While watching the Lakers last weekend, from the comfort of my in-law’s couch, I was thinking more and more about the statistic put forward in the LA Times last week — that, at least in terms of scoring, the Lakers are getting the same production from the 3,4 and 5 positions as they did last year. Or, to put it more bluntly (or as Kobe might say it), the Lakers don’t miss Shaq and Karl Malone as much as people think.
The stat is this (updated through Monday): So far this season the Lakers are averaging 39.5 points and 21.5 rebounds per game out of Chris Mihm, Lamar Odom and Caron Butler, while last year they got 42 points and 24.2 rebounds out of Shaq, Malone and Deavon George.
I thought that if I looked at it in more depth, that logic would fall apart and it would show a Laker team much weaker inside.
It’s not, at least not much as I would have thought. The Lakers are getting plenty of shots inside — the problem is their shooting percentage is down. Then again, so is the shooting percentage of the Lakers opponents. Right now — based on the statistics — the Lakers problems are more about ball handling and turnovers than the play they are getting inside the paint.
Say it with me, Dr. Jack: Let’s break this down.
On offense, 65% of the Lakers shots this year are jump shots, compared to 64% last year (these are shots that come outside the paint, regardless of who takes them). Meanwhile, 28% of the Lakers shots this season are considered in close (29% last year), 6% are dunks (5% last year, a lower number than you would expect because teams fouled Shaq before he could dunk), and 2% both years are considered tip ins. Year to year, those numbers are close.
The big difference between this year and last is shooting percentage inside — last year the Lakers shot 57.7% on shots considered in close, this season it is 51.7%. That’s a fair amount of points left on the floor (this is using effective field goal percentage).
Right now, other teams are shooting from close in slightly more often than last year — last year 69% of the shots taken against the Lakers were jump shots, so far this year it is 68%. However, the shots that other teams are taking in close are going in less often — this year teams are shooting 52% in close, last season it was 56.2%.
The bottom line is close to what the Times stat showed — this year’s Laker team isn’t quite as strong inside as last season’s version, but it’s not bad either.
The Lakers real problem so far is turnovers — the Lakers have 55 offensive fouls this season, while their opponents have just 27. The Lakers also have 11 more turnovers credited to poor ball handling than their opponents.
Overall, the Lakers have 45 more turnovers than their opponents — that is a tough number to overcome no matter how well you are playing inside.