Los Angeles Lakers: team defense

Struggles on offense: Lakers don't look like (past) champions

March, 12, 2010
3/12/10
6:47
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The Official Narrative of the Lakers centers around an offensive-minded team only periodically committed to defense. If they want to repeat, so says the story, the purple and gold will have to decide once and for all to buckle down and get some stops. They'll have quit focusing on those fancy scoring plays, defend the pick and roll, and figure out how to handle fast point guards.

In one sense, I don't have a problem with this sort of talk. It's a point guard, P-and-R dominated league. Getting better at neutralizing both can't possibly hurt.

PODCAST
The Lakers have struggled of late, and while the media's focus tends towards the defense, it's L.A.'s offense that has underperformed. Just how much? We'll let you know how and why. Plus, could the Lakers lose the top seed in the Western Conference? That, and a peek into the Real World NBA Writers house.

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But insofar as those defensive questions can be used to explain the relative struggles (through 65 games) of the Lakers to gain consistency in their title defense, they're totally off-base. Over the course of the season, the Lakers have been one of the best, if not the best, defensive teams in the NBA. All season long they've jockeyed with Boston for the top spot in defensive efficiency, which measures the number of points allowed per 100 possessions. (Through Thursday, L.A. is second at 102.4, just behind the Celtics at 102.1.)

There's always room for improvement, but it's hard to do too much better than best.

Meanwhile, as I noted after Sunday's loss to Orlando, the Lakers have far more serious problems on the other side of the ball. Not only are they performing below last year's output in both raw numbers (102.6 ppg this season vs. 106.9 a year ago) and fancy metrics (108.6 points per 100 trips in '09-'10, over four points less than last year, numbers via Basketball Reference), but the Lakers come up short relative to champions of the last decade as well.

Well short.

Sifting through numbers yesterday on BR.com, I saw some interesting stuff. And while I'm no egghead (though I've been told my head is egg-like), and clearly am not a mathemagenius, there is a lot to be gleaned from what I saw, and none of it is encouraging.

Take a look at offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage (Field goal percentage adjusted for the higher value of a three-point shot over a two-point shot) rankings among recent NBA champions:

Offensive Efficiency (Off Eff) and Effective Field Goal Percentage (EFG%), with League Rank


2009 Lakers: Off Eff- 112.8 (3), EFG%- .513 (6)
2008 Celtics: Off Eff- 110.2 (10), EFG%- .522 (5)
2007 Spurs: Off Eff- 109.2 (5), EFG%- .521 (2)
2006 Heat: Off Eff- 108.7 (7), EFG%- .517 (2)
2005 Spurs: Off Eff- 107.5 (9), EFG%- .492 (7)
2004 Pistons: Off Eff- 102.0 (18), EFG%- .461 (20)
2003 Spurs: Off Eff- 105.7 (7), EFG%- .497 (4)
2002 Lakers: Off Eff- 109.4 (2), EFG%- .498 (3)
2001 Lakers: Off Eff- 108.4 (2), EFG%- .498 (3)
2000 Lakers: Off Eff- 107.3 (6), EFG%- .484 (14)

Even after Tuesday's win over the Raptors (one of L.A.'s best offensive games of the last few weeks, three-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc notwithstanding) the Lakers were scoring 108.8 points per 100 trips (11th), with an EFG% of .496 (16th). As you can see in the table above, when organized by rank within the league, this year's Lakers team has been outpaced in both categories by all but one eventual NBA title team, the '04 Pistons.

(STATS VIA BASKETBALL REFERENCE)

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Holes in L.A.'s D

January, 1, 2010
1/01/10
6:56
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
If you missed it, Kurt Helin (he of Forum Blue and Gold fame) wrote a great piece for ESPN Los Angeles (they of housing-this-blog fame) on what has ailed the Lakers defense of late. Helin notes where the Lakers are currently breaking down compared to early in the season and some of the mitigating factors, ranging from the lack of Ron Artest to a run of games against teams with centers who can shoot (they'll see one tonight in Spencer Hawes). Still, much comes down to execution:

"...There are a few things going on. The Lakers have reverted at times to an ineffective defense used in past seasons: everyone collapsing into the paint to help out. For example, early in the second half against the Suns, Steve Nash came down and ran a drag screen (a high screen-and-roll very early in the clock) but used it only to get a switch, so Lamar Odom was now on the much quicker Nash. Then Nash drove into the paint off an Amare Stoudemire high screen -- Odom went with him, both Bynum and Gasol slid over to take away the rim, Kobe slid in and was one foot out of the paint trying to guess a passing lane. That all left Derek Fisher trying to cover three men at the 3-point line. So he stood at the top of the key. With four Lakers in the paint it was an easy kick-out to Channing Frye, who had plenty of time to drain an uncontested 21-footer... The Lakers have stopped "helping the helper" consistently -- if Bynum or Gasol goes to the rim someone needs to rotate to the open man. The Lakers have also seen a string of teams that thrive on the pick-and-roll (which is one reason there has been more Gasol and less Bynum for the Lakers because Gasol defends it far better) and the Lakers have never really defended the pick-and-roll well...

Against the Kings, who likely won't have Tyreke Evans, the Lakers will still have to mind guys like Beno Udrih and Sergio Rodriguez, both of whom have been effective this season for Paul Westphal and Co. Sacramento hasn't been strong on the road and will certainly miss Evans, but there are numbers suggesting the other guys can handle the floor when he's not on it. The Lakers can't take them lightly.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 9.7
AssistsK. Marshall 8.8
StealsJ. Meeks 1.4
BlocksP. Gasol 1.5