Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Injury Update: 1/28/14

As expected, most of the team's injured players underwent evaluations yesterday, with the exception of Kobe Bryant, who will see a doctor today. Surprisingly, there was some positive news on the injury front.

Steve Nash: Nash has been sidelined for what seems like forever with a nerve root injury, that apparently stemmed all the way back to last season's fractured leg suffered against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trailblazers. Nash has been rehabbing and training in Vancouver during select parts of the year and may finally play again sometime soon. According to the Lakers spokesman John Black, everything went well for Nash during his most recent time in Vancouver and he was expected to practice yesterday, but he tweaked his back (unrelated to the current injury) and wasn't able to participate. Nonetheless, Nash is listed as day-to-day and will likely practice on Thursday before determining if he will be able to go for Friday's game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Steve Blake: Blake was diagnosed with a torn collateral ligament in his right elbow and has been sidelined since December 13th. He was initially expected to miss 6-8 weeks while he recovered and he still could come back in time to meet the end of that timetable. Blake hasn't yet been cleared to return to practice, however he has been doing some basketball related activities that will ramp up by the end of the week before being reevaluated during the weekend.

Jordan Farmar: Farmar is in a similar boat as Blake; not yet able to practice, but cleared to do basketball related activities. Farmar tore his hamstring on January 3rd in a different location than his initial tear, and was initially supposed to be sidelined for at least 4 weeks. He will be reevaluated, along with Blake, at the end of the week.

Xavier Henry: Henry has been working out with the team, but isn't yet close to returning. He will likely be out for 10-14 more days and there hasn't been any new updates on his condition.

Jodie Meeks and Pau Gasol both have nagging injuries because of heavy minutes that are being logged in, particularly by Meeks. Meeks had an MRI for his nagging foot injury and it came back negative for a fracture. He is probable for today against Indiana. Pau continues to have toe problems, but is still listed as probable.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Game-Time Chat: Lakers @ Heat

Unfortunately, I will miss this game due to forces not entirely within my control (work), however, I'm not sure I wanted to see this one anyways. The Miami Heat are one of the NBA's very best teams and, despite a recent 2-4 road trip, the Heat are still a handful because of reigning league MVP LeBron James, who leads the team in points (26.8), assists (6.5) and tied for the lead in rebounds (6.7), all while shooting an absolutely insane 58% from the field. It's unreal that James isn't running away with the MVP, despite these great all-around numbers. The Heat look absolutely dominant at times, especially when their role players are hitting the three point shot.

Miami has been absolutely dominating at home, amassing a record of 17-3 and playing the kind of defense that has won them two straight titles. The Heat are still primarily an offensive team behind James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh; they rank 2nd in Offensive Rating and 8th in points per game while only being ranked 21st in Pace. Miami still has a 30-12 record, despite being dead last in rebounding, though that could change if Greg Oden could ever get his knees in good enough shape to play substantial amounts of minutes. Oden was really only brought in to help combat Indiana's Roy Hibbert, however, should he stay healthy enough, he could largely contribute for them on the glass and on the defensive end. 

Offensively, Miami exploits any and all turnovers, being the most devastating fast break team since the Showtime Lakers; it's an alley oop fest between James and Wade on the fast break and there's very little anybody or any team can do about it. When not in transition, the Heat employ combinations of pick and rolls with James or Wade, isolations with James or Wade, or post ups with James or Bosh. While teams focus in on one of the three star players, there are subtle screens being set in an attempt to get Ray Allen open and help stretch the floor so they can keep those 3 options available without the defense completely collapsing on them. Should teams manage to stick with Ray Allen and still contain the dribble drive with James or Wade, the team will usually find it's 4th or 5th option open on the perimeter, be that Shane Battier or Mario Chalmers, both of which are above average three point shooters and have the ability to get hot in a hurry. 

Defensively, Miami rotates exceptionally well and are very quick to close out on open shooters. The Heat's main game plan on defense is to force turnovers, so they play passing lanes early and often and will usually try to pressure the ball handler into a bad decision. This kind of defense has weaknesses against better passing teams like San Antonio, however it should work to perfection against the Lakers and their lackluster passing out of everybody not named Kendall Marshall. Miami will look to exploit that into easy baskets and more frustration out of the Lakers. 

In short, the keys for Miami are: LeBron James. The keys for the Lakers are: try not to lose by more than 20. 

Injury Update: 1/23/14

Ugly season.
This train wreck of a season can't end fast enough. The Lakers are so badly injured, they don't have enough players to run their practices, using assistant coaches to fill out whatever spots are needed. Obviously, no team can go far with this many injuries. Here's what it looks like:

Lakers currently available: Kendall Marshall, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly, Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre and Manny Harris. That's only nine players. Nine! The team can't run 5-on-5 drills because they simple don't have enough healthy bodies. And Harris only signed a 10 day contract, for which he only has four more days. His contract runs until Sunday.

Lakers on the fence: Pau Gasol (everything)

Lakers currently unavailable: Kobe Bryant (knee), Xavier Henry (knee), Jordan Farmar (hamstring), Steve Blake (elbow), Steve Nash (nerve). Just look at that list. You could field a semi competitive starting lineup with this group of injured players if you add a random center into the mix. That's five players on the disabled list, currently the most in the NBA, and this team is struggling to find a decent rotation. Marshall and Meeks have been playing heavy minutes and could end up getting injured themselves, should they continue to log in 40+ minutes per game. There isn't much Mike D'Antoni can do in this case; nobody could have predicted all three point guards going down and forcing the team to sign another from the D-League. Granted, Marshall has been very good, substantially better than we could have realistically hoped for, however the point remains the same: this team is cursed. Here's each player's timetables:

 Kobe Bryant: Bryant will be reevaluated when the team returns to Los Angeles, possibly on the 27th or the 28th. Bryant has been keeping his stamina up with bike exercises, however, until he gets medical clearance, he cannot return to the basketball court. And, Kobe wouldn't be Kobe if he didn't already say he would be back as soon as they let him. For our sake, please take as long as possible, Kobe.

Pau Gasol: Gasol just seems to be on and off with minor injuries, missing a few games here and there and it's likely affecting his production. Gasol's latest issue has been his foot, having sustained a moderate strain of the flexor tendon in the big toe of his left foot, originally sustaining this injury against the Clippers. I applaud Gasol for playing through it because who knows how badly the Lakers would play if they were missing him too. On the other hand, if he were to sit out, it might mean more minutes for Jordan Hill.

Xavier Henry: Henry hasn't yet returned to practice, but he has been running lateral drills and shooting drills. Henry doesn't sound too far off from returning, however he has been ruled out against Miami on Thursday and Orlando on Friday and will be reevaluated this weekend.

Jordan Farmar: If you recall, Farmar had initially torn his hamstring in early December, with the initial time table set for one month. Farmar made a surprise return against the Miami Heat and looked solid against them, however, he tore his hamstring in a different area shortly afterwards, requiring another month on the shelf. So far, no new information has come regarding Farmar's injury; I'd expect him to return sometime in mid-February, rather than late January or even early February.

Steve Blake: Vino Blanco, as Bryant once called him via Twitter, was diagnosed with a torn UCL in December and was expected to miss a minimum of 6 weeks. Blake had been participating lightly in practice, using his left hand as his dominant hand, and taking shots with the left. Blake will be reevaluated when the team returns to Los Angeles and a realistic timetable will likely be drawn up.

Steve Nash: Just retire already, Steve.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Game-Time Chat: Lakers @ Raptors

Not the latest Raptors court, I know
So, now that we're past Nick Young's suspension and that satisfying, but not really, win over the Celtics on Friday night, we get to move on to the Toronto Raptors who are simply on fire. At first glance, their 20-18 record seems thoroughly unimpressive, especially in the lackluster Eastern Conference, however, since trading Rudy Gay, they've been one of the most impressive teams to watch. When they still had Gay, the Raptors were sitting at 6-12 (and somehow in the playoff picture, because East); since trading him to the Sacramento Kings in early December, the Raptors have gone on a tear, going 14-6 in that time span and completely turning their team around. The Gay trade was meant to be a dump off; Toronto wanted trade away everyone of value and try to tank for hometown hero Andrew Wiggins, however, with DeMar DeRozan and company turning it around, the Raptors are now seriously eyeing the 3rd seed in the East.

Remember all of the Kyle Lowry rumors from a month ago? They're all gone now and that's great for Toronto, not because they're actually competing (though that is always a positive), but because there is no way they would have gotten proper compensation for him. Lowry has been absolutely brilliant for them, being 6th in both WS/48 (.218) and total Win Shares (6.2), right behind MVP candidate Paul George. Lowry has been one of the best point guards in the NBA, and nobody has really been paying attention to him. As of this writing, he's averaging 16.2 points and 7.4 assists per game while shooting 43.4% from the field (40.9% from deep) and currently has a 20.1 PER, which is bordering on elite. When you combine him with the high-flying DeMar DeRozan, who has been a Top-10 shooting guard this year, you get one of the best backcourt duo's in the NBA. DeRozan is leading the Raptors in points, averaging 20.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. The USC product is showing an improved offensive game, showing off a solid array of dribbling moves as he continues to get into the paint at will. The only knock on his game right now is his limited shooting range, as he only shoots 29.7% from long range, but that hasn't stopped him from being 2nd on the team in PER (17.2) and Win Shares (3.6) and third in WS/48 (.121).

Of course, the Raptors wouldn't be on fire with only two players playing well; teams also have to deal with the tandem of Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson in the low block and they are a handful. Johnson is second on the team in WS/48 (.148) and third in Win Shares (3.5) and has been a solid contributor all season long. Valanciunas has shown a better back-to-the-basket game and has combined well with Johnson to form a solid front court, capable of rebounding well and scoring when they need to. It almost doesn't matter who they plug into at Small Forward; it doesn't make much of a different when your other starters are playing like All-Stars.

If the Lakers want to win this game, they need take care of the ball and convert their outside jumpers. It helps if you feed Pau Gasol early and often, seeing as how he's your best player at the moment. Unfortunately, Kobe Bryant will not be here to hit a game winner or two against Toronto, (seriously, Kobe has been historically cruel to them in the past) and that's fine; Bryant's main focus should be to get 100% healthy, and not rushing back on the court. The good news for the Lakers is that Nick Young returns today and can help take some of the load off of Kendall Marshall and the heavy minutes he has logged in in the past couple of games. Hopefully, Mike D'Antoni will decide that Jordan Hill needs more than 11 minutes in today's contest.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Lakers Were Missing Nick Young, Somehow Win

So, on the day I didn't even bother to check what the score was at anytime during the game, the Lakers somehow pulled out a win over the Boston Celtics, 107-104 despite Rajon Rondo returning for Boston. The Lakers only had 9 players available and only one perimeter player available off of the bench, which was Manny Harris, who just signed a 10 day contract with the team. With Nick Young being suspended and Jordan Hill dodging the bullet, the Lakers were going to need a great game out of somebody to win.

Luckily, Pau Gasol (who finally played 36 minutes like he would on literally almost every other team) came up huge with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists on 9-15 shooting, looking every bit like the former All-Star we all remember. Surprisingly, he wasn't the only player who played well; there were 5 Lakers in double digit scoring. We had Wesley Johnson with 11 points, 11 rebounds. We saw Kendall Marshall score 19 points and drop 14 assists. We had a solid contribution from Jodie Meeks with 17 points and 7 rebounds. Despite only having 9 players available, somehow Jordan Hill only played 11 minutes... my patience wears thin with Mike D'Antoni's rotations; lucky for him, it worked out tonight because Ryan Kelly played like a young Dirk Nowitzki. Kelly finished with 20 points and 4 rebounds off of the bench, making 6-12 shots and helped bring the Lakers back late in the game.

I guess the story here is Rondo's return from an ACL tear he sustained last year. Rondo looked solid enough in the 20 minutes he played, finishing with 8 points and 4 assists. I know I'm overlooking Kelly Olynyk's huge 25 point, 7 assist, 5 rebound game but I'm doing so with good reason; Rondo is one of the premier point guards in the league when healthy and, even though he's on the Celtics, I wish him well. He's an exciting player to watch and has some of the best passing skills this side of Chris Paul.

I'm not entirely sure how to feel about this game. On one hand, the Lakers beat the Celtics, which is always a great thing. On the other hand, the Lakers improved their record, thereby hurting their chances at a Top-5 draft pick. This is a draft where any of the Top-5 players selected could be franchise altering players and I want the Lakers to have the chance to draft Andrew Wiggins, or Jabari Parker or Joel Embiid. For the first time in a long time, a Laker win has not made me 100% happy.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Game-Time Chat: Cavaliers @ Lakers

Somebody has to win this game. The Cavaliers will visit the Lakers tonight, and both are coming off of the most embarrassing losses in the NBA this season. Cleveland was dominated by the Kings to the final score of 124-80, getting completely outplayed at every single position. Similarly, the Lakers were pummeled by the Clippers to an embarrassing 123-87 beat down of the hobbled Lakers.

The Lakers have been absolutely dreadful for the past couple of weeks, dropping 10 of the past 11 games, only beating the Jazz on the back of Kendall Marshall's 20 points, 15 assists break out game. The team has been lethargic on defense and hasn't been making their three point shots, while forcing a lot of the action. It doesn't help that the team continues to suffer injuries, minor and major. Just last week, Nick Young was having back troubles that nearly held him out of games and this week, Pau Gasol is experiencing some toe problems; he has a moderate strain of his flexor tendon in his big toe of his left foot and is questionable for tonight's game.

The Lakers have been shooting a horrid 41% in their last 11 games while allowing 110.2 points per game in this stretch. They've been turning the ball over at a ridiculous rate in this stretch, turning it over 21 times a game. It doesn't help that Nick Young and Pau Gasol haven't been playing well; Young is shooting a terrible 38.5% in this 11 game stretch and Pau has continued to struggle all year long, shooting a career low 44.8% on the season.

Kyrie Irving is leading the Cavaliers in points (21.7), assists (6.1) and PER (20.1) and is second in WS/48 (.119 behind Anderson Varejao's .144) though he is only shooting 42.9% from the field. The Cavaliers run their offense entirely through him, running isolations and pick and rolls and fully utilizing his tremendous outside shooting ability and jaw dropping ball handling skills. Cleveland doesn't have the best inside scoring presence, however against the Lakers and their small-ball lineup, that could change between Tristan Thompson and Varejao likely dominating the glass. It doesn't help the Lakers that the Cavs are entirely injury free at the moment.

This image is depressing

If the Lakers want to stop this skid, they need to crash the boards and limit turnovers; you can excuse poor offense if your defense is playing well, but you can't excuse not playing either. The Lakers will need to rotate on time and try to limit the amount of times the big men switch on to Irving, while on offense, the Lakers need to pass the ball and hit the open shots. Somebody has to win this game, though if recent weeks are any indication, the Cleveland Cavaliers will likely come out on top. This season cannot end fast enough.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Jordan Hill Continues to Improve His Game

Because I'm never finished ripping on Mike D'Antoni and his decision to not play Jordan Hill more than 20 minutes a game, I figured today would be a good day to dissect Jordan Hill's game and how Hill has improved from below average player, to leading the team in PER.

As we all know already, Hill is an extraordinary rebounder; he possesses the strength and fundamentals to successfully box out the NBA's best rebounding big men. It's no coincidence that Hill is averaging 13.5 rebounds per 36 minutes and currently has a 19.7% Total Rebound Percentage, making him 6th in the NBA behind Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut and DeMarcus Cousins. Hill isn't a very good defensive rebounder, only having a 23.1% Defensive Rebound Percentage, which does not rank within the Top-20, however Hill is an elite offensive rebounder, coming in 2nd on the Offensive Rebound Percentage with a whopping 16.3%, only behind Drummond. Hill has always been a great rebounding presence since joining the Lakers; this would be his lowest Total Rebound Percentage with the team, as he has had over 20% in both of the last two seasons with the Lakers. Hill would certainly help clean up the Lakers rebounding woes, seeing as how the team is dead last in opponent rebounding.

Defensively, he plays with energy and his rotations are usually on time; he isn't the biggest shot blocker though, only averaging 0.8 per game (1.3 per 36 minutes). He knows his limitations well, however, and won't over commit to the ball handler, thus not giving up rebounding position. He is second on the Lakers in Defensive Win Shares behind Pau Gasol, despite the lack of playing time and his Defensive Rating of 106 is 5th on the Lakers. Hill is a solid man-to-man defender as well, staying close with this defensive assignments and contesting as many shots as possible, though this has led to some foul trouble in the past. His foul troubles is his only knock, as he averages 4.3 fouls per 36 minutes.

Of course, what makes Hill so good is his vastly improved offense. Here's the shot charts for this year:

Hill's skill set does not go in line with D'Antoni's coaching game plan, as Hill isn't a very good shooter at all; he can't stretch the floor and is entirely an inside player. He is a very good finisher around the rim, shooting an above league average 61.78% at the rim; for reference, the NBA's three best centers, Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, all have a worse percentage at the rim than Hill. He is an excellent finisher in the pick and roll and is effective in this role; 80 of his 134 made shots have been assisted, the vast majority of those at the rim. The problem with Hill's offensive game being his ineffective jump shot, which limits him to only pick and rolls and not pick and pops, making him a bit easier to cover than, say, Pau Gasol, who can do both. Similarly, Hill isn't the type of player to carry your offense, and isn't a straight up isolation type player, though he has shown massive improvement in his back-to-the-basket game. Hill is shooting a combined 30 for 53 in hook shots, good for a 56.6%, which is elite level of efficiency.

When we couple his finishing ability with his incredible offensive rebounding numbers, we can see why Hill's Offensive Rating is easily the best on the Lakers at an astonishing 119. For reference, LeBron James, the NBA's best player, has an offensive rating of 122. This isn't to say Hill is on James' level, but he certainly gives the Lakers a major boost when he's on the court. As much as Mike D'Antoni wants to disagree, you can't look at the numbers and say otherwise.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Mike D'Antoni And His Boneheaded Rotations

We know, Kobe. We know.
This season has just been a nightmare. The Lakers are plummeting in the Western Conference, having dropped from 13-13 to 14-23 and are realistically starting to look towards the possibility of a top-5 draft pick. This team has been pummeled with injuries and are barely able to put up a competent roster and yet, Mike D'Antoni continues to play favorites with the few players he has. Obviously, some of these moves can be traced back to injury and not having anybody else than can man that position, but others have almost no explanation at all. Here are the Lakers' leaders in minutes per game this season:

More than a few things stand out here. Why is Jordan Hill only playing 20.2 minutes a game? Why is your leading scorer, Nick Young, only playing 27.2 minutes per game? Why is Pau Gasol, who is largely considered the Lakers' best player, only playing 30.8 minutes per game? So many questions and no clear answer. To help provide some context, here's the Lakers leaders in PER, as well as other important advanced statistics:

Rk Player Age G MP PER ▾ TS% ORtg DRtg OWS DWS WS WS/48
1 Jordan Hill 26 37 748 20.6 .585 119 106 2.1 0.7 2.7 .176
2 Pau Gasol 33 34 1047 17.5 .491 98 105 0.2 1.0 1.3 .059
3 Kendall Marshall 22 9 245 15.4 .609 110 113 0.4 0.0 0.4 .087
4 Jordan Farmar 27 22 456 15.0 .497 99 109 0.1 0.3 0.4 .042
5 Nick Young 28 37 1059 14.4 .540 104 112 1.1 0.3 1.3 .060
6 Robert Sacre 24 23 339 14.1 .525 107 105 0.3 0.3 0.7 .094
7 Chris Kaman 31 20 350 13.9 .500 89 103 -0.4 0.4 0.0 .005
8 Steve Blake 33 21 669 13.3 .533 106 111 0.7 0.2 0.9 .067
9 Jodie Meeks 26 37 1169 13.2 .579 108 110 1.4 0.5 1.8 .075
10 Xavier Henry 22 31 675 12.8 .517 98 108 0.1 0.4 0.6 .041
11 Kobe Bryant 35 6 177 11.5 .505 85 108 -0.4 0.1 -0.3 -0.076
12 Wesley Johnson 26 36 967 10.7 .518 99 108 0.2 0.7 0.9 .045
13 Shawne Williams 27 32 645 9.3 .500 100 106 0.2 0.6 0.8 .056
14 Ryan Kelly 22 15 189 8.4 .528 109 111 0.2 0.1 0.2 .061
15 Elias Harris 24 2 11 7.8 .000 91 108 0.0 0.0 0.0 .023
16 Steve Nash 39 6 135 6.7 .390 87 113 -0.2 0.0 -0.2 -0.065

I'm sure most of you immediately noticed Jordan Hill and his near-elite PER of 20.6, as well as his .176 WS/48 (second among qualifying centers, behind Anthony Davis), as well as his team leading 2.7 Win Shares, despite only playing 20 minutes a game. There is only one player within the Lakers' Top-5 in PER that is playing over 30 minutes a game and that is Pau Gasol, who is averaging a career low 30.8 minutes per game, though I suppose this isn't to be unexpected. Last season, Gasol only played 33.8 minutes per game under D'Antoni, both below his normal 35.7 career minutes per game. Gasol is one of two Lakers who can consistently create his own shot and it's almost criminal how D'Antoni has used him this year, running simple isolations with Gasol and hoping he has the strength, speed or quickness to score on his opponent instead of running subtle off ball screens or pick and rolls to get Gasol in better position, or better yet, having Gasol operate under the Horns set and letting him dictate who gets the ball and where.

Similarly, I cannot fathom how your leading scorer is only getting 27 minutes per game; Young has been their only perimeter player than can create his own shot and I simply do not understand how D'Antoni chooses to give some of Young's minutes to lesser players like Wesley Johnson or (formerly) Shawne Williams. I can understand Jodie Meeks leading the healthy Lakers in minutes; Meeks has been one of the few players to stay healthy all season and has been shooting well this season, but I think it's time to use a more conventional NBA rotation, one that has it's best players playing as close to 36 minutes as possible.

Granted, it isn't really possible to have a rotation among the outside players because only Kendall Marshall, Young, Meeks and Johnson are available to play between the three outside positions (we saw Ryan Kelly get some time at small forward against the Clippers. That should never happen), though this makes me question why Young isn't playing more minutes when there simply isn't anybody else to play. And I haven't even mentioned how Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman have been buried at the end of the bench; D'Antoni isn't playing either of them more than 17.5 minutes per game and Kaman has been basically out of the rotation. D'Antoni has taken a liking to playing a perimeter player at power forward because he does not care about defense or rebounding, which is criminal when you have Hill and Sacre who can both man that position when Gasol isn't out there.

I have long said that D'Antoni is a solid coach; he a very good offensive coach and a below average defensive coach, however he was never right for the Lakers when they hired him and that still rings true. More and more, it is looking like his final season with the Lakers and all I have to say is: Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Game-Time Chat: Lakers @ Clippers

I am dreading this game. The Battle for Los Angeles, as the media has dubbed it, will be without Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul and it almost feels irrelevant, given the standings. Both teams are undermanned at the moment, however the Lakers are dangerously close to the limit, whereas the Clippers are missing Paul, JJ Redick and Reggie Bullock; they still have most of their rotation in tact. It certainly helps the team to have Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford as replacements for Paul and Redick. Bullock was barely playing 10 minutes a game, so I don't think the Clippers miss him too much.

So, why am I dreading this game? Blake Griffin. The 24 year old Griffin has absolutely steam rolled most of the league, averaging 22.0 points and 10.3 rebounds per game; superb numbers out of the freakishly athletic power forward. Griffin is second on the Clippers in WS/48 (.182) and PER (21.7), and he hasn't struggled sans Paul because of his improved overall game. The numbers are similar to years' past, however Griffin's shooting stroke is much, much improved. He's at a career high in free throw percentage (70.2%) and three point percentage (35.0%), so past tactics of letting Griffin shoot and/or hacking him won't work as effectively. Griffin's shooting percentage from 16 feet to the three point line has improved considerably; he's shooting 40% from that range, compared to last season's 34%. Here are his shot charts:


Red is below league average, yellow is league average and green is above league average. As you can see, Griffin has effectively extended his range all the way out to the three point line (granted, there's a small sample size for the three pointers Griffin takes). Last season, Griffin was above average in one spot only: below the rim. This season, he's above average in six areas of the court, and has cut down his below average areas considerably; last year's was whopping nine areas below average, this year it's only five. When you couple Griffin's past games against Pau Gasol and the Lakers, where he averages 20 points and 10 rebounds in 12 career games, you'll know why I do not like this match up one bit.

It doesn't help all of the times Griffin has basically jumped over Gasol:

Another reminder that Blake Griffin is a freak of nature

Pau simply got demolished. 

When you add Griffin being a Top-5 power forward with the Clippers being 7th in Offensive Rating (108.5) and 8th in Defensive Rating (103.2) while still being 4th in rebounding and 3rd in assists, you can see why this game is a huge mismatch, heavily in the Clippers favor. Between Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers have the size, bulk and athleticism to completely demolish the Lakers in the paint. This will not be a fun game, unless you're a Clippers fan, or the Lakers manage to limit the Clippers fast break opportunities, limit their own turnovers while simultaneously trying to create fast break points. The Lakers will need to make it rain from deep to give themselves a good opportunity to win. The good news here is that the Lakers have already beaten the Clippers this year. The bad news is that it was with almost an entirely different cast of Lakers.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

There Is No Way Kendall Marshall Is This Good

What do Kendall Marshall, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Shannon Brown, Earl Clark and Xavier Henry all have in common? They are all talented first round draft picks that didn't pan out with their original teams and then came to the Lakers on cheap contracts or affordable trades, only to produce career bests for the team.

All of them are different and in more ways than one; playing style varies greatly between all of them and it makes pinpointing exactly why they had their breakthroughs with the team difficult. Nonetheless, all of them had a resurgence with the Lakers and Kendall Marshall has been the best of the bunch, through this admittedly very small sample size. First, let's remind ourselves what Marshall has done with his three starts: he burst onto the scene with a ridiculous 20 points, 15 assists and 6 rebounds against the Utah Jazz, becoming only the 2nd Laker ever to go for 10+ points and 10+ assists in his first start, as well as becoming the 2nd Laker to finish with 20 points, 15 assists and shoot over 65% in a game since Magic Johnson. His second game against the Denver Nuggets was a slower one; Marshall struggled from the field, shooting 3 for 10 and only scored 9 points, however he had an outstanding 17 assists in that game and looked like he thoroughly understood the offensive game plan. In last night's game, Marshall had some trouble with turnovers, racking up 6 of them to offset his 6 assists, but he did score 18 points on 7-10 shooting. Overall, Marshall is averaging 15.6 points, 12.6 assists and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 56.2% from the field and has a very good 19.5 PER, which would be 2nd on the team to Jordan Hill if he were to qualify.

So, where did Marshall come from? Drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the 2012 NBA Draft (13th overall), Marshall had an outstanding college career with the University of North Carolina, even going on to win the Bob Cousy award for best point guard at the college level in his final season as a Tar Heel. Marshall struggled immensely in 48 games with the Suns last season, registering a horrid -0.012 WS/48 and was worth a -0.2 total Win Share to go along with a horrid 7.8 PER. Marshall didn't shoot well from anywhere, shooting only 37% from the field (31% from three point range) and registering a Dwight Howard-like 57% from the free throw line. Of course, Marshall did so under only 14 minutes a game, which makes hard to gauge whether or not he was NBA ready. The Suns ultimately decided he wasn't and traded him to the Washington Wizards, along side Marcin Gortat and old friend Shannon Brown. The Wizards immediately waived Marshall, who then went on to average 19 points and 10 assists with the 76ers D-league affiliate, the Delaware 87ers.

Of course, the Lakers backcourt went down in a heap of nerve damage, muscle tears and broken bones that led to the Lakers signing Marshall to a minimum contract. I am glad they did because Marshall is clearly talented; he's a taller point guard, coming in at 6'4'', and has some of the better court vision in the league; Marshall had a solid grasp of how an NBA point guard is supposed to play and tries his best to emulate it. His passing ability has improved since college and his timing appears to now be on par with most above average NBA point guards. Marshall also appears to have greatly improved his shooting stroke; he's shooting 47% from downtown and 100% from the charity stripe. His basketball I.Q. is very high; he knows which players to feed at the correct time and at the correct area of the floor.

So, why did Phoenix and Washington give up on him? Well, the knock on Marshall was his mediocre defense, relatively slow movement out of a point guard and his below average shooting stroke. Marshall looked overwhelmed in his first season and not cut out to handle the NBA game. I insist that Marshall is talented, but is he this good? I don't think so, though Mike D'Antoni runs a system reliant on a good passing point guard, so Marshall is indeed playing to his strengths. Ultimately, I believe Marshall will come down to Earth, but still be a solid guard in the rotation; his contract makes him extremely team friendly and hopefully, the team can retain him for next season as well. You know what they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure.