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Sasha After Shootaround = Success

Sasha

Lakers.com is fully willing to take credit for Sasha Vujacic’s best home games.

We can’t explain exactly why it works like this, but when Sasha sits down with us after shootaround before home games, he balls out.

During Sunday’s beating of Golden State, Vujacic was 6-of-10 from the field and 4-of-7 from three for a season-high 17 points, plus a season-high six assists, two boards and a steal … Not to mention only two turnovers while serving as the backup point guard in the absence of Jordan Farmar, and some tough defense against smaller guards on the perimeter. Not coincidentally, he appeared on Lakers.com that morning.

Sasha’s already admitted the cause (admittedly, playing 30 minutes didn’t hurt his cause), and can even rewind back to the season’s first four games, in which he’d made just 7-of-22 shots and was ready to crack his head against the base of the basket. Sasha came on Lakers.com, and proceeded to make all three of his shots from the field with three assists and a steal for a +15 in 15 minutes of playing time against Houston the next day.

Alas, below is the video of Sasha before his best game of the season … Though, clearly, he’s more worried about the socks* I wore to shootaround then the fact that Lakers.com is basically ensuring that he lives up to his contract.

*OK, I wore white socks with my blue suit at 11 a.m. shootaround, because I had to promptly change back into jeans and running shoes to cart my in-town family around Manhattan Beach. Obviously, blue socks were waiting in the car for the game, but Sasha cared so little about that excuse that he brought it up three times during the video (some were edited out) and then again twice in the locker room. Thanks for blowing up my spot, Sasha, ‘ppreciate you.

Blocks, Free Throws and the Player Rater


My name is Mike Trudell, and I’m a fantasy basketball addict (I don’t need to attend meetings, do I?).

As a point of fact, I love fantasy hoops about as much as …
A) Teenage girls love the Jonas Brothers
B) Teenage boys love Megan Fox
C) Bill Belichick loves cheating
D) Tom Cruise loves Scientology
E) Nike stock loves Michael Jordan

So, my love affair with sports numbers is why I get frustrated (to quite frustrated) when I see that Dwight Howard is No. 35 on ESPN’s “Player Rater.”

No. 35? Really!!!??

Check me out: Howard is leading the league in rebounding (13.6) and blocked shots (3.68) by a long shot. He’s ninth in field goal percentage (55.1) and 24th in scoring (19.9). He’s missed exactly two games in his four-plus year career (both this season due to a left knee tweak) and is a mortal lock to put up big numbers every night because he’s twice as athletic as anyone his size … and very few boast his size in the first place.

So wait … What are we missing? Oh yeah. He’s a big-time clanker.

One of the NBA’s worst ever free throw shooters, Howards hits only 56.5 percent of his league-high 11.3 attempts, which can admittedly cause you to lose the free throw category each week (unless you know how to properly compensate). Because of the way ESPN’s rankings system works, Howard’s charity bricks drop him all the way down to 35th in the rater.

Basically, ESPN’s player rater assigns an exact +/- number in each of eight categories (points, assists, steals, blocks, rebounds, FT%, FG%, 3PM) based on how one compares to the rest of the players in the league. So Howard earns a ridiculous +6.52 for blocks*, by far the highest of any category (CP3 gets a 5.11 for assists, the next highest), but his free throw number (-6.8) is also the lowest number in any category, and completely eviscerates his blocks, while de-emphasizing his FG%, points and boards.
*Only three other players (Marcus Camby, Chris Anderson and Ronny Turiaf, the latter two who don’t play much) average over two blocks, making Howard’s swats even more valuable than, say, Dwyane Wade’s 28.9 points (since 13 other players average over 22 points).

Is that fair? No way. Let’s continue…

If you drafted Howard at No. 35 overall in your fantasy league this year, and you’re not a moron with the rest of your squad, you are probably winning your league. That suggests that the rater is off a bit, right? After all, Howard is a rare player who significantly helps you in four categories, just like ‘Bron, Wade and Paul and really no one else. With Dwight on your team, even if you’re punting free throws – which you don’t necessarily have to do – you’re most likely going to win blocks, you have an excellent chance in rebounding and field goal percentage and you even get 20 extra points per game. He won’t help you much in assists, steals or threes (duh), but his massive production in those other categories cannot be matched by any other player, even LeBron. Furthermore, if you’re smart, you can put more point guards and point forwards on your roster to help you with the categories Howard doesn’t excel in, while letting Dwight do the work of two centers. No, seriously. Look at this:

Taking out the shooting categories (we know Dwight has the edge in FG and a deficit in FT), here are Howard’s numbers compared to Rasheed Wallace and Al Horford’s numbers … combined.

Dwight Howard: 19.9 points, 13.6 boards, 3.7 blocks, 0.9 steals, 1.4 assists
Wallace and Horford: 23.3 points, 16.2 boards, 3.2 blocks, 1.6 steals, 4.3 assists

While ‘Sheed’s 1.9 threes are a factor as well, it’s pretty telling that it takes two very good players to just surpass the Player Rater’s 35th best guy.

If someone can please explain to me how missing free throws (again, one out of nine categories) can push a player down about 32 spots in the fantasy rankings (Nene and Jason Terry are 17th and 18th, OK!), I’d LOVE to hear it. I mean, a solid all-around player like Joe Johnson (11th on the PR) doesn’t have one number below or above 3.0, and has a minus only in the turnover category, so his 10.84 more than handles Howard’s 7.95

OK, time to bounce … I need to go frantically put together trade propositions for Howard in all three of my leagues.

Kobe’s Shot Counter

Kobe BryantWith 29 games in the books and 24 wins for the Lakers, here’s a question about Kobe Bryant: How many shots should the MVP take for the Lakers to have the best chance of winning?

It’s a tough question, because different games have completely different flows, and demand completely different things from various players. Perhaps the best way to answer it is to ask assistant coach Brian Shaw, who played with Bryant and now coaches him. We’ll get to that in a second, but the other way to shed some light on the issue is to crunch a few numbers.

Kobe in W’s vs. Kobe in L’s
Here are Bryant’s shooting and scoring numbers in L.A.’s 23 wins (prior to the Boston win) vs. their five losses:

When L.A. Wins
25.1 points per game; 18.9 field goal attempts; 47.5 percent shooting
When L.A. Loses
30.8 points per game; 26.2 field goal attempts; 43 percent shooting

A few points we can take from that data, which obviously refers only to this season and deals not with Bryant’s past shooting numbers, follow:
A) The Lakers are a better team when Kobe generally stays at or below 20 field goal attempts, as Shaw explains below. In fact, when Kobe shoots 21 or more times in a game, the Lakers are only 9-5 (including Boston). When he shoots fewer than 21 times, L.A. is 15-0.

B) While the Lakers need Kobe’s scoring to win, they don’t need him to put up huge scoring numbers. That he averages five more points per game in Lakers losses is indicative either that his teammates depend upon him too much in close games, or that he himself is taking too many shots at the expense of running L.A.’s effective offense. His season-high 41-point game was a 106-103 loss at Orlando, when neither Pau Gasol nor Andrew Bynum were much involved in the offense.

C) Kobe shot very poorly in three of L.A.’s five losses (@ ORL, @ SAC and vs DET), but the Lakers managed to beat Washington, New Jersey, Phoenix and Denver when he shot just as poorly. Point being, it’s not so much Kobe’s shooting percentage as his volume of shots that dictates L.A.’s success.
With that said, here’s what Brian Shaw had to say about the topic:
Kobe Bryant Close Up
Lakers Assistant Coach Brian Shaw on Kobe
MT: On how many shots the coaching staff would like Kobe Bryant to take:
Shaw: It’s going to fluctuate from game to game, but an ideal situation, the number is probably around 20 shots. If he gets 20 shots and everybody else is in the six-to-twelve shot range, I think we’ll have really good balance, and teams can’t just key on one guy. There are certain situations where it’s better for Kobe to be a decoy, especially if someone else is hot, because Kobe’s going to draw attention regardless of if he’s shooting a lot or not. We can use that to our advantage.

MT: On approaching the game as a player playing with Kobe, as Shaw did 1999-2000 to 2002-03 (earning three rings):
First of all, if you want him to pass you the ball in certain situations, you have to knock down the shot when you get the ball, and particularly when he gives you the ball. Then he’ll be less reluctant to give you the ball when he’s double-teamed, or in a crowd. I knew from playing with Shaquille O’Neal that he liked a certain side of the floor on the block, and when he got the ball down there they’d double-team off me. I knew I was going to get shots anywhere from the corner to the top of the circle in our offense, so that’s where I practiced shooting. I was even probably more focused when the ball came from him or from Kobe, because if you knock down shots when they give it to you, they know the defense has to play you more honestly and that’ll open it up for them.

MT: On if his experience playing with Kobe and Shaq helps him coach L.A.’s current supporting players:
Shaw: Well, we tell them. A lot of times guys get caught up in how many touches they get or how many shots they’re taking, and we try to get them away from that. But one hand washes the other, and it’s always been that way. If he sets a good screen for me, I’ll get open. If I knock down shots, he’ll have more space. We try to preach and teach that to the guys, and some are more receptive to it than others.

MT: On how sometimes you need your best player to be “selfish” on offense:
Shaw: In some situations, you have to be selfish as a scorer. I say that because our team counts on the points that Kobe provides for us every night. There are certain situations where it may be more advantageous for him to pass the ball, but he needs to get himself into a rhythm so that he can feel comfortable for when we need him to score down the stretch. And if they don’t double-team him (like a late play against Memphis on the block on Monday), you’ll take your chances with that against anybody in the league.

Hey Memphis … Pau’s Back

Gasol Brothers“My family will (be there), my brother’s on the team, so it will be interesting … It will be special.”
- Pau Gasol on returning to Memphis

Indeed.

Before coming to the Lakers in a February 2008 trade that included the rights to his younger brother Marc, Pau Gasol put together an excellent career in Memphis, where L.A.’s set to play on Monday night.

Let’s take a quick look back:

Pau as a Grizzly
Gasol was the city’s best basketball player ever since he entered the league as the No. 3 overall pick in Kobe and Pau2001, when his 17.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.06 blocks and 2.7 assists through 82 games earned him Rookie of the Year honors – not to mention emboldened NBA GMs to take more risks on international players. He subsequently led Memphis to three playoff appearances, though the Grizzlies were never able to win a game in the postseason. In a deep Western Conference in which Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Webber and others occupied the forward slots, Gasol made just one appearance, in 2006, despite averaging around 18 points, eight boards, four dimes and a few blocks each year.

Family Matters More
But as much as Gasol’s looking forward to paying his respects to a fan base that he grew to love in his many years in Memphis, it might be even more special to face his kid brother on an NBA court for the first time … Particularly with his Memphis-dwelling parents Marisa and Agusti in the crowd.

Marisa and Agusti (who both played second-division basketball in Spain) couldn’t watch their boys* go at it too often back in Barcelona, because Pau is four years older than his little brother and the two generally opted instead for shooting drills while growing up. While the competition has picked up in the last three years, especially with the Spanish National Team, Pau didn’t make it seem like the two brothers went at each other like a young Michael Jordan and older brother Larry in the back of their North Carolina home or anything.
*Pau and Marc have another younger brother named Adria, who’s 15 and also plays hoops.

“(We’re) different kind of players, (with) different bodies,” he said. “Very skilled. (Marc)’s a bit more of a banger – he’s got a better body to do that.”

The differences in Pau (7-0, 250) and Marc’s (7-1, listed at 265) games show up quite clearly on the stat sheet this season:

Pau 17.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, 0.4 spg, 1.0 bpg, 55.9% FGs, 77.6% FTs, 35.2 mpg
Marc 10.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.6 spg (got him!), 1.1 bpg, 52.8 FG%, 73.3 FT%, 28.8 mpg

To be fair, even though Marc’s just getting started and has been a pleasant surprise, the numbers alone show that he’s not comparable to big brother, even when Pau was a 20-year-old Rookie of the Year.

“I think the metabolism is different,” Pau explained. “But Marc’s been solid, and he’s a really hard worker with a lot of fight.”

Pau said that his brother tries to take advantage of the opportunities he gets offensively – which are limited – but sticks mostly to hustling, boarding, blocking shots and just fitting in. What he didn’t mention is that O.J. Mayo takes 16.3 shots a game, and Rudy Gay 16.8, which is 43 percent of the entire team’s shots just between the two of them. Marc does manage to put up about seven shots per game, mostly of the put-back variety off his 57 offensive rebounds, and clearly isn’t the focal point of the team’s offense as his brother was.

“He’s helping them be a better team,” said the elder Gasol. “He was the best part of the trade … People didn’t really know, but last year he had a great year and broke all the records in Spain … He’s a great player and he’s going to continue to prove that to people.”

Surely we can’t get mad at Pau for praising his little brother, who has without question been better for Memphis than many people expected.

But let’s be honest … There’s only one great Gasol.

Lakers Host Season of Giving Party

Holiday GroupAs part of the Lakers “A Season of Giving” campaign, the team hosted its annual holiday party for underprivileged children on Saturday. Ninety children from the Asian Youth Center, Boys & Girls Club of West San Gabriel Valley and Heart of Los Angeles Youth enjoyed a holiday luncheon, played interactive games with Lakers players and the Laker Girls, took photos, received autographs and were presented with Lakers gifts.

Everybody wins, right?

For the second year in a row, East West Bank was the presenting sponsor of the Lakers “A Season of Giving” campaign which focuses on spreading holiday cheer and providing assistance to thousands of less fortunate children and adults in the community. Events this year included a Thanksgiving meal serving at the Boys & Girls Club of Venice, a book drive, a toy drive and the 4th Annual “Wish Night with the Lakers” to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles.

Harry & JustinNow that we got all the details in there, we can focus on the main attraction: Harry and Justin (pictured).

Harry and Justin, in a chat we had at the event, detailed their love of Kobe’s crossover dribble (good choice), opted for crazy dunks over three-pointers, revealed their second-favorite player (Derek Fisher and Dwyane Wade) and revealed who would win if they played 1-on-1 (not telling). Shockingly, Harry and Justin didn’t mind interacting with the Laker girls, either. After making the rounds, their second-favorite player took a few moments to talk:

“Any time we get to directly interact with kids in particular, it’s always great,” said Fisher. “I think it’s important for these young people to actually get to touch us and see us, see how tall we really are, and know that we’re real people.”

For more information on the party, check out the story on our Community Page

Lakers Volleyball Team?

Lakers Volleyball

Who wants a piece of this volleyball squad? I’m talking to you, Manhattan Beach…

Let’s go with Chris Mihm, Pau Gasol, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar as our first unit, with Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, Trevor Ariza and Vladimir Radmanovic coming off the bench. Kobe, obviously, would be playing in crunch time, and probably demand to be set for the game-winning spike.

Mihm personally selected the starters, which I allowed because his sister played volleyball at USC and his father at Marquette (plus he’s seven feet tall). Now, the conversation started in the first place after Gasol and I observed Vujacic hitting a volleyball around after Thursday’s practice with Kurt Rambis.

The key to this squad is that Mihm, Gasol, Vujacic, Walton and Farmar have actually played (to varying degrees) volleyball before, let alone their freakish collective athleticism. But seriously, could a very well-organized actual volleyball team beat the Lakers? I mean, how much money would you pay to watch that?

Can we set this up? Here’s the chat with Mihm and Farmar:

Gasol Dealing with “Small” Bigs

Chris Bosh. Andrea Bargnani. David West. Rasheed Wallace. Dirk Nowitzki. And now Antawn Jamison.

Some of the league’s better offensive players (and Bargnani … just kidding) have each brought something a little different to Pau Gasol, a seven-footer who’s often found himself guarding smaller bigs on the perimeter.

“I like to be able to be effective in both situations,” Gasol told me after Thursday’s practice. “Be able to guard a real low post player and getting him off his shot and make sure he’s not effective, and it’s also a challenge for me to guard a guy that is more perimeter oriented, who will take me farther out of the lane and try to take me off a dribble.”

Yet and still, since Andrew Bynum will generally take the opposing team’s better back-to-the-basket offensive threat, Pau’s generally facing a smaller four that likes to try and stretch L.A.’s defense out. And he’s generally been very effective. Pau (and a sore hammy) helped limit Elton Brand to a terrible game (three points), Bargnani scored 14 points on 14 shots, Nowitzki scored 14 points (on 5-of-17 shooting) for his third-worst offensive performance this season, and West needed 44 minutes to score his 21 points, many of which came during the Hornets big fourth quarter run.

So Pau and I spent the first quarter of our conversation discussing his defending smaller guys, before we started talking about something much more interesting: volleyball. Gasol figured we’d include Sasha Vujacic, Chris Mihm, Trevor Ariza and a few other guys on our squad. Finally, Gasol talked about his new favorite band – “Kings of Leon” – and his new favorite restaurant – “The Bazaar.”

Here’s the whole conversation:

Please Don’t Hurt Me

Lakers Security's Mark Groce Getting Fierce

I’m glad that the 6-4, 260 pound Mark Groce is real cool with me … Because the man who’s charged with protecting the Lakers traveling staff* and Kobe Bryant in particular is freaking enormous.
*Actually, a security company employs Mark and other rotating protectors.

Just to make sure you understand, here are a few words I’d use to describe Mark: behemothic, bulky, colossal, cyclopean, elephantine, enormous, gargantuan, giant, gigantic, humongous, immeasurable, immense, jumbo, mammoth, massive, mighty, mondo, monster, monstrous, monumental, mountainous, outsized, oversized, planetary, prodigious, stupendous, titanic, towering, vast, walloping and whopping (thanks to dictionary.com for the help).

Isn’t it funny that huge security guys are often among the world’s nicest guys? Groce certainly fits that bill, as I learned while I took him through* a beastly bicep and tricep workout Thursday afternoon at the health club attached to our hotel in D.C.
*That could have been the other way around … I forgot.

Not surprisingly, it was pretty easy for me to out-lift Groce in every single exercise, although it was kind of annoying as I had to add a ton of weight to whatever apparatus we were working on. I mean, I got almost as much of a workout just adding the 45-pound discs to my bicep curling bar. Seriously Mark, you need to put more time in.

By the way, here are a few words I’d never use when describing Mark: bitsy, bitty, diminutive, itsy-bitsy, itty-bitty, Lilliputian, little, microscopic, mini, miniature, minuscule, minute, pee-wee, petite, pint-sized, pocket-sized, puny, slight, teensy, teensy-weensy, teeny, wee.

So, after getting through our arm workout, Mark asked if I were interested in some Muay Thai kickboxing, at which he’s quite formidable. He explained that Muay Thai involves very powerful kicking where you’re trying to use your whole body to inflict maximum force on an opponent, head butting, kneeing, elbowing and what have you.

Since I could barely lift my arms above my waist at that point, and feared death or serious injury if one of Groce’s kicks missed the padding and cracked through my fibula, I was thankful that I had a good excuse. My buddy was coming down from Baltimore for some food (mercifully).

Too bad I couldn’t lift my fork off the table … Thanks a lot Mark!

Walton Putting in Work

I’ve been trying to track Luke Walton down for almost two weeks now. I just need 10-minutes or so, a little window of time to find out where his head’s at.

It should be easy for me, right? After all, we work for the same team. I see him almost every day, either after practice, after shootaround, or before or after Lakers games … But I literally haven’t been able to talk to him for more than a few seconds since early in November.

Why? Because Luke Walton is working his butt off.

By the way, when you see the purple print, that means it’s an active link. I think most people get it, but this means you, Dad.

Stay in School? Go Pro? What’s Better?

Kings rookie Jason Thompson got me thinking before Sunday’s game, enough so that I spent about five minutes talking to him during pregame shootaround (you can listen at the bottom of this post).

Would he have been this effective (11.9 points, 7.1 boards a game as a rookie out of Rider) had he not played four years in school? Did dominating inferior foes his senior year in particular really benefit him more than practicing for hours every day against the world’s best players? What about Spencer Hawes (12.1 points, 7.1 boards)? Would he be even better had he not gone to Washington at all? Would his numbers be up this year with a year’s worth of practicing against Brad Miller every day, or did dominating smaller PAC-10 players do him justice?

These types of conversations never die in a league that deals in a plethora of speculation about when youngsters should come out of college (since the minimum age requirement forced players not to come to the NBA straight out of high school). The thing that irks me a bit is when we automatically assume a guy would have been better off had he stayed in college. I’m not trying to make the case that a guy is guaranteed to get better quicker by coming into the league and playing against men instead of boys, but I’ll make the case that it’s definitely not automatically the other way around.

For example: a paragraph ago I questioned whether Thompson would be this good this season had he come out early from school. Some would say no, that he needed his senior year to fully develop his skills and confidence. Others would say sure, playing spot duty in games (or, who knows, playing a lot) and practicing daily against the world’s best players while receiving high level coaching and a 24-7 basketball program would have made him better for the 2008-09 season. If I had to choose, I’d probably go with the latter, but my whole point is that since we don’t actually know, let’s not do the “he should have stayed in school” or “good thing he came out.” Who knows? Jason certainly doesn’t, which is part of what he told me when I interviewed him before the game at courtside.

Take a listen: