Archives For Laker Analysis

Five games ago Byron Scott made a change to his starting lineup, moving Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer to the bench in favor of Ronnie Price and Ed Davis. At the time, the move did not sit well with me as the changes did not seem to be based off any real statistical evidence and I said so going into their first game together. So far, my mind hasn’t really changed about this specific starting lineup being any better suited to compete against other team’s starters.

Per NBA.com/stats, the new starting group of Price, Kobe, Wes Johnson, Davis, and Jordan Hill are still posting a negative net efficiency with an offensive efficiency of 99.2 and a defensive efficiency of 109.0 since that game against the Pelicans. This isn’t quite the minus-15.0 efficiency rating the original starting group posted before the change and nowhere near the minus-23.5 efficiency rating this group was posting together before they became the starters, but it is still bad. They are struggling offensively and still not doing a very good job of stopping teams from scoring efficiently, consistently forcing the other units to make up the gap they create.

Fortunately for the Lakers, the shift in starters has created a bench unit that has shown it is able to make up the difference against other team’s reserve units. With Lin and Boozer anchoring the bench, a new unit of those two flanked by Wayne Ellington, Nick Young, and Robert Sacre has been playing extremely well since the change. That five has posted a net efficiency rating of plus-21.0, boasting a fantastic offensive efficiency of 110.9 with a very stingy defensive efficiency of 89.9.

While sample size and “noise” in the numbers are a real caveat — that defensive efficiency number, for example, will not hold — I am encouraged by what I have seen from this group. They offer a balanced attack offensively and have enough athleticism and size to deal with most opposing units on both ends of the floor.

Jeremy Lin has been especially important to this group ability to get into the paint and be a shot creator for himself and teammates. Beyond Lin, the scoring and shooting ability of Young and Ellington on each wing are stretching defenses out to the three point line and giving Boozer and Sacre more room in the mid and low-post to score. Further, with both Boozer and Sacre showing an ability to hit the mid-range jumper with some consistency, the driving lanes for Lin are more open which only reinforces the strengths of the other players.

The key to this unit, however, may simply be that they are mostly playing against other team’s benches. Lin and Young are typically the first subs into the game, replacing Price and Wes about halfway through the quarter. Boozer will replace Hill or Davis a bit later and then Sacre will replace the other big when Ellington replaces Kobe near the end of the first period. By the time the 2nd quarter starts, this group has had a couple of minutes together to find their stride and then are put up against mostly bench players from the other team. Against these units, the Lakers’ group typically has more talent and it is showing in their production.

It is hard to know if this was what Scott had in mind when he made a change to the starting group. When the change was made he only spoke about it in terms of that group needing what Price and Davis provide (defense) and not some bigger reorganization of his lineups in an attempt to maximize his bench. So far, however, the latter is what is occurring and it is helping the Lakers stay in games for longer and win a few additional contests (they are 3-2 since the change).

So while this change didn’t really fix the starting group, a true bench unit has been established and is flourishing early on. Hopefully it sticks. If it does, Scott’s change may indeed end up paying some dividends.

It was the end of the game and Kobe was talking to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com and TWC Sportsnet. He was describing the team’s win, but also how sore his body was after games and some of what he would do to recover to play the next game.

Kobe had played nearly 36 minutes and led the Lakers down the stretch, scoring nine of his game high 32 points in the final period including two big free throws that pushed the lead to three in the closing seconds. Further, over the final six minutes of the game, Kobe had a hand in every point the Lakers scored tallying three assists on the only points not scored by him over that stretch.

Nights like this have been rare for Kobe. Not necessarily the numbers part, the winning part. The W’s have been few and far between, but the numbers have been there almost nightly. The good and the bad.

A simple scan of his season stats tells you a couple of things. First, Kobe is still a guy giving the Lakers his 25, 5 and 5. These are the numbers that will be engraved on his tombstone, a testament to the all around game that made him one of the league’s best for the better part of two decades. The second, however, is that those numbers are coming at the worst efficiency of his career. Kobe’s not even shooting 40% from the field, not even 30% from behind the arc, and has a True Shooting Percentage below 50%. And all of this on over 22 shots a game and a usage rate that is leading the league and the 2nd highest of his career. It all adds up to some troubling statistics that, when added up, tell a story of Kobe doing more harm than good when he’s on the floor.

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Any stat you cite this early in the season is the definition of small sample size theatre. Even if you start to see trends developing in the numbers, a stretch of a few games can alter them significantly and make an grand proclamations about what a team is look silly. In other words, don’t get too caught up in the numbers — even the Lakers’ awful ones on defense — just yet. Yes, some of what we’ve seen so far will end up having staying power, but expect fluctuation in what the stats say for at least a few more weeks when the samples get bigger.

In saying this, however, it’s not too early to say that something, as it stands today, is surprising. I mean, even if it’s only been six games, if a statistic or performance is unexpected, it’s fair to say so. Which leads me to the Lakers’ offensive efficiency:

After all the hand-wringing about the Lakers’ offensive approach this year (which I have done plenty of), the fact the team is even sniffing an offense in the top half of the league is quite the feat. Even more so when you look at their opponents and where they rank in defensive efficiency this season:

  • Warriors: #1
  • Rockets: #2
  • Hornets: #10
  • Suns: #14

While I don’t expect the Lakers to remain a top 15 offense all year, there are some interesting early trends that are serving as the backbone for their current ranking.

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Coming into the season it was pretty much a given the Lakers would struggle defensively. Sure, Byron Scott would talk up having a defensive mentality and playing a physical brand of basketball that would make life difficult on opponents, but so far that has really just been talk. Instead what we have seen to start the season has been a team playing a particularly bad brand of defense that when looking at the numbers has been downright scary.

Before we dig into those, however, let’s put the caveats out there. In the team’s first four games of the season none of their opponents were ranked lower than 12th in offensive efficiency last season:

  • Clippers: 109.4, 1st in 2013-14
  • Rockets: 108.6, 4th in 2013-14
  • Suns: 107.1, 8th in 2013-14
  • Warriors: 105.3, 12th in 2013-14

In other words, the Lakers have faced a gauntlet of strong offensive teams to open their season. Further, they have played these teams in the season’s first five nights while playing shorthanded. These are not the circumstances you want to play any games under, but especially not teams who have a lot of offensive firepower who can take advantage of the team’s defensive weaknesses.

In saying those things, however, the defensive numbers over those first four games are downright awful. A sampling:

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After taking shots to the chin on back to back nights, the Lakers are 0-2 to start the season. While the games against the Rockets and the Suns both offered some glimpses of solid play, both games eventually turned into routs by the time the final buzzer sounded. This shouldn’t surprise, really. For all the talk about this team competing hard and what they can achieve if they play to their potential, the simple facts are that the Lakers aren’t a very talented team and aren’t running sophisticated schemes that hide that lack of talent very well. Combine these things and there will be problems. Big problems.

The numbers through two games bear this out:

If you’re scoring at home ,that’s a minus-25.1 efficiency differential. There is no hiding from that on the floor. Over the course of the game the Lakers will find themselves in a spiral of not scoring enough while the other team does so too easily.

There are many reasons for this and the team will surely look to rectify some of them. But if zeroing in on one specific area, it might be what’s going on from behind the arc:

In a game that the team lost by 20 but were outscored from behind the arc by 36(!) points, that would be a good place to start. And not only was the differential bad, but, as Kobe noted, the way the Lakers defended the three ball was particularly poor. The Suns run a lot of action to free up their guards to attack the paint, drawing help defenders in the process. And when the defense helps, they kick the ball out to outside shooters who bomb away. The result on Wednesday was a blistering 16 for 32 night for the Suns from behind the arc. The Lakers couldn’t contain the dribble but also couldn’t recover to the arc to run shooters off the line. In other words, “welp”.

It wasn’t just the 16 makes that should concern, however. As Kobe noted, maybe it’s time for them to take more threes themselves. After all, when the other team makes more three pointers when you even take, it might be time to reevaluate strategy. Byron Scott seems to disagree, however:

Scott is partially right, here. With Nick Young and Ryan Kelly out, the Lakers are down two players who can stretch the defense. However, if going back to last year, Wes Johnson (36.9%) and Xavier Henry (34.6%) were not bad three point shooters. Jeremy Lin and Kobe can also hit the three ball at a league average rate (with both being above the league average when discussing their catch and shoot attempts). Add in Wayne Ellington and that’s nearly the entire wing rotation (sorry Ronnie Price and Jordan Clarkson) who can hit the long ball. So, it’s not so much about guys being able to make the shot as much as it is his coach believing they can make it. Or at least believing they can make it at a rate high enough to support it becoming a bigger part of the offense.

But here’s the thing: As I have noted before, three point field goal attempts are important to even generate the type of spacing that drives the types of shots the team does want to get. Scott himself has said he wants his players attacking the basket, but does not acknowledge how driving lanes open up. Teams are going to cut down driving lanes until the Lakers start showing they will force them to rotate to shooters. And that’s really the point. If the Lakers don’t shoot the three, defenses don’t have to defend it. And if they don’t have to defend it, they can start to take away the paint. For the Lakers, that means an over-reliance on alternative types of shots they will take — the long two pointer.

Which brings me back to my point at the top. The Lakers are currently boasting an offensive efficiency of 95.4. This is an awful number. To put it in context, last season’s worst offensive team (the 76ers) posted an offensive efficiency of 96.8. Last year’s Lakers were at 101.9 for the season. And while I do not expect the Lakers to be this poor all season (please, don’t let them be!) they must not just take that as a given. They must start to incorporate actions into their offense that help generate the looks that will boost that efficiency. In other words, they need to scheme up good shots. Because if they don’t, we’re going to be hearing a lot more quotes after games like Kobe’s above.