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Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  April 7, 2014

Some random thoughts on the goings on around the league, including our beloved Lakers…

  • All year Mike D’Antoni has said that the team’s most consistent performer is Jodie Meeks. Hard to argue there as the man has had his best year as a pro and made some big strides in several areas of his game from last year to this year. One stat that stood out to me most about Meeks’ season is that this year he is shooting 63.3% in the restricted area this year. Last year, Meeks only shot 51.3% in the restricted area.
  • Commenter Mid-Wilshire has noticed that Jordan Hill is having a pretty nice close to the season:

In the last nine games, these have been Hill’s numbers (pts., rebounds, and blocks):

Clippers — 22 pts., 9 rebounds, 0 blocks
Dallas — 14 pts., 10 rebounds, 2 blocks
Sacramento — 18 pts., 15 rebounds, 4 blocks
Phoenix — 6 pts., 3 rebounds, 1 block
Minnesota — 10 pts., 7 rebounds, 0 blocks
Milwaukee — 28 pts., 16 rebounds, 0 blocks
New York — 9 pts., 5 rebounds, 4 blocks
Orlando — 28 pts., 13 rebounds, 1 block
Washington — 9 pts., 14 rebounds, 4 blocks

According to my calculations, that results in averages of 16.8 pts., 10.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game.

  • Hill hasn’t been the most consistent player over that stretch and the Bucks and Magic games stand out both because of the level of production as well as the quality of opponent. That said, it’s good to see Hill is healthy (he had that knee issue that kept him out a couple of games before this stretch) and that he’s getting the minutes to perform on the court. I don’t know if Hill will be a Laker next year, but I still believe he can be a quality role player on a very good team.
  • One player I have liked much more than I thought I would this season: Nick Young. The guy can still be a gunner and take shots that would make a heat-checking Kobe Bryant blush, but Young has played hard and has done so with a smile on his face. In a season that has been mostly down in the dumps from a win/loss perspective, Young has brought some fun to the year.
  • Should Ryan Kelly make the All-Rookie team? On the surface, this may seem like a crazy question. But when you dig into the stats you’ll find that Kelly is 8th in PER for rookies, 5th in True Shooting %, joins Giannis Antetokounmpo as the only non-guard in the top 12 of assist ratio (while ranking 4th in turnover percentage), and has gotten better as the year has progressed. I don’t know if he’ll make it or not (I lean towards no — his games and minutes played aren’t comparable to some of the lottery picks), but to say Kelly has been anything but a very fine pick at #48 would be underselling him this year. Even with the holes in his game.
  • One more Kelly stat, per nba.com/stats: the Lakers are 6.5 points per 100 possessions better on offense when Kelly is on the floor versus when he sits. Of the players who are part of the rotation (sorry MarShon Brooks, you don’t count) that is the best number on the team (second is Nick Young at 5.5 points better per 100 possessions).
  • On a non-Lakers’ note, what is going on with the Pacers? I mean, look at this from Ed Kupfer:
  • At one point, Indy looked like a real threat to challenge the Heat and reach the Finals. Right now there’s a real question if they’ll make it out of the 2nd round.
  • No NBA games tonight, but there is this thing called the NCAA Title Game that some folks may want to watch. I’m horribly out of touch when it comes to the college game this year, so you can take my Kentucky pick with a whole pile of salt. What can I say, I like Julius Randle’s shoes.

The Lakers are a bad team for a variety of reasons. They can be awful defensively. They can play at too fast a pace even when it plays into the hands of their opponent. They don’t make many adjustments to what their opponents are doing on both sides of the ball. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Ultimately, though, if you want to get to crux of why this team is bad, read that tweet at the top of the page again and understand that no team could be very good with that type of lineup inconsistency.

A lot of that number is related to injuries. Off the top of my head, I don’t believe a single Laker outside of Robert Sacre has been available to play in every game (even Wes Johnson had a stomach bug that kept him out earlier this year). Some of it is also related to Mike D’Antoni’s infatuation with shifting his lineups in search of workable groups. There have been more nights where I can count where, seemingly randomly, a player has been put into the starting lineup for a game or two only to find himself on the bench or not even playing the next week.

Whatever the reasons, however, the results are the same. The Lakers simply have not had the type of lineup consistency that leads to chemistry on both sides of the ball (but especially defensively) or allowed them to establish the type of rhythm that can help create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, it’s been just the opposite as players often seem thrown together and end up looking out of sorts for long stretches, struggling to figure out how to generate good looks and having little clue on how to make it so the same is true for the other team.

One hundred fifty two minutes. After last year’s injury woes and the resulting crazy lineups, I didn’t think this year would come close to being the same. Boy, was I wrong.

More than any other game this year, I think, the win over Portland has fans experiencing a wide range of emotions.

Those who still try to find joy in watching the Lakers play well and actually win games found themselves beaming after the game. A win in Portland is always hard to come by, but a win by this version of the Lakers in Portland seemed impossible 24 hours ago. But there the team was, throwing hay-makers in the form of three pointers and digging in defensively (as best they could) to try and slow down a Blazer attack that features some of the best spacing and outside shooting around. When the game got close at the end, I think everyone was resigned to this being another loss, but a fantastic out of bounds play produced a game winner:

On a side note, that really was a great play design by Mike D’Antoni. He played up the idea that he would run a play for one of his guards, but then had Farmar set a pick (and an excellent pick was set) for Wes Johnson which freed him up for the lob. What also can’t be overlooked is Kent Bazemore’s pass. It takes a fair amount of skill and touch to get that pass there, on the money, to a slashing Johnson. He has to compensate for Aldridge’s length and the defender waving madly in front of him.

In any event, if you like watching this team play well, you were thrilled.

But if you are someone rooting for losses, odds are you were left disappointed after a win this team had no business getting when looking at the schedule. Each loss is a coveted asset for some fans as they represent a closer step to the promised land of a high draft pick. You want Joel Embiid? Andrew Wiggins? Jabari Parker? Then you probably want losses. And the more of them the better. Last night’s win vaulted the Lakers into a tie for the 7th worst record this year. At that spot, the odds of securing one of the super blue-chip players from this heralded draft class diminishes greatly. In other words, nice win team who can’t even tank right.

And then, of course, there’s the group of fans who liked the win but were mad about how it was delivered. An exploration of the boxscore shoes both Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman were DNP-CD’s. That duo getting zero minutes in a game where LaMarcus Aldridge is a featured player for the other team and had Robin Lopez getting a lot of garbage man points in the paint after the Lakers’ D was left scrambling to help was a point of frustration for many. D’Antoni’s insistence on going small and playing Johnson at the “4” and Kelly instead of his more heralded teammates is too much, was a common refrain during the game. And so there these fans are, struggling with the idea that the coach won a game and did it using his style with the players he wants to play in an environment he had no business doing it in.

I bring this all up because expect these to be the major themes over the last 22 games. There is no one right way to view these things. I know because I struggle with the conflicting nature of all these points of view myself. I hate losing. I want to see the team do well and, in the process, the players to get some joy out of what they do while improving upon their craft. I also want the best player possible from the upcoming draft and while there is no guarantee that a higher pick produces that player, what a higher pick does guarantee is the Lakers’ brass the option to make the choice they want rather than leaving the Lakers with whatever leftovers exist at pick 7 or 8 or 11. Further, I like Jordan Hill. I like Chris Kaman. I enjoy watching these guys do the dirty work and don’t like it when other teams’ big men do that work against the Lakers. I think there’s value in playing a style less reliant on high variance shot selection and a fast pace.

And I don’t think I am the only one thinking these things. Nor do I think I’m the only one thinking all of them in the course of a single game. Where that leaves us is in this strange middle ground of fandom that I don’t think can truly be balanced.

Tonight, though, the team is back at it. They face a Pelicans team who, like the Lakers, isn’t doing well and will be among the teams vying for one of the top 10 picks in the upcoming draft. They, like the Lakers, would like nothing more than to add to their core and improve their long-term fortunes with another high quality player. Can you imagine Wiggins playing with Anthony Davis? What about Parker? Or maybe Dante Exum in the back court with Jrue Holiday flanked by Davis in the front court? These are the ideas that a lot of fanbases are dreaming about right now.

What happens on the floor tonight, then, will be played against this backdrop. Enjoy the game however you see fit, folks. There’s only 20 some odd games left before everyone will argue about who to draft.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

With that said, you have to continue to monitor your roster as the season goes on. That’s the job as a general manager. You have to be more realistic. Most of the time, we start the season with a certain ratio in mind. It could be 80 percent looking at the current season, and 20 percent at the next season. If you have a chance to win a title in a given season, maybe you sacrifice the next year to a certain extent. Or, maybe that ratio changes with injuries, from 60-40 in December, to 50-50 in January or 30-70 in February looking to the future. Now, the coach is 100 percent focused on winning that year, but part of the manager’s job is to have the future of the organization in mind.

(Via Q & A With Mitch Kupchak, Lakers.com)

The Lakers are, for all intents and purposes, a bad team. Losers of a large amount of their last many (do the actual numbers even matter?), they are in a position where they must start to tinker with the ratios Mitch Kupchak mentioned in his candid, revealing sit-down with Mike Trudell earlier this month.

Injures have decimated this roster beyond a level where they can be truly competitive night to night. The injuries have gone on for so long, however, that the roster we see in front of us has become the new norm and we start to evaluate them based off whether they are winning and losing.

I do this myself.

A bad defensive approach to a final play cost the team a game in Chicago. Playing an overmatched Ryan Kelly against Carmelo Anthony while limiting the minutes of Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman (as the Lakers got killed on the glass) might have done the same against the Knicks. I find myself frustrated with the details that, for all the team’s lack of competitiveness, seem to cost the team games.

But should I be?

The Lakers are, for all intents and purposes, a bad team.

Forget, for a moment, about tanking and the potential talented draft pick that may come the team’s way this summer. Forget the salary cap limitations of Kobe’s extension. Forget who is available in free agency next year (or even the year after) too. Instead focus on what talent is on the roster now and what is most valuable about them.

Is maximizing their talent and trying to win as many games as possible what’s best? Is finding out what the team has in younger players who have not yet had the opportunity via extended minutes to prove if they really belong?

As someone who hates losing, I can identify with the mindset of wanting to win now. Why does Jordan Hill play so few minutes when the team struggles so much on the backboards while Ryan Kelly is grabbing so few of the available caroms? Why is Chris Kaman a regular recipient of DNP-CD’s while Robert Sacre is a fixture (even in limited minutes) of the rotation? These are questions I find myself asking on nearly a nightly basis and I know I’m not alone. Especially since I don’t think it can really be argued who are the better, more refined professional players at this stage of their respective careers.

As someone who appreciates the idea of player development, however, I can also sympathize with the idea that, at some point, the Lakers need to find out what they have in these players. Is Sacre more than a 4th or 5th big man on a good team? Can Ryan Kelly, with some of his athletic limitations, actually be a rotation player in a league that is demanding more and more from its power forwards on both sides of the ball? The sad reality is, that while I want to win as much as the next guy, there really may not be a better time to seek information that helps answer these questions than this season.

This is the fallout of forward thinking.

Maybe that’s why, in the heat of the moment when the battle is being decided, it can seem so backward.

I find myself struggling with this idea more and more, especially when remembering that these decisions really don’t exist in a vacuum; that we really cannot forget about the draft in June, free agency in July, and how to build a roster with an aging Kobe Bryant taking up a substantial portion of the salary cap. The answers to questions about the young players on the roster are vital when put in the context of roster construction for future seasons.

That doesn’t make accepting the decisions that go into seeking out those answers any easier. And, for all we know, this isn’t even what the head coach is doing.

But as Mitch Kupchak said, at some point an organization has to start to adjust its view from the current season to the next. For Lakers’ fans, maybe the hardest part is that the reality of that usually comes around May, not in late January.

Happy Holidays from FB&G

Darius Soriano —  December 24, 2013

After Monday’s loss to the Suns, I’m not sure many are feeling very good about where the Lakers stand right now. Two consecutive blowout losses will do that. As will a slip of the tongue from the head coach talking about fans and which team they should root for. Combine it all with the injuries and the reality that the team simply isn’t very good right now and what you have is a sour taste in the mouths of many fans.

While I fully understand that feeling (I’m not immune from feeling about down about the position of this team today), I also take a step back and realize that not all is awful with this team nor with their prospects. The context to Mike D’Antoni’s quote to the press was whether or he is discouraged about this team. His comment to the fans aside, he noted that he has a group of players who are good guys, who play hard, and have played well this year. He expects them to play well again, so why would he be discouraged? While some of this is coach speak, it’s also pretty much true.

The Lakers are filled with good guys. They do play hard and put in the necessary work to be their best. The fact that they’re not the most talented (and that they’ve had some injury bad luck) hasn’t discouraged them from going out and competing as best they can. Sometimes the results aren’t good and that can lead to frustrations by anyone and everyone who is associated with or roots for this team. Sometimes, though, the results are surprisingly great and it inspires some positive thoughts about the state of the team and their prospects for the future.

Kobe tweeted that referencing the broken bone in his knee, but it might as well have been about the state of his team right now. No, they don’t look good; they do look broken. But my guess is that they’re going to continue to go out and play their hardest and try to win games; they are not yet beaten. What results will come we don’t yet know, but I do know we’ll all be there watching and hoping for the best.

On a somewhat similar note, as we told you earlier, our friends at Draftstreet have another fantasy game they’re making available to you. This game isn’t free — it’s $11 to enter — but will pay out $100K in prize money, including $25K to the winner. You can learn more about the game and enter right here. So while the Lakers are taking on the Heat, you can keep tabs on the team you create is doing. If you’re the top performer, you may get a some extra cash in your stocking.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Hope you all enjoy your day.