KC-Oakland: On the Lost Arc of the Raiders

David Malinsky

Thursday, October 19, 2017 2:19 PM UTC

Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017 2:19 PM UTC

Are we on the verge of "The Lost Arc of the Raiders" in Oakland? ... As Lonzomania begins Thursday night, just how awful might the Lakers' defense might be.

Point Blank – October 19, 2017

I am going to continue the pattern of using Thursdays as a “Game Inside the Game” focus, the NFL again providing a matchup with compelling handicapping issues, and now the NBA joins in, naturally pairing up Carmelo Anthony against the Knicks with the television cameras on, while also bringing us the first look at Lonzo Ball with the Lakers. The latter brings me a fascination for very different reasons than have most of the Sports Mediaverse in a tizzy.

I’ll start in the NFL, where the Raiders have lost as many regular-season games over the last four weeks as they did in all of 2016, before moving on to the Lakers. For now, I am skeptical about how things are going to work out in OKC, but will save that until next week since the matchup vs. the Knicks may not show the potential weaknesses (hint: Billy Donovan’s X’s and O’s skills might not make him the best chef for these ingredients).


Item: Is there more pressure on the Raiders than this group is ready to handle?

A potential narrative was set for the 2017 Oakland season back in our team-by-team preseason tour, and it has indeed become the in-running theme for the campaign – a team that wasn’t anywhere near what the 12-4 showing in the 2016 standings indicated is now dealing with those immutable laws of sport. What went up has indeed come back down, given the relative talent level.

There are some tactical football issues involved, but for tonight the handicapping key also is about how well Jack Del Rio and his players handle the psychological component, because it is far more pronounced than it should be. In reality, a 2-4 opening shouldn’t be that big of a deal for this franchise, as we look back from the 2010 season on:

2010   2-4
2011   4-2
2012   2-4
2013   2-4
2014   0-6
2015   3-3
2016   4-2
2017   2-4

But there is a different mood surrounding the team because of the unrealistic expectations that the 2016 outcomes brought. What have I been reading over the course of the week while putting the game handicap together? A series of headlines positioning tonight’s game as being near Armageddon for the Raiders' season. That cannot help but be a distraction, which means that the power ratings get adjusted based on how much of a distraction it is, and whether or not they are built to handle it.

It starts with Del Rio, who had to begin his week with this in addressing the media:“It was ‘Move on Monday’ today. It’s all going forward for the Chiefs. I don’t think we need to do anything except think about the Chiefs coming in here and finding a way to get a win. That’s where we are.”

There isn’t anything earth-shattering in that except for the fact that he felt the need to say it in the first place. But there are genuine questions about how well he will handle the unique adversity of this season, both in terms of keeping the team on an even keel and in making the proper tactical adjustments. He does not bring much of a legacy that calls for either task to get completed at a high level. We may look back in retrospect to see that 2016 was the coaching version of him filling an inside straight.

Comments from the players this week showed some frayed nerves, and also this allusion to tactics from Derek Carr: “Details. That’s the frustrating thing. I’m not going to lie to you. I’m really frustrated. We work too hard for that kind of stuff to happen. It’s myself and the whole offense included. We need to lock into every detail. That’s the problem. There’s nothing else.”

But are Del Rio, OC Todd Downing and DC Ken Norton “detail” guys? The Raiders got to 12-4 in 2016 despite the defense finishing #20 on the Football Outsiders charts, and that group has fallen to #28. Downing is in his first season as an NFL OC, and it shows in both tactics and deportment: “I never want to say that you welcome criticism, but I welcome the responsibility that this job has afforded me. I understand that I’m going to have to deal with negative comments and consequences when things aren’t going well. I’m looking forward to standing up here in a more positive fashion soon.”

Those aren’t the sort of things a coach should have to talk about this deep into a season.

The linchpin to the Raiders OL, Donald Penn, is in his 12th NFL season and has been a Pro Bowler. He recognizes what is going on perhaps better than anyone:"That’s how we’re starting the games, jittery. These losses are starting to pile up, and everyone is trying to find something to do instead of just doing their own job.”

Tonight’s game is not just about stats and matchups, but the psychological components of sport. I believe Andy Reid and his staff will do a better job on the short week of having the Chiefs prepared to play both tactically and in terms of composure, and note that Reid is 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS in his head-to-heads vs. Del Rio since they became division rivals. But for now I can’t find a place in the market to take advantage, the shelves not showing any bargains. I will be on the lookout for Kansas City Team Total Over 24, which is a tick away from appearing, now that the full game total has dropped from 47.5 to 45.5, though there is a caution because of some wind in the forecast for this evening, which may be bringing some of that 'under' money into the market.

And as we get to the latter stages of that game, it will be time for the Lonzo Ball era to begin with the Lakers, and what fun might that be. …

 Item: Are the Lakers going to be able to guard anybody?

In some regards, Ball is a great fit for the Lakers franchise, badly in need of something to energize the fans, and that he will do through some fantastic offensive skills. But there is also what has to be a somewhat terrifying aspect of this for Luke Walton – when he looks down at his roster can he find anyone capable of guarding their opponent?

A running theme at PB through the years, and one that was discussed in the Wednesday edition, is that One-and-Done players bring defensive issues. There was a particular focus on the Timberwolves, who went out and allowed a Spurs team without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker to score at a 111.0 PP 100 clip. The Minnesota problem stems from having big-time talents in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins who have bad cases of the One-and-Done defensive disease, and the Lakers show the symptoms before the first game tips off.

Walton had three One-and-Dones starting for much of last season, and how did it work out? The Lakers weren’t just the worst defensive team in the league, but the worst since 2010 (as always using PP100 as the measure).

Worst Defense since 2010
2017 Lakers        110.6
2010 Raptors      110.2
2011 Raptors      110.0
2015 T’wolves     109.6

Now the trade-out is basically D'Angelo Russell for Ball, and as bad as Russell was defensively, #69 of 75 point guards on Real +/-, the expectation is that Ball will be worse.

How bad were the other inexperienced defenders? There were 76 power forwards charted in Real +/-, and Julius Randle was #72. There were 65 small forwards tracked, and Brandon Ingram was #63. This is what Walton has to try to build a defensive chemistry from. And it isn’t as though new addition Kentavious Caldwell-Pope brings defensive chops either, he was #54 of 87 shooting guards last season. Meanwhile, Jordan Clarkson is still in the rotation after rating even worse than Russell (#74, ahead of only D.J. Augustin and Isaiah Thomas) last season.

The Lakers are going to make some spectacular plays for the highlight reels, but that defense may be abysmal. I get chimes ringing for the Clippers at -4 but have not seen that in the marketplace yet, but that is on the radar as the day progresses.


About Last Night …

This is the season in which the seeds of Trust the Process may bear fruit with the 76ers, a talented corps bringing some fascinating upside, but also the problem of developing chemistry. The opener vs. Washington also brought something glaring into play – while the upper end talent is intriguing, what about bench play? The numbers from the 120-115 loss to the Wizards brings some early food for thought, the starting five holding up OK against a playoff team with a solid veteran chemistry:

Player        Minutes     +/-
Simmons   34:40          +3
Bayless      27:52         +11
Redick       32:23         +17
Covington  29:08         +10
Embiid       26:57           +1

But then …

Saric          22:42           -9
L-Cabarrot 18:21         -19
Fultz           17:54         -18
Johnson     15:08           -7
McConnell 14:55         -14

This will be a running story perhaps all season – how long will it take the chemistry among the starters to jell, in particular as Fultz eventually joins that group, but at the same time will the bench be able to at least hold their own when called into action?


For your listening pleasure …

The latest edition of House of Yards is ready to go, Matt Landes and I once again breaking down the prime-time NFL games, along with the best of the Sunday afternoon matchups, and our weekly Moment of Troy, which has been good for the pockets of late in a season in which the expectations for USC were set too high. And this time the Beer of the Week comes from a session in which we were sitting across the table from each other, on Matt’s trip to Las Vegas to watch the Golden Knights last Friday.

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