Lakers Question Exchange with Forum Blue and Gold

Published: March 14, 2008

Tonight's matchup is huge, as we take on the Lakers, owner of the best record in the Western Conference.   In honor of the matchup, I bring to you a question exchange with one of the most thoughtful and enjoyable bloggers out there, even if he does write about the Lakers: Kurt of Forum Blue and Gold.

As usual, sometime today he will post my answers to his questions, addressing our defense, the Birdman, my expectations for the playoffs – and something I'm particularly happy with – my argument of CP3 for MVP.  Take a look when you get a chance.

Here are my questions and Kurt's answers:

Hornets247: When last we exchanged emails in January, the Hornets and Lakers were upstarts.  The big reason for their sudden rise were both were playing great defense.  The Hornet's top 3 defense has slipped over the last month, falling to 8th.  Are the Lakers keeping their tough defense going, and has Pau impacted it any? 

Forum Blue and Gold: While the Lakers defense still looks good statistically, it has been spotty in the past six weeks or so and worse than spotty the last couple of games. That, however, is not all about Gasol. He is capable of being a solid defensive center, and shown it for a game here and there, and he has made some good blocks and stops at key points at the end of games. Basically, he can be a solid defender, although it seems he lets his mind wander at times on that end of the floor.
But even on Gasol’s best days, he is not the shot blocker, the intimidator around the rim that Andrew Bynum was before he dislocated his kneecap. Nor is Gasol the ferocious rebounder that Bynum is. Having Bynum back in the paint allowed Kobe and others to gamble a little more on defense. Now, when they miss the steal the backup is often slow to arrive. By the way, also missing is Trevor Ariza (broken foot) and he was the Lakers second best perimeter defender behind Kobe.
One final note on the Lakers defense – the last couple games they have been horrible at defending the high pick and roll. Gasol does not play it well, and there is trepidation in Lakers corners about what CP3 could do to the Lakers after lesser point guards (Beno Udrih and TJ Ford) tore the Lakers up the last couple of games.

Hornets247: The general opinion of (Lakers GM)Mitch Kupchak seems to have been greatly improved as a result of the events of his off-season and mid-season moves.(or non-moves) How have you felt about the job he's done? 

Forum Blue and Gold: Patience may be a virtue, but it’s a hard one to display for a GM and franchise getting hammered in the local and national media like the Lakers were the previous couple of years. But Mitch and the Lakers front office did something all to rare today in the NBA – they had vision of the kind of team they wanted to build, and they stuck to the plan.
They knew they needed something inside to go with the outside of Kobe, so they took a risk on Bynum and it worked out. They didn’t take just anything for Kwame Brown, waiting until something good (actually, insanely good for the price) came along. Most importantly, they got role players that fit the system. Too many teams try to just get good players and then let the coach try to sort it all out, but the best franchises (think San Antonio, Detroit) know exactly what kind of team they are trying to build and get players who will thrive in the system. The Lakers have done that. Luke Walton would not be as good for a lot of teams as he is for the Lakers triangle offense. Vladimir Radmanovic is a very good fit, as is Derek Fisher.
And for doing that, Mitch deserves a lot of credit.

Hornets247: Pau Gasol seems to be working in well on the offensive end of the floor.  I'd always heard, however, that it takes at least a season for a player to integrate into the triangle.  Is he operating in a simplified triangle, or has he really picked it up this fast? 

Forum Blue and Gold: A little bit of both. The Lakers are now running what Jordan Farmar called "triangle 101."
But it is working incredibly well because Gasol is a perfect fit in the triangle offense. What the triangle asks of its bigs is to be able to play on the low block or in the high post, and Gasol is incredibly adept at either. He has consistent shooting range out to 20 feet, but also has very nice moves in the post. (As an aside, Tex Winter, the guy who created the offense, never really liked Shaq in it because Shaq was limited in the high post. He could pass great from there, but he could only score on the low block.)
The other thing that Gasol does very well is pass the ball. Bring the double and the open man will get the ball and a good look. The Lakers who can spread the floor with their shot – Fisher, Radmanovic, Vujacic – have really thrived since Gasol arrived because he recognizes where the double comes from and makes the smart pass.
The motion offenses Gasol grew up playing in Spain (and in his early professional years there) were more akin to the triangle the Lakers run than what most NBA teams do. He walked on the court understanding the concepts of what the offense is trying to do, even if he didn’t know the "plays." (In reality, there aren’t set plays in the triangle, in its pure form it is a read-and-react offense looking to exploit mismatches and doubles. But you get what I’m driving at, the Lakers have preferred sets that play to their strengths.)

Hornets247: Any playoff matchup in the West you don't like for the Lakers?  Any Eastern team you absolutely don't want to meet should the Lakers reach the Finals? 

Forum Blue and Gold: Honestly, are there any matchups people do want in the West? There are so many good teams that all three rounds will be a real test. I guess the Lakers would like to avoid the Spurs as long as possible, but then so does everyone.
One advantage the Lakers do have that the current roster (when healthy) is that it is incredibly versatile. LA can have a tall lineup (Vujacic, Kobe, Odom/Radmanovic, Gasol, Bynum) or go small (Fisher, Vujacic, Kobe, Odom, Gasol). There are lineups that like to run, lineups that are more defense oriented, and the list goes on and on. All that versatility with quality players gives Phil Jackson a lot of tools come the playoffs, and he is a master of matchups and exploitation in a seven-game series (he has those nine rings for reasons other than just Jordan and Shaq).

Hornets247: Just how important is Derek Fisher to your team? 

Forum Blue and Gold: Even after the Gasol trade (and bringing in DJ Mbenga as a backup center) the Lakers have a very young roster, and not one that outside of Kobe has gone deep into the playoffs. That is where Fisher is so valuable, setting an example of work ethic and professionalism that those younger players can see and emulate. ‘
On the court, he brings calmness to the offense. The Lakers still like to run and will move quickly, but they don’t seem hurried. Fisher is the one guy who can bring the ball up and ignore Kobe when he’s calling for an isolation and just run the offense. Plus, he’s another guy willing to take (and make) the big shot at the end of the game. Just ask the Spurs. And you need some people willing to do that besides the guy everyone knows is supposed to get the last shot.

With that, I'm going to forgo the usual Positional Analysis today.  Just assume Kobe, Pau, Fisher and Odom are hard to handle, and that West, Chandler, Stojakovic and Paul will have to be going full steam for us to take this game.  If we do, we'll be tied with the Lakers for losses and only one game back in the win column.

I'm eager to see how our bench performs after the solid efforts by Bonzi, Wright, and Ely(!) last game.  Just think if Pargo finds his shot again.

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