With the Lakers starting out 7-0, I decided to take a look at some statistics just to see what was interesting. For a little fun, let’s play a game of Guess Who…
…is leading the Lakers in PER and FGA?
Answer: Pau Gasol
We all know that Kobe was not 100% at the start of this season, so fans and experts alike were calling for more Pau. While this has been the case for some time, it hasn’t seemed to really happen until now. Pau has a team-leading PER of 28.8, ranking him 3rd in the league behind Dwight Howard (31.9) and Chris Paul (30.4). Kobe has been a none-too-shabby 25.5, but Pau’s current PER is higher than any year Kobe has played, his highest being 28.0 in 2005-2006, or as we know it around here, that year Kobe dropped 81 on the Raptors.
With Pau’s massive uptick in offensive efficiency, it’s amazing to find that he is also the team-leader is FGA per game. With 17.9 FGA per game, Pau is averaging almost 5 more shots a game compared to last year’s 13.0. He is also averaging career highs in assists (5.0) and points (24.1) per game, while having his highest usage rate (24.8) of any year that he’s been a Laker.
How has Pau been so effective? Other than the career high in assists, Pau has drastically improved his inside and mid-range games. Via HoopData, we see that Pau is taking twice as many shots at <10 ft (7.4) compared to last year (3.7), while making 51.9% of them, which is his best mark over the past 5 years. From 10-15 ft, Pau is shooting 54.2% while taking 3.4 shots (both his best marks over the past 5 years).
So while we can expect most of these numbers to decline a bit as the season wears on, it’s a good sign that the Lakers are finally using Pau to the fullest.
…is leading the Lakers in FG%, 3P%, and rebounds per game?
Answer: Lamar Odom
It’s been no secret that Lamar has taken his World Championship success and translated it into an outstanding start to the season. Lamar’s 11.1 RPG is the best of his career, while his 15.9 PPG is tied for 3rd best. Of course, a lot of Lamar’s increased production comes from his increased minutes due to Andrew Bynum being hurt, but Lamar has also been extraordinarily efficient from the field and from three.
Lamar’s 62.7% FG% ranks him 5th among all players projected to make at least 300 shots this year, and it’s been because he has stopped taking mid-range shots. Via HoopData (again), Lamar has taken zero shots from 10-15 feet, while taking 2.7 shots per game from <10 ft, more than doubling his number last season from that distance. Also, Lamar’s work playing center for Team USA seems to have paid off on his interior play, because he is shooting 68.8% at the rim, compared to 58.5% last year and 63.2% from <10 ft, compared to 47.7% last year.
Perhaps most surprising is Lamar’s absolutely confounding 69.2% from three. Not only is that leading the team (and obviously a career best for Lamar), but only 66.7% of his threes have been assisted, compared to 82.8% being assisted when he shot 31.9% from three last year. Clearly the sample size is small, but Lamar seems to have found a rhythm to his shot this year, so hopefully we won’t see a drastic return to his previous form.
…is shooting 50% or better from three?
Answer: Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Steve Blake
The last reason (in my opinion) for the Lakers success this early in the year has been their torrential shooting from three-point land. While Pau and Kobe have been crushing opponents with their post games, it has been Odom and Fisher who have been really spacing the floor well and giving them the room to operate (Artest also hasn’t been bad, shooting 39.3%, but just not as crazy good as the rest of the team). Then, the reserves have been coming in and picking up right where the starters left off. We all knew coming into the season that Blake was a good spot up shooter, but Shannon has been a revelation this year. The official Hot Spots stats aren’t up yet for this season, but Shannon has been shooting well from all over the court, most notably on the wings. Maybe Kobe gave Shannon the same regimen he gave to Ariza a couple years ago; His shot has looked so smooth that even Phil Jackson has been impressed. Shannon has become everything that Sasha was a couple years ago, except with less hair and more manly (even though he still has a girl’s name). Frankly, it’s great when you see a young player develop, work hard on his game, and have it show on the court.
The Lakers have been playing exceedingly well to start the season. While a number of defensive mishaps have caused mild concern among the fans, these kinks tend to work themselves out, whether it be from the team just having more practices and games together, or from Andrew Bynum’s eventual (hopeful) return. Defense really is the side of the ball where familiarity matters most, since players have to react to the offensive team. As the Lakers play more games, they should get better and become more cohesive. A Laker fan today has few legitimate complaints; we can only hope that the team continues to improve (as frightening as that could be) and stay healthy for when the real season starts.