A Statistical Look at the Lakers, Going Beyond Traditional Numbers

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    Kobe and the Lakers will try to increase that team field goal percentage number tonight against the Rockets.

    In today's L.A. Times, it's pointed out that the Lakers might be undefeated, but (uh-oh!) they're not shooting the ball particularly well. And on the surface, that might be true. As a team, the Lakers are shooting just 43.5% from the field, good enough to be ranked merely 21st in a league of 30 teams. But most observers see this Lakers' team as playing extremely solid team basketball through their first four games, so where's the disconnect? There are other statistical categories besides the basics which give us a clearer look at what's going on.

    While the Lakers' team field goal percentage is low, they lead the league in points scored per game, averaging over 105 per contest. So is their shooting really just 21st in the league? Not if you account for three-pointers and free throws, which a metric known as True Shooting Percentage (TS) includes in the equation. And as you might expect, when you look at all types of shots taken (not just combined field goals), the Lakers' number improves quite a bit. Their TS% is actually 53.9, good enough for 11th in the league.

    There are other more intense statistics that give a clearer picture of where a team might rank, on both ends of the court. Team efficiency numbers level the playing field across the league, breaking down each club's offensive and defensive numbers per 100 possessions. What this does is adjust each team's statistics for pace, making it easier to compare run and gun teams against those that prefer to play at a slower tempo. The Lakers rank ninth in the league in offensive efficiency, and defensively, they're as good as it gets: L.A. is number one in the league, allowing just 86.2 points per game per 100 possessions. That's over four points per game better than the second place Celtics.

    Statistics don't tell the whole story; it doesn't take a genius to see that the Lakers are playing well right now, especially defensively. But if you're trying to find some cracks in the dam, you need to look a little bit beyond the basic numbers to get a true idea of a team's particular weaknesses. And there just aren't that many to be found right now with the Lakers.

    TONIGHT'S GAME

    The Houston Rockets come to town with a record of 4-2, but they've struggled recently. After beginning the season 3-0, they dropped consecutive games before beating the Clippers the other night at Staples Center. The team's offseason addition of Ron Artest should make things interesting. With Artest around to guard Kobe Bryant and Yao Ming defending the middle, Houston appears to match up well defensively. But the Lakers are no slouches on defense themselves, and Tracy McGrady doesn't appear to be right, having scored just two points in 26 minutes against the Clippers. The Lakers come into this one well-rested, as it's just their second game in the last eight days. But last season, the Lakers did drop two out of three meetings to the Rockets, so this should be a good early season test for them.