Winning With The Other Things

Kurt —  December 19, 2007

Dean Oliver’s seminal basketball statistics book, Basketball On Paper, breaks down the game into the “Four Factors” for winning games — shooting efficiency, getting to the free throw line, offensive rebounding and turnovers. You can win games by doing those things so well on offense you’re opponent can’t match it (what Golden State tries to do), or by playing good defense so the other team can’t do those things (think Detroit circa 2004) or some combination (the Spurs, this year’s Celtics). (For a good primer on all this, start here.)

But the most important category is shooting — the team with the higher shooting percentage wins the vast majority of games. Sounds basic, but then if the stats suggested otherwise we’d really question their validity.

All that leads to why the Lakers win against the Bulls was interesting — the Bulls shot better. The Bulls shot 50% (eFG%) for the game, well above their 44% on the season that is dead last in the league. The Lakers on the other hand shot just 46.5% (well off their usual pace of 51.5%, sixth in the Association).

But the Lakers dominated all the other categories that matter, and that’s why they won. To use the common basketball phrase: The Lakers did the little things.

First, they got to the free throw line — the Lakers attempted 28 free throws, the Bulls just 17. The Lakers had 11 more points from the stripe. That shows they were getting the ball inside, both by passes to their bigs and driving the lane, while the Bulls were more content on the perimeter.

Second, the Lakers dominated the glass — they had 17 offensive rebounds while the Bulls had 7. Bynum had four, while both Odom and Farmar had three. That speaks to hustle and to desire to control the paint.

Finally, the Lakers took care of the ball — they had 11 turnovers, the Bulls 18. Before the game we said you can’t give the athletic Bulls team easy turnovers and transition baskets, and the Lakers didn’t.

What has Lakers fans everywhere feeling good is that this team is doing the little things right night after night. They get good shots within the offense and get them close to the basket (which leads to fouls and free throws). With Bynum leading the way the Lakers are a force on the offensive glass. Fisher and Farmar take care of the ball. Mix all that around the unique skills Kobe brings to the floor and you have a team that is both fun and a real threat to beat anyone.

All of it has given the Lakers with the fourth best record in the West and fans dreaming of playoff success. (If the playoffs started today the Lakers would technically be the fifth seed but have home court against fourth-seed Denver, the Nuggets have to be fourth because they lead their division.)

But, a word of caution during the bubble of optimism: it’s December. Nobody wins a title in December, despite the Celtics best efforts this year. A lot of things can happen between now and April — Denver and Houston are two very talented teams that could put it together, unforeseen injuries or trades can radically reshape the West. There is a long, long way to go this season before the playoffs even start.

Still, all this optimism is as good a Christmas present as Lakers fans could hope for.