A favorite refrain from Jalen Rose is how positions were added to the analysis of basketball to help the more casual fan understand where certain players belong on the court. It’s an interesting premise that might hold water if plays weren’t designed around players fitting roles based on their skill sets and size (you know, positions). There has, however, been a move toward positionless basketball – a more free-flowing, offensive predicated on versatility and individual skill.
Granted, “free-flowing” is not what you think of when Byron Scott’s crossed arms pop up in your head, but the Lakers do have the pieces – especially in their starting five – to make this work, at least for stretches.
The first player most point to when they think of positionless basketball is LeBron James, which makes sense as he should be the guy anyone thinks of first in terms of any style of basketball. He’s really, really good. When considered in this scenario, though, it’s because of his versatility. He’s a Ferrari in a semi’s body, Karl Malone, but as a point guard. Being so athletically dominant and so skilled makes any offense built around him otherworldly.
While the Lakers may not have LeBron on their team, they do have plenty of guys who are more than capable of playing a few positions or stretching the boundaries of what their position typically demands.
Halfway (well, 65.8%, but who’s counting) through its annual marathon, the NBA bestows upon its rank-and-file (players, coaches, hell, fans) a much-needed four-day respite from the mental and physical grind of 82 in ~175. In 2013, nowhere is this midseason oasis more welcome than in Lakerland, where, in depressingly short order, euphoria and stratospheric expectations have devolved into the most disappointing campaign in franchise history, a nightly nut-punch mad lib on the floor outdone only by incessant upheaval behind closed doors.
On a far brighter note, the NBA convenes this weekend in Houston, to celebrate its present and future, flaunt its athletic wares and, presumably, provide tuition assistance to certain ilk of “law student.” Last night, behind 40, on an unreal-even-against-All-Star-D 18-for-22 from the field, and 10 rebounds by the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried and 20 apiece from Cavs and Spurs sophs Tristan Thompson and Kawhi Leonard (who also had 10 and 7 rebounds, respectively), Team Chuck laid the wood to Team Shaq in a still-entertaining Rising Stars Challenge. This evening, the All Star festivities shift into top gear, with the always-meh Shooting Stars, underrated (seriously, I love it) Skills Challenge and All Star Saturday mainstays, the 3-point and slam dunk contests.
Though likely for the best, given the manner in which the pas three months have unfolded, conspicuously absent from tonight’s proceedings will be the Los Angeles Lakers. Not here! Infusing your day with memories of brighter days, a look back at the Lakers on All Star Saturdays past:
1984 Slam Dunk Contest
Three decades ago, the NBA lifted a(nother) page from the ABA playbook with a revival of the slam dunk contest. Fittingly, the event (re)debuted in the Rockies, where eight years earlier, at halftime of the 1976 ABA All-Star Game, a Spurs’ greats George Gervin and Larry Kenon, Kentucky Colonel Artis Gilmore, Denver’s own David Thompson and then-New York Net Julius Erving. The Doctor returned to headline the nine-man field, which included the preeminent perimeter defender of his (and maybe all) time and author of many a Coop-a-Loop, Michael Cooper. Suffice it to say, the Lakers’ inaugural All-Star Saturday performance was less than auspicious:
Though still immortalized:
1987 3-Point Contest
Three years after the slam dunk dud of ’84, Coop was back at All-Star Saturday, this time to take part in the second annual Larry Bird Invitational, err, 3-Point Contest. Accompanying Cooper to Seattle for the festivities was fellow sharpshooter Byron Scott. In a star-studded eight-man field featuring a who’s who of the game’s great shooters – and Danny Ainge (some grudges die hard) – Scott stumbled, while Cooper more than held his own, outscoring Bird, Dale Ellis and future three-time contest champ Craig Hodges in Round 1, before exiting in the Semifinals, the third place finisher.
1988 3-Point Contest
This time flying solo, Byron Scott returned to the 3-Point Contest the following year in Chicago. Scott rather emphatically avenged the previous year’s last place finish with a first round performance that paced a similarly power-packed field. Not surprisingly, as the stakes ratcheted up, so did Larry Bird’s performance. Though light years behind Bird, Scott and Dale Ellis engaged in battle for the second spot in the final round, with Ellis advancing by the narrowest of margins.
Is it wrong that this burns me up as much as any Lakers-Celtics battle of which we were deprived?
1994 Rookie Game
In a stirring homage to Michael Cooper’s showing the inaugural NBA slam dunk contest a year earlier, in the first-ever (at the time) Rookie Game, Nick Van Exel, in 20 minutes of burn, handed out six assists but turned in a rather impressive goose egg, whiffing on all eight of his shots (have you seen the defense in these things?!?), including three 3-point attempts. Oof. Let’s move on.
1995 Rookie Game
The Lakers’ first-ever lottery pick, the unheralded Eddie Jones (selected #10 overall in the 1994 draft) had quickly established himself as not only one of the league’s best young players, he’d almost immediately etched his name in the NBA’s top tier of perimeter defenders. This NBA ready defense, along with his stellar athleticism in slashing to the bucket earned him an invite to the second annual Rookie Game, where, sharing the floor with the top two picks in the draft, Glenn Robinson and Jason Kidd (Grant Hill had been voted into the big-boy game), Eddie stole the show, racking up 25 (including 4-of-8 on 3-pointers), six swipes, and handing out four assists en route to the game’s MVP award.
(I’d planned to include a highlight video of this game, but sadly was only able to find the full telecast, chopped into 20-minute clips. You can find those here.)
1995 Slam Dunk Contest
In the first round of the 1995 Slam Dunk Contest, Antonio Harvey almost set the desert ablaze, but instead became the Andy Reid of All-Star Saturday.
Later that night, Bean returned to floor as the second Laker ever to take part in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest. With the contest on the ropes (it would actually be shelved the following year), the league had implemented the latest of what ultimately became a comedic laundry list of gimmicks, allowing each competitor 90 seconds in Round 1 to do with as he pleased, with the best of two dunks making up his final round score. Sadly, this resulted in our being limited to a scant three dunks by Kobe in his lone appearance in the contest. As one would expect, however, Kobe made good, delivering as emphatic and technically perfect a one-hand reverse as you’ll ever see for an opening salvo. By the way, the whole “keep the warmups on” bit looks a lot cooler when it’s Kobe instead of Brent Barry.
After edging out now-assistant coach Darvin Ham (perhaps owing to a bit of judging generosity, but whatever), Kobe set the house ablaze with a thunderous between-the-legs number – remember, this is before Vince Carter and Jason Richardson made a mockery of the skill – which earned him 49 points and dunking supremacy
(Bonus points for aggressively flexing with the sub-Durant physique and openly cheering Michael Finley’s last miss)
2004 Skills Challenge
Ok, who had Open Court Legend placing second in a competition that rewards speed, quickness, agility and outside shooting?
Seriously, I remember guffawing upon discovering Fisher’s inclusion in this field (in large part, probably, because the Lakers were that year’s host, but still), and simply hoped he could out-duel Earl Boykins and avoid last place. Taking out Boykins, Stephon Marbury (when this was still an impressive thing) and making prime-Baron Davis work in final?
Really not a lot to say here. 12 points for Jordan Farmar, Andrew Bynum with 7 points and 4 boards in 18 minutes.
2007 Skills Challenge
Anyone else kinda totally forget that this happened?
With the notable exceptions of the Malice at the Palace and the 1984 Draft Lottery, I’m not sure there’s an event the NBA’s worked harder to bury in history than 2007’s All-Star Weekend in Vegas. Without going into detail, let’s just say it wasn’t exactly public relations coup for the league.
That said, it was there that one of the most stealthily cool competitions in ASW history took place. It’s over in a flash (pun possibly intended), and it’d have been awesome if Kobe hadn’t flubbed the opportunity to make a run at Wade’s final time, but simply having Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul – and no one else – in a test of basketball fundamentals is pretty awesome.
2008 Rising Stars
A year after posting a solid, if unspectacular 12 points as a rookie, Jordan Farmar returned to All Star Weekend as an NBA soph, and quietly turned in a stellar playmaking performance. In a game whose narrative was dominated by Kevin Durant (23 and 8), Rudy Gay (22 on just 12 shots), Brandon Roy (17 and 7 assists), LaMarcus Aldridge (18 and 9 rebounds) and MVP Boobie Gibson (33 on 11 threes), Farmar played a central role, feeding (among others) Gibson to the tune of 12 assists, scored 17 points on 10 shots, ripped four steals, and made the play of the game (#8 below).
It might even have been recognized as such had that lob found, say, Kevin Durant instead of Ronnie Brewer.
2010 Slam Dunk Contest
They Let Shannon Dunk. It… was.
Enjoy the festivities everyone – no Laker losses tonight!
Pau Gasol was excellent in this game. He was aggressive early, scoring eight points (on 3-of-4 from the field) in the game’s opening five minutes, crashed the offensive glass (two early, four for the game) and for the second straight game recapped by yours truly, nailed a 3-points from the corner. In all, Pau logged 37 minutes, hitting on 11 of 19 shots (one miss was a desperation heave from 35 feet out) – eight of those from inside 10 feet – for his 26 points, grabbing eight boards (including the aforementioned four offensive rebounds) and turning the ball over just once. It’s tough to see in the moments immediately following such a fiery wreck, but Pau Gasol’s performance on Thursday night was legitimately a thing of beauty.
Let’s see, what else have we got to cling to in the aftermath of a loss that would have felt artificially close at double the 11-point margin? Well, Metta World Peace connected on a pair of jumpers from beyond the arc, doubling his season total for made 3-pointers and nearly doubling his hit rate from long range- to 12.9%. So, uh, yeah… there’s that.
Best of all though? I had “Bad” and “Ugly” pretty well sorted out by halftime. So… thanks, guys!
Where to begin…
In the Lakers’ defense (words that will not be bandied about frequently in the aftermath of this showing) a significant chunk of Miami’s 15-point half time lead was courtesy of an awesome 3-point barrage, in which the Heat drained an 61.5% of their 13 attempts from beyond the arc. Beyond that, however, the story on Thursday night was one of effort and execution, and at every turn the Lakers were found wanting.
The game was tight early, with the Lakers poised to exploit their superiority on the front line. With Pau Gasol storming out of the gate (see above) and Andrew Bynum aggressively hitting the glass in the opening minutes, it looked as though the NBA’s best big man tandem would set the tone. Sadly, however, just over six minutes into the first quarter, Chris Bosh disposed of Gasol with a pump fake and attacked the chest of Andrew Bynum, drawing the Laker big man’s first foul of the night while draining a twisting jumper from the middle of the key. Just 23 seconds later, with the Heat leading 12-10 in a nip-tuck start, Bynum was whistled for a second on his opposite number, Joel Anthony. This sent ‘Drew – and his three early rebounds and incredible wingspan around the rim – to the Lakers’ bench, prematurely. Given Miami’s hot shooting, the Lakers’ depressing lack of effort on defense (even Kobe, which is unconscionable) and abysmal execution on offense, it’s debatable whether an uninterrupted (he did end up playing a “full” game, 37 minutes) game for Bynum – who did manage 15 points and 12 rebounds (though only one on the offensive glass) – would have dramatically altered the outcome.
It’s tough to argue that Bynum’s presence wouldn’t have at least presented a flu-ridden LeBron James with a higher degree of difficulty as he dissected the Laker defense, but there was no stopping LeBron on Thursday. In the first half he made half of his eight shots (for 13 points), and added six rebounds and six assists – five of which were on 3-pointers. He was every bit as dominant after the break – though now more aggressive about looking for his own shot and helping tighten the defensive screws as Miami opened up a well-deserved 23-point lead. He finished the game having played 37 minutes, during which he made 12 of 27 field goals attempts, a shockingly pedestrian line in a virtuoso 31-8-8 (plus four steals and three blocks!) performance.
The Lakers, meanwhile, failed (miserably) to execute on offense, with horrible spacing in the half court, no fast break to speak of and Miami’s aggressive D not only neutralizing Kobe Bryant on the pick and roll, but relegating the Mamba to an evening of contested, long two-pointers (more on this in a sec). That this team lacks the depth and offensive firepower we’ve come to expect from the Lakers is a) hardly news and b) not insurmountable against most NBA squads. What is disconcerting, however, is the ease with which the Heat were able to totally discombobulate the Lakers, sapping their attack of any rhythm and cohesiveness.
Now, it is important to remember that this is merely one game out of a slate of 66 – just 1.5% of the regular season – and that the team administering the beating is arguably the best in NBA. HOWEVER, it is also worth noting that this opponent, administerer of said beatdown and arguably the NBA’s best… managed the feat with one of the best two-guards of all time in a suit.
Engage any knowledgeable observer of basketball in a conversation about offensive efficiency and it’s unlikely that you’ll have to wait very long to have pointed out to you that offensively efficient teams a) take advantage of their opportunities in the paint and b) do not settle for long 2-point jump shots.
I submit, for your disapproval and dismay, the Lakers’ shot chart from January 19, 2012 in Miami:
Play of the Game:
The Lakers’ execution on offense on Thursday was appalling. Early foul trouble prevented their anchor in the middle from ever really finding his groove. And the best basketball player on Planet Earth laid waste to their defense. These things happen. Sometimes a better team just kicks your ass.
However, cliché though it may be, hustle should never slump. For every facet of the game in which the Heat bested the Lakers, the most maddening was in the area of effort. According to Kobe Bryant, the Heat simply “played harder” than the Lakers did on Thursday night. When asked if the Lakers fought back against their opponents, Andrew Bynum replied “not really.”
I get it. Long regular season. Off night. Condensed schedule. LeBron is really good. The emotional return of Eddy Curry. I get it. Ya can’t win ‘em all. But can we please, please covert our breakaway layups when spotted 30 feet and a head of steam?