way not quite ever seen and sets us up perfectly for our fast break thoughts. Let’s get to it…

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After two consecutive seasons of being one of the worst teams in the NBA, those who cheer for the Lakers are ready for a change. An escape from wondering about lottery odds would be nice. Meaningful games in April and May would be nice. Anything but the awfulness of the last two campaigns would be nice. Forget a return to prominence, a return to competitiveness is what drives fans to seek out optimal solutions to the team’s many problems.

I am of the opinion the Lakers made real strides towards becoming just that again with their drafting of D’Angelo Russell with the #2 overall selection on Thursday. I think Russell is worth the #2 pick, believe his skill set is is diverse enough to be a highly successful player, and see his physical tools as being enough of a foundation to be at least a neutral defender (and potentially better) as he matures and learns the league. Add it all up and he’s a guy I’m very happy with.

The players the Lakers took with their other picks — Larry Nance Jr. at #27 and Anthony Brown at #34 — are not nearly as highly touted, but have useful skill-sets and physical attributes to be successful pros. Whether they can channel those traits and use them to turn potential into actual production remains to be seen. There is a reason many refer to the draft as a “crapshoot” – there are just too many unknowns to speak on most all prospects with absolute certainty and, for many, with only some certainty at all.

But positive steps forward have been made. This is worth feeling good about. It is also natural, I think, to want to see the team advance even further in their improvement this off-season. The Lakers, as a brand, could use not only a bounce back to being respectable, but to a team competing for the playoffs and, ultimately, even more. Jim Buss does have a timeline he’s being held to, after all.

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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.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  May 4, 2015

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.