When it comes to the Los Angeles Lakers, there's no lack of coverage for one of the most successful franchises in the history of professional sports. Forum Blue & Gold is one of those outlets that covers the Lake Show, an excellent site that was ran by Kurt Helin for five years before stepping down to write for NBCSports.com's basketball blog, ProBasketballTalk. Taking over is Darius Soriano, who has done a great job of maintaining everything that's made FB&G a go-to source for all things Lakers.
A few days ago, I was able to ask Soriano a few questions to preview tomorrow's game between the Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Before the season, the APBRmetrics community was intrigued by the swap of Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest because it created an opportunity to conduct a real-life efficiency vs. usage experiment. Artest has silenced concerns that he would use up too many possessions, given that his usage rate (16.5%) is - by far - the lowest it's ever been in his career. Even though he's not as efficient on offense as Ariza was in a similar role last year, there's no denying Artest's impact on defense (I've read your glowing reviews lately). What are your thoughts on what Artest has brought to the Lakers?
I've been very happy with the Artest acquisition. On offense he's not the slasher that Ariza was nor is he the above the rim finisher that can make one of those types of plays that really gets the crowd going. But he's much steadier and has a much more well rounded game. I think that he'll continue to grow in the Lakers' sets and learn the nuance of the Triangle more over the next several seasons and that he'll be even better on offense over the life of his contract. I have been slightly less than impressed with his post game - I thought he'd be better on the block in a lot of our sets - but he passes well from the post and off the dribble and that play making part of his game has been a pleasant surprise for me. I also love his ability to make post entry passes, which to me, is an underrated trait for a player. As a fan of a team that has a marquee big man, you understand that having a player who is not a good post entry passer leads to possessions where one (or more) of your better players don't get the opportunities that are available to them. But, Artest has been very good on that end and I think it's helped our big men to have an offensive threat that can create for himself while also still create for them.
But his real impact has been on defense. Last season, the Lakers were, statistically, one of the better defensive teams in the NBA using their strong side zone scheme. However, this season they are number one in defensive efficiency and I think Ron has a lot to do with that. His ability to guard the opposing team's best wing player , and do it without much help, gives the opposition's offense fits while also giving Kobe more of a breather on defense. Most fans saw how Artest pestered and bullied Carmelo last weekend and that is something that the Lakers could not do last season with the personnel on hand. So, when you combine his stellar defense and his well rounded offensive game, I think Ron has been a great addition.
More after the jump.
The numbers show that Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar have been out-performing Derek Fisher this season. Why, then, is Fisher starting ahead of either Brown or Farmar? Or does it matter who starts, in this case?
Derek Fisher's status has become a pretty divisive topic amongst a lot of Lakers fans. Many people cite his statistics and see how he has slowed down as a player and they ask the same question that you're asking. I think the answer to why he starts is his veteran presence, the trust that the coaches and his teammates have in him, and the fact that he's still the player that organizes our sets the best and most consistently out of the Lakers point guards. As for Farmar and Brown I think Phil has found roles for them that he trusts them to perform well in from night to night.
Two other points on Farmar/Brown: Farmar, for all the good things that he does bring, still is not an ideal fit in the Triangle offense. He's best as an open court player and as a ball handler in the pick and roll. And while he is capable at performing the acts that the Lakers need in a PG, I think it goes against his instincts and that still shows in his performance too many nights. For us I think he's a great change of pace player but that he may not be as effective if he played with the low post dominant first unit. As for Brown, he's really not a point guard. He's even less comfortable setting up the Lakers offense than Farmar and due to that, Phil has been playing him primarily as Kobe's backup at SG. I'm not sure how many people noticed this last season, but when Shannon got minutes at point guard he was almost always paired with at least two players from the Kobe, Odom, Walton trio. This was purposely done because those are players that can organize the offense and it relieves Shannon of that responsibility. So, I think rather than forcing that development this season, the coaches have preferred to let Shannon play to his strengths more.
Los Angeles is first in Defensive Rating but no team in the NBA is without its weakness. What is the achilles heal for the Lakers' defense, if you had to pick one?
I'd say defending the pick and roll is still a problem, especially when the screener is a quality shooter that can stretch the floor. The Lakers bigs do a good enough job showing on the ball handler and then recovering to the paint but when the big man must recover to a big man that can hit the long jumpshot it is an issue. This is especially true when the Lakers have both Gasol and Bynum in the front court. When Odom comes into the game, defense against these plays becomes better but we then lose that extra shot blocker at the rim. So it is a bit of a tradeoff. It's not the biggest problem and it helps to have versatile players that can do a variety of things, but it has hurt us several times this season.
I don't want to jinx Orlando or Los Angeles because there's a lot of basketball left to be played before the 2010 NBA Playoffs start. There's no doubt that the Lakers are the team to beat in the NBA when they are at their best but hypothetically speaking, do you think this year's version of the Magic has a chance of winning a seven-game series?
I think beating the Lakers in a seven game series will be tough for a lot of teams. For the Magic to pull it off, I think a lot would depend on how Carter and Howard play against the duos that they'd face every night. For Carter, that means being guarded by Artest and Kobe for every minute that he's on the court. Can he deal with the intensity and physicality of those matchups? And for Howard, does he have enough in his arsenal to deal with Bynum and Pau for 40+ minutes a night? I have a lot of respect for Howard and I was impressed with his Finals performance last season while also enjoying his game this year. But the Lakers have multiple players to throw at Orlando's big three of Carter/Lewis/Howard and I'm not sure how they overcome that without a big performance from Jameer Nelson. So, could the Magic win a 7 game series? Sure, it's possible but I don't think it's probable at this point. That's no knock on Orlando, I think they're a very strong team that will give many teams problems and is not being mentioned enough as a real threat to get back to the Finals. But, the Lakers have a diverse group of talented players and an all-timer coaching them. They will be a tough out.
I like to thank Darius for taking the time to answer my questions.