Archives For Fast Break Thoughts

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  March 14, 2013

Last night’s game with the Hawks actually provided two losses — one from the game itself and one in the form of the Lakers’ superstar shooting guard to injury. Kobe’s ankle looks like it’s about nine months pregnant and the team says he’s out indefinitely with a severe ankle sprain. So, with plenty to discuss in Laker-land, here’s some fast break thoughts on the injury bug, the playoffs, and other general musings…

  • Was the play dirty? That’s the question of the day and that gets complicated rather quickly. On twitter I used that term, but would amend it to say, instead, that it was simply an unsafe play by Jones. There are plenty of ways to contest a fadeaway jump shot, but walking into and underneath an airborne player is one of the more dangerous ways to do so. Here’s a screen shot of Jones contesting Kobe’s shot:

Kobe Ankle

  • The reason why I’d say “unsafe” rather than “dirty” is because the latter implies intent. I’ve no clue what Jones’ intent was and prefer not to get into that at all. This in’t the real world where we get to go into a court room, hear testimony, and make a determination. There’s no “you can’t handle the truth” moment coming here. So, I see no need to get into that. Instead, let’s focus on the act and that act was Jones walking underneath a player in the air. That’s an unsafe play no matter how you slice it. I’m not out to disparage Jones or judge his actions through the prism of what I thought he meant to do. What he meant to do isn’t as important as what he actually did. And, in this case, the pictures and video show what he did.
  • What’s done is done, though. Arguing over it is less important than what happens next. The Lakers, simply based off their press release, imply Kobe will miss time. And, while there’s a train of thought that Kobe won’t miss any time (he is Kobe after all), I think he’ll miss at least a game and maybe more.
  • If that ends up being the case, the Lakers’ lack of depth on the wing will be a big challenge to overcome. Forget for a second that it’s Kobe missing time and simply focus on the fact that he’s currently the team’s starting shooting guard and its backup small forward. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s first substitutions are typically for Jamison to come in for Clark and for Meeks to replace Ron. That latter substitution slides Kobe up to SF where he’s a fixture of a small ball lineup. If Kobe can’t play any SF, who will?
  • Meeks and Blake are undersized for SG, much less SF. Ron has actually been playing PF more than SF if you look at who he defends on a nightly basis. Does this mean more minutes for Clark? He’s seen a decline in his minutes and production over the last month and isn’t exactly 100% healthy either (he’s had ankle, knee, and finger issues lately). Ebanks is glued to the bench and has played exactly 11 minutes since the turn of the calendar year. I don’t see this going well if Kobe is out for a prolonged period.
  • That said, knowing what we do of Kobe, he’ll get treatment on his ankle 24/7 until he can get back on the floor, though. He’s really not human in that regard.
  • In better injury news, Pau Gasol says he hopes to be back next week and it’s being reported he’ll return to the lineup as a starter. This is good news on both fronts. Yes, on both fronts. Before Pau got hurt, we were already starting to see a trend where Clark’s value as a starter was slipping from a team performance standpoint. The starting lineup that included Clark was essentially playing even basketball, their plus/minus numbers flat and their efficiency differentials hovering near zero. Meanwhile, when Clark was replaced by Pau, those numbers were beginning to trend up in a way that reinforced all the preseason belief that these players actually could perform well together as complementary pieces. Yes the sample was small and there were issues to work out defensively, but the numbers and the eye test support the “Big four plus Ron” lineup was starting to make headway as a cohesive unit.
  • Even though Pau will return as a starter, his biggest value should still come as an anchor for the 2nd unit. The bench has really struggled to create consistent offense outside of some good chemistry between Steve Blake and Jamison in the P&R. With Pau back, he can be the man in the middle whose passing and ability to score from all over the floor serve as a ballast for the bench.
  • Furthermore, his defense should also be quite useful. The Lakers’ defense is actually 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when Pau is on the floor versus when he sits, per the NBA’s stats database. It’s often easy to forget that even though Pau isn’t the best option to cover perimeter oriented bigs, he still can protect the rim with his length and do so without fouling. Don’t get me wrong, teams will still attack the paint when Dwight sits, but I’d much rather have Pau back at the basket than a combination of Jamison and Clark.
  • How the rotation shakes out when Pau is back will remain to be seen (and we’ll cover this in detail when he does return), but I would not be surprised to see Clark become more of a SF backing up Ron with Jamison taking the majority of the PF minutes when Pau is out of the game or playing C. Simply based off recent trends and how this coaching staff has deployed lineups in the past, I could see a bench lineup of Blake, Meeks, Clark, Jamison, and Pau starting the 2nd quarter, for example. But, I could also see Clark on the bench with a Dwight, Jamison, Ron trio next to Kobe (or Meeks) and Nash (or Blake) getting big minutes with Clark the odd man out due to Jamison’s greater ability to stretch the floor.
  • Getting away from Laker stuff for a second, show of hands (or, in the comments below) of who would want to do a FB&G March Madness bracket challenge. We didn’t do one last year but I’m considering doing one again this year, but only if the demand is high. We’d figure out a prize for the winner.
  • Also, I’m interested in reviving the FB&G mailbag, but only if there’s interest in it. If you have questions, you can email me by clicking that envelope on the right side of the banner at the top of the site. Just put “mailbag question” in the subject line and ask away.
  • Lastly, friend of FB&G and video maker extraordinaire LD2K has produced another gem that is worth your time. Here you go:

 

Playoffs on the Mind

Darius Soriano —  February 27, 2013

The Lakers only have 24 games left on their schedule.

The Lakers are still 2 games below a .500 record.

The Lakers are currently the 9th seed in the always competitive Western Conference.

Considering all this, will the Lakers make the playoffs?

It’s a question that everyone is asking right now. And, it seems, coming up with very similar answers.

At ESPN LA, Dave McMenamin isn’t sure, but notes the road will be very difficult:

For argument’s sake, let’s say that trend continues and the Lakers go 0-3 on the road the remainder of the way against the Western Conference teams ahead of them in the standings — losing in Oklahoma City on March 5, at Golden State on March 25 (the one team ahead of them in the West they actually have beaten on the road this season, in┬áSteve Nash’s return from a leg injury Dec. 22) and to the L.A. Clippers in a “road” game at Staples Center on April 7.

That leaves us with 21 games left to consider and the Lakers needing 17 wins in those games to reach D’Antoni’s magic number of 45 wins.

The 12 home games are: Minnesota, Atlanta, Toronto, Chicago, Sacramento, Washington, Dallas, Memphis, New Orleans, Golden State, San Antonio and Houston.

The Lakers are 10-10 (.500) so far this season against those teams. So, even though the Lakers have gone 18-11 (.621) at home so far, those 12 games shouldn’t be a cakewalk. Let’s split the difference between the two percentages, and say the Lakers win .561 of their remaining home games and go 7-5.

That would put their record at 35-38, with the nine remaining road games to consider.

Even if they went 9-0 in those games (at New Orleans, Atlanta, Orlando, Indiana, Phoenix, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Sacramento and Portland), they would not reach D’Antoni’s stated goal of 45 wins to make the playoffs. Plus, 9-0 isn’t really realistic when you consider the Lakers are just 8-5 (.615) against those teams so far this season. If they play .615 ball against them, you’re talking about them winning five or six of those games. Let’s say they get six; that brings their record to 41-41.

A 41-41 record will not get it done, that’s for sure.

Continue Reading…

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  January 28, 2013

With Friday’s win over the Jazz and Sunday’s over the Thunder, the sense is that the Lakers have found something to build on. The teamwork and attention to detail on both ends speak to good habits being formed. On the other hand, the fact that the games were played at home and under circumstances (at least for OKC, who were at the end of road trip and playing a mid-day game) favored the Lakers speak to variables that must also be accounted for. So, while I’m cautiously optimistic they’ve found a foundation for success, we need to let more games pass where a similar approach leads to victories before we can really say for sure whether the Lakers have turned a corner. Hard to deny they are showing some promise, though.

On to some thoughts on the OKC game and the Lakers’ new approach on offense…

  • If you click around the web, articles on Kobe’s role as a facilitator are quite popular this morning. Fourteen assists in back to back games will do that, I suppose. However, what must also understand that Kobe’s willingness to pass is not new, even though the high assist totals might be. Think back to all the long playoff runs and this is what we’ve seen from Kobe. I know the highlight jumpers and jaw juts live on in the highlight reels, but more important were the skip passes to open shooters who then knocked down the shots. Ask the 2009 Nuggets if you don’t believe me.
  • Kobe’s assist totals have people talking about him as the “point guard”, but I’m much more focused on a different position. Namely, the right mid-post where Kobe’s been doing most of his damage from as a distributor. I look at the picture below and see a man at home; a man who has done so much work from that exact spot on the floor for so many years he understands exactly how to manipulate a defense into allowing a good shot for his team.

kobepostup

  • Yes, that’s a screen cap of the Lakers’ first possession of the game. What followed was Nash setting a screen on Dwight’s man and then Dwight setting a pick on Kobe’s man. With Dwight rolling the rim and Nash popping back out to the top of the key, Kobe penetrated middle, drew help and hit Ron with a pass who then knocked down a 3 pointer. Very nice set play to start the game for the Lakers.
  • One of the reasons Kobe is so good from this spot on the floor is that every option is open to him. He can power dribble into a post up. He can shoot a turnaround jumper over either shoulder. He can make every pass out from that spot, including the most difficult skip passes to teammates on the weak side. And, maybe most importantly, he can consistently beat his man baseline and make something positive happen. In the NBA, the old saying is that “baseline is death” due to the boundary acting as another defender and the ability of NBA help defenders to cover up the rim so quickly. But Kobe’s lived on the baseline for 17 years and continues to find ways to make plays — for himself and his teammates — getting to that side.
  • In reviewing the tape, Sunday’s game reminded me of those close contests that the Lakers’ lost to OKC in last year’s playoffs, except for the very important variable of replacing Ramon Sessions/Steve Blake with Steve Nash (and losses with a win). Last May, the perimeter ball handling errors and shoddy offensive execution allowed OKC to erase late deficits and win games the Lakers could have claimed had they shown more poise. Sunday, the Lakers turned a 4 point lead with 3 minutes left into a 9 point win. Nash’s only statistical contributions in those final minutes were a defensive rebound and his two made FT’s to end the game, but if you watch some of those last possessions again you’ll see the veteran PG, cool as a cucumber, initiate the Lakers’ O and get them going to where the needed to.
  • Whether Kobe the facilitator is the long term solution to what’s ailed the Lakers isn’t yet clear. But I do think it’s a strategy that can continue to work as long as it’s deployed in the manner it is. Kobe’s ability to score or pass from a post up position from that spot on the floor make it difficult to effectively single or double cover him without surrendering a somewhat quality shot on most possessions. The Lakers’ last three possessions were a Kobe lay-in off a post up, a Pau lay-in off a Kobe baseline drive, and a Kobe long jumper. And while the long jumper isn’t necessarily ideal, like it did against the Thunder, even that shot will fall sometimes.
  • This style also has a dramatic affect on the tempo of the game. These possessions are more deliberate and force the defense into guarding for longer stretches. If you go back to the screen shot above, every single defender is looking right at the ball. This was a recurring them all night and several times Nash and Ron broke free for open looks simply by adjusting their positioning slightly while their defender peeked for one second too long, only to find they’d moved as Kobe was passing the ball.
  • This style also promotes better floor balance while still emphasizing the spacing that D’Antoni really wants in his offense. The latter can’t be overvalued, but the former is just as important due to how it promotes better transition defense.

Ultimately, I think Mike D’Antoni deserves a lot of credit for this shift in the Laker attack. Since he’s been hired all we’ve heard from his critics is how his system doesn’t work for the Lakers, how he’s stubborn and inflexible, and countless other jabs at his coaching style (which could just as easily be interpreted as sour grapes). And while there’s some truth to some of those claims, what’s also true is he’s consistently tried to shift lineups and tweak his sets to help produce optimal results. It’s to the point now that these wing post ups for Kobe have become a primary set up, when they were only a footnote action when he coached in Phoenix and in NY.

It’s sometimes easier to dismiss the searching when nothing is working, but when something does start to work, I also think it’s important make sure it does go recognized.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  October 26, 2012

For your weekend pleasure, some random musings (and a couple of updates) from around the basketball world and, of course, the Lakers. Let’s get to it…

  • Dave captured the mood perfect in his Friday Forum, I think. We’re all a bit salty after a preseason lacking any wins. But saltiness is always best mixed with some sarcasm. Fwiw, if there were stages of worry (like there are with grieving), I’d be somewhere near the bottom of the scale right now. Over at PBT, our old buddy Kurt nailed how I’m feeling so I’ll let his words fill your screen.
  • I do have a couple of preseason thoughts, however. First, I’m more convinced now than ever that neither Andrew Goudelock nor Darius Johnson-Odom make this team. The decision was probably made before last night’s game but if it wasn’t we didn’t learn anything new about them in that contest that would change things. I wish both well and hope that they catch on somewhere. If they don’t I’d love to see them on the D-Fenders. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see if my inkling is right.
  • Second, back before the NFL’s Detroit Lions were a somewhat good team me and my buddies would always note how the game they’d host on Thanksgiving was their Super Bowl. They’d play as hard and as well as they could that day in the hopes of winning and were always more competitive in that game than in their other ones. In hindsight, I feel that every opponent (but especially the Kings) treated their preseason games against the Lakers like the Lions on Thanksgiving. They wanted those wins. The Lakers clearly could have played better and have a myriad of things to clean up going into the regular season (at the top of the list is turnovers) but I also think they weren’t nearly as up for these games as their opponents.
  • Also, by the end of the preseason it really did look like the Lakers would rather just have the regular season start already. We’ll see what that translates too next week.
  • If you’re looking for some good X’s and O’s writing, you should check out the newly created HoopChalk. They’re doing good work there. In the past week, they’ve covered Kobe working off the ball and the Lakers’ 1/5 pick and roll and both were detailed and well done.
  • If you haven’t seen the work that Rare Ink has done in its partnership with the NBA to produce some stunning artwork, you should do that now. There are some great pieces on display that would look great on anyone’s wall. Being a Lakers fan I gravitated towards their work on our guys, but a couple of my other favorites were the Payton/Kemp piece and the Nets’ Dr. J one. All of them are fantastic, though. Go check them out.
  • Another reminder to check out the season preview that the writers from Hardwood Paroxysm put out. It really is fantastic and includes some original artwork that’s also very good. Also check out this year’s Basketball Prospectus season preview. Loads of good information in that publication as well.
  • In another good read, Ethan Sherwood Strauss put up a worthwhile post at TrueHoop on an overtime classic from the 90’s between the Rockets and the Sonics. Brings new meaning to the term “6th man”.
  • Lastly, in a bit of personal (as well as some site) news I have a couple of announcements to make. First, you may or may not have heard that I’ve joined the staff at NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk for the upcoming season. I’ll be doing some part-time work there on more league wide stuff, including news updates as well as some long form posts. My most recent contribution is actually Lakers’ related, focusing on Steve Nash and his fit into the offense. This will not affect my work here and I will continue to post here as often as I do now (if that was a concern for you). But FB&G will not be the only place you can find my rambling this year.

Second, within the next couple of days there are going to be a few tweaks to the site that you’ll notice. The sidebar will be cleaned up some for easier digestion and I hope that also leads to some of the loading time issues folks have pointed out to me. A mobile site won’t yet be available but the tweaks should lead to easier reading on your handheld device.

The other change you’ll notice is that there will be some advertisements at the site. FB&G has not run ads in the past (for a variety of reasons) but that will be changing. I’ve never made a big deal about this before but the operation of this site does cost some money and that has pretty much come out of my pocket since I took over. In order to better make the site self sufficient in that way and to help out financially in general, we’re moving in this direction. I hope no one sees the ads as an intrusion and I can say for certain they will not affect the quality of the work put up at the site. But they are coming soon. I just wanted you, the readers, to know.

The Lakers played and lost their second preseason game on Wednesday night. The Blazers, like the Warriors, pulled away in the second half and ended up winning the contest 93-75. While I’m still on the “losses in the preseason don’t matter” train, it doesn’t mean what’s occurring in the game lacks meaning. So, with that, here are five takeaways from the game…

  1. Robert Sacre continues to show he belongs on the team. It’s not his stat line — an okay 8 point, 3 board, 1 block/steal/assist night — that has me convinced. It’s more the fact that he continues to show he understands how to play the game at this level. He’s in the right position more often than not. He knows how to use his size to his advantage. He doesn’t make too many mistakes and continues to play to his strengths. When all of those qualities come in a 7’0″, 260 pound frame I’m more than willing to give him a roster spot as the Lakers’ 5th big. Forget Jordan Hill’s injury or the fact that Dwight Howard isn’t yet cleared to play in games. Strictly from a roster construction standpoint, the Lakers need another big man on the roster and preferably someone that can play center. Sacre is that player, I’m convinced.
  2. Ron-Ron is in fantastic shape and that level of fitness is translating to an effectiveness on the floor that is as plain to see as the sun in the sky. He’s moving around the floor as well as at any point during his Lakers’ tenure and is making things happen when he gets to his spots. His defense looks sharp, he’s flashing fantastic variety on offense — running the lane, posting up, hitting jumpers, creating off the dribble — that the Lakers sorely need, and his work on the backboards has been strong. To say I’m happy with where he’s at right now would be a gross understatement. Fact is, if Ron can keep up this level of play during the season (and I don’t just mean stats-wise, I mean from a sheer eye-ball test way) the Lakers become that much more difficult to deal with.
  3. I’m starting to hedge on what Antawn Jamison’s best position with the team will be. After his acquisition I was fully of the mind that Jamison should be a PF that spaced the floor on offense and piggy-backed on the effectiveness of his big man partner on defense. However, that role came with concerns about how he’d manage being on the back line of the defense and against the Blazers I saw validation in those concerns. Jamison was good on the glass (6 defensive rebounds in 28 minutes) but his rotations on the back end were hesitant and he offered no paint protection when he was covering for the center who rotated out of the lane. On offense, he mostly shot long jumpers that missed but looked much better when on the move going towards the basket. We’ll see how things sort out when Howard is in the lineup and how the Lakers’ offense evolves as they get more comfortable within the Princeton O and add to what they already have installed. But as of now, the PF is mostly acting as a floor spacer/ball reverser at the top of the key and Jamison is still best served moving around more on offense by cutting and slashing. I’m by no means grading him at this early stage, but this is something I’ll be watching closely as the preseason advances. Continue Reading…