After the Lakers were handed a bad loss at the hands of the Celtics on Friday night, Byron Scott said there would be lineup changes in tonight’s game versus the Pelicans. True to his word, Scott has swapped out two members of his starting group:
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 7, 2014
Reasonable minds can disagree about this move, but Scott is clearly trying to inject some defense into his starting group by removing Boozer and Lin in favor of Davis and Price. As we have discussed all season, the Lakers’ defense is horrid ranking last in points allowed per 100 possessions and doing so by a fair margin. Without getting into all of the details, the Lakers don’t do anything particularly well on that side of the ball and injecting two of the players the coaches feel are better on that end is deemed as the logical move.
That said, the numbers don’t really support this particular change. Let’s dive in:
- The lineup of Lin, Kobe, Johnson, Boozer, and Hill has posted an offensive efficiency of 102.7 and a defensive efficiency of 117.7 for an efficiency differential of minus-15.0.
- The lineup of Price, Kobe, Johnson, Davis, and Hill has posted an offensive efficiency of 96.0 and a defensive efficiency of 119.5 for an efficiency differential of minus-23.5.
- In terms of the big men pairing, when the Boozer/Hill tandem have shared the floor, the Lakers’ defensive efficiency has been 117.0.
- When the Hill/Davis tandem have shared the floor, the Lakers’ defensive efficiency has been 119.3.
- When Jeremy Lin shares the floor with Kobe Byrant, he is shooting 46.5% from the floor and has 94 assists to 42 turnovers.
- When Jeremy Lin has not shared the floor with Kobe, he is shooting 33% and has 4 assists to 11 turnovers.
There are some caveats in these numbers — the Price, Kobe, Johnson, Davis, Hill lineup have only played 20 minutes together over the course of five games. The Hill/Davis numbers offer a larger sample — 134 minutes — but still not as large as the Boozer/Hill duo (394 minutes). As for the Lin numbers, they too offer a small sample as Scott has preferred to play Lin almost exclusively with Kobe to try and optimize his two best guards by playing them together. So, these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt as there are simply not big enough samples to say any of these trends are irreversible.
That said, these numbers are what they are and do make me raise an eyebrow. The Lakers are making changes that, per the numbers, make them worse on the floor than better. When the samples get larger maybe these trends will reverse. But, my guess is that even if they do improve, they won’t do so at a rate that makes any sort of dent in how well the team plays as a whole. At least not without other shifts in how the lineups are deployed and how many minutes specific groups play together. We’ll see if Scott makes any such changes or if he simply swaps Lin and Boozer’s roles with Price and Davis’. If that happens, I expect things to look just as bad as they have to this point.
In any event, there is a game to play tonight and these changes will be put into play with a chance to make some waves. The Pelicans aren’t a great team by any means, but they have one of the league’s best players in Anthony Davis and other useful players who can make an impact against the Lakers. Chief amongst them are Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, and Ryan Anderson. Evans may be of particular issue since his ability to create off the dribble is a trait that the Lakers have struggled to contain all year. Maybe having Wes Johnson on him will slow him some, but unless Hill and Davis are there to help while still managing the stay with Anthony Davis on the glass and when slashing into open creases, it will all be for naught.
Further, when Anderson comes into the game the Lakers will need to find a way to defend the arc with a big man. With Boozer now coming off the bench, one has to wonder if defending Anderson will fall on his shoulders. If it does, watch out. Boozer is hesitant to defend out the three point line and that is exactly where Anderson will set up. If Boozer cannot get to the arc, Anderson will bomb away with quick releasing threes and hit more than his fair share if he’s open.
Offensively, we’ll see if the changes the Lakers make can at least spark their second unit. In theory, a unit of Lin, Ellington, Young, Boozer, and Sacre will be able to score some points and get up and down the court in the process. Lin, Ellington, and Young can all stretch the floor as well, so the space that they create should open up some post opportunities for Boozer and driving lanes for the guards should their men get too aggressive with closeouts. Hopefully, the bench can take advantage, especially against a Pelican’s bench that isn’t very strong in their own right.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.