The Lakers played three games since last week's edition of Lakers Trends in which I claimed the team had firmly established their identity as a mediocre team. This week they seemed determine to prove me wrong. They began by completely shutting down the Atlanta Hawks, holding them to only 78 points. They followed up that defensive slugfest with an offensive explosion by hanging a season high 111 points on the Phoenix Suns. While the wins came in completely different fashions, the results were the same. The Lakers beat two respectable teams quite handily, a big departure from their identity as a non-dominant team. It appeared that perhaps I was a bit too quick to call them mediocre, but then last night happened. Two days after torching the Suns, Phoenix rose from the ashes and dominated the Lakers like few teams have. The Suns built up a 23 point lead at one point and held the Lakers to only 90 points, twenty one fewer than they scored when the two teams played just two days prior. With the manhandling that occurred last night, the Lakers proved two things: they are very inconsistent on a game-to-game basis; and they are quite consistent when it comes to maintaining their mediocrity overall. For this one time, I would have preferred to be wrong as opposed to right.
Check out this week's trend update below the jump...
Effective Field Goal %
The Lakers' shooting got a slight boost due to the offensive outburst that came against the Suns on Friday. The Lakers shot 53% from the field, including 46% from deep, which translated into an eFG% of 56%. They were more or less average in the other two contests.
Defensively they were superb against Atlanta, holding them to an anemic 38% eFG. The two games against the Suns were somewhat unconventional as the Lakers won the game in which they allowed the Suns to shoot 50%, but lost the game where they held them to 47% eFG. It was the Lakers' offense (or lack thereof), not so much what Phoenix did, that determined the outcome.
Overall the Lakers did improve in a net position and moved from 11th to 8th in the rankings. They are right at the league average offensively, primarily because of their poor perimeter shooting. Defensively they continue to be the elite team that we expect under Mike Brown.
Last week the Lakers jumped up to 29th in the league in turnover differential. That jump was short-lived as they rightfully re-assumed their position at the bottom. They lost the turnover battle in all three games this week, and twice it wasn't very close. They had 17 turnovers to Atlanta's 11 and had a similar performance last night when they lost possession 18 times to Phoenix's 11. The home game against the Suns was the only game in which the Lakers made the turnover battle competitive but still lost 19 to 17.
The Lakers had another good week rebounding the ball. Things got off to a rocky start against Atlanta where the Lakers allowed the Hawks to pull down over 30% of their misses, but against Phoenix they owned the defensive glass. They pulled down 77% of the defensive rebounds in their loss last night and an incredible 88% in their win on Friday. This solid week on the defensive glass moved them from 13th in the league to 6th in defensive rebound rate. It also helps that there are numerous teams with rebound rates around 74-75% making it easy to move up the rankings with even minor improvements in a team's percentages.
Offensively, the Lakers did struggle a little on the glass. They pulled down a respectable 30% of their misses against the Hawks, but then completely fell off a cliff against Phoenix. Phoenix is a below average team on the defensive boards, allowing the opposition to grab over 27% of their misses. The Lakers are an above average team grabbing offensive rebounds. It would be expected for the Lakers to have offensive rebound rates over 30% against this Suns team. That is why it is astounding that they only managed 23% in both games. In the Friday night game, Andrew Bynum had as many offensive rebounds as Derek Fisher (1). It didn't help that Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace combined for less than that. In last night's game Pau Gasol and Bryant grabbed only one, while World Peace and Fisher had goose-eggs. It was quite a poor performance considering all the missed shots the Lakers had.
Free Throws to Field Goal Attempts
The Lakers experienced a slight decline in offensive free-throw rate. This is due to them taking only 9 free throws against the Hawks, compared to 24 and 25 in the two games against the Suns.
A big reason for the Lakers' two wins this week was their ability (or inability) to keep the opposition off the foul line. In their two wins they held Atlanta to 14 free throws and the Phoenix to only 13. In their sole loss they gave up 32 free throws, more than in the two wins combined.
Offensive and Defensive Rating
It doesn't take mathematician to look at last week's 2.1 net efficiency rating and this week's 2.1 net efficiency rating and determine nothing changed. Sure the composition changed a little with an improved defense and worse offense, but the net position remains fixed and that is what really matters. You can see on the chart the Lakers' past data points are beginning to collect around their current location. In other words, they are consistently performing as a team with a net rating around +2. That puts the Lakers in the same tier as Orlando, Boston, Dallas, Indiana, Atlanta, Denver, and that other team from Los Angeles. None of those teams is garnering any talk of being a true contender, nor should they.
The favorites to compete for a title (Miami, Chicago, and Oklahoma City) are all better than +6 in net efficiency. The second tier of fringe contenders (Philadelphia, San Antonio, and a very underrated Portland team) are all at least +4.7 or better. The Lakers' position is part of the tier I would call "early playoff round practice for contenders".
This week the Lakers had a chance to change that though. Their offensive and defensive rating against Atlanta was 98 to 89, a +9 in net efficiency. Their win on Friday over Phoenix was with an offensive and defensive rating of 107 and 95 respectively (for a +12 net). These two wins were examples of what a championship contender would look like. Then last night the Lakers went out posted 95 rating offensively and a 108 rating defensively, good for a -13 net rating. That is somewhere between the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats. Yes, it was that bad even after Brown burned every ounce of Kobe's energy to close the gap.
So what did we learn this week? The first two games showed the Lakers do possess that talent it takes to be a contender. Then last night they demonstrated their inability to do it consistently enough to be more than an difficult early playoff opponent. The Lakers took two steps forward followed by one giant leap back and now they stand in the same place they started the week, in the land of mediocrity with no other contenders in sight.