Just How Good Are The Lakers?

27 12 2007

Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold here, just trying to help out Mr. Malice here while he is off, with a little bit of Lakers talk.

Andrew Bynum to the hoopESPN.com’s stats guru John Hollinger says they are the best in the deep Western Conference. They just handled a healthy Suns team relatively easily and seem to be improving game to game. The fan base is pumped and suddenly what looked like a rocky season just a few months ago suddenly looks like a deep playoff run.

But just how good are the Lakers?

It’s too early to say for sure, but here’s an educated guess — good, better than many expected, but not the West’s best.

While Lakers fans may talk about Andrew Bynum growing up or Kobe Bryant being Kobe Bryant, what really is fueling the Lakers surge lately is defense. Looking at offensive efficiency (points a team scores per 100 possessions) the Lakers numbers this year to last are close to identical (up .9) this year.

But on defense, the Lakers are giving up 5 fewer points per 100 possessions. You may say that doesn’t sound like much, but how many NBA games are decided by 5 or fewer points? Or look at it this way — the Lakers were 24th in defense in the NBA last year, they are 9th this year.

That’s why, unlike last year, the Lakers will continue to be good all season —defense doesn’t take a night off. It keeps you in games the nights the shots aren’t falling. It makes otherwise close games into laughers.

All that said, other parts of what has fueled the Lakers thus far will not be as big an asset come playoff time. For example, the depth of the Lakers and the squad’s great bench play (the Lakers are fourth in the league in bench scoring) are a huge plus during a long season and on a long road trip, but come the playoffs it matters less. With long breaks between games (especially in the first round) teams are better rested, starters get more minutes and rotations are tightened. Then there is how teams in a seven-game series can focus on taking away a team’s strengths — Andrew Bynum will get far fewer lobs to dunk come the playoffs. The Lakers will need other options to step up.

The advantage for the Lakers, at least right now, is that much of the vaunted West is not so intimidating. Sure, the Spurs are the Spurs. But the Lakers just beat a healthy Phoenix team and are just one game back of them in the Pacific Division. The Lakers have the recipe to keep beating the Suns with the improved play of Bynum pounding the Suns inside. Does Dallas scare anyone right now? Houston and Utah would be out of the playoffs if they started today. The threats just seem smaller.

And in that Western Conference, the Lakers suddenly look like a threat — a team on the rise while others are falling. A team that on the right day may be second in the west to the Spurs.

But big wins on Christmas on national television matter about as much as that Christmas fruitcake you won’t eat come next April and May. And that’s about when we’ll really see just how good this Lakers team is.

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