Should We Expect the Lakers to Repeat?

The LA Lakers won the 2009 NBA title and many consider this team to be a strong candidate to repeat.  My review of Cleveland, though, suggested that LeBron and the Cavaliers should be the favorites in 2010.  The choice of Cleveland was motivated by the following observations:

a. Cleveland was the best team in the regular season last season and the 5th best team since 1973-74, and

b. The moves Cleveland made this summer should make the Cavaliers even better.

To these two reasons I would add,

c. the Lakers were only the third best team in the NBA during the 2008-09 regular season, and

d. the Lakers may have taken a small step backwards.

Reviewing the Lakers

Last season the Lakers scored 109.4 points per possession while surrendering 101.5.  Given these numbers, the team’s efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) was 7.8.  Such a mark ranked behind both Cleveland and Boston.  The Celtics chances to repeat, though, were significantly reduced when Kevin Garnett was injured.  And Cleveland was upset by the Orlando Magic.  Consequently, the Lakers got to face Orlando in the 2009 NBA Finals.  In sum, although the Lakers won the title last year – and I picked them to do this both before the season started and before the NBA Finals — there is reason to think the Lakers were not the best team in the NBA in 2008-09.

That being said, LA was very good last year.  And Table One reveals the players most responsible for that outcome.

Table One: The LA Lakers in 2008-09

The Lakers won 65 games last season, but the team’s efficiency differential – and consequently Wins Produced – suggests this team should have won about 61 games.  And 54 of these wins can be traced to just five players: Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, and Andrew Bynum.  The Wins Produced of the remaining eleven players on this roster was only 7.1; and of these remaining players only Shannon Brown – who played just 136 minutes for the Lakers – was above average (average WP48 – or Wins Produced per 48 minutes – is 0.100).

Looking Ahead

This past summer the Lakers added Ron Artest in the free agent market and allowed Trevor Ariza to depart.  Consequently, the Lakers depth chart is now as follows:

Potential First String

PG: Derek Fisher [2.6Wins Produced, 0.051 WP48]

SG: Kobe Bryant [15.0 Wins Produced, 0.244 WP48]

SF: Ron Artest [4.6 Wins Produced, 0.089 WP48]

PF: Pau Gasol [15.6 Wins Produced, 0.250 WP48]

C: Andrew Bynum [4.8 Wins Produced, 0.158 WP48]

Potential Second String

PG: Jordan Farmar [-0.9 Wins Produced, -0.035 WP48]

SG: Sasha Vujacic [2.7 Wins Produced, 0.099 WP48]

SF: Luke Walton [2.2 Wins Produced, 0.091 WP48]

PF: Lamar Odom [10.6 Wins Produced, 0.220 WP48]

C: D.J. Mbenga [-1.5 Wins Produced, -0.084 WP48 for career]

In addition to these ten players, the Lakers also have the following:

SG: Shannon Brown [0.6 Wins Produced, 0.060 WP48; for the entire season]

SF: Adam Morrison [-1.6 Wins Produced, -0.106 WP48, for the entire season]

PF: Josh Powell [-0.6 Wins Produced, -0.040 WP48]

As noted last July, Artest has simply never been as productive as Ariza.  And that leads one to the following observations:

a. The Lakers were not the top team in the NBA last season.

b. If everyone the Lakers employ in 2009-10 does what he did in 2008-09, then the Lakers will be somewhat worse.

c. The other top teams in the NBA – and this is especially true of the Cavaliers – appear to have gotten better.

d. Therefore, the Lakers shouldn’t be the favorite to repeat in 2010.

What About Bynum?

All that being said… there is one giant wild card; and that card is Andrew Bynum. Here is what Bynum has done in his career:

2005-06: 46 games played, 340 minutes, -0.086 WP48

2006-07: 82 games played, 1,793 minutes, 0.115 WP48

2007-08: 35 games played, 1,008 minutes, 0.358 WP48

2008-09: 50 games played, 1,446 minutes, 0.158 WP48

Career: 213 games played, 4,587 minutes, 0.167 WP48

If we focus on 2008-09 and 2006-07 we would conclude that Bynum is a good, but not great, center.  But for 1,008 minutes in 2007-08, Bynum was one of the best players in the game.  What if that Bynum were to return?

If that happens, then the Lakers close the gap with Cleveland and another title is very possible.  But there’s no guarantee that the Bynum seen briefly in 2007-08 is coming back.  Certainly the news that he is limiting his work with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not a good sign.  

Mathletics, Kobe, and Odom

Let me close with a brief comment on Mathletics, the new book by Wayne Winston.  When I am finished reviewing every NBA team from last year (and I still have about half of these reviews to write), I will post a longer comment on Wayne’s book.  For now I would like to offer two thoughts:

a. Everyone interested in sports and statistics should go get a copy.  This book offers a large number of interesting stories on baseball, football, and basketball.  I don’t agree with everything that’s said, but it’s all very interested and well worth reading.

b. In addition to the book, Wayne has also set up a blog (waynewinston.com).  This blog provides additional analysis in the spirit of his book.  I did want to comment briefly on something Wayne said this past weekend:

I believe that David Berri and his colleagues (see http://dberri.wordpress.com/) have found the best set of linear weights based on box scores stats. By any box score based metric, Kobe was much better than Odom last season.

Wayne is the creator of the adjusted plus-minus approach and I suspect his calculation of this measure is superior to the imitators.  That being said, he is not entirely correct with respect to what the box score says about Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom.  If one looks at NBA Efficiency and Player Efficiency Ratings — two approaches Wayne and I are both very critical of — then he is correct; Kobe looks much better than Odom.  But if we focus on Wins Produced, Kobe is only slightly better than Odom this year; and Odom was more productive than Kobe in 2007-08.

Again, I will offer more on Mathletics when these team reviews are finished. In the meantime, go pick up a copy.  Certainly if everyone has a copy the discussion of this book in the future in this forum will be well-informed.

- DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

Comments are closed.