26. December 2012 19:42
As the Lakers struggled through the early part of this season, much of the blame has been cast on Pau Gasol's passivity or Steve Nash's absence. The Los Angeles Lakers are at .500 even though Kobe Bryant is in the midst of one of the best 28-game shooting stretches of his career, despite being forced to undertake greater ball-handling responsibilities. How good has Kobe been so far? The last time his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) approached 25, it was 2007; he's never managed .222 WS/48 (Win Shares per 48 min) until this season. In spite of Kobe, the ageless wonder, the Lakers are tied for ninth in the Western Conference and have significantly underachieved through the first 28 games of the season.
Although Dwight Howard has flashed signs of occasional brilliance, he is playing below the All-NBA level expected of him. While Nash was out due to injury, the Lakers needed Dwight to play well to make up for the lost offense. Instead, Howard has completely disappeared on offense. His USG% (percent of offensive possessions he uses during his time on the court) is the lowest it has been in eight years. His rebounding has been way down as well. His DRB% (defensive rebound percent) is 24% this year, after it was 33% last year. Similarly, his TRB% (total rebound percent) is 18.1% so far, after five straight years of 21.7% or better.
According to many all-encompassing metrics, Howard is playing worse than he has in years, at least so far. His PER (20.5) and WS/48 (.148) are his lowest since '05-'06, and his WP/48 (Wins Produced per 48 min = .172) is the lowest it's ever been.
There are a couple ways to rationalize Howard's decreased production. The most obvious theory is that he still isn't fully healthy. There are trends in the data to support this hypothesis, such as the career-low rebounding numbers and the career-high %Blkd (% of Howard's shots that are blocked). 8.9% of Howard's shots have been blocked, which is the 4th highest rate in the NBA among Centers and Power Forwards who play 30 minutes per game. Howard, a former Slam Dunk champion, does not fit the profile of players who typically lead the NBA in Blkd%. Omer Asik and DeMarcus Cousins usually have high %Blkd because they don't have the combination of elite athleticism and low-post skill that Howard does. There are not many players in the NBA who can block a healthy Howard or take rebounds away from him, so the numbers suggest that he isn't completely himself yet. Indeed, Howard blames his health for his shockingly low production.
There is also the possibility that Howard has not learned how to fit in with the Lakers or with Bryant yet. This theory is also supported by the data (and Andrew Bynum), as the Lakers are much better when Bryant plays without Howard (+16.2 per 36 min) than when they play together (+2.3 per 36 min). When LeBron James joined the Miami Heat in 2010, his numbers after the first month were similarly well below his norms. His PER was only 24 after that first month, but he managed to regress to his career averages the next 5 months. A similar regression could be in store for Howard, and the Lakers might need every bit of it.
8. January 2011 02:06
I've been reading a variety of reports on Kobe's 2010-11 season over the last few days. Wanted to clarify a few things.
A recurring theme is that Kobe's stats this year are almost a perfect match for his career averages (which is true). "Same old Kobe" many are saying. It's important to remember that Kobe is trending down volume-wise from his peak a few years ago. So, if you think of "same old Kobe" at his peak, you're overstating his impact this year.
POINTS PER GAME
Current: 25.1 heading into Friday's game with New Orleans
His current per-game average is the second lowest since the 1999-2000 season. He had some years before that with low averages because he wasn't a full time starter until his third season in the league. It's better to think of Kobe as having dropped down to his career averages because of reduced minutes due to his bad knee. Coach Phil Jackson is on record saying he's trying to protect Kobe so he's ready for the playoffs.
Everything's not same-old same-old because Kobe is having his average year. Kobe's trending down to match his career average.
Adjusted PER, Joe Treutlein's tweak to John Hollinger's landmark per-minute stat, provides some context. Kobe is at 25.27 this year in APER, which isn't much different from 25.79 two years ago, or 25.80 three years ago. It's off his peak from earlier in the decade. Just remember that's a "per minute" stat, and Kobe's playing fewer minutes this year than in the past.
2006-07: 40.8 minutes per game
2007-08: 38.9 minutes per game
2008-09: 36.2 minutes per game
2009-10: 38.8 minutes per game
Current: 32.9 minutes per game before Friday night
So...you can say it's the "same old Kobe, but for just 33 minutes a night instead of 38-40 per night. Or, you can say that Kobe's reduced minutes have dropped him down to his career averages statistically. Just remember that those 5-7 minutes must be going to somebody who isn't nearly as good as Kobe, and that's obviously going to impact the team.
I was tinkering around with Kobe's per game stats vs. good defenses this afternoon. We've already talked this week about how the Lakers have played a very soft schedule. Heading into tonight, the Lakers had played 10 games against top 10 teams in defensive efficiency, but 17 against bottom 10 teams.
Chronologically, Kobe started out great vs. top defenses. In four games the past few weeks, he fell off quite a bit:
FIRST 6: 29.5 ppg, 4.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists
LAST 4: 19.8 ppg, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists
Those last four games were vs. Milwaukee, Miami, San Antonio, and New Orleans in games played between 12/21 and 12/29. Given that little stretch, it's easy to see why avid watchers of the Lakers were suddenly concerned about Kobe losing a step, or suffering more with his knee.
Good news for Kobe fans late Friday. Their game with New Orleans just went final as I was writing this. Two late buckets from Kobe...after New Orleans had moved within three, pushed his scoring total to 25 points in 39 minutes. The team committed just 11 turnovers in another low tempo game...a 101-97 victory. Only 1 rebound and 4 assists though for Kobe, as we now have a "last five" that's still well below the first six vs. teams that rank in the top 10 thus far in defensive efficiency.
The rest of Friday night in a nutshell...Orlando is still hot...Miami almost stubbed its toe but survived in Milwaukee...Chicago is still playing tired and their travel is about to get worse...New York is the new Phoenix (at least when playing teams at or below their own level) while Phoenix is the new New York...San Antonio re-emphasized two-point defense in a tight defensive win over Indiana...Memphis forced a ton of turnovers again, this time 23 against Utah (and it was 20 through three quarters).
Have a great weekend! See you again Monday Night...
4. January 2011 01:11
Did Kobe lose his legs? Is the team just sandbagging during a dead spot in the schedule knowing that you don't win championships in December and January? What the heck is going on with the suddenly slumping Showtime set?
The first step in finding answers is to get a sense of the scope. Everyone's basically gnashing their teeth (via newspaper columns, radio shows, or podcasts) over a 2-4 record during this six game stretch:
Milwaukee 98, Lakers 79
Miami 96, Lakers 80
San Antonio 97, Lakers 82
Lakers 103, New Orleans 88
Lakers 102, Philadelphia 98
Memphis 104, Lakers 85
A few things jump off the page immediately. The Lakers aren't scoring much in their losses! That's 79, 80, 82, and 85 in poor performances, but over 100 in the wins. Is the team slowing down too much, and that's hurting their form? Or, is the slump not pace-related at all?
85 vs. Milwaukee
88 vs. Miami
94 vs. San Antonio
93 vs. New Orleans
95 vs. Philadelphia
94 vs. Memphis
Those are low for the Lakers. They were at 95 or above in 21 of their first 28 games. So, we're clearly seeing a slowdown during this recent slide.
*Kobe did lose his legs, and the team has stopped running
*The Lakers are resting a bit during this midpoint of the season
*Opponents are forcing a slowdown and having success with the strategy
Could be any of those, or a mix. We'll need more than six data points in the sample size. Let's go beyond pace and look at efficiency...
92.9 vs. Milwaukee
90.9 vs. Miami
87.2 vs. San Antonio
110.8 vs. New Orleans
107.4 vs. Philadelphia
90.4 vs Memphis
Points per possession are obviously WAY down in the losses. The Lakers are at 108.1 for the season. They've averaged 96.6 during that sextet, with the four losses at 92.9 or below.
So, the team is slowing down, AND they're playing much worse offensively even after you adjust for tempo.
Is it all offense? Or, have seen seen a slide on defense too?
115.3 vs. Milwaukee
109.1 vs. Miami
103.2 vs. San Antonio
94.6 vs. New Orleans
103.2 vs. Philadelphia
110.6 vs. Memphis
Pretty ugly there as well. The Lakers are at 101.8 for the year, but averaged 106.0 over the sampling.
DIFFERENCE FROM FULL SEASON FORM
11.5 worse on offense
4.2 worse on defense
A slump on both sides, but much bigger on offense.
I scanned the boxscores to see if anything jumped out from an individual category. Turnovers made their presence felt.
16-16 vs. Milwaukee
12-9 vs. Miami
16-9 vs. San Antonio
20-14 vs. New Orleans
14-11 vs. Philadelphia
20-9 vs. Memphis
How about that...the article about Memphis forcing turnovers was being written just before they forced a lot of turnovers from the Lakers. Clearly some issues there. The Lakers didn't win the category a single time, and committed 20 twice. Note also this was during a period of slow basketball. Evidence is suggesting the Lakers play cleaner basketball at faster paces, with miscues more prominent when they slow down and play a halfcourt game. Or, maybe the transition to having Andrew Bynum back in the lineup on a full time basis is leading to awkwardness inside.
Have we answered any questions about what's wrong with the Lakers? We've outlined the big picture. It's too early to be confident with specifics. Boston played .500 ball for the last 65% of last season and still won the East. If a team's resting up for important games later, who cares what they're not doing when they're not going full speed? If there is blame to be dished out, it starts on the offensive side of the court, and turnovers deserve further attention. We'll keep an eye on the key numbers as the story develops.
Coming up this week for the Lakers:
Tuesday: vs. Detroit
Wednesday: at Phoenix (back-to-back)
Friday: vs. New Orleans
Sunday: vs. New York
Tempo challenges with Phoenix and New York, and Superleague games with the Hornets and Knicks. A week from tonight we'll have 10 samples to study instead of six.
I'm not ready to accept the "Kobe hit a wall" line of thinking just yet. Let's see what's going on with offensive synergy over these next four games.