Andrew Bynum is apparently off to a great start in L.A. After five games, Bynum is averaging 20.0 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. This is important because the Lakers chances to repeat as champions depend a great deal on the play of Bynum.
To see this point, let’s look back on last season. The Lakers won the NBA title in 2009, giving the world the impression that the Lakers were the best NBA team in 2008-09. Although it’s true the Lakers should have been favored to defeat each team they faced in the 2009 playoffs, some good fortune allowed the Lakers to miss both the Celtics and Cavaliers in the playoffs. Boston – because of Kevin Garnett’s injury – was defeated by the Orlando Magic. And Orlando also upset the Cleveland Cavaliers. As a consequence, the Lakers road to the title was made easier.
One would suspect that such good fortune wouldn’t be repeated in 2010. For the Lakers to expect to repeat, they should have to field an even better team in 2009-10. Unfortunately, the only significant move the Lakers made was essentially swapping Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest. And as noted before, this move probably didn’t make the Lakers any better.
Despite a failure to significantly alter their roster, many people still felt the Lakers were clearly the best team in the West and a good bet to repeat. This position was based on the play of both Bynum and Jordan Farmar (the team’s back-up point guard). The Lakers won a title in 2009 with both of these players offering substantially less than what they offered in 2007-08. If Bynum and Farmar could return to what we saw two years ago, then the Lakers would improve enough to contend with any team in the West; as well as the Cavaliers, Celtics, and Magic.
Just to review, here is what Bynum and Farmer did two years ago:
Andrew Bynum [2007-08]: 0.358 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]
Jordan Farmar [2007-08]: 0.111 WP48
And here is what each player did last year:
Andrew Bynum [2008-09]: 0.158 WP48 in 1,446 minutes
Jordan Farmar [2008-09]: -0.035 WP48 in 1,192 minutes
Had each player maintained what he did in 2007-08, the Lakers – even without these two players logging any more time on the court – could have challenged the Chicago Bulls record of 72 regular season wins in 1995-96. So if these two players could return to form, then the Lakers in 2009-10 would be a very good team indeed.
Seven games have now been played in 2009-10 and the Lakers are now 6-1. The Lakers efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency), though, is only 5.4. To put that in perspective, last year the team’s differential was 7.8. So the Lakers – despite their record – haven’t looked as good as last year. In fact, their current mark is consistent with a team that will win about 55 games. Yes, this would be wonderful for the LA Clippers. But for the Lakers, 55 wins would be a great disappointment.
What about Bynum and Farmar? Well, both have improved. But despite the numbers reported at the start of this column, neither is back to what he was in 2007-08. After seven games here is what each player has done:
Andrew Bynum after seven games (okay five games) in 2009-10: 0.181 WP48 in 200 minutes
Jordan Farmar after seven games in 2009-10: 0.063 WP48 in 199 minutes
What of the other players on the Lakers?
Here is what these players did last year:
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]
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]
And here is what everyone is doing this year:
PG: Derek Fisher [199 Minutes, -0.024 WP48]
SG: Kobe Bryant [275 Minutes, 0.225 WP48]
SF: Ron Artest [260 Minutes, 0.123 WP48]
PF: Pau Gasol [injured]
C: Andrew Bynum [200 Minutes, 0.181 WP48]
PG: Jordan Farmar [199 Minutes, 0.063 WP48]
SG: Sasha Vujacic [55 Minutes, 0.048 WP48]
SF: Luke Walton [80 Minutes, 0.229 WP48]
PF: Lamar Odom [261 Minutes, 0.160 WP48]
C: D.J. Mbenga [82 Minutes, 0.183 WP48]
When we look over this roster we see that Kobe is still Kobe. And Odom is still above average. When Gasol finally returns, this will be a very good team. But without Bynum returning to what we saw in 2007-08, I still don’t see how this team is much better than what we saw last year. And I don’t think what we saw last year is going to be good enough to win the title in 2010.
Let me close by noting that the analysis of 2009-10 is obviously based on a very small sample size. Bynum could change his overall performance with one great game (or decline quite a bit with one really bad performance). So we shouldn’t behave like Jeff Bower – GM of the Hornets – and reach any strong conclusions from such a small sample. All that’s being said at this point is that if people were hoping to see the Andrew Bynum from 2007-08, that Bynum hasn’t appeared yet (and of course, Bynum has already missed two games because of injury — which is a completely different story).
The WoW Journal Comments Policy
Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:
Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.