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Lonzo’s Slump, Luke’s Rotations, and Trade Machine Fun!

Posted by on Nov 30, 2017 in Lakers Analysis, Lakers Audio, Lakers statistics, Opinion, Podcast |

It’s podcast day!

We kick things off talking, as any Lakers analyst must do (by law), Lonzo Ball. So the shooting thing… does it get better? And what happens if it doesn’t? The natives are getting restless, if response on postgame shows and social media are any indication. Also generating angst among the natives are Luke Walton’s rotation choices. So what mistakes is he making, and what’s beyond his control? Finally, why is it the Lakers seem to play down to the competition?

Finally, we take advantage of the turmoil in Memphis to crank up the Marc Gasol Trade Machine (with a dose of DeAndre Jordan thrown in for fun).

 

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Nine interesting things about the upcoming Lakers season

Posted by on Sep 3, 2014 in Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Lakers statistics, Opinion, Steve Nash | 12 comments

The calendar says September, still the NBA’s Season of Possibilities, where the Lakers are limited only by lack of imagination and inability to suspend disbelief. But eventually the games will begin, and like most I expect the Season of Realities will be unkind to the purple and gold. A playoff run isn’t impossible, but given the depth in the West, they’ll need a string of things to go right in specific ways, in the same way Powerball winners need a string of things to go right specific ways.

But hey, just because the end result isn’t likely to add substantively to the franchise’s illustrious history, that doesn’t mean we’re staring down the barrel at 82 games of boredom. The 2014-15 season offers plenty of legitimate intrigue, nine examples of which are listed below, in no particular order:

1. Kobe Bryant. 

As outlined here, the track record for elite scoring guards after 30 years old is borderline catastrophic. At 36, Kobe would already be defying history to play at, or even close to, career levels, even before factoring in his injuries. Mentally, how much patience will he have, whether with any new limitations placed on his ability to exert influence on games and seasons? If the Lakers fall out of the playoff race? Were he to drag this bunch into postseason contention, it would go down as one of his most impressive achievements.

Really, how much explanation does putting Kobe on this list require?

2. Julius Randle. 

Rare is the Lakers rookie counted on to develop into a franchise cornerstone (or the type of player potentially garnering one in a trade), but Randle obviously qualifies. There’s plenty to like. Randle has great athleticism for his size, and has a bunch of the requisite intangibles — excited to be a Laker, wants to be pushed, wants to learn, etc. The motor, to use the parlance, seems to be there. He’ll have to adapt to the length and size of NBA competition, which could take time, but the first big hurdle is fitness. Byron Scott has already spoken publicly about the need for Randle to get in shape, which is both a warning and a challenge, and not necessarily reflective of where he is today, physically. Could just be a helpful reminder that whatever a rookie thinks qualifies as being in shape is probably 30-40 percent away from where he actually needs to be. Watching his development, hopefully not hindered by excessive playing time for Carlos Boozer, will be a lot of fun.

3. What does Ed Davis do with a season’s worth of playing time?

When the Grizzlies managed to offload Rudy Gay to the Raptors, plenty of people believed Memphis won the deal not just because they shed Gay’s salary, but also snagged Davis in the process. To that point, particularly in the weeks leading into the trade, Davis had been a pretty efficient scorer with moments, albeit inconsistently, of solid offensive rebounding. For a variety of reasons, he never was given enough consistent playing time to grow with the Grizzlies. Still only 25 with legitimate production at the NBA level under his belt, if Davis can carve out a season’s worth of consistent playing time, he has the most breakout potential of anyone in L.A.’s Short Contract Gang.

4. The last stand of Steve Nash. 

I realize the guy has become a symbol of catastrophe and the whole “I want the money” thing didn’t endear himself to the fan base, but we’re talking about one of the greatest point guards of this or any other generation trying to exit the game on something even kind of resembling his own terms. Those rare moments last season where Nash was able to play effectively — this one, mostly – were great to watch. He doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of equity locally as Kobe, nor should he, but Nash’s story arc this season has the potential to be engrossing. Low risk, high reward.

5. The trade deadline. 

If the Lakers aren’t legitimate playoff contenders in mid-February, attempting to flip Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, and anything else not to the floor isn’t a problem. But what if they’re within imagination’s reach of the top eight? On the one hand, even if they beat the odds to make the postseason, as things stand now you’d have to be smoking, and probably eating, piles of northern California’s finest to believe a title is a genuine possibility. Is it worth preserving a quick first round loss to hold assets that might otherwise be traded? On the other, does the front office think they can sell the fan base (and Kobe) on short-circuiting a season in the name of a rebuild? Will they believe they’re obligated to?

6. The Jeremy Lin Phenomenon. 

More than the player himself, who I don’t think lasts more than a year in L.A., I’m interested in the culture around him. The Lakers have a massive following in China. Or maybe more specifically, Kobe does. Still, the brand is powerful there, as is Lin. Moreover, Los Angeles itself has a thriving Chinese community. Linsanity was a phenomenon unlikely to be repeated, but could there be some sort of small scale revival, locally and abroad?

7. What can Byron fix? 

For about six thousand different reasons, ranging from coaching to personnel to psychology, the Lakers were a catastrophe on their end last year. Scott is expected to bring a much more developed sense of defensive commitment, but unless his thinner mustache has supernatural rock-bleeding powers not granted Mike D’Antoni’s somewhat thicker mustache, the results could still be spotty given their lack of perimeter defenders and rim protectors. Yes, teams can exceed the sum of their parts, but the parts do matter. Pushing the Lakers somewhere near league average in defensive efficiency would be a significant achievement. They’ll be all over it early, while everyone’s fresh and full of commitment. Except even last year’s team was 13th in efficiency through the first 16 games. How well do they sustain things through injuries, attrition, and the natural ebbs and flows of 82 games?

8. Swaggy P, Year 2: Electric Swaggaloo. 

Last season, he was solid gold. Imagine how he’ll be now, with a four year deal under his belt?

9. Phil is gone, so does everyone get along? 

He was the elephant in the family room for a long time, but now Phil Jackson is officially, positively, unequivocally not coming back. The Possibility of Phil was a great source of tension between Jim and Jeanie (and for that matter, the organization and fans), but now he’s in New York. So does that help everyone here stay on the same page for good?

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A quick look at the last time the Lakers and Spurs played without Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan

Posted by on Nov 1, 2013 in Kobe Bryant, Lakers statistics, Tim Duncan |

November 22, 1996.

This date marks the last time the Lakers and Spurs played a regular season contest where both Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan didn’t step foot on the court. In Duncan’s case, he was suiting up for Wake Forest at the time, which severely limited his availability for San Antonio. As for Bryant, to the best of my knowledge, Del Harris simply opted not to call his number. Kobe’s PT often fluctuated wildly as a rookie reserve. Case in point. He logged 21 minutes in the previous game against Utah, and put up 11 points on 4-5 shooting, plus an assist, a rebound, a block and a pair of turnovers. This was simply NBA life for the eventual five-time champion.

Well, tonight’s meeting between the Lakers and Spurs marks a repeat of this very rare history. Kobe is obviously sidelined as he recovers from his Achilles injury and Duncan is out with a chest contusion. Thus, I thought it was worth a quick rundown of the last Kobe-less, Duncan-less clash. Here are some details and numbers from the Lakers’ 96-86 win.

Respective records heading into the game: Lakers: 9-3, Spurs: 2-8

Spurs coach: Bill Hill (on the verge of being fired for Popovich)
Lakers coach: Harris

Lakers starters
Nick Van Exel
Eddie Jones
Byron Scott
Elden Campbell
Shaquille O’Neal

Spurs starters
Avery Johnson
Vinny Del Negro
Vernon Maxwell
Dominque Wilkins (Achilles irony alert!)
Will Perdue

Leading scorer: O’Neal (29)
Leading rebounder: O’Neal (21)
Leading assists: Johnson (14)
Leading steals: Jerome Kersey (6, off the Laker bench!)

Kobe’s fellow rookie in “DNP-CD” crime:
Travis Knight
The line for fellow rookie Derek Fisher, who did actually play: 12 minutes, 0 points (0-2 FG, 0-1 3pt), assists, 2 fouls

Future head coaches suited up:
Del Negro, Johnson, Scott, Monty Williams

The famous name missing from action: David Robinson, who only played six games that season, which explains in large part how the Spurs got Duncan the following summer in the draft.

Along those lines, December 5, 1997 marked the first time the Lakers and Spurs played with Kobe and Duncan taking the court. (It was the second meeting between these teams that season, but Kobe didn’t play in the first, presumably again Harris’ decision.)  Kobe, still a reserve, put up 17 points on 4-10 shooting, with five assists, four rebounds, three steals and a clean 8-8 line at the stripe. Duncan was good for 18 points (8-13 FG), nine rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks, and five turnovers.

From there, so many great battles between, without question, the two greatest players of their generation.

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Back to the Future: The Kobe Bryant – Pau Gasol two man game returns

Posted by on Apr 6, 2013 in Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Lakers statistics, Opinion, Pau Gasol | 2 comments

For all the star power added to the Lakers this season, by one measurement at least the team”s most effective duo is the one that”s been around for years.

Via the Elias Sports Bureau, in those moments where only two of L.A.”s Big Four are on the floor, by far the most effective combination is Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. In just over 251 minutes together, the Lakers are 107 points better than their opponents, a net 20.7 points per 48 minutes, when those two play without Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.

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comparison, Kobe/Howard are plus-56 in 502 minutes (net 5.3 per 48), and Nash/Howard, plus-13 in 155 minutes. (Nash and Gasol have played only 13 minutes together without either Howard or Bryant on the floor, and lineups featuring Nash and Kobe without either big have been absolutely torched — minus-82 in 173 minutes, or -22.8 per 48.) Imperfect a stat as it might be, the numbers reflect something most people understand intuitively: Offensively, chemistry between players takes time and repetition to create, something in exceedingly low supply for the Lakers this season, something by definition available only to two of L.A.”s four All-Stars.

 had a turn back the clock vibe, as the two-man game between Kobe and Gasol was on display more than it had been all season. Particularly late. While Gasol only had one shot in the fourth quarter — a lefty layup with about 90 seconds remaining on a beautifully timed feed from Bryant off the pick-and-roll — it felt like more because of how he and Kobe worked to set up shots, whether for Bryant or other teammates over the final 12 minutes and throughout the game.

“You can”t guard it,” Bryant said after of their two-man game, his legs dunked nearly knee high in a bucket of ice water. “There”s really no reasonable way that you can defend that… You”ve seen us run it over the years, and it”s really unstoppable. You have Dwight ducking in on the inside and put Jodie Meeks in the corner, you just hope we miss.”

In theory, the Kobe/Pau combo was supposed to be a big part of the whole offensive blueprint when this roster was assembled, except circumstances haven”t allowed. (And still aren”t, and won”t for the rest of the year.)

“It”s been a lot of figuring out, it”s been coaching changes, it”s been injuries. It”s been all that crap, man. But it”s better late than never,” Bryant said. But while Kobe tends to speak about all things related to L.A.”s attack with an air of confidence, regarding his chemistry with Pau it”s actually well-deserved. They have an understanding only time, trust, and track record can create. So now with Gasol rounding back into form and Bryant throwing everything he has physically into the Drive for Eight, it”s reasonable to expect the Kobe/Pau combo to play a larger role in the team”s final six games, particularly with Nash missing but even when he returns.

Kobe may be unlike the rest of us in nearly every regard, but he”s the same in this respect: In difficult, high leverage situations, he”ll default to that which he believes in, and trusts. And for all the unflattering animal comparisons with which he”ll tag Gasol, Kobe absolutely believes in and trusts him. Given the amount of ball handling Bryant does with Nash sidelined, the context of that game, the stretch run, and the season as a whole, it”s hardly a surprise to see Kobe lean on something familiar.

Certainly Pau would like to see more of Friday”s approach going forward.

“It”s important, because we”re both knowledgeable players. We both have high basketball I.Q.”s, we”re both high quality players,” he said of their two-man game. “So it”s not just about making plays, but to start out the offense that way and then see how the defense reacts, and then set somebody else up for a good shot. I think that”s important. That”s what we can do as players, and I like to see it happen the way it”s been happening lately.”

“We”ve played with each other the longest, for sure. So yeah, I think that was always a constant in the past, and it seemed to work pretty well,” Gasol continued. “I think it”s just smart if we continue to do that, not for ourselves but for the rest of the guys. Make easier shots for everybody else out there.”

After a season of fits and starts, in this way at least the Lakers could end up resembling something out of the (very recently buried) time capsule.

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Kobe Bryant and improved shot distribution

Posted by on Mar 18, 2013 in Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Lakers statistics | 4 comments

p>17 years into his NBA career, having logged just a hair under 45,000 regular season minutes and 8,641 more in the playoffs, having suited up for 1,448 games in all and played to the very last day of the year seven times, when it comes to shooting and scoring Kobe Bryant is playing.

His 46.8 percent mark from the floor is basically a wash with his career high (46.9). Bryant”s true shooting percentage (a measurement reflecting 2″s, 3″s, and free throws) and effective field goal percentage (one adjusting for the increased value of 3-pointers) are both as high as he”s posted, at 57.2 and 51.1 percent, respectively.

There are reasons, ranging from general awesomeness to changes in diet to work ethic and will power, but as Grantland”s Kirk Goldsberry notes in great feature (it went up last week, but is still worth posting now — read the whole thing here), the big leap for Kobe can be attributed to shot location, and the elimination of some of his less-efficient areas, particularly from mid-range:

For years Bryant’s shot chart wasn’t very interesting. There wasn’t much to glean from it other than Kobe shoots a lot from everywhere, and he shoots pretty much at league average. His skill was the ability to get a decent shot anytime he wanted. Bryant used to be the least finicky shooter in the league, but this is no longer the case. Contemporary Bryant’s charts feature clear clusters of activity and newfound asymmetry. Whereas in past seasons his shots have been equally distributed on both sides, Kobe is more of a right-side player this season. His favorite 3-point shot is clearly that right wing shot, and his favorite midrange shot is obviously near the right elbow.

Moreover, Goldsberry illustrates (literally — the pictures are great) how Kobe has not only made his way to the rim more frequently, but is converting at a higher rate once he gets there.

While I haven”t asked him directly, I suspect none of this is an accident. Bryant is an information fiend, and I find it hard to believe doesn”t know what he”s shooting from different spots on the floor and wouldn”t work to eliminate those areas dragging down his game.

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Steve Nash and the catch-and-shoot

Posted by on Mar 11, 2013 in Lakers Analysis, Lakers statistics, Steve Nash | 7 comments

The list of players required to make adjustments so that this Lakers season might work is extensive. Pau Gasol doesn”t get to the post nearly as much as he”d like. Dwight Howard has been asked to commit to the pick-and-roll game in ways he never was before. Kobe Bryant has gone from scorer to facilitator. I”m sure Robert Sacre and Darius Morris are doing something different, too.

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“Catch and shoot? Oh, no thanks. Wait, I”m how good at it?”

But nobody on the roster has been asked to change quite like Steve Nash. Last year, according to Synergy, 60 percent of Nash”s possessions came as the ball handler in pick-and-roll sets. Another 7.7 came in isolation. The year before, it was 52.4 percent handling the P”n”R, and another 16.5 percent in iso sets. Both years, you”re talking nearly 70 percent of his possessions.

This season, those figures are down under 60 percent (51.1 percent pick-and-roll ball handler, 7.2 isolation), and even considering time missed because of injury the raw number of opportunities are down, too. After spending nearly eight seasons in Phoenix directing most possessions while he was on the floor, it”s quite a contrast.

Following Friday”s win over Toronto, he was asked about the most significant adjustments he”s had to make. Nash pointed to the smaller role in the offense, but said it wasn”t the biggest thing he”s had to get used to.

“For me, obviously comfort and rhythm when you don”t get the reps is one thing, but for me I”ve had to really transition to catching and shooting. I never really got many catch-and-shoot opportunities in Phoenix the last eight years, so I”ve had to kind of train myself to get a rhythm for that. It sounds easier, catch-and-shoot, but for me it”s been kind of the opposite because I”m so used to shooting off the dribble. But I”m getting to the point where I”m getting better and better at it, feeling more and more comfortable,” he said Friday after the Lakers edged out the Raptors.

The increase in catch-and-shoot opportunities certainly isn”t a figment of Nash”s imagination. Via Synergy, 22.6 percent of his shots with the Lakers this season are of that ilk, versus 10.4 percent last year, and only 8.9 percent in 2010-11.

Friday, Nash reiterated his willingness to do what is asked of him.

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