Monthly Archive for May, 2013

Bryant’s Second-Half Hot Streak

Atlanta Hawks v Los Angeles LakersEven in his 17th season in the league, Kobe Bryant experienced one of his most efficient and productive years to date. A large part of that was Bryant’s ability in getting to the rim and finishing.

As Lakers.com’s Mike Trudell noted last week, his success rate at the rim was his highest since 2007. Even his overall shooting percentage was at its highest since the 2008-09 season.

For a stretch out of the All-Star break, Bryant continued to perform at an extremely high offensive level, most notably in the second halves of games. He led the Lakers to five wins in six contests, the victory against Atlanta in early March putting the club at the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 18, 2012.

Below are short recaps and shot charts of Bryant’s production in the second halves of games:

2/22 vs. POR: Bryant scores 29 of his 40 points in the second half (10 for 14 field goals), guiding the Lakers to a 111-107 win.
Kobe_Bryant_Second_Half_Portland

2/24 @DAL: Bryant scores 22 of his 38 points in the second half (9 for 11 field goals), including 14 in the fourth quarter (5 for 5 field goals) to lead the Lakers to a 103-99 victory – their third straight win out of the break.
Kobe_Bryant_Second_Half_Dallas

2/25 @DEN: Bryant records 18 points in the second half (7 for 10 field goals), to finish with 29 points, but the Lakers fall short in Denver, losing 119-108.
Kobe_Bryant_Second_Half_Denver

2/28 vs. MIN: Bryant sits out the entire fourth, but notches 11 points in the third quarter (4 for 7 field goals, 3 for 5 three-pointers) to bring his total to 33 points on the evening, as the Lakers move to within one game of the .500 mark with a 116-94 victory over the Timberwolves.
Kobe_Bryant_Second_Half_Minnestota

3/3 vs. ATL: Bryant scores 20 of his 34 points in the second half (7 for 16 field goals), and the Lakers survive a late rally by the Hawks to win 99-98.
Kobe_Bryant_Second_Half_Atlanta

Over this five-game stretch, Bryant shot a combined 37 of 58 from the floor (63.8 percent), including 5 of 9 three-pointers (55.6 percent). Below is a further breakdown:

- Restricted area: 12 of 16 (75 percent)
- In the Paint (non-restricted area): 8 of 12 (66.7 percent)
- Mid-range: 12 of 21 (57.1 percent)
- Right corner three-pointer: 0 of 1 (0 percent)
- Left corner three-pointer: N/A
- Above the break three-pointer: 5 of 8 (62.5 percent)
Kobe_Bryant_Second_Half
*All information used is courtesy of NBA.com/stats.

Examining Gasol’s Shot Production

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs - Game TwoIt is no revelation that Lakers forward Pau Gasol has sacrificed his individual game for the betterment of the team.

Lakers.com’s Mike Trudell noted last week that Gasol has moved farther and farther away from the rim over the last two seasons in order to accomodate his teammates, most notably Andrew Bynum in 2011-12 and Dwight Howard in 2012-13.

Even the 7-foot Spaniard acknowledged in his exit interview that it took coach Mike D’Antoni and his staff some time to learn how to best utilize his unique skillset, one that operates much more efficiently out of the post.

As evidenced by the shot charts below, Gasol found himself closer to the basket, and much more in his comfort zone, as the season progressed:

- In 16 October/November games, he averaged 3.9 shot attempts per game from less than 5 feet.
- In 17 December/January games, he again averaged 3.9 shot attempts per game from less than 5 feet.
- In 8 February/March games, he averaged 5.6 shot attempts per game from less than 5 feet.
- In 8 April games, he averaged 6.4 shot shot attempts per game from less than 5 feet.
*All information below is courtesy of NBA.com/stats.

October/November:
Overall: 80 for 189 (42.3 percent)
- Less than 5 feet: 37 for 63 (58.7 percent)
- 5-9 feet: 5 for 29 (17.2 percent)
- 10 feet and beyond: 38 for 97 (39.2 percent)
Pau_Gasol_October_November
December/January:
Overall: 82 for 173 (47.4 percent)
- Less than 5 feet: 43 for 67 (64.2 percent)
- 5-9 feet: 8 for 23 (34.8 percent)
- 10 feet and beyond: 31 for 83 (37.3 percent)
Pau_Gasol_December_January

February/March:
Overall: 49 for 102 (48.0 percent)
- Less than 5 feet: 25 for 45 (55.6 percent)
- 5-9 feet: 7 for 12 (58.3 percent)
- 10 feet and beyond: 17 for 45 (37.8 percent)
Pau_Gasol_February_March
April:
Overall: 59 for 115 (51.3 percent)
- Less than 5 feet: 33 for 51 (64.7 percent)
- 5-9 feet: 8 for 24 (33.3 percent)
- 10 feet and beyond: 18 for 40 (45.0 percent)
Pau_Gasol_April

Pre All-Star Break:
Pau_Gasol_Pre_All-Star_Break
Post All-Star Break:
Pau_Gasol_Post_All-Star_Break

Kobe Named All-NBA First Team … Again

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles LakersThe abundant accomplishments in Kobe Bryant’s career continued to mount in 2012-13, with yet another All-Star berth (his 15th) topped by his 15th overall selection to an All-NBA team when he was named to the All-NBA First Team for the 11th time.

This 11th appearance matches Karl Malone’s all-time record for First Team accolades, and the 15th overall matches Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record. In other words, no player in NBA history has more appearances than Bryant, with only two players left to match his consistent greatness over his 17-year career.

Bryant amassed one of his better statistical all-around years in 2012-13, averaging 27.3 points (third in the NBA), 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds on 46.3 percent shooting. He started 78 games, missing two because of a severely sprained ankle and the final two of the regular season, plus the playoffs, after tearing his Achilles tendon against Golden State on April 12.

Kobe also moved past Wilt Chamberlain for 4th on the all-time scoring list and became the youngest player to score 30,000 points.

With his 11th First Team selection, Bryant surpassed Hall of Famers Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Bob Cousy, Michael Jordan, Bob Pettit, and Jerry West, who have 10 nods apiece. His 15th overall selection pushed him past Shaquille O’Neal and Malone (14 each).

Bryant’s first appearance on an All-NBA team was in his third season, 1999, when he earned a Third Team nod, as he did in 2005. He was on the Second Team in 2000 and 2001, and the First Team from 2002-13, minus 2005.

To be chosen as an All-NBA honoree, a player is selected by media members that vote for two guards, two forwards and one center for each of the three teams, with Bryant having been named one of the NBA’s top two guards in 64.7 percent of his seasons (11 of 17), and a top six guard in 88.2 percent (15 of 17) of his campaigns.

Bryant’s teammate Dwight Howard was named as the All-NBA Third team center, breaking a streak of five consecutive years on the All-NBA First team. He now has two Third Team selections to give him seven overall appearances.

ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM
G: Chris Paul
G: Kobe Bryant
F: LeBron James
F: Kevin Durant
C: Tim Duncan

ALL-NBA SECOND TEAM
G: Tony Parker
G: Russell Westbrook
F: Carmelo Anthony
F: Blake Griffin
C: Marc Gasol

ALL-NBA THIRD TEAM
G: James Harden
G: Dwyane Wade
F: Paul George
F: David Lee
C: Dwight Howard

Finishing At the Rim

Atlanta Hawks v Los Angeles LakersFinishing shots at the rim at a high rate of efficiency is a category that can make a big difference over the course of an NBA season.

Whether through front court or back court players, having an elevated conversion percentage inside goes a long way towards overall offensive efficiency, where the Lakers finished eighth on the season (105.8) amongst NBA teams.

Here’s how each player fared from five feet and in*:
*Statistics courtesy of Hoopdata.com.

Above 65 Percent
Steve Nash: 61 makes in 86 attempts, 70.9%
Dwight Howard: 357 for 507, 70.4%
Kobe Bryant: 264 for 379, 69.7% (highest percentage since 2007)
Steve Blake: 19 for 28, 67.9%
Antawn Jamison: 127 for 188, 67.6%
Pau Gasol: 124 for 186, 66.7%
Earl Clark: 76 for 115, 66.1%
Jordan Hill: 45 for 69, 65.2%

60 Percent and Below
Robert Sacre: 9 for 15, 60.0%
Metta World Peace: 126 for 215, 58.6%
Chris Duhon: 6 for 11, 54.5%
Jodie Meeks: 59 for 110, 53.6%
Devin Ebanks: 10 for 19, 52.6%
Darius Morris: 38 for 74, 51.4%

Bryant’s 69.7 success rate certainly stands out, as he continued his steady improvement of the last four years (from a low of 58.6 percent in 2010) despite his increasing age. Meanwhile, Howard’s 70.4 percent rate is his lowest since 2007, down from 74.4 percent in the previous season, which one could ascribe at least in part to his season-long recovery from 2012 back surgery.

Gasol’s 186 attempts at the rim is very low considering his skill set. Clearly his appearing in only 49 games had something to do with that; however, the Spaniard averaged just 3.9 attempts at the rim, continuing a downward trend from 5.8 per game in 2010. Figuring out how to get Gasol touches in the post with Howard and Bryant attempting nearly 900 shots from that range was certainly a challenge for coach Mike D’Antoni, though it improved late in the season.

On the other hand, certain Lakers struggled to finish at the rim, with Metta World Peace (58.6 percent) joining younger players Jodie Meeks (53.6 percent) and Darius Morris (51.4 percent). Minimal attempts from others (Steve Blake, Chris Duhon and Devin Ebanks) make the respective rate of conversion less impactful.

For comparison’s sake: Always among league leaders inside, Tony Parker made 68.8 percent this season, below both Nash and Bryant. Chris Paul was at 69.5 percent, Mike Conley 57.9, James Harden 63.0, Russell Westbrook 61.6, Stephen Curry 59.2. One guard, Dwyane Wade, managed to make an impressive 74.7 percent of his shots at the rim, way up from around 66 percent in the last two seasons.

The 2013 MVP, LeBron James, hit an absurd 78.3 percent of his shots at the rim. Kevin Durant wasn’t so bad himself, converting 75.1 percent. Those two stand far above another elite wing scorer, Carmelo Anthony, who made just 54.9 percent at the rim.

Amongst other NBA bigs, Chris Bosh hit 75.5 percent, Tim Duncan 71.8, LaMarcus Aldridge 71.2, Marc Gasol 67.1, Joakim Noah 62.0, Brook Lopez 69.4, Zach Randolph 59.4, Roy Hibbert 53.6.

As we can see, L.A.’s top four players rank amongst the league’s best finishers.

Were the (somewhat healthy) Lakers Elite?

Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City ThunderAfter two rounds of playoffs in the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs remain, and it’s not just recently that the two potential NBA finalists have played well: Over the last 40 games, the Grizzlies went 28-12, and the Spurs 27-13.

That 28-12 mark may sound familiar in Los Angeles, because that’s the record the Lakers put up as well. They won at a .700 clip despite not being fully healthy, with Pau Gasol missing 20 games and Steve Nash eight.

Only Denver finished better, rolling off a 33-7 mark, while Oklahoma City matched San Antonio’s record to round out the top five.

The Thunder endured a devastating injury when Russell Westbrook (torn meniscus in his knee) went down early in Round 1, OKC ultimately falling 4-1 to Memphis in Round 2. Denver lost Danilo Gallinari (torn ACL) and to Golden State in Round 1. L.A. was swept by the Spurs without the services of Kobe Bryant (torn Achilles), not to mention their next best guards (Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks) for the bulk of the series.

As such, the “what if” game is alive. OKC may have a stronger argument, given they played elite basketball all season, while the Lakers had to exert maximum effort after falling eight games below .500 in January just to make the playoffs.

Nonetheless, you don’t go 28-12 over 40 games in the NBA without a combination of talent and on-court chemistry. It’s the latter that the Lakers lacked early due to new players, a coaching/system change and a plethora of injuries.

With that said, at least one guy believes 28-12 wasn’t a fluke.

“When you go from a year like this … it does something for the group,” said Bryant. “It builds character. To allow that to dissipate and do that again with another group, it’s a headache.

“I want (Pau Gasol) here. He gives us the best chance to win titles. You bring Dwight (Howard) back, then we’re off and running. You saw how well they played together (at the end of the season). That puzzle finally got solved.”

We’ll have to wait and see what the roster looks like for next season, with Howard being the first domino that needs to drop. In the meantime, here’s a look at how each Western team fared in the final 40 games:

1. NUGGETS (33-7) – Home: 23-0; Away: 10-7

2. LAKERS (28-12) – Home: 17-2; Away: 11-10

2. GRIZZLIES (28-12) – Home: 15-3; Away: 13-9

3. THUNDER (27-13) – Home: 15-4; Away: 12-9

3. SPURS (27-13) – Home: 17-4; Away: 10-9

4. CLIPPERS (24-16) – Home: 13-5; Away: 11-11

5. MAVERICKS (23-17) – Home: 13-9; Away: 10-8

6. WARRIORS (21-19) – Home: 14-7; Away: 7-12

7. JAZZ (20-20) – Home: 16-7; Away: 4-13

8. WOLVES (14-26) – Home: 9-13; Away: 5-13

9. HORNETS (13-27) – Home: 9-11; Away: 4-13

10. KINGS (12-28) – Home: 8-11; Away: 4-17

10. BLAZERS (12-28) – Home: 8-11; Away: 4-17

11. SUNS (11-29) – Home: 7-13; Away: 4-16

Steve Blake Stepped Up

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs - Game TwoAmong the few positive revelations amidst L.A.’s season flush with injuries was the late emergence of backup point guard Steve Blake, who – before even his season ended in injury – showed himself capable of carrying a heavy load in April.

A hamstring strain kept Blake from playing in Games 3 and 4 of L.A.’s first round loss to San Antonio, and an abdominal injury and subsequent surgery limited him to 45 regular season games, but his play down the stretch was critical in getting the Lakers into the playoffs.

Steve Nash missed the final eight games of the regular season, and Kobe Bryant the final two games in addition to the playoffs, leaving Blake to shoulder a vastly increased load in the backcourt.

“Towards the end of the year, I got to really show some of the other abilities I haven’t shown while I’ve been here,” said Blake in his exit interview. “There’s so much talent here and not a lot of shots to go around. With Kobe out and Nash being hurt, someone had to take those shots and be ready to step up.”

In the regular season’s final two games against San Antonio and Houston, L.A.’s playoff fortunes hanging in the balance and its Hall of Fame backcourt in street clothes, Blake did this: 23.5 ppg; 6 rpg; 5.5 apg; 1 spg; 8 three-pointers made. The Lakers won both games, jumping into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed, avoiding becoming just the third Lakers team since the late Dr. Jerry Buss bought the team in 1979 to miss the postseason.

That’s how Blake capped a strong April in which he averaged 12.6 points, 5.3 boards, 4.0 assists and 1.0 steals. Furthermore, coach Mike D’Antoni repeatedly pointed out that Blake was his best perimeter defender, both on and off the ball.

Having undoubtedly proven his worth, Blake hopes to play a key role next season, particularly now that D’Antoni has had a chance to see what he has in players like Blake.

“I think it could definitely work,” Blake concluded. “I’m not exactly sure what the personnel is going to be, but if we had a whole summer, I think coach (D’Antoni) could figure out exactly what works best. We definitely have the talent. That’s what the summer time is for.”

D’Antoni Makes Changes to his Staff

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers - Game FourPreferring a small staff to the one he inherited from previous coach Mike Brown, current Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni will not retain assistants Chuck Person and Bernie Bickerstaff for the 2013-14 season.

Fellow 2012-13 assistant Eddie Jordan recently accepted the head coaching job at Rutgers University, leaving three assistants on D’Antoni’s staff: Steve Clifford, Darvin Ham and Mike’s brother Dan D’Antoni.

The 2013-14 coaching roster is not finalized, however, meaning D’Antoni could make further changes or additions over the summer. With that said, D’Antoni does not want a staff to match the size of Brown’s, which featured five full-time assistants and coaching assistant Kyle Triggs, who is joining Jordan at Rutgers.

Player development coach Phil Handy will remain on the staff.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak was supportive of D’Antoni in comments made during his exit interview last week, appreciating what he did in a season stained by constant injuries.

“To Mike’s credit, he made adjustments,” said Kupchak. “Once we started getting players back and once he started to see what our real strengths were, he was flexible and made adjustments, and that’s when we started to win games and gather momentum.”

The Lakers finished the season on a five-game winning streak, amassing a 28-12 record after falling to a season-low 17-25 record with a January loss at Memphis.

Several players mentioned that having an offseason to really put in the offense and defense, in addition to establishing a bigger-picture identity with his staff, can really benefit D’Antoni and by nature the team.

Teammates, Management Weigh in on Howard

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers - Game FourOver the course of last week’s exit interviews, many of Dwight Howard’s teammates plus general manager Mitch Kupchak and coach Mike D’Antoni weighed in on the big man’s season, adding their thoughts on the impending free agent’s future.

As relayed by Kupchak, the Lakers understand why Howard will wait until July to discuss his future, as will nearly every free-agent-to-be; that’s to be expected with the way things are set up in the NBA.

With that said, there’s no question that both players and management are hoping Howard decides to re-sign with Los Angeles. Here are some of the quotes about Howard that stood out:

MITCH KUPCHAK
Q: On why he’s hopeful Howard will re-sign with the Lakers:
Kupchak: We have a great legacy, a great history of great players in this city dating back to when the franchise came here in 1960, and he certainly fits the mold. But I don’t want to get ahead of the game and take anything for granted. Obviously, I’m hopeful and optimistic. From what I understand, our players that came in today were very supportive of him returning. If you just look at the opportunity, which is to play for this franchise in this city, with what this franchise has meant to this city and its accomplishments, that’s probably the most any team can offer a player. Certainly, some players might not prefer to play on a stage like in Los Angeles, but I do know that this franchise will continue to be run as a model franchise. This is a very desirable place for players to play. What it comes down to is being comfortable selling the Los Angeles Lakers, and that’s where my confidence lies the most.

Q: On standing up for Howard around the All-Star break in a Lakers.com piece (among other places) when he thought Howard was being criticized unfairly, and how Howard responded:
Kupchak: I think it helped that people recognized what he was going through. Once again, the expectations leading into the season were just so high and so off the charts that any kind of sub performance would result in negative feedback, and that’s what took place. When you’re not performing to the level of expectations, people look for – and rightfully so – reasons why, and for some reason, he seemed to get most of the criticism. A lot of that has to do with the fact that he was here on a one-year deal, and for business reasons, he has to wait until this summer, but nobody understands that … I don’t think people understand it’s been about a year since he had surgery. Here’s a guy that had surgery last April and here it is a full NBA season later, and he played a full slate of games. I asked everybody here to look back at his March performance (17.9 points, 15.2 rebounds), and understandably, people aren’t going to say: “He’s not playing as well as he could because he had back surgery.” When you’re on the court in this league, it means you’re ready to play. I feel as if he’s not been given his due credit and he’s been under appreciated.

MIKE D’ANTONI
Q: On Howard wanting to take his time in making a decision regarding his free agency:
D’Antoni: We’ll just have to go on what he says. I don’t have any insight other than what he said. He will take his time and make a good decision. As everybody said, and everybody knows, and hopes what the right place is. But that’s something he has to come to, and he will … You want everybody to be happy and show them what it could be like. He knows. He’ll take that information and sort it out.

KOBE BRYANT
Q: On his feelings whether Howard will re-sign with the Lakers:
Bryant: I hope he does. It’s just a matter of what he feels in his heart what and he wants to do. He’s reached a crossroads of his career and I think Los Angeles is the perfect spot for him to assert himself, to put his foot down and have his career really take off. There’s no greater place for centers to play than here in Los Angeles … I’ll talk to him, bring him out to the house, chill with him a little bit, watch a cartoon movie or something and we’ll have a good time.

Q: On Howard’s emergence later in the season and prospects for 2013-14: Bryant: You look at what he’s done in the second half of the season, it’s been pretty impressive – coming off of back surgery as well. This summer, he has all summer to get himself in tip top form and next year I think he’ll be unbelievable.

Q: On if the team realized what it had this past season, and if they can achieve their goal next season if the core group of players returns:
Bryant: We understood, but we didn’t have a chance to develop it because of injury after injury after injury. It was crazy. It was a constant process for us, but we finally figured it out. It’s great to bring the group back because we know what to do, and we know how lethal we can be.

PAU GASOL
Q: On how potentially keeping Howard would impact the Spaniard:
Gasol: I don’t think it’s 100 percent attached to that. I think the franchise would like to keep Dwight, will do what it takes to keep Dwight here. But that doesn’t mean that if he’s here, I’m automatically gone, at least as I understand.

Q: On the season, and how the team had to adjust to each other over the course of the year:
Gasol: In the beginning, we struggled more because everybody wanted to assert themselves and establish themselves. Things didn’t work out that well from the beginning. The coaching change had a big role into it, but we progressed as the season went on and put our individual desires aside and found what worked. We finished the season playing the right way as far as a balance.

STEVE NASH
Q: On his feelings on Howard’s decision this offseason:
Nash: I’m very hopeful that Dwight will be back. I think this is the place for him. He’s in the prime of his career, and he has his best years ahead of him. He can play for one of the greatest franchises in sports in an amazing city. I’m hopeful he sees it that way.

Q: On elite players coming together in a short time with no training camp in a systsem:
Nash: We have a lot of guys who have had great careers, great success that have done it in their way. But when you come together you can’t do it in four or five different ways. I think that was really difficult for everyone, for the players, and particularly for the coach. We can make a long list of what (D’Antoni) faced this year: coming in late, the craziest injury situation I’ve ever seen, guys playing when they’re not themselves. It’s hard to find an identity when guys aren’t what they’re going to be in a week, or out of the lineup in a week.

JODIE MEEKS
Q: On his relationship with Howard and whether he believes he’ll re-sign in Los Angeles:
Meeks: I know he loves this city and this team. We got pretty close as friends. I can’t say exactly what he’s going to do, but I know he likes (Los Angeles).

EARL CLARK
Q: On if he sensed playing with Howard in Orlando and Los Angeles if he learned anything this season:
Clark: Once he came to L.A., he realized media here is very different. Here, there’s more pressure and a lot of people are coming to see you. I think he felt more pressure of being in an organization where losing is not an option. I think it was good for his career. I think this summer he’ll continue to work on his game, and get better. L.A. is good for Dwight, and he has a challenge here. I think he’ll answer it and bring a championship here.

Jamison Season Wrap Up

Los Angeles Lakers v Charlotte BobcatsThe only player not to do an exit interview following the recently completed 2012-13 season was Antawn Jamison, but he had a good excuse.

Jamison underwent surgery on his sprained right wrist on Tuesday morning at 7 a.m., the wrist he originally hurt in the second half of the Lakers’ 103-100 home loss to Washington on March 22.

Despite the tear in his wrist, the North Carolina product played in every single remaining contest, his 47.2 shooting percentage in March dipping to a 42.4 clip during eight April games.

In 76 games this year, Jamison averaged 9.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 21.5 minutes off the bench, while totaling 29 points and seven rebounds in four playoff games.