The Los Angeles Lakers are the laughingstock of the NBA. Before the season started, ESPN's panel of experts viewed L.A. as the only team that had a chance to prevent the Miami Heat from winning its second straight title. But now—after a coaching change, a litany of injuries, infighting and months of poor play—this franchise looks more likely to be drafting in the lottery than winning a playoff series.
How did we get to this point? How can a team with so much talent be so bad?
There are many reasons, but we may be able to find some answers by looking at which lineups have been successful and which have floundered.
(This analysis only includes lineups that have played at least 25 minutes together this year.)
The most glaring piece of data in this list of the team's best-performing lineups is just how well the Lakers have performed when they play their highest-profile lineup (Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard).
When this team was assembled, that was the team everyone thought could win the title. But we have not seen this lineup as much as expected.
Injuries, of course, are a main reason. Early in the year, this lineup didn't get many minutes because Nash was hurt. Gasol, too, has been limited throughout the year.
The largest reason, however, is that Mike D'Antoni doesn't like this combination. His system, in his view, won't work properly when both Gasol and Howard are on the floor together. Thus, before Gasol went down to injury, D'Antoni was often bringing him off the bench and limiting the time that the two big fellas spent on the court at the same time.
Nobody knows his system better than D'Antoni does, but the numbers suggest that the twin towers lineup, along with Nash, Bryant and World Peace, has been successful. Those five players, in 173 minutes together this season, have outscored the opposition by 5.9 points per 100 possessions.
When Steve Blake has replaced Nash in that lineup, they have performed even better, blistering opponents by 14.6 points per 100 possessions.
The argument for the twin towers is just as strong if you look at the performance of D'Antoni's preferred lineup: Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Earl Clark and Howard. That five-man combination, in 203 minutes, have been outscored by 3.1 points per 100 possessions.
The low minutes totals mean that there could be some noise in this data, but no matter how you slice it, the performance of these two units adds a lot of ammunition for those who think D'Antoni is mis-utilizing this roster.
Rather than use his best personnel, he has stuck with his style.
If we look at which Lakers lineups are scoring the best, we again see that D'Antoni's preferred lineup (Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Clark, Howard) is underperforming. On a team that averages 104.9 points per 100 possessions, this unit can only muster 100.4 per 100.
Meanwhile, the lineup that most coaches would lean on (Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol, Howard) drops 111.3 points per 100 while playing at a slower pace.
An insistence on pushing the pace may be another factor hurting this team's output.
Overall, five of the team's six slowest lineups score at least 109 points per 100 possessions. By contrast, none of the team's three highest-paced lineups score even 98 points per 100.
The say speed kills. The axiom seems to hold true for the Lakers' offense.
Then again, if they are going to push the pace, D'Antoni is certainly correct about one thing: the Lakers don't play well when Gasol and Howard play next to each other as the team tries to run. The two lineups in which they appear that have a pace of more than 99 possessions per 48 minutes both struggle to score. Neither have managed to put up even one point per possession.
The defensive numbers show where the team really struggles. Neither of its two most prominent lineups (the four regulars with either Gasol or Clark at power forward) can stop anyone.
The Clark lineup actually is better (giving up 103.4 points per 100) than the Gasol unit (105.3 per 100), but both are below league average. There is one major problem with the Clark lineup, however: rebounding.
It has allowed the opposition to grab offensive rebounds on 31.5 percent of their misses, which is significantly worse than the league average rate (of 26.8 percent).
Some of this debate is moot.
Pau Gasol is still on crutches and will be out for another four to six weeks with torn plantar fascia in his foot, according to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times.
The team no longer has the option to pair Gasol and Howard.
Going forward, the lineup of Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Clark and Howard is likely to log heavy minutes. So far this season, this group has been outplayed by its opponents.
Given that this lineup has played on 203 minutes—plus the fact that Howard's health is improving—Lakers fans have some reason to be hopeful.
But unless the numbers change drastically over the next month don't expect to see this team make the playoffs. If D'Antoni's favorite lineup doesn't start getting it done soon, Los Angeles might be the first preseason title favorite in a long time to go fishing before the postseason even begins.
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