Monday, June 30, 2008

Tons of Free Agent News

Wow. I had a different post planned for today, but then all this free agent madness happened. So far:
  • Corey Maggette (opting out of $7 million next year) and Elton Brand ($16.4 million) opt out of their contracts. The Clippers, who've already renounced the rights to Shaun Livingston, are suddenly about $30 million under the salary cap. If you throw in the contract for Eric Gordon (about $2.2 million) and a roster charge because they only have 5 players under contract (another $5.6 million), they're still left with almost $22 million under the cap.
  • Gilbert Arenas opts out (leaving $12.8 million on the table) while Antawn Jamison signs a new contract with the Wizards - 4 years for $50 million. Presumably, Washington's main goal right now is to re-sign Arenas, and Arenas is looking for a max contract.
  • Baron Davis opts out of his contract (leaving $17.8 million). To me, this was the most unexpected of the events. The Warriors are probably trying to sign Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis this summer -- now they need to figure out what to do re Baron Davis also.
  • The Kings offer Beno Udrih the full Mid-Level Exception (5 years starting at around $6 million). This is important for them but also important for the rest of the league as several teams (Miami, Clippers, etc.) are looking for point guards.
Lingering questions:
  • Ron Artest, you didn't want to join the party? He's got $7.4 million coming his way next year, but it's generally accepted that he could command more than that on the open market. Why didn't he opt out?
  • Who gets Baron?
  • Emeka Okafor, Andre Igoudala, Ben Gordon, and Luol Deng all will be Restricted Free Agents as of Tuesday. How do they play into all of this?
  • What do the Clippers do? Brand has said that he wants to play on a great team with a couple of other stars. He's got Kaman in L.A. but beyond that? Should the Clips go after Baron Davis or Gilbert Arenas? Another possibility is that Brand bolts in a sign-and-trade to Miami -- could the Clippers squeeze Beasley out of that scenario? Even if they don't, if Miami signs Brand doesn't that make Beasley available for trade? Brand almost signed with Miami a few years ago, and if he's looking to play on a good team with other stars I'm sure the prospect of playing alongside Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion is enticing.
  • Here are teams who currently have big-time cap space (the kind needed for Brand, Arenas, Davis, or Maggette): Clippers, Grizzlies, Sixers. That's it. The Grizzlies have 200 point guards, so chances are they'll stay out of the Davis/Arenas talks. They could be interested in Brand, though, he'd surely be an upgrade over Warrick/Milicic. But they also just traded away Mike Miller and have a very young team -- it doesn't seem like a good fit either way, with Brand probably not wanting to play for a team that won't contend and the Grizz not wanting to pay a guy who'll turn 30 before the end of next season. The Sixers could use a point guard or a skilled front court player. Hmmn . . ..
Yeah. I guess I won't guess, and we'll just wait and see what happens. It should be exciting. In the meantime, I'll finish writing a post about gravity.

Wow

http://freedarko.blogspot.com/2008/06/memos-of-heavenly-kind.html

Please read my previous entry on the draft, but this link is a must-read. Lebron James as the Apocalypse. This really resonates for me as I've read numerous articles about the draft, trade rumors, etc. that mention the summer of 2010 (I did it myself in talking about the Nets-Bucks trade). Think about that, though -- since when did we discuss free-agent classes 2 years ahead of time? The consequences for upcoming free agents, including Josh Smith and Shaun Livingston, are huge -- teams have been planning their contracts around 2010, so that few have cap room this year, making it easy for teams with Bird Rights to sign their players on the cheap.

The link doesn't go too much into Wade, but I've been wondering if it makes sense to think of him as following Penny Hardaway's career arc. I think next year is huge for him, not only because of his own impending contract-year (obviously overshadowed at this point by the huge LebronEvent), but because we've had enough time without him to forget 2006.

Also, in the comments I noticed this link to a story about Carmelo's contract. I'm sure he had his own reasons, but in a way hasn't he set himself up for a summer without competition? In theory, by putting his own free agency a year after Lebron/Wade/Bosh, he's set himself up to compete with the class of 2004, ie Dwight Howard and a bunch of guys who couldn't get paid enough on extensions and are now up against their Qualifying Offer year (off the top of my head: Emeka Okafor, Shaun Livingston, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Andre Igoudala, Andris Biedrins, Bassy Telfair. I'm sure there are more). Howard's contract actually goes one year past Melo's, and the rest of the guys aren't Lebron James, and in the aftermath of the summer of Lebron there's bound to be a number of teams with leftover cap space (ie the Lebron James sweepstakes losers).

Anyways, I think the link is worth reading. Here it is again:

http://freedarko.blogspot.com/2008/06/memos-of-heavenly-kind.html


That's all.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Fallout

First things first: The ESPN video embedded below may have stopped working, so for future reference, here was Eric Gordon BEFORE he disappointed me:


The only significant draft fashion-related comment I have other than my disappointment in Eric Gordon is that I feel uncertain about O.J. Mayo:


It's like he's trying to draw attention to the fact that he's so much older than the other draftees. And the glasses? They look smart and all, but doesn't it send a bad message if you're a professional basketball player? Like the first thing you need is LASIK? Otherwise, nice colors, decent fit (the whole thing looks a bit too small for him though, doesn't it?). I don't know, though, something just feels off about it.

Also, here's a more detailed fashion review of the draft. (Link via Truehoop)

As for the great Green Room watch? He didn't go last, but Brook Lopez seemed a little too distraught that he dropped to #10. Remember, I've interpreted that sort of reaction as a very bad sign for a prospect's future. As for the guy who actually went last, Darrel Arthur slipped all the way to 27th (Green Room invitees are expected to go in the top 14) amid unseemly rumors about a kidney ailment (hint to ESPN: if you talk about it on TV, it's no longer "undisclosed!"). It's hard to draw much of a conclusion about him based on that, due to the circumstances, but he didn't cry at least. He seemed disappointed, but that could have just been the disappointment of losing about $600k a year for the next four years and having a bunch of strangers talk about your kidneys when they don't know anything about them. And he wasn't fidgety either, he patiently waited for his moment. This bodes well for his career.

A breakdown of important events that happened around the draft:
  • Pacers make moves: first, the Pacers made a giant deal with Toronto, sending Jermaine O'Neal and Nathan Jawaii (pick #41) to the Raptors and receiving T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Boston, and Roy Hibbert. Here are some thoughts about it. My feeling - Toronto makes room for Jose Calderon at point (who should be in the running for an All-Star selection next year) while greatly improving their defense. Offensively, O'neal will inefficiently shoot mid-range jumpers, which is kind of a step down from Nesterovic . . . I guess this also means that Bargnani is not currently the answer inside for them. As for the Pacers, they get the point guard they've needed, and for a team that played ultra-fast last year, he should only speed things up (don't know how Hibbert fits into that picture). As for Hibbert, I thought he'd fit better in Toronto or Sacramento, but either way I have high hopes for him.
  • Next, the Pacers went and traded Ike Diogu and Jerryd Bayless to the Trailblazers for Jarret Jack, Josh McRoberts, and Brandon Rush. So next year, the Pacers will shatter all previous records for three-pointers attempted? Anyways, I don't really understand -- Bayless was supposed to be a top-5 or top-10 talent, and Ike Diogu is a guy who's been putting up really solid per-minute numbers throughout his career but never gets many minutes anywhere (bad defense? I dunno, I haven't watched him too much). If Bayless can play the point, then the Blazers pick up exactly what they've been needing. Their team looks stacked for several years, especially considering that Rudy Fernandez shows up to join Oden, Bayless, Aldridge, and Roy. For the time being, the Pacers now have two Rush brothers on the same team. That should be fun to follow.
  • The Nets traded Richard Jefferson to the Bucks for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons. Simmons' contract expires in 2010 while Jefferson's goes through 2011, so the Nets put themselves in better position to sign a free-agent from the great 2003 draft class that will be free agents in 2010 (Lebron, Bosh, Wade, et al). Yi moves to a bigger market as he's been wanting since before he was drafted and the Nets get the revenue bump that comes with having a Chinese star on the team (ever notice the ads in Chinese along the sidelines of Bucks games last year?). While I'm sure Jefferson will help the Bucks achieve mediocrity, is that really a goal? Here are some more thoughts on the matter. Also, the Bucks drafted Joe Alexander, who was born in Taiwan and speaks Chinese, but now he won't have Yi to practice with. Sigh.
  • HUGE trade between Memphis and Minnesota. Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric, Greg Buckner, and O.J. Mayo to Memphis and Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, Jason Collins, and Kevin Love to Minnesota. Gay-Love in Memphis just wasn't meant to be I guess. Anyways, Kevin McHale and the Timberwolves sent out three black players and one white and received three white players and one black. Hmmn. There's some weird bonding thing going on with Love and McHale, with Love saying that his dad had him study tapes of McHale when he was younger. As for the players, Hollinger (and everyone else who's analyzed it statistically) seems to think that Minnesota made out like bandits. Britt Robson has a really well thought-out take on it -- he's a fan (from Minnesota's perspective) but he is clear about pointing out potential problems (defense, turnovers, Mayo having a higher ceiling than Love/Miller). 3shadesofblue, meanwhile, approves of the trade for Memphis, and thinks that the next move should be to trade Mike Conley and start OJ at the point (an opinion he shares with Nate Jones from jonesonthenba). My thoughts: financially, Marko Jaric might be the worst part of this deal for the Grizzlies, since he's getting paid around $7 million through 2011 (Cardinal's contract expires in 2010), but with all the other moves they've made they'll still have a lot of cap-flexibility in the coming years so that should be OK. Mike Miller, despite being an all-star level 2/3, wasn't helping them win a lot of games, but they'll probably be even worse off this year without him, while in Minnesota he'll help keep the doubles off of Al Jefferson. Love and Jefferson, along with Miller, should make for a solid offensive team, but Minnesota is screwed defensively, a la Randolph/Curry, and (Collins notwithstanding) they're still in the market for a defensive big and a perimeter defender (like Mayo!). It seems like Memphis could have gotten more out of trading Miller, but if Mayo is as solid as he's supposed to be defensively then they automatically improve their D and they open up some playing time for young guards like Crittenton and Mayo himself (not to mention Conley and Lowry). Still, for Memphis, this deal is only good if OJ Mayo turns into a superstar. Even then, this has to have been the first of a series of moves for them, because currently they have 200 or so players who can play point guard, and they're still in the market for an offensive big (like Love!). So let's see what happens . . ..
  • Seattle takes Westbrook at #4, higher than expected. Is that evidence of the Rondo-bump?
  • Steve Kerr continues the process of destroying all remnants of D'antoni in Phoenix by drafting an unskilled Defense/Rebounding big (Robin Lopez) with the highest pick that the Suns have had in quite a while.
  • In Pau Gasol-related news: So far, the Grizzlies have turned Pau Gasol into Javaris Crittenton, Marc Gasol, Darrell Arthur, and about $9-$10 million in cap space.
  • The Warriors drafted Anthony Randolph, who appears to be an even more anorexic version of Brandon Wright. I don't know if he'll get to play at all, but it would be funny to watch him, Wright, and Biedrins at the same time -- all arms with no bodies:
Randolph:


Wright:



Biedrins:


Seeing as I know nothing about most of the players involved, I'll hold off of any systematic evaluations of the draft and who did well and who didn't and so forth. There are a million places online to get that kind of info. However, I will go out on a limb and make random predictions based on very little knowledge: I like Hibbert and think he'll make an impact, I think Brook Lopez is a bust, Chalmers and Speights are steals, and George Hill will become a solid contributor.

If you're wondering (as I have been) about who the hell Lakers pick Joe Crawford is, here's a couple of links with some information. A summary of the relevant info from those two links follows.

He's a 6-4 shooting guard who can shoot the spot-up:

Crawford’s spot-up jump shot has very good form, boasting a fairly deliberate release (but not in a bad way), with near textbook mechanics and a high and consistent release point. It’s important to note, though, that this is only talking about his spot-up jumper, as his mechanics don’t stay quite so great when he’s pulling up off the dribble, contested, or coming around a screen.

Also, he "
does a good job finishing off cuts and in transition using his leaping ability and ability to adjust in traffic." Sounds like there's a place for him in the triangle offense, doesn't it?

Defensively,

Defensively, Crawford plays a fundamentally sound, focused, and aggressive game, doing a good job with both on and off ball defense. Off the ball, he doesn’t give up and always contests shots, though he has some trouble getting around screens, as most college players do. On the ball, he has good lateral quickness and reflexes, while doing a very good job moving his feet and pressuring his man, rarely getting beat off the dribble or giving up an open shot. At 6’4, he could have some trouble guarding 2’s at the next level.

He played for a team in Kentucky that had a pretty good defense, particularly when it came to holding the opposition to a low shooting %, which I guess is a good sign. Crawford himself wasn't a very good rebounder, though (his teammates were alright, so perhaps rebounding wasn't a big part of his role). Kentucky's offense ran a lot through its shooting guard (Crawford), and he shot 36% from 3 and turned the ball over a bit too much. Presumably in the pros he'd be responsible for a lot less on the offensive end, which would help his efficiency.

If you're looking for more info on the draft, check out Ridiculous Upside or Draftexpress, or check kenpom for college stats. Kevin Pelton wrote an article that looks at how those stats might translate to the NBA.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Quick Draft Hit

Whoa.

So much happened on draft night that I'm going to wait for the dust to settle before making any comments. It seems like every other player was either picked by Portland, traded by Portland, or traded to Portland. I honestly have no idea who got whom at this point. But, I wanted to draw your attention to a couple of pressing matters.

1) None other than BARACK OBAMA thinks Chicago made the right choice. "Jason Kidd with a jumpshot." High praise! I do think that John Calipari sort of lost perspective though: "That's why Obama is going to be our next president. He knows his hoops. I'd say that's a fairly accurate assessment." Anyways, the video (found via Docksquad Sports)




So, that's settled.


2) Eric Gordon, YOU LET ME DOWN!


I expected so much more from you . . ..

3) The Lakers went and drafted the referee who handed them Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. A little thank you?

Draft is today!

I watched some Andy Katz interviews with draft prospects. There wasn't a whole lot to learn, nobody said anything super interesting. I was shocked at just how stoned/sleepy/laid-back Michael Beasley looks in conversation -- I really do think part of the reason his drive is questioned is because of the demeanor. But, uh, hello? Tim Duncan?

Just saying, Kevin Garnett isn't the only personality-model for success in the NBA.

Also, Eric Gordon gained major points with me for rocking the cardigan:






It's a shame the whole outfit looks so new and unpressed and uncomfortable for him, but at least he picked out some solid duds. His choice of the cardigan tells me he has really developed his game and it is very polished. He's ready for the grown-up league but he's determined to do it the right way. He can play the point and make the perfect bounce-pass entry to the post. He can shoot the three with confidence. That cardigan in that interview, that's got to be worth a draft slot or two. I'm just hoping he goes to Seattle (#4), New York (#6), or the Clippers (#7). I just don't feel like the fans in Milwaukee, Memphis, or Charlotte will appreciate his natty style.

Also, I like O.J. Mayo, I like that he's modeled his game after Earl Monroe, I like that he shoots and plays defense and seems to be able to handle a lot of crap. I really wanted to enjoy his interview. And honestly, he looks like he has a nice suit, and I quite enjoy that shirt he's wearing and I don't think the handkerchief is over the top. But something about the facial hair, the earring, the toothiness, just rubbed me the wrong way. Which is sad, because it must have taken a long time to get those lines (his hair and his beard both) so clean and perfect. But yeah, he looks like the guy who you hang out with a lot but never asks about your girlfriend, and if she's ever around he seems annoyed by her. Then he invites you and your lady to his beachhouse for the weekend, and it finally seems like the two are getting along. He finishes the last beer and asks if you can run down to the store to get some more, and you gladly go because you're so happy that your gf and your bff are finally talking. But when you get back from the store, there's your lady all nekked on her knees in front of O.J. with his pants down. And then he has the nerve to be like "hey hey don't get upset man we've been friends for a long time don't lose your cool."

Ok, maybe I'm reading too much into it. In the interview itself he actually just seems like a nice guy, who works his ass off and is confident in his abilities because of it. I like that.


Anyways, for tonight, here's what to watch for:

  • The suits! Flashy, tacky, expensive. NBA Draft fashion is nouveau riche on steroids. In the coming years a lot of these guys will hire publicists and stylists, but for tonight, they're on their own and trying to look good. And sometimes they mistake "loud" for "good." And it is HARD to find clothes when you're that tall anyways. So yeah, draft fashion is must-see. What do the clothes say of the prospect? It's a murky relationship, probably best left alone, but I'll give it a shot. If a player looks classy, subdued, his suit fitting perfectly and the fabrics looking rich but not over-the-top? That probably means he's taking this all in stride, that his game is mature, and that he doesn't get rattled in big moments. He understands the subtlety of style, and he'll understand the subtler points of the game of basketball. He's Pat Riley's kind of player, and Pat Riley's kind of dresser. If the player's outfit looks like he got it off the clearance rack (Horford - the one on the right. I have no beef with Brewer's orange/brown combination) from the Big & Tall store, well that just might mean he cares a lot about winning and not about personal glory. He can't be bothered to worry about fine textiles, his focus is on basketball and winning. He may not have a developed isolation game, but he'll dive on the floor for the loose ball, fight over screens, and close out on shooters. You can count on him for at least 3 offensive rebounds every night. He's a Jerry Sloan player. Now, if your guy shows up in what looks like a rented suit or tuxedo and looks more like the caterer than the star? He's not long for this league. He couldn't commit to buying a suit, he doesn't believe he's gonna last, and in the NBA, you have to believe in yourself because no one else will believe in you. Finally, what if your player shows up in a loud, high-contrast pinstripe, bright colored suit that doesn't fit right? This player is at a crossroads, he's kind of the NBA Eliza Doolittle. His initial goal when coming in might be to win the slam-dunk contest, not the NBA Finals. But with his high-flying athleticism and daring ball-handling, he might be able to be sculpted into a great defender and solid offensive player. This player has a lot of potential, but he's hit or miss as a prospect. He could end up killing an inexperienced coach's career, or having the life sucked out of him by Larry Brown, or finding a happy medium with a Don Nelson type. If the player shows looking like he ordered his suit from a pimp catalogue, this could be a problem, as he might be in the league for the fame, riches, and ladiez, and not to win. And finally, you have the individuals, the ones wanting to do their own thing. They'll probably be a whirlwind on the court, your quintessential hustle guy. But how does he fit in with the rest of the team? Will he get along with his teammates? That's the big question.
  • The GREEN ROOM. This is the room where the 16 highest rated prospects sit backstage, waiting to have their names called, surrounded by cameras and reporters. At the beginning it's all fun and party, but eventually there's only one person left. How the last green room invitee reacts to this enormously awkward situation says a lot about his game. If he seems unfazed, still confident, just patiently waiting for his moment? That is someone you can trust to take free throws at the end of a close game. If he starts fidgeting, darting his eyes, shifting in his seat? This guy might play a great game for 45 minutes, but don't give him the ball at the end of the game, he's liable to choke. And if he starts crying? This is a huge warning sign -- crying in the green room signifies that you were treating the goal as your ultimate goal. But this is the beginning of a career, not the end. Once in the NBA, a player is going to have to work harder than ever before to carve out a place for himself, and someone treating the draft as the be-all, end-all has too limited of a horizon.
  • And finally. WARM FUZZY THOUGHTS!! Besides All-Star weekend, the draft is as uplifting and warm as it gets in the NBA. We get to watch these young people achieve a life-long dream. And we'll know that not only was every single one of them blessed with extraordinary talent, but that they also worked hard enough to take advantage of that talent. They've made sacrifices, taken risks, and worked their asses off to get to this place, and we get a chance to applaud them for it. So be happy for them! Starting tomorrow, possibly for the first time in their lives, they'll be competing against players who are bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter than they are. They'll have to work 10 times harder than ever before just to stay in the league. Old friends and family that they'd forgotten about will pop up out of nowhere needing money or game tickets. New friends they never knew they had will show up with sob stories about being down and out and needing a few bucks. Fake investment advisors and people trying to sell them crap they don't need will descend on them like vultures. And they'll have to deal with all of this while trying to begin their professional careers. Starting tomorrow, everything is zero and they're all trying to create themselves from scratch. As fans we'll criticize their games, their personalities, their work ethics, everything. But tonight, we celebrate the people who were willing to work hard enough to achieve their dream.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More thoughts on the draft

For all of the stories that have been written about new statistics making it sound like the draft and player evaluations are mature and scientific and thoughtful, with random dudes waving around regression analysis like a magic wand, etc., it's funny how much of a significant part stupidity plays in the draft. Particularly, stupidly limited comparisons. I mentioned before about how Euros are only compared to Euros (why not compare Danilo Gallinari to Kevin Durant?). But I think there is something particularly bothersome about the "questions" regarding Michael Beasley's character. I don't know much about the guy, but according to stories he used to play practical jokes on people when he was in high school, and now people are worried that he is not serious enough for the NBA. The issue I wanted to point out are the comparisons.

1) He's left-handed, slightly undersized for a 4, a good rebounder, and has inside-outside offensive skills. Therefore, he's the next Derrick Coleman? And because of that comparison, people are worried that he'll be a bust or he's not willing to work hard enough, a la DC. So, would the questions still be there if he were right handed?

2) He has sleepy eyes:

Which makes people think he's not playing very hard when they see him on the court. How would he be a top scorer and rebounder if he didn't play hard? Besides, Tracy McGrady should have put all worries regarding sleepy-eyes to rest by now.

[UPDATE: I had thought that the "sleepy-eyes" observation was original, but I just noticed that the same exact wording appears on freedarko, in the (excellent) Retarded Ornithology post. So yeah, credit where it's due. The point still stands. I agree whole heartedly with DLIC when he says "Wait, have we already talked about how Michael Beasley's sleepy eyes have cost him draft placement because they appear to suggest lack of work ethic?"]

The Lakers only have 1 pick in this draft, at #58. I'm hoping they pick one of those random foreign guys who can continue playing in his home league for a year or two before coming over, but if he's available I would love for them to draft Jamont Gordon. I don't really know why, but I've decided that I like him. A taller Kyle Lowry, perhaps? Also, I am wondering what is going on with Sun Yue, the tall point guard they drafted in the 2nd round last year. Will he join the team next year? Star alongside Colby Karl for the D-Fenders? In any case, I would assume that Sun will be participating for the Chinese national team, who will be in Group B along with the U.S. and Spain, so we should get a look at him then. Is he really the Chinese Magic Johnson? The people must know!

After the draft, I'll have plenty of commentary on who was the best and worst-dressed, crazy memorable suits, who got whom, and, particularly, any big trades or whatever that happened. In that vein, apparently the Blazers just bought another 1st round draft pick, from the Hornets. Given how many good young players they already have, one would guess that with 5 picks in the draft this year they are setting themselves up for some movement. There were already rumors about them picking up Barbosa. Let's see what happens!

Finally, only tangentially related to this year's draft: Let's hear about Marc Gasol! Pau's little brother, who was a budding star in Spanish junior leagues until he decided to move in with Pau in Memphis during high school. He went native and got super fat and it looked like his career was over, but then he went back to Spain, got in shape, and is now the reigning MVP of what might be the second most talented basketball league in the world. The Lakers drafted him last year and then used him as a throw-in in a trade for his better-known brother, but now that Marc is a year older and an MVP, is he coming to Memphis? And do the Grizzlies have some rule about only being able to have one Spanish player at a time? (They had Pau all these years, then brought in Juan Carlos Navarro and Pau was gone within months, now Navarro has left the team to return to Spain and they might bring in Marc).

She did it again!

My theory is that Candace Parker's goal is to make women dunking no longer a story. Maybe she'll have to do it 10 more times in the next 10 games, but eventually, we'll stop being surprised.

It's not even the most impressive thing she's done. I've already gone over her rookie of the year slash MVP campaign this year. In last night's game she scored 22 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks, and just 2 turnovers in 29 minutes. The Sparks grabbed 41.5% of the available offensive rebounds and beat a really talented Seattle team pretty handily.

CP3!! Why don't we have a good nickname for her? She rebounds! She leads the fastbreak! She can shoot the three! She can create off the dribble! She can score in the paint! She uses ball-screens! She gets position without the ball! She really does everything you can ask for on the offensive side of the ball. 6-4 and she can pull out a crossover on the fastbreak (against players half a foot shorter) and finish with either hand (although it always seems to end up being her right hand . . .). She also gets to the free throw line as well as Kobe Bryant does -- here's to hoping she can improve her FT% as her career goes on.

And she dunks!

Candace Parker + Lisa Leslie = Magic Johnson + Kareem Abdul Jabbar?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Draft thoughts from a non-college fan

First things first: I do not watch college basketball. I just don't. Hence my knowledge of the players in the draft consists of things I've read/heard in the last couple weeks about 10 or so guys. I was blown away by Al Horford, Brandon Roy, Chris Paul, et al. because I had no idea. The only reason I knew who Dwyane Wade was before his rookie year was because he had that whole NCAA tournament hero thing going and his name made him sound like a character on A Different World. Anyways, I'm going to comment regardless, because why the hell not?
  1. Kosta Koufous has to be the funniest running storyline of the draft. He's an American, but his name makes him sound like an international player. Along with the Lakers getting crushed in Game 6 of the finals and the Lakers finals loss being blamed on LA's soft Euros being unable to handle the all-American beef on Boston's frontline (sports fans have uber-short memories, since everyone has forgotten that -- duh -- LA won 57 games and got to the finals without their starting center), Kost Koufos may be the first collegian ever to drop draft spots and lose millions of dollars because of his name. How many teams are worried about looking like they drafted a Euro?
  2. I really feel like Brandon Rush is going to win the award for best player in the draft who people will still think was a bust throughout his career. You know, one of those guys who always ends up playing for good teams but people think it's despite him rather than partly because of him. Recent entrants for this award include Joakim Noah. Past winners include James Posey (before the most recent Celtics run). Also, with a lot of teams relying on swing positions for dynamic athleticism, slashing, and scoring, doesn't it seem like Rush could find a place and thrive alongside a small point guard and a scoring big?
  3. My pick for rookie of the year is Michael Beasley. I know, really going out on a limb, right? But I wonder/worry if he's more of an Amare Stoudemire rookie of the year (with an added jumpshot out to the three point line) -- ie outrageous highlights and great offensive production and maybe some weakside blocked shots but a huge inside defensive liability that keeps the team from running any good defensive schemes.
  4. And just as I finished writing the above, I see draftexpress has Beasley's best case scenario listed as: "Amare Stoudemire Meets Antawn Jamison." I'm better than I thought!
  5. Danilo Galinari is going to be continually compared to only European players for no particular reason. It's the corollary to "you only compare white players to other white players, and black players to other black players": you only compare foreign players to other foreign players. Is he Hedo Turkoglu? Toni Kukoc? A swing-Dirk? Or, will he turn out like Bargnani? Life is limited as a Euro.
  6. Russel Westbrook seems to be getting a lot of attention as a solid defensive point guard. My feeling, as I've said before, is that he's benefiting a great deal from Rajon Rondo's championship season -- length and big hands, people! But, um, beyond the length and big hands (and solid defense), is he really anything like Rondo? He doesn't appear to be the same level rebounder, and he doesn't get all that many assists. Hmmmmmn. I will say, as a Lakers fan, that recent experience seems to show that the defensive skills of UCLA perimeter players do seem to translate to the NBA (Farmar and Ariza, what!). However, on average, last year PG was the worst spot defensively in the league, and even the best defensive point guards didn't seem to make as much of an impact as, say, a defensively average power forward (for instance, Deron Williams had about the same defensive impact as Dirk Nowitzki last year). Given that, would you draft a PG in the lottery whose offensive skills you were unsure about solely for his defense? He seems more and more like one of those guys who seems like a steal at the end of the first round (Rondo?!).
  7. Given the above commentary on PG defense, why not take a chance on DJ Augustin? draftexpress has him slated to go at #11 to the Pacers, a couple spots behind Westbrook and four spots behind Bayless. We shall see.
  8. One final note on "I like him but I don't know why": I like O.J. Mayo.
And now for some random comments on people's names:
  1. Does Eric Gordon get compared to Ben Gordon because they have the same last name?
  2. I irrationally dislike Jerryd Bayless because he shares a name with a particulary obnoxious columnist.
  3. Mario Chalmers sounds like the name of a comic book business tycoon/villain.
So, what do you think?

Rumors. Uggggh

I stupidly read through Chad Ford's recent pre-draft rumor story (Insider, but free for the time being). Here are some things that bothered me, or that I just didn't understand and they were never explained:

First he mentions that the Suns might use their #15 pick (from Atlanta) as part of a trade (along with, probably, Barbosa and Diaw) for Richard Jefferson, Josh Howard, Gerald Wallace, or Tayshaun Prince. However:

But there are stumbling blocks to each deal. The Mavs might not want to send Howard to a rival team. Detroit president Joe Dumars is probably not interested in Diaw. The Nets need contracts that expire by 2010. And it's unclear whether the Suns would be willing to take back Wallace's contract.

Ok.

1) It bugs me that teams theoretically refuse trades on the basis of not wanting to help a rival, even if it helps them. That said, I think Dallas is probably better off keeping Howard anyways. And don't sell low, teams!

2) "Joe Dumars is probably not interested in Diaw." Is this based on an interview? A rumor? Just Ford's opinion? Where does it come from? And since when, exactly, is Joe Dumars not interested in players who can pass out of the post, shoot mid-range (15-20 foot) jumpers and defend multiple positions? Ok, he's not as great of a rebounder as most of the Pistons bigs, but he does rebound at least as well as Tayshaun Prince (and presumably he'd play the 3). I would just like to know on what the assumption is based.

3) "And it's unclear whether the Suns would be willing to take back Wallace's contract." I know the Suns under Sarver are notoriously cheap, and that the Suns would probably want a better shooter at the 3 with Shaq and Nash taking up the space in the paint and Amare flying about from 0 - 15 feet. But Grant Hill is making less that $2 million next year, Wallace is young and could join Amare in the post Nash/Shaq world, and he has an EXTREMELY reasonable contract given his production. If not for Wallace, what are you making cap room for? I get that the Suns are in the luxury tax, but they don't make their situation a ton worse if they swap out Diaw for Wallace. By the time Wallace starts making more than Diaw, both Shaq's and Nash's contracts will have expired. Anyways, given the cheapness, and if the Suns really are trying to move up, why no discussion of them trying to package Diaw or Barbosa along with the #15 to the Bobcats for the #9? Aren't the Bobcats far enough under the cap to be able to do that? I guess maybe not if they're going to sign Okafor -- but it would be nice if these things were discussed/explained in the article.

4) Unrelated to the article, I don't understand all the chatter about Richard Jefferson. I'm not convinced about his game. I know the numbers look good and all, but . . . eh.

Later, there's some discussion about various trade rumors/speculation, including:

The hottest rumor of the day has the Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets talking about a swap that would send Kyle Lowry and the No. 28 pick to Denver for the No. 20 and Linas Kleiza.

Word during last season was that the Nuggets were unwilling to let go of Kleiza to pick up Ron Artest. Now they're considering moving him to move from 28 to 20 in the draft along with picking up a 6-0 3rd year point guard who can't shoot and couldn't start for a team that went 22-60 and had 2 rookie point guards ahead of him on the depth chart.

And finally:

According to a source familiar with the talks, the Cavs would send Varejao and the No. 19 pick to Golden State for Brandan Wright. The Warriors hold a $10 million trade exception that allows them to take back a lot more money than they send out in a trade.

Please please don't let this happen. I don't understand how this makes any sense at all for the Warriors -- Wright would probably be a top-7 pick in this year's draft, so this is like trading Varejao (who will be around for 1 year and then maybe be looking for a raise) and the number 19 for a #7. To a team that has no bigs who can post up.

I might be wrong about all of this. And I should probably just not read rumor articles. But some of this stuff doesn't make a lot of sense.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Notes from the exit interviews

So I went ahead and watched all of the Lakers exit interviews. Of note to me:

Sasha:

My favorite moment of his interview was around 4:48 when he said, "I want to be the best shooting guard in the NBA." There was just something so sweet about the way he said it, his complete seriousness about the sentiment expressed, the way the reporters all laughed even though it wasn't clear whether they were laughing AT or laughing WITH.

Reporter: "You know, there's uh, a pretty good one here already [in reference to Kobe Bean Bryant], is that like a challenge?"

Sasha responds with complete confidence: "It is a challenge. I know what I can do . . ."

And you know what? He's absolutely right. Everybody should be trying to improve and working to be the best. Good for him.

I think this whole exchange illustrates why Kobe enjoys Sasha a lot too (although, strangely, Kobe calls him "Shi-Shi." Has anyone heard this nickname before?)

Andrew Bynum:

The thing that struck me about his interview was how much more specific he is than most athletes. Examples --

When he talks about whether or not he's completely healed, he doesn't just say "I feel great" or "I only have a little bit of pain" but specifically says he feels mostly healthy and has only a small amount of pain and swelling on the left side due to scar tissue which is supposed to heal within the next 2-3 weeks. He goes on to clarify that there is no pain underneath the kneecap.

When he is asked about how he thinks things will work with him and Pau playing side by side, most athletes would give some boring answer about being "unselfish" and "making sacrifices to help the team" and "he's a great player and I'm sure we'll work well together." But Bynum doesn't really resort to cliche, he actually paints a detailed picture of what things will look like: "he can be on the weak side with Kobe . . . he'll be playing the pinch-post, isolating on the wing and the side-block, and I'll be in there . . . boxing out and getting rebounds . . . getting in post position and waiting for him to pass me the ball."

When discussing what he needs to improve for the summer, he could have used some version of the uninformative answers everyone else gave: "you know, just becoming a better player, keep working every day," or "shooting, ball-handling, passing, defense, free throws, setting screens, moving off the ball, watching tape, sitting on the bench, getting dressed, and so forth" or something along those lines. But instead: "There are two areas I want to focus on, one being rebounding and one being lateral quickness, because obviously the screen and roll gave us some problems . . .. Being able to pursue rebounds, and being able to jump quicker to get them back in."

I heart specificity.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fruithoopz Commercial Review

Sprite Commercial - Falling Away



The biggest question I was left with after this commercial: why is the court an international court (note the trapezoidal key)?? Does the commercial take place, perhaps, on a European playground (this thesis is supported by the soccer-style kick of the basketball at about :34)? And that led me to wonder -- do they play zone defense on European playgrounds?

I guess the characters in the commercial DO look ambiguously European.

Do they not have public swimming pools in Europe? Everyone's hanging out at the basketball court, but no one is playing (how often does that happen?) because it's too hot and everyone would rather be swimming. The rational solution would be to go to a swimming pool, but here what they do is instead magically (possibly through the magic of Sprite?) convert the court into a pool. You would think that this would be annoying for anyone who actually wanted to hoop it up, but no one seems particularly annoyed when the first kid jumps in, and actually they all jump in after him.

Also, can the Sprite help them magically lower the rims so that they can play a game of swimming pool basketball? Actually, maybe they do do that -- it would explain how the unathletic looking kid finds himself hanging from the rim at :35-:37. Actually, if the court is all water, how DID he get up there? Did he jump out of the water like a dolphin? Does the court re-solidify and re-liquefy according to need? If so, what happens to the people who are stuck in the pool when it turns back into a court?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Housekeeping, Summer Projects

I didn't post anything after Game 6 of the finals since it didn't feel like there was much to say. The Celtics were better -- much better. It's been said a million times, but they were somehow able to have 4 guys in the paint and still close out on defense. Also, I had noticed during the regular season once Pau arrived that the Lakers were the best in the league at getting the ball into the post quickly to start the offense (the occasional Sasha turnover notwithstanding). Well, in the finals the Celtics sagged off the passer and the Lakers couldn't make them pay, there were numerous turnovers that resulted from failed entry passes, and these turnovers fueled a lot of Boston transition points. This was most apparent whenever Lamar Odom ended up as the initiator, as he was refusing to take the open shot he was being given (and he was probably correct, given his 3p% this year was around 27%). Meanwhile, the Lakers couldn't get their own transition points since the Celtics pressured in the backcourt, stifling ballhandlers and denying outlet passes. All of this is to say, they did everything right. And the Lakers turned the ball over a lot.

Ok. So the season's over. I'll have an occasional post on things going on in the WNBA. For now I'll just point out that Candace Parker is unbelievable. Forget rookie of the year, she's angling for MVP. She averages 17.4 points on 14 shoots and 5 and half free-throws, 9.5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and almost 2 steals per game, in 34 minutes. With just over 2 turnovers per game. She's what Lamar Odom was supposed to be.

Also, I'll have some thoughts on the draft, as experienced by someone who has zero interest in college basketball. My info comes from draftexpress and various blogs. Sometimes a youtube video. The only thoughts I have right now:

(a) my choice for draftee who will benefit most from the NBA finals is: RUSSEL WESTBROOK. MONRR (Myth of the Next Rajon Rondo -- see freedarko for the history). All anyone can remember right now is the long athletic point guard with great defensive skills and an iffy jumpshot who caused havoc.

(b) I don't know why, but for now my favorite player in the draft is Brandon Rush.

(c) Which point guard in this draft will benefit from off-base Chris Paul comparisons? Is it too soon for that?

(d) Roy Hibbert should sue Bryan Colangelo. There's a myth that there is a new NBA that is smaller and faster. I'm not sure if the people who believe that watched the playoffs this year, particularly the last two rounds.

I may also comment on free agency. Mostly, I'm curious to see what happens with Josh Childress. Also -- am I wrong in seeing him as a small-forward version of David Lee? Offensive rebounding machine, lives on the baseline, has a high shooting percentage mostly due to the fact that almost all of his points come from within two feet of the rim, and seems like he's supposed to be a great defender, but isn't.

But the main thing I want to look at is some sort of analysis of style. More of a football outsiders approach to basketball. Beyond four-factors and the obvious efficiency differential, looking at what teams do well and what they defend well, etc.. I imagine that would be really valuable in looking at playoff matchups. One first step in this direction might be looking at team-by-team shooting location (offense and defense) and eFG% charts like THESE.

AND FINALLY. I have already spent a good deal of time as a Laker fan looking ahead to next year, with Ariza and Bynum back. Wondering how Lamar Odom fits in. Will he really move to the guard spot and push Kobe to the three? Will he improve his 3-point shot over the summer? Can he defend guards and small forwards? I can barely wait to find out. For an extremely rough calculation of what we can expect, I took a look at the adjusted plus/minus numbers for next year's probable team. Here's what I found:

If the Lakers are healthy next year and the pieces fit, then they could have an efficiency differential around 12-13 points next year. That would put them in the same category as this year's Celtics, and would have them winning between 65-70 games. Yay! I'm assuming that would be good enough for homecourt throughout, also. I know I'm getting ahead of myself, but this is the reason I'm excited about next year.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Whither the Spanish National Team?

There were two interesting bits of news in the last few days that flew under the radar due to the Lakers-Celtics hoopla.

1) Jorge Garbajosa was bought out of his contract with the Raptors. This was probably bound to happen, there has been a lot of disagreement among the Raptors, Garbajosa, and the Spanish national team ever since Garbo's injury in March 2007. He played in the (seemingly meaningless, since Spain had already clinched an Olympic spot) FIBA tournament that summer before his leg/ankle were fully healed (against the wishes of the Raptors), then reinjured his ankle and had to have another surgery early in the 2007-2008 season (in December 2007). The second surgery led to a dispute between the Raptors and the Spanish national team about insurance payments payments and who should be held liable. His decision to go ahead and play for the Spanish national team in the Olympics this year was sort of the last straw, and now he's a free agent. Will he stay in the NBA? Mark Cuban also has thoughts about international competition.

2) Juan Carlos Navarro is going back to Spain. Reportedly, he's getting 5 years for either 10 million euros or $25 million (depending on which report you read) to play for FC Barcelona.

These stories aren't particularly related, and the Navarro story is more what I want to discuss. He is a pretty solid player who had some good moments for the Grizzlies this year. He can shoot out to the three point line as well as create off the dribble. Per 48 minutes, he averaged 20 points, 4 assists, and almost 5 rebounds, and shot 36% from 3 -- similar numbers to Ben Gordon's rookie year. All of this is to say that this isn't nothing.

So short story: Navarro was good enough to be a first round pick, but had some injuries and was randomly drafted by the Wizards in 2001 or 2002 (I can't remember which) way down in the second round. Already playing professionally in Spain, he chose not to come over. His rights were traded to Memphis last year, and the Grizzlies lured him over with Pau Gasol (who was then traded a couple of months into Navarro's rookie season). Because of the rookie salary scale, Navarro (a 28-year old) only made $538,090 last year (compare to what he'll be playing for next year in Barcelona).

So. I think what I'm wondering about is what becomes of non-superstar Euro players in the next several years. The rookie salary scale allows only lottery picks to make around the midlevel exception, everyone else is paid much less. The better (non-lottery) European players, who've been playing professionally for a few years before they get drafted, often have the opportunity to make much more overseas, but are treated as rookies even if, like Navarro, they are veteran professionals. And given the strength of leagues in Spain and Russia, there's now a financial alternative (hence, Tiago Splitter turning down the Spurs). In a sense, Portland is LUCKY to have Rudy Fernandez coming over next year.

The loss of Navarro seems small. But I want to keep my eye on what happens with Garbajosa, who is kind of a national hero in Spain but unknown here. And could something similar happen with Sergio Rodriguez (drafted at the bottom of the first round)? Marc Gasol? Guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Andrei Kirilenko are probably making far too much money here to turn down, but some of these mid to late first rounders (and all second rounders) might consider skipping the American rookie experience altogether -- especially those who could be stars in their home leagues.

Monday, June 16, 2008

"EURO" is the new "BLACK" redux

January, 2001: George W. Bush is sworn into office, promising the return of American isolationism. He also reminds the world that ignorance and specifically ignorance of geography and the lives of non-Americans is highly valued in the U.S. of A. American basketball fans, still clinging to the dominance of the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics, mimic the attitude. The NBA finals champions are referred to as the "World Champs."

Meanwhile, the defensive tactics developed by the Bad-Boy Pistons and the Riley Knicks/Heat teams of the 1990's have been widely adopted and resulted in the (temporary) end of motion in the American half-court offense. With teams unable to make cuts or dives without being grabbed or shoved, a strategy of basketball isolationism, starring "Next-Jordan" scoring guards, arises. The trend towards isolationism is pushed along also by the Jordan effect on the amateur leagues that feed the NBA, as they, under the grips of the shoe companies, have gotten into the business of developing and nurturing scoring superstars.

In this era of isolationism (in both basketball and the country), Allen Iverson becomes an effective weapon -- quick and skilled enough to create a shot without the help of a screen, small enough that contact that might be ignorable for larger players is called a foul when committed against AI.

Summer, 2001: Allen Iverson and his cornrows vs. the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Iverson scores 35.6 points per game in a losing effort. Despite the loss, the series leaves us with the lasting image of a dominant Iverson, all swagger and sneer, stepping over Tyronn Lue en route to handing the Lakers their only loss of the postseason. AI comes to represent something -- an uprising, a futile but necessary struggle against empire. He was UNIX to L.A.'s Microsoft, an F-U to Bush's stolen America, an alternative to Michael Jordan's strategy of appeasement. White suburban America is aghast, longing for the days of West and Cousy and short shorts.

Fall, 2001: Planes fly into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Brown people everywhere hope that it was the act of antoher McVeigh white supremacist. Flying While Brown (FWB) joins Driving While Black (DWB) and Checkpoint-crossing While Palestinian (CWP) in the "[Traveling] While [Color]" section of international crime. Congress passes the PATRIOT Act.

Spring, 2002: AI gives the famous "practice" speech. AI vs. Larry Brown. Black vs. White, flashy crossover vs. right-way hustle. The moment is a reincarnation of Sprewell vs. Carlisimo, or OJ vs. the LAPD. The geography of feelings regarding the practice speech line up perfectly with Karl Rove's red state-blue state monster.

At this point, the Euro vs. Black American dichotomy is still characterized as "Skilled" vs. "Athletic/Raw", "Polished" vs. "Thug", etc. But all of this soon changes --

Spring, 2003: U.S. Invasion of Iraq. The escalation of xenophobia and isolationism at home. An attempt by congress to officially change the name of "French Fries" to "Freedom Fries." A hostile American basketball fanbase watches skeptically as a small Frenchman named Tony Parker plays the point for the NBA Champion Spurs. Despite his success, American fans find superficial reasons to hate him while secretly longing for the more innocent days of Iverson -- at least he didn't speak French.

Meanwhile, the era of isolationism in basketball enters its "last throes":

1) The NBA Draft is nearing the peak of the "Era of Potential," (a 10 year period officially beginning with the drafting of Kevin Garnett in 1996 and ending with the institution of the 1-year rule after 2006) which sees the rise of not only unknown high school stars, but also of unknown foreign players. For Euros, the Era peaks with the drafting of Darko Milicic in the summer of 2004 (the arrival of Andrea Bargnani and Yi Jianlian can be seen as the very beginning of the next generation of foreign players and the logical forebears of Tiago Splitter, Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio, et al -- they compete in the draft not against high-schoolers but against all-American NCAA Final Four stars, and with the rise of European and Chinese leagues along with the weak dollar and strong Euro, they, for the first time, actually have to consider the financial option of not coming to the NBA at all).

2) In what is interpreted as the failure of Black American Individualism against White European team fundamentalism, the U.S. is repeatedly humiliated in international basketball competitions. Even anti-war Americans see this as the success of UN-style cooperationism over whatever you call Bush's foreign policy.

3) Bryan Colangelo (who later goes on to GM the mostly European Raptors (embraced by Jose Calderon, rejected by Steve Francis) -- the only NBA team located outside of the USA), GM of the Phoenix Suns, having just acquired a Canadian point guard named Steve Nash, pushes for rule changes allowing for greater freedom of movement on the perimeter. The eventual effect of these rule changes is to reintroduce motion to the NBA, which radically reduces the need for the isolation offense.

The sudden influx of European (and Chinese and South American) players, along with the rule changes which favor skilled finesse players over Oakley-style enforcers, arrives against a backdrop of the worsening situation in Iraq and domestic immigration raids, especially in California. Armed militias patrol the Mexican border and the newly named ICE conducts workplace raids throughout California while foreign students and recent graduates are denied student and working Visas and are forced to leave the country. American sit-coms are once again dominated by hokey family-unit comedy, characterized by Everybody Loves Raymond. Americans become skeptical of foreign accents, moving screens, and smooth jumpshots.

As there was a code for talking about black players (Thug, Selfish, Doesn't know the fundamentals, NOT LARRY BIRD), there arose a new code to discuss the Euro. "Flopper" "Soft" "No Defense" and so forth. It doesn't matter that Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson, and Tony Parker all fall down a lot, because the first two are tough and the latter is a flopper. Etc.

The Euro vs. Black American dichotomy is now expressed as "Soft" vs. "Tough," the old manichean logic inverted.

Hence: "Soft" is the new "Thug"

And Lakers-Celtics is the ideal context to explore our changing relationship to xenophobia and racism. The Ainge-Bird(Hick)-McHale Celtics of the 80's, known for being the Jazz before the Jazz were the Jazz (ie mostly white team) and for their racist fanbase who occasionally took dumps in Bill Russell's bed (blahblah they were the first team to have black players and black coaches blahblah) have given way to an almost all-black team led by a black head coach and driven by a Pan-Africanist ideology, while Magic and Kareem's Showtime Lakers have given way to a pale-looking crew including Walton, Farmar (.5 white), Vujacic, Gasol, Radmanovic, Mihm, et al. But the real story isn't the black/white flipflop, it's the continuation of old binaries in new containers. The Celtics, 100% American-born, are discussed using the language of muscle and toughness. The Lakers, and particularly Gasol/Vujacic/Radmanovic, are finesse and softness. Even Kobe was raised overseas.

Meanwhile, Gasol scores in the paint and KG scores with 20-foot jumpers, but Gasol suffers from a lack of KG's toughness. Sasha's pity-party after he and Gasol were burned by Ray Allen in Game 4 shouldn't have been any more embarrassing than Paul Pierce's short wheelchair ride in Game 1, but the latter was treated as a triumph.

These dichotomies aren't a reflection of game, they're a reflection of us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Quick Folowup note to Game 3 Talk

Re Pierce: Is he ok? I ask only because he got his shot blocked by Luke Walton. Not a help-defense block either -- Luke guarded him one on one, Pierce made his move, Luke blocked his shot.

Pierce goes through an important game, IN LA, only attempts 3 free throws in 31 minutes (only 31??) and gets his shot blocked by Luke Walton? I would be concerned . . .

Lakers-Celtics Game 3

Popcorn Machine

Big change at the outset - Kobe on Rondo. Which I guess makes sense. Rondo is only good with the ball in his hands, Kobe is a good ball-defender. Rondo can't shoot consistently, Kobe likes to sag off his man and play the passing lanes. Ray Allen needs to be stuck with consistently. Etc. Anyways, Fisher guarded Allen. Allen scored a lot, but Rondo was a -9 in 21:52. He missed a lot of the second half with (I think) an ankle sprain -- and Eddie House finally got some minutes with Rondo out and played quite well. The Celtics really rely on the point guard to initiate the offense, so even when Rondo's not penetrating and get a bajillion assists, he's very important. There were a few plays yesterday where Rondo got pressured and slowed down around halfcourt, and by the time the halfcourt offense got started there were around 12-13 seconds left on the shot clock. Those posessions often ended with a KG jumpshot from 18+ feet.

So yeah, Rondo -9. He was 4-8 since Kobe was giving him the jump shot. He had 4 assists in under 22 minutes, which seems like a lot but then you remember he had 16 assists in Game 2, so yeah, this is an improvement.

Also Turiaf played more than usual when Odom went out with fouls. He didn't seem to do all that much but he kept Perkins

Question of the game: Will the Machine's hot shooting start to drag some of the Celtics defenders out of the paint, allowing for better passing angles in the halfcourt? See Game 4 for the answer! Hopefully either Sasha scores 20+ again OR the Lakers (especially Gasol and Odom) rack up the assists.

Four Factors notes:

Pace: 88
Eff: LA - 98.9, BOS - 92
eFG%: LA - 47.8, BOS - 39.8
FT/FG: LA - 30.4, BOS - 18.1
OReb%: LA - 22.5, BOS - 28.6
TOr: LA - 14.8, BOS - 14.8

The big difference obviously was Kobe getting to the line 18 (deserved -- he was attacking) times, and Pierce only getting there 3 times. Also: KG shooting 6-21 wasn't completely a fluke, he shot a lot more from the perimeter than usual, see above note on forcing the Celtics to start their offense late in the shot-clock. However, if Rondo had played more minutes, KG might have ended up with better looks in the 2nd half.

Pierce shooting 2-14 on the other hand? That might have been a fluke.

Farmar + Vujacic: 48 minutes combined, 8 defensive rebounds.
Rondo + House + Cassell: 48 minutes combined, 3 defensive rebounds (although Rondo had 2 offensive)
Meanwhile, Gasol + Odom outrebounded Garnett + Perkins

Finally: LA fans are better looking than Boston fans.

Monday, June 9, 2008

"EURO" is the new "BLACK"

"Soft" is the new "thug"

Think about it.

Regarding yesterday's game:

1) The Lakers scored 115.9 points per 100 posessions, won the turnover battle, and got more offensive rebounds than Boston. And lost.

2) The reason: BOS - 39.7, LA - 12.0. That's the FTM/FGA ratio. In other words, LA - 10/10, BOS - 27/38. You don't win basketball games by spotting good teams a free 17 point advantage.

It was nice to see Ariza out there for a bit though.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Lakers-Celtics Game 1

Popcorn Machine Recap:

In the middle of the third quarter, Paul Pierce went down with a knee injury. He only ended up missing 1:45 of game time, with Posey coming in to replace him. The Lakers were up 62-58 when it happened. With Pierce being wheeled to the locker room, the Lakers fumbled around and the Celtics scored 7 straight points. Pierce came back into the game and made a couple of dramatic 3-pointers in transition before the Lakers got back into their game. That whole sequence, from the moment Pierce went down, was a killer.

Jordan Farmar only played 7:11, after averaging around 16 minutes a game throughout the playoffs so far. It's not much to go on, but for what it's worth Farmar was -4 in the 3:19 he was matched up against Sam Cassell (who had no trouble posting him up), and +1 matched up against Rondo. Derek Fisher was +3 in just under 10 minutes matched up with Cassell, and -10 in about 31 minutes when matched up against Rondo. There's not a ton to be drawn from this, but it's worth noting that going into the game it seemed as though Rondo might be too quick for Fisher, and Cassell might be too strong for Farmar, and the first game seems to have at least not contradicted that.

I don't really understand why Cassell was playing instead of Eddie House.

Four Factors Notes:

(quick explanation of these numbers: pace is relatively self-explanatory, Efficiency is just pace-adjusted points per game, which is a more accurate way of looking at offense and defense, since it doesn't make slow-paced teams look automatically great on defense, or fast-paced teams on offense. eFG% is just shooting percentages adjusted for the fact that 3 pointers are worth an extra point -- so going 2-6 from beyond the arc is equivalent to going 3-6 from inside the arc. FT/FG is the ratio of free throws made to field goals attempted, times 100 -- it is a measure of how effectively a team attacked and got to the line. OReb% for a given team is the percentage of its own missed shots that the team was able to rebound, while the opponent's OReb% shows how well the team did limiting the opposition's shot opportunities. Turnover rate is the percentage of possessions that ended in a turnover)

Pace - 91 Posessions in this game, which isn't horrible for the Lakers but does seem a little bit better for the Celtics. Then again, it was the Celtics who had more success in transition, so who knows.

Efficiency: LA - 96.7 points per hundred possessions, BOS - 107.7. Watching the game, there were sequences where Boston played great offensively, but clearly the Lakers need to improve offensively more than they do defensively to have a chance.

Shooting: LA - 43.5% (eFG), BOS - 46.1%. The major difference here was Boston was 6-19 on 3-pointers, LA was 3-14. Neither number is all that great, but the Lakers were dismal from beyond the arc. Happily, though, they only took 14 3-pt shots. Other shooting notes -- Kobe Bryant missed a number of mid-range jumpers that he usually makes. Sasha Vujacic only took 7 shots but he missed a couple of wide open 3's. Meanwhile, I had thought that Sasha as pest would do a great job guarding Ray Allen, as he did at times against Korver in the second round, but Allen was getting wide open when Sasha was in the game, with Sasha getting caught behind off-ball screens. Allen ended up shooting 5-13, including 2-6 from 3.

FT/FG: LA - 27.3, BOS - 36.8. My thinking going into this game was that even though Rondo was quicker than Fisher, Fisher would be able to force him towards help and turn Rondo into a passer or jump-shooter. Off the ball, Rondo was repeatedly left wide open on the weak side. However, he was able to turn his dribble-penetration into 10 free throw attempts. Who would have thunk that in a game with Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo would end up with the most free throw attempts?

OReb%: LA - 16.3, BOS - 27.8. Boston has been a great defensive rebounding team all season, while the Lakers have been about average all season, so in sum this is not at all a surprising result. What IS surprising is Ray Allen grabbing 8 rebounds. How did that happen? I didn't pay enough attention, but I guess that's something to keep an eye on for the next game. Boston's not exactly a fast-breaking team, and their bigs are much bigger than the Lakers bigs, so with Gasol and Odom boxed out the Lakers might want to make more of an effort to send their perimeter players in for offensive boards. Allen and Rondo combined for 13 rebounds, which is just one less than Gasol and Odom combined for, and that's no good.

Turnover Rate: LA - 8.8, BOS - 15.4. Well-played for both teams, I have nothing to say.

Other Notes:

P.J. Brown did a surprisingly good job defending Gasol. Still, I liked that Gasol was pretty aggressive for most of the game making moves to the basket. Pierce did a solid job, even post-knee-sprain, in defending Kobe with the ball when he got matched up against him. The Celtics defense as a whole didn't allow the same freedom to the Lakers cutters that they're used to, and cut off a lot of passing lanes. How much of team-defense can be explained by an understanding of Euclidean geometry? That is an important question for later. Meanwhile at the other end, Boston was passing beautifully throughout the game, and always seemed a step ahead of the Lakers defenders who were trying to rotate, getting caught up in screens, and sometimes just not closing out. Every Boston player seemed to know exactly where the open man was at any given time, and it was nice to watch. Now, despite what I saw in terms of passing etc, the numbers say that the Lakers had more assists than the Celtics (21-20), that the Lakers had assists on 65.6% of their made baskets while the Celtics had assists on 62.5% of theirs, so ummmmm, I dunno. It sure looked like the Celtics were passing better than the Lakers though. Hmmph. I will say, that it seemed as though Boston's assists came from motion and ball movement, while the Lakers assists seemed to come from a lot of drive-and-kick (hence Kobe and Fisher with 6 each). And that could be why it looked like the Celtics' passing was better/smoother and that the Celtics D was able to clog up the passing lanes for the Lakers.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A few links

Game 1 is tonight. Should be interesting. There seems to be a lot of chatter about whether or not Fisher can handle Rondo -- this probably misses the point, since Fisher doesn't have to handle Rondo, just force him to the right places on the floor, which he should be able to do. Rondo is an excellent rebounder, though -- can he continue to grab rebounds against a longer team though? Who knows! More thoughts after game 1.

Anyways, yesterday there was some good stuff posted:

Kobe Bryant: Winning, still can't win - it kind of summed up everything that's annoying about the way Kobe's myth is being mis-created.

Retarded Ornithology - draft preview that made my day. Some very important concepts clarified too. For instance:

Potential: Working toward a distinct game. Bird learning how to fly.
Potential potential: Someone with the tools to put together some kind of distinct game. Bird in the egg with the genes for wings.
Potential potential potential: Is this even a bird egg?

Also, the MON** (MONJO, MONGA, MONAI, MONAB) idea really identifies the major error in draft-thinking. The term refers to the phenomenon where, once a singular player with a unique background and skillset/size combination has made his mark on the league, everyone starts looking for the next one, despite the fact that the original is special because he's unique. The next Magic Johnson never came along, nor did the next Kevin Garnett, and we probably won't see another Allen Iverson. But, economically, the myth really raises the stakes for certain playing styles. If you're a six-foot shooting guard, you make several million extra dollars out of the draft in the couple of years right after 2001. Was Mike Conley picked 4th overall because Tony Parker won Finals MVP a few weeks earlier? And how does mis-perception play into the whole thing? Basketball is so far behind in terms of the public's understanding of what leads to success (does anyone really know?), for instance the idea that 20-10-1 with 3 turnovers is better than 18-9-4 with 1.8 turnovers, or something . . .. And here race becomes an issue. Being the "next Larry Bird" has got to be worth a few draft slots right?

Meanwhile, Eli at countthebasket continued his how-to on Adjusted +/- with a post on Offensive and Defensive Adjusted +/-. I'm hoping to use these posts myself to fool around at some point, it's really cool that he's going through things step by step like that. Also, interesting to see positionally who looks good and bad. The value of big point guards, for instance, becomes apparent on the defensive end. Maybe because they need to able to switch and to close out? Also versatile power forwards. Etc . . ..