Can You Smell What the Laker Offense Is Cooking?

It smells like... *sniff, sniff*... mmm, points. My favorite! All of a sudden, the Phoenix Suns aren't the only team with extra-large servings of points on the menu, and I think I'll stop now with the culinary metaphor.

The point of it is... well, points are the point. The Lakers offense, wan and sputtering all year long, has risen from the depths to become competent. Good, even. More so than the three-zip lead over the Utah Jazz, of whom no one really doubted the Lakers would handily dispose, the rebirth of the Laker attack is the story of the second round ‘round here. It started in Game Five against Oklahoma City and has pretty much done nothing but pick up steam since then.

How tasty has the offense been? Over their past five games, all wins, the Lakers have averaged 1.18 points per possession (PPP). That's up from 1.09 PPP in the regular season, and it's exactly the mark that Phoenix has put up in the playoffs. Granted, the Suns have done it in 10 games, but still. The Suns won't be able to match the Lakers defensively, so if they're going to take the Western Conference Finals, they'll need to have the substantially better offense. That the Laker points machine is producing at their level bodes well for L.A. in round three.

Of course, even five games isn't a terribly huge sample size, so let's figure out what's behind the recent eruption. Below I've listed, in more or less ascending order of importance, the causes of improvement in the Laker offense, along with my guess as to how sustainable each one is.

They're getting to the free-throw line.

I should say, they're getting to the line at home. On the road the Lakers aren't getting whistles, but in the 213 the freebies are coming in waves. The difference is stark. Across Game Five of the OKC series and the first two games against Utah, the Lakers generated 0.40 free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were the foremost foul-drawers. But in Game Six in OKC and Game Three at the Delta Center in Utah, that ratio got cut in half, to 0.20.

Sustainable? For better and worse, it probably is. The home-road disparity in FTAs isn't going anywhere. The Jazz are among the fouliest teams in the league, and although the Suns don't have quite the same track record, they've done mucho hacking in the playoffs so far. When the action's at Staples, the Lakers should be able to pound it inside and fat-stack pointage at the stripe.

The last two games especially, they've been crashing the offensive glass.

Here's where the absence of Mehmet Okur is killing the Jazz. The Lakers are rebounding 35% of their own misses in the series, and 40% over the past two games. Because he's a perimeter offensive guy, we tend not to think of Memo as a prolific rebounder, but he's solid on the defensive glass. Without his size to deal with, Pau and Lamar Odom have been awesome at generating second-chance opportunities, either by volleyballing misses back up to the rim or tipping them back out to shooters.

Can they sustain it? Indeed. The Suns were by far the worst defensive rebounding team to make the playoffs, placing 29th in defensive rebounding rate. They did a solid job of keeping the Spurs off the glass in their second-round sweep, but managing the same against Pau and Lamar is a whole ‘nother thang.

Threedom!

We've been on this all year. If the Lakers were going to defend their title, they'd probably need to hit from behind the arc better than they did in the regular season. Hey, guess what's happening? Over the past five games, they've drilled 38% of their three-point attempts, and that includes a 17% shitburger in Game One against Utah. Derek Fisher has been good (37%) in this stretch, and it's helped that Ron Artest emerged from his barrel-scraping slump, but how about some love for Jordan Farmar? Since missing all five of his threes in the Game Four catastrophe in OKC, he's made 6 of 11 from distance. I can work with that.

IZ SUSTAYNABUL? Ehh, I don't know. Maybe. Ron was due for a snap-back, and Kobe's outside shooting form looks noticeably better, so I'm willing to buy into those improvements. But Farmar isn't going to keep making more than half of his threes. I think on the whole it'll be better than what we saw in the regular season, but there'll be some clunkers mixed in there. Phoenix, for what it's worth, has allowed playoff opponents to make 37% of their longballs. So that's nice.

People are making their twos.

This, I think, is the most underdiscussed element of the Laker offensive renaissance. What surprised me most about Fish's Game Three performance in Utah wasn't that he made 3 of 7 threes - though that was indeed a surprise. It was that he made 4 of 6 twos. Over the past five games, he's made 63% of his two-point shots, part of a delicious rotation-wide trend.

 

2PT% in Regular Season

2PT% Over Last 5 Games

Kobe Bryant

49

54

Pau Gasol

54

55

Andrew Bynum

57

65

Ron Artest

45

56

Lamar Odom

51

54

Derek Fisher

40

63

Check out those jumps for Ron and Fish. As a team the Lakers have made 54% of their twos over the last five, compared to a 49% mark in the regular season. Some of this has to do with matchups. (The Jazz, minus Okur and for two games Andrei Kirilenko, are small.) Some of it is a rejuvenated and healthy Kobe Bryant. Some of it's just friendly small-sample-size variance at the right time.

Speak to me of sustainability! Anyone think Fish will continue making over 60% of his twos? Me neither. I do, however, believe the Kobe improvement is legit. Same with some of what we're seeing from Ron around the rim. He still looks ugly as hell when he goes to the hoop, but he's got more lift in his legs these days and he isn't just blindly flinging the ball up when he gets close. He even dunks from time to time.

Much here, as in all things Laker-related, depends on Bynum. When he's catching dimes around the hole and throwing it down, it can be devastating to an opposing defense. The Laker offense can function without him - see, e.g., the last game they played - but the more they get from Drew, the more they can give back some of the short-term efficiency gains we've seen from Fish and Ron and still keep rocking.

Follow Dex on Twitter here.

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