The Lakers have the fourth-worst record in the league and there's little doubt why: A horrible defense that's easily one of the poorest in the NBA. However, the difference between being in 27th place and essentially dead last? Maybe it's a surprisingly decent offense despite a Byron Scott system that doesn't outwardly appear to be so proficient.
It's so difficult to peer through the Carlos Boozer-induced fog on this issue. Even looking at the numbers, it's still puzzling how this team scores so efficiently. They're 25th in FG percentage, despite the third most total attempts in the NBA. They're also 17th in assists. The team's early-season reputation for avoiding the three-point shot has abated slightly, but the Lakers are still just 23rd in three-point attempts despite a solid percentage from long. The baseline stats don't look great. But looking even deeper, the more obscured numbers aren't shiny either. Coach Byron Scott promised a focus on long two-pointers, one of the game's most inefficient shots, and thus far, the Lakers have followed their captain's game plan. They're shooting the most 10-19 foot jumpers in the NBA, but ranking in the bottom 10 of FG percentage.
Of course, then there's Kobe Bryant. How can the Lakers' offense be so efficient despite their 36 year-old guard chucking at a (well-chronicled) obscenely inefficient clip with an extremely high usage rate? That alone figures to cripple LA's scoring attack, right?
There's so much evidence to the contrary that it's absolutely confounding how the Lakers could end up with scoring efficiency that's even halfway decent. What could possibly be leading to a 18th ranked Lakers offense?
Ball handling and turnover prevention
The main reason seems to be the Lakers managing to be the fourth best team in the league in turnover ratio, turning the ball over on a mere 12.6 percent of their possessions. This is probably one of the few positive byproducts of the lack of offensive creativity on this team: Less passing means less opportunities for turnovers. The Lakers are 23rd in the league in assisted field goal percentage, which would seem to reinforce what the eye test would tell you in that they began the year not passing very much. That 23rd ranking is actually a recent rise, as over just the last ten games, the team would rank 12th in that category, assisting on 59.8% of each others baskets (they would also drop to 11th in TO ration in that span, coughing up the ball 14.3% of the time).
On the topic of turnovers, Bryant's shooting inefficiency and usage rate actually helps the Lakers in that regard. While Bryant may lead the team in turnover percentage (currently turning the ball over an obscene 28.5 percent of his possessions.) all of his shooting leads to the Lakers as a team having less giveaways, as do the possessions in which the often overly deferential Price/Lin combo barely cross halfcourt before giving Bryant the ball. If they give him the ball and he does not pass again before shooting, at least the Lakers don't throw the ball directly to the other team for a fast break.
Offensive rebounding, or, the "Kobe Assist"
Also assisting the Lakers in this regard is the current roster being about as perfect of an environment as one can get for a "Kobe Assist". The Lakers big man rotation of Jordan Hill, Ed Davis, Carlos Boozer, and now even newcomer Tarik Black can all be good to great offensive rebounders depending on the night, and because of this the Lakers rank 13th in the league in the percentage of their misses of which they rebound, corralling 25.3 percent of them. This number is made even more impressive when considering the number of boards they have no chance at given how many long jumpers (which lead to long rebounds) the Lakers take.
Just for comparisons sake, that OREB% of 25.3 only ranks 2.3 percent lower than the 27.6 percent that the three headed post bullying monster of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom grabbed during the '09-10 campaign, which was also a year offensive rebounds as a whole were up before teams started realizing that getting back on defense and preventing transition opportunities could be more valuable. Context is everything though, and this Lakers team's best defense may be just preventing a team from getting a defensive rebound by grabbing it for themselves, given they are going to be putrid defensively either way. To put it simply, the worry of opponents getting efficient baskets on a possible transition opportunity is less of a worry when they will get easy baskets in their halfcourt sets anyway. Long story short, this Lakers front court has some pretty good offensive rebounders.
Free throw attempts
Additionally, Los Angeles is 13th in the league in free throw attempt rate, attempting .287 free throws for every shot they attempt. This team really gets to the line at a stunningly solid clip, despite few players known for their ability to penetrate and draw contact and grab a decent amount easy points at the free throw line. What's even more amazing is how they're doing it.
It's no surprise that Kobe leads the pack here, placing seventh in the NBA with 240 attempts. However, the rest of the roster doesn't even crack the top 50. Instead, they're cobbling together FTA by committee, with Jeremy Lin predictably drawing the second most attempts on the team, but Jordan Hill, Nick Young, Ed Davis and Carlos Boozer combining for nearly 400 more chances at the stripe. However, even their excellent FTA rate is tempered here by the stink of an easily visible problem: Too many of these guys can't make 'em. Despite several good-to-excellent free throw shooters in Lin, Bryant and Young, the 60 percent or less club of Boozer and Ed Davis bogs down the group's average all the way down to 20th place in the NBA. If those two bigs converted at an even 70 even clip, there's no doubt that the Lakers could have one or two more wins under their belts.
The Lakers being able to do all of these things while having the eighth highest number of possessions per game is probably as good of a confluence of factors as any for this squad to grind its way to average offensive efficiency. It may not be pretty, it may not be the fashionable way to do it, but it has been mediocre at the very least. It is fashionable to sum up the "analytics savvy" style of offense as just being threes, free throws and paint attempts, but that only works when you have a team constructed to play in that way. This Lakers roster is not stocked with three point shooters or off the dribble dynamos to create (or be successful) on those types of more analytically friendly shot attempts, nor the coach to allow them. What the team does have is a weird collection of talent that is pretty much playing at the peak of it's capabilities within the constraints of Byron Scott's outdated offensive philosophies, as well as doing the traditional smart things like drawing free throws, and somewhat undervalued things like getting offensive rebounds. So no, it's not pretty, but neither are the Lakers, so it fits pretty well.