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Monday, June 08, 2009

Lakers Edge Magic in Overtime to Take 2-0 Lead

It was neither easy nor pretty but the Lakers displayed just enough grit, savvy and clutch play to defeat the Orlando Magic 101-96 in overtime to take a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 29 points and eight assists, adding four rebounds and two steals, but he also had seven turnovers in a game-high 48:30. Pau Gasol contributed 24 points and 10 rebounds; he scored seven of the Lakers' 13 overtime points, including a key three point play on a feed from Bryant to put the Lakers up 97-91 with 1:14 remaining. Lamar Odom made his presence felt with 19 points on 8-9 field goal shooting, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Foul trouble limited starter Andrew Bynum to 16:24, so Odom played 45:43. Derek Fisher also did a solid job with 12 points, shooting 2-3 from three point range. The Lakers did not receive many contributions from other players--Trevor Ariza played good defense but shot just 3-13 from the field--but what their "Big Four" gave them proved to be enough. Although the Lakers are frequently referred to as a deep team, their four double figure scorers each played at least 41:04 in this game and three of the five reserves who saw action played six minutes or less. Odom is essentially a starter in everything but name or--more precisely--he is a finisher, since he gets the bulk of the minutes alongside Gasol instead of Bynum and is usually on the court in crunch time; therefore, the Lakers have a strong top five consisting of Bryant, Gasol, Odom, Fisher and Ariza but their reserves (Bynum, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Shannon Brown) are not making huge contributions, though Bynum was effective in game one and Brown played well at times in earlier playoff series.

Bryant's seven turnovers tied his playoff-high this season; oddly, in four of his past six playoff games Bryant has had exactly one turnover but in the other two games (game six versus Denver and game two versus Orlando) he had seven. Bryant had eight assists in each of his seven turnover games and the Lakers won on both occasions. The Lakers are riding a four game playoff winning streak during which Bryant has averaged 31.5 ppg, 8.5 apg and 5.8 rpg while shooting .494 from the field and .919 from the free throw line. It says a lot about just how well he has played during his career (and during these playoffs in particular) that both Bryant and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said that game two was not a great performance by Bryant's standards--the latter qualifier being the key component of that statement. However, ABC commentator Jeff Van Gundy insisted that "great plays by Kobe Bryant down the stretch" played a vital role in the Lakers' win; Bryant shot 10-22 from the field and 8-10 from the free throw line, scoring 23 of his points after halftime. By my count, Bryant shot 8-14 on midrange shots; his ability to consistently make those shots--the one skill set attribute that LeBron James has yet to master--is why Bryant is particularly deadly in the playoffs because it forces even the best defensive teams to make the unenviable choice between being torched by Bryant or else sending a big to contest his shot, which then frees up Gasol or Odom on the inside (this is exactly what happened on the key possession in overtime, when Bryant dished to Gasol for the three point play that put the Lakers up six and all but sealed the win).

Rashard Lewis led the Magic with a game-high 34 points, setting a playoff career-high and establishing a new franchise record for most points scored in a Finals game. He also had 11 rebounds and a playoff career-high seven assists while shooting 12-21 from the field, including 6-12 from three point range. Hedo Turkoglu added 22 points, six rebounds and four assists. After Mickael Pietrus fouled out, Turkoglu played very solid defense on Bryant, using his length to contest Bryant's shots and even forcing a few turnovers by stripping the ball from Bryant or getting Bryant off balance by using his size. Dwight Howard had a very unusual stat line: 17 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, four steals, four blocked shots, seven turnovers. The only other player in NBA playoff history to amass at least 15 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, four steals and three blocked shots in one game is Hakeem Olajuwon but Howard's turnovers were costly; while Bryant had a lot of dead ball turnovers (balls that were thrown out of bounds, deflected off of his body, etc.), Howard lost the ball in live ball situations that enabled the Lakers to push the ball up the court in transition or semi-transition. Every turnover obviously signifies a lost possession but any good coach will tell you that live ball turnovers are worse than dead ball turnovers because of the pressure that the live ball turnovers put on your transition defense.

Other than their "Big Three," the only Magic player who made more than one field goal was J.J. Redick, who scored five points on 2-9 shooting in 27 minutes. Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy called Redick's number out of desperation more than anything else: Point guards Rafer Alston (1-8) and Jameer Nelson (1-3) combined to shoot 2-11 from the field, so Van Gundy experimented with various lineups, including using Turkoglu as his playmaker when Redick was nominally the point guard but was really in the game purely to space the court and make open shots (which he failed to do overall, though he did nail a big three pointer to tie the score at 84 with 2:21 left in regulation). Van Gundy joked after the game that he has pretty much exhausted every possible lineup combination at his disposal other than the super huge quintet of Howard, Lewis, Turkoglu, Marcin Gortat and Tony Battie (each of whom is at least 6-9). That may seem like a humorous throwaway line in a postgame press conference but if you really think about that what it means is that the Magic are really struggling to figure out how to match up with the Lakers; Orlando's shooting guards are too small to offer much resistance to Bryant, their point guards are neither making shots nor creating shots for others and the Lakers have prevented Howard from having a breakout offensive game.

The first quarter featured some of the ugliest, most disjointed play in Finals history, culminating in a 15-15 tie--the lowest combined first quarter scoring total in the NBA Finals during the shot clock era, which began in 1954-55. The Magic committed eight turnovers, while Odom was the high scorer with just five points. In the second quarter the Lakers began to find their rhythm offensively, while the Magic continued to struggle--except for Lewis. After the game, Bryant said, "We blew a lot of assignments tonight" and you can bet that right at the top of that list were the numerous times that Odom inexplicably allowed Lewis to roam unchecked behind the three point line; Lewis scored 18 of Orlando's 20 second quarter points, making four three pointers and singlehandedly keeping the Magic in the game during the first half. During that run, Odom played what basketball aficionados might call "Carmelo Anthony defense" (or at least the defense that Anthony has played for the greater part of his career, though to be fair it must be noted that Anthony made strides at that end of the court this season): on several occasions Odom was neither close enough to Howard to form an effective trap nor was he within range to contest Lewis' shots. ABC commentators Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy rightly noted that Odom was truly in "La La land." There is a tendency to forget or discount what happened in the second quarter of a game that ultimately went to overtime but the reality is that without those "missed assignments" the Lakers would have had a double digit halftime lead instead of only being up 40-35. After the game, Coach Jackson mentioned that the Lakers need to get at least 20 good minutes out of Bynum, in part because they like using Gasol against Lewis defensively; when Bynum is on the bench then Gasol has to check Howard and Odom ends up chasing Lewis around on the perimeter. Despite all of the breathless talk about Odom's versatility--and he certainly played a good game overall and has played well in the past four games--his best skill set attribute is his ability to rebound, so the downside of having him guard Lewis is not only that Odom is not used to chasing perimeter players through screens but also that this takes Odom away from the paint, although in this game both Lewis and Odom rebounded well.

In the third quarter the Lakers did a better job checking Lewis but Turkoglu got loose for 14 points as the Magic enjoyed their best quarter of the series (30 points) to take a 65-63 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter was tightly contested, featuring several ties and lead changes, with neither team going up by more than three points. Howard, who shot 7-9 from the free throw line, made a pair of free throws to put Orlando ahead 81-79 with 4:13 left in the fourth quarter. Bryant split a pair of free throws at the 3:35 mark but after that the Lakers made their final 13 free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime, including four by Bryant to put the Lakers up 84-81. Redick answered with his clutch three pointer and then Lewis made a running bank shot to give Orlando an 86-84 lead with just 1:33 left. In the next minute, Bryant, Turkoglu and Gasol each hit shots. After Courtney Lee missed a layup, the Lakers had the ball with 9.1 seconds left and the score tied at 88. Bryant drove past Turkoglu into the lane but Turkoglu recovered and blocked Bryant's jumper from behind. Turkoglu controlled the rebound and the Magic called timeout with .6 seconds remaining. Then, after the Magic used a second timeout when they could not inbound the ball, Turkoglu threw an inbounds pass from halfcourt to Lee underneath the basket, but Lee's layup attempt dribbled off of the rim as Gasol came over with a late contest; Lee got open thanks to a very solid backscreen set by Lewis at the free throw line against Bryant, who admitted after the game that he had been leaning toward the perimeter, expecting the Magic to try to get an open look for one of their three point shooters.

The overtime started out like the first quarter in miniature, as neither team scored in the first 1:23. Gasol broke the ice with a pair of free throws but Howard countered with a three point play to put Orlando up 91-90. After the teams traded misses, Bryant hit a tough runner to put the Lakers ahead for good--but their lead was still tenuous until they got some breathing room by returning to the action that was so effective for them in game one, the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll action. Bryant used Gasol's screen to get free just to the right of the lane, while Gasol cut straight to the hoop down the middle of the lane, remaining parallel with Bryant; this was crucially important, as Bryant noted after the game: he and Gasol had talked about how to time this play perfectly to force Howard to either commit to stopping Bryant or else stay at home on Gasol, which would give Bryant an unfettered path to the hoop. Howard elected to confront Bryant, so Bryant delivered a slick feed to Gasol, who converted a three point play to make the score 97-91. The Magic pulled to within 99-96 after a left corner three pointer by Lewis with :26.2 left--using the same out of bounds play that they used to force overtime versus the Cavaliers in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals-- but Odom closed out the scoring by making two free throws.

The series now shifts to Orlando for at least two games (three if the Magic get at least one win). In response to a question about whether the Lakers could continue to put forth the energy that they did in the first two games at home, Bryant declared, "We're about to kick it up. You better believe it. We're close. You see what I'm saying? This is the Finals. We're going to be ready to go."

Naturally, the postgame press conferences would not be complete without questions about Bryant's facial expressions and general demeanor. Someone asked Bryant if he would smile now that the Lakers have a 2-0 lead and Bryant looked at the guy as if he should be committed to an insane asylum before stating flatly: "The job is not finished."

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:00 AM

16 comments

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16 Comments:

At Monday, June 08, 2009 4:41:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

After this game, all the more I believe LA will take this series sooner than later, most probably a sweep. Even though game 2 was close the things that really impressed me, the Lakers defended well the Magic's inside-out, pick and roll and transition plays which killed Cavs in their series. Even at Game 2, SVG is still scrambling with his personnel to match the Lakers 4Q line-up - related to this I think that playing Jameer this series has really messed up their chemistry, if not Alston's confidence. I expect Kobe to be more aggressive come Game 3 I just hope the others will give their all as well. Do you think there is really a home court advantage against this Lakers team?

Job

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 7:28:00 AM, Anonymous Jack B. said...

David,
what's with ESPn saying that Turkgolu did a good job defensively on Kobe when he only had that "one" block from behind on KB? Kb raised over him and buried jumpers just as he had done with Pietrus or Lee.

on Lakers D: why is ESPN also blaming Magic's inexperience instead of crediting Lakers'Defense? most of the magics turnovers were forced by the Lakers. If it wasn't Lewis, the magics would have been blown out.

on SVG: do you think jameer nelson's return has thrown the team's chemistry out of whack? We can call him panicky all we like but this dude knows how to write a play. If that Lee alley-oop had gone threw, Magics would have gained all momentum.

on Shaq: Word is that Shaq he's trying to get back to L.A. Isn't this ironic? If Shaq had Dwight Howard's work ethic, he might as have won more championships and his lack of work ethic was Kobe's main beef with Shaq. But i dont think Lakers would have him back though mainly because Kobe wouldn't have it and Shaq would eventually become jealous of Andrew.

On Refs:
I was listenin to ESPNradio this morning and Mike and Mike was talking about Phantom fouls on Kobe. That's why i don't like guys who knows nothing about basketball talk about it. They never talked about Howard's goaltend of Pau's dunk, The cal that said KB kneed the ball out of bounds which went against the lakers.

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 11:56:00 AM, Anonymous Luis2 said...

good comments again. Agree that Odom's game was much less good than it would seem by looking at the boxscore (or at his offensive game, which was outstanding).

Kobe indeed had a good game by anybody's standards except his; again he made some tough shots against good defense. But he had two key turnovers (and five others) and his defensive mistake at the end of regulation could easily have cost the Lakers the game.

Again lost in your comments is Gasol's game, for good and bad. His defense on Howard (and in general) was not as good as in the previous game; particularly, he was less active in denying Howard the ball, and that created some defensive imbalances for the Lakers (compounded by the blown assignments you mention). This was an important part of Orlando's fluidity on offense (plus the missed assignments plus just greater accuracy by Orlando's shooters), and a fundamental reason why the game was close (again, it's not all about Bryant).

But after a terrible first quarter Gasol had a great offensive game, made shots, received several fouls, and converted 10 of 11 free throws. Most of these shots/FTs came in clutch time. And he got 10 rebounds, nothing to scoff at given Orlando's length and the presence of a rebounding monster in Howard.

Can you imagine if Gasol (or Odom or Bynum) had had two key turnovers in the last few minutes and missed a defensive assignment in the last second of regulation, leaving their guy completely open below the hoop? Or if Bryant had made practically all his shots and FTs in the 4th quarter and overtime? Your summary would be all about Bryant being "clutch" and his teammates making boneheaded plays. Obviously as the go-to guy making plays is much more difficult (more defensive attention etc), so there is a certain asymmetry here. But I still think that Bryant's teammates (Gasol particularly) deserve much more respect.

Lastly, in that key "and one" play you mention, you are right that Bryant was the creator; as you say, it would not have happened if Kobe did not have that deadly midrange shot. But Gasol not only played it perfectly up until receiving Bryant's pass; he then proceeded to switch hands in traffic and score while he was being fouled (and making the FT). How many 7-footers in the NBA could do that? Very few if any I think.

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 12:57:00 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

David: What did you think of Orlando's decision to foul when down by 3 with 27 seconds left in overtime? Granted, if they didn't foul, then LA might just hold the ball for 24 seconds. But if you do foul, then there is a very high probability that LAL will make at least one free throw, thus making it a two-possession game, even if you foul a 62% FT shooter like Lamar Odom, as they did. Granted, neither strategy (foul immediately, vs. try for a defensive stop) will likely lead you to a win, but what do you think about the relative merits?

I recognize that Orlando actually did not foul immediately, but initially tried for a steal in the backcourt, then waited until after LAL had crossed the half-court line to foul. I'm glad they waited initially, but I think they should have continued trying for a steal/stop.

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 1:12:00 PM, Anonymous Mike Smrek said...

In the post game conferences, the Magic players and coaches talked about eliminating TOs as if its just a thing they can switch on and off. But when they choose to go big with Gorchat & Howard together, or when they initiate offense with a SF, or when they go an entire quarter without a PG, that's the risk they take (of the 20 turnovers, 12 were steals). Those tactics might make sense for other reasons, but beware of unintended consequences.

Unintended consequences also explains Lee's miss at the end of regulation. Sure, it was easy to get him open, but that's because he was the worst, smallest, least experienced Magic player on the court. The margin for error is much smaller than if its Howard or Lewis and, sure enough, Hedo's pass was a line drive (a real lob would've been intercepted by Gasol) and Lee raced to catch it, but his lateral speed and the ball's location meant that Lee caught it under the basket and had to fight his momentum to bring the ball back and jam it off the backboard. The amazing thing wasn’t that he missed, it was that he got a decent shot off. Kobe would’ve had trouble with that pass.

Nice to see those early moving screen calls. If that’s called consistently in the 2008 finals, the Lakers are going for back to back titles.

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 3:32:00 PM, Anonymous yogi said...

That was a weird game.

Carmelo anthony has started to play some honest defense so you'll have to find somebody else to knock. You can try Odom - maybe he needs more sugar to keep him awake on defense?

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 4:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Job:

Sweeps are relatively rare in Finals history, occurring at a rate of a little more than one per decade. Obviously, it is possible that the Lakers will win in a sweep but I don't expect that to happen.

I think home court advantage has an impact regardless of which teams are involved. The Lakers are an excellent road team, so I think that they will win at least one and possibly two games in Orlando but the Lakers' ancillary players will not play as well in Orlando while the Magic will play better at home; in particular I expect that the Magic will get better play from the point guard position (Alston and/or Nelson).

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 4:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack B:

Turkoglu did a good job against Kobe; he largely kept him out of the paint, he contested Kobe's shots, he forced some turnovers and he got that key block at the end of regulation. He didn't shut down Kobe and Kobe did make what was in effect the game winning shot in overtime but Turkoglu's length and size posed some challenges for Kobe.

I can't say why some people emphasize one thing over the other. I think that both the Lakers' good defense and Orlando's inexperience were factors. Rather than speculating about why something happened, my posts focus on explaining what happened and how it happened.

The Nelson situation is awkward. As JVG said, if any other All-Star were healthy enough to return no one would question playing him. I guess this just shows that many people don't really think of Nelson as an All-Star. There is no question that adding Nelson to the rotation has thrown the Magic out of whack; it has changed the minutes/roles of several players. This reminds me of when the Blazers acquired Detlef Schrempf in the middle of the season nearly a decade ago. Schrempf was a very good player but adding him to the roster made the frontcourt rotation overcrowded and messed up the chemistry of a team that had made it to the WCF the year before and was in contention for the best record in the league before Schrempf arrived. I'm not sure what the Magic should do with Nelson; as I said, the situation is awkward. However, as I indicated above, I would not be shocked if Nelson plays well in Orlando and possibly even is a key player in an Orlando win.

There is no way that Shaq will play for the Lakers again.

There were not any "phantom fouls" on Kobe; if a defender makes contact and gains an advantage, that is a foul. The biggest missed call was when Howard stuck his hand through the rim in the first quarter and goaltended. Imagine if the Lakers had lost in regulation as a result of that!

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 4:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luis2:

I think that Odom is a sensitive player in some regards, so it makes good sense for Jackson and Kobe to publicly praise him. I'm sure that in private meetings the team will straighten out the missed defensive rotations. Odom did a lot of positive things during the game.

Lewis set a solid screen on Kobe, so I'm not sure if it is fair to say that Kobe made a defensive mistake. Gasol did a great job of reading the play and rotating over to protect the hoop.

I thought that Gasol played well at both ends of the court and I indicated this in the post.

There is no honest way of getting around the fact that Kobe is the best player on the Lakers and that much of what they do centers around him. Why try to avoid that truth? I realize that a lot of writers prefer to write offbeat, non-orthodox stories but my method is simply to watch the game and write what I see. My Cavs' recaps could be called "LeBron-centric" but that is because LeBron is in fact the central player on the Cavs. The same thing is true of Wade, Paul and the handful of other elite players.

I explained in detail that the key three point play involved great chemistry between Kobe and Gasol, so I disagree with your contention that I did not give Gasol enough respect in that regard. Gasol has great hands and is a very skilled big man, as I have mentioned many times. That said, why do you suppose that he had not won a single playoff game until he played with Kobe? Why is Gasol's field goal percentage so much higher as a Laker? For that matter, after being in the league for so many years why did Gasol suddenly decide to hit the weights and become a stronger, more aggressive player? Gasol has transformed his game and even his body since becoming Kobe's teammate. If anything, that story has been vastly underplayed in the media and my articles provide just a small corrective to that oversight. In the first half of the 2008 season, Kobe had the Lakers at or near the top of the West with Bynum as his main big guy. Then after Bynum got hurt, the Lakers brought in Gasol and did not miss a beat, which is hard to do from a chemistry standpoint (even though Gasol is obviously more talented that Kwame). Kobe had the Lakers in the playoffs with Kwame at center and Smush at point guard.

To act as if Kobe is not the primary story regarding the Lakers is very pretentious and just flat-out wrong.

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 4:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bhel Atlantic:

As JVG noted during the telecast, the differential between the shot clock and game clock was too small to risk playing things straight up. If the Magic had not fouled then you can be sure that Kobe would have run the clock all the way down and shot a high arcing shot just before the shot clock expired--by the time the ball hit the rim (avoiding a shot clock violation that would reset the clock) the game would have been over.

The Magic actually played that situation perfectly; they tried to get the steal, then they tried to force an eight second violation and finally they fouled the worst free throw shooter on the court. If they would have waited any longer then Odom would have passed the ball back to Fisher or Kobe and the Magic would have been forced to foul a superior free throw shooter with even less time remaining.

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 5:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Mike Smrek:

You make a valid point that playing those unconventional lineups may have increased Orlando's turnover rate but don't forget that their All-NBA center had seven turnovers and that they committed eight turnovers in the first quarter with their conventional lineup.

A team can limit turnovers to some extent by controlling which players handle the ball and by emphasizing the importance of not making "high risk, low reward" decisions.

You are right that if Boston's moving screens had been more strictly policed in the 2008 Finals then the Lakers would have had a better chance to win; KG and Perk repeatedly helped Pierce and Allen get open by setting such screens.

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 5:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Yogi:

"Weird" is a very apt description of game two.

I made a parenthetical note that Melo's defense did improve this season, though I still think that he was more attentive when he was assigned to Kobe during the playoffs than he was for most of the season or even in the earlier playoff rounds. For years, Melo's "specialty" has been standing around doing nothing in particular on defense; I don't think I've ever seen another player--certainly not one as good as he is--so frequently stand in one place guarding no one even while his other four teammates are in full defensive rotation.

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 7:23:00 PM, Anonymous Luis2 said...

thanks for the answer, David. I agree with you that Gasol has stepped up his play after coming to the Lakers, perhaps not in his statistics (roughly similar to those of his Grizzlies' times in terms of PPG and RPG) but certainly as regards his inherent value as a player. Obviously playing alongside Bryant has energised him, apart from making things easier for him at the offensive end.

I don't dispute that Kobe is the main guy in this team, there is no doubt about that. But it is a team and Lakers ball is not all about Bryant, while your comments are 95%centered on him. There are very important aspects of this series that are not related to Kobe -defense on Howard, rebounding, etc. And some Lakers (Gasol on a consistent basis, others more erratically) other than Bryant are quietly contributing in a substantial way to Lakers success.

Focusing on Gasol, I think his performance has been remarkable so far. While your summaries suggest that the difference between Kobe and the rest of his teammates is huge, I think you could make the argument that, in the 2009 playoffs, the difference between Kobe's value to the team and Gasol's has been less than that between Gasol and the third-best Laker, whoever that might be.

Generally, Kobe scores (a lot) and allows others to score by attracting attention and dishing out assists; and in this past couple of years he is scoring efficiently -not so in the past-. But have you ever thought that Kobe's increased efficiency might have to do with his 2007-2009 teammates? That his teammates (esp Gasol) also attract some defensive attention and leave more scope for him to do his thing efficiently, be it scoring or assisting? That he gets assists because Gasol &co score on his passes, as opposed to previous teammates?

Finally, it's true that a Gasol-led team has never won a playoff game. It's equally true that he is now a much improved player, and that he took Memphis to the playoffs with a pretty mediocre squad (almost as mediocre as that of Bryant's pre-Bynum Lakers). And Gasol never dreamed of having a supporting cast like the one Kobe now has (Gasol himself, Bynum, Odom, Ariza, Fisher etc).

Anyway, I really agree with most of your (other) points. I just find it unfair that you summarise games as if it were Kobe and four other guys when he is surrounded by one of the 2/3 best power forwards in the league (who is confirming his top-notch status in the playoffs) and top 10 players in the center and small forward positions.

 
At Monday, June 08, 2009 7:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luis2:

Gasol's fg% has increased markedly as a Laker and this is directly attributable to playing with Kobe, who attracts defensive attention that enables Gasol to go one on one and who also delivers great feeds to Gasol.

My posts about this series have addressed the issues that you mentioned, particularly defense versus Howard (and other Magic players).

I am not sure how to even quantify the difference between Kobe and Gasol versus the difference between Gasol and whoever the Lakers' number three player is but Kobe is without question an MVP level player while Gasol is a level below that and this is an important distinction. Gasol is an outstanding second option but much less suited to being the primary option. In contrast, it is evident that Kobe was a great second option (or 1b to 1a) playing alongside Shaq but he is also a great first option. I can't picture a team with Gasol as the first option even making it as far as the Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals.

I don't care to get into a lengthy discussion about Gasol's Memphis supporting cast versus Kobe's supporting cast but consider this: the 2006 Memphis team that went 49-33 had Mike Miller, Eddie Jones, Shane Battier, Bobby Jackson and Lorenzen Wright as the top players in minutes played (other than Gasol, obviously); the Lakers' top five in minutes played (after Kobe) in 2006 were Odom, Smush, Kwame, Devean George and Chris Mihm. There is not even a comparison worth making here.

Kobe's efficiency really has not changed in the past few years. Even when he scored over 35 ppg in 2006 he shot .450 from the field and in the past three years he has ranged between .459 and .467. His true shooting percentage was .561 this year and .559 in 2006. His effective field goal percentage (taking into account the extra points from three point shots) was .491 in 2006, .502 in 2007, .503 in 2008 and .502 in 2009. Considering the enormous scoring and playmaking load that Bryant carries--in addition to being a perennial All-Defensive team player--he has been remarkably productive AND efficient both for lesser talented teams that he singlehandedly carried to the playoffs as well as for the past two Lakers teams that he has led to the Finals.

Finally, while Gasol is arguably a top 2-3 power forward--I would take Duncan and Nowitzki over him, plus a healthy KG--the Lakers do not have a top ten center (unless you are counting Gasol twice) or small forward. If Bynum is a top ten center then he is tenth--barely--and only when fully healthy, which is not the case right now. At the moment, Bynum is a limited player who provides at most 15-20 mpg. Bynum has yet to play a complete season as the starting center for the Lakers. Overall, I would say that Ariza is a slightly above average starting small forward--athletic, very good defensively, below average in terms of creating his own shot, passing and ballhandling.

If you really, truly believe that I am overstating Kobe's importance then pay very close attention to the few minutes a game that Kobe does not play. See who can create a shot for himself, what kind of shots are created and how organized the team looks in general.

 
At Tuesday, June 09, 2009 1:07:00 PM, Anonymous Luis2 said...

thanks, David. Always interesting comments even if I don't fully agree with them. Again, I'm not putting Gasol in Kobe's category, he obviously doesn't belong there. I'm saying that focusing the game summaries almost exclusively on what Bryant does and doesn't do leaves out some important things, Gasol's performance in particular. And that Gasol is doing very significant things for this team on his own -rebounding (11RPG in the playoffs), playing good to very good defense, and with increasing frequency creating his own shot or shots for others when double teamed- as well as feeding off the excellent performances by Kobe.

(also, I really don't see much difference between the 2006-07 Memphis team and the pre-Bynum Lakers team. The important thing is that Kobe took his crappy team to several deep playoff runs while Gasol didn't manage to get a playoff win -this certainly shows that Kobe is a better player, which isn't really in question)

 
At Tuesday, June 09, 2009 4:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luis2:

I contrasted the Memphis and Lakers supporting casts from three years ago to respond to your contention that there is a greater difference between Gasol and the Lakers' number three player than between Bryant and Gasol; I'm not sure how to answer that statement directly nor do I think that it is particularly relevant--it speaks more to the quality of the number three player than anything else--but my point is that even though Gasol is a high quality player there is a substantial difference between Bryant and Gasol. It is critically important to understand that Gasol is not particularly suited to the number one role, so playing alongside Bryant is perfect for him (we see the same dynamic with Odom, who is a perfect number three guy but much less suited for the number two spot).

I just feel like you are reading these posts with some predetermined notion about Bryant or Gasol or me because the fact is that Bryant is the central figure on the Lakers and I have mentioned all of the things that you say I should be mentioning.

Again, I don't want to get into a lengthy comparison of the 2006 Memphis and Lakers teams but without question I would take four of the Memphis players over their Laker equivalents and I'm not sure that I wouldn't take all five (Odom is the only one who would give me pause).

 

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