With the playoffs approaching, and the Los Angeles Lakers looking more and more likely to be an active participant after all, sportswriters the world over will soon be attempting to distill all the complexities of a match-up between two teams and 16-20 players into just a few paragraphs. One of the most used gimmicks is to define an X-factor for each team, the guy who isn't a star, yet still holds the power to make or break his squad's chances. The choices for this often feel shoehorned, because while the gimmick can be accurate, it often fails in its application to all situations. If, however, the Lakers do sneak in to the back end of the Western Conference playoffs, no shoehorning will be required, because the Lakers have one hell of an X-factor.
His name is Antawn Jamison, and the simple equation of his play is often the deciding factor in the far more complex equation of his team's success. Put simply, when Jamison plays well, the Lakers are very tough to beat. When he doesn't play well, the Lakers don't do so well. Let's talk hard numbers, shall we? First, the broad strokes. In wins, Antawn averages 11.3 points per game, vs. just 7.2 PPG in losses. He pulls down 1.6 more rebounds, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it is a 40% increase. But, most importantly, every relevant measure of Jamison's shooting performance goes through the roof in Lakers wins. He shoots 40.2% from 3 pt range in wins, just 28.4% in losses. His eFG and TS% all show the exact same spike in efficiency. A look at the effect his individual game-to-game performances have on team performance shows the same dynamic in play. When 'Tawn scores 10 or more points, the Lakers are 18-9. When he connects on two or more shots from downtown, the Lakers are 10-4. When he shoots 40%+ from 3 pt range, the team is 14-6.
Antawn Jamison Win/Loss Splits
Nobody else on the team even comes close to having the same dramatic effect on Lakers wins and losses. Metta World Peace, named as team X-factor many a time himself, averages just half a point more in wins than in losses, and shoots 4% better from the floor (by eFG). Kobe scores more in losses than he does in wins (a statistic which has been misinterpreted since time immemorial). There's little difference in Steve Nash's numbers across the board. Streaky guys like Earl Clark and Jodie Meeks have improved shooting in Lakers wins, but not nearly as dramatic as Jamison's splits (each improve eFG by about 5% in wins vs. losses, as compared to 10% for Antawn). The only guy who comes close in his good game=win, bad game = loss effect on the team is Dwight Howard. Howard averages nearly 5 points more in wins than in losses, but his shooting only improves by 5.5%.
We know that Dwight Howard is vital to the team concept, and we know he has been inconsistent due to his recovery from injury and/or an attitude that waxes and wanes by the day. So why is Antawn Jamison so important to the team's success? Because Antawn doesn't just play better when the Lakers win ... he becomes a completely different player. The Lakers just so happen to sorely need the player he becomes. The reason why Antawn Jamison's play is such a bellwether for the Lakers' success is because he can (sometimes) give the Lakers something they so desperately need ... a "stretch" four.
It's not exactly groundbreaking analysis to say that the Lakers need a "stretch" four. After the initial shock of hearing news break that the Lakers had hired Mike D'Antoni to be the next head coach, how the Lakers would run MDA's system became the central focus of conversation. The greatest criticism of the fit between D'Antoni's system and the Lakers roster is that the Lakers did not have a power forward who could stretch the floor by making outside shots. Pau Gasol, who is still one of the best post players in the entire league, was actually yanked from the starting lineup because he couldn't fit into that role. Any logical trade talk surrounding the Lakers involved bringing in somebody who could play the stretch four role, even if the player involved was terrible (Here's looking at you, Andrea Bargnani). The Lakers need a stretch four, and they don't have one.
Except when they do. Antawn Jamison can play that role for the Lakers, but he can't do it consistently. When he's draining shots from the outside, it doesn't just provide the Lakers with much needed additional points. It changes the entire context of the offense, and allows the offense to reach its apex state. When Jamison is missing outside shots, the paint is more clogged, the pick-and-roll and/or isolation post up opportunities are more easily defended.
That's a lot of sway for one player to hold over the team's offense, especially when that player is so relatively unimportant to the team's overall hierarchy. Antawn Jamison is, at best, the 5th best basketball player on the team. And yet, more than any other player, the Lakers live and die on what Antawn is bringing to the table that night. That probably spells doom for the Lakers this season unless significant gains can be made elsewhere, because there will almost certainly come a point, either in the playoffs or before, when Antawn's streakiness streaks the wrong way. But, at the very least, Jamison has provided the Lakers with a valuable case study with which to go into next season. The Lakers now know just how vital having a stretch four is to the overall offensive plan.
Just look at what they can accomplish when they have one.