Why Losing Matt Barnes Hurts the Lakers

Full disclosure. I’m not a Lakers fan. Which is why it’s not a surprise there will be negative posts two days in a row. (Alright, I didn’t write yesterday’s post. I did change the title to include Kobe) Let’s start with the good news.

The Lakers made some good trades

In the offseason the Lakers replaced Ramon Sessions with Steve Nash and replaced Andrew Bynum with Dwight Howard. It turns out that both Sessions and Bynum were, in fact, top players for the Lakers. The good news is that Nash and Howard are better. Here’s a quick breakdown. The estimates are based on last years numbers. In an 82 game season, if Sessions played the same minutes that Fisher and Sessions played last season, he’d net 8.2 wins. With the same minutes Nash would earn 12.0 wins.
The Lakers earn ~4 wins.

In an 82 game season, if Bynum played the same minutes as last season he’d earn 11.3 wins. In the same minutes Howard would earn 13.3 wins.
The Lakers earn ~2 wins

Alright so the Lakers, who won 50 games (adjusted for 82 games) last season have pushed themselves over 55 games. So they’re contenders again! Except losing Barnes is going to hurt, a lot. In fact, I’d argue had the Lakers amnestied Kobe, kept Barnes, signed Meeks and not signed Jamison, they’d actually be in great shape. However, as Barnes walked, they are not. Let’s show why. And for fun I’ll be using one of my favorite players: Kobe Bryant.

Barnes and Kobe

Matt Barnes was really good with the Lakers. In fact, despite significantly fewer minutes than Kobe, he put up much better stats. Treating both Kobe and Barnes as Guard-Forwards, here’s a comparison of how many wins above average they got per category.

Stat Matt Barnes Kobe Bryant
Free Throws -0.1 3.6
Turnovers 0.1 -2.9
Two Pointers 1.2 -1.7
Assists 0.5 -0.9
Fouls -0.5 0.9
Three Pointers -0.3 -1.3
Defensive Rebounds 1.8 0.8
Blocks 0.6 -0.2
Steals 0.4 -0.1

Kobe is good at exactly three things: getting to the line, not fouling and pulling down defensive boards. While useful skills, it turns out Kobe’s chucking habits and turnovers pull him down into the “bad range”. Matt Barnes puts up more than 4 wins than an average player would with his minutes. Kobe costs his team 2 wins compared to an average player with the same minutes. Let’s not forget that the Lakers signed Jodie Meeks, who happens to play the same position as Kobe.


Alright, Kobe has two feathers in his cap. I’ll get to the second one shortly but let’s talk defense. Kobe has been making All-Defense teams for years. It turns out his Wins Produced from defensive stats (Defensive Rebounds, Blocks, Steals, Personal Fouls) he is actually alright at +1.4 wins over an average guard forward. Guess what? With 33% fewer minutes Barnes was able to put +1.3 wins over an average guard-forward.

What about stats “not captured” by the boxscore? The Lakers on the whole actually had poor team defense last season (defensive stats not attributed to an individual player. These are opponent shooting and turnovers not given to individual players) So, I question if either Kobe or Matt Barnes are that good at defense. If we use Synergy, which captures play by play statistics, there’s a funnier tale. According to Synergy both Kobe and Matt Barnes have the same PPP (or points given up on defensive possesions they are credited with.) of 0.83. Synergy ranks by this so they are tied as 166th in the league. Not so fast though! Kobe is credited with 729 defensive plays. Matt Barnes is at 593. As I’ve mentioned before, Kobe gets many more minutes than Barnes. So here’s another fun way of looking at it.

Player Defensive Plays % Team Defensive Plays Minutes % Team Minutes
Matt Barnes 593 11% 1440 9%
Kobe Bryant 729 13% 2232 14%

It’s arguable that Kobe is shirking on defense a little. Based on his minutes he takes fewer defensive possesions than we’d expect. Barnes on the other hand takes more defensive plays than we’d expect from his minutes. The usage argument so common to defend Kobe on offense actually works in reverse when we use it on defense!

Summing Up

Based on the stats available, Matt Barnes is a superior player. The arguments for Kobe may be that he takes a lot of shots. On a team with Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, are we expected to believe no one else can take the shot? We’re told Kobe’s defense is good. Except, why is that? I suspect much like Kobe’s clutch status, his defensive prowess may be more reputation than fact (at least for last season). Based on the box score and the Synergy stats, it’s hard to argue Kobe was that amazing at defense. At the very least, it’s hard to believe he’s better than Matt Barnes. The Lakers have some bona fide stars — albeit with concerns on health and age. However, beyond the top of their roster, the Lakers are lacking. Additionally, replacing Matt Barnes with Antawn Jamison will certainly hurt. As long as the Lakers keep believing Kobe is a major player, they’ll be in trouble. Of course, they can believe he’ll rebound and play like the Kobe of old. I’d much rather have bet on a cheap Matt Barnes though.


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