Photo from DoodleDeMoon via Flickr
As the NBA continues to ease into the bulk of its regular season, I allowed myself a leave of absence, missing the past week or so of NBA games. In a desperate attempt to familiarize myself with latest developments, I’ve asked over Amin to help me out and tell me how bad my hastily formed opinions on a few major subplots truly are.
Noam: So, it looks like the Lakers are finally… IMPLODING IN A HUGE BALL OF FIRE AND BRIMSTONE. The would-be title contenders are now 5 games out of the Western playoffs with the halfway mark coming up, and they can’t seem to get healthy. Dwight’s torn labrum may or may not heal, but it sure won’t heal his back; Pau Gasol’s concussion joins an ever growing list of concerns regarding the Spaniard’s mind; and there is absolutely no depth to speak of on the roster, even as Ron Artest plays the best basketball he has in years.
All of these concerns have done an interesting little number on the narrative machine. Coming into the season, when the Lakers were expected to destroy us all, the common sticking point was “well, if Kobe doesn’t buy in, he can ruin it”. Instead, Kobe’s played some of the most inspired offensive basketball of his career as the walls came tumbling down around him.
And yet, as I look at Los Angeles’ unraveling, I see disturbing trends. Kobe’s TS% has been declining throughout the year, going from 63.8% the first 10 games to 59% the next 10, then 56.7% the next 10, and now 53.7% during the latest 5 game losing streak. Meanwhile, his shot attempts have gone up, his usage rate has stayed pretty consistent (down early and late, up through the middle), and in the team’s last 15 games, they’re break even with him on the floor. There are so many bad things with the Lakers right now that it’s hard to pin this all on Kobe, but has he gone from “MVP season in terrible situation” to another part of the problem?
Amin: NOAM YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING. I mean, Kobe’s basketball style is always something to criticize. His “inspired” basketball, as you say, has been trending downwards, but I feel 100% comfortable saying the Lakers’ woes are related to only 2 things: Dwight Howard and the roster’s age. Dwight Howard’s injuries aren’t helping, for sure, but he’s not gelling with the offense or defense. Van Gundy designed an entire playbook around him, and now he’s just part of a team in Los Angeles. As for the age component, a D’Antoni SSOL offense with Nash and Howard is a great idea, but SSOL worked a lot better when everyone on the team wasn’t 40 with 6 billion minutes corroding their joints.
Noam: Not only is Eric Gordon back, ERIC GORDON IS BACK. The Hornets have swept the Texas triad and are now 4-1 with what is presumably their full cadre of players available. Gordon has been miserable shooting the ball, but some rust should be expected; meanwhile, he’s getting to the line a ton, which is great to see from a guy who would have been accepted for being tentative. The Hornets have been 5.7 points per 100 possessions better than their opposition when he’s been on the court, and though the sample size is miniscule, that feels right. Gordon’s had his issues, but he features in an opponent’s scouting report and can create both shots and general havoc. As such, his numbers are almost irrelevant to my eyes as long as he’s healthy enough to be on the court. Am I seeing the Bayou through rose-colored glasses?
Amin: NOAM YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING. No, I think that’s a good assessment of NOLA. I didn’t think Gordon would have this much of an impact, but I think with him back, you’re starting to see all of the Hornets’ offseason moves make a lot more sense on the whole (aside from the Okafor-Ariza trade, because that was a no-brainer; “wait, Ernie, you want these guys? and you want to give me Rashard’s half-guaranteed contract to buy out? OKNOBACKSIES!). I’m looking forward to this roster playing together more. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs this year by any stretch, but they’ll get a good lottery pick next year, and they’re on the road to recovery a lot faster than other teams. Great moves by the New Orleans front office, and welcome back Eric Gordon (let’s just forget that begging-for-Phoenix thing happened, shall we?).
Noam: Speaking of comebacks – the Celtics have won 4 straight because Avery Bradley is back, he was the savior just like we thought, and everybody should chill out with questioning his greatness, the end. Or should we? In the 5 games Bradley’s played so far, the Celtics have played 113 minutes with Bradley and 127 without; they’re outscoring opponents by 3 points with him, and by 28 without. The Rondo-Bradley-Pierce-Bass-Garnett unit that broke out last season has only managed 34 mintues so far, but it’s been destroyed on a per-possession basis, to the point of a -24.4 net rating.
Bradley’s hardly played, so most of these numbers should be downright ignored. But if we’re doing that, shouldn’t we also acknowledge that the win streak upon his return is just one of those NBA coincidences that just happen? Or have they been legitimately better with him back in the mix and I just can’t see it because I missed it live?
Amin: I think they’re legitimately better with him back, because the Celtics (this is actually surprising to me) misfired on the Courtney Lee signing. Bradley coming back into the rotation will result in using Lee less, which will help the Celtics a ton. I don’t think he’s the “savior” like some have contended, but he’s definitely part of the Celtics defensive core. The Celtics have a formula: lots of defense to try to disrupt the opponent’s rhythm + Paul Pierce isolation plays + Rondo feeding the bigs + someone on the second unit who can score a damn basket once in a while. It’s not a championship formula this year, but it’s a good formula nonetheless. Bradley helps solidify the first component; Lee wasn’t helping with any of the rest of it.
Noam: I’ve been intrigued by the recent Rudy Gay trade talk. On the one hand, I’ve been a big backer of these Memphis Grizzlies, and am dying to see what a fully healthy Conley-Allen-Gay-Randolph-Gasol lineup can do come playoff time. Then again, the Clippers and Thunder (and feel free to throw in the Spurs if you wish) seem to be distancing themselves from the pack as the Grizz offense has bogged down, and the tax concerns are very real.
The only way a Rudy deal makes sense is if Memphis gets back a combination of an acceptable starting 3, an actual long range shooter, and some backcourt scoring off the bench. Off the top of my head, the teams that best fit that description are the Suns (Jared Dudley as the first two, Shannon Brown as the latter, with the added potential of moving Marcin Gortat to a third team if needed) and the Bucks (Mike Dunleavy is absolutely perfect for this team’s shooting woes, and I have this weird feeling that Lionel Hollins can make Monta Ellis work). What do you think? Rudy? No Rudy?
Amin: I honestly have no idea. It boggles my mind that in less than a year we’ve gone from “OJ Mayo is the odd man out” to “Oh no, Rudy Gay’s injured! We’re doomed!” to “Mayo is stepping up in a big way in Gay’s absence! These playoffs are great!” to “Bye Bye, OJ!” to “Wow, I guess Mayo was the odd man out because look how well they’re playing with just Gay!” to “Oh God, trade Gay because this team needs more outside shooting.” I mean, yeah, sure. They should figure out a package to get a starting 3, some shooting, and some bench offense. That means they’re doubling down on their frontcourt being their best asset (it is). But if one of ZBo or baby Gasol gets into a slump or gets injured, what then? They’re toast. Maybe they can move Tony Allen to the 3 and get a scoring SG for Gay instead. That’d be my preferred route.
But honestly, can’t we just blame the Grizzlies getting worse on Matt interviewing and jinxing Mike Conley?