How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Brian Cook

 —  February 17, 2005

One thing the Lakers have seemingly never had this season is a good rotation – while we knew who was starting and maybe the first guy off the bench, after that it was a tossup. Frank Hamblen, in particular, seems willing to throw different combinations out there to see what works. Laker fans have their own opinions, bemoaning the use of Tierre Brown, Sasha and, above all, the giving of playing time to Brian Cook over Chris Mihm.

Thanks to the great work of 82games.com, we can look at what 5-man units the Lakers have played this season, for how long, and how well each of those have worked. When you do you can see a few things, among them why the coaches have a soft spot for Cook.

By far, the regular starting five of Atkins-Bryant-Butler-Odom-Mihm has seen the most court time, 32% of the Lakers’ available minutes this season. By one standard they are doing pretty well, shooting 54.9% (eFG%) and holding opponents to 46%. You would think that would win you some games, but on a pure +/- that squad is -30 on the season (for those unclear, opponents have scored 30 more points than the Lakers with that five on the floor). In fact, the starting five has beaten the five its on the floor against it just 34.4% of the time.

That is better than the non-Kobe starting lineup, which has played 10.6% of the available Laker minutes this season. The group of Atkins-Butler-Jones-Odom-Mihm is -44 and bested its opponents just 28.5% of the time.

No other five-man unit has played more than 5% of the Laker minutes, even though these units have been the most successful. (In part, their success is likely do to the small sample size of minutes, as well as who the units are out there against, which is usually not the opponents best five.)

Arguably the best five-man unit has been Atkins-Bryant-Jones-Odom-Cook, which has played together for just 55 minutes (2.9% of available). This unit is shooting 57.1% and holding opponents to 39.9%, and is a +36 in those limited minutes. They beat their opponents76% of their stints on the floor.

The next six best units, based upon raw +/-, are:

Atkins-Butler-Jones-Cook-Mihm +21 (win 100 % of match ups, played 10 minutes)
Brown-Bryant-Jones-Cook-Grant +20 (70 %, 31)
Brown-Bryant-Jones-Odom-Mihm +18 (83 %, 13)
Atkins-Bryant-Butler-Odom-Cook +18 (69 %, 95)
Atkins-Butler-Odom-Walton-Cook +15 (75 %, 17)
Brown-Bryant-Jones-Odom-Cook +14 (58 %, 52)

Here’s one of the things that jumped out at me on these units: Cook is in six of the seven.

If you have read the latest piece on Seattle’s use of statistics as an organization, you see that coaches love +/- numbers. It makes sense — if your job is to win games you want to know who is on the floor for you when the team is doing well, then play them more.

Who leads the Lakers in +/-? Cook. He is +227 on the season, or if you use Roland Ratings to break that down to a per 48-minute average, the team is +13.4 when he is on the court. (For comparison, Kobe is +135 and +6.3.)

I have been exceedingly frustrated with Cook being, as TNT color guys have said, the tallest shooting guard in the league, with his love of the three and with his questionable defense. I think you can, and I have, made the case that Mihm needs to play more at the end of games.

That said, when Cook has been on the floor the Lakers have done better than when he is off. I need to learn to accept this and learn to love Cook.