Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Free Throw Disparity, Lamar Odom and Vladimar Radmanovic the Difference for the Lakers in Boston

Sunday night, the Los Angeles Lakers dropped game two in Boston by six points. The Lakers now head back home without stealing a game at TD Banknorth Garden. If they lose tonight on their home floor, the series will essentially be over. So what do the Lakers need to do to in order to change the outcome of the game? Fixing the free throw disparity, getting Lamar Odom involved in the offense and changing the role of Vladimar Radmanovic should be the focus of the Lakers and their coaching staff.

The difference in free throw attempts between the teams in the first two games was staggering. After game two, all the Lakers - from the coaching staff to the players - complained about the officiating. In a few isolated incidents, the Lakers had something to gripe about. However, the real difference was the aggressiveness between the teams on the offensive end. The Celtics were forcing the action, while the Lakers offense was simply stagnant.

Game 1 FT
Lakers 21-28, 75%
Celtics 28-35, 80%

Game 2 FT
Lakers 10-10, 100%
Celtics 27-38, 71%

Total FT
Lakers 31-38, 81.6%
Celtics 55-73, 75.3%

To me, the problem starts with Kobe Bryant. In the first two games combined, Bryant shot 13 of 13 from the free throw line. In comparison, Bryant attempted nine free throws a game during the regular season and 9.3 free throws per game so far in the playoffs.

A share of the praise needs to go to Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and James Posey for their outstanding defense in Boston on Bryant. The other share should go to Celtics coaches Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau for stressing to the team the importance of crowding Bryant and then coming with an extra defender as he readies to square-up and shoot.

If the Lakers are going to comeback in this series, Kobe Bryant needs to become more aggressive, draw contact and get to the free throw line at a greater rate. Settling for fifteen to eighteen foot jump shots will not help to get the Celtics into the bonus and the Lakers onto the free throw line.

Lamar Odom has really flourished as the third scoring option since the trade for Pau Gasol. Odom is a versatile, left handed scorer who is a tough matchup for the opposition. The only true matchup for the Celtics on Odom is Kevin Garnett. However, Garnett is busy defending Gasol. Therefore, Odom should be free to dominate his matchup. Unfortunately, Odom has had minimal impact in the series thus far.

Game 1:
FTA 11
Reb 6
Assists 1
Plus/Minus -8
Points 14

Game 2:
FTA 11
Reb 8
Assists 2
Plus/Minus -13
Points 10

Odom’s strength is his ability to put pressure on the opposing defense and get the big men in foul trouble. Instead, he has mainly settled for mid-range jump shots in the two games against the Celtics. When Odom has gotten into the paint so far in the series, he has botched layups and even missed a dunk in the third quarter of game two.

When defended by anyone besides Kevin Garnett, Odom needs to be put in a position where he can face-up at the high post and drive the ball to the basket. Odom is also effective in this spot when he forces the opposition to double-team or help on him, then passes out on the perimeter to one of the many effective shooters on the Lakers.

Lastly, by my estimation, the Lakers need to change their defensive matchups. Pierce has been the motor behind the Celtics offense in the first two games of the series. He has been defended mainly by Vladimir Radmanovic, who struggles mightily to keep Pierce in front of him. I would move Bryant over to defend Pierce and limit Radmanovic’s minutes altogether. From the start of the game, Radmanovic should be assigned to shadowing Ray Allen. In other situations where Radmanovic is in the game, he should be defending Kevin Garnett, who has spent most of the series shooting jump shots from around the key. Sasha Vujicic should receive more playing time and be assigned the task of chasing Allen around the perimeter. Although Radmanovic has produced from the perimeter on the offensive end, the Lakers can afford to play him less.

If the Lakers plan to turn around this series, they need to reverse the free throw disparity, get Lamar Odom more involved on offense and change their defensive assignments around in order to slow down the Celtics offense. If the Lakers fail to make these key adjustments during the day layoff, then I expect this series to be over by the end of the weekend.

Tim Duncan Leads the Spurs Past the Hornets

A grueling seven game series between the New Orleans Hornets and the San Antonio Spurs wrapped up last Monday evening with a Spurs 91-82 win on the Hornets home floor. To me, the deciding factor of each game came down to how well the Hornets controlled ten time NBA All-Star, Tim Duncan.

Right from the start of game one, it was obvious that Hornets coach Byron Scott decided they were going to force the Spurs peripheral players to beat them. Every time Duncan caught the ball in the low post, he saw two Hornets defenders in his face. The Hornets wanted the Spurs to rely on Tony Parker's penetration into the paint and Manu Ginobili’s ability to knock down stand-still jumpers, rather than Duncan hitting turnaround jumpers. Not allowing the Spurs to get into any type of offensive flow was the goal. With some of the other Spurs players, such as Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley and Brent Barry, now past their prime, the Hornets wanted to force these guys to have to make shots for them to win.

In the three Spurs losses, they were really dominated by the Hornets in the paint. Duncan’s impact in the game was limited and the Hornets were able to come away with a victory.

Game # 1
Rebound Differential -8
Paint Points Differential -11
Duncan's Points 5

Game # 2
Rebound Differential -1
Paint Points Differential +15
Duncan's Points 18

Game # 5
Rebound Differential -9
Paint Points Differential -4
Duncan's Points 10

In the four San Antonio wins, Tim Duncan and the Spurs were able to really control the painted area. In the Spurs four wins, they held the Hornets to an average of 15.8 free throw attempts, compared to an average of 24 free throw attempts in games the Hornets won.

Game # 3
Rebound Differential +2
Paint Points Differential +16
Duncan's Points 16

Game # 4
Rebound Differential +9
Paint Points Differential +7
Duncan's Points 2

Game # 6
Rebound Differential +5
Paint Points Differential +2
Duncan's Points 20

Game # 7
Rebound Differential +9
Paint Points Differential -16
Duncan's Points 16

With Duncan double-teamed every time he touched the ball in the low post, the ability of the Spurs perimeter shooting became the true test in this series. He was forced to quickly pass out of the post and then his teammates would swing the ball to an open shooter on the perimeter. Therefore, the shooting ability of the Spurs from the perimeter became the key.

In the four games where the Spurs shot below 43% from the field, they went 1-3. Shooting above 43% meant the Spurs went undefeated. From the three point line, a similar trend occurred. In the four games the Spurs shot below 40% from the three point line, they went 1-3.

However, when the Spurs perimeter shooting was effective, the Hornets’ strategy was unsuccessful.

Game # 1
Spurs Lose, 82-101
SA FG%: 40.8%
SA 3PT%: 38.7%

Game #2
Spurs Lose, 84-102
SA FG%: 42.5%
SA 3PT%: 29.6%

Game #3
Spurs Win, 110-99
SA FG%: 48.2%
SA 3PT%: 44.0%

Game #4
Spurs Win, 100-80
SA FG%: 51.3%
SA 3PT%: 30.8%

Game #5
Spurs Lose, 79-101
SA FG%: 37.7%
SA 3PT%: 39.1%

Game #6
Spurs Win, 99-80
SA FG%: 49.4%
SA 3PT%: 52.4%

Game #7
Spurs Win, 91-82
SA FG%: 39.5%
SA 3PT%: 42.9%

Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich, was effective in moving Duncan around and using him in different ways after the first two games - both Hornets wins. Placing Duncan at the free throw line, rather than in the low post, gave the Spurs a different look. Using Duncan in handoff-and-roll situations with Tony Parker also worked well for the Spurs.

For the Hornets, they had a terrific season, but in the end, they were beaten by the more talented, deeper team. The Hornets strategy was to dare the other Spurs outside of Duncan to beat them and four times they did just that.

Who Deserves NBA MVP?

Since the 1955-56 season, the NBA has given out the Maurice Podoloff Trophy to the league’s Most Valuable Player. This year’s voting for the award will certainly be one of the closest ever. With LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Kevin Garnett all considered for the award, the voters will have to consider what their criteria are and who is most deserving.

For me, the NBA MVP this season is Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets. Paul joined the record books among the leagues greatest little guys. In the NBA’s history, only six times has someone played in at least 75 games, scored 20 points per game, handed out 10 assists per game, and had two steals per game.

Chris Paul
Tim Hardaway
Kevin Johnson
Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas

Beyond just having a great offensive statistical season, Paul was the leader of this Hornets squad, who improved their record from 39-43 in 2006-07 to 56-26 this season. New Orleans had the second best record in the Western Conference, competing in the Southwest Division, which also featured three other 50 plus win teams - San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. Only the Lakers in the West and the Pistons and Celtics in the East won more games this season than New Orleans.

Paul also made those around him better. David West achieved career highs in points per game (20.6) and rebounds per game (8.9). Tyson Chandler reached a career high in points, averaging 11.8 per game. Peja Stojakovic shot a career best from behind the three point line (44.1%).
Paul didn’t just excel on the offensive side of the floor. He led the NBA in steals per game (2.7) and finished third in defensive rebounds per game amongst point guards (3.2). Upon trading point guard Bobby Jackson to the Houston Rockets on February 21, the Hornets played the rest of the season with no backup point guard to Paul. Playing with merely average defensive players in Morris Peterson and Stojakovic, Paul was forced to generally defend the other team’s best guard every night.

As a point guard, Paul also did an outstanding job taking care of the ball. Paul finished third in the league in assists to turnover ratio (4.60) and sixth in steals per turnover (1.08). Directing the Hornets offense, the team finished ninth in the NBA in fast break points with 13.6 per game and eighth in field goal attempts with 82.9 per game.

With a roster of players limited to scoring from the perimeter (Morris Peterson, Peja Stojakovic, Jannero Pargo) or from inside the paint (Tyson Chandler, Bonzi Wells, David West, Hilton Armstrong), Paul was really the only true playmaker on the squad.

Some telling statistics of Paul’s dominance and where he ranked within the NBA:

NBA Rank
FTM/Game for Point Guards
3P% for Point Guards

Bottom line: Chris Paul really did it all this season. He excelled on the offensive side - scoring in all different ways, handling the ball and creating shots for his teammates. On defense, he created fast break opportunities and extra possessions by forcing steals. His team exceeded all expectations from the media and won seventeen more games than last season. Paul made his teammates better – evidenced by several of them having career years. The Hornets won the second most games in the Western Conference, and their point guard, Chris Paul, is the main reason for the teams’ success.

Thibodeau Top Candidate

With the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks and potentially others all looking for new head coaches this summer, Boston Celtics associate head coach, Tom Thibodeau should be at the top of teams’ lists.

Last summer, Thibodeau signed a one year agreement with the Celtics to work with Doc Rivers and his staff. As he finishes his eighteenth season in the NBA, Thibodeau has been a staple of success on NBA benches. This season with the Celtics will be the eleventh time he coaches in the postseason. Unlike his 1998-99 NBA Finals appearance with the Knicks, this time, Thibodeau hopes his Celtics squad ends the season as champions.

As you can see by the numbers, Thibodeau is seen around the league as a defensive mastermind, whose teams regularly finish in the top of the NBA in defensive field goal percentage and opponent’s points per game.


Year Team Wins Losses FG% Rank PPG Rank
1992 San Antonio 49 33 4 9
1993 San Antonio 55 27 4 2
1994 Philadelphia 24 58 16 10
1995 Philadelphia 18 64 27 26
1996 New York 57 25 1 5
1997 New York 43 39 2 2
1998 New York 27 23 2 4
1999 New York 50 32 3 2
2000 New York 48 34 1 1
2001 New York 30 52 13 14
2002 New York 37 45 26 20
2003 Houston 45 37 2 5
2004 Houston 51 31 2 3
2005 Houston 34 48 2 4
2006 Houston 52 30 1 3
2007 Boston 66 16 1 2 2

Thibodeau stresses the importance of slowing opponents’ offensive transition and defending the post. This season, the Celtics led the league in defensive fast break points, allowing only 9.1 per game. Challenging opponents shots and team rebounding are other points that Thibodeau has been known to place great importance on. The Celtics finished second in the NBA this year in opponents rebounds, giving up 38.9 per game.

Player development is another area Thibodeau has received praise. During his career as an NBA assistant coach, Thibodeau has been credited with helping to incorporate Dennis Rodman into the Spurs team, being Jeff Van Gundy’s righthand man in New York and developing Yao Ming in Houston.

This season, he has received recognition for his work with rookie big man Glen Davis and second-year point guard Rajon Rondo. Davis and Rondo have been capable in pick-and-roll defense situations, as well as, their ability to limit their opponent’s offensive effectives. Because of this, both players are expected to play major roles in the Celtics championship run this season.

For teams looking for an accomplished coach to help improve team defense and skill development for their young players, Tom Thibodeau would be an excellent selection as a head coach. Rather than recycling a guys who have already had a chance in the league - such as Terry Porter, Scott Skiles, Rick Carlisle, or Larry Brown – Thibodeau is the one that should get the chance at the top jobs this summer.