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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lakers Squander a Big Lead Again, but Hold on to Silence Jazz, Win Series 4-1

Kobe Bryant scored 31 points, passed for four assists and had four steals as the L.A. Lakers defeated the Utah Jazz 107-96 to win their first round series four games to one. Bryant averaged 27.4 ppg, 5.6 apg, 5.0 rpg and 2.4 spg versus the Jazz while shooting .466 from the field, .353 from three point range and .897 from the free throw line; his field goal percentage took a hit after his 5-24 outing in game three but that was an inexplicable aberration and it seems likely that by the time the Lakers emerge as the Western Conference champions he will push his scoring average closer to 30 ppg and elevate his field goal percentage to near the .500 mark: the Lakers' loss in last year's Finals overshadowed how remarkably productive and efficient Bryant had been versus a very competitive Western Conference playoff field, scoring well over 30 ppg while shooting better than .500 from the field, incredible numbers for any player, let alone a shooting guard.

Lamar Odom added 26 points, 15 rebounds and four assists, capping off a strong series in which he averaged 17.8 ppg and 11.0 rpg while shooting .627 from the field. Pau Gasol contributed 17 points, 11 rebounds and four assists; he also had a good series (18.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, .586 field goal shooting). Trevor Ariza overcame the effects of an ankle injury that he suffered during a pregame celebration ritual (!) earlier in the series to finish with 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. Paul Millsap led the Jazz with 16 points, Deron Williams had 14 points and six assists and Andrei Kirilenko also scored 14 points. Carlos Boozer--who scored at least 20 points in each of the first four games of the series--was a non-factor with 10 points and nine rebounds. Ronnie Price's boxscore numbers do not pop out--eight points on 3-9 shooting in 14:02--but Utah Coach Jerry Sloan rightly credited Price's spirited play with sparking a fourth quarter rally that cut the Lakers' lead from 22 to six; Sloan noted that Price not only made some big baskets and dished off for five assists but he also set several solid screens that helped his teammates get wide open, a role that John Stockton used to relish. Sloan wryly noted that the NBA "outlawed" some of the screens that Stockton liked to set but that overall "there is no rule against" setting screens and that doing so is a big part of playing winning basketball--a not so subtle message to the other Utah players.

It took the Lakers six games to eliminate the Jazz in the second round last year but this Utah team is clearly not as strong as last year's team; a more apt comparison is that last year's Lakers cruised to a first round sweep over Denver, while this year's Lakers dropped one game versus Utah by blowing a double digit lead and even in the games that the Lakers won they repeatedly allowed the Jazz to come back from huge deficits. The Lakers' problem with blowing leads dates back to last season, with the most notable--and devastating--example being the 24 point lead that they squandered in game four of the 2008 NBA Finals. The Lakers blow leads because they lose their focus defensively and on the glass and because at times they permit their opponents to push them around; in the wake of the 2008 Finals, those weaknesses became points of emphasis for the Lakers entering this season and they vowed to clean up those areas, secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs and win the championship--but even though they had an excellent season, the reality is that they made little if any progress in terms of addressing those issues and they failed to secure home court advanatage throughout the playoffs. Yes, the Lakers did win road games versus the Cavs and Celtics in the regular season but those "statement" games will be long forgotten by the time the Finals roll around.

Game five versus Utah is a microcosm of the Lakers' season--but the Lakers can get away with things versus the Jazz that they will not get away with versus elite teams; that is why after their game one victory, Coach Phil Jackson wrote on the locker room whiteboard "15? Not like that," making it very clear to the team that they cannot win a championship the way that they are currently playing.

The score was tied at 26 after the first quarter but Odom and Bryant each hit three pointers to open the second quarter and by halftime the Lakers were up 56-43. Odom's tip-in gave the Lakers an 80-58 lead with 2:21 remaining in the third quarter but their bench once again proved to be incapable of maintaining a sizeable advantage. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson prefers to rest Bryant at the start of the fourth quarter but during the season the bench gave away so many leads that at times Jackson decided he had to leave Bryant in with the reserves in order to provide some stability; in this game even that did not prove to be sufficient, as a unit consisting of Bryant plus bench players Andrew Bynum, Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown and Josh Powell allowed the Jazz to close to within 93-80 by the 6:42 mark of the fourth quarter. Realizing that Bryant--who would play a game-high 42:30--needed some rest in order to be fresh for the final minutes, Jackson took him out with 6:15 left, trying to take advantage of the impending TV timeout to maximize Bryant's break while minimizing the actual game action that he would miss. Bryant only sat out 1:03 but in that time the Jazz went on a 4-0 run to make the score 93-84 and then after Bryant returned a Ronnie Brewer dunk cut the margin to 93-86, making the Staples Center crowd understandably nervous. Bryant nailed a turnaround jumper with 4:25 remaining to end Utah's 13-0 scoring streak and the Jazz never got closer than six points the rest of the way.

After the game, TNT's Craig Sager asked Bryant what caused the Lakers to lose most of their 22 point lead and Bryant offered a very candid response: "We brought in that second unit and we stopped playing defense, stopped hustling, stopped getting back in transition, gave up too many layups and got them back in the game." The right side of Bryant's face was all bruised and cut up, an indication of how Utah literally scratched and clawed to try to avoid being eliminated, but Bryant dismissed those battle scars by saying, "That's playoff basketball...It's part of the game." Sager asked Bryant if the Jazz "exposed" a Lakers' weakness considering that L.A. blew big leads in every game of the series and Bryant thought for a beat before laughing uncomfortably and answering, "Probably. Probably. It's just going to be on us to try to correct some mistakes and, like I said, keep hustling. You can't stop playing hard because you have a big lead. You still have to play fundamentally sound, get back on defense and do the necessary things that got you that lead."

I don't mean to make it sound like the Lakers are a terrible team. They won 65 games this season and in most years that would be good enough to make them the clear favorites to capture the NBA title--but this is the only time in NBA history that two teams have won at least 65 games in the same season and the 66-16 Cleveland Cavaliers own three trumps over the Lakers: home court advantage if they face each other in the Finals, much more consistent defense and a deeper roster. The Lakers cannot do anything about the home court advantage situation and they cannot improve their roster during the playoffs, so in the next month or so they need to do everything they can to shore up their leaky defense. The Lakers are not a bad defensive team per se but they are extremely inconsistent in both their execution and their effort at that end of the court; while the Cavs are a defensive-minded team night in and night out, the Lakers rely on being able to score easily and their defense fluctuates from very good to very poor, often in the course of a single game.

The popular perception is that the Lakers are the deepest team in the NBA but, like many popular perceptions, that is not accurate and there are a lot of ways to demonstrate this:

1) The Cavs have at least 12 players who are fully capable of competently playing at least 15 minutes; their 12th man (in terms of minutes played in the first round sweep of Detroit) is Sasha Pavlovic, who started for the Cavs in the 2007 NBA Finals; the Lakers did not even use 12 players in the first round but their 11th man (Jordan Farmar) has been very inconsistent this season, their 10th man (Josh Powell) is a career journeyman, their ninth man (Luke Walton) may miss the rest of the playoffs due to a foot injury, their eighth man (Andrew Bynum) is struggling to regain his form after coming back from a knee injury and their seventh man (Sasha Vujacic) shot .207 from the field (that is not a misprint) versus Utah. Yes, that's right, the so-called deepest team in the NBA is actually about six deep at the moment.

2) The story gets even better when you look at who is the Lakers' sixth man, at least in terms of minutes played in the first round versus Utah: Shannon Brown, who the Cavs traded away last year and who only played one minute for the 2007 Cleveland team that made it to the Finals, a team that was not nearly as deep as the current Cavs are. So, the supposedly deepest team in the NBA is employing a sixth man who was barely the 12th man for a 2007 Cavs team that clearly was not nearly as deep as the 2009 Cavs team.

3) The Cavs' frontcourt is incredibly versatile and deep, featuring two former All-Star centers (Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ben Wallace, who also won four Defensive Player of the Year awards) plus a top notch defender who sets tremendous screens (Anderson Varejao), a former number one overall pick who can shoot, rebound and defend (Joe Smith) and two young players who provide energy and hustle (J.J. Hickson--who played in 62 regular season games but did not see any action versus Detroit--and Darnell Jackson).

4) While Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom certainly comprise a good starting center/power forward tandem, the Lakers do not have any dependable bigs coming off of the bench. Andrew Bynum--who only recently came back from a knee injury--shot .391 from the field versus Utah and had more fouls (16) than rebounds (15); Josh Powell (2.0 ppg in 4.5 mpg) is the only other big who played for the Lakers in the first round. D.J. Mbenga (2.7 ppg in 23 regular season games) is their only other available big. Gasol and Odom averaged 38.8 mpg and 36.6 mpg respectively in the first round, while the four main Cleveland bigs (Ilgauskas, Varejao, Wallace, Smith) averaged between 11.3 and 33.3 mpg. Gasol is obviously the most skilled big man on either team but the Cavs' frontcourt is much deeper and provides consistent defense in every game, while the Lakers' bigs are inconsistent defensively and the Lakers have no margin for error if Gasol or Odom suffer an injury or get in foul trouble.

5) Other than Ben Wallace--who has been hobbled by leg injuries, though he is still able to play limited minutes--the Cavs are fully healthy. In contrast, the Lakers--who have less depth than the Cavs even at full strength--are dealing with injuries to Bynum, Walton and Ariza (sprained ankle, though he seemed unaffected in game five versus Utah). Although Bryant has not missed any games in two seasons and has been playing basketball nonstop for nearly a year and a half (thanks to the Lakers making the 2008 Finals plus his Team USA commitment), it is also worth mentioning at least in passing that he is playing with an avulsion fracture to the pinkie on his right (shooting) hand and a dislocated ring finger on the same hand; he suffered the former injury last season and has yet to have surgery for it, while the latter injury happened this season.

The Lakers are a very potent offensive team because of Bryant's incredible scoring prowess, which forces opposing teams to trap him, creating wide open shots for his teammates (whether or not Bryant makes the pass that is recorded officially as an assist). Gasol is perfectly suited to be the second option and Odom is comfortable as a third (or fourth) option but those players are performing so well in those secondary (and tertiary) roles that it is easy to get things twisted and make assumptions about how the Lakers would do without Bryant; if Gasol were the primary offensive option and Odom were relied upon to consistently score (the Lakers went 7-1 this season when he scored three or fewer points and 23-8 when he scored fewer than 10 points) then the Lakers would have struggled to make the playoffs in the West. Look at the eighth seeded, 48 win Utah team that the Lakers just beat: without Bryant scoring 27.4 ppg while drawing double teams there is no way that the Lakers could have scored enough to offset Utah's six double figure scorers--and that does not even take into account Mehmet Okur's absence for most of the series or the fact that without Bryant the Lakers' defense would be markedly worse.

The Lakers will probably not be pushed past six games in either of the next two series but they have a lot of work to do--and not much time to do it--if they plan on beating Cleveland in the Finals.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:09 AM

18 comments

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18 Comments:

At Tuesday, April 28, 2009 10:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

Great analysis as usual. My only gripe is that the Cavs run a Spurs style defensive scheme. Problem is 1) Tim Duncan isn't patroling the paint, and 2) the Lakers know that scheme very well.

 
At Tuesday, April 28, 2009 4:22:00 PM, Anonymous Jack Bauer said...

Why don't you market your blog to big sports websites like Foxsports, nbcsports, sportingnews, si or ESPN. You break down the game better than some of their TV or web analysts(including bloggers)...

But i do agree though, I've been telling people about lakers lack of killer instinct since december but they told me I was nitpicking since they had only lost 5 games then. Thing is, you can't wait for April to fix weaknesses because by then It is part of your makeup and hard to phase out. Cleveland doens't have that weakness though which brings me to the issue of leadership, I think Kobe's leadership or lack thereof is a reason why they haven't fix it. I wonder if he pushes them hard enough in practice.
ALL year when there is a big lead, bench players have taken it upon themselves to showcase their skills instead of following their gameplan. It is a big reason why Jordan Farmar is on the bench right now and why Phil Jackson is thinking god that BYnum is back so he wont have to give so many minutes to Powell.

 
At Tuesday, April 28, 2009 5:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Although the Cavs do not have a single big who defends the way that Duncan did during his prime, they have a host of bigs who play very effective position defense, forcing opponents to shoot over contested hands and then rebounding the misses.

 
At Tuesday, April 28, 2009 5:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack Bauer:

I have marketed my website (and my freelance work) as much as I can but the sad reality is that many of the mainstream sites do not base their hiring practices on quality but rather on other factors. I could say a lot more about this but all you really have to do is compare any of my articles to the articles that are published at the sites that you mentioned and the truth about the situation is very obvious.

I seriously doubt that lack of leadership by Kobe is the cause of the Lakers' problems. It is ironic that you would even suggest that, because in the past Kobe has been criticized for being too hard on his teammates. The reality is that guys like Bynum, Vujacic and Farmar have improved a lot during their time as Lakers and they all credit Kobe's work ethic and the example he sets for helping them to become better players. There is only so much that Kobe can do; each person has to take responsibility for his own actions. Kobe clearly had a huge impact on Team USA and that impact has carried over into the regular season, as players like LeBron, Wade and Dwight Howard have obviously benefited from the example he set. The Lakers' players need to value defense and fundamentals as much as Kobe does.

 
At Tuesday, April 28, 2009 7:53:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

Any chance we'll see a post on the historic beatdown that Denver administered to the Hornets last night?

I am truly loving that series -- NO and CP3 are so terribly overrated, and it is great to see them ravaged as the media-hyped pretenders they are. For goodness' sake, during the telecast of Game 3 on Saturday, Jon Barry (I think) made the ludicrous claim that Paul could average 30 ppg for a season. So far in his career Paul has averaged 16.1, 17.3, 21.1, and 22.8 ppg. This year Paul played 78 games and scored 30 or more points just 16 times (and several were right on 30).

It has also been fairly amusing to watch New Orleans completely lose their heads when faced with perfectly legal, physical play -- namely Kenyon Martin's 100% legal screen on CP3 in Game 4 and Anthony Carter's perfectly legit lay-up-denying foul on Rasual Butler. Meanwhile Tyson Chandler gets beat off the dribble by Nene and he simply slams his elbow in Nene's midsection, in a move that the announcers rightly commented really deserved a flagrant call, as it was not a "basketball play" designed to stop the shot, in contract to Carter's foul where he made contact with the shooting arm of Butler, nearish the ball. You had mentioned the knucklehead factor in this series, but it's playing out in Denver's favor (and to be fair, pre-series I would have agreed with you that Denver would be more likely exhibit KH-ism in the series).

And in the strong, physical defense, I think one has to give some credit to Chauncey Billups. The Pistons' appearances in the Finals were built on strong defenses, and I think a respected, veteran voice like his preaching defense in the lockeroom could well have had a profound impact on this Nuggets team.

Of course, the stat-heads will mock such reliance on "leadership" or "intangibles" -- see in particular this hilarious comment from the author of a Hornets blog defying readers to find "statistically significant" evidence of this supposed "leadership" quality.
http://www.atthehive.com/2009/3/15/798478/why-the-mvp-award-is-idiot#13134129

I suspect that author has never taken part in any organized sports, or even participated in any team efforts in the workplace. That certain individuals are able to direct groups to perform better ought to be a fairly non-controversial proposition -- I'm sure his views would surprise most corporations, the military, coaches, etc, etc.

 
At Wednesday, April 29, 2009 12:29:00 AM, Blogger Barry said...

brown is better suited for the lakers because his deficit in PG skills is masked by the triangle offense. but he's still really only about 6'1" vs. 6'4".

and hickson, who is actually hurt and probably out for the playoffs, was starting to regress defensively; jackson was getting his minutes while wallace was hurt. wallace is playing, but is not 100%, and has been relegated to coming off the bench because varejao is more of a scoring threat setting picks while lebron is on the floor.

 
At Wednesday, April 29, 2009 5:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

Much like Kenny Smith does not do his "pictures" segment for a blowout, I don't plan to do a post specifically about that one game--but I certainly will have a lot to say about this series.

I agree with you that CP3 could not average 30 ppg for a whole season but I'm not sure that I agree with you that he is overrated overall; it depends what you mean by that. In my opinion, he is the best pg in the league--but I do not think that he is in the same class as LeBron, Kobe or Wade, so if you are reacting to people who claim that he is in their class then we agree.

New Orleans quit in game four and that is very strange considering that the Hornets just needed one home win to even up the series and put a lot of pressure on the Nuggets. The Hornets were never competitive at all.

Billups has certainly had a positive impact for Denver--and he has played very well in this series, particularly in the first two games--but the team's defensive improvement has a lot to do with Andersen and the other bigs. Billups is a good defender but he is not even guarding Paul for the most part during this series.

All season I have said that the Nuggets have benefited from injuries that weakened other teams in the West (Spurs, Jazz, Hornets, even the Mavs--though they look good now) but I have to admit that the Nuggets are playing much better in this series than I expected and that is not just because the Hornets are a beat up team.

 
At Wednesday, April 29, 2009 5:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Barry:

This may seem to be splitting hairs but while I agree with you that Brown is not 6-4 I think that he is taller than 6-1 (based on standing next to him when he was a Cavalier).

Whether or not Brown is "better suited" for the Lakers, the fact is that a player who rarely played for the Cavs and who they deemed dispensable is--based on minutes played in the first round--currently the sixth man for the Lakers. Even if one believed that the Lakers at full strength have more depth than the Cavs--and I would question that--it should be obvious that with Bynum ailing, Walton out of the lineup and Vujacic and Farmar slumping the Cavs are much deeper than the Lakers right now.

While you are correct that Hickson is out for now with a back injury, he has not been definitively ruled out for the rest of the playoffs. In any case, my point is that the Cavs have a frontcourt rotation of Z, Varejao, Wallace and Smith, while the only guys the Lakers can rely on at the moment are Gasol and Odom. Bynum is not right physically and Powell is a journeyman. Jackson and Hickson, if they play at all, are just an added bonus.

 
At Wednesday, April 29, 2009 1:39:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

an inexclipable aberration....he had a bad game.

 
At Wednesday, April 29, 2009 4:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

I understand that he had a bad shooting game; my point is that he missed a lot of shots that he normally makes. The defense was not better than it was in the other games, he was not injured and he shot very well in the other four games. Hence, this performance was an "inexplicable aberration."

 
At Wednesday, April 29, 2009 4:20:00 PM, Anonymous Jack Bauer(real one) said...

@David Friedman and J
I think that series tell a lot about Chris Paul and David West perceived Toughness. I'm not saying Chris paul is not a great player or that David West is an all star. But I think these guys only act tough to guys that they know will not retaliate against them. Remember last year when David West poked Dirk Nowitzky in his face? I always saw that as a coward move from david west because i know he picks his opponent to act tough with. But look at what Kenyon Martin is doing to him and notice he hasn't retaliate even once. As for Chris Paul, Danthay Jones and Billups are beating him up and he damn sure won't try to cheap shot them like he did to Bowen.
58 points? And I hope columnists stop making excuses for Paul saying he got nobody playing with him because that is a flat out lie, that team has 2 all stars in West and Paul, 2 former all star in Peja and Chandler. and the bench has Rasual Butler, Antonio Daniels and Posey.
=============================
another topic: Perception out there that Stan Van Gundy Panics. WHy is it that when Popovich does it, nobody mentions it but when Stan Van Gundy does it he is panicking or being too emotional?
------------------------------
Isn't it time that the NBA lifts the ban on hand checking? I mean it's not a ban when the officials only call it once in a blue moon right? Boston hand checks and set illegal screens like crazy and officials rarely calls them and boston is hailed as a great defensive team in the process.

 
At Wednesday, April 29, 2009 4:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack Bauer (real one):

You will note that I have never said that CP3 lacks help; I agree with you that this is a bogus statement.

What did Popovich do that makes you think that he panicked?

There is a difference between hand checking and illegal screens. The NBA outlawed handchecking on the perimeter in order to make the game more free flowing. I agree with you that the Celtics set a lot of illegal screens. I actually think that one of the reasons the Celtics miss KG so much is that he is very good at setting screens (legal and otherwise); KG and Perkins just killed the Lakers with their screening in the NBA Finals.

 
At Wednesday, April 29, 2009 5:17:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

David --

My point about Paul was as you guessed -- the Paul has no place in any serious MVP discussion and is notches below LBJ, Kobe & D-Wade.

Also, I am not at all sure that Paul is the best PG -- Deron Williams surely gives him a run, and I think Parker, Billups and (this pains me exceptionally to say it) Rondo are in contention for the best PG right now/this year. But that is another debate entirely, and I confess that I have not rigorously looked at the numbers or watched them with this specific criterion in mind.

I agree about Denver's defense this series owing much to the play of its bigs, esp Martin, Nene & the Birdman. My point about giving Billups some credit was both about his own contributions (he has guarded Paul at times, even if only 30 to 40% of time they're on the court) but also for his leadership and emphasis on defense as the key to playoff success, with his Pistons pedigree crucial to creating buy-in among his teammates. Melo & even JR have played some solid, hustle defense this series, and I think the increased level of defensive concentration may well owe something to Billups & his leadership. This level of team-wide concentration and effort on the defensive end wasn't there for the Nuggets in past playoff series, but it certainly is there now. Crediting Billups is just my hypothesis, but clearly something is different in Denver (who knows, maybe come playoff-time Melo finally got Kobe's Olympic lessons drilled into his head and he has been the real leader, who knows).

PS, as Jack Bauer mentioned, I agree that Boston sets an inordinate # of illegal, moving screens. Virtually every screen KG sets is moving and illegal. Okay, that may be hyperbole, but a substantial percentage of his screens are illegal.

Finally, another off-topic question --

Pierce made his last 5 shots last night, virtually each one a carbon copy of the last. At what point would have you sent a double-team on the guy at top of the key? After 2 or 3 of that exact same move, I would have said -- Hey, if Big Baby Davis or Perkins or Rondo can drain an outside shot, power to 'em. But I am not going to let Pierce beat me.

I was fairly surprised that no effort was made to double or trap Pierce whatsoever. And with Allen out of the game, it's not as though the Celtics were stocked with reliable outside shooters, even if they had spaced out the floor pretty well.

 
At Wednesday, April 29, 2009 7:23:00 PM, Anonymous Jack Bauer said...

@David
On Handchecking:
Watch Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, they hand check a lot. Paul Pierce is slow laterally, how do you think he stays in front of his man if not for hand checking? Ray Allen on the other hand does it right in front of the refs face, i guess last night they had enough and called him on it.
------
I didn't say that Greg Popovich panicks. I said that he is an emotional coach too but when Stan Van Gundy does it, people call him panicky . His magic players said the same thing but that's more a referendum on the type players the magics havve because Spurs players see Pop being hard on them as good for the team.
Shaq too called Stan VG panicky but D.Wade loved him as a coach. Yet again Shaq is the type of player who likes to be cuddled and see a coach being hard on him as disrespectful.
What i was trying to say is that Stan Van Gundy being hard on his team and always pointing out weaknesses instead of strength is viewed as Panicky but Pop does the same thing and he is hailed as a great coach.
---------------------------------
Memo to ESPN analysts:
-Can they stop calling Joe Johnson a superstar? yes he can make shots but he's not a superstar. I blame this on the NBA star system which promote 2nd tier stars as superstars and 3rd tier stars as 2nd grade stars. There's only 7 true franchise players or superstars in this league: C.Paul, Kobe, Wade, Lebron, Howard, KG and Duncan. Roy is knocking on the door. And i dont see Paul Pierce as being among them, yes he is clutch but he can't carry a team by himself
-2-Aren't guys like Ben Gordon, Mo Williams, Ray Allen all better players than guys like Gilbert Arenas and Allen Iverson. Think about it before you think i'm crazy, Both Arenas and Iverson shoot horrible percentage but they score a lot. What people fail to see is that scoring a lot doesn't mean a thing when you shoot less than 45% from the field. WHile guys like Ray Allen, Ben Gordon and Mo Williams don't need to dominate the ball to score the same amount of points and they can shoot better percentage. not to mention they are better defenders than those two.
Isn't this faux NBA star system to blame for this misconception? If i was Ben Gordon I'd try to sign with the Heat, Cavaliers, Magics or Houston.
=============================
Is there a way to fix the NBA star system?

 
At Thursday, April 30, 2009 6:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

Rondo is the best pg this week for sure but that does not make him the best pg in the NBA overall.

I thought that CP3 and DWill were neck and neck until CP3 improved his outside shot and his defense last year; that is why I give CP3 the edge. Also, this year DWill was not healthy and did not play consistently effective basketball for the first portion of the season.

Billups has played well for Denver and, at least in this playoff series, he had a very big impact. I still think that people are too quick to forget that the Nuggets won 50 games last year. If the Nuggets had their current roster but finished behind healthy Spurs, Hornets, Jazz and Mavs teams and had to play a tougher (or at least healthier) first round opponent without homecourt advantage would they still have won a first round series?

What Pierce did illustrated the value of the midrange game (something that Kobe obviously also has and that LeBron needs to improve). It is very difficult to effectively trap a good player in that area without leaving somebody wide open with a very easy shot. Perhaps the Bulls should have tried something else but that is a difficult area of the court to trap someone. Pierce is also very good at driving and at drawing fouls, so sending another defender over could have possibly allowed him to split the trap and maybe even make a layup, instead of shooting a jumper over a contested hand; it's not like Pierce was making easy, uncontested shots.

 
At Thursday, April 30, 2009 6:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack Bauer:

The times that Allen hand checked he was called for fouls, as you noted. Pierce is not explosively quick but he has better lateral mobility than you suggest. I don't think that he is getting away with a lot of hand checking but I'll take another look the next time they play.

There is no way to get around the fact that Popovich has won four championships while Van Gundy has not won any (and his Miami team won a title after he was replaced). I think that Van Gundy is a solid coach but anyone's reputation is going to be impacted by how much he has won and Popovich has won a lot more--and for a lot longer--than Van Gundy has. Popovich's reputation improved with each championship that he won.

I agree with the important distinction you made between franchise players and All-Stars. I had a discussion a while back with someone who insisted that Carmelo Anthony is an elite player but I made much the same point that you just did: there are only about five to seven truly elite players at any one time (and Melo is definitely not one of them).

I would take Ray Allen or Mo Williams over Arenas for sure but it's harder to say with Iverson; Iverson has shown that he can carry a team but he has to have the right situation in terms of the coach and in terms of being surrounded by defensive minded role players. I consider Gordon to be best suited to be a sixth man a la Vinnie Johnson; Gordon is too erratic to be a starter and he is easily the worst defender of the players you listed, so I could not take him over Arenas, though I have my own reservations about Arenas, as I have indicated in previous posts.

 
At Thursday, April 30, 2009 11:31:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

david.....he said himself the defense was there with the different looks they were throwing at him. indeed he said he missed shots he usually makes. he had a bad game.

and ben gordon is a starter. there are plenty of players who start that are erratic who dont score like gordon does.

 
At Thursday, April 30, 2009 5:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

That was probably Kobe's worst playoff shooting performance as a starter, which makes it an aberration. Why do you object to using that word to describe how Kobe played?

Ben Gordon may be better than some NBA starters but is he better than NBA starters on elite teams? That is the question a GM has to ask himself, assuming that his ultimate goal is to win a title. I would not want to be starting a 6-0 (I don't care what his listed height is) shooting guard whose ballhandling skills are questionable and whose defense is non-existent. By bringing Gordon off of the bench it is possible to better control his minutes and to dictate that when he is on the court he has a favorable matchup.

 

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