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Breaking down #37

Bill Bridges —  July 9, 2009

Can there be yet another post about Ron Artest? Answer: There can never be enough posts about #37! This post will try to find evidence to support some popular hypotheses – some posed by yours truly.

Let’s start on defense.

Hypothesis #1. Ron is an excellent on-ball defender.

Seems silly to doubt this point as Ron has been a Defensive Player of the Year. But let’s see if the numbers back this up.  Of course defensive stats are notoriously hard to quantify.  One stat is opponent’s PER.

We see from 82games.com that Cleveland has the best PER against small forwards at 12.6 and Houston was second at 13.5. So far so good. Looking into the Cavs and Rockets in more detail shows that Lebron’s defensive PER was a good 13.5. Of course the Rockets also have Battier who was at 12.3. However Artest was even better at 12.2. By the PER-against metric, it is safe to say that Ron is an elite on-ball defender. (Bowen was 16.3 and Ariza 23.0). Versus Ariza, a significant upgrade.

Hypothesis #2. Ron’s true value will be evident against the top teams in the league.

How does Ron play against Lebron, Melo, and Pierce. The three best players on the best teams in the NBA not called the Lakers?

We see that all three performed below their career averages. Pierce came closest to matching his career numbers. Lebron especially has had problems with Artest (No wonder he recruited Artest so hard). James’ 5.1 turnovers per game really stand out. Impressively, Artest’s team has a win/loss advantage against all three players. 7-3 against Lebron is no joke. These records include results when Artest was with losing teams in Chicago and Sacramento. By the way, Lebron’s record against Bruce Bowen with over 50% shooting and at 29 ppg.

Contrast these results with Artest’s record against Kobe.
Kobe has being torching Artest ever since Artest came into the league. 48% shooting, 41% from 3 and a 15-5 record. Are you kidding. No wonder Ron wanted to join the Lakers.

Back to the study. The results seem to support hypothesis #2. Ron seems to be as an effective defender against the big three as there is in the league. check.

What about on offense?

Can Artest fit into the triangle and assume Ariza’s role and possibly even extend it?

Let’s first look at Ariza’s shot chart over the past year. First of all, Trevor has no mid-range or low post game. Almost all of his shots came from the 3 point line or at the hoop via penetration.

Before seeing this chart, I’d thought that most of his threes came from the wing – especially the left. In fact, (by a small amount) Trevor took more corner threes than wing threes. I guess our memories want to retain successful events as his corner 3 percentage was horrible. He shot 31.9% from three point range. But crucially was at 40% from the wing. In the playoffs, it seemed as if Phil tweaked the angle of the triangle to get Trevor wing three pointers rather than corners.

Fortunately Artest has almost exactly the same profile as Ariza from the three point line – but better. Simply great from either wing and straight ahead. The left corner let him down but overall a .399 result is one of the league’s best. He shot alot of wing 3′s and should get wide open shots off of passes from Pau and Kobe – especially on the left wing where he shot 126 3′s and made 44%. Can you picture it? Kobe posts down on the right low block. Double comes. Kick out to Artest for the wing 3…. nothing but net.

That is the good news.

Unfortunately, at least during the last year, Ron was awful shooting from virtually every other location. Most troubling is Ron’s inability to finish at the hoop. A .451 at the hoop is almost Fishesque. Compare this to Ariza’s .619 (Kobe was a stud at .622). Except in Ron’s case, he doggedly takes it to the rim – and misses.  Others have written about these strange numbers. Tom Martin’s hypothesis is that Ron’s ankle injury early in the season eroded explosiveness. This seems to have some validity as previous to 08/09, Artest’s success rate at the rim has been about 55%.

The data indicates that Artest is not a good low post player. Nor does he post up often. This could possibly be due to the systems he played in. In Indiana, O’Neal dominated the post. Sacramento didn’t emphasize it. In Houston, obviously Yao was down low. One thing we can agree on is that if Ron stays on the wing and shoots wide open catch n shoot 3′s we will be happy.

Putting it all together. Artest is a significant upgrade as an on-ball defender versus Ariza. He might not be as effective as a weakside help defender. While data to prove or disprove this point does not exist, his high on/off court differential of +5.9. (Ariza is a -5.3) indicates that Artest is a very good team defender. And as we saw, he is as much of a King-stopper as there is in the league.

On offense he plugs in as the wing shooter. And while we have all seen him bully his way past Walton or Lamar from the low block, the data simply doesn’t indicate that he is effective consistently from there. The key question is whether he can run the pinch post drop pass sequence with Pau and finish at the rim as successfuly as Trevor did.

Finally, will he be a black hole on offense?  Maybe. First why he might actually move the ball; he played the triangle for 3 seasons under Tim Floyd. Second, with Kobe and Pau he isn’t likely to be the initiator. If he remains as the finisher and safety valve the Laker’s highly efficient offense should remain so. With the counter; why might he still dribble for 12 seconds before forcing a contested jumper? He is Ron Artest. #37

Oh and here’s is Kobe’s sick shooting chart.  The man can finish at the rim.

—Bill Bridges

The TrueHoop Mothership Has Landed

Kurt —  January 20, 2009

I tend to join things about as often as Phil Jackson calls a timeout during an opponent’s run.

But sometimes there are offers you can’t say no to, like the Shamwow. Or the chance to join the TrueHoop basketball blogging network.

As of today Forum Blue & Gold is part of the TrueHoop Network, joining some of the best hoops bloggers on the planet — starting with Henry Abbott himself — under the umbrella of ESPN. Get the whole story from Henry himself. Check out the list of bloggers in the pulldown at the top of the page. That is an impressive group.

Regulars here will notice a handful of changes, like that banner at the top where as you can read this site is now an ESPN affiliate. The most obvious change is the video player to the right — you’ll have the chance to check out all of ESPN’s NBA videos (highlights, interviews and analysis) without ever leaving this site. There also is a new advertiser in StubHub, and if are looking for tickets to an upcoming Laker game at Staples just use the pulldown.

What is not changing is what his site is about — that is why I wanted to be part of the TrueHoop Network. It brings together top quality bloggers and what they have created then has them just keep dong what they do. No big changes, just a few little additions — which is the way I want it, I like this site as it is.

This site is a community, a group of smart hoops fans discussing their favorite sport, and it will stay that way. You are all a part of this. There will be no change in the content, no change in how things are run. We are not going to start speculating about trades or have polls about our favorite Laker girls.

Those of you that are new here, you’ll find we’re about basketball — Laker basketball, on the court. We don’t talk soap opera around the team, we break down the team and its past and future. To get an idea of some of the best stuff around here, check out the Kobe vs. LeBron part of this post from yesterday, or this breakdown of Andrew Bynum from the Orlando game.

And before you email and ask, there is a tab at the top explaining the name of the site (as well as the commenting guidelines and more about FB&G). We want to make you newcomers welcome — if we could get a wet bar in here, we would.

Now, on with the basketball and blogging. As you’ll see with the next post (coming in a few hours), the new affiliation does bring with it some big advantages.

Year in Review (so far…)

Reed —  December 31, 2008

We’re 30 games into the season, in the midst of a lengthy break in between games, and approaching a new year – feels like a good time to take a long look at where the team sits, what it’s strengths and weaknesses are, and how it compares to its chief competitors. In that spirit, and to try and encourage objectivity, I’m going to throw out buckets of statistics to try and spark informed discussion of the team’s current state.

Team Stats

Notes:

• Looking at big picture stats, the Lakers appear weakness free. They score, defend, and rebound at top 5 rates, and their turnovers are respectable.
• They have made significant inroads in catching up to the best defensive teams compared with where they were at last year (now only 4.3 behind the league leader/Boston, compared with 6.6 last year). However, as we’ve all seen, the defense has been inconsistent, with an impressive start and last few games, but a scary stretch in between. Hopefully, increasing confidence in and execution of Rambis’ strong side zone will lead to results closer to what Boston and Cleveland are doing.
• Offensively, they probably are not going to get much better, as they are just off the league leading pace this year (Portland) and last year (Utah).
• They are a strong rebounding team, on both ends of the court, another area where they have caught up to the elite teams compared with last year. As we all hoped, Bynum’s presence alone seems to have solved that problem (which was gaping during the playoffs).
• Their point differential is almost at double digits, and about where the league leader sits each year. Last year they relied on offensive dominance to overwhelm other teams; this year they combine this offense with much improved defense and rebounding, leading to more stable, consistent success.
• Comparing LA to the other two elite teams, Boston and Cleveland, it appears we are right with them, but no one is set apart from the pack. Boston and Cleveland have marginally better point differentials and overall efficiency numbers, but we have the best records vs. playoff and contending opponents.
• It is noteworthy that Cleveland is significantly worse against playoff and contending teams than LA and Boston, perhaps suggesting that their success somewhat comes from beating up on bad teams (and that LA indeed has a boredom problem).
• Records vs. elite teams seems particularly illuminating to me in differentiating between real and pretend contenders. For example, note that Phoenix has 11 losses against playoff teams, is 1-6 against contenders, and is 2-7 against playoff teams on the road (with the wins coming against NJ and Milwaukee). Championship teams bring their A game in “test” games, especially on the road. LA is passing those tests so far.

Player Stats:

Notes:

• As expected, we dominate at SG, PF, and Center. The Bynum/Gasol combination at center puts us at first in the league in net production (PER differential).
• Point guard is a glaring weakness, especially defensively as Fisher and Farmar combine to allow an 18.4 PER. Tellingly, our PGs allow opposing PGs to shoot .500 eFG, the highest of any position against us. It is extremely rare for a team’s PGs to lead in eFG, given that they take so many perimeter shots (on our team, PGs shoot the lowest eFG at .489, with our centers shooting .537).
• Our PFs and Cs are extremely efficient shooting the ball, at .531 and .537 – we really should pound the ball inside at every opportunity. Other teams don’t have an answer for the length and skill of Gasol and Bynum (or Odom).
• Our best lineups feature a few common ingredients: Kobe and Ariza. Odom, Gasol, and Bynum are fairly interchangeable, although Odom appears more often than the others.
• Bynum is featured in all of our best defensive lineups, which we’d expect. This makes it all the more puzzling why Phil has often take Bynum out in offensive-defensive substitutions at the ends of game when transitioning to defense.
• Our team stands out in its depth. While it lacks one uber-dominant offensive or defensive lineup (compared to league leading lineups), it boasts the highest ratio of top 10 or 20 such lineups – there are just endless combinations of effective lineups for Phil to play with. I believe the best is Fisher, Kobe, Ariza, Gasol, Bynum – which should become our closing lineup in the playoffs.
• Odom is the best individual player in point differential per 48 minutes (+15.6), the best on offense (110.6 rating), and the second best on defense (95.0).
• Five other players have a +9.0 or greater point differential rating, revealing incredible depth: Fisher (+12.9), Kobe, (+11.5), Ariza (+10.9), Bynum (+9.9), and Gasol (+9.5).
• The team is 4.6 points better on offense with Gasol on the court than Bynum, and 4.9 better on defense the other way – meaning we get almost identical results, but at opposite ends, when we replace one with the other.

Final Thoughts

This team feels a lot like the 1999-2000 Shaq-Kobe Lakers, which was the most talented, but least experienced of the three title teams. That team was loaded. They finished 67-15, started Shaq, Kobe, Rice, Harper, and AC Green, with Fox, Fisher, Horry, and Shaw all coming off the bench (at a time when most of them were in their primes). Imagine bringing those four off the bench. They finished first in defensive efficiency and fourth in offensive efficiency. Shaq was unequivocally the best player in the league, averaging 29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks. Yet, despite their regular season dominance, they struggled through the playoffs, beating the Kings 3-2, needing the miracle 4th quarter comeback against Portland in game 7, and letting the outgunned Pacers take them to six games in the Finals. On paper, they were unbeatable, yet they hadn’t quite learned how to play as one and execute under pressure – resulting in choppy playoff play. The subsequent title teams were significantly less talented and deep, had worse regular season records, but were much more dominant come playoff time. I think this current Laker team is going to similarly end up with a sparkling regular season record (64-68 wins?), but struggle against less talented teams in the playoffs as their role players learn to deal with pressure and execute seamlessly, especially on defense (Bynum, Ariza, Farmar). We saw some of the same last year, with players like Farmar, Turiaf, and Sasha struggling at key moments — so hopefully some of the growing pains are behind us — but two of our top 5 players are still not battle tested. In the end, I think whether we prevail against teams like the Spurs, Celtics, or Cavs in intense series will come down to mastery of the small things – which Boston embodied so annoyingly last spring. If we can progress through the season and give our key young players the experience they need, then we should be the champions. No other team is as talented, balanced, or deep (unless, of course, team Lebron trades Wally for a few all stars…).

Your thoughts?

–Reed

NBA Kings vs. Warriors NOV 9
Records: Lakers 24-5 (1st in the West) Warriors 9-22 (11th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.1 (3rd in league) Warriors 106.1 (17th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.2 (4th in league) Warriors 112.1 (28th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Warriors C.J. Watson, Marco Belinelli, Stephen Jackson, Brandan Jacobs, Andris Biedrins

Lakers notes: After the Laker win, there was a gracious post up at Celtics blog saying that if you are going to call Pau Gasol soft, then you need to give credit when he steps up and performs.

J.D. Hastings in the comments made the same case for Lamar Odom, who is oft-maligned by some Lakers fans.

I want to make sure to mention something I haven’t seen getting enough attention. Lamar Odom’s intensity during the Boston game was a huge factor. He was a team high +17. I don’t think anyone else was even in double figures. The uncharacteristic drive and energy he brought that helped set a tone.

One play on defense he threw KG to the floor before he could get the ball. He was called for the foul, but it was a great moment considering how KG had been manhandling Pau every time down before he could get the ball.

Even the 3 pointers that made me cringe had an attitude with them that the team needed to display against the Celtics. To say nothing of his Kobe-like hook floater in traffic.

Not to take anything away from anyone else (and I do agree with playing Bynum to close), but considering what LO has sacrificed for this team, his contributions are worth noting.

SMT added that Odom pushing KG around after KG threw an elbow at Sasha — Odom from the tough streets of New York will stick up for his friends.

Secondly, Odom has had the best (or tied for best) +/- numbers on the team the last three games. He leads the team in raw +/- for the season, the only player in the double digits positive. Certainly the +/- stat has some flaws as a way to define who is playing well, but the bottom line is that if your team is doing better when you are on the court then when you are off, then you are doing something right. And are a key part of the team’s success.

Welcome Back Ronny: I still miss the guy, dancing around on the sidelines and hustling his butt off when in the game.

I get why he moved on — that was more money than the Lakers should have paid and up north Ronny gets more burn (about 20 minutes a game lately). In his game, Ronny is still Ronny, he is not shooting great but he is getting to the line often and is contributing at both ends of the floor. It will be good to watch him play again.

The Warriors Coming In: In case you missed it, they beat the Celtics, too. This is a team that, like the Knicks, has a different style that can throw teams off their rhythm and beat them if you overlook them. The Warriors are playing at the second fastest pace in the league.

Obviously, this was a team that wanted Monta Ellis as the go-to guy, but he is not back from injury yet. Also out is Jamal Crawford, who has played fairly well in the up-tempo style, and Corey Maggette. That said, they are getting some increased production from other guys.

The guy who is really thriving this season is Andris Biedrins. He is averaging 14 and 11, has an impressive true shooting percentage of 56.7% and leads the team in PER (20.7). Most importantly, he is a real hustle guy, and one of the few Warriors who seems to do that at both ends of the floor. Stephen Jackson also apparently likes the system, and he was the go to guy against Boston with 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Keys To The Game: Discipline is at the heart of what the Lakers need to do. Bottom line with the Warriors right now, they are not a disciplined team. If you are disciplined, you can force them into mistakes at both ends. But, if you get sucked into their game (something the Lakers do all too often) it could look a lot like Friday night for Golden State. The Lakers need to live by the old John Wooden mantra tonight: Be quick but don’t hurry.

If the Lakers can force the Warriors into a half-court offense, this is a good team to trap. That’s because they are not a good passing team. Bad passers and guys don’t get to open spots like they should.

The battle of the boards will be key, the Lakers are longer but they can be lax in that area, and the Warriors are very aggressive on the offensive glass and are eighth in the Association in the percentage of offensive rebounds grabbed. That is a little ironic, because they are last in the NBA in the percentage of defensive rebounds grabbed. The Lakers should be able to get some second chance points in this one.

While teams shoot a pretty high percentage against the Warriors, don’t expect to get bailed out with a foul. They don’t send teams to the line often.

The Lakers need to recognize the personnel on the floor for the Warriors — you can’t let Azubuike or Belinelli shoot the three, they will kill you from there.

On offense, I would love to see a little screen and roll from the Lakers tonight, because Watson is weak at defending it. And he doesn’t get a lot of help, because the overall concern on defense from the Warriors is not impressive.

Where you can watch: 6:30 start here is Fox Sports in LA or the League Pass options nationally.

Preview & Chat: The Boston Celtics

Kurt —  December 25, 2008


Records: Lakers 22-5 (1st in the West) Celtics 27-2 (1st in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.4 (3rd in league) Celtics 110.4 (5th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.5 (4th in league) Celtics 98.6 (1st in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Celtics Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

No big breakdown, this game has had nearly as much hype as Santa today.

Just sit back and enjoy this one. Remember that over at TrueHoop Kevin Arnovitz is live blogging all five games today, because he loves basketball or is a masochist (or some combination of those two).

I leave you with a few thoughts from Gatinho on the Lakers on Christmas day:

In ‘88, ‘02, and ‘03 the Lakers lost on Christmas and won the Championship

This will 35 times that the Lakers have played on Christmas dating back to 1949.

This will be the fourth time playing the Celtics.
(’51 L, ‘55 W, ‘70 W)

The Celtics will be playing in their 25th Christmas game, only one of those games has been played in Boston.

Among Laker opponents on Christmas are the Fort Wayne Pistons, Indianapolis Olympians, and the San Diego Rockets.