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Saturday, May 30, 2009

"No Mercy": Bryant Produces, Directs and Stars as Lakers Smash Nuggets

"No mercy," Kobe Bryant instructed his teammates during a second half timeout when the L.A. Lakers already enjoyed a double digit lead over the Denver Nuggets and they followed his advice, rolling to a 119-92 game six victory in the Western Conference Finals to advance to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season. The Lakers are the first team to make it to the Finals in back to back years since the Detroit Pistons did it in 2004 and 2005. As ESPN analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy noted, Bryant's words resonated with the Lakers because Bryant backed up his talk with actions, producing game-high totals in points (35) and assists (10) while also grabbing six rebounds, making all nine of his free throws and authoring symmetrical 6-10 field goal shooting numbers in the first and second halves. Denver Coach George Karl was very impressed by Bryant's game six performance: "No one in basketball could have covered him. He made about four shots in the stretch that I think Jesus would have had trouble covering him."

Bryant had just one turnover in 42 minutes, amazing efficiency for a player shouldering such a heavy scoring, playmaking and ballhandling load but that is nothing new for Bryant; in four of the six games in this series Bryant had exactly one turnover and he averaged just 2.2 tpg in 42.0 mpg overall versus the Nuggets. Bryant had two turnovers or less in 12 of the Lakers' 18 playoff games this season--including back to back games with zero turnovers in a total of 79 minutes--and averaged 2.4 tpg in 40.1 mpg in those games. Bryant averaged 34.0 ppg, 5.8 apg and 5.8 rpg versus Denver in the Western Conference Finals, shooting .481 from the field, .344 from three point range and .931 from the free throw line; his overall averages in the 2009 Western Conference playoffs are 29.6 ppg, 4.9 apg, 5.3 rpg, .466 field goal shooting, .346 three point shooting and .895 free throw shooting. In last year's five game Western Conference Finals victory over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, Bryant averaged 29.2 ppg, 3.8 apg, 5.6 rpg, 2.4 tpg, .533 field goal shooting, .333 three point shooting and .909 free throw shooting in 40.2 mpg; he averaged 31.9 ppg, 5.8 apg, 6.1 rpg, 3.1 tpg, .509 field goal shooting, .295 three point shooting and .814 free throw shooting in 15 Western Conference playoff games in 2008. Bryant has already surpassed the 500 point plateau in this year's playoffs, the fourth time that he has accomplished that feat; only Michael Jordan did this more frequently (eight times).

Bryant is a tremendous leader who has a very high basketball IQ, as anyone can see by watching Spike Lee's Kobe: Doin' Work; Bryant is constantly talking to his teammates and breaking down the game for them, on and off the court. This is very important because, as Mark Jackson said during the game six telecast, sometimes players get tired of hearing from their coach but they will listen to what another player says--as long as he has the game to back up whatever he is talking about. After the big game six win, Bryant said, "We have guys on the team that are very smart basketball players. So I could communicate something to them and they can just take it out on the floor and do it. And we were able to kind of learn on the fly."

Forgive a brief, slightly off topic digression, but isn't it strange how someone who can neither think clearly nor write coherently (hello, John Krolik) ludicrously asserts prior to game seven of the Lakers-Rockets series that this will be the defining moment of Bryant's career but after Bryant and the Lakers prevail over the Rockets that person suddenly loses interest in speaking about Bryant's alleged defining moment? Isn't putting up 35-10-6 in a game that propels the Lakers to the Finals a defining moment? Does writing for ESPN.com's corporate basketball blog and Slam Online's amateur hour commentary section mean that you can only define Bryant by what you expect/hope to be his failures but if he surprises you and succeeds then you simply direct your sloppy grammar and poorly reasoned arguments toward another target?

While Bryant did a Prince-like job of producing, directing and starring in the Lakers' great game six performance, he received strong assistance from co-star Pau Gasol (20 points, 12 rebounds, six assists) and supporting cast members Lamar Odom (20 points, eight rebounds), Trevor Ariza (17 points, four rebounds) and Luke Walton (10 points, three assists). As Bryant mentioned after the game, the timely shooting by his teammates made the Nuggets hesitant to trap Bryant in certain situations and he exploited that by aggressively using one on one moves to create scoring opportunities for himself.

The Lakers' fluctuating effort level has frustrated both their fans and basketball observers in general but the pattern in this year's playoffs has been that the Lakers get the measure of an opponent during the course of a series and then finish that team off; they won the final two games versus Utah in the first round, took two of the final three games versus Houston in the second round and won the last two games versus Denver in the Conference Finals. I've read and heard a lot of crackpot stuff about how Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has lost his touch but the record this year strongly suggests that the Lakers consistently adapt and become more effective over the course of each series and that is a powerful endorsement of his coaching methods.

The Lakers took a 5-0 lead at the start and although the Nuggets were briefly ahead by one point the Lakers led by double digits for more than half of game six. ESPN's Mike Wilbon and Jon Barry strained to fit Bryant's performance into the Procustean bed of their belief that the Lakers are better off when Bryant shoots less often but their postgame narrative did not match what actually happened; they claimed that Bryant somehow conserved energy by being a facilitator early and a "closer" late but Bryant scored 18 points on 6-10 field goal shooting with six assists in the first half and he scored 17 points on 6-10 field goal shooting with four assists in the second half. Barry and Wilbon are also apparently oblivious to the fact that field goal attempt numbers can be skewed by free throw attempts--if a player misses a shot but is fouled that is not counted as a field goal attempt, so in some of the games that Bryant allegedly shot less often and the Lakers won he probably simply went to the free throw line more often.

The only slight adversity that the Lakers faced in game six came when Bryant sat out the first 3:19 of the second quarter: the Lakers went from having a 25-20 first quarter lead to trailing 31-30 when Bryant rejoined the fray. J.R. Smith had come off of Denver's bench to provide a great offensive spark but Bryant--also known as "The Firefighter"--doused that spark before it could become a raging inferno. Mark Jackson said, "I really like what Phil Jackson did: get (Sasha) Vujacic out of the game and put Kobe Bryant on J.R. Smith. This is a situation where you have to treat it like it's game seven. A guy has heated up and somebody has to cool him down."

In addition to his defensive work on Smith, Bryant promptly assisted on a Walton jumper. After Bryant made a nice feed to Gasol (who bobbled the ball but Bryant recovered it and drew a foul), Van Gundy observed, "The guy is such a brilliant passer." Mark Jackson added, "I like that Phil Jackson stood up after that dropped pass by Pau Gasol, yelled at him and said you've got to get tougher. This is playoff basketball." The Lakers slowly but surely pulled away, capped off by a Bryant three pointer four seconds before the halftime buzzer. Carmelo Anthony raced downcourt and it seemed like he was about to score on a coast to coast drive but Bryant leaped up and used his left hand to swat away Anthony's attempt. The Lakers led 53-40 at halftime. Although the Nuggets kept dropping in three pointers in the second half they never mounted a serious charge.

J.R. Smith (24 points on 10-17 field goal shooting and 4-9 three point shooting) is the only Nugget who really played well, though he did not do much other than score (two rebounds, zero assists, one steal, five fouls in 32 minutes). Anthony led the Nuggets with 25 points but he shot just 6-17 from the field and had just two rebounds and two assists. It was in many ways a vintage elimination game performance for him--and that is definitely not a good thing. Some people have tried to elevate Anthony into elite status on the basis of a few good playoff games but elite players get the job done every night at the highest level and he has not come close to proving that he can do that: while Bryant's fingerprints and voice were all over this game Anthony was largely invisible and silent. Anthony deservedly received credit for accepting the defensive challenge versus Bryant earlier in the series but it is far too soon to know if he has really turned the corner at that end of the court; he certainly regressed in game six, as Van Gundy noted after one particularly bad sequence: "Carmelo Anthony started in no man's land and never moved defensively. He wasn't rotating back to the corner, back inside--he was just standing and watching."

Chauncey Billups is an excellent player who had a very good season but it really is something that he has maintained his "Mr. Big Shot" moniker despite repeated individual and collective failures at the Conference Finals level (he also has been less than outstanding in elimination games during his career, shooting worse than .400 from the field). Billups finished with 10 points on 2-7 field goal shooting along with nine assists and five turnovers and he had a -28 plus/minus number, seven points worse than any other player. Last year, Billups' Pistons also lost a sixth game elimination battle at home in the Conference Finals and although he played well in that contest (29 points on 9-20 shooting, six assists, no turnovers) he shot .412 or worse from the field in three straight games in that series, two of which the Pistons lost. In Detroit's seventh game loss to Cleveland in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, Billups had nine points on 3-7 shooting and passed off for just one assist in 44 minutes. The year before that, the Pistons bowed out to Miami in the sixth game of the Eastern Conference Finals as Billups shot 3-14 from the field and finished with nine points and eight assists. That disappointing track record versus elite competition certainly played a role in Joe Dumars' decision to trade Billups, along with the fact that by getting rid of Billups' contract he obtained much greater salary cap flexibility. Here are two interesting sets of numbers:

1) 24.5 ppg, 4.5 apg, 3.0 rpg, 1.8 tpg, .434 field goal percentage, .214 three point field goal percentage, .697 free throw percentage.

2) 18.2 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.8 rpg, 2.3 tpg, .397 field goal percentage, .333 three point field goal percentage, .833 free throw percentage.

Which player's performance would you rate more highly? Player 1 is Allen Iverson as a Nugget versus the Lakers in the 2008 playoffs, while Player 2 is Chauncey Billups as a Nugget versus the Lakers in the 2009 playoffs--and keep in mind that the 2009 Lakers are clearly not as deep or talented as the 2008 Lakers, a team that cruised through the Western Conference playoffs.

Billups did some wonderful things for the Nuggets this season but the biggest change for the team--literally and figuratively--was their rebuilt frontcourt, consisting of a healthy Nene and a healthy Kenyon Martin supplemented by rejuvenated free agent acquisition Chris Andersen; those guys anchored Denver's improved defense. The injuries suffered by the Spurs, Jazz, Rockets, Mavs, Hornets and Suns enabled the Nuggets to jump six spots in the standings even though they only won four more games; owning the second seed provided them not only homecourt advantage but also the opportunity to play depleted teams in the early rounds instead of facing a powerhouse right off the bat. By the end of the Western Conference Finals the idea of Denver being an elite team was exposed as a flawed concept, no matter how politely the Lakers praised the Nuggets in their postgame press conferences; the truth of the matter is that the Lakers diagnosed how the Nuggets play at both ends of the court and started to pick them apart and once the Nuggets faced some adversity they promptly reverted back to their ball-stopping, no-defense ways--and Iverson cannot be the scapegoat this time, nor was Billups able to prevent this from happening. Before you assume that the Nuggets laid the groundwork this season to become a perennial contender, consider how much it will cost to keep the roster intact and remember that NBA history is littered with one year playoff wonders who were never heard from again, ranging from the 1981 Kansas City Kings to the 2007 Golden State Warriors.

While the Nuggets' future is uncertain, it is certain that Bryant kept the Lakers very competitive after the team traded Shaquille O'Neal--pushing the stacked Phoenix Suns to seven games in the 2006 playoffs while playing alongside Kwame Brown and Smush Parker--and as soon as Mitch Kupchak replaced "butter knives" with "guns" Bryant promptly led the Lakers to back to back Finals appearances; if Bryant takes this group to a championship in spite of its noticeably shortened bench and oft-discussed defensive inconsistencies then the last vestige of hope for Bryant haters--that he will fail to win a title without O'Neal--will be destroyed.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:16 AM

21 comments

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21 Comments:

At Saturday, May 30, 2009 9:21:00 AM, Anonymous warsaw said...

"2009 Lakers are clearly not as deep or talented as the 2008 Lakers"

Why David?

They've changed Radmanovic for Ariza, Brown And Bynum.

 
At Saturday, May 30, 2009 11:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, why do you think the lakers team this year is not better than the lakers last year? You have to consider that Ariza and Bynum are now starting whereas last year they were injured. While they have lost Turiaf, the collective effort of Brown and Powell has made up for it. Was it because Sasha and Farmar have not made the same or an improved production?

 
At Saturday, May 30, 2009 2:18:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

Like you, I think many people unfairly discount the value that a player like Iverson brings to a team.

That said, your "statistical" comparison is woefully incomplete, akin to persisting in using batting average rather than on-base % and slugging %. Giving the points per game and shooting % without any context as to the number of attempts involved is practically meaningless. For example, who is better:

Player A:
20ppg FG% 40 FT% 70
Player B:
17ppg FG% 38 FT% 89

To answer that, one needs to know facts like: Is A shooting 70% on, say, 10+ FT/game, or more like 5 FT/game? Likewise, is B's 89% on FTs coming on 10+ FTs a game, or 3-4? Similarly, is B shooting 38% on something like 25 shots a game, or more like 12-15?

Also, you could have added steals -- Billups had 8 in 6 games (1.33/game) and AI had 4 in 4.

I calculated some more meaningful shooting % numbers: effective fG % and true shooting %, to account for 3s and FTs. Here are the numbers:

AI
EFG: 45.2%
TS%: 50.2%

Billups
EFG: 47.3%
TS%: 57.9%

Those numbers help put things in a little better perspective.

Like you, I think much of "advanced" statistics is utter foolishness, as so, so many plays go uncaptured by the box score. That said, one simply cannot make a meaningful evaluation about ppg or plain shooting percentages without knowing the total numbers involved. Wouldn't you prefer a player who made 16 out of 20 FTs to one who made 4 out of 5, even if their FT% is the same?

 
At Saturday, May 30, 2009 3:25:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

By the way -- this is possibly the most absurd article I have ever read:

http://www.slate.com/id/2219254/pagenum/all/
Kobe the Kingmaker
The NBA's ultimate rivalry: Kobe Bryant vs. the Guy Beating Kobe Bryant.
By Tom Scocca

What drives a person to write such gibberish, and Slate to publish it, is beyond me.

 
At Saturday, May 30, 2009 3:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Warsaw/Anonymous:

Last year, Vujacic and Farmar played and shot much better than they have this year. Walton played better last year. Radmanovic may have been a "space cadet" (as Phil Jackson called him) but he also shot .406 from three point range, better than any Laker shot from long distance this season; Fisher came close to that mark in the regular season but is shooting .235 from three point range in the playoffs. Turiaf provided nearly 20 mpg of energy and defense off of the bench. Odom performed much better and much more consistently (by his standards) last year.

Even though Bynum is technically active for this year's playoffs, he has been a bit player and starting him is just a formality so that Odom can play with the second unit. The additions of a healthy Ariza and the newly acquired Shannon Brown do not make up for the declining production of the players listed above and the absences of players like Turiaf and Radmanovic.

 
At Saturday, May 30, 2009 3:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

Do you really think that a difference of .33 spg is a relevant factor in this comparison?

My point is that from the moment Iverson and McDyess were traded for Billups (McDyess of course subsequently re-signed with Detroit), there has been a twin narrative crediting Billups for everything good in Denver and blaming Iverson for everything bad in Detroit--but the reality is much more complex. I have written elsewhere about the numerous reasons that the Pistons struggled this year and do not want to go into that again here. As for Denver, it is important to understand several things:

1) The team only won four more games this season than last season but moved up six spots in the standings due to other teams falling off, with injuries being the primary reason those teams declined.

2) The Nuggets completely revamped their frontcourt by acquiring Andersen and with the return to health of Nene and K Mart.

3) Getting the number two seed accorded the Nuggets the opportunity to not only have homecourt advantage but also to face weaker competition than they have previously faced in the playoffs.

Iverson put up the numbers that I cited against a fully loaded 2008 Lakers team that rolled through the playoffs, beating the defending champion Spurs in five games. Billups faced a weaker Lakers team but put up numbers that are hardly impressive no matter how you slice and dice them--and he completely disappeared in a must win, elimination home game. If Billups receives the lion's share of the credit for "changing the culture" and stabilizing the Nuggets then shouldn't he get a lot of blame for the personal and collective meltdown in game six? Just to be clear, I think that he received too much credit for what happened during the season and should not get all of the blame for game six.

As for a free throw attempts comparison, Iverson averaged a little more than 8 FTA/g versus the Lakers in the 2008 playoffs, while Billups averaged exactly 8 FTA/g.

 
At Saturday, May 30, 2009 4:33:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

The Lakers won 8 more games this year than last year. Gasol now has had the benefit of playing 1.5 seasons in the triangle offense and with his new teammates. The Lakers this year have a fully healthy Trevor Ariza, who really has been playing very well -- in 18 playoff games in nearly 30mpg, he's shooting nearly 56% from the field, %50 from 3-pt land (30 for 60: good bit better than Space Cadet's 40% figure you touted), scoring 11ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.8 topg, and 1.5 spg.

Meanwhile, last year in 21 playoff games Space Cadet put in nearly 23 mpg, scored 8ppg, shot 44%, 37% from 3pt, had 3.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1 topg, and .6 spg.

Ariza's performance this year easily is more valuable than Space Cadet's last year.

This is also a pretty weak defense of the claim that the 2008 Lakers were more talented and deep:

"Last year, Vujacic and Farmar played and shot much better than they have this year. Walton played better last year."Those are the same players (yes a year older, but those guys aren't really at the age where a single year might expectedly produce a decline). If they're playing worse, maybe it's because they're playing better opposition? Those guys didn't put up their #s last year and this year in a vacuum -- they put them up in the context of games against specific opponents, who differed. The players remained the same, and it's rather odd to declare the 2008 outfit better than the 2009 outfit simply because certain players' numbers have declined.

I'd be interested to read a lengthier defense of that assertion that the 2008 squad is deeper and more talented than the 2009 squad, which won 8 more games, has a more integrated Gasol, a productive Ariza, a new 7-footer putting in 17mpg in the playoffs and adding 6+ ppg and 3.6 rpg, and a solid new energetic guard in Brown. Meanwhile, the 2008 group had Space Cadet, and certain role players who were putting up numbers a little better than they are now. Maybe you can make a case the 2008 playoff squad was better than the 2009 squad, but I doubt it and it certainly is not "clear."

 
At Saturday, May 30, 2009 5:02:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

As to AI-Billups discussion, yes, I think .33 spg is relevant: it basically erases the TO deficit from AI's 1.8 tpg to Billups' 2.3 tpg.

Aside from that, you've got Billups shooting the ball a good deal better, as EFG and TS show, putting in 1.5 more apg and nearly 1.0 more rpg, while scoring 6 fewer ppg.

And the improvement in attitude and effort from players like JR Smith in particular and Melo surely owes a good bit Chauncey (I am sure part of Melo's improvement came from the summer in China and time spent with and being teased by the likes Kobe & LeBron). I sincerely, sincerely doubt that an AI-led Nuggets team would have been able to take advantage of the other teams' decline in the West and to get past either the Hornets or the Mavs. Likewise, if Billups were still playing with the Pistons, I very, very much doubt they would have slid to the 8th seed. At worst, they might have fallen to 4th, behind the Cavs, Celtics & Magic.

Obviously, these are all opinions and hypotheticals, and the point of my comment was relatively narrow: statistical comparisons should include and account for the number and types of shots taken (3s, FTs, etc) (and steals ought to be included too, if we're including TOs and making a complete player-to-player comparison).

To give yet another example, in a game two players could each post a 50% fg%, shoot 50% from 3pt land, and each shoot 80% on FTs.

But if A went 5-10 including 1-2 from 3pt and 4-5 from the line, that makes 15 points. If B also shoots 5-10 but that includes 3-6 from 3pt land and 8-10 at the line, that's a significantly better game, producing 21 pts. EFG and TS measure that and show the difference, whereas plain shooting percentages make those performances look identical when they are anything but.

 
At Saturday, May 30, 2009 5:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

I have long since stopped trying to figure out what the editors at ESPN, Slam Online, Slate and many other publications are thinking. The Krolik article, the article about Kobe's scowl, the nonsense Slate article--how can any intelligent editor believe that such garbage is worthy of publication?

As I indicated in another post, one of the things that I most like about the competitive chess circuit is that if you bring weak garbage into that arena you get taken out and it does not matter how many buddies you have in the business.

 
At Saturday, May 30, 2009 6:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

The Lakers' regular season record last season was impacted by the fact that they went through "three seasons," as I noted in a PBN article: a "season" with Bynum sans Gasol, a "season" without either big man and a "season" with Gasol sans Bynum.

My assertion is that the current Lakers roster, as it is performing right now, is not as good or as deep as the Lakers roster was at this time last year. Let's compare the rotations of the two teams. Here are the top 10 players on both teams, listed in order of playoff mpg:

2008:

Bryant
Gasol
Odom
Fisher
Radmanovic
Vujacic
Farmar
Walton
Turiaf
Ariza

2009:

Bryant
Gasol
Odom
Ariza
Fisher
Bynum
Walton
Brown
Farmar
Vujacic

Overview:

In the 2008 playoffs, the Lakers' top eight players played at least 16.8 mpg and they were all productive in their roles. In the 2009 playoffs, the Lakers only have six players playing at least 16.8 mpg; one of those players--Bynum--seems to start every game with two fouls and he has generally been unproductive. Jackson trusts Fisher with 26.8 mpg even though he is shooting terribly and has struggled at times defensively.

Individual Breakdown:

I would say that Bryant is playing at the same high level this year that he played at last year. Gasol disappeared at times in both playoffs but he has perhaps been a little better this year, though his numbers are padded by the meaningless garbage time production in his 30 point game versus Houston. Odom was healthier and able to play longer minutes last year. Fisher was excellent during last year's playoffs but has often been a liability at both ends of the court during this year's playoffs. Radmanovic, Vujacic, Farmar and Walton shot between .372 and .423 from three point range in the 2008 playoffs. This year, Radmanovic is gone and Vujacic, Farmar and Walton have been very inconsistent, which is why Jackson has not trusted them and thus shifted them down in the rotation.

Clearly, Ariza is healthier and more productive than he was last year. Brown--the 13th man on Cleveland's Finals team in 2007--has been a nice addition. However, those two bright spots do not outweigh the loss of Turiaf and Radmanovic plus the declining production of Fisher, Farmar, Vujacic and Walton.

I thought that the Lakers' bench was a bit overrated even last year but I would take the way last year's group performed over the way that this year's group performed. As for the starting lineup, Ariza is an upgrade over Radmanovic but Bynum as a starter is not as productive as Odom was as a starter last year.

The overall net effect is that the Lakers are not as deep as they were last year.

 
At Saturday, May 30, 2009 6:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

The Pistons changed coaches, suffered through more injuries and lineup changes than usual and just did not play with their usual fire. They were without McDyess--their leading rebounder last season and this season--for a month. Perhaps the Pistons would have been a little better with Billups than with Iverson this year but the point is that Dumars realized that this group was not going to win a title so he started the rebuilding process by freeing up cap room. Denver generated a lot of excitement by winning a couple playoff rounds but their cap situation is not good and they still are not a legit title contender, as shown by their disappearing act at home in an elimination game. I think that given the overall situation in the West the Nuggets certainly could have won 54 games with Iverson. Would the Nuggets then have won two playoff series? Billups played at a much higher level in those series than he did during the regular season, so for the Nuggets to advance with Iverson he would have had to do the same. We have seen Iverson take over playoff games and playoff series, so it is possible that he could have done so.

I understand your general point about the stats but the reality is that Iverson averaged more points versus the Lakers than Billups did, so your hypothetical shooting examples are not relevant here. All I am saying is that the comparison between Iverson and Billups versus the Lakers in the playoffs is a lot closer than many people would probably suspect. Some people are acting like Iverson is not even in the same league as Billups but neither the numbers nor the eye test confirmed this during the Lakers series.

Billups clearly had a positive impact on Denver but Karl had been planning to emphasize defense even before the trade; after several years of focusing on offense, he realized--prodded by assistant coach Grgurich--that this was not working.

 
At Saturday, May 30, 2009 6:49:00 PM, Anonymous Jack B. said...

David,
I don't agree with your part about Allen Iverson and Billups. Stats don't tell the whole story. Billups make Denver's offense less stagnant as the ball moves more with him at the point. Again, Iverson might be the most overrated "great" player in the history of this league. This is not a knock on him, it's just the truth. Chauncey on the other hand was killing everybody before this series. You forgot to mention that Kobe was the one that was guarding him. Kobe didn't guard Iverson lasty year and this year whenever Fisher would switch on Billups, he'd kill Fisher. Brown also is a better defender by far than Fisher too(last year and this year). So the whole argument about Iverson's stats do not hold up. A.I is a balls movement stopper and when that happens, other players tend to follow suit which why Lakers so easily dispatched them last year. Not to mention Billups is a much much better defender.

On Vlad Radmanovich
Again I don't agree there. Ariza is shooting over 50% from 3pt this playoffs. he is a better defender and is 2 steps faster than Vlade. Not to mention he makes less mental mistakes than Vlade. they ddin't call him space cadet for no reason. If lakers had Vlade, do you think he makes those 2 plays in game 1 and game 3 that sealed those games??

on Turiaf.
This one i agree. Ronny is by far a better player than Powell. Powell is surprisingly weak for a player his height and size. Turiaf also finishes better around the basket than Powell. Defensively Turiaf is better too as he is more physical. Turiaf never try to get his points whenever lakers were up by double digits like Powell has done all season.

Shannon Brown.
He wasn't here last year and without him I don't think lakers make it to the finals because Phil Jackson has trusted him more than he does Farmar during this postseason. I never saw him coming. it's amazing how much Phil Jackson(n Kobe) gets out of players whom Pundits said were horrible players. Jeff Van Gundy talked about this last night, saying how Ariza has improved by leaps and bounds playing with Kobe.

On Sasha Vujacic
What would you do to get him out of his slump? Is it normal for a good shooter like Vujacic to struggle so bad with his shot? If you were him wouldn't try to call Ray Allen and ask him how he got out of his slump? I think Lakers might lose him mentally if they dont do something for him. You can see it even affects the way he plays defense.

On John Hollinger
He's at it again. Since he picked stats to say that Denver would beat Lakers in 6. he wrote another article basically blaming denver's mental mistakes for not winning this series. His whole prediction was based on Denver's production for the post season and their point diff.(scored points vs points allowed). He never factored in intangibles such as coaching, star players, weaknesses or experience.

on Jerry West
Why do you think Jerry kinda backtracted from what he said on the Kobe-Lebron thing? I think Kobe did take it to heart because West is one of the few people kobe respects and would listen to so comin from West, i can see how kobe took it.

 
At Sunday, May 31, 2009 4:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack B:

Iverson carried Philly to the Finals and he has authored numerous great playoff performances. He is an exceptional player.

Billups got the opportunity to "kill" lesser teams because the Nuggets moved up in the standings and played lower seeded teams. The Nuggets only improved by four games with Billups but they moved up six places in the standings. If Iverson had been in Denver this year he may very well have "killed" those teams also, albeit in a different fashion since he does not shoot threes the way that Billups does.

If the Lakers had had Vlade he obviously would not have made two game-saving steals but he may have made some three pointers earlier in the games to give the Lakers a bigger cushion. Anyway, they could have had both Ariza and Radmanovich if they so desired but they traded Radmanovich for Adam Morrison--who has hardly played--in order to save money. Brown was a throw-in in that deal and they are fortunate that he has turned out to be a productive player or their bench would really be thin now.

You kind of answered your own question about shooting slumps when you noted that even future HoFer Ray Allen has suffered through some shooting slumps. Vujacic needs to just keep working on his game and he should not force shots but take his opportunities within the natural flow of the game.

It is silly to be surprised that mental mistakes cost Denver; the Nuggets have a roster full of players who are known to make such errors, so that should have been factored into any prediction. Indeed, that is part of the reason that I picked the Lakers. I referred to this as the "knucklehead factor."

I am not sure what West's motivations were but he is very close to Kobe so after West reconsidered his remarks he probably did not want to insult someone who views him almost as a father figure.

 
At Sunday, May 31, 2009 4:22:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

If the Lakers had had Vlade he obviously would not have made two game-saving steals [like Ariza did] but he may have made some three pointers earlier in the games to give the Lakers a bigger cushion.Unlikely. You need to accept that Ariza has been shooting the 3-pt shot extremely well this post-season: he is 30 for 60 so far. In the 2008 playoffs, Space Cadet shot 29 for 78 (http://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/NBA_2008_leaders.html). Ariza has already made more 3s pre-Finals than Space Cadet did all last post-season, in 18 fewer attempts.

Ariza is also a vastly, vastly superior defender compared to Space Cadet. I strongly doubt Jackson would have employed Vlad on Melo (esp with the more driving/penetration focus Melo had for much of these playoffs, compared to past preferences for chucking up jumpers) for any significant time in this series. Melo certainly had some very strong outings against Ariza at times, but Ariza also had stretches where he played Melo very effectively as well.

The 2009 Lakers are a stronger unit, possibly much more so, than the 2008 vintage. Perhaps after you preview the finals, you can put together a post justifying that odd assertion that the 2008 Lakers were "clearly" deeper and more talented than this year's squad.

 
At Sunday, May 31, 2009 5:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

Ariza is making three pointers because teams are sagging off of him and daring him to shoot. It will be interesting to see what he does if/when teams play him more straight up; Radmanovic is a pure shooter and when he was on the court teams were less likely to leave him, so that provided more space for Kobe (or Gasol) to operate.

Anyway, I already said that Ariza is an upgrade over Radmanovic--that does not change the fact that Fisher, Farmar, Vujacic, Walton and Odom are not playing as well as they did last year. You can't just say that the Lakers have the same players plus they added Ariza so therefore they are deeper. Each season is a separate entity and, for whatever reason, the guys listed above simply are not performing as well as they did last year.

 
At Sunday, May 31, 2009 6:22:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

you can't just say that the Lakers have the same players plus they added ArizaThat's why I've also pointed to Bynum and Brown! And to Gasol enjoying a full season of the triangle! Brown has been effective, and even if Bynum's numbers haven't been terribly impressive (and you and I both know that the numbers do not necessarily capture value-added perfectly), having an extra seven-footer to patrol the lane and take some tough fouls on people (Yao, Nene, K Martin, Melo on drives, etc) is certainly valuable.

The 2008 Lakers had Space Cadet, Turiaf (who averaged less than 10 mpg in the playoffs) and a newly-acquired Gasol.

The 2009 Lakers switch in a much superior Ariza for cadet, plus a more acclimated Gasol, an additional seven-footer in Bynum (averaging 17 mpg in the playoffs), and then Brown too. As is clear, Ariza is far superior player to space cadet, and Bynum is far more valuable than Turiaf as well: Bynum's playing 17mpg to Turiaf's sub-10 mpg, Turiaf scored 38 *total* playoff points (Bynum has 114), and Turiaf grabbed 27 rebounds to Bynum's 65 so far.

The players you mention -- Fisher, Farmar, Vujacic, Walton and Odom -- were on both squads! That you think they are not playing as well right now certainly does not make the 2009 squad "clearly" less deep and talented than the 2008 squad that contained those same players! Again, as I have said, their performances this year & last year did not occur in a vacuum: maybe the 09 Nuggets and 09 Rockets were better teams than the 08 Spurs and 08 Jazz, and those players' numbers have declined because of the opposition.

Basically, if you want to argue that the 2008 Lakers were playing better basketball than the 2009 Lakers, that may be a tenable argument. But those players' poor performances do not make the 2009 team "clearly" not as deep or talented as the 2008 team, on which they also played. Especially when Ariza and Bynum offer so much more than did the players they effectively replaced, space cadet & Turiaf.

 
At Sunday, May 31, 2009 11:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

Bynum is averaging 6.3 ppg and 3.6 rpg in the playoffs. He hardly has been an impact player thus far. Perhaps he will be in the Finals and then we can have this conversation again but up to this point he has not done much.

You keep bringing up the Ariza-Radmanovic comparison but I already agreed with you about that one.

As for Fisher-Farmar-Vujacic-Walton, you are deluding yourself if you think that they are the same players this season that they were last season. Each of them performed worse in the regular season this year than last year and each of them has struggled to varying degrees in this year's playoffs. I'm not sure if you are focusing on past performance or what you believe these players' potential to be but all I am talking about is what level these players have played at this season--particularly in the playoffs.

The very fact that the Lakers are depending so heavily on Brown--the 13th man on the Cavs' 2007 Finalists--proves that the Lakers are not as deep this year. Do you think that Brown would have been getting minutes over Farmar or Vujacic last season? I think that Brown's success says more about the advantages of playing alongside Kobe than anything else; just about anyone looks better playing with Kobe than he would look in a different situation. Ask Kwame and Smush about that.

I would definitely take the 2008 Spurs--defending NBA champions--and 2008 Jazz (who had a healthy Boozer) over the 2009 Rockets and 2009 Nuggets. The Lakers faced stronger competition in the West last season, which is another reason their regular season record was better this season (in addition to having Gasol for the entire year).

Every year is different. Players get older, they get hurt, things change. Farmar had knee surgery this season and does not seem to have fully recovered. It is not clear what happened to Vujacic's shot but he is not the same player this year that he was last year.

 
At Sunday, May 31, 2009 11:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

lakers better this year than last because of experience ariza bynum kobe playing same level and last year vcacic was better farmar was as well but nuggets and rockets were better than lakers the spurs last year was better than spurs this year.

 
At Sunday, May 31, 2009 11:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

The experience factor should be helpful in the Finals for guys like Gasol, Odom, Farmar and Vujacic who made their first trip to the Finals last year and should play significant minutes this year. Ariza did not play much in the Finals last year, though the experience probably counts for something. Brown was not on the team and Bynum did not play at all due to injury, so they have no Finals experience (except for a cameo that Brown made in the 2007 Finals with Cleveland).

I'm still taking the 2008 Spurs and 2008 Jazz over the 2009 Nuggets and Rockets. The Spurs were the defending champions, while the Jazz had made it to the Conference Finals the year before. If the Jazz had been healthy this season they would have won more games than the Nuggets; they were without key All-Star players for extended stretches and still finished just six games behind Denver.

 
At Monday, June 01, 2009 1:56:00 PM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

David, I think that Gasol's decisions in the post were another huge factor in the Lakers' win in Game 6, something that was not mentioned in your recap.

The Lakers threw it into Pau in his post spot in the triangle, and Pau did admirably, even though he did not score many points from there, he made some good passes that kept the offense flowing, and the defense on its heels.

Although Gasol did not receive a lot of "statistical" benefits for his decision making, it still benefited the Lakers greatly, in addition to the the things you already wrote about.

 
At Monday, June 01, 2009 8:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Free Cash Flow:

I mentioned Gasol's performance in the post. However, Kobe was the central figure, as Mark Jackson noted when he talked about getting Vujacic out of there and putting Kobe on J.R. Smith. Gasol's job is made much easier by playing alongside Kobe; Gasol did not win a single playoff game until teaming up with Kobe, so while I respect and appreciate Gasol's skill set I think that it is important to make it clear that Gasol is a secondary player, not a primary player. If Gasol were receiving the defensive attention that Kobe does he would not be able to play at such a high level.

 

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