It's been a couple of weeks since we've updated the Lakers Trends post and there have been some major changes in the trends. The Lakers have now played 15 games with Ramon Sessions sporting purple and gold. The team has established a new identity as an offensive juggernaut. Unfortunately, the defense has regressed significantly as the Lakers have given up over 100 points in 13 of their last 20 contests after doing so only 8 times in the first 38 games.
Some pundits, myself included, feel that the defensive slippage is the result of focusing on the offense and incorporating Sessions. The condensed schedule has made practice time a rare commodity and so it would make sense for the Lakers' coaching staff to focus on fixing the offense that was underwhelming and potentially the Achilles heel of what should be a title contending team. The limited (if any) focus on the defensive end in practice is evident in the results. But this is where we find hope, because if the Lakers can keep up the great offensive numbers they have produced with Sessions while re-establishing the defensive prowess they exhibited early in the season, then they will be a force to reckon with when the playoffs start in a couple weeks.
Effective Field Goal %
The Lakers have taken a hit here defensively. The team had been part of the elite group of OKC, BOS, CHI, and PHI that held the opposition to sub-47% shooting. The defensive lapses recently have since moved the Lakers back, closer to the pack of regular teams and away from the group of elites.
Offensively they have shown a minor improvement in shooting the ball and are still an average team when it comes to putting the ball in the hole.
With Sessions at the helm the Lakers have begun to reduce the number of turnovers they commit. It hasn't been a drastic change, but it has been progress nonetheless. They still turn the ball over at an above average clip, but increased familiarity with Sessions should help to continue the favorable trend.
Defensively, the Lakers seem intent on setting a record for the team that forces the fewest turnovers in history. I am counting down the days until they allow their opponent a zero turnover game. It's bound to happen eventually and the odds would place these Lakers as the favorites to do it.
The Lakers have begun to re-establish their identity on the glass. They are now the third best rebounding team behind Chicago and Utah. They are ranked 7th on both sides of the floor as they have vastly improved their offensive rebounding as of late. A big reason for this has been the increased playing time of Josh McRoberts. McRoberts' offensive rebounding rate of 11.3 leads all Lakers and is more than twice as high as Troy Murphy's 4.7, the man whose minutes have been reduced. It also helps that Sessions' rebound rate is double Steve Blake's and Derek Fisher's (although that isn't saying much). This is a big reason the offense has performed so much better recently. They haven't improved their shooting much (see first chart), but they are getting many more attempts per possession with fewer turnovers and more second chance attempts.
Free Throws to Field Goal Attempts
The Lakers have taken over the top spot in free throw differential. They use their size to contest without fouling and do not gamble often and as a result are the best team in the league at keeping the opponent off the line.
Offensively they are the 7th best team in the league at getting to the line. Most of the top teams in this category are younger teams that run and attack the basket, putting pressure on the defense. The Lakers are the odd-ball in this group as they get to the line via pure force inside. They make teams foul them or give up lay-ups because of their size.
Offensive and Defensive Rating
The culmination of the above trends has caused the Lakers to completely flip their identity from the start of the season. They began as an elite defensive team that struggled offensively. However, since Sessions arrived, they have surged up the rankings offensively and are ranked just outside the top 10 despite playing most of the season as a below average team. If the Lakers played a full season with the offensive output they've produced since the trade-deadline, they would be the best offense in the league.
Unfortunately, as discussed above, the defense has slipped significantly. One look at the chart shows the gradual decline from the start of the year, where the Lakers were posting a rating in 98 range (Boston territory). They had a little slippage after the initial month and then settled in as a team with a rating of 101 (Dallas, Memphis, Atlanta territory). Now they have fallen further down in the 104 range on the season (close to league average). Given that the majority of the season was played at a 101 level or better, the play lately has been significantly below average (probably close to Charlotte levels) on defense. Hopefully the Lakers' coaching staff can refocus on this end of the floor down the stretch and prepare for the playoffs.