Archives For Laker Analysis

The list of things the Lakers don’t do very well is long. You don’t end up with one of the worst records in the league if this weren’t a true statement. But if we were looking for the thing the Lakers do worse than any other team in the league, rebounding would be it. If you don’t want to take my word for it, here are some simple numbers:

  • The Lakers are dead last in rebounding differential, getting out-rebounded by 5.9 a night
  • The Lakers are dead last in total rebound percentage, grabbing only 46.8% of the available rebounds a game
  • The Lakers are 29th in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing only 71.3% of the their opponent’s misses
  • The Lakers are 27th in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing only 21.7% of their own misses

These numbers essentially back up what the eye test tells us. When a shot misses, the other team grabs it more often than the Lakers do. It really is that simple.

The question, though, is why?

If you look at the comments of any game thread on this site (or, I’d imagine, any other Lakers-centric one) the blame will be placed squarely at the feet of the head coach and his rotation decisions. Fans wonder why Chris Kaman languishes on the bench while Robert Sacre plays. Fans wonder why Ryan Kelly gets more minutes than Jordan Hill. These are coaching decisions, after all, and they seem to dramatically affect the Lakers’ ability to rebound well.

Those claims aren’t totally without merit. Per Basketball-Reference, Kaman and Hill have the team’s 2nd and 3rd best defensive rebound percentages (defined as the % of defensive rebounds a player grabs while he is on the floor) at 26.1 and 23.8 respectively (1st is Pau Gasol at 26.4, by the way). Meanwhile, Sacre (15.8) and Kelly (12.5) lag far behind. Kelly’s number seems especially shameful, sitting at less than half the rate that Pau and Kaman’s are at.

Those are the individual numbers of the players, however. What about how the team rebounds with these guys on the floor? These numbers give us another layer of information and get us a bit closer to the root of the issue.

Per NBA.com’s stats tool, Sacre still scores low with the team grabbing posting a defensive rebound percentage of 67.9% when he is on the floor. This is the worst number on the team. You would think, then, that if Sacre rates poorly in this area that Ryan Kelly would too, but that’s not the case at all. When Kelly is in the game, the team has a defensive rebound percentage of 73.4%, 3rd best amongst players who have played 350 minutes. More head scratching comes when looking at the team’s numbers when Hill is in the game. Though he is, overall, the team’s best rebounder in terms of total rebound percentage and third best defensive rebounder the team only grabs 70.5 of the available defensive caroms when he’s on the floor (which is the 9th best mark of players who have played over 350 minutes).

The story that these numbers start to tell is that you really can’t just pin the Lakers’ rebounding problems on the big men. Sure, they are part of the problem as we’ve all seen them miss box outs, not hustle to grab rebounds that are out of their immediate area, and, in general, simply get beat on the glass too often — especially on shots taken outside of the paint where classic rebounding technique (bodying your man and reading where the ball is going) matter most. They, as a group, must be better to hold down the glass and can’t just point the finger in another direction when the team continues to get hammered on the backboards.

That said, if we’re really looking to assign blame, the guards and wings deserve more than what they’ve received to this point. The Lakers defensive woes on the perimeter are a major factor in how poorly the team performs on the glass. When guards get beat off the dribble, the big men often have to slide over to help and challenge shots. When they do, the guards and wings must rotate to the paint to “help the helper” and body up the opposing big men who their teammate left behind. This isn’t just true on standard straight line drives, either. When the ball is penetrated and kicked out, that triggers defensive rotations that, when the ball is swung from side to side, often result in a big man rotating to the perimeter to contest a jumper. When that occurs, the Lakers wings must be better not just in seeking out a big body to box out, but in closing down the FT line area and grabbing the rebounds that carom out beyond the paint.

Too often what I see are wings who are either hopeful that their athleticism will get them to a ball or, worse yet, don’t even make the effort to move into the proper position to be factor in recovering a miss. Rather than fight and try to do the dirty work, they’re more than content to either leek out or stand and watch while a loose ball gets claimed by the other team. This, as much as the bigs getting beat, is a huge problem that needs addressing. And it has little to do with the big men and even less to do with the coaching and substitution decisions.

In the end, the big men will be the ones who get most of the flack since they’re the players whose job descriptions are “rebounding”. And as long as two of the team’s better rebounders (Kaman and Hill) don’t play as much as they could (or in Kaman’s case at all), D’Antoni will also catch heat. But, in reality, the perimeter players need to take more ownership of this issue than they have to this point and start to do the fundamental things more often to help the team. Because rebounding isn’t just the responsibility of the big men, it’s everybody’s.

With that said, you have to continue to monitor your roster as the season goes on. That’s the job as a general manager. You have to be more realistic. Most of the time, we start the season with a certain ratio in mind. It could be 80 percent looking at the current season, and 20 percent at the next season. If you have a chance to win a title in a given season, maybe you sacrifice the next year to a certain extent. Or, maybe that ratio changes with injuries, from 60-40 in December, to 50-50 in January or 30-70 in February looking to the future. Now, the coach is 100 percent focused on winning that year, but part of the manager’s job is to have the future of the organization in mind.

(Via Q & A With Mitch Kupchak, Lakers.com)

The Lakers are, for all intents and purposes, a bad team. Losers of a large amount of their last many (do the actual numbers even matter?), they are in a position where they must start to tinker with the ratios Mitch Kupchak mentioned in his candid, revealing sit-down with Mike Trudell earlier this month.

Injures have decimated this roster beyond a level where they can be truly competitive night to night. The injuries have gone on for so long, however, that the roster we see in front of us has become the new norm and we start to evaluate them based off whether they are winning and losing.

I do this myself.

A bad defensive approach to a final play cost the team a game in Chicago. Playing an overmatched Ryan Kelly against Carmelo Anthony while limiting the minutes of Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman (as the Lakers got killed on the glass) might have done the same against the Knicks. I find myself frustrated with the details that, for all the team’s lack of competitiveness, seem to cost the team games.

But should I be?

The Lakers are, for all intents and purposes, a bad team.

Forget, for a moment, about tanking and the potential talented draft pick that may come the team’s way this summer. Forget the salary cap limitations of Kobe’s extension. Forget who is available in free agency next year (or even the year after) too. Instead focus on what talent is on the roster now and what is most valuable about them.

Is maximizing their talent and trying to win as many games as possible what’s best? Is finding out what the team has in younger players who have not yet had the opportunity via extended minutes to prove if they really belong?

As someone who hates losing, I can identify with the mindset of wanting to win now. Why does Jordan Hill play so few minutes when the team struggles so much on the backboards while Ryan Kelly is grabbing so few of the available caroms? Why is Chris Kaman a regular recipient of DNP-CD’s while Robert Sacre is a fixture (even in limited minutes) of the rotation? These are questions I find myself asking on nearly a nightly basis and I know I’m not alone. Especially since I don’t think it can really be argued who are the better, more refined professional players at this stage of their respective careers.

As someone who appreciates the idea of player development, however, I can also sympathize with the idea that, at some point, the Lakers need to find out what they have in these players. Is Sacre more than a 4th or 5th big man on a good team? Can Ryan Kelly, with some of his athletic limitations, actually be a rotation player in a league that is demanding more and more from its power forwards on both sides of the ball? The sad reality is, that while I want to win as much as the next guy, there really may not be a better time to seek information that helps answer these questions than this season.

This is the fallout of forward thinking.

Maybe that’s why, in the heat of the moment when the battle is being decided, it can seem so backward.

I find myself struggling with this idea more and more, especially when remembering that these decisions really don’t exist in a vacuum; that we really cannot forget about the draft in June, free agency in July, and how to build a roster with an aging Kobe Bryant taking up a substantial portion of the salary cap. The answers to questions about the young players on the roster are vital when put in the context of roster construction for future seasons.

That doesn’t make accepting the decisions that go into seeking out those answers any easier. And, for all we know, this isn’t even what the head coach is doing.

But as Mitch Kupchak said, at some point an organization has to start to adjust its view from the current season to the next. For Lakers’ fans, maybe the hardest part is that the reality of that usually comes around May, not in late January.

Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  January 25, 2014

Despite missing a chunk of the lineup and traveling across the entire Eastern seaboard in a week, the Los Angeles Lakers have to be extremely happy with how their Grammy road trip ended no matter what happens tomorrow afternoon in New York.

Think about it. At one point this week, the Lakers couldn’t do five-on-five drills during practice because only nine guys were healthy enough to practice. They had two sets of road back-to-backs. They’re giving regular minutes to two D-league players (Manny Harris and Kendall Marshall) and head coach Mike D’Antoni still refuses to give big boy minutes to his most efficient player, Jordan Hill.

After beating the Toronto Raptors, the Lakers lost a heartbreaker in overtime against the Chicago Bulls and went toe-to-toe against back-to-back champion Miami before running out of gas in Orlando. The Lakers have to be tired.

Of course, just saying giving the team an A for effort isn’t going to cut it. There are still several legitimate issues that could be taken care of — even with the depleted roster.

Let’s start with Jordan Hill’s playing time. The power forward has the third highest offensive rebound rate in the entire league yet he’s still only averaging 19.8 minutes per game. Heck, Shawne Williams who is no longer on the team still has a higher MPG than Hill.

Hill also has the highest PER on the Lakers – hovering over the 19 mark. This essentially means he’s the most efficient player on the Lakers, but he receives laughable playing time.

The reason why this is frustrating to see from afar is because the Lakers are the worst rebounding team in the league. When one looks at the basic stats, they see the Lakers rank 20th in rebounding – averaging 42.6 boards per game. However, the advanced stats tell the real story. The Lakers are dead last in rebounding percentage and grab only 46.9 percent of all rebounding opportunities.

This is how Tobias Harris gets 20 rebounds in a game and the Miami Heat, who are also an awful team on the glass, out-rebound the Lakers, 48-35.

When a team doesn’t get defensive rebounds, they give their opponent more chances to score. On the flip side, if they do get offensive rebounds, they get more opportunities to score. It’s a simple concept that shows how valuable rebounding is and one would think that if a team had the third best offensive rebounder in the game, he’d get more action.

Hill, however, got fewer minutes than Manny Harris last night.

The numbers show that Hill doesn’t get tired when he plays a lot. He’s played four games where he’s logged over 30 minutes and he averaged 12 rebounds. Also, in back-to-back situations he averages two more rebounds per game than he does after a day of rest. This isn’t to say that he should average 40 minutes per night, but perhaps a little bit more than the peanut minutes he’s getting right now would help the Lakers on the glass.

Other than this, every excuse regarding injuries is valid for the Lakers. They have been ravaged by the injury bug all season long and as a result, have been forced to play inexperienced players. Because of this, they have struggled mightily on defense. The Lakers haven’t held an opponent to fewer than 100 points in 11 games.

That said, they have to be happy with the effort and the surprising play of Kendall Marshall. Last night against Orlando, he dished out 14 assists and only had one turnover. He also added 19 points. Those are numbers elite point guards like Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo put up on a regular basis. Marshall still has a lot to learn — his defense is suspect and he turns the ball over too much — but if this continues, then Marshall may have locked up a spot for himself on the roster for the foreseeable future.

The Lakers finish up their Grammy trip against the Knicks tomorrow afternoon on ABC. They won’t have a welcome return home, though, as they take on one of the league’s best teams in the Indiana Pacers. The Lakers will close out the week at home against the Bobcats.

Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system is predicated on several principles that nearly all successful offensive systems are built on. Spacing is critical. Ball movement is not just encouraged, it is required. Penetration into the paint via the dribble and via the pass create the movement by a defense that fuels the shots the team wants to take — three pointers and shots in the paint (preferably at the rim).

In order to bring these principles to life, D’Antoni typically relies on three key positions: point guard, center, and power forward. Collectively these three players combine to make everything go. The point guard is the trigger-man for the entire show. He reads the defense, makes the right passes, and decides where the ball should go. He works in tandem with the center who is the main screen setter and the player who establishes the offensive paint by diving to towards the rim. When the center and point guard have a strong chemistry, they can be the dual pillars that have the ability to torment defenses.

The third piece to the puzzle, though, is nearly as important. While the shooting guard and small forward are natural wings and, based solely off their positions, start plays behind the arc it is the power forward who must have a combination of perimeter and paint skills to truly make the offense thrive. The perfect power forward for this type of attack should have enough range to be a threat behind the arc, be good enough off the dribble to attack closeouts by defenders rushing at him after trying to help in the paint, and enough passing ability to be a playmaker for others when he ends up in the creases of the defense.

Looking at those qualities D’Antoni would want in a power forward, it should not be a surprise that Ryan Kelly has found his way into the lineup as a steady rotation player. Though shooting only 29.7% on three pointers this season, Kelly has range on his jumper to beyond the arc. When defenses close out on him, he has enough ball handling ability to take a power dribble into a pull-up mid-range jumper or multiple dribbles to get into the paint and either finish with a floater or draw a foul. He is also smart enough to read defenses effectively and clever enough with the ball to deliver passes on time and on target to a teammate for an open shot.

These skills matter because they not only help Kelly be productive, but they help the team’s offense flow more smoothly. In the last 5 games (including 3 starts), Kelly is scoring over 12 points a game while shooting nearly 48% from the field. His assist numbers aren’t anything to write home about (he’s getting about one a game), but he’s showing that he knows where to move the ball to and not taking unnecessary chances when he’s put in a decision making role.

From the team’s standpoint, the Lakers’ offensive efficiency is 106.0 when Kelly is in the game. The sample is small — Kelly has only played 338 minutes this season — but that mark would rank 8th in the entire NBA (right in between the Thunder and Suns) if produced over the course of a full season. That number isn’t only about Kelly, of course, but his ability to fit squarely into what this offense wants from the position he plays certainly helps.

It also helps that in 144 of his 338 minutes played, Kelly has been flanked by a rejuvenated Pau Gasol and a better than expected Kendall Marshall. When those three share the floor the Lakers post an offensive efficiency of 105.7 and a defensive efficiency of 99.1. Considering the Lakers have a negative efficiency differential of 4.7 on the season, the +6.6 differential when those three share the floor is telling.

Ultimately, though, maybe it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. After all, when Mike D’Antoni’s teams are at their best they rely on the point guard, the center, and the power forward. Which just so happen to be the three positions that those guys play. And nothing against Jordan Hill (whose play has suffered lately), Chris Kaman, or Robert Sacre, none are really power forwards in this offense and none really duplicate the skill set that Kelly brings to the floor.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Kelly is the better player overall, but what is becoming clearer is that he may be the best fit at PF rather than trying to shoehorn those other guys into that role.

Whenever a team loses, the gut instinct is to try and establish who messed up so you can assign blame. When a team loses on a last second play the way the Lakers did against the Bulls, that instinct is even stronger.

As Pau Gasol said after the contest, “You don’t lose a game on a single play, but to lose a game like that on a layup still hurts.”

Yes. Yes, it does.

After the game, Mike D’Antoni spoke about the play in question and, per Mark Medina, defended his decision to have Manny Harris in the game and tried to explain what the plan on defense was:

D’Antoni said Harris was just following instructions, which entailed defending the inbounds pass so he could rotate to the perimeter wherever needed. “He played on the backside,” D’Antoni said. “He thought he was going to pop a guy out and he didn’t do that, We didn’t slide over to cover for him.”

In the clip above, you actually see Harris start the play standing between Taj Gibson and the basket only to get a signal from the bench to move into a position behind the Bulls’ Forward. When the play started, Harris found himself woefully out of position to defend the simplest cut in the game, a dive right to the front of the rim. Harris got pinned on Gibson’s back and Pau couldn’t recover in time to bother the shot enough to force a miss.

Hindsight is 20/20, but I see multiple errors with the Lakers’ defensive strategy that must come back to the coaches.

In the article quoted above, D’Antoni notes that Harris is a good defensive player who was a better option than some of the Lakers who were on the bench at the time. Harris is a good defender, so I’m not questioning that. However, having Harris defend Gibson specifically is a tactical mistake. Gibson was bullying the Lakers all night, pushing around everyone not named Jordan Hill on the offensive glass and in the post. Having Harris — who is a shooting guard — defend the Bulls’ power forward is a mistake.

Second, I don’t really see the value in having Pau defend the inbounder. Yes Pau is long and has the ability to disrupt an entry pass. However, without a second big man in the game to help guard the rim, the Lakers found themselves out of position to guard the type of shot that could beat them easiest. Granted Pau wasn’t as active defending the passer as he needed to be, but with only wings and Ryan Kelly in the game, the team wasn’t in a position personnel wise to guard the paint should a pass find its way in there.

Overall, it just seems like the Lakers’ coaches outthought themselves on this final play. Playing Harris isn’t a bad choice, but playing him over Johnson or Hill or even Meeks — players who have more experience — was probably a miscalculation. Having Pau defend the inbound in a hope he disrupts the pass rather than zoning up the paint to contest any lob pass or quick shot at the front of the rim also comes off as over-thinking things. And having Harris change his position from playing between the ball and his man to playing on the top side so he could be in better position to close out on a jump shooter on the perimeter is also getting too cute defensively when what was really required was playing a hard-nosed final second of defense.

Of course, if the Lakers get a stop on that final possession and the decisions the coaches made played a key part in making that happen, no one says anything. But that’s not what happened. In fact, it was the opposite.

Pau is right, of course, you don’t lose a game on a single possession, but the decisions the Lakers’ coaches made on the final play certainly tests that theory.