It seemed just yesterday when we were talking about the offseason free agency. The seven-years-funk that the Los Angeles Lakers have went through seemed to have flown by in a flash. After multiple years of Playoffs drought, lottery picks that underwhelmed and a slew of injuries, the historic basketball titan is finally turning a corner.
The unceremonious exit and break-up between the then President of Basketball Operations, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, and the Lakers seemed to have dumped the Lakers into yet another situation that is not salvageable. The subsequent dismissal of the coaching blue-eyed boy, Luke Walton, threw further uncertainty into the pot. The undervalued signing of DeMarcus Cousins was also marred by his Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury.
As the fans, pundits and sports analysts began going bonkers amidst what seemed to be brewing towards a perfect storm, General Manager Rob Pelinka and his infamous council of Jeanie Buss, Linda and Kurt Rambis did much work under the radar to try to make things right again.
Through all the turmoil and adversity that showered the organization, the Lakers made the blockbuster trade that sent the whole young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for the superstar, Anthony ‘the Brow’ Davis.
Despite gnawing public concerns that the Lakers overspent on the salaries of their superstars and could not afford quality bench players, the Lakers went on to sign a mini platoon of veterans who bring a combined resume of ten Championships between them.
While it seemed like the Lakers missed a major key move when they did not sign Kawhi Leonard and later missed signing LeBron’s trusted aide, Tyronne Lue, as the new head coach, the Lakers surprised everyone by building a strong veteran coaching staff, comprising Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, Phil Handy, Miles Simon, Mike Penberthy and Quinton Crawford, led by former top defensive coach, Frank Vogel.
The fruits of the Lakers’ front office’s labor are showing steadily now. In fact, the signs are pointing to the Lakers riding this uptrend wave into a potentially deep Championship run. Below, we breakdown 10 statistical reasons how the Lakers are primed for a Championship this season.
1. Meteoric Rise in Defensive Ranking
10 years ago, the Kobe-led Lakers ranked third on the defensive chart. Since then, the Lakers have plummeted over the years and sat at 30th (last place) during the 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 seasons.
The last three seasons saw significant improvement in the defense department and the Lakers managed to leapfrog half the league to rank 13th during the 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 seasons.
This season, the Lakers have accomplished the impressive full recovery from the bottom of the table to sit atop the whole NBA in the Defensive Ranking with a rating of 96.5.
2. Lowest Opponent Scoring
Opponents have only scored 97.9 points per 100 possessions against the Los Angeles Lakers. This is highly impressive because it is approximately 10 points lower than the league average of 106.4 in this era of high scoring games.
3. Best Half-Court Defense
The Lakers boast the league’s best half-court defense. They are able to force the third most turnovers and incur the third worst effective field goal percentage.
4. Experienced Pedigree in Defense
Five players on this season’s roster were on former All-Defensive Teams. LeBron James, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo were all smart veteran defenders who can sure anchor the defensive fort for the Lakers and teach the younger players.
5. Top in Blocks Per Game
The Lakers have swatted a league best 8.0 blocks per game this season, thus far. That is crucial in key moments of games when every shot blocked can tilt the victory in the Lakers’ favor.
6. Second in Opponent Field Goals Made
The Lakers flew under the radar by holding opponents to a league second best 35.1 field goals made. This is a strong showcase of their combined powers of perimeter defenders and interior defenders.
7. Third in Opponent Field Goal Percentage
The combined effect of the Lakers pedigree in perimeter defense and interior defense meant that it is more challenging for opponents to score against them. This defensive prowess caused a low overall field goal percentage of 40.9% for all of Lakers’ opponents.
With Danny Green, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley leading the charge, the young guns of Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook and Kyle Kuzma are fast picking up the traits for being excellent perimeter defenders too.
8. Third in Opponent Three-Pointer Percentage
In this new era of high octane offense, three-pointers are a staple of the offense. By holding opponents’ three-pointer percentage to a low 30%, the Lakers give themselves a better chance to win every night.
Another impact of this is that it forces opponents to run their offenses to the restricted area more often and allow the Lakers big men to clamp down on any further lay-up or dunk attempts.
9. Sixth in Total Steals Per Game
The adept perimeter defenders in the Lakers roster provide good early interceptions, deflections and harassment on opponent players handling the ball. This has led to an elite 8.6 steals per game which places the Lakers within the top six of the best defensive teams in the NBA.
Stealing the ball gives rise to fast breaks, transition points and regaining of possessions, especially during clutch moments.
10. Tenth in Defensive Rebounds
The Lakers grabbed 36.6 defensive rebounds per game and are top ten for this endeavor. The more defensive rebounds a team secures, the more stoppages the team can create, the less second-chance points the team will allow and the faster the team can launch a counter-attack.
The trio of big men, namely, Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee and Anthony Davis, ensures that the Lakers have stable and high security when it comes to the rebounding department.
Bonus Statistic – Open Communication
One underrated aspect of a Championship team is the excellent communication that permeates the team. On the very first day when the full roster got assembled, a Whatsapp group chat has been set up that connects every single player.
According to multiple player interviews, the group chat is for real. Jokes, discussions and conversations are open and direct within the group texting. Starting with the biggest stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, everyone seems to be comfortable talking to anyone about things on their minds.
On the court, players were quoted as loud, candid and competitive during practices. It is an open secret that JaVale, Dwight, Danny, LeBron, Anthony, Quinn and Avery have all voiced their willingness to do whatever the team needs to win.
Coach Frank Vogel is known as a players’ coach. He leads the coaching staff in reaching out to his players and listens to all feedback to help his team gel and succeed. His famous open-door policy and personal touch is already winning favors with Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard and Danny Green. This amiable coach-player relationship is sure to build a strong bond within this quality team. It is as much a pillar of support as it is an evidence of strong buy-in for a winning culture.
In conclusion, these ten statistical evidence show that the Los Angeles Lakers have an unfair advantage thus far in terms of winning games.
Like the old adages say, “offense wins games, defense wins championships” and “talent wins games, work ethic wins championships”, this current new roster definitely have what it takes to give their best shot at making a deep run in the Playoffs this season.
As long as the roster stays healthy and the synergy continues to improve, this Lakers team looks promising in delivering another Larry O’ Brien trophy in June 2020.