Bigger Is Better

Darius Soriano —  March 17, 2011

In the past, I’ve consistently argued that the Lakers biggest strength isn’t just that they have Kobe Bryant, it’s that they have Kobe and a group of excellent big men. Big men that allow the team to play a variety of styles to match up with any other team’s bigs and still outplay them. The Lakers can go with a jumbo line up of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, a quick and long line up of Gasol and Lamar Odom, or a combo of those two with Bynum and Odom.

The varied strengths that these units offer mean that other teams are consistently put at a disadvantage because their big men simply don’t offer the versatility that the Lakers’ big men do. Matt Moore (Eye On Basketball, Hardwood Paroxysm) summed this up after the Lakers beat the Mavericks when he tweeted:

Basically, the lesson from this game is: You can add all the size depth you want but it doesn’t matter if none of it is as good as LA’s.

In a 140 characters, that about sums it up doesn’t it? The Lakers offer a trio of big men that all have a high skill level, all can impact a game, and all bring a variety to the floor that make matching up with them a nightmare. If it wasn’t obvious from the Dallas game, the Magic game offered another example when Dwight Howard had to deal with Andrew Bynum for most of his minutes and as a reprieve, he got to tango with Pau Gasol. Meanwhile when both Bynum and Pau shared the court, Dwight was consistently providing help to Ryan Anderson who the Lakers attacked mercilessly all while Odom licked his chops coming off the bench to face a combo of a worn out Anderson or Brandon Bass.

But, beyond the Lakers’ bigs’ skill what we’re seeing this year is near unprecedented marks of efficiency from this group.

PER may not be the end all stat that it’s sometimes touted as, but it is an extremely effective measurement of a player’s tangible efficiency on the court. There’s a reason that players like LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Dirk, Durant, and Chris Paul rank near the top of  PER leaders every year. They’re not only the game’s best players, they’re also the ones that night in and night out perform with the highest level of effiency. Again, it’s not a full proof stat but it’s quite insightful in a variety of ways. I certainly value it and use it as one of the many tools that are available to evaluate a player.

So, when using PER as a evaluation tool on the Lakers’ trio of big men we find something quite interesting. Historic, even. 

First, below are the PER’s of the Lakers trio of bigs:

  • Pau Gasol: 23.5
  • Andrew Bynum: 21.6
  • Lamar Odom: 19.8

With the help of Neil Paine from Basketball-Reference (help that I’m quite thankful for), I was able to get data on all players that were “big men”. For the purpose of his search, Neil used any player that had Foward or Center as a player description. With this data I was then able to see if any team had 3 big men with PER’s as high as the Lakers did. I then took that data and removed any player that had Guard listed position descriptor. (This removed players like Jerry West, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and other fantastic guards that only sporadically played Forward and were mostly wing players.)

What I found was pretty amazing. When looking at the post merger NBA, the 2011 Lakers are the only team to have three “Big” men with PER’s this high.  Bird, McHale, and Parish came close but Larry Legend didn’t quite make the cut coming in slightly below Odom’s current PER of 19.8.

Essentially, the Lakers’ possess a trio of bigs that are currently doing something that no other group has ever done.

And while this statistical achievement is fantastic and deserves some recognition (hence, this post), what it really does is bring me back to my original point: the Lakers ability to put high quality bigs on the floor – bigs that can do what the opponents bigs do, but better – is such an advantage. Their efficiency and ability to combine their strengths to play any style consistently gives them a leg up in any contest. Sure, I know we’d all like if they were taken advantage of more (this post only solidifies that more, really) but I think we can all agree that we’re extemely lucky to have such excellent bigs. And when the season ends, especially if the Lakers are in the position that we all hope they are, I think we’ll be able to point at one (or three) of the main reason’s why.

Darius Soriano

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34 responses to Bigger Is Better

  1. I’m not sure what year Neil is referencing, but it’s a lot more likely that it was Parish who didn’t make the cut, not Bird. The other thing is that Drew’s PER was in the mid-19s a couple weeks ago, and now it’s at 21.67. It’s rising so fast because of his better play of late and because he’s played a lot fewer games than most of the other top players.

  2. I wonder what Bynums PER is since the Boston game…

    EDIT: Bizar fact, Bynums FG% has been higher than his FT% in the last 5 games.

  3. with regards to the title of this article: That’s what she said. :-)

  4. And yet, Kobe will jack up 24 contested, mid-range jumpers, and Bynum, Gasol, and Odom will get 24 looks (or less) combined*…

    *obligatory grousing…

  5. Great post. We’ll see if it’s stile guards league come playoff time

  6. Please, someone share this blog with Kobe. Kobe could score just as many points by cutting down on his fga and passing the ball inside to his bigs. In no time he’ll start getting better looks at the rim, raising his fg%, his assist numbers, and become much more efficient on offense, making the Lakers just that more dangerous.

  7. Comparing Bynum-Gasol-Odom to Parish-McHale-Bird is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison since the Lakers trio rarely play together on-court, while the Celtics trio did most of the time.

  8. #1. It wasn’t Neil that told me Bird was close, it was my own research that gave me that info. I was trying to do searches myself, but the public database B-R has wouldn’t let me include both F’s and C’s so I reached out to Neil and he was gracious enough to send me a data set.

    To answer your question, though, it was 1990-91 season. In that year, Bird was at 19.7, McHale was at 21.2, and Parish was at 20.6. Like I said, Bird barely missed the cut. That said, Bird is an interesting case because he played a lot of SF but had good enough size to be a PF in some lineups, plus he rebounded so well.

    But that brings me back to what makes the Lakers trio so unique. They’re all primarily PF’s/C’s. Even though Odom plays a perimeter style game, he does a lot of penetrating and slashing on O while being a very good rebounder (truly a unique skill set). It’s just rare for you to see a collection of bigs like the Lakers have, especially from an efficiency standpoint.

  9. What’s really funny its how cheaply we signed odom, lol. Guy was a steal in retrospect.

  10. Odom’s inconsistency allowed us to sign him cheap, as well as his relationship with Khloe.

    And Odom never really struck me as a guy who would value millions over familiarity and camaraderie, so the only real threat was Miami (with Wade).

    Going back to the post (no pun intended), I think it is worth mentioning that part of our bigs’ PER probably comes from having Kobe draw attention out of the paint.

    It will be difficult to prove, but I think Kobe gunning actually increases the efficiency of our bigs enough to offset them not getting the ball as much. Defense will be used to Kobe ignoring our bigs so that they will often be caught napping. Although overall efficiency may be higher if we fed the bigs more often, our current setup probably taxes our big men less (especially Bynum) and helps us manage Kobe’s ego.

  11. LO is the gift that keeps on giving from the Shaq trade.

  12. @11. As was Andrew, by virtue of the team’s suckage resulting in a lottery pick, and Pau, via Shaq–>Caron Butler–>Kwame–>Pau. Even Farmar contributed to two championship teams, and he was the draft pick we received in the Shaq trade.

  13. #10 – really good point about Kobe’s contribution to the bigs’ efficiency.

    Another factor in Bynum and Pau’s effectiveness, is the very real camaraderie these two have – I remember questions that were posed years back, about how they’d work together in tandem and it’s clear that they’ve become very complimentary in play and attitude.

  14. Off topic, but just read Pippen is going to get a statue (a bust). If the Lakers did the same for its great players, real-life size, it would form a very very intimidating line.

    If we were to make our own Mt. Olympus of godly Laker players, which 12 would you pick?

    1. Mikan (I only read about him, but seems mandatory)
    2. Wilt
    3. Baylor
    4. West
    5. Kareem
    6. Magic
    7. Shaq
    8. Kobe

    Can’t think of four more, although I guess Pau could perhaps make the list some day? It’s also nearly 4:4 in terms of centers and non-centers, which is rather interesting :)

  15. Gail Goodrich, and James Worthy would probably have to be there

  16. Pau eventually, and Jamaal Wilkes. The latter not being in the HOF yet is a complete joke. I guess the HOF needs to add some more NCAA Division III coaches with 600 wins.

  17. I’m feeling generous tonight, so how about Fish, Cooper, McAdoo?

  18. “I have no problem with guys wanting to get better, but if you think that any of us were going to be able to shoot on the Staples Center court for 90 minutes, you would be totally mistaken. I don’t think they should have allowed him to do that. … We should’ve shut the lights off.” < —- Bosh is still crying … wah wah waaaaaaahhhh !!

  19. That is a great quote. Because when I hear people talk about the Lakers size I laugh. Other teams have our size. Most teams have even more strength. What people mean to say is that no team has big men as good as our big men.

  20. …Whoops… Now PER is a good tool. But when Fisher has a PER that ranks him as an average third string PG all of the sudden it’s a silly measuring stick. PER is a great way to measure a players offensive output. I mean

  21. its not about size so much as it is about the overall skill of our big men. Drew is a strong defender but he can score 20 anytime he is actually fed the ball. Gasol could be a better ballhandler than fish lol, plus he rebounds scores and the offense can run through him. and Odom simply does anything from defense to rebounding to point guard anything needed he will provide. This combination of big men is unheard off in the modern day NBA. Sometimes i wish kobe would recognize the big men skills more often. On this team the game should always be played inside-out.

  22. #14, 15. Yes. Goodrich and Big Game James would be on that list. Gasol, with major contributions to back to back titles and a third Finals appearance is deserving too (even if the Lakers don’t win another title). And since there’s not really another “star” to put on that list – especially not one that was a long time Laker (this is where Wilkes may not fit in, though he was great and could easily be argued for) – you may want to go with a role player. Cooper and Fisher both have 5 rings and were major contributors to each one. Byron has 3 and was a starter each year. Any of those three would be very deserving.

    #20. PER has been a good tool the entire time. It’s just not the only tool.

  23. IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man (Kobe) in possession of a good fortune (the ball), must be in want of a wife (well, a score at least).

    It is also becoming a very common critique that this man is shooting and attacking too much, and that he should dump the ball to his bigger comrades more often.

    And lots of us sideline commentators are also asking for less of it, thinking more touches to the big men would lead to more efficient offense.

    Just rewatched the bballbreakdown videos on the finals from last year. In the video on game 6 coach Nick has some interesting numbers about Kobe’s offense.

    These are Lakers field goal attempts (in the first half for some reason) in game 5 and 6 of the 2010 finals, charted after Kobe’s starting position in the offense:

    No offense (just Kobe bring up the ball)
    Game 6: 7/10
    Game 5: 5/12
    Kobe playing weakside guard
    Game 6: 3/6
    Game 5: 4/10
    Kobe playing strongside guard
    Game 6: 2/6
    Game 5: 1/5
    Kobe playing weakside forward
    Game 6: 1/10
    Game 5: 2/9
    Kobe strongside forward
    Game 6: 0/4
    Game 5: 0/2

    Coach Nick’s conclusion is that “Kobe is the best player on the floor, and if I were Doc Rivers, I would be very concerned if Kobe is bringing the ball up the floor, and try to get te ball out of his hands. Because it is the most efficient way to score for the Lakers… and if I were Phil Jackson, I would say; Kobe do this even more, do this 15-20 times per half.”

    I love the big men, but Kobe’s approach has been tested in battle, and it has worked on the biggest of stages.

  24. TheDane — Thanks!

    Us fans, and the statistic nuts, all tend to look at things in isolation – that’s both in our nature and the result of an ESPN Highlight culture; Perry Mason is the way we think the world is.

    Both life and basketball are not linear, but multifaceted and depend on many inputs. Basketball is still a team game and each piece has a particular role – even Kobe. Perhaps Phil Jackson’s greatest genius is that he not only understands this, but has found a way to communicate it to each very ego driven member of his teams.

    My greatest complaint with statistics is with the definition of what it is trying to do — simplify things enough to allow our human brains to be able to understand what is going on and to make some valid comparisons. The goal is laudable, but our human brains seem determined to think these are the actual answers and not just generalized projections – hence the attempts to determine a GOAT.

    I am an engineer by training and a logical person by nature and am not trying to downplay the value of statistics. I do, however, think we give them too much power over our thinking. Hence my mantra to watch the game first.

  25. TheDane,
    1) That’s too small a sample size, and
    2) The biggest question is not Kobe bringing the ball up, or where is placed on the floor, the question is whether the Lakers do better on when Kobe goes into his “iso” mode, or when they run the offense.

  26. I’m actually getting tired of the Kobe overshooting sentiment. It happens every year – in the Shaquille era, in the no Gasol era, and in the Gasol/Bynum era.

    Here is the typical game when Kobes not aggressive vs. A good defensive teams: our bigs get the ball in the 1st, they score a couple of times, teams switch to a zone, and are bigs and guards are unable to break it because we have no scary outside shooting threat.

    Gasol is a magnificent offensive player…. who can be bottled up by a NeNe or Cousins or Camby or (insert bigger 7footer here).

    Bynum has offensive flashes in the paint….. Since teams have essentially game planned to stop Kobe 1 and Gasol 2. What would happen to our injury prone big if he got the DHoward treatment every night.

    And Odom, as we all know, if perfectly capable of disappearing for a quarter, or half, or game.

    So many people here argue and argue about Kobes shooting, but I tend to think that his presence on the court opens up looks for the Lakers bigs, and by the way, allows them to have more energy on the defensive end (where in the end Bynum anpd Gasol are most valuable as our back line defense).

    Now, Shannon brown shooting 10 times game,…. That I can get on the bandwagon to complain about.

  27. I praise the big men because they deserve it. But don’t take praise for the bigs as a knock against Kobe…

    This is a team. A true team. You think a group of guys goes out and wins titles just because they have talent? It’s how that talent fits together, how they play off each other that matters most. The Lakers have that chemistry, that balance and it comes from the bigs and from Kobe. It comes from Fisher and from Artest.

    Everyone has a role and I tire of folks trying to drag one person or group down in the name of praising someone else.

    Not to rant on anyone here, I think everyone is making excellent points about wanting balance and how different players add their contributions to the team’s success. But, I see little need in trying to say that one way is better than the other. If I’ve learned anything in watching this particular Laker team over the past 3+ seasons, it’s that they can win a variety of ways with many different players taking the lead while still showing that they effectively work together. Afterall, that’s how you reach the mountain top.

  28. The thing to remember with statistics, simplifications of the game, and attempts to analyze and break down the game bit by bit into manageable pieces that everyone can understand is… if it was possible for everyone to fully understand the game of basketball, everyone would be as successful as Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach. :)

  29. Worthy, Coop, & Fish for sure. And I think Horry deserves serious consideration, too.

    peter

  30. I agree with 10’s point….and its a good one. Kobe getting sooo much attention does make it a little easier for Pau, Andrew and LO. Pau wasn’t winning a title or being called the best big in the game before kobe so lets be real.

    What I think good laker and basketball fans take exception to is the actual shot selection. I don’t mind kobe keeping the ball and being agressive I think its our best weapon but taking a 30 ft fadeaway with two guys on you is not a good play anytime of day or night. If he wants to take a 15 footer, or take someone in the post, or drive on defenders do it all day take 30 shots. BUT he’s not. and historically and statistically its blatantly obvious its not the formula for success. its not kobe shooting more its kobe shooting bad shots more and we all watch enough of the lakers to know when he’s doing that. There are times when Kobe could easily shovel the ball off to Andrew or Pau but takes a tough floater or jump shot its just making the game harder for himself and sometimes i really believe he gets bored and those are just challenge shots to him. But 99% of times it takes the team out of games. this is the issue here and I agree that kobe will come out and feed the ball into the post in the first quarter and see what happens and sometimes the bigs don’t produce. But this is the NBA if you get predictable teams will pick up on it. If kobe wants to take a quarter off teams will understand that and overload on the post. That’s why he should just be making the proper offensive play. just make the right play out there and no one can say anything. When he does that he comes out with stat lines reading 22 8 6. instead of 41 1 assts.

    What I hate the most is when kobe says my teammates weren’t up for the game so I had to try to take over……This team has taken you to 3 straight finals….the I don’t trust my teammates or they’re not up for it excuse is garbage. Your basically throwing your teammates under the bus saying they didn’t come ready to play and just because your willing to throw up 30 shots it means you are? These guys are professionals. Derek Fisher, LO, Artest, Pau. if they are not feeling it get them the ball in a situation for them to succeed don’t start jacking up shots since when has that ever worked? I think its played out and old and its something kobe needs to stop quick. he loves playing hero mode and I feel that sometimes he thinks he STILL needs to prove how good he is when nothing could be farther from the truth and if he just runs the offense and takes quality shots when they are there he would also save his legs more.

  31. I am becoming more and more annoyed with the “soft” label seems to be sticking so stubbornly to Pau. Or rather, not the label, but the implications added to it by a lot of the ones who use that word about him, primarily in the media. “Soft” (at least in US context, implies weakness and maybe even a fear of conflict and confrontation. In that respect, I think it’s very misleading. Pau is not a physical player, and it’s clear from watching him that he prefers a smoother finesse style of basketball than either Dwight Howard or Kendrick Perkins plays around the basket.

    But it is starting to irritate me, that “experts” who claim to know basketball, can have followed a player for years, watched him play and watched him through a few finals runs, a few All-Star appearances, a few seasons, and still try to claim that he’s a wimp. I strongly doubt he would have been able to hold his own against Howard or Perkins if he was. Besides, Garnett has stopped trying to push him around, which is proof as good as any that Pau is not a weakling, since everyone knows that Garnett only bullies weak targets. ;)

    Pau Gasol will never be the type of physical player that he keeps having difficulties against. He’s not a bruiser in any way, not a physical player at all, and he doesn’t seem to enjoy that type of play at all. He can do it when he has to, he just doesn’t enjoy doing it, and he doesn’t play as well when he has to play that way. He has games where he “vanishes”, I would love to seem him more assertive and aggressive, particularly under the basket, and I really think he should start to dunk more. I wish he wouldn’t be so easily distracted by pain or by being tackled by someone, and I would love it if he started to play more on instinct and stopped over-thinking his game, at least while he’s on the floor playing. I want him to be consistently aggressive and assertive. In fact, his inconsistency in this area frustrates me a lot more than Lamar’s inconsistency does.

    But I would like it even more if “experts” and analysts would stop implying that Pau a weak and easily intimidated player, because that just isn’t accurate. Sure, he might be soft compared to the more physical centers and power forwards that grew up playing basketball in the US, but to immediately assume that makes him less of a player than them is to over-simplify both the game and the many ways it can be played.

  32. Re: Pau being Soft

    Name me one player at his position of PF that has ever pushed him around? KG never, ever out muscled him. If younwanna be honest in the 08 Finals it was Gasol who moved KG wherever he Ted the few times they faced each other. Most of the time it was Perkins pushing around Gasol since Pau had to play Center since Andrew was out.

  33. @Aaron
    That was more or less my point… but you said it better and with few words. :)

  34. Lots of great points here. I have been harsh on Bynum in the past but he is playing absolutely fantastic. It appears that a lot of his early inconsistency could be due to not trusting his knee yet?

    PER is a good tool but the fact that Larry Bird scored less on it than Lamar Odom should be sufficient for us to not get too carried away here with its importance.

    Kobe does make it easier on bigs. Also there are times that Lakers under utilize their advantages in the front line. Both are true. One other point, on Kobe bashing though. Stats geeks whale on Kobe all the time and especially comparing him to MJ. Understand that Kobe is arguably our best post up player but due to all the bigs skill rarely gets to be posted within 10 – 15ft of the hoop. This was MJ’s bread and butter for their final three peat. Imagine Kobe on Kevin Johnson isolated 12 ft out – does anyone not think he could shoot over 50% in that scenario? Kobe’s PER drops due to these guys talent because it forces him out further from the basket. So for all the naysayers on Kobe being too much of a hog and not sacrificing that is not exactly accurate. Kobe would love to be in that post position a lot more than he is now, and it is because of him recognizing our bigs skill that he is not there more often.

    Great article Darius. It is a beauty to watch them in the paint passing when these guys are really clicking (and Lamar is slashing and not out at 3pt line).

    Future research – is Pau and Andrew lineup finally outcompeting the Pau/Lamar one this season? Seems liking Pau/Andrew are really playing better together this season….