Posted Jan 23 2010 11:51AM
NEW YORK -- At 33-10, the Los Angeles Lakers have the best record in the NBA. Though there have been some bumps in the road, they've seemingly picked up where they left off in June.
But this Laker team is a little different than the one that won the 2009 NBA championship. They've taken another step forward defensively and currently rank as the third-best defensive team in the league and the second-best defensive team that Kobe Bryant has been a part of (behind the 1999-00 Lakers).
Conversely, this is one of the worst offensive teams that the Lakers have had during Bryant's career. They currently rank 10th in the league, scoring 105.9 points per 100 possessions, just 1.9 points above the league average. Three other Lakers teams have been worse relative to the league, but none have been ranked lower offensively.
When you think about how stacked with talent this Lakers team is, it can be hard to believe that they're worse offensively than teams like the Raptors, Blazers, or Grizzlies. You've got Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom running the vaunted triangle and you're barely a top 10 offense?
Of course, we're nitpicking here a little. The bottom line is that L.A. is currently in line to have home-court advantage through the Finals. And with Pau Gasol now healthy and Mo Williams now injured, they should be able to put more distance between themselves and the Cavaliers.
But a look at the Lakers' 10 losses, two of them against those Cavs and seven against possible playoff opponents in the West, reveals that offense has certainly been a problem this season. They've failed to score a point per possession in seven of their 10 losses.
Less than 24 hours after his team shot just 39 percent from the field in Cleveland, Phil Jackson admitted that the offense is a concern, and pointed at shot selection as part of the problem.
"We've talked about that consistently over the last two or three weeks," Jackson said Friday. "We have people taking shots from positions they probably shouldn't take shots [from]. We're not executing quite the way we'd like to execute, in getting the ball in positions to where we're most comfortable."
A look at the Lakers' overall numbers shows regression in almost every key offensive category...
|Lakers Key Offensive Stats, Last Two Seasons|
|EFG% = Effective field-goal percentage = (FGM+(0.5*3PM))/FGA|
OReb Rt = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO/Poss = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA/Poss = Free throw attempts per 100 possessions
The only thing the Lakers are doing as well offensively as they did last season is take care of the ball. They're shooting worse, rebounding worse and not getting to the line as often.
Several factors come into play...
17 Games Without Gasol
When you're missing your second-best player for a good chunk of the season, your numbers will likely suffer. And the Lakers have been worse on both ends of the floor without Gasol, who has been out for two separate stretches with two separate hamstring injuries.
Gasol's presence has made a greater difference on the offensive end of the floor, where the Lakers are almost seven points per 100 possessions better in games that he has played. The Lakers' 108.6 rating when Gasol plays would rank them fourth in the league. Their 101.8 rating when he doesn't play would rank them 24th.
In games that Gasol has played, the Lakers have shot better, got to the line more often, and turned the ball over less.
Still, even with Gasol healthy, the Lakers' best lineups have not been as efficient offensively as they were last season.
Their most common lineup last year was also their second-best offensive lineup (of those that played at least 100 minutes together). The lineup of Derek Fisher, Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom and Gasol scored a ridiculous 116.7 points per 100 possessions in 499 minutes last season. Replace Artest with Ariza and that lineup is scoring just 109.2 points per 100 possessions this season.
Bryant suffered an avulsion fracture on his right index finger Dec. 11 against the Timberwolves. Understandably, he has shot considerably worse since the injury (43.0 percent) then he did before it (49.3 percent). Not so understandable is that Bryant has been taking more shots since his injury.
|Kobe Bryant Per Game Stats, 2009-10|
The two extra shots per game are coming from long range, and Bryant admits that he doesn't want to risk getting hit on the hand by driving to the basket as much as he usually would. Unable to bend his finger, he also can't control the ball as well on a drive. And the Lakers are averaging more than eight fewer points in the paint since Bryant's injury.
But while Bryant's individual efficiency and the paint points have taken a big dip since his injury, the Lakers' offensive efficiency has been at the same level, in part because Gasol has played in 17 of the 23 games since Bryant broke his finger.
Still, if Bryant were shooting as well as he did before the injury, the Lakers would be scoring at least another point per game during that span.
One critical area of decline for the Lakers is the offensive boards. Last season, they ranked third in the league by grabbing 29.4 percent of available offensive rebounds. This season, they rank 12th, grabbing just 27.0 percent.
You might think that Gasol's absence has a lot to do with such a discrepancy. But they've actually rebounded better offensively in the games without Gasol (27.3 percent) than they have in the games he's played (26.8).
The offensive rebounding issues are uniform across the Lakers' frontline. Bynum and Odom are grabbing fewer offensive rebounds per minute and Artest is not grabbing as many as Ariza did. Fewer offensive rebounds means fewer opportunities to score. And the Lakers are averaging 0.9 fewer second-chance points than they did last season.
Artest vs. Ariza
Artest must be credited for the Lakers' defensive improvement, but he's been a little less efficient offensively than Trevor Ariza was last season. Artest is shooting better from 3-point range than Ariza did, but worse from the free throw line and much worse from 2-point range. He's also turning the ball over more often.
Sometimes, it just comes down to making shots. And Derek Fisher just hasn't been making them this season. He's shooting just 37 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range, down from 42 and 40 percent last season.
Jordan Farmar's numbers aren't much better, but the Lakers' best offensive lineup this season has teamed him with Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol. They've played just 30 minutes together this season, but have scored 137.6 points per 100 possessions. Replace Gasol with Bynum and the Lakers have still been better offensively with Farmar than with Fisher (still in limited minutes).
The Lakers' improved defense has helped make up for their offensive issues. But while they're at the top of the standings, they're behind the Cavs and Celtics in point differential. And having played just 17 road games through Friday, the second half of their schedule will be more difficult than the first. Holding on to the best record overall will not be easy if they maintain their current level of play.
So improvement on the offensive end of the floor will be critical as the Lakers go forward. Friday's 115 points on 94 possessions in New York was a good start.
All statistics are through Friday, Jan. 22 and were compiled with the help of the NBA and StatsCube.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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