Are The Lakers Really This Bad?
Nothing has gone according to plan for the Lakers, who already are working on their third coach, their fourth starting point guard, and tonight in Oklahoma City, their seventh attempt at getting back to .500.
This game was supposed to be a showdown of two Western Conference heavyweights, and instead we find ourselves using the singular form. Steve Nash has played six quarters, Pau Gasol is resting his aching knees, and Dwight Howard hasn't looked anything like the defensive dominator he was in Orlando.
And yet, the Lakers really aren't that bad. Yes, going 9-10 against an easy schedule is disturbing, but this poor result has been driven as much by luck as skill. The Lakers are just 1-9 in games decided by 10 points or fewer, and have gone 8-1 in the others. They beat Denver by 19, Golden State by 24 and Houston by 11. They've outscored opponents by 4.1 points per game, the sixth-best figure in the league, and are in the league's top eight teams in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency -- only the Clippers and Spurs can make a similar boast.
What The Scouts Are Saying
Suspect you know the drill by now.
One lockout season couldn't have thrown you too far off track, so surely you haven't forgotten what happens at Stein Line HQ when teams start passing the 20-game threshold.
That's when the calls go out to the advance scouts to gather insights into some of the league's most pertinent topics from the guys who rack up the most air miles and hotel loyalty points in basketball -- thus winning my full admiration -- to line press row for three to four games weekly to chart every play their rivals run.
The following observations come from six scouts, three in each conference, all of whom were granted anonymity so they could speak as candidly as possible.
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Rookie Watch: Let's Be Real
Some readers have questioned why Harrison Barnes and Dion Waiters aren't higher in my rankings. So let me take this time to explain how I evaluate the rookie class and talent overall.
In the past, we would look at raw numbers and proclaim with some confidence that a particular player was playing effectively. If the player was putting up double-digit points and his team was not successful, then the blame was cast on his lower-scoring teammates, bad defense, poor rebounding, turnovers, etc.
But thanks to John Hollinger, Dean Oliver, Roland Beech and the huge assortment of advanced metrics they and others have made available online, we now have little excuse when it comes to evaluating a player's contributions on the court. For instance, we shouldn't rush to call Waiters and Barnes successes simply because they are high-scoring dynamic players.
Are these two rookies talented? Do they have a lot of upside? Are they capable of playing great for a game here and there? Yes, absolutely. But, while it's understandable to get excited about those things, it's not accurate to think that a few good games surrounded by a lot of poor ones is superior to playing more efficiently and consistently in fewer minutes. Just because a player scores more points does not mean he is playing well.
Len, Poythress Stealth No. 1 Picks
Guess who returned home last week?
For the first time this season, Carmelo Anthony played more minutes at small forward than he did at power forward, as Knicks coach Mike Woodson was forced to tweak his lineup because of injuries suffered by first Jason Kidd and then Raymond Felton. Thus Anthony did not qualify for the weekly Barometer leaderboard or next week's projections. It's a consequence sure to upset fans across the Big Apple.
Woodson didn't exactly go traditional, giving Steve Novak the bulk of the minutes at the 4. In fact, you can argue over who is actually playing the 4 when Novak pairs with Anthony. In our coding system, it's Novak. In reality, it's a debate of semantics, but the coding is based on usage in past seasons. Either way, Novak was on the floor to space the offense and did so brilliantly. In three games, Novak made 14 field goals -- all from behind the arc.