NBA 2012/13: Decision making and why the Los Angeles Lakers will make The Finals

October 2, 2012

by Jack Maidment

Sometimes it is easy to over think things.

Grocery store. Clothes shopping. Take out.

That’s why I advocate the philosophy of the Afro Samurai: My goal is to only move forward. Make a decision and don’t look back.

It doesn’t matter if it’s second thoughts about going for a new job or worrying that a girl you want to ask out might say no – in most cases the best thing you can do is just do it.

Open your mouth, inhale, speak and see what happens.

More than that, don’t wait. Every second you spend thinking about whether you should buy a black VW or a white one, or debating the merits of whether or not you actually want to see Looper (you do) is time you can’t spend thinking about this. Or this.

Decide. Move on. And if it doesn’t work out, at least you tried.

Nowhere is second guessing more prevalent than in sports – particularly in sports fans.

“Man, if Horry didn’t hit that three from the top of the key at the buzzer in game four, we would have killed the Lakers.”

Maybe. But he did.

Or: “Man, if Rose hadn’t gone down in the first round last year we would have taken the East and rolled the Thunder in the Finals.”

Maybe. But he did.

Don’t get me wrong, I like playing the historical What If? Hindsight Game as much as the next guy and that specific section in Bill Simmons’ excellent Book of Basketball is especially enjoyable.

But in the present I prefer to stick to my guns. No flip flopping.

So, embrace the spirit of the samurai and play along: I asked the following five questions about the forthcoming NBA season of myself and answered with no hesitation. You try too.

1. Are the Lakers good enough to get out of the West and win it all.

Yes. Just because it looks good on their promotional posters doesn’t mean it isn’t true. When the Lakers take to the floor against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday October 30 for the start of the regular season, their starting five will have 33 All Star nods, 4 defensive player of the year awards and three MVPs between them.

With that much experience and talent, along with having Dwight Howard at the rim to negate any worries about ageing legs, LA is not only good enough to make The Finals, with their roster and leadership they have to. And I believe they will.

2. Will LeBron James be any better this season?

Yes, definitely, even if that seems ridiculous given how good he was in 2011/12, but having firmly cemented his position atop the basketball mountain and got rid of the championship monkey which had been lingering on his back for almost a decade, there is every reason to believe King James will elevate even further.

Statistically speaking a 28-8-8 could be possible, maybe even a 30-8-8 if Wade goes down for any length of time. Enjoy.

3. Will Anthony Davis win rookie of the year?

I say no. I’m taking Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. That’s not to say anything bad of Davis, who I think will be a very close second and eventually a franchise guy, but MKG just has something about him that makes me buy in from the get go.

You would think that changing the losing culture that’s so ingrained in Charlotte would be a nigh on impossible task but that’s what will make MKG’s achievement all the greater when he does it. The man is a tear-your-heart-out killer. I love him.

4. Mediocrity, thy name is..?

Brooklyn. Love the new arena, love the new logo, love the name. To a certain extent I love the backcourt.

But the rest of the team is simply underwhelming. Pricey and underwhelming.

The Nets as currently put together will never get out of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Essentially they are the new Atlanta Hawks – good, but in the worst possible way.

5. Who will have the last laugh: Jeremy Lin or the New York Knicks?

Lin, almost certainly. The Knicks say letting the Harvard man go was a strictly financial decision, which on many levels is fair enough (salary cap) but in others (shirt sales, ratings)? Not so much.

Regardless, replacing him with Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd? Madness.

While the Knicks wait for their PG to bring the ball up the floor every possession this year, Lin will have all the shots he wants in a system built around him. And when he isn’t on the court he will be in his Houston penthouse counting cash from his latest endorsement deal and remembering how he used to sleep on a sofa and had to put up with Melo’s stink face.

Advantage Lin.

How did you do? And remember: No flip flopping…

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Kobe Bryant or LeBron James: Is there more to performing in the ‘clutch’ than simply shooting?

January 15, 2012

Kobe shoots. But LeBron?

By Jack Maidment

The term ‘clutch’ is a funny thing. It’s just a word but its meaning when applied to sports can be profound.

Depending on the context in which it is used it can be the highest of compliments, ‘he’s a great clutch player’, or the strongest of condemnations, ‘he doesn’t get it done in the clutch’.

Effectively it’s a label and the label can be hard to shake once it’s attached, especially if it’s being used negatively.

Kobe Bryant is a clutch player. LeBron James is not. That’s the prevailing wisdom. But is it accurate?

This season LeBron has played in 11 games, 6 of which qualify for clutch analysis (games where the score margin is within 5 points in the last 5 minutes).

Unlike just about every other superstar in the NBA LeBron James’ field goal attempts don’t go up in the clutch, in fact they go down, albeit marginally so.

Compare that to Kobe Bryant who takes 23.9 shots per 36 minutes in regular play but with a shooting pace of more than 30 in the clutch. That’s a big leap.

So Kobe takes a lot more shots than LeBron down the stretch but he is the only player who can create his own shot on the Lakers while LeBron has Dwyane Wade to share the ball with.

But regardless of who gets the ball for the Heat, when it is LeBron he is shooting just 33% from the field in the final 5 minutes, down from an otherworldly 58% for the rest of the game. That’s an unreal drop.

That’s not the only problem with LeBron this year who is also struggling at the free throw line in the last 5 minutes.

He gets there a lot more at the end of the game, as you would imagine, but once on the stripe he is hitting just 58%, down from the 73% that he normally shoots.

Kobe, in contrast, has played in 10 games this year that qualify for clutch analysis and while his field goal % goes down about 10% to 35% down the stretch, his free throw shooting actually increases, from 84% from the line to 88% – In short he makes you pay when it matters most.

It’s also worth considering that Kobe’s usage rate goes up 10% in the clutch to 56.2% (‘takeover mode’) while LeBron’s goes up just 3% to 38.3%.

Much of that can be attributed to the make-up of their respective teams: the Heat don’t necessarily need to go through James to get a bucket, the Lakers are much more reliant on Kobe.

But it doesn’t stop there. Or at least it shouldn’t.

Historically, performing in the clutch has been associated with scoring the ball, but there should be more consideration to other intangibles, as LeBron’s assist rating shows.

His assist % in the clutch (an estimate of the % of teammate field goals assisted while he is on the floor) sky rockets in the last five minutes from 35.5% to a staggering 66.7%.

While Kobe, and the rest of his fellow stars, usually shoot the ball in the clutch, LeBron is often compelled to pass.

Different wiring I guess.


Ron Artest to Los Angeles Lakers, Trevor Ariza to Houston Rockets, Rubio remains in Spain.

July 3, 2009

artestby Jack Maidment

If basketball player’s egos were fed solely off of column inches, certain people would surely be annoyed during this free agency.

The sheer number of deals that have already been wrapped up is pretty scary considering free agency is just, barely, 3 days old. Because of this, deals that would usually occupy everyone for weeks are diluted in importance by the moves that everyone else is making.

It is truly a busy time for the NBA with headlines coming from everywhere.

Ricky Rubio will not be suiting up in Minnesota, maybe ever. He has chosen to stay in Spain for 2 more years instead of trying to orchestrate a messy buyout and court case. Apparently playing for the Timberwolves isn’t super exciting.

This was always likely to be the case given the factors involved. Huge contract buyout? Check. Undesirable destination? Check. Dissappointed fans? Absolutely, league wide.

It remains to be seen what the Wolves do now, with the smart money on moving the rights to Rubio to another team while his stock his high in return for something useful in the immediate future. Here’s looking at you Donnie Walsh.

Elsewhere, the LA Lakers have reportedly signed Ron Artest to a 3 year, $18 million contract. In an ironic twist, Trevor Ariza will head to the Houston Rockets and Artest’s vacated starters position.

Ariza for Artest? LA gains a veteran defender and a personality. Houston gets a player they hope will become a star. Ariza is certainly a lot less risk but if the right Ron Artest shows up the Lakers will be an improved team. Perimeter of Kobe and Ron Ron. Smiles all round.

The best story right now concerns Rasheed Wallace who apparently welcomed most of the Boston Celtics into his house as Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Danny Ainge tried to persuade ’Sheed to sign up.

Playing it cool as you may expect, Wallace didn’t commit with visits to San Antonio and Orlando apparently on the cards this week.

Just for fun, imagine: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Richard Jefferson, Tim Duncan, Rasheed Wallace.


Los Angeles Lakers: NBA Champions 2009

June 15, 2009

by Jack Maidment

The Lakers last night defeated the Orlando Magic to claim their 15th NBA title.

LA took down Dwight Howard and co in 5 games, celebrating on their opponents home floor. 

That which tasted so bitter for the Magic was oh so very sweet for the Lakers for a number of monumental reasons. 

Firstly, the recipient of the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy Kobe Bryant can finally hush those who have consistently brought up Shaquille O’Neal in his quest for ring number 4. 

Shaq is gone and Kobe has his title with a new cast. He said that it felt like ‘the monkey was off his back’ and finally the media can move on. 

Secondly, Phil Jackson won ring number ten to go ahead of Boston’s Red for the title of most jewellery won. Ten rings. One for ever finger and thumb. 

Thirdly, the Lakers returned to the Finals after losing in ignominy last year to the Boston Celtics. They returned and they won. To consistently be right at the top of the game is something so difficult to sustain and the Lakers got theirs by maintaining their title drive ever since last year’s defeat. 

Where many teams reach the Finals and then dismantle their teams after they are unable to replicate the same form the next season, the Lakers are in a strong position to continue challenging for some years to come. 

Kobe has at least two more years of full throttle left and that could be enough to equal Jordan’s 6 ring record. 

He is surrounded by all the pieces to become the new dynasty. Pau Gasol’s addition could well go down as one of the greatest pick ups in history. 

The Lakers need to make sure Lamar Odom returns as well as Trevor Ariza. If that can be achieved, this will not be the LA Laker’s last title of the near future. 

Congratulations LA.


NBA Finals: My Name Is Pau Gasol. Adios Orlando

June 8, 2009

pauby Jack Maidment

Against the very best you may only get one opportunity. One chance to turn the tide, to take advantage of the single time that your opponent slips just a little.

Sunday night the Orlando Magic did not get one opportunity to switch the momentum in the NBA Finals, they got two. As Game 2 built to its climax, the Los Angeles Lakers left the door slightly ajar for Dwight Howard and co on two occasions.

Despite excellent platy calling from Stan Van Gundy, the Magic failed to convert two golden looks, both falling to Courtney Lee. Instead of taking the Lakers back to Florida all tied up, they return home in a 2-0 hole.

Ominous? Yep. The Lakers are 37-1 in series where they have won the opening two games.

Before this Finals began the focus was placed firmly on the Lake Show. If Orlando ended up Champions it would be because the Lakers had gifted it to them.

Regardless of the fact that such a point of view entirely belittles the accomplishments of a very strong Orlando team, it forgets how dangerous the magic can be. Look up potent in the dictionary. There’s a picture of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis right next to that of Hugh Hefner.

However, if you were one of those people who believed in the Magic, you understood that they had a legitimate chance at rings if they ticked the right boxes.

1. Big games from Lewis to fully justify the amount of money that Florida’s finest (sorry Mr Wade) has committed to his lucrative contract.

2. Continuing clutch play from Turkey’s finest export (?).

Check on both counts. In Game 2 Lewis and Turkoglu combine to go 9-18 from down town. 50% from beyond the arc? Yeah, that could help.

3. Dominance down low and on the glass from Dwight Howard.

He may not have had 40, but Game 2’s perfomance saw Howard grab 16 rebounds to go with his 17 points. That’s pretty good going considering he is rebounding against Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, 1 on 3.

4. Contain Kobe.

Easier said than done for sure, but 29 and 8 for KB24 is a vast improvement on the 40+ he took in the series opener.

The Magic did all these 4 things in Game 2 but still roll out of town on a downer. Why?

Pau Gasol. The Spaniard is absolutely the key to Los Angeles’ victory and Orlando’s defeat.

24 and 10. Gaudy numbers from a player who is making the people calling him ‘soft’ look pretty silly.

It was Gasol that powered the Lakers to Game 2, 3-3 from the field and 5 of 5 from the line in the 4th quarter and the overtime period.

The City of Angels climbed aboard and he carried them to 2 and 0.

The Lakers record in this situation might be scary, but the combination of Pau and Kobe is scarier. Spanish. English. Telepathy? Their communication is simply infallible.

Game 3 is the biggest in Orlando’s history and anything other than a win will spell the end of their season.

Perhaps it is time to say goodbye to Orlando?

Or as Pau would say:

 

‘Gracias por todo, hasta luego. Adios.’


NBA Finals Preview: Orlando Magic Promise Problems for Los Angeles Lakers

May 31, 2009

05HowardDwight02by Jack Maidment

The Los Angeles Lakers.

The Orlando Magic.

Two teams. Two vastly different histories.

The Lakers are heading to The Finals for the 30th time. They hope to win their 15th title.

In dramatic contrast, the Magic will be appearing in The Finals for only the second time. Since sampling the delights of The Big Dance with Shaquille O’Neal back in 1995, Orlando has very much been an ‘also ran’ when the Playoffs role around.

But the emergence of another All-Star, All League Center in the shape of Dwight Howard, has powered the Magic to the Promised Land despite the prevailing sense of doubt that has emanated from the media all season long.

Boston, LA, San Antonio, Cleveland. They were the ‘real’ contenders.

Yet here we are. Two teams with vastly differing pasts will meet in The Finals for the NBA Championship. And both deserve their spot.

The Lakers may be the Jekyll and Hyde of pro sports, but their talent cannot be questioned. Nor can their heart, which has been shown numerous times.

When the Lake Show was seemingly in a hole, even if they had put themselves in it, they came out firing and ultimately are still standing.

Character, like tea, reveals itself in hot water and you better believe that’s true. As the water boiled around them, the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, made the plays that mattered to get the W.

Meanwhile, regardless of commentators’ love of the phrase ‘live and die by the 3 pointer’, Orlando has progressed and shows no signs of changing their style.

And why would they. You can’t stay hot all the time. True. But when you have a team with more long range threats than the US Navy it doesn’t matter if 1,2 or 3 of your guys goes cold. You still got the other 3.

Combine the shooting of Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Rafer Alston, Mickael Pietrus, JJ Reddick and Courtney Lee with the inside presence of Dwight Howard and the grossly underrated Marcin Gortat then you have a recipe for success.

So where will the Championship be won and loss?

1. Home Court.

The Lakers must be secretly excited that they avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers and thus an extra road game. Their regular season hard work has paid off with the Magic needing a win at the Staples Centre to have any chance at the Gold.

Both teams have maintained a constant disregard for home court this post season. Both have had disappointing losses at home only to follow them up with huge road wins to recover the advantage.

If the trend continues then we have a rollercoaster 7 game stretch ahead of us.

But. If the Lakers can stamp their authority on the series with victories in the opening two games the Magic will face a huge task to wrestle the trophy from Phil Jackson’s hands.

2. Front Court Vs Front Court

The respective 3,4 and 5s of these teams would leave just about every team in the NBA green with jealousy. Both are extremely talented.

The way in which they match up in The Finals will go some way to deciding who prevails.

The difficulty for the Lakers falls on the defensive end where the Magic will provide the same match up problems as they did the Cleveland Cavaliers.

3 guys, all 6-10 or bigger. All Mobile. 2 of them will kill you off the dribble despite their size.

Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom will have their hands full. Whoever isn’t trying to contain Dwight Howard will be tasked with sticking to Lewis and Turkoglu.

Odom is the best equipped to deal with the outside threat of the Magic big men, but who picks up the other guy? Pau or Bynum on Lewis? That could get ugly.

All this to worry about while simultaneously trying to keep Howard off the glass.

3. Kobe Bryant

Kobe’s importance to LA is huge. The Magic will unlikely allow him to score 1 on 1 while they take care of his team mates, but such is his ability out of the double team that doubling up can allow Kobe to get his entire team scoring, boosting the feel good factor and mood of the crowd.

In a series that will undoubtedly be tight, Kobe down the stretch could be the difference. The Magic will look to hustle and hurry him all series long but he will get his. You just have to live with that.

Lakers in 6.


Los Angeles Lakers: Arrogant, Innocent or just Inconsistent?

May 15, 2009

LA_Lakers_Kobe_Bryant

by Jack Maidment

The Los Angeles Lakers have an attitude problem.

There is no other way to look at it. The ‘Most Talented Team in the League™’ are as likely to blow out teams as capitulate in the first quarter. Beat the Cavs in Cleveland. Lose to the Thunder at the Staples Centre.

The Lakers could well be close to adding another trademark to their franchise: ‘Most Frustrating Team in Sports’. A flawed genius who blows hot and cold. Far from consistent, but always engaging, often for the wrong reasons.

So, is it arrogance or an innocently laid back mind set?

The identity that a franchise adopts is 50% down to its coach and 50% to the team’s leaders.

In Kobe Bryant the Lakers possess the world’s best player and a much improved leader compared to the man he was just a few years ago.

Playing every game knowing that you are the best on the floor can only lead to a certain amount of arrogance no matter how pronounced it may be.

Similarly, playing for a coach as monumentally successful as Phil Jackson must instil not only a respect and faith in his schemes, but also a certain degree of complacency built around the idea that ‘We got Kobe’ and We got Phil’.

The problem with banding around the word arrogance is that the connotations are entirely negative. What if the Laker’s mentality is entirely innocent, an unwavering belief in their abilities that appears as disrespect to the outsider looking in.

When a team or individual exhibits other worldly talent it is easy to become disillusioned and ultimately follow a path toward downright dislike.

So when LA embarrass a team as good as Houston by 50 points in a playoff game it is hardly surprising that some people might feel slightly aggrieved.

But the next game LA will seemingly slack off, almost allowing other teams to get the win. Making it fair. No matter how innocent they may be this is obviously going to annoy opposition and audience a like.

Kobe has said previously that his team find it difficult to close out teams because they ‘find it too easy to score’. Sound arrogant to you?

Maybe, but, put simply, the Lakers will come good. Or they will make a whole lot of writers and critics look very silly indeed.

Denver are not playing. As George Karl keeps saying, they are ‘real’. Any slacking against a team that will score and hustle in equal measure will lead to an embarrassment that LA does not want to become familiar with.

The fact that LA are playing so hit and miss also adds an extra dimension to a Western Conference Finals which would lose some of its mystique if both teams were playing 100%.

Ultimately, everybody loves a little bit of drama, and that much is assured by the Lakers post season presence.

The Los Angeles Lakers, the team that you love to hate.