Bernucca: Forget small ball; Grizzlies have big plans

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Forget small ball. The NBA’s best team plays bully ball.

The Memphis Grizzlies don’t have a fleet of sharpshooters standing on the arc. They don’t have a stretch 4. They don’t have a dual point guard backcourt. Heck, their shooting guard can’t even shoot.

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Princeton-less Offence, Knicks Defence and the Week Ahead

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As we do every Saturday afternoon, we’ll examine the lessons from the Week That Was, review our Depth Chart Updates, the Upcoming Schedule and make our picks of Sits and Starts for the upcoming week.

Today, we will take a closer look at the fantasy impact of the hot starts of the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves and the slow starts of the Indiana Pacers and now offence-less Los Angeles Lakers plus a round-up of the week’s injuries.

The Week That Was

Lesson #1: Bye, Bye Princeton

Yesterday, in a knee-jerk reaction, the Lakers fired their head coach, Mike Brown, after just 5 games. In his place they promoted assistant Bernie Bickerstaff (previously a head coach with the Sonics, Nuggets, Wizards and most recently the Bobcats). Bickerstaff is only an interim solution with names from Phil Jackson to Jerry Sloan to Mike D’Antoni all being rumoured as potential replacements. My guess is that the over-reaction was probably fuelled by player mis-content (cough, Kobe Bryant, cough).

The primary issue prompting the change was Mike Brown’s use of the Princeton offence. As we noted last week, the issue in Lakerland was not the offence but the defence. This concentration on the offence is likely to continue to draw attention away from the defence and thus the coaching transition will likely be less than smooth. The change should have little impact in fantasy (at least until we know who the coach will be) as the Laker stars were all performing to expectations but creates some added uncertainty.

Based on one game’s observations, we note that they did not run a single Princeton offence play and played mostly pick-and-roll. Most of the play revolved around the familiar entities — Kobe BryantPau Gasol and Metta World Peace took a combined 50 shots. Dwight Howard was left behind, which was surprising given the undersized Warrior frontline, and was the only starter not to play in the 4th quarter. The bench did not really get involved until the game was out of hand. Rookie Darius Morris though may have moved ahead of Steve Blake on the Laker depth chart as he played longer stretches throughout the game but his ultimate role will not be known until Steve Nash returns.

Where Bickerstaff (or whoever the new coach is) can have an immediate positive impact is with that second unit and especially, Antawn Jamison, who has been a non-factor so far. It will be extremely difficult to get less from them. The Lakers have a soft schedule this week and a great opportunity to get the bench more involved. If Jamison has been dropped in your league, keep an eye on the Lakers this week to see if he suddenly finds a role.

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Video: Are the Los Angeles Lakers in trouble?

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There’s two schools of thought on what may be wrong with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The first is that the offseason acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash created the customary overreaction from NBA fans – specifically Lakers fans – who had visions of 70-win seasons and dynastic dominance dancing in their heads.

When the Lakers followed a winless preseason by losing their first three games – pretty much scuttling any talk of 70 wins – there was another obligatory overreaction. This one blamed the newly installed Princeton offense, coach Mike Brown, Nash’s injury and climate change. Why else would the sky be falling?

The answer, as it usually is with two highly polarized knee-jerk responses, is somewhere in between.

However, the second school of thought has a bit more validity. The Lakers’ issues aren’t a product of their new offense, or their coach, or Nash sitting on the sidelines, or climate change. They are a function of their personnel.

The Lakers’ starting lineup is long and skilled and talented. It also devoid of energy and athleticism. The bench has some energy and athleticism, but is woefully short on talent.

So what to do? How do the Lakers begin climbing out of the depths of our latest Power Rankings?

Mark Heisler, our resident Power Ranker, discussed a number of possibilities with Noah Coslov of Cinesport. One of those includes an unlikely big change to the starting lineup.

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Bernucca: Lakers’ offense struggling with Ivy League courseload

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You can point to a handful of reasons why the Los Angeles Lakers are on the verge of panic. 

Dwight Howard missed all of training camp and most of preseason recovering from back surgery. Kobe Bryant has a sprained foot that requires him to wear a walking boot. Steve Nash is out for a while with a fracture in his fibula.

That lack of continuity led to 11 straight losses – all eight in the preseason, which the Lakers dismissed as games that don’t count, and the first three of the regular season, which counted very much.

Asked after that third loss when it was time to press the panic button, Bryant said somewhat sarcastically, ”Now.”

Lakers fans are looking for a different button – the one for the ejection seat for coach Mike Brown.

Virtually every team is dealing with injuries and incorporating new players. The Mavericks are without Dirk Nowitzki – and beat the Lakers. The Trail Blazers have a rookie point guard – and beat the Lakers. The Clippers have five new players in their rotation – and beat the Lakers.

Those teams aren’t trying to install a new offense, however. In the offseason, the Lakers hired Eddie Jordan as an assistant coach with the express purpose of having him put in the Princeton offense, his calling card as an NBA coach. The idea was to have Jordan complement Brown, whose principles are in defense.

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SH Blog: Mark Jackson thinks Reggie Miller is right behind Jordan and Bryant as the greatest shooting guard ever

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You know the NBA season is inching closer towards us when Power Rankings start to make an appearance. Chris Sheridan published his first Power Rankings of the upcoming season today, so feel free to go there and let him know what you think of how he ranked your team (I wasn’t thrilled about where he put my Warriors). Also, see what we learned about the NBA in the summer of 2012 in Jan Hubbard’s column.

In Tuesday’s news, you’ll find out just how highly Mark Jackson thinks of Reggie Miller, why Rajon Rondo got caught up in all the Jeremy Lin drama, what Taj Gibson expects from himself in the upcoming season and much more:

  • Mark Jackson said Reggie Miller is as good as any shooting guard ever, aside from Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, according to Mike Wells of Indianapolis Star: “Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who spent six seasons as Miller’s teammate with the Pacers, puts No. 31 near the top of the list once you remove a couple of guys named Jordan and Kobe. “When you take Michael Jordan and you take Kobe Bryant out of the discussion, he’s as good as any two-guard that has ever played the game,” Jackson said. That’s a pretty bold statement coming from Jackson when you think about the competition to be behind Jordan and Kobe.”
  • Jackson then added Dwyane Wade to the list of names better than Miller, as you can see in our Tweet of the Day. If he thinks long and hard, he’d probably add a few more names in there, like Clyde Drexler and Jerry West. Here is why Drexler has the edge on Miller, from Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated: “Clyde Drexler: We’re getting into dicier territory now, but I’m comfortable putting the Glide above Miller. He ranks 79 spots above Miller on the all-time PER list, and like West and Wade, he was just a more dynamic creator than Miller. Drexler averaged between 5.7 and 8.0 assists per game for eight straight seasons in his prime and could help an offense in more ways. He was the linchpin of one of the great teams to never win a title (the late 1980s/early 1990s Blazers), and he had the size to play small forward in three-guard lineups without fatally compromising his team’s defense.”
  • Taj Gibson appears to be ready to take on an expanded – including leadership – for the Rose-less Bulls, according to Scott Powers of ESPN Chicago: “Thibs already told me he wants my role to change, be more of a leader now,” Gibson said. “I worked out with him a lot during the summer. I worked out with him before the (Team) USA camp. He just wanted me to work out this whole year, build confidence and get better. He thinks I can do a lot more on and off the court. I’m ready to take that next step.” Gibson thought the next step was being more of an all-around player.”Just playing more solid, just coming in knocking down some 15-footers, back-to-the-basket play, a lot of stuff like that I’ve been working on during the offseason, a lot of stuff like that in the USA camp,” Gibson said.”
  • Kevin McHale made no secret of the fact that he wished the Rockets had more veterans in his interview with Jason Friedman of NBA.com: “I know this offseason didn’t go exactly the way you wanted it to. I know you would have loved to have acquired that stud, superstar caliber player in the middle to be the anchor of everything you want to do on both ends of the floor. I also know that going young in the NBA typically brings with it a unique set of challenges. That said, does the coach in you get excited by the energy and exuberance of these young guys, and the knowledge that you’re going to play a pivotal role in shaping their growth and approach to the NBA game? KM: It’s the team that we have. To be honest with you, I wish we had more veterans. I’m very competitive. I want to win. We can still win but it’s always much more difficult to win on a consistent basis in this league with young guys. But there is an exciting element of taking kids and teaching them how to play the right way in the NBA, teaching them how to be pros every single day, teaching them how to just get better on a daily basis and how to deal with the ups and downs of the NBA.”
  • Rajon Rondo dreamed of being an NFL player and discussed the importance of playing quarterback to shape him as a point guard, from Mathew Scott of South China Morning Post (H/T Kurt Helin): ”I didn’t watch a lot of NBA games growing up,” he says. “I watched the Green Bay Packers. I always had dreams of being an NFL player. I was a high school quarterback and I really think that has helped me become a leader on the basketball court. They are pretty much the same position. The quarterback is the guy who calls all the plays and gets all the attention and the same with the point guard in basketball. You have to hit the open man.” Basketball became a natural progression during high school as his skills – and his reputation – developed. ”I played all three sports growing up – basketball, football and baseball – but I narrowed it down after my first year of high school and realised then I had a chance of making the NBA,” says Rondo. “I was starting to dominate and I don’t want it to sound like I’ve got a big head but the competition around me was easy. At Oak Hill Academy, Josh Smith went straight to the NBA out of high school so I knew then that if I worked on my game I could make the NBA myself.”
  • In the same article, Rondo explained why he was also caught in the drama of “Linsanity” last season: “Rondo’s Asian trip comes hot on the heels of a visit by the man who gave the NBA one of the season’s great stories – one-time Knicks and now Houston guard Jeremy Lin. And as an opponent – and a fellow sportsman – Rondo says he, too, was caught in the pure drama of the situation as Lin went from undrafted unknown to superstar in a stint for the Knicks before he fell to injury. ”Well, it was almost the classic Cinderella story. The guy had a great opportunity and he seized his moment,” says Rondo. “That stretch of 15 to 20 games he played really well, until he got hurt. But in this league everyone wants a piece of everyone. When you go against one player, you want to see what he’s made of. ”So once Jeremy Lin got a lot of attention, every point guard now wants to go against him, just like every point guard wants to go against D.Rose and Chris Paul. So every night, the point guard position is tough. He deserved the attention as he played well.”
  • Pete Carril, the inventor of the Princeton Offense, believes the Lakers have the proper ingredients to make the Princeton offense work, from Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated: “SI.com: So Coachie, how do you see the Princeton offense fitting in L.A.? Carril: I imagine that if the [Lakers] guys want to do it, and [the coaches] can convince them that it’d better for them, I think they’ll do it. They have the right ingredients, all the passers. They have really good passers there. The only one I don’t really know much about as a passer is Howard. But [Pau] Gasol can pass and he can shoot, and of course Bryant and Nash can shoot, and whatever they call him now [Metta World Peace], I know he can pass. It all depends on Howard, and then what kind of bench they have. I know Jodie Meeks is a shooter. He makes shots. And Antawn Jamison is not a shooter, but he can play. Eddie knows all about him from having coached him in Washington. Generally speaking, that offense doesn’t work when two things are prevalent. One is when they treat it like a robotic thing. And the other is when they don’t want to do it.
I hear Tracy McGrady might work out with the #Bobcats some, similar to how Josh Howard did. All informal and exploratory.
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Rick Bonnell
  • The Nets will play in Brooklyn, but will stay in New Jersey for practice, according to Howard Beck of The New York Times: “The Nets will call Brooklyn home this fall, but you won’t find them bagging organic tomatoes at the Park Slope Food Co-op, antique hunting at the Brooklyn Flea or enjoying a pleasant fall evening on the nearest brownstone stoop. For reasons both practical and personal, the Brooklyn Nets will not be living in Brooklyn, at least for their inaugural season. It is not a matter of preference, but logistics: Although the Nets will play at the new Barclays Center near Downtown Brooklyn, they will still practice at their longtime training center in East Rutherford, N.J. The lease runs two more years.”
Clippers announce that Gary Sacks assumes role as the franchise's Vice President of Basketball Operations.
@SpearsNBAYahoo
Marc J. Spears
  • Heat assistant coach and NBA legend Bob McAdoo believes the Thunder are still the team to beat in the West, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post: “We got to get there but I still feel OKC is the team to beat in the West,’’ the Hall of Famer said. “Everyone’s talking about how they got better but I still think they’re the team to beat. They’re still young and have the experience of a championship series.’’ Despite the buzz about the Lakers adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, McAdoo expects to see the Thunder again in The Finals if Miami gets through.”

Mr. Obama calls his own campaign “The Heat”, compares Mitt Romney to “Jeremy Lin”

Dwight Howard still loves Orlando