Measured approach for Kobe Bryant, Lakers

The important Kobe Bryant-Byron Scott dynamic appears to be off to a healthy start.

      
 

 

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Los Angeles Lakers Offer Jeremy Lin the Ideal Stage to Redefine Career

Jeremy Lin has yet to stop bouncing around the NBA.

Even after his meteoric ascent through the public eye, Lin’s reward has come in the form of dollar signs and notoriety rather than consistent, constant value. His career is still best defined by that captivating spate of dominance with the New York Knicks. Those moments—fleeting yet fulfilling—still hang over his head and professional reputation, the scourge to a should-be Cinderella story.

And that’s where the Los Angeles Lakers, Lin’s new team, come into play.

Where Lin was still a novelty with the Houston Rockets and Knicks, he has the opportunity to be something more in Los Angeles. 

The stage isn’t set for him to play savior or rival the expired flashes that put him on the map. Instead, for the first time ever, Lin finds himself in a situation that allows him to be him without regard for feats and fame of days past. 

 

Back to the Basics

Pick-and-rolls helped fuel Lin’s rise to on-court prominence.

Almost 43 percent of his total offensive possessions came within pick-and-rolls during his breakout 2011-12 campaign, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). That was Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system—pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll—and it was perfect for him.

Remaining in attack mode gave Lin more control. It played to his strengths as a penetration-proficient point guard while opening up the floor for those around him.

That’s the Lin general manager Daryl Morey invested in that summer.

That’s the Lin Houston killed.

Acquiring James Harden ahead of the 2012-13 crusade changed everything. Lin, despite being the point guard, was no longer that primary ball-bearer. Operating alongside Harden forced him off the rock, relegating him to more spot-up duty than he was suited to play.

“What got Jeremy Lin into the league and made Linsanity happen in the first place is that Lin is aggressive and successful attacking on the pick-and-roll, and he can finish around the rim,” NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin explains. “Last season he shot 57.8 percent on drives, second in the league only to LeBron James.”

Nearly one-quarter of Lin’s offensive possessions came as a standstill shooter in 2012-13. He shot just 38.7 percent in those situations. 

Fast forward to last year and things changed even more. Lin attempted more field goals as a spot-up shooter (272) than pick-and-roll ball-handler (237).

Never mind that his conversion rate for the former began trending in the right direction. Or that his three-point shooting in such situations (38.4 percent) could be construed as impressive. Playing off the ball isn’t where Lin is most comfortable. He’s better off as a dual threat at the very least—someone who vacillates between dominating and sliding off the rock. 

Finding that balance wasn’t possible in Houston, beside Harden and even Dwight Howard.

It is in Los Angeles.

“I just got to by myself and play my game,” Lin said while promoting his Adidas shoes in Culver City, per the Los Angeles Daily NewsMark Medina. ”Everything else will take care of itself.”

So by that he means…

“Maybe I should just keep attacking the basket more,” he explained. “In the NBA, you have to be great at something. For me it’s attacking the basket. I’ll just continue to work on that and shore up other areas of my game.”

Regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench, the Lakers offer more of an opportunity for Lin to do what he does best. 

Aside from Kobe Bryant, the team doesn’t employ any one player who requires a specific number of touches or who absolutely, positively, without exception, must control the ball.

Next season’s Lakers—who aren’t built to defend in the slightest—will look to score. Lin’s ability to slither through the heart of opposing defenses will be a welcomed commodity and, inevitably, something that permits him to shoulder more responsibility in familiar fashion.

 

A Mentor He Never Had

Steve Nash will be of value to the Lakers in 2014-15. It doesn’t matter if he plays, hitting shot after shot, dropping dime after dime, contributing without interruption from age or injury. He can help the Lakers by helping Lin. 

Of all the things Lin’s tumultuous journey has included, the guidance of a seasoned, All-Star, Hall of Fame-bound point guard isn’t a luxury he’s enjoyed. Guidance of any kind has been scarce. Neither Carmelo Anthony nor Harden or Howard were ever lauded for their acceptance and appreciation of Lin. 

All that changes now, alongside Nash, who Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding describes as a willing mentor: 

Nash has long been a strong supporter of Lin, who came to L.A. last summer to take part in Nash’s charity soccer game.

Now teammates, the two already have begun forging a partnership, both working out at the Lakers’ training facility Monday and again Wednesday to get started. The first full-team training-camp workout isn’t until Tuesday.

There are so many things Nash can teach Lin as he enters his 19th—and likely final—NBA season.

Defense isn’t one of them. But that’s what Byron Scott and basketball books on tape are for in this case. Nash can help Lin just about everywhere else.

Shooting? Check. Nash is the only player in league history with more than two 50/40/90 seasons to his name. Of the 63 players to attempt at least 3,000 three-pointers over the course of their career, Nash—who has jacked up 3,939 to date—leads them all with a 42.8 percent knockdown rate.

Playmaking? Check times two. Nash ranks third all time in total assists (10,335), behind only Jason Kidd and John Stockton. As our own Adam Fromal unearthed during a lengthy study, Nash has also piloted six of the league’s 12 best offenses ever. This is to say he’s the face of offensive preeminence. 

Leadership? Nash has that covered too. Winning two MVPs and finishing in the top 10 of win shares since 1996 counts for something. 

And so, too, will his input. Lin isn’t a complete point guard by any means. There are holes in his game on the offensive end—shooting, for starters—and Nash, whether he’s playing alongside Lin or directing him from the sidelines, can help.

 

Opportunity Unlike Any Other

More than anything else, the Lakers are handing Lin a second chance.

Los Angeles isn’t Houston. It’s not New York. It’s different.

Usually that difference increases the burden of expectations. The Lakers are typically expected to win more than most teams. Championships are the standard. Playoff berths and near-misses aren’t consolations; they’re frowned upon.

But not anymore.

Few expect the Lakers to be anything more than a lottery team flirting with respectability on the back of a surprisingly healthy and productive Bryant. Talent evaluation stands to take precedence over everything else. Scores of players will sport Lakers purple and gold, their contracts expiring, their future in Los Angeles tied to next season’s performance.

Lin is among those playing for their next contract. And while uncertainty can be detrimental, it’s a chance for Lin to redefine himself and his game. 

No more Linsanity. No more adapting and adjusting to Harden and an offensive system built for the exact kind of point guard he is not. No more trying to establish himself as an integral part of a championship machine.

Most players are given grace periods; Lin was not. 

Thrust into the spotlight two-plus years ago, Lin never left. The light never dimmed.

A 20-something-game sample size was used to idealize him. When the shock wore off and reality set in, Lin was left to fight a losing battle in Houston, never once getting a legitimate opportunity to find his niche and develop accordingly.

Now on a Lakers team promising that opportunity, Lin is finally where he belongs, a fad and novelty no more. The lights are still bright and the stage still big, but upon season’s end—whether he’s part of Los Angeles’ long-term plans or not—he’ll have found clarity that, for once, isn’t attached to the unfair bar he’s long been measured against.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and Synergy Sports (subscription required) unless otherwise cited.

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Kobe feeling healthy for 19th season with Lakers (Yahoo Sports)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — After the longest offseason of his career, Kobe Bryant pulled on his familiar gold jersey Monday and went back to work with the Los Angeles Lakers, quietly believing his 19th NBA season will be better than almost anybody expects.

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Lakers Injury Update: Xavier Henry will not be ready for training camp

Los Angeles Lakers forward Xavier Henry will not be healthy as the team begins training camp on Tuesday. After right knee surgery in mid-April, the 23-year-old is still rehabbing and isn’t quite ready to take the court. Henry’s left wrist, which he also had surgery on in the same time period, is completely healed.Mark D. Smith/USA Today SportsHead coach Byron Scott told reporters earlier this month that it was unlikely Henry would be healthy for the beginning of training camp. While there is no current timetable on Henry’s return to the court, he has been limited to running on a weight-bearing treadmill.Henry, who played on three different teams in the first four years of his career, finally found a home with the Lakers. Henry averaged 10 points and three rebounds in about 21 minutes per game last season in his first significant role since entering the league in 2010. The Lakers re-signed him to a one-year deal this offseason, and he is expected to get minutes at both …

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How Fast Can Julius Randle Crack Los Angeles Lakers Starting Lineup?

The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t set up for conventional success in the win column during Byron Scott’s first season as head coach, but that doesn’t mean forward progress has to elude the Purple and Gold entirely. 

While the Lakers largely moved to maintain monetary flexibility this summer by inking veterans to team-friendly deals, last year’s 55-loss debacle produced Julius Randle, the team’s third-ever lottery pick and first since Andrew Bynum in 2005. 

And in a stacked Western Conference, sources of optimism during the 2014-15 season are likely to be limited to silver linings. The most prominent of which could be Randle’s emergence as a future franchise centerpiece. 

But before labels can be bestowed upon him, Randle will need to prove his worth, as general manager Mitch Kupchak explained to reporters: 

Unfortunately for Randle, amnesty signee Carlos Boozer stands between him and extended playing time in the Lakers frontcourt. 

Inked to a one-year, $3.25 million pact in July via amnesty waivers, Boozer provides the appearance of stability at the 4. Particularly after the Lakers ranked 24th in power forward scoring last season, according to HoopsStats

Despite posting a new career-low field-goal percentage of 45.6, Boozer remained a double-double threat (he totaled 25 last season), averaging 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds during his final stint with the Chicago Bulls

However, those basic box score statistics may represent nothing more than a thin veneer for a player whose effectiveness is dwindling rapidly. 

Revered for his mid-range shooting capabilities, Boozer shot below 40 percent from both mid-range locations (10-16 feet, 16 feet-three-point line) last season, according to Basketball-Reference.com, marking the first time he had done so in 12 seasons. 

While he remained an effective shooter from the left elbow, mediocrity enveloped Boozer’s production from nearly every other spot on the floor, as the following shot chart from Nylon Calculus illustrates: 

Combine those evolving offensive struggles with Boozer’s lack of defensive prowess, and the younger Randle may look like the more appealing starting option by the time curtains draw on his rookie season. 

And if you want to be optimistic about Randle’s prospects off the bench, just look at how Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau saw things when it came to Boozer and frontcourt mate Taj Gibson and imagine Randle in the latter’s role. 

Last season, the Bulls were three points better per 100 defensive possessions with Boozer off the floor, according to NBA.com. And as an aside, the league’s lowest-scoring offense was also 4.5 points better per 100 offensive possessions with Boozer off the floor. 

As a result, the Bulls provided the younger, hungrier Gibson with a larger allotment of minutes (28.7 per game compared to Boozer’s 28.2) despite coming off the bench. 

That brings us to Randle and his quest for a starting gig. 

“We didn’t decide, ‘Well, [Randle isn't] going to help us this year, let’s get a veteran,’” Kupchak told the Los Angeles Times‘ Eric Pincus. “We got [Boozer] to help us win games this year. Whatever Julius gets, he’s going to have to earn.”

Kupchak is looking to temper expectations and understandably so. After all, Randle faces an uphill climb in terms of adapting to the speed and physicality of the pro game. 

But it’s important to remember that Randle’s skill set should equip him to make that adjustment slightly less painful. 

Just take it from Kupchak

“He’s got super quick feet and I think if there’s one thing you didn’t see much at Kentucky, as you do watching him every day, is that he’s got really gifted quickness, first step, [and] he loves contact,” Kupchak said, according to Pincus. 

No, Randle may not have a versatile range of offensive tools like the one Boozer’s purported to possess, but his status as a physical force and athletic specimen should turn heads enough over the course of his rookie season to put him in excellent position entering year two. 

Remember, Randle averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds as a freshman at Kentucky while leading the nation in total rebounding and ranking first among all SEC players in defensive rebounding percentage (24.7). 

For a team that was inept at keeping opponents off the glass last season (L.A. ranked last in opponent’s total, defensive and offensive rebounds), Randle’s tenacity on the boards will be a welcome sight. 

There’s also the matter of Randle’s positional versatility, which should help him stay on the court. Especially given how starved the Lakers are for committed wing defenders. 

Outside of Wes Johnson and Xavier Henry, the Lakers are staring at defensive liabilities in Kobe Bryant, Wayne Ellington and Nick Young. 

With the speed necessary to guard opposing 3s and the strength to body up 4s, Kupchak noted Randle could see time at both forward positions this season, according to Pincus: 

He can defend small forwards.  Do I see him right now as the prototypical small forward?  Probably not. But I could see him bringing the ball up the court.  I could see him seeing a gap, getting a step on a guy and making a play — whether it’s finishing or finding somebody that’s open.  Those are ball-handling skills that you wouldn’t see power forwards have very often.

Detractors will point to the jump shot, which remains a substantial worry. 

Offensively, my biggest concern centers on his preferred shot selection, which is heavily interior-oriented. He made just 17.3 percent of his jumpers last season, having only taken 1.3 per game, per Synergy Sports via DraftExpress‘ Matt Kamalsky,” Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman noted. 

That said, it’s important to remember Randle isn’t confined to playing the role of a conventional 4.  

Thanks to his unique blend of physical qualities, Randle is more than capable of making hay off the dribble, as he did throughout his time as a Wildcat. 

As a freshman, Randle ranked first in the SEC in total free-throw attempts (289) while getting to the stripe 7.2 times per game. 

Compare that to Boozer, who attempted 46.02 percent of his shots last season from mid-range, according to NBA.com, which resulted in the second-lowest free-throw rate of his career (.197). 

And yet, given the way the Lakers have framed their one-year commitment to Boozer, it would be a surprise to see Randle supplant the 32-year-old as a starter this season.  

Boozer’s presence figures to relegate Randle to the role of second-unit contributor for the time being. But given all he has to offer, Randle should be able to carve out a nice rotational niche on a team in need of committed two-way players.

It’s always tough selling patience when discussing lottery picks, but Kupchak has a point. Maintaining perspective is crucial, and just because Randle’s status as a top-10 pick inflates expectations it doesn’t mean he’ll bypass the competition and get a pass to the top of the depth chart. 

In time, the job will be his. That’s what the Lakers’ lottery commitment to Randle really means. 

So if Randle can consistently attack the rim, crash the boards and display his positional versatility on both ends throughout his rookie season, the Lakers will have no choice but to think toward the future once Boozer’s time as a stopgap starter in Tinseltown concludes. 

 

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.  

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Julius Randle Gives Lakers An Ability To Handle Ball At Forward

Julius Randle projects in the NBA as a power forward, but the Los Angeles Lakers have been impressed with his ability to defend threes and handle the ball.
“He’s got super quick feet and I think if there’s one thing you didn’t see much at Kentucky, as you do watching him every day, is that he’s got really gifted quickness, first step, [and] he loves contact,” Mitch Kupchak said.
“He can defend small forwards. Do I see him right now as the prototypical small forward? Probably not,” Kupchak said. “But I could see him bringing the ball up the court. I could see him seeing a gap, getting a step on a guy and making a play — whether it’s finishing or finding somebody that’s open. Those are ball-handling skills that you wouldn’t see power forwards have very often.”
Still, Kupchak tried to temper expectations for the rookie.
“Julius is still 19 years old,” Kupchak said. “You wouldn’t know that by looking at him, b…

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Mitch Kupchak: Lakers approach will be ‘similar’ to last season

Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Friday that his approach this season will be similar to what it was last year. “I think our approach is going to be similar this season and this offseason as it was this past season,” he said to reporters. “There’s only three ways to improve your team: You can make a trade; you can use your room to sign a free agent; or you can draft a player if you have a draft pick. “We did acquire a draft pick in the offseason. In fact, we acquired two. A second round pick, but we (also) got the first-round pick from Houston. So we have a pick this offseason, which is a valuable asset. We have flexibility with our (salary) cap. So we could look to improve the team during the offseason or during the season. So we feel that we have the flexibility and the assets necessary to approach this season as we did last season.” Kupchak believes the success of the Lakers this season hinges on if the players can stay health, particularly Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. “Fi

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Silver Linings to Look for During Los Angeles Lakers’ 2014-15 Season

In every cloud there is a silver lining, so the saying goes. And looking for such glimmers in the Los Angeles Lakers’ upcoming season presupposes that the larger outlook will appear gloomy and gray.

But what if the Lakers rock an absolutely awesome 2014-15 season? That would mean the whole thing would be lined with silver and maybe even gold, and we wouldn’t have to search for consolation prizes, right?

On the other hand, last year’s 27-55 season might not be a fluke, in which case fans could either gather torches and pitchforks or look for targets of opportunity among the thunderheads.

We could also look at this as a chance to pragmatically consider positive outcomes in what could be a challenging period of time, as a venerable franchise looks to rebuild in order to resume its rightful place as an elite NBA superpower.

With a new coach, the team enters the season reciting familiar championship aspirations but knowing there’s a lot of heavy lifting ahead, with aging stars, undervalued role players, former draft busts and hopeful rookies.

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Kupchak: Healthy Kobe plans big return for Lakers (Yahoo Sports)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Mitch Kupchak is confident Kobe Bryant will make an impressive return to the Los Angeles Lakers after losing last season to injuries.

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Los Angeles Lakers: Wayne Ellington Signing Grade

Los Angeles Lakers: Wayne Ellington Signing Grade
By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…
Contract: 1 season, veteran minimum
The Los Angeles Lakers are going to have a pathetic defense this season, there is no debating this, just look at their roster. They have Jordan Hill and ummm, I said Jordan Hill right? However, they have a chance to have an excellent offense this season with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Nick Young, Julius Randle and more and if they would like to win this season, they have to scorer lots of points and make their 3’s, which is why they have signed elite 3 point shooter Wayne Ellington.
Ellington is one of the NBA’s best shooters, as in 5 NBA seasons he has shot 38.6 percent from 3 and just shot 42.4 percent with the Mavericks, which was 10th in the NBA, tied with Stephen Curry. This Lakers team was just 7th in 3’s shot, 2nd in 3’s made and 3rd in 3 point percentage, so Ellington is a very nice fit on this team. He isn’t too much …

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