It’s All About Ball Control

 —  December 29, 2004

Throughout this season many Laker watchers — myself included — have harped on the volume of three-pointers taken, the poor shot selection and the lack of flow in the offense as problems. And they are.

But when you look at the numbers, it’s not the Lakers offense that’s holding them back — it’s the defense. Or, lack thereof. More specifically, the lack of aggressive defense that causes turnovers, combined with their inability to hold on to the ball at their own end, that is hurting the Lakers.

The Lakers offense isn’t as bad as it appears at times, especially when you look at the key offensive statistics. The Lakers eFG% of 49% this season is sixth best in the NBA. They are getting offensive rebounds on 30.1% of their missed shots, 11th best in the league. Thanks in large part to Kobe’s penetration, the Lakers shoot 27.7 free throws per game, fifth best in the league. The one problem spot is turnovers, the Lakers average 16.2 per game, which puts them in the bottom half of the league.

Overall, that gives the Lakers 105.4 points per 100 possessions, sixth best offensive efficiency in the NBA. They could take more advantage of that by picking up the pace of the games — they are averaging 93.1 possessions per game, up just one from last season.

Defense is another matter entirely. The Lakers are allowing 102.9 points per 100 possessions by their opponents, ranking them 24th in the league behind the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.

It’s not that other teams are shooting terribly well against the Lakers, opponents eFG% is 46.4, eighth best in the league. Although it doesn’t seem like it at times, the Lakers do not give up an inordinate amount of offensive rebounds (29%, 16th in the league). They don’t foul much, they are fourth in the league allowing opponents just 20.1 free throws per game.

But the Lakers are dead last in the league — by a wide margin — at creating turnovers. Opponents average just 12.5 against them per game, the next lowest team (Minnesota) gets 14 per game.

What this means is that the Lakers average almost 4 more turnovers per game then the team they are playing. Saying the average possession is worth a point, that is an eight-point swing every game.

That lack of ball control on one end and inability to create steals at the other stems from the lack of a true point guard. You can see it watching almost every game — last night Rafer Alston looked like he merited All-Star votes with 13 points and 11 assists, driving past the defense at will.

Last night was a perfect example of this issue. The Lakers had 10 first-quarter turnovers, and trailed at the end of it as the Raptors got out and ran. The Lakers had no second-quarter turnovers, and by halftime they had the lead.

That kind of quarter-to-quarter inconsistency has us Laker fans pulling our hair out (well, those of you that have hair). But in the end, if they’d just take care of the ball and pick up the defensive aggressiveness, a lot of these problems would go away.