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Has benching Jeremy Lin improved the Lakers?

Byron Scott shifted the Lakers' starting lineup, but has it made a difference?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

When Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott made his decision to change the starting lineup -- sitting Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin down to be replaced by Ed Davis and Ronnie Price -- he was widely mocked (by yours truly included). Since losing in their debut, the new lineup has gone 3-2 since the change, including a three-game winning streak sandwiched in between two losses.

The Lakers did post a seemingly quality win over the San Antonio Spurs (albeit while Tony Parker was not at his best or healthiest), but otherwise have beaten up on one of the dregs of the league in Minnesota, as well as a mediocre Sacramento outfit literally plagued with viral meningitis to it's best player. That these wins came between blowout losses to a mediocre New Orleans Pelicans team and a just-plain-bad Indiana one, coupled with the wins all being fairly close in margin against weak teams, it leaves one thinking that any assertions this is a sustainable performance improvement is extremely premature. This seems especially true when considering the smaller sample size of performance in which to assess the new starters (106 minutes) versus the old ones (337). With all of these contextual factors out in the open, let's compare, and more specifically look at the performance of Jeremy Lin and Ronnie Price.

All stats per NBA.com

Jeremy Lin may "regret" his play thus far, but when looking at his individual numbers and the Lakers primary alternative at the point, it's hard to. Lin has certainly been better than Price. Lin's field goal percentage (42.5), effective field goal percentage (48.1) and three point percentage (33.8) are significantly higher than Price's (29.1%, 34.5% and 22.9%, respectively). While Lin does have a significantly worse AST/TO ratio (1.98 assists for every turnover compared to Price's 3.36), part of this is a sort of "creativity tax," i.e. that Lin is more often asked to create opportunities for teammates, whereas Price is more often just making a simple entry pass or moving the ball along in the offense.

However, when looking at statistics that factor in team performance, one can certainly make a case for Price starting over Lin. The two players' offensive ratings are separated by a mere .6, a small enough number to be statistically insignificant, but Price's defensive rating (106.9) is much better than Lin's (113). This information strongly fits the established narrative of Price's defensive superiority. Price shifted into the starting lineup at the same time as Davis (who is the Lakers one player who could be graded as a defensive plus), whereas Lin has played more alongside Boozer, whose defense consists of attempting to kick the ball out of bounds on pick-and-rolls, trying to distract players with the gleam from his head, and a LOT of screaming. Given these have been their standard big man pairings whether they are starting or on the bench, it's hard to definitively separate who is responsible for these numbers just by looking at the statistics.

When judging by the eye test, it's easy to see Jeremy Lin is a far more skilled offensive player than Ronnie Price. He has great speed both in transition and on drives to the rim, although the effectiveness of both has been hampered by how the paint is clogged with bodies due to the Lakers lack of spacing. This is in stark contrast to how Price doesn't seem to do anything particularly well on offense other than give the ball to Kobe and get out of the way. On defense, Price does appear to be a marginally better defender than Lin, definitely more of a pest in how he is constantly trying to steal the ball at every opportunity, although neither of them can even charitably be described as good on that end. When judging by watching them in conjunction with the stats, it seems clear that most of Price's massive advantage on Lin in defensive rating is likely due to playing alongside superior defensive personnel (Davis).

Another factor to consider in all of this is whether using a 36-year old Kobe Bryant as the lone creator in the starting five is a wise move. Bryant was already beginning to speak about, and show, signs of fatigue. Having him work as the center of gravity in an offensive lineup that doesn't have a single other player that can be counted on to generate their own shot is not going to help him get his legs back under him. Kobe seems to be making questionable passes and coming up short on a lot of his jump shots late in games. This is where Lin could probably help the most, as his offensive talents should take some of the burden off Kobe in more creatively designed offensive sets, possibly in conjunction with Nick Young providing spacing with his three-point shooting.

All of this begs the question: How have the new starters as a whole fared compared to the old ones? The Lin-Boozer-Bryant-Johnson-Hill lineup posted an offensive rating of 102.7 and defensive rating of 117.7 for a net rating of -15. That is .... not good. However, the new lineup, swapping Price and Davis for Lin and Boozer has only been marginally more effective, with offensive, defensive, and net ratings of 98.6, 111.1, and -12.5. That 98.6 offensive rating would put the Lakers in possession of the sixth-worst offense in the league. The 111.1 defensive rating posted by this new group would still be the worst in the league, which the Lakers are seemingly going to finish with no matter what this year. If that is the case, I personally would rather watch a slightly more effective offense than the Kobe-killing brick-fest we are currently witnessing.

That is why I would argue for experimenting with starting Lin over Price, while keeping the Davis over Boozer swap, and seeing if that could help Los Angeles maintain the defensive "improvement" (if one can even call it that) while also getting a slight up-tick in offense as well. Regardless of any changes though, it is clear there aren't many options for lineups on this wretched team, and it will likely continue to be one of the league's worst outfits for the entire season. Byron has the right idea in defense being the main problem, but there's not much that can be done with this roster.