Archives For Laker Analysis

One of the ongoing (and somewhat funny) themes of every NBA offseason is what’s Lang Whitaker has termed #musclewatch. This is the phenomenon where NBA players either lose weight or bulk up in an effort of “improving their bodies” to help them in the upcoming season. The most recent Lakers’ example we’ve discussed is rookie Robert Upshaw and his shedding of 20 pounds heading into the training camp.

The more important Lakers’ big man who has worked on his body in an attempt to slim down is Roy Hibbert. In dropping 14 pounds of his own, Hibbert is looking slimmer and hopes that translates to being quicker and being able to be more mobile than he has in recent seasons. Considering the Lakers will likely want to play faster and the fact the Pacers essentially gave him away because they wanted to as well, credit the big man for seeing the writing on the wall.

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Heading into training camp, Byron Scott seems to have a better grasp as to how he wants to handle his roster than what ended up being the case last season. If you read the comments made to Bill Oram, it’s clear he has some plans on how he envisions handling certain players on the roster. Kobe Bryant will not be overextended by playing heavy minutes and Julius Randle and other young players may not start right away.

These comments on Kobe and Randle are important if for no other reason than they represent an already in-place plan about how Byron envisions some of his rotations going. This is meaningful for a variety of reasons, but mostly because last season the head coach perplexed many — or at least he perplexed me — by how he handled his rotations, specifically how he shifted around his starting lineups as often as he did.

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Julius Randle had a frustrating rookie season, watching from the sideline for all but 12 minutes of his first campaign while healing up from a broken leg. Randle’s frustrations continued through summer league this past July as a he had a strict minutes restriction that saw him capped at 20 minutes a night while also sitting out back to back games.

Heading into the season, however, the hope was that those frustrations would dissipate. Randle has been working hard on his game, his body, and, via word of mouth, he looks very good. Just because he’s progressing nicely, though, does not guarantee his frustrations will be fully behind him. Especially if he was hoping to get a solid endorsement from his head coach about being the starting power forward once the season began.

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Byron Scott had a rough first year in his dream job. In the process of accumulating the most losses by any Lakers’ team ever, Scott took hits from fans and media alike for antiquated takes on analytics and general basketball philosophy. But there may not have been any topic in which Scott took more grief — and felt more guilt — than his handling of Kobe Bryant.

After a training camp that saw the then 19 year veteran win conditioning drills and exceed expectations in practice sessions, Scott proceeded to ride Kobe hard once the real games started. Kobe consistently saw heavy minute loads — many times playing entire first quarters and eclipsing 35 minute totals — and physically suffered for it. Game after game, too many possessions showed a player looking all of his 36 years with over 50K minutes on his odometer.

By the time Scott finally seemed to realize the error of his ways and started to adjust Kobe’s workload downward, it was pretty much too late. A shoulder injury — which, to be fair, may or may not have had anything to do with any sort of overuse — ended Kobe’s season and that was that. After the injury Byron admitted he overworked his star, but as they say hindsight is 20/20.

A new year is nearly upon us now and Kobe has been fully cleared for all basketball activities a little less than two weeks before training camp. To his credit, Scott has seemingly learned his lessons and will treat the player he mentored 20 years ago differently than he did last year at this time.

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The start of Lakers’ raining camp is less than two weeks away. During the seven days or so the Lakers will spend in Hawaii, the players will start to get used to Byron Scott, each other, and begin the process of becoming the team which will begin the regular season one month later.

During the 29 days between camp starting and opening night against the T’Wolves, there will be training camp battles, philosophies to refine and install, and hard questions to begin to address. The most difficult of those questions, though, may just be who ends up being the final group of players on opening night. As we’ve discussed very often, the Lakers have some tough decisions to make regarding who makes the team and who gets cut. Training camp and preseason will influence those determinations, but so will other variables (contract status, off-court risks, etc).

But rather than wait for all this play out, why not try to determine who makes the final cut? With that, then, here are three (wat too early) roster projections for the opening night Lakers. (Note, I am only including players who have been signed to a contract as of September 16th. Sorry Metta.)

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Welcome to a new series at FB&G where we will take one player on the Lakers’ roster and discuss one specific skill they possess. Sometimes it will be something very subtle, others it will be more straight forward. We’ll try to shed some light on how this skill can help the team in the coming season. Our previous entries can be found here. Today we look at Kobe Bryant and his ability to draw fouls. 

Kobe Bryant is one of the most skilled players to ever play in the NBA. Whether we’re talking about his passing, his footwork, his midrange shooting, or his positional rebounding it is difficult to isolate one single aspect of his game to focus on which helps him or the team be successful.

As he has aged and injuries have affected his physical ability, however, his general skill level has become ever more important. No longer able to simply blow by his man off the dribble, his footwork out of the triple-threat or the post is even more important. Without an ability to just out-jump his defender, his array of feints and fakes to get his man off-balance and create separation for his jumper is more valuable.

These tricks of the trade make up a larger proportion of his success on the floor, allowing him to still impact a game without being able to physically overwhelm the opposition. One place these tricks show up most often now, though, isn’t to shake himself free for a move, but to draw his man in closer in order to create contact and draw fouls.

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Welcome to a new series at FB&G where we will take one player on the Lakers’ roster and discuss one specific skill they possess. Sometimes it will be something very subtle, others it will be more straight forward. We’ll try to shed some light on how this skill can help the team in the coming season. Our previous entries can be found here. Today, we take a look at Robert Sacre’s defensive positioning. Yes, you read that right. 

There are a lot of things Robert Sacre isn’t. He is not particularly athletic. While possessing good height, bulk, and strength, he does not possess great length. His offensive skill level is okay, but he is not a plus shooter, passer, nor dribbler. His athletic limitations mean he’s not the best rebounder or shot blocker — especially for a player his size. Combine all of these facts and Robert Sacre is what he is: an end of the bench big who, in spot minutes, can provide adequate play for short stretches.

I like Robert Sacre as a player, however. He works hard. He’s good in the locker room. He celebrates his teammates’ success from the bench. He is the classic good teammate who can play a small role on any type of team in the league simply because the above things are true. Where he’s gotten in trouble is that he’s been asked to play a larger role than he’s capable of, but that’s another post for another day.

Today, however, we look at one of the key things he does well and, why, I’m guessing, his coaches have found a reason to put him on the floor as much as they have. As a back line defender, Sacre seems to be in the right place more often than not.  For all the things I listed above which do not work in his favor, what Sacre does possess are good feet for a man his size. He slides well when coming up as the hedge man in the P&R. He’s able to identify his help responsibilities early in a possession and move to his spot accordingly. He will not be many players in a sprint, but his short area quickness is good enough for him to effectively patrol the paint as a viable last line of defense.

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The Lakers are a team in transition, attempting to rebuild — somewhat on the fly — to try and reclaim their status as a top tiered organization that competes for championships. After two very down years, there is some optimism they have taken some positive steps in the right direction with the hope the on court product will reflect that via an improved record and more competitive play.

In reconstructing the roster, the Lakers have done some purposeful acquisition of specific player types. Yes, they tried to fill positional holes in trading for Roy Hibbert and by adding Brandon Bass and Lou Williams in free agency. But what these players bring in skill is also replicated in what they can provide a locker room via good attitudes and a willingness to help the youngsters on the roster.

That latter piece is important and should not be discounted. Go back through the interview archives of nearly every great player and you will find they had one or more key veterans influence their development via mentoring. Kobe talks about Byron Scott. Kevin Garnett talks about Sam Mitchell. The other day, on NBA TV, I heard Reggie Miller talking about how John Long played this role for him when he was a rookie with the Pacers. The list (surely) goes on and on.

Getting back to the Lakers, then, it’s easy to imagine this has played a role in some of their acquisitions. We often talk about Kobe as a mentor, but he’s also an iconic player and that can complicate things. Young players inherently look up to a player of his stature, so his words do carry extra weight. However, a player like Kobe also brings with him a burden of high expectations which can be difficult to live up to. I want young players learning the game from Kobe, but it’s also often players of a lesser stature who have traveled a different path through a long career whose voices lend a different perspective which has great value.

This brings me back to players like Williams and Bass. These players have carved out long careers — both are 10 year veterans — mostly as role players who didn’t always have the security of knowing they’d stick in the league. Both were 2nd round draft picks who had to scrap to find a role and then continue to perform at a high level to remain rotation players. Having these types of players share their tricks of the trade and impart their knowledge onto young players can have as much (if not more) a lasting impact than when a HOF player teaches you the ropes.

In saying that, however, one has to wonder if there’s a balance that needs to be struck. Said another way, is there a point when you have enough of these mentor-type players? And when a front office is putting together a roster, how much weight should they place on a player’s ability to serve in this role versus what he might provide on the court?

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