5. January 2011 01:02
As we continue pondering the possibilities of the recent slide experienced by the Los Angeles Lakers, it's important to remember the strength of schedule issues we discussed awhile back.
The Lakers have played a very easy schedule thus far. That came up in our Superleague article last week. I've seen it mentioned a few times by various basketball writers in recent weeks. If you look at Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings at USA Today, you see that the Lakers ranked 29th out of 30 teams heading into Tuesday Night's home game with Detroit (which certainly won't give them much of a boost!). Sagarin also has a listing of records in games vs. top 10 or top 16 opponents within his own rankings. The Lakers have played a lot fewer challenge games than most other league teams.
This is important if you're going to make comparisons from "this year" to "last year." This year was only 34 games old heading into that late Tuesday tip. Thirty-four games vs. a weak schedule. Last year was 82 games vs. a West-heavy schedule in a year where 50-32 (.610) was the record of the 8th seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.
In other words, the Lakers full season slate was very difficult last year, one of the toughest in the NBA. This year's challenges are still ahead. The best way to express this is to look at the number of games vs. quality opponents. I'll use a win percentage of .606 from both seasons so we can have roughly the same percentage of the league in the potential sample of opponents (11 teams besides the Lakers were at .606 or better last year, and heading into Tuesday night's action this year).
GAMES VS. .606 OR BETTER
Last Year: 35 of 82 (43%)
This Year: 6 of 34 (18%)
So, if you're comparing stats from this year to last year...you must make a mental adjustment for strength of schedule. If the Lakers numbers in the categories you deem most important are the same, then they've gotten WORSE. If the Lakers' number are a little better, they're still probably worse. If the Lakers are worse this year than last year, that's potentially BIG trouble because only six of 34 games have been against top notch teams.
Efficiency numbers provide a good example of the dangers...
Last Year: 105.9 on offense, 101.1 on defense
This Year: 107.6 on offense, 102.0 on defense
The Lakers were +4.8 last year, but are +5.6 this year. They've gotten better! Wrong!! They've played a much easier schedule this year. That's creating illusions you have to account for.
To set up an "apples to apples" comparison, I went back and calculated average efficiency numbers on offense and defense from last year's Lakers' games.
Versus .605 or lower:
Last Year: 107.0 on offense, 99.0 on defense
This Year: 106.5 on offense, 97.7 on defense
The Lakers are actually fractionally better this year (heading into the Detroit game) with a +8.8 edge compared to +8.0 last season. Versus manageable opposition, they've basically been the same team. No news to report here.
Versus .606 or higher:
Last Year: 103.7 on offense, 103.0 on defense
This Year: 97.6 on offense, 104.8 on defense
Here's the news. A collapse vs. quality.
Are the Lakers better in efficiency this year than last? Only if you don't adjust for the vast differences in their schedule! Once you make that mandatory adjustment, the Lakers have gotten worse. They're fractionally better in the hunk of games vs. manageable teams, but A LOT worse vs. quality. The fact that only 18% of their schedule has come against quality has helped hide that.
The good news for Lakers fans is that we're dealing with a small sample size, and anything can happen in a small sample size. The possibly legitimate concerns about the Lakers are based on a 6-game sample vs. teams at .606 or better in winning percentage, and that recent 6-game hunk where they seemed to fall off the map for awhile (bookended by bad home losses vs. Milwaukee and Memphis). As was mentioned last time, we're going to need a lot more data points to draw any serious conclusions about Kobe hitting a wall, the team as a whole pacing themselves so they're fresh for the playoffs (as aging Boston did last year), or possible transitional headaches trying to get Andrew Bynum back into the flow on both sides of the court.
The key to remember today, be sure you're adjusting for strength of schedule when you're comparing this year to last year.
*We mentioned when this series of articles started several days ago that San Antonio had stopped running like crazy vs. the whole league, and was pretty much only running vs. other fast-paced teams. Their visit to New York Tuesday night turned into a track meet. A track meet they weren't ready for defensively! The Spurs lost 128-115, allowing a stunning 66% on two-point shots. San Antonio had allowed only 47% on two-pointers for the season entering the game.
Amare Stoudemire: 11 of 17 on deuces
Wilson Chandler: 10 of 13 on deuces
Raymond Felton: 8 of 12 on deuces
Landry Fields: 5 of 8 on deuces
That might discourage additional road track meets for Gregg Popovich and company.
*Miami is back to coasting through first halves and stampeding in second halves. That was their modus operandi right when things started clicking. There was a brief hiatus during a fatigue stretch in the schedule. Now, over the last four games:
Houston 62, Miami 59
Golden State 72, Miami 58
Miami 47, Charlotte 43
Milwaukee 51, Miami 47
That pro-rates to a 114-105.5 loss over 48 minutes.
Miami 66, Houston 57
Miami 56, Golden State 35
Miami 49, Charlotte 39
Miami 54, Milwaukee 38
Big difference. The equivalent of 112.5 to 84.5 over 48 minutes.
Miami's won 19 of 20, and is toying with many opponents for a half before going for the jugular.
Back with more notes after a busy 11-game Wednesday night schedule...