Pick up the pace

Kurt —  November 15, 2006

Regular commenter here Rob has been keeping a close eye on the Lakers stats this season and sent along a few thoughts, which I’m posting for general consumption.


There is one very important stat that seems to predict whether the Lakers win or lose. You might be surprised to find out it has nothing to do with turnovers or how many points Lamar Odom scores. It’s the pace of the game, baby.

Pace was the only stat that matched up with Lakers wins and losses. Efficiency, turnovers, assists etc. bounce around depending on the team faced. A win against Golden State comes with 16.5 turnovers per 100 possessions. An embarrassing loss to Detroit comes with 17 turnovers per 100 possessions. Lakers win with their second worst offensive efficiency 96.37 versus Memphis. Lakers lose while gobbling up a gaudy 32% of the offensive boards to Seattle.

But their five wins came in fast paced games: 97.94, 95.77, 94.16, 96.06 and 91.58. Their three losses came in slower paced games: 90.82, 85.75 and 87.67. So essentially, if the Lakers were at or above their average pace of 92.47 they win. Below that, they lose.

Now what does this mean? My guess is that when the pace is up the Lakers are clicking on offense and getting transition buckets. Or perhaps when the pace is faster they exploit the depth of their bench, and their opponent’s lack of it. A deeper analysis of those individual games might yield the answer. Me, I’m lazy. I’ll look at the next eight games and see what the lay of the land looks like from there.


I hate to be the bad guy on this one, especially as The Forum seems intrigued by this development. But putting Kobe at the point KILLED his offensive efficiency. He had a rating of 93.37, almost 7 points worse than his first game back. And that’s while handling 24% of all Lakers possessions. Because of the amount of work the Lakers need Kobe to do, we cannot suffer any scheme that lowers his efficiency this severely. Now granted, it did raise Odom’s levels. But not nearly enough to justify Kobe at point if the Memphis game is any indication of what the Lakers efficiency will look like in that scheme. Yet the problem is that it’s undeniable Odom plays better from the wing. Hmmm…


Smush is indeed killing the Lakers right now. The numbers confirm what your eyes have been screaming at you for some time now. But it doesn’t look like Farmar is ready right this second. We know Smush can do it; he’s done it before. (By “it” I mean close to league average point guard.) It’s only been eight games. Smush can still pull out of this tailspin. As a matter of fact, it’s even likely Smush will pull out of this tailspin. Failing that, I have a clipping of Steve Nash’s hair that I’m embedding in a magic amulet for him.


Go Lakers!


to Pick up the pace

  1. Kobe loses efficiency as the point, Odom plays better at the wing. Answer: Luke at the point. Odom at the wing, Kobe goes where he goes, he can score from a lot of places. The point of the triangle is that positions shift during the offensive set until a mismatch can be exploited. So Luke is our Pippen.


  2. That pace problem makes me think of my frustrations when the ball stops due to indecision on the offensive end, and Smush seems to be one of the biggest culprits of this crime.

    I would venture to say that as the season progresses and peripheral players become more adept in the offense, that the pace would naturally increase. I would also imagine that passes into the post would increse pace when in the half court.


  3. This Rob gentleman has serious issues. First of all Kobe is a God, and who does Rob think he is questioning God’s effectivness at the point? Second of all Phil Jackson is Jesus to Kobe’s God and he will feed the Lakers fans fish (championships) when they are hungry (probably in two years).

    Side note – When are the Lakers going to trade for Garnett. If they can get him and keep Kobe and Bynum they will rule the basketball universe for years to come. Sorry Odom, Walton, and Turiaf I hope you like the snow cause you’re going to Minnesota.

    Go Lakers


  4. Paul, I had that exact thought earlier today about putting Luke at the point. Luke, Kobe, Lamar, Kwame, and Bynum. And then I thought about Luke guarding opposing point guards and I wanted to stick my face into a bucket of angry sea urchins.

    It’s a great observation that the team plays better at a faster pace. But why is that so? Well, that’s what us fans are here for. To contemplate the many reasons why our teams do what they do and to come up with ways for them to continue doing it. I like to keep my reasoning simple: less time to think. No one stands around looking at the guy with the ball thinking about what they may or may not do with it when the game is going quickly. They find seams, set picks, cut to the basket. They shoot open shots or find the guy that is open. They don’t try to thread the needle to a guy that might get open or hesitate on a wide open 18 footer.


  5. So maybe, just maybe, we should look to move Odom…


  6. I told Rob that one game is way too small a sample size to say Kobe isn’t as effective at the point. Kobe had a below average shooting night against Memphis and, at the top, he’s probably shooting more jumpers, which means the sore knee lowers his elevation so he doesn’t shoot as well. Let’s see how he looks rested against Toronto and beyond. I still think that this is the best move, but lets watch it for a few games.

    2. Pace in general, and league wide, gets faster as the season wears on.


  7. good point Kurt. In stats classes, they tell you that a sample of 25-30 is the smallest allowable in order to draw any statistical conclusions. The lakers have only played eight games, and only one with Kobe at point. Way too small sample size.


  8. “So maybe, just maybe, we should look to move Odom… ”

    To…? For…?


  9. Can Luke handle pressure from a ball-hawking guard? He handles ok in the half court but I am not sure that bringing the ball up and initiating the offense is in his skillset.


  10. Walton seems more effective from the high post, passing to cutters, doesn’t he?

    Yes, now that we’ve really figured out what makes Odom comfortable and playing well, let’s trade him.


  11. I completely agree that one game is way too small of a sample size for definitive analysis. But 7 for 19 shooting and 5 turnovers is not ideal. Just for fun, I ran the numbers for the “what if?” scenario of Kobe having an identical game but with 2 turnovers instead of 5. His efficiency would skyrocket to 107. And that would be on a bad shooting night.

    I’m not saying Kobe shouldn’t be at the point…yet. He needs to get used to being in that role again as well as get the knee healthy. I was just pointing out that it wasn’t a huge success out of the gate.


  12. Well I said it was a maybe. But this year is the year we find out if the Byrant/Odom tandem works in my mind. If they just cannot play together perhaps it is something that should be entertained. I’m not trying to bash Odom as I think he could be the main guy on any other team really. But then, that’s probably the point…


  13. Ok, fair enough. But five turnovers is a lot for kobe in general. I think it has more to do with his general lack of rhythm and rust. No matter where he plays I don’t think you will see anyone in the Laker organization, including Kobe, who is satisfied or can justify 5 turnovers all season.


  14. AND, the year he did play at that position he certainly didn’t average five. there is no reason to believe he will now…


  15. I’ll be the first to admit I’m stats dumb. How should we define “pacing” and how is it calculated? I’m intrigued. Someone get Phil and Tex on the phone!


  16. Pace, as I am using it, is possessions per game. I have estimated the possessions using a fairly standard formula that can be found on the “Kevin Pelton Stats 101” link above right under FB&G Info.

    There are other variations of that formula used by other sites. Some estimate slightly under, others slightly over, the number of possessions you’d get from examining the actual play by play data. But they are close enough for our purposes.

    Now just for kicks, technically when referring to a single game I should only talk of the possessions for that single game. Pace is a separate estimation used to determine the average number of possessions over many games.

    Under the FB&G Info links above right Kurt has other explanations of statistical madness.


  17. 16. Rob beat me to it, but yes, pace is just possessions, the number of times a team has the ball per game. Obviously, play at a fast pace (ala Phoenix) and you have more possessions than, say, Houston. It is estimated only because the NBA doesn’t track it officially.

    And no need to get Phil or Tex on the phone, I am sure they already have this info and more at their disposal.


  18. “Pace” is a tricky word, innit?

    You don’t want to try to out-Phoenix the Suns,
    for example and end up overrunning the set offenses
    or throwing errant passes.

    Nor do I like walking the ball upcourt ( Mr. Parker )
    and giving the defense a full 10 seconds
    to build Fort Ticonderoga around the paint.

    But as Exick has mentioned, there is a tempo
    wherein a person can move, act and react
    in an efficient way.

    It’s kind of the definition of the phrase “up to speed”–
    alpha people get impatient when they learn new things
    because it puts lead in their internal rhythm.

    In some of the past games of the early season,
    the Laker front five would be clicking along
    in the first quarter, passes were crisp, players
    cutting to the basket, rebounders in sync with the
    bounce off the iron,
    then Jackson would make some ?!? substitution
    taking KB and LO off the floor, and all of sudden
    even Ronny Turiaf would be off his stride.

    Several possessions late in the Detroit game
    were scoreless.
    LA could have caught the Pistons during that stretch
    when Detroit was going o-fer as well
    but the pace of the second squad during that 3rd qtr
    was like a square wheel, slow on offense, hasty on defense,
    fouls from mistimed rebound attempts and the dreaded
    perimeter catapult shot that whiffs past the basket
    ( Mr. Parker ).

    Expressions of uncertainty instead of confidence
    because they’re thinking rather than keeping the game
    simple — look for the open man and the high-percentage

    If the coaching staff is not already observing
    pace when they evaluate game video, they ought to,
    and indicate where counterproductive pace changes

    Players should start to become aware
    of what those pace changes “feel” like when they
    are on the court, just as they can feel traffic flow
    start to slow down on the 405.

    Once again, it’s that mental aspect of the skill
    and whether the one wants to examine it
    that may determine the difference between
    a skilled player, a good player, or a great player


  19. Pace is tricky, the key is finding the pace that works best for your talent and system — generally, if you are more offensive oriented you want a faster pace, more defense based than go slow. To use an example from the game I’m watching, UCLA was so good on defense last season a slow pace was the smart move. This season, with the quick Collison out top, they should up the tempo.

    For the Lakers, a quicker than average pace is good, but they don’t have the horses to go Phoenix.


  20. Exick,

    My thought was to play Luke at the point in the offense. So we have to keep Smush in the lineup as our defensive 1.


  21. Paul,

    Yeah in my head I was thinking playing Luke at the 1 and then going with a bigger lineup of maybe Kobe, Lamar, Kwame, and Bynum. But yes, if you keep the current starting 5 intact and just have Luke handle distribution duties, I could see that. Again, not sure how effective it would be.



    I was curious to see whether Phil’s belief that Bynum wears down after 25-30 minutes is born out by the numbers. Therefore, I looked at Bynum’s +/- in each quarter of each game so far, as calculated by popcornmachine.net. Here’s what Bynum is averaging per quarter:

    1st Quarter (8 games): +1.25
    2nd Quarter (7 games): +0.86
    3rd Quarter (8 games): -0.13
    4th Quarter (4 games): -1.75

    It’s still early, but maybe Phil is onto something…


  23. I have to believe that a one game sample isn’t nealry enough to show that Kobe shouldn’t be running the initiator position in this offense. I seem to remember the Lakers winning three championships with Kobe running the offense. It should take some adjustment time, but I have a hard time believing that Kobe has lost the ability to do this job.

    Kobe might not be a upper 20’s PER type at this position, but if Lamar can graduate into the lower 20’s as a result, I think it represents a net gain for the team as a whole. I’d rather have, say, a 25 PER and a 22 PER player than a 28 PER and 19 PER player. Besides, it makes the whole, “Kobe is a selfish player” attitude seem even more silly when he’s running the offense of a winning basketball team.