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Six Laker Stats to Watch in the Coming Season

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If you've spent much time at this here Internet website, you know a couple things about me. One, I'm ruggedly attractive and have abs of steel. Two, I like numbers. Do you like numbers? If not, feel free to skip this piece. I won't take offense. I might pout a little, but I'm not going to stop talking to you or come egg your house or anything.

As the new season approaches - and good lord, it can't get here soon enough - I've been gassing up my Radio Shack TRS80 calculator (programmable in BASIC, bitches!) and taking it for a few spins around the Lakerverse. By that I mean, I've been studying Laker stats from last year and trying to figure out which are likely to change, which ones will stay the same and how it'll all wash out in the team's won-loss record. It's an exciting hobby that keeps me busy while I wait to hear back on my bartending-school applications.

After the flip, I walk through a half-dozen stats that I'll be keeping an eye on as the new season unfolds. I'm not saying these are the most critical issues facing the team. Some of them are of big-picture importance; others are small-bore curiosities. The only thing they have in common is that they've each piqued my interest for some reason. And I think they'll pique yours, too!

Are you ready to be piqued?

1.  Steve Blake's Three-Point Accuracy. Last year the Lakers were a ghastly three-point shooting team. They made only 34% of their attempts in the regular season, good for 24th in the league, and 33% of their attempts in the playoffs. For all the grief Laker fans gave Jordan Farmar, he was actually the best three-point shooter on the roster. Of guys who took threes in any real volume, his regular-season and playoff accuracies (38% and 40% respectively) were the highest on the team.

Jordan's now plying his trade in Newark, the poor bastard, which means it falls to his replacement Steve Blake to hit some open long-distance bombs. Fortunately, Blake's more than capable, as he's shot close to or better than 40% four of the last five seasons, all the while attempting threes at a more frequent clip than Jordan. If he can continue that level of performance, not only will the Lakers get better production out of the backup point-guard spot, but it'll space the floor for the entire second unit.

2.  Ron Artest's Field-Goal Percentage at the Rim. Something strange happened to Ron two years ago, when he went to Houston from Sacramento: he lost his ability to make point-blank shots. He still does a pretty good job of getting to the rim, thanks to his incredible strength and fearless grizzly-bear-on-roller-skates driving technique. But after converting about 60% of his up-close FGAs his last two years in Sacramento, he's made only 50% since then.

You saw it plenty of times last season, when Ron would power his way to the hole, only to fling the ball up wildly, like he'd suddenly found himself holding a rabid ferret. Part of this undoubtedly has to do with aging: Ron just can't elevate the way he once did. It seems, though, that he could improve his efficiency at the rim, not to mention draw more trips to the foul line, if he just took an extra split second to collect himself when he arrives with the rock under the basket.

3.  Kobe Bryant's Turnover Rate. This isn't the biggest deal in the world, but Kobe became a shade more turnover-prone last season. For every 100 plays he used, he coughed the ball up more than 11 times, after doing so less than 10 times per 100 plays in 2008-09. It amounts to about one extra turnover for every two games played.

My first thought was to blame his injured finger, which did seem to affect his handle at times, but it turns out his 2008-09 turnover rate is the outlier here. His numbers from last season are right in line with his career average. So really, we shouldn't expect big variation one way or another, but if his turnover habits continue to worsen, it'll be a mildly alarming indicator that something's amiss.

4.  Lamar Odom's Three-Point Attempts. In the 2009 playoffs, Lamar attempted 35 three-pointers and made 18 of them. His accuracy from long range was useful in the small matter of winning a championship that year, but it had a regrettable side effect. It apparently convinced Lamar that he's, like, a "good three-point shooter," as evidenced by a spike in his attempts last season. In 2008-09, about 15% of his field-goal attempts were from distance. In 2009-10, that number rose to almost 25%.

It needs to come back down. On his career, Lamar has made 32% of his three-point attempts, and last season he made... 32% of his three-point attempts. His sharpshooting in the ‘09 playoffs was a small-sample-size fluke, albeit a welcome and very well timed one. He needs to dial back his perimeter game and concentrate on getting to the hoop more. The hoop, Lamar, is the red thing 10 feet off the ground with twine hanging from it.

5.  Team Defensive Rebounding Rate. This was a key to the Laker D last year. During the regular season they finished ninth in the NBA in defensive rebounding (after finishing only 18th the year before) and followed that up with a strong performance on the defensive glass in the playoffs. The improvement over 2008-09 was owing to increased playing time for Andrew Bynum and more voracious glasswork by Odom and Pau Gasol. These factors more than made up for Ron Artest being a much less productive defensive rebounder than the man he replaced, Trevor Ariza.

At the team level I expect to see a little regression this season. The defensive rebounding rates posted by Odom and Gasol last year were well above their career numbers and are likely to snap back a touch, and as for Bynum, who knows how many minutes we'll get? That puts pressure on Artest to help out more on the glass. On the positive side, Matt Barnes will be a big upgrade on the various shoddy options Phil Jackson was forced to use at backup small forward last year.

6.  Opponents' Three-Point Accuracy. Team three-point defense tends to vary substantially from one year to the next. As the very smart Kevin Pelton writes in the new Pro Basketball Prospectus volume:

There is virtually no carry-over from year to year in terms of how teams defend three-pointers. Elite teams like the Lakers are little more likely than their ineffective counterparts to fare well in terms of opponent three-point percentage the following season.

That's true as a general rule, but general rules have exceptions, and I think this edition of the Lakers is one of them.

Following their loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 Finals, the Lakers revamped their defense, introducing the strong-side trap as their default scheme. Since then their three-point D has improved significantly. Here, for the past three seasons, is their three-point accuracy allowed and league rank in that category.


Opponents' 3PT%

League Rank










A one-season jump could easily be a fluke. A jump sustained over two seasons could, I suppose, also be a fluke, but it's much less likely. I think the improvement is real and that, even if the Lakers' absurdly good three-point D last season isn't totally sustainable, it'll nonetheless remain a team strength.

The strong-side trap is part of it. The system, when the Lakers are motivated and playing with energy, does a fine job of disrupting opponents' perimeter games. Changes in personnel have also been important. In 2007-08, there was no Artest and barely any Ariza. A full season of Ariza in 2008-09 and a basically full season of Ron last year gave the team someone to lock down elite wing scorers where there was once only Vladimir Radmanovic. Barnes will them make still more formidable at defending the arc. Finally, there's an inside-outside dynamic at work: the Gasol-Odom-Bynum frontline is stout in the paint, allowing the perimeter guys to stick on shooters. Unless the lineup is decimated by injuries, nothing about the Lakers' three-point D should really change this season.

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore. Many thanks to Basketball ReferenceHoopData and Basketball Prospectus for the numbers used in this piece.

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