Why are the Lakers Already Home for the Summer?

The following is from Andres (Dre) Alvarez.

Were you surprised by Dallas beating LA?  For most people — including the Lakers — surprise is the right word.  But Arturo Galletti — the only person between the Wages of Wins Smackdown and Truehoop Smackdown that had Dallas winning this series — was clearly not surprised.  Most people, though, didn’t think Dallas would win.  So what the heck happened?

Series at a Glance

Table 1: 2011 Los Angeles Lakers Round 2 vs. Dallas Mavericks

Player Pos G MP MPG WP48 WP
Andrew Bynum 5.0 4 134 33.5 0.072 0.2
Derek Fisher 1.0 4 123 30.8 0.078 0.2
Lamar Odom 3.8 4 117 29.3 0.082 0.2
Pau Gasol 4.4 4 142 35.5 0.068 0.2
Shannon Brown 2.5 4 68 17.0 0.071 0.1
Matt Barnes 3.1 4 49 12.3 0.000 0.0
Ron Artest 2.9 3 91 30.3 0.000 0.0
Joe Smith 4.0 2 8 4.0 -0.600 -0.1
Kobe Bryant 2.0 4 148 37.0 -0.032 -0.1
Luke Walton 4.0 1 4 4.0 -1.200 -0.1
Trey Johnson 1.0 1 5 5.0 -0.960 -0.1
Steve Blake 1.1 4 69 17.3 -0.139 -0.2
Grand Total 3 39 960 24.6 0.005 0.1

In four games, the Lakers barely managed to eke out 1/10 of a win and not a single player was able to get into the average range (WP48 of 0.100 or higher) The reigning Finals MVP (that would be Kobe) put up negative numbers, the offseason additions of Barnes and Blake fell flat, and the dominant front court of Odom, Gasol and Bynum fizzled. Both by the numbers and any other account the Lakers utterly collapsed. What about their opponents?

Table 2: 2011 Dallas Mavericks Playoffs Round 2 vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Player Pos G MP MPG WP48 WP
Dirk Nowitzki 4.0 4 150 37.5 0.352 1.1
Jason Terry 1.8 4 124 31.0 0.426 1.1
Jose Barea 1.5 4 72 18.0 0.267 0.4
Peja Stojakovic 2.7 4 101 25.3 0.190 0.4
Tyson Chandler 5.0 4 125 31.3 0.154 0.4
Brendan Haywood 5.0 4 62 15.5 0.155 0.2
Jason Kidd 1.0 4 129 32.3 0.074 0.2
Brian Cardinal 3.9 1 5 5.0 0.960 0.1
Shawn Marion 3.3 4 122 30.5 0.039 0.1
Corey Brewer 2.7 3 14 4.7 0.000 0.0
Ian Mahinmi 5.0 1 5 5.0 0.000 0.0
DeShawn Stevenson 2.5 4 52 13 -0.185 -0.2
Grand Total 3 41 960 23.4 0.190 3.8

The Mavericks had an almost perfect second round. Their team average WP48 was 0.190 (an 82 win team would have a WP48 of 0.200). And significant producers were found everywhere.  Dirk Nowitzki played like a star, Jason Terry led the charge off the bench, Barea and Peja lit up the Lakers from the outside, while Chandler and Haywood managed to contain Los Angeles’ powerful front court (while playing pretty well themselves). Yes, Marion and Kidd didn’t have terrific series, but they really didn’t need to given how well everyone else was playing.

Nothing is as it Seems

Calling both Dallas and Los Angeles contenders to end the season would not have been much of a stretch. After all these teams were the 2nd and 3rd seeds in the West,  both had 55+ wins, a former MVP, and even some Finals experience. It is certainly not a surprise to have one of these teams win head to head. What is surprising is to have one team play essentially perfect and other play completely terrible. Let’s take a look back at all the players that played in the playoffs for both teams (I limited this to players with at least 100 minutes in the playoffs). To make life even easier I cut up the season into bite sized portions; before the All-Star Break, after the All-Star Break, the 1st round of the playoffs, the first three games of the 2nd round and the 4th game of the 2nd round.

Table 3: Lakers WP48 2011 Chart

Player Pre AS Post AS Rnd 1 DAL 1-3 DAL 4 Total
Andrew Bynum 0.194 0.471 0.279 0.186 -0.310 0.312
Pau Gasol 0.275 0.253 0.081 0.044 0.141 0.254
Lamar Odom 0.265 0.204 0.092 0.145 -0.267 0.237
Kobe Bryant 0.211 0.176 0.122 0.130 -0.519 0.189
Matt Barnes 0.206 0.154 0.099 -0.267 0.369 0.182
Ron Artest 0.027 0.077 0.220 0.000 -0.171 0.054
Shannon Brown 0.052 -0.051 0.059 -0.104 0.417 0.029
Steve Blake 0.025 0.021 0.232 -0.092 -0.267 0.025
Derek Fisher -0.006 -0.039 0.114 0.098 0.000 -0.002
Total 0.149 0.154 0.145 0.053 -0.140 0.148

At a glance, going into round 2 the Lakers looked like a very strong and consistent team with their main players averaging around 0.150 WP48 (a 62 win team). This is slightly misleading however. At the start of the season Gasol and Odom were playing like Superstars and Kobe and Barnes were playing like Stars. After the All-Star break all of these players saw a decline. However the team numbers stayed the same in large part because Andrew Bynum was playing at an amazing level.

In the first round against the Hornets the Lakers kept up their team level of play. However, Andrew Bynum’s superhuman play had disappeared. Odom and Gasol had ceased being top big men in the league and were playing a little less than average. Kobe was playing a little above average but certainly not at star level. In sum, the terrifying four-headed beast of the Lakers was not playing well at all.

Of course, this was hidden due to the uncharacteristically good play of Artest and Blake. Going into battle against the Mavericks might have seemed troubling to Los Angeles fans (and again, was an issue for Arturo), and that troubled feeling proved to be correct.

The Lakers completely disappeared against the Mavericks. Bynum, Odom and Bryant managed to play above average in the first three games but nowhere near their regular season levels. Blake and Artest, the saviors of round 1 vanished and Gasol’s slump got even worse. In the deciding game 4, Gasol, Barnes and Brown showed up (kind of) but the rest of the team was gone.

Table 4: Mavericks WP48 2011 Chart

Player Pre AS Post AS Rnd 1 LAL 1-3 LAL 4 Total
Tyson Chandler 0.285 0.283 0.207 0.147 0.185 0.280
Jason Kidd 0.244 0.220 0.355 0.047 0.000 0.242
Dirk Nowitzki 0.170 0.194 0.124 0.366 0.450 0.190
Shawn Marion 0.136 0.276 0.176 0.049 0.000 0.181
Peja Stojakovic 0.155 0.088 0.086 -0.068 0.800 0.120
Brendan Haywood 0.038 0.154 0.025 0.107 0.282 0.077
Jason Terry 0.029 0.088 0.137 0.291 0.960 0.071
Jose Barea 0.047 0.099 -0.156 0.213 0.533 0.062
DeShawn Stevenson 0.029 -0.138 -0.080 0.000 -0.533 -0.005
Total 0.136 0.171 0.133 0.140 0.340 0.153

The Maverick’s story makes a little more sense. Going into the All-Star break the Mavericks were a good team with a WP48 of 0.136 (55 win team). After the All-Star Break, though, they played like a 70 win team. Unlike the Lakers there weren’t a lot of red flags here. Dirk came back from injury and played better (and played more minutes). Caron Butler went down with injury and Marion took over his minutes and made the most of them (so Butler’s injury really didn’t matter). Chandler and Kidd kept up their solid play and the Mavericks looked scary going into the playoffs.

In round 1 Dirk and Marion came back down to earth. Chandler played a bit worse but luckily Jason Kidd and Jason Terry stepped up their games (and the Mavericks played stellar ball to close out the Blazers in 6 games).

Against the Lakers is where things get fun. Nowitzki, Terry and Barea played at levels around twice their regular season numbers. Chandler and Kidd dropped even more but with Barea, Terry and Dirk tearing it up it wasn’t a huge hit. In the deciding game, Stojakovic and Terry decided to have amazing games. Barea and Dirk played even better and the Laker’s hope of a threepeat ended with a blowout.

Closing Thoughts

  • Some may come out of this with the claim that Dallas wanted it more and their players turned it on as a result. This may be true (remember four games is a very small sample size). However, if Dirk had powers to up his game to Superstar status, why not do it earlier in the season or even in the first round against Portland? Similarly if Gasol had some weakness against tough situations, why didn’t he crumble the last two years as he led his team to two titles?
  • This was likely a fluke. Barea, Stojakovic and Terry put up insane numbers nowhere close to their regular season averages. It seems unlikely this will happen every game as the playoffs continue or even another game in the playoffs.
  • Kobe is not clutch and he is getting older. In 2008 Kobe played one of the worst game 6s in Finals history (although not as bad as Jason Terry’s in 2006). At the end of the Laker’s playoffs this season, Kobe was the worst player in the game. Kobe is a very good player but it is a myth to assume he has some killer instinct that makes him win more often than other players. I am curious if this game will help people remember that or if it will be conveniently forgotten.

With the dust settled the Lakers had some bad luck and a good team destroyed their finals hopes. It’s hard to feel too sorry for a team coming off two titles. Similarly I want to feel happy and optimistic for Dallas, but a similar story may be awaiting them.

-Dre

P.S. The Wages of Wins Network is doing a wrap up of every playoff series this season following Arturo’s 30-16-1 from last season. While some may be timelier than others (Orlando and Atlanta is still on the queue) you can read the ones we have completed here:

Additionally Arturo has been keeping track of advanced metrics for each game. You can find those on his site. I won’t list them all, but here is the one the day the Lakers fell

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