The tryptophans have been ingested, absorbed, and slept off, but many of us still have another round (or three) of 'em safely stored in the fridge, the better to cap off some post-holiday lounging. Yes, the Friday after Thanksgiving is, for those without the bravery or tolerance to go shopping, about leftovers. And maybe college football, but definitely leftovers.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts and quotes I intended to put up Wednesday in the wake of Tuesday night's win over the Knicks, but didn't get the chance before the holiday. Starting with... the bench!
Phil Jackson was rightly disappointed in how his team performed in the fourth quarter, one in which the visitors outscored the Lakers 28-17, cutting into a large lead and requiring unnecessary run from Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest in the last five minutes. Nor was this the first time the reserves, when given a chance to ice a game (and get the starters iced down), failed to perform. As a group, the reserves were a putrid 4-22. This is not exactly salve for depth-concerned fans.
As we kicked around during this week's podcast, garbage time can be difficult to measure, at least in the context of deciding how good the bench really is. It shouldn't happen, but human nature makes it tough to play with the same sort of discipline and focus with a 25 point lead, as opposed to five or ten. (The same thing often happens to starters.) End of the bench players, by definition, are more limited as players, meaning when they're all on the floor at once the margin for error goes down. Add in a natural tendency to try and use that time to earn more PT during parts of the game where more than tacos are at stake, and it doesn't take a rockets scientist to see where things can go off the rails.
But on the grand scale of things, beyond the minutes it can shave from a starter's workload (not an insignificant factor) how a bench performs during garbage time isn't all that important. If it were, they'd have a different name for that part of the game. How bench players perform when the game is still in question matters more. Here's what PJ had to say both about that, and Lamar Odom after Tuesday's win:
"I think they've done okay, in the middle part of the game. In the substitution portion. I think tonight there just didn't seem to be leadership from the right sources out there. (Andrew Bynum) and Lamar stayed out with that group, and there just didn't seem to be that kind of leadership that we need to have... He had a little trouble adapting last year when he (moved) to the bench. He'll find his way. He had 12 rebounds tonight, that part of his game is good. He had five assists, which is okay- that part of his game. But the other aspect of his effectiveness being there offensively still has to find his way."
Odom hasn't put up big numbers since Pau Gasol's return, nor lit up more advanced +/- metrics like he did throughout last season, but the sample size (three games) makes it hard to draw conclusions. In the most important category, wins and losses, the Lakers have rolled, winning each Pau-laden game by nearly 14 points on average. Over the long haul, how Odom leads guys like Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton when he returns to the floor, and (depending on circumstances and how PJ doles out the PT) Josh Powell and Sasha Vujacic in the second and third quarters matters far more than what an all-reserves group does during blowouts.
I think Odom will be fine. The Lakers still need consistency from Farmar and Brown. Before any conclusions can be drawn, though, LA will need to be involved in a few more close games.
Next subject: Shooting.
The Lakers were 5-21 from beyond the arc Tuesday night, and are currently 19th in the NBA in three point percentage at 32.7%. They're not gunning without conscience from that part of the floor- while the Lakers shoot almost 19 threes a game, they lead the league in FGs per contest (87.6) so as a percentage of total shots, nothing is out of whack- given how their strong post play means most long jumpers are clean, open looks, 32.7% is very poor. Still, PJ was reasonably unconcerned about that aspect of LA's offense. "We're not a team that spends a lot of time focusing on three point shooting," he said, "so there's some things that happen with our three point shooting that obviously get rhythm as the (games) go through the season, and we get better as we go."
Seems reasonable enough. So how good do they need to get? "You have to shoot 35% to feel comfortable (with the shooting)," Jackson said. "Otherwise it's too many shots or not good rhythm shots, and guys are going to have to back off if they're not shooting (and making) shots and get it back inside. We have too many good inside players (not to use them.)"
Nobody on the squad who shoots more than one triple a night is lighting things up. Ron Artest is at respectable 37% after a bad start. But like a kid wearing a shoes at least a size too large, Odom (31.4), Farmar (27.8), Brown (34.6), Fisher (30.6), and Vujacic (35.7) all have room to grow. No Laker, though, has needed a GPS to navigate from downtown like Kobe, currently shooting a fairly shocking 18.8% from behind the far line. While he's only hit at 34% for his career and never higher than 38.3%, Kobe Bryant sure as hell isn't a one-in-five guy. I don't care if he's spending more time in the post than in years past. If Kobe spent two seasons drinking cocktails on his own private island (he can afford one, I think) he'd meet his career norms upon returning.
Fish, who hit near 40% in each of the last two seasons, also is likely to improve from downtown. It's not that outside shooting isn't a relative shortcoming- Sasha has limited value to the squad if he's not dropping bombs, and Farmar's shooting regression from his second season has folks murmuring- but given how much room there is for guys to improve, the Lakers ought to at least start hitting at a rate closer to last season's 36.1%. I think they can do even better.
Early in the third quarter against the Knicks, Bynum went a touch AWOL in regards to LA's defensive strategy, and found himself on the bench in a hurry. Said Jackson, "I think we got it straight. He was concerned about the help- he's the helper a lot of times on defense, and he was worried about his man scoring instead of helping the guard, and kind of gave up on a play, and I think that he understood that you can't give up and stop playing."
Asked about it after the game, Bynum didn't seem at all annoyed. "Oh, it was because I missed a couple of assignments. He put in LO in to change it up a little bit. That's the extent of it. I knew exactly what he was talking about, I was just tired of David Lee getting dunks."
No worries, it seems.
Kevin Ding of the OC Register wrote about it Wednesday in greater detail, but my take? Not a big deal. Bynum made a mistake, PJ yanked him, nobody seemed annoyed when it was over. But Bynum's improvement on both sides of the floor means Jackson's job balancing playing time among his three bigs will be tough as the season goes on. There will be egos in need of massaging (likely between Odom and Bynum, because Gasol will be on the floor).
Just something to watch.