20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Phil Hubbard Article Reprinted at Legends of Basketball

Legends of Basketball has reprinted my article about Phil Hubbard. Here is the link:

Phil Hubbard: Playing Within Limits

posted by David Friedman @ 4:49 AM

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Lakers Outlast Kings in Overtime, 132-128

Kobe Bryant had 42 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the L.A. Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings 132-128 in overtime in the second half of TNT's Thursday night doubleheader. Mike Bibby led the Kings with 38 points, adding seven rebounds and six assists.

The TNT telecast had a different flavor because Charles Barkley took over color commentary duties for Steve Kerr, who missed the game due to back spasms. Barkley emphasized two pertinent themes throughout the game: (1) the Kings are too small to match up with the Lakers in the paint and (2) Andrew Bynum needs to be much more aggressive when he catches the ball in the post, particularly against smaller defenders. "Just take him--he can't guard you down there. The game is so simple; these guys make it hard," an exasperated Barkley exclaimed at one point when Bynum did not immediately attack a smaller defender. The fact that Bryant's teammates do not always seize opportunities to be aggressive on offense is important to note.

Bynum had a productive first quarter with seven points but Brian Cook stole the show with 13 first quarter points. Cook made his first six shots from the field. Barkley said that players like Cook are "teasers" because they have a good game every two weeks but are not consistent enough to play well every night. The 13 points represented a season-high for Cook for an entire game (he finished with 26). "For this to be his season-high--that's a disgrace," Barkley declared. Bryant had four assists in the first quarter and only one shot attempt, a long three pointer that he missed as the shot clock wound down. The Lakers led 33-18 at the end of the period, shooting 15-24 from the field.

Bryant drove to the hoop aggressively several times during the second quarter, scoring 18 points in the period. He also had two assists. Barkley, who has been critical of Bryant's play in the past, said, "I think that Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA. He is unstoppable." Barkley liked that Bryant started the game by getting his teammates involved and only later began taking more shots.

Bryant picked up his seventh assist early in the third quarter with a sweet feed to Bynum, whose basket put the Lakers up 80-60. A Cook jumper extended the lead to 83-62 and viewers seemed to be in for extended "gar-bage time," as play by play man Marv Albert would put it. Inexplicably, the Lakers then abandoned the inside game and the Kings went on a 21-7 run to close the quarter, pulling to within 90-83. It would have been even closer if not for Bryant's three point play near the end of the period. Those were Bryant's only points in the quarter; he continued to look for his teammates but the Lakers shot just 6-16 from the field.

The Kings continued their run early in the fourth quarter when Bryant took his customary rest, trimming the lead to 90-87 when Ron Artest fed a cutting Kevin Martin. Bryant returned to action at the 8:58 mark with the Lakers leading 94-88. In the next 2:40 he made a three pointer, assisted on a Sasha Vujacic jumper, scored on a dunk and drained a jumper. At the end of that flurry, the Lakers led 106-94 and again seemed to have matters well in hand--but the Lakers failed to score for nearly three minutes and the Kings cut the lead to 106-103. Bryant broke the drought with an offensive rebound that he converted with a two handed dunk. The Kings took their first lead of the night on two Martin free throws with 2:14 remaining in the fourth quarter and seemed to be headed to victory after John Salmons' two free throws with six seconds left put the Kings up 116-112. Vladimir Radmanovic nailed a three pointer off of a well executed out of bounds play, Martin split a pair of free throws and the Lakers had one last chance with four seconds left. Of course, Bryant received the inbounds pass. The Kings immediately trapped him and he dished the ball to Smush Parker, whose driving layup tied the score at 117 just before the buzzer. That play is a classic example of how a great player makes other players better in ways that don't appear in the statistics. Bryant did not receive an assist but he made the whole play happen: his ability to hit clutch shots forced the Kings to double team him and his ability to make a good pass out of the double team (not as easy as it sounds) enabled the cutting Parker to catch the ball in a good position to score.

Bryant dominated the overtime period, scoring nine of the Lakers' 15 points and making some excellent passes that led to free throw opportunities for his teammates. He clinched the victory by grabbing a defensive rebound and making two free throws with four seconds left and then added two more free throws when the Kings fouled him with .5 seconds remaining.

Barkley made an interesting observation in the overtime, asking rhetorically, "What's better than an open shot?" after watching several Lakers not shoot open shots and subsequently turn the ball over or commit a foul. That is a point that I made numerous times last season when critics said that Bryant forced shots or took bad shots: many of the members of his "supporting cast" are reluctant to shoot the ball in critical situations, even if he spoonfeeds them wide open shots. This often leads to Bryant getting the ball back with the shot clock winding down and the defense draped all over him--and that is why he sometimes takes shots early in the shot clock, particularly if he only has one defender on him; those shots are less contested and more easy to convert than the "hand grenades" (as I like to call them) that wind up in his hands as the shot clock is about to "explode." The other Lakers are doing a better job this year of taking those shots, so Bryant is "forcing" fewer shots--but the change is not so much in his "unselfishness" as it is in their approach to the game. Bryant is not receiving as many "hand grenades" this year but he got one with a little over a minute left in the overtime and the Lakers leading 124-121. Bryant had the ball at the top of the key, but the Kings double teamed him and he passed to Maurice Evans on the wing. Evans eyed a wide open jumper--and promptly passed the ball back to Bryant. With the shot clock winding down, Bryant drove to the right baseline, elevated over multiple defenders and cold bloodedly sank a fadeaway jumper. In the box score, that shot looks the same as a fadeaway that is taken with 20 seconds on the shot clock but the difference is that Bryant made the right basketball play: he passed the ball when he was double teamed instead of forcing a shot. When the open man refused to shoot, Bryant created something out of nothing. Earlier in the overtime, Bryant delivered two great passes, one to Cook and one to Bynum, that resulted in three made free throws; no assists are awarded on such plays, but those points were created by Bryant's court vision, an aspect of his game that most critics either ignore or else treat as a recent development that happened as a result of Bryant's offseason knee surgery; supposedly, according to this "logic," Bryant's knee is hampering him to the point that he is forced to pass the ball. I'm still trying to figure out (1) how hampered he can be if he is averaging almost 29 ppg and (2) how a surgical procedure on his knee made him better able to see the floor and deliver passes.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:21 AM

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Charley Rosen Weighs In On Kobe Bryant Versus Dwyane Wade

I already offered my take on the Christmas Day showdown between the Lakers and Heat--better known as Kobe versus D. Wade. Charley Rosen, ex-CBA coach and author of several books about basketball, methodically analyzed the game at FoxSports.com, concluding that Dwyane Wade won this particular battle but that overall he still ranks Kobe Bryant as the better player. Rosen agrees with my main contention about this game: the Lakers' poor screen roll defense was the single biggest factor in Miami's win. He also concurs with me that Bryant deserves credit for guarding Wade, who generally was matched up with Luke Walton, giving Wade plenty of opportunities to roam into the passing lanes. As Rosen put it, "Kobe and Jackson do deserve props, however, for having Bryant try to defend Wade. Although the expenditure of energy here definitely depleted Kobe's chops on the other end of the court, accepting this daunting challenge was a tribute to the competitive nature of both Bryant and his coach."

Looking beyond this one skirmish, Rosen gives Bryant the edge in jump shooting, creativity close to the basket, better straight-up defense and size, which enables him to be more versatile; Rosen prefers Wade's strength, energy and passing (but only "slightly") and declares the two superstars to be equal in terms of off-the-ball defense and clutch play.

The complete article can be found here.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:04 AM

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World B. Free Article Reprinted at Legends of Basketball

The newest article featured at Legends Spotlight is my recent piece about World B. Free. Here is the link:

World B. Free: From Rucker Park to the NBA Finals

posted by David Friedman @ 12:42 AM

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Sunday, December 31, 2006

NBA Leaderboard, Part V

Here is the final NBA Leaderboard of 2006. The Mavericks now have the best record in the league, but the Spurs and Suns are not too far behind. The Jazz were the early leaders but are now at fourth and sinking. The Magic started the year quickly but are now just four games above .500. The Pistons are the first Eastern Conference team to make the top five in several weeks.


Best Five Records
-------------------

1) Dallas Mavericks, 23-7
2) San Antonio Spurs, 22-8
3) Phoenix Suns, 20-8
4) Utah Jazz, 22-9
5) Detroit Pistons, 18-10

The Lakers (19-11), last week's fifth place team, are just behind the Pistons, and the Bulls have recovered from their slow start and are on the verge of making the list (19-12).


Top Five Scorers (and a few other notables)
------------------

1) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 31.6 ppg
2) Allen Iverson, DEN 30.7 ppg
3) Gilbert Arenas, WSH 30.7 ppg
4) Kobe Bryant, LAL 28.4 ppg
5) Michael Redd, MIL 27.8 ppg
6) Dwyane Wade, MIA 27.5 ppg
7) LeBron James, CLE 27.1 ppg

10) Yao Ming, HOU 25.9 ppg
11) Vince Carter, NJN 25.8 ppg

The top four have stayed the same (of course, Melo's numbers will not change until he comes back from his suspension) but Agent Zero has heated up his hibachi with shouts of "quality shots" and increased his scoring average 1.6 ppg since Leaderboard IV.


Top Five Rebounders (and a few other notables)
----------------------

1) Dwight Howard, ORL 12.5 rpg
2) Chris Bosh, TOR 12.2 rpg
3) Kevin Garnett, MIN 12.2 rpg
4) Carlos Boozer, UTA 11.7 rpg
5) Tyson Chandler, NOK 11.3 rpg

11) Ben Wallace, CHI 10.1 rpg

13) Tim Duncan, SAS 9.9 rpg

16) Yao Ming, HOU 9.4 rpg

21) Rasheed Wallace, DET 8.8 rpg

29) Jason Kidd, NJN 8.3 rpg

The top five has not changed too much since week one, but Howard's lead keeps getting smaller. My hunch is that he will not succeed this year in supplanting Dolph Schayes as the youngest rebounding champion ever; there must be a reason that record has stood for five decades. Duncan's rebounding average is the lowest of his career by far. As expected, Sheed's rebounding numbers are steadily declining toward his career norms.

Top Five Playmakers
----------------------

1) Steve Nash, PHX 11.3 apg
2) Jason Kidd, NJN 9.2 apg
3) Andre Miller, PHI 9.0 apg
4) Chris Paul, NOK 9.0 apg
5) Baron Davis, GSW 8.6 apg

Baron Davis edged out Deron Williams for the fifth spot but other than that this list has been remarkably consistent. "Starbury" is up to 24th with an average of 5.2 apg. Maybe the self-proclaimed best point guard in the league will actually crack the top 20 in assists before the season is over.

Note: All statistics are from NBA.com

posted by David Friedman @ 3:11 AM

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Kobe Drops 58, Grizzlies Drop Fratello--and the Clippers Just Drop

It's a potpourri edition of 20 Second Timeout, featuring one often discussed subject (Kobe Bryant), and two less frequently mentioned topics (the Grizzlies and the Clippers).

*** On Friday night, Bryant scored 58 points in a 133-124 triple overtime loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. Bryant and Rick Barry are now tied for fourth on the all-time list with 14 50-point games, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain (118), Michael Jordan (31) and Elgin Baylor (17). That is the third best single-game scoring effort of his career but it was unusual in three respects: (1) It took Bryant three overtimes to reach that total--he had 62 points in three quarters versus Dallas last year and 81 points in regulation versus Toronto; (2) The Lakers lost--the Lakers won Bryant's 81 and 62 point games and have posted a 49-22 record in his 40-point games and a 10-4 record in his 50-point games (those totals reflect the loss in Charlotte); (3) Bryant was completely exhausted by the effort--who knows whether the extra 15 minutes did him in or maybe it was the aftereffects of the flu but I have mentioned before that one of the most amazing things about Bryant is that he seems to be full of energy at the end of his highest scoring games. That was certainly not the case on Friday. Bryant didn't even make it all the way to his locker after the game, stopping in his tracks and answering reporters' questions at the entrance to the locker room.

The loss drops the Lakers to 4-5 without Lamar Odom but that is a little deceptive because the Lakers have been playing on the road recently after starting the season with a very favorable home schedule. The Charlotte game concluded a decent 3-3 road trip that would have been very good if the Lakers had pulled out the win to get to 4-2. Bryant started the game shooting 16-27 but shot only 6-18 down the stretch as fatigue set in. The 45 shots are the second most that he has ever attempted in a game, trailing only his 46 attempts in the 81 point game. Bryant's excellent start staked the Lakers to a 30-16 lead but he could neither keep up that pace nor find any teammates who were particularly interested in carrying the load. Coach Phil Jackson singled out Kwame Brown for criticism after the game, citing the numerous passes he dropped and his atrocious pick and roll defense (which I pointed out in my recap of the Christmas Day game between the Heat and Lakers--most headlines will tell you that Wade burned Bryant but if you watched the game you know that Wade burned the Lakers' pick and roll coverage and did not score that much against Bryant in one on one encounters). Here is what Jackson said about Brown's hands: "We're going to feed him Butterfingers on the flight home just so he can feel the effects of it. There was certainly some disappointment in the ability, or non-ability, of Kwame to complete plays that we thought were big plays for us. His teammates are disappointed." As for the pick and roll defense, Jackson explained the breakdowns against Charlotte this way: "Smush (Parker) is getting knocked off his man with screens and we wanted Kwame to come out hard, and Okafor was getting short one-dribble dunk situations. I know Kwame got perplexed out there with the screen-roll and how to play it. He got concerned about some of the things that were happening to him. We tried to help him through that situation."

*** The Memphis Grizzlies fired Coach Mike Fratello after a 6-24 start. Fratello is the franchise's all-time leader in coaching wins (95) and he guided the team to the playoffs each of the last two seasons. The Grizzlies' fate this season was sealed when All-Star Pau Gasol broke his foot in the FIBA World Championships but the fact that Memphis plummeted from being a playoff team to being the worst team in the league indicates that something more than Gasol's injury is at work here. The players did not like Fratello's slow it down, controlling style and basically quit on him. Team President Jerry West, who pulled the plug on Fratello, said simply, "We didn't compete. The fans deserve better than that." Being undermanned is one thing--and Memphis did have other injury problems besides Gasol--but you can always compete. Fratello has been replaced on an interim basis by Tony Barone, Sr., the team's director of player personnel. The plan is for Barone to spend the season getting an up close and personal view of the players he has acquired and then to return to his front office duties with an even better understanding of exactly what the team's personnel needs are. He will not become the permanent coach. On Saturday, Barone won his coaching debut as the Grizzlies ended their five game losing streak with a 110-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

Is it fair to fire a successful coach only 30 games into a season when the team's best player has missed most of the games due to injury and is just now rounding into form? Talk about a leading question--of course, it is not fair, but that is not the point. Fratello was at odds with West, who--according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, urged owner Michael Heisley to fire Fratello before the season started. It will be very interesting to see who gets the full-time coaching job and which players remain on the team. Of course, Memphis' ownership situation is up in the air, too, as Christian Laettner and Brian Davis seek to finalize their deal to buy the team from Heisley, so the Grizzlies could have a completely different look from top to bottom by this time next year.

*** Be honest--did you drink the Kool-Aid about the L.A. Clippers being a team on the rise and being the best team in town? It's OK--most people were fooled. However, I saw signs of trouble on the horizon, noting in my Western Conference Preview that, although the team "really seemed to turn the corner" that "the Clippers have no track record for sustaining greatness--or even viable playoff contending status. Cassell is aging and if he gets injured or has trouble accepting that Livingston's playing time is bound to increase then the Clippers boat will be sunk (again). Bottom line: This is a solid playoff team that is not quite good enough to contend for an NBA title." I ranked the Clippers fifth in the West, lower than many other people did--but even I may have at least (unwittingly) sipped the Kool-Aid because the Clippers are currently 11th in the West, which means they are three spots away from even making the playoffs, let alone being a "solid playoff team." They're actually only about four games back with 53 to go, so there is still time for them to improve just enough to match my correctly lowered expectations for them. What's wrong with the Clippers? The numbers of most of their top players have plummeted, they anointed Shaun Livingston as the point guard of the future but he is not ready to handle the job in the present, free agent acquisition Tim Thomas has been a disappointment and second leading scorer Corey Maggette is disgruntled and consequently the frequent subject of trade rumors.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:59 AM

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