Saturday, February 15, 2014

2013-2014 Lakers Mid-Season Review: Back Court

Point Guard: Steve Nash

7.6 PPG, 4.7 APG, 1.7 RPG, -0.1 WS, -0.014 WS/48 on 30.6% shooting and 31.6% shooting from three point range. Grade: (Inc.)

There isn't much to write about a player who has only played 10 games out of the 53 games the team has slogged through this year. And if you're keeping count, Nash has played in 60 games out of 135 total games with the team. Nash has been sidelined for most of the season with nerve root irritation and has played some of the worst basketball possible when he has been on the court. Without his legs, his shooting stroke isn't there and his dribble penetration has suffered as a result. Nash is no longer the player he was; he isn't even a serviceable point guard at this stage of his career. It's sad to see such a dynamic offensive player limp to the finish line of his career like this, but it's a reality for every player. Father Time is undefeated, after all. The two-time MVP will consider retirement at the end of the year. For now, Nash is lucky he has an incomplete; if he played enough games, he would have been awarded a big, fat F.

Point Guard: Steve Blake

9.5 PPG, 7.6 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.0 WS, .054 WS/48 on 37.8% shooting and 39.7% shooting from three point range. Grade: (B)

Steve Blake has long been a favorite player of mine, even during his disappointing initial seasons early on with the Lakers. Blake is a solid, all-around guard, who may or may not suffer from peer pressure (the noticeable change in play and quality of play whenever Kobe Bryant is on the court is astounding.) Blake has had one of his best seasons so far, averaging a career highs in assists per game (7.6) and rebounds per game (3.8), while putting up his best scoring output with the Lakers (9.5). Unfortunately, Blake has had to miss quite a few games thanks to a torn ligament in his right elbow, which is always bad, but more so whenever a player is putting together one of his finer seasons. We'll see if Blake can keep up this play, and, if he does, if he's willing to take on a smaller deal to stay with the Lakers. 

Point Guard: Jordan Farmar

9.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.2 RPG, 0.5 WS, .050 WS/48 on 41.5% shooting and 38.7% shooting from three point range. Grade: (B+)

Farmar has been unexpectedly good this year. And I really mean unexpectedly. Farmar was playing in Turkey for the past year and it was questionable whether or not he would play in the NBA again because he wanted more money than what teams thought he was worth. Luckily, Farmar, a UCLA product, missed his friends and family enough to take a minimum contract with the Lakers. Farmar has been slashing to the basket relentlessly and shooting well from deep to help compliment his penetration. Overall, he has done an excellent job of leading the second unit and maintaining a Mike D'Antoni approved pace. He wouldn't be a Laker if he didn't tear his hamstring twice, costing him a lot of games this year. 

Point guard: Kendall Marshall

10.3 PPG, 9.5 APG, 3.1 RPG, 1.4 WS, .086 WS/48 on 45.1% shooting and 46.5% shooting from three point range. Grade: (A++)

I can't say enough about Kendall Marshall and how big he has been for this team. He has been the best point guard on the team and he started the year without a job, before signing with a D-League team. He has been seriously good on the offensive end and has orchestrated the offense impeccably. There isn't much I can say about Marshall other than this: please come back for more than just next season. 

Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant

13.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.3 RPG, -0.3 WS, -0.082 WS/48 on 42.5% shooting and 18.8% shooting from three point range. Grade: (Inc.)

Six games. The most anticipated return of the Western Conference was up and down, and mired with turnovers. Kobe only played six games before breaking his knee. Take the rest of the year off, Kobe. Please. 

Shooting guard: Nick Young

16.9 PPG, 1.5 APG, 2.7 RPG, 1.6 WS, .057 WS/48 on 42% shooting and 35% shooting from three point range. Grade: (C)

I love watching Nick Young play. He's exciting and infuriating at the same time. He creates his own shot in the most spectacular way this side of Kobe. While you will have your fair share of ugly, ugly moments, but he was still one of the only Lakers who can create his own shot, which was an important attribute down the stretch in games. The reason Young gets such a low grade, despite his 16.9 points per game, is his very poor defense. All of the others (save for Nash) at least try to play defense, while Young hasn't been doing any of that at all. Plus, Young's stat line this year has been roughly what his Per 36 numbers project, so he hasn't been playing any better than usual. 

Shooting guard: Jodie Meeks

14.4 PPG, 1.7 APG, 2.8 RPG, 2.7 WS, .085 WS/48 on 45% shooting and 40.3% shooting from three point range. Grade: (B-)

Meeks is always a double edged sword. He can get hot in a hurry and be the most dangerous player on the court, but then, he can get cold and seriously hurt his team with his shot attempts. Meeks tries to play defense, but is usually not fundamentally sound enough to be good at it. He makes up for it by stretching the floor as good as anybody in the NBA today. Meeks has a career best in field goal percentage and in shooting percentage from three point range and has played well on the offensive end, despite his inconsistency. Hopefully, Meeks will decide to return after this year on the cheap to provide long range shooting. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

State of the West: Oklahoma City Thunder

For the next month or so, Hack-a-Shaq will be having these State of the West posts, which will be about the current and future state of each of the Western Conference teams. It will include some guest writers for certain teams and I'm really excited to see how this turns out. Enjoy! This post comes from good friend and Dodgers Digest commentator Joseph Wolfe, A.K.A Lobo. Thanks, Lobo!

Previous State of the West posts: Lakers | Blazers

Even though I grew up in LA, I wouldn’t really call myself a huge Laker fan. I definitely pull for the team, but I don’t have the same vested rooting interest in them that I do in the Dodgers. In fact, in my whole family, only my uncle is a big Laker fan, despite all of us being fans of basketball as a sport. My brother somehow ended up being a Cavs fan (LOL) and my Dad and I both are kind of just fans of the sport as a whole rather than of one team. As a result, though I will pull for the Lakers over pretty much anyone, there are really about 4 or 5 teams that I consider myself a fan of.

Chief among the teams I root for (apart from the Lakers) is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Yeah, yeah, bandwagon fans and all that but I’m a bit of a #casualfan when it comes to basketball so I don’t really care. What I care about is that the Thunder are an exciting team to watch and a very well run organization. And when it comes to basketball, that’s what I tend to look for. I like teams that are fun to watch for either their hustle or explosiveness and that are well put together. The other two teams that I tend to root for are the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies, both of whom are teams (to my eye at least) that play hard and are very well built teams, particularly the Spurs who have been great year in and year out despite swapping out role players seemingly every season.

But I digress. Back to the Thunder. Led by superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have been one of the best teams in the NBA over the last four seasons. And while James Harden was a huge part of their initial success, the Thunder have been just as good in the season and a half since they traded him to the Houston Rockets. Though there is little doubt that the Thunder team is spearheaded by the dynamic duo of Durant and Westbrook, it is the solid core around them that has led to their dominance of the Western Conference. So without further ado, let’s take a look at a Thunder team that should once again be serious contenders for the NBA title.

Starting Lineup:

Russell Westbrook, PG (yes he’s injured right now but he’s clearly the starter when he comes back and he’s expected to be back for the playoffs)

Kevin Durant, SF

Serge Ibaka, PF

Kendrick Perkins, C

There is no question that the Thunder have one of the best starting lineups in the NBA. Hell, you could start with Durant and Westbrook and fill in the rest with scrubs and they’d still be pretty ok. But they have more than mere scrubs manning the other three positions, Sefolosha, Ibaka, and Perkins are all solid players who contribute a great deal to the team’s success. Let’s take a look at Ibaka first. Since coming into the league in 2009, Ibaka has been one of the game’s better big men. Though he mostly plays power forward, he has the height to play center, something he uses to his great advantage. With his long arms and thick frame, Ibaka is a force to be reckoned with down low. Averaging 8.9 rebounds to go with 14.7 points, Ibaka has provided plenty of value to the Thunder, and that’s without even considering his defense. This year, Ibaka ranks 13th in the NBA in Defensive Rating, and 10th in Defensive Win Shares, anchoring a Thunder defense that is 5th in Opponents Points per Shot and 7th in Opponents Points per Game. That’s a defense plenty good enough to support one of the league’s best offenses. But perhaps most importantly, Ibaka has really developed a nice outside shot, which lets the Thunder spread the floor and get a ton of different looks for their big three offensive weapons.

Now we move to Sefolosha and Perkins. I’m going to discuss these guys together because I want to address a trend among defensive statistics in basketball that affects both of these players. Now, as a baseball fan I tend to dismiss the impact of hustle or “grit” in the sport. In the game of baseball, there just aren’t many opportunities for hustle to greatly impact the outcome of a play or a game. It’s certainly a desirable trait, but it doesn’t really add any significant value to a players skill set. However, it’s a completely different story when it comes to basketball. Because of the nature of the sport, where every player is active on every play and every player interacts with all the other players on the court, hustle and effort can have a HUGE impact on a game. Running after a loose ball, battling for position down low, standing tough to draw a charge against a driving opponent, all of these can impact the outcome of a play. The problem is that there’s no easy way to quantify these things, the number of times a player dove to save a ball that was going out of bounds isn’t recorded anywhere that I know of. And so this hustle isn’t really reflected in a player’s defensive ratings. In the case of Perkins and Sefolosha, I really think that advanced defensive metrics sell them short, particularly with Perkins. If you watched the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals which both pitted the Celtics against the Lakers, you may recall just how much trouble Perkins presented to the Lakers. It was particularly bad in 2008, because with Bynum out for the Finals due to injury, Perkins was matched up against Pau Gasol for most of the series, and though Pau was a more skilled player, Perkins absolutely abused him down low by simply outmuscling and outhustling Gasol. It didn’t necessarily manifest itself in the scorebook but it had a huge impact on the series as Pau was basically a non-factor in every game. And while Perkins isn’t as good now as he was back then, he still provides plenty of value with his hustle and toughness. And though he may give back a lot of that value with his abysmal offensive production, because he plays on the same team as Durant and Westbrook, the damage is minimized as those two are more than capable of picking up the offensive slack. Sefolosha suffers similar disparagement from the defensive statistics, though to a much lesser extent. As the SG counterpart to Westbrook, he is allowed to be a slightly more defensive oriented player. While he doesn’t provide a ton of value on his own, he fits well in the construction of the Thunder roster as a complement to Westbrook.

This brings us to the stars of the team, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. As if I even need to tell you how good these guys are. Though Westbrook has been hurt for almost all of this season, when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best point guards in the league. For his career, Westbrook averages 20.7 Player Efficiency Rating (PER), and over the last three seasons he’s averaging 22.8 (league average is 15). His Offensive Win Share (OWS) last year was 7.7, good for 8th in the NBA. He’s one of the league’s fastest players and also one of its most trigger happy, which is probably his biggest flaw. Westbrook has a tendency to just heave up shot after shot, regardless of whether or not he makes them. While in some respects this can be a good thing (for example, he rarely gets down about missing shots and doesn’t let it go to his head), when he’s cold, it can be a huge drain on the team as he throws up miss after miss. Luckily for the Thunder, Westbrook is a darn good shooter, posting a 45.2 2P% and 30.3 3P% for his career. Even though that’s just a league average 2P% and a below average 3P%, very few players shoot well from both within and beyond the arc. And though he’s never been known as a pass-first point guard, Westbrook has still managed to average 6.9 assists per game. So while Westbrook may not do one thing particularly well, very few players possess a skill set as diverse as Westbrook’s.

What Kevin Durant is doing this season is nothing short of historic. Currently, Durant is sporting a .327 WS/48. If the season were to end today, that would be good for the 2nd best single season number of ALL TIME, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 1971-72 season when he posted a .3399 WS/48. That’s right, better than anything Michael Jordan ever did and better than LeBron James has ever done (though LeBron and Jordan each hold 3 of the top 10 spots. Durant’s 31.0 PER would be good for the 11th best single season PER, missing out on the top 10 by 0.11. For the past two years, the title of “NBA’s Best Player” has been a hotly debated topic, with Durant and LeBron having the strongest cases. But while LeBron may still be the best overall player and the one more likely to be better next year, Durant has been without question the best player in the NBA this season. It’s not even particularly close, Durant’s OWS is just 0.1 less than LeBron’s TOTAL WS. Add in Durant’s defensive value (a part of his game which he has greatly improved on over the last few years) and he’s been the league’s best player by a margin that isn’t even close. The rest of the Thunder are great players, but Durant takes them from being a good team to one of, if not the most, dangerous teams in the NBA. No player has had a bigger impact on their team this year, and this level of individual play arguably hasn’t been seen since LeBron’s days in Cleveland, when he single handedly led that team to the NBA Championship game. Durant is an incredible player and we should all be thrilled that we get to see him play in his prime.


Perry Jones PF

Nick Collison PF

Derek Fisher PG

Jeremy Lamb SG

Steven Adams C

Andre Robertson PF

Hasheem Thabeet C

Ryan Gomes SF

Royal Ivey SG

The Thunder bench is largely made up of solid but not spectacular players. With Westbrook out, Reggie Jackson has taken over starting PG duties and has performed admirably. While his quality of play is a sharp drop off from Westbrook’s, he has provided roughly league average production which is all the Thunder needed right now with how Durant has played. The bench is anchored by two longtime vets in Derek Fisher and Nick Collison. Fun fact: Collison and Durant are the only players still on the team from the Seattle Super Sonics days. Collison provides solid minutes down low with his hustle and fundamental play. Fisher, who is incidentally my all-time favorite player, may not light up the stat sheets but he is a veteran presence, and he and Collison are strong leaders for this fairly young team. Jeremy Lamb has shot very well of the bench and provides a nice counterpoint to Sefolosha so that the opposing team has to deal with two very different shooting guards. The remaining guys don’t play much, but none of them outright hurt the team. All in all, the Thunder bench does a good job of providing solid rest minutes for the starters and ensuring that the game remains even when they’re in so that the starters can continue to pull away from the opposition when they’re in.

Championship Chances:

Let’s not beat around the bush: the Thunder have to be the favorites to represent the West in the Finals and are almost certainly the favorites to win it all. There are a lot of very good teams in the West this year (Portland, San Antonio, and the Clippers), none of them have quite the talent that the Thunder do. The Spurs are always good but their Big Three are another year older and they just haven’t played as well this year as they have in the past. The Clippers starting lineup is good, but Westbrook and Paul are very close in value and the Clippers have no answer for Durant. Portland is the really dangerous team here, but again, they just don’t have an answer for Durant while the Thunder do have answers for the Blazer’s best players (Lillard and Aldridge). In the end, the Thunder are probably not going to lose unless they beat themselves. There’s just no other team in the West that can compete with them when they’re at their best, and they are almost always at their best. My prediction: Thunder beat the Spurs in 5 in the Western Conference Finals and beat the Pacers in 6 in the Finals.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

State of the West: Portland Trailblazers

For the next month or so, Hack-a-Shaq will be having these State of the West posts, which will be about the current and future state of each of the Western Conference teams. It will include some guest writers for certain teams and I'm really excited to see how this turns out. Enjoy! This post comes from good friend and Dodgers Digest commentator PFP. Thanks, PFP!

Previous State of the West posts: Lakers | 

Why You Don’t Want To Read A Sob Story From A Portland Trail Blazers Fan Right Now

Greetings! P_F_P here, taking a break from my regularly scheduled posting/campaigning for the 2016 election over at Dodgers Digest to give you a basketball update from the Pacific Northwest. Now, as usual, the Seattle Supersonics are a force to be HAHAHAHA LOL oh man got you got there, aging grungeheads. Of course, this update is regarding the Trail Blazers of Portland, Oregon, who despite several disappointing, furniture-overturning losses in recent weeks, are still a healthy 35-14 on the season (as of February 7) and in the driver’s seat to grab their first playoff spot since Brandon Roy had his own ligaments in his knee. Or since Greg Oden still had the potential to be an All-Star. Or since the front office wasn’t engaged in an annual game of musical fucking chairs that always ended with a really good GM being shown the door. Sigh.

Wait wait wait…”sigh”? What is this bullshit, you’re likely saying out loud to an inanimate computer screen? The title of this article wasn’t a lie? I actually have to feel bad for the Blazers for a few minutes, when I’m currently a fan of the Hawks/Raptors/Wizards/Bobcats/Nets/Knicks/Cavs/Bucks/Clips/Warriors/Suns/Nugs/Wolves/Hornets/Kings? (Don’t even fucking think about including yourself in that group, Laker fans. Oh, two injury-plagued seasons and a moronic front office getting you down? Go cry into your five commemorative championship sweatshirts of the Kobe era and let us manic-depressive NBA fans be manic-depressive together.)

The more I think about it, it is kind of a dick move for me to be writing this article. I mean, I just named about ten franchises in the NBA alone who have a bigger gripe than the Blazers, and there’s dozens more pro teams that fit that description as well. Plus, [retracted comment about there being many more important things to worry about than sports]. So, fuck it. I’m switching directions mid-article and making an argument about why you don’t want to read another Blazer fan’s sob story. The reasons, as follows:

  • Damian Lillard! 20.6 points, 5.7 assists, and that honestly-kind-of-stupid-considering-how-many-deep-ones-he-takes .405 three-point percentage, the kind of stat line that only a nitpicker annoyed with DL’s olẽ style of defense could take issue with. And how ‘bout him getting picked for all five skills competitions at NBA All-Star Weekend! He’ll be awesome and praiseworthy and almost definitely won’t get hurt! Great news for Blazer fans.
  • LA! Through 49 games, the best season yet for Portland’s favorite adopted son: 24.1 PPG and 11.6 RPG easily eclipse his career highs in those categories, and I will gladly ignore that it’s primarily because he’s taking a ton of shots (21.0, also easily his career high). There’s absolutely no reason to be at all worried about LaMarcus, even though he hasn’t gotten one iota better at defense, rebounding, or protecting the rim since arguably his sophomore season. LA FTW!
  • Other players who are good, like trusty wings Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews and surprisingly solid role players like Robin Lopez and Mo Williams, but since they’re currently on your fantasy league’s waiver wire let’s just skip them.
  • 18-11 against the Western Conference, bitches! (Used to be much, much better earlier in the season…but so what!)
  • 35-14! Thirty-five and fucking fourteen! (Ugh, STOP sighing and telling me it was 22-4 before a nasty 4-5 stretch with losses to Philly and Sacramento, and then 31-9 before a nasty 4-5 stretch that included a loss to Washington [Washington, sheesh]. The team is playing better than ever and definitely doesn’t need to add anyone at the trade deadline. Because good news, they probably won’t!)
  • Only 36 straight seasons without a title, and only 21 without reaching the NBA Finals. AT LEAST WE’VE WON ONE/GOTTEN THERE, NUMEROUS OTHER NBA FRANCHISES.

So that’s basically it. Six solid reasons not to feel sorry for Blazer fans, or the Blazers, in any way, shape, or form. See you in fall 2015 when we will absolutely definitely be the defending NBA Champions (note: this message has been partially recycled from 1992, 2000, and 2010).

Sunday, February 9, 2014

State of the West: Los Angeles Lakers

For the next month or so, Hack-a-Shaq will be having these State of the West posts, which will be about the current and future state of each of the Western Conference teams. It will include some guest writers for certain teams and I'm really excited to see how this turns out. Enjoy!

I am a patient fan. I recognize all that this franchise has done during my lifetime to help make my fan experience one of the best ones in the world. It's not easy to win the Finals five times, appear in the Finals seven times and only miss the playoffs twice during the 19 years I have been alive. It's not easy to reach the top of the mountain once, let alone the 16 times this team has done it during their history, not to mention the 31 times they have made the Finals. This is one of the most storied franchises of all time between all sports and it brings me great pain to see them put up a team that is this bad. Granted, a lot of these poor performances can be traced back to the team's horrendous injury bug; they've been so injured that they played against the Cleveland Cavaliers with only 8 active players, leading to two of them getting hurt (of course) and two of them fouling out, which led to the NBA using an old rule that allowed Robert Sacre to stay in the game at the expense of an extra technical foul shot for Cleveland every time Sacre fouled somebody. The Lakers, somehow, still won that game, which may not be a good thing.

The fact that half of Lakers fans are rooting against their team every night is telling; in the past, wins were sweet and beloved by all Lakers fans everywhere. But, it is virtually impossible for this team to make the playoffs in the brutal Western Conference, let alone advance should they get there. At this stage, the only thing wins are doing is keeping the Lakers further away from a potential Top-5 draft pick in what is supposed to be the most talented draft since the 2003 NBA draft. And, if we're being entirely honest, even a fully healthy Lakers squad wasn't going to advance in the West. Let's look at the potential starting lineup, shall we?

Steve Nash, PG
Kobe Bryant, SG
Nick Young, SF
Pau Gasol, PF
Chris Kaman, C

Or, if you'd prefer a smaller lineup (and Nick Young coming off the bench):

Steve Nash, PG
Steve Blake, SG
Kobe Bryant, SF
Pau Gasol, PF
Chris Kaman, C

Any way you want to look at it, that is a talented lineup, one that could certainly cause headaches to some contenders in the West, on Kobe and Pau's talent alone. But, let's face facts: this team wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. Sure, they could have potentially made a run for the 6th or 7th seed, but then what? Getting swept by the Spurs or the Blazers isn't exactly the makings of a contending team. This team's star players are old, so when they broke down, the whole team broke down. You can't build a contender on the legs of 35 year old Kobe Bryant and 40 year old Steve Nash, as good as they were. We know what most of these guys provide, so I'll gloss over how the current Lakers are built and look ahead to the future.

The future looks a lot better than what most people want to admit. The Lakers picked a perfect time to field the worst Lakers squad of the past 20 seasons because, after all of the draft choices they traded to get Dwight Howard and Nash, they still have their own 2014 draft choice, which was, incidentally, the one that was valued the least in trade talks because everybody expected the Lakers to be championship contenders for the near future. Now, the Lakers have a chance to get a top 10 draft choice in a draft where most of the Top 10 could have been the first overall pick during last year's draft. The names of this year's draft include Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle, among others (more on them in a later article). A top 5 choice may give the Lakers a franchise player, while a top 10 choice will still go a long way to rebuilding the franchise.

Of course, one young player won't do it alone and the Lakers are well aware of that, having created a bench made of young, talented but ultimately forgotten former lottery picks like Kendall Marshall, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry. If they can keep them past this season is another story. The Lakers have also maintained their options open for free agency; the team only has Bryant, Nash, Sacre, Marshall and Nick Young under contract for next season for a total of 35.3 million dollars, largely thanks to Bryant's foolish max contract over the next two seasons, which makes up a little more than half of the salary cap available to the Lakers, without taking into account any possible exceptions and minimum salaries. This comes at an excellent time, because the next free agency period will include Carmelo Anthony, potentially LeBron James and some good, but not great players like Greg Monroe. The Lakers are in great position to completely shake up the franchise and add potential star players via draft and free agency, while retaining the services of Kobe Bryant. All of this without taking into account one anonymous NBA GM's comments about how 2015 free agent Kevin Love is "100% certain" to go to the Lakers. Taking that into account, the Lakers will likely not offer Anthony a max contract, or any contract at all, instead opting to put a few pieces here and there to set up Love coming to LA next season.

All in all, the Lakers seem in bad shape now, with only a few first round draft choices between now and 2019, but, in reality, the Lakers could climb back to the top of the mountain in a few short seasons if they don't waste anymore money (Bryant's contract is truly horrific), and if they manage to avoid a major draft bust in this year's draft. Not bad for a team who apparently mortgaged their future by trading for Howard and Nash.