Sunday, November 16, 2008

Weekend Notes

There were a few significant games played in the League this weekend. I didn't catch all of them, but here's some notes from the ones I did see. Note that, at this point of the season, I'll be focusing mostly on teams that won't be in the mix in the spring -- we'll have plenty of time to consider the contenders later in the season, but this time of the year is for the circus that is the rest of league:

Bucks 101, Grizzlies 96
Is Rudy Gay's game wilting in awe of O.J. Mayo's jumpshot? I realize he's going through a bit of a shooting slump that he'll eventually break out of (he's shooting 43.6% eFG so far, after 51.1% last year), but there's something more disturbing . . . his moves and his shot seem so earthly now, in comparison to his rookie teammate's. Also, in this game O.J. Mayo was wearing long socks, Michael Cooper-style. Anyways, a couple of big Bucks takeaways from this one -- this weekend was the first time this season I've really paid a lot of attention to this team, and I was impressed. Super rookie Luc Mbah a Moute did everything the Bucks needed in this game, to the point where I started to think that if I were a GM with a late-first or second round pick and wasn't sure who I wanted, I would just pick a UCLA player. Milwaukee and Memphis were more or less even in most respects, except that Milwaukee dominated the rebounding battle at both ends, grabbing 45% of their own misses while only allowing Memphis to get to 17% of theirs. In raw numbers, that translated to an overall rebounding edge of 62-36 for Milwaukee. Mbah a Moute had 10 offensive rebounds (!!) and 17 total -- it's fair to say he was the difference maker. More on the Bucks below. Also nice to see -- Mike Conley finally seems to be waking up a bit -- he only finished with 4 assists in 34 minutes, but he was clearly penetrating more and being more aggressive than he has been so far this season. He also ended up with 7 rebounds and 3 steals. Richard Jefferson also played well for the Bucks.

Trailblazers 82, Hornets 87
Portland lost this game but the only story for me was the emergence of a healthy Greg Oden. In 24 minutes, he accumulated 11 points (on just three field goal attempts), 11 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots, and there was excitement in just seeing him on the floor. There was even more excitement when he did this:

Also of note: he hasn't played that many minutes so far this season, but per 36 minutes, Sergio Rodriguez is averaging 10 assists and 2.4 turnovers, and looks promising. In New Orleans, Devin Brown has taken over the backup point guard spot from Mike James, a move that was necessary.

Pistons 106, Lakers 95
I was really happy for Kwame Brown. See below for some notes on the Lakers' defense this season.

Trailblazers 88, Timberwolves 83
Once again, the story was Greg Oden. The Trailblazers outscored the Timberwolves by 13 points in the 24 minutes that Oden was on the floor, while he ended up with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals, and 2 turnovers. Offensively, he is mostly limited to dunks and a consistent right-handed jump hook, but it's a good start. Defensively, he takes up a ton of room in the paint and consistently challenges penetrators, but can be drawn away effectively by pick and rolls (as can most big men), and can be scored on one-on-one by crafty and/or quicker offensive players (Al Jefferson ended up shooting 12-16, for instance). I never thought I'd say this, but it was nice to see Minnesota acknowedging the lack of height and playing Jason Collins for 14 minutes. Finally -- in a close game in which Minnesota was outscored 23-12 at the end, Mike Miller had just one shot attempt in the fourth quarter.

Celtics 102, Bucks 97 (OT)
With Michael Redd out, the Bucks have been playing a lot of minutes with two point guards in the backcourt together, Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions. So far, it seems to be working. In this game, the two combined for 33 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds. Mbah a Moute had another solid game, and he might be the steal of the draft.

The only reason Milwaukee was able to stay in this game was because they outrebounded the Celtics, and that's what happens when you play Brian Scalabrine for 13 minutes. Also, Andrew Bogut got ejected late in this one for picking up his second technical, and while the call wasn't completely fair, it was within the rules and more or less correct. Yet the incredibly annoying Bucks color commentator went on and on about what a horrible call it was for a good 10 or 15 minutes, spanning two commercial breaks, and really I wished he would just shut up.

Notes on the Lakers defense
There has been a lot written on the web in the last couple of weeks about the Lakers' defense this year. Instead of rehashing the excellent work of others, I'll just recommend you check these links out yourself. If you're a fan of the Lakers, these are some must reads:

- Kurt at Forum Blue and Gold calls the defense the strong-side zone. He mentions one of the motivations for switching to this type of defense -- the way the game is being called by referees. He also points out potential weaknesses -- cross-court skip-passes to beat rotations, and penetrating guards like Allen Iverson (this was written before the Detroit game, by the way).

- Kevin Pelton at Basketball Prospectus has an excellent breakdown after charting the defense throughout the Nuggets game. He calls it more of a trapping defense than a zone, and compares the defense to that of the Seattle Sonics of the 90s. He also references the rules changes as a motivation for the style, and highlights the importance of Andrew Bynum in making this scheme work, since "Bynum's quickness allows him to help and play the role of stopper while being able to recover and contest a shot attempt by a player cutting from the weak side." He also mentions a potential weakness -- rebounding. This style of trapping should leave the defense susceptible to second-chance opportunities, which makes the Lakers' excellent defensive rebounding numbers so far this season that much more impressive.

- At X's and O's of Basketball, it's pointed out that the Lakers did use this defense last year against Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets during the playoffs (they'd even written a post about it). There's a very clear explanation with diagrams, images, and video clips, of how the defense works and why it is effective -- including the important point that this defense only works because the Lakers have players who are quick enough to recover in time when the ball gets reversed to the weak side (I would add that part of the advantage is the Lakers' length). Like Kurt, they point out the possible vulnerability to the skip pass, but with the Lakers' ability to play passing lanes, this is a risky pass and only the best passers in the league could hope to make it. They also, like Pelton, point out that defensive rebounding could be a weakness in this defense (though it hasn't been yet).

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