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.