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:
Per http://t.co/3RmAC7DP6v the Lakers currently have the 11th best Offensive Efficiency in the league.
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) November 10, 2014
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.
First, they are playing at the 5th fastest pace in the league. For all the “anti-D’Antoni” talk that stems from the team’s lack of three point attempts, what has not changed much is how fast the team is playing under Byron Scott. They are only averaging about 2 possessions less per game this season than last (or a little bit more than the difference between the #1 Warriors and #2 Nuggets this season). Playing at this pace has allowed the team to get into some of their set earlier and get some easier buckets against defenses that aren’t yet set.
Second, this team is getting to the foul line at a healthy clip. They are 4th in the league in attempts per game (30) and free throw rate (.356). It’s not the most glorious way to score points, but when you get a team to foul you and you convert those fouls into points, you can up your efficiency. Further, when the other team is fouling you can get key opponents off the floor, weakening them in the process. Against the Rockets, for example, the Lakers were able to keep the game somewhat close early because they got Dwight Howard in foul trouble and were able to attack the basket against them without one of the best rim protectors in the league.
The Lakers have also done a fairly good job of keeping their turnovers down, tallying the 12 fewest giveaways per game and the 10th best turnover ratio. Considering the pace they play at and their lack of great depth on the wing, this is even more important. Partnering with this is that the Lakers are one better offensive rebounding teams in the league, ranking 9th in offensive rebounding percentage. When you’re not giving the ball to the other team and do a good job of extending the possessions you do get, you can find a way to produce points more efficiently than teams who may be more talented offensively but are mistake prone and not very good at getting these extra shots.
Sooner or later you have to figure that the number of mid-range and long two point shots they take and their lack of shot creators to catch up to the Lakers. Historically, it’s simply difficult to maintain an efficient offense when your attack features these types of shots. That said, the early part of the season has them maxing out on this end of the floor. Which, for me, has been totally unexpected. So, I’m going to enjoy this while I can. Especially with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs, and Warriors coming up on the docket.