Buying or Selling LA Lakers' Most Surprising Stats After NBA's 1st Month

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIDecember 4, 2013

Buying or Selling LA Lakers' Most Surprising Stats After NBA's 1st Month

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers have surprised the NBA community by staying competitive despite injuries to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.

    In addition to an unanticipated 9-9 start, the Lakers have posted some unexpected stats through the first month of the season. The question is whether to buy those surprising numbers moving forward or sell them as an unsustainable anomaly.

    While the Lakers rank 28th in the league by allowing 102.9 points per game, their unselfish play on offense has allowed them to accumulate a .500 record despite defensive shortcomings.

    We still don’t know whether or not these Lakers are playoff-bound because Bryant—the team’s best player—has yet to play a single minute.

    With that said, the Lakers continue to exceed expectations without star power.

    After one month of the 2013-14 season, it’s time to play buy or sell with the Laker’s most surprising statistics.

     

    Note: All stats in this article are accurate as of Dec. 4, 2013 (prior to games played).

6. Jodie Meeks' Hot Hand

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    Following a year in which Jodie Meeks shot just 38.7 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three-point range—both the lowest since his rookie year with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2009-10—the 26-year-old shooting guard has been red-hot.

    Through 18 games this season (12 starts), Meeks is shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 44.8 percent from long range. He’s knocking down the three-ball with regularity and finishing at the rim better than he ever has before.

    The former Kentucky Wildcat has stepped up big in the absence of Kobe Bryant, but are his impressive numbers sustainable?

    For his career, Meeks is shooting 41.2 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from deep. He’s shattering those numbers in the early going this year by posting percentages that would equal career highs if sustained throughout the 2013-14 season.

    Sooner or later, Meeks is going to come back down to Earth.

    In fact, the Lakers’ shooting guard has already experienced a slight statistical dip. After draining 49.2 percent of his outside shots through Nov. 21, Meeks has made 9-of-26 three-point attempts in six games since (34.6 percent).

    He’s still shooting 44.8 percent from deep overall, but there have been signs that his hot hand is starting to cool off, at least to a degree.

    Considering that Meeks will lose playing time once Bryant returns from injury, it will be difficult for him to sustain this rhythm long-term.

     

    Verdict: Sell

5. Unselfish Play

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    Through the first month of the 2013-14 season, the Los Angeles Lakers rank fourth in the NBA by dishing out 24.1 assists per game. Only the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat average more assists per contest than the Lakers at this juncture.

    Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo offensive system has allowed numerous role players to thrive, as it did for the Phoenix Suns from 2003 to 2008.

    Steve Blake has led the way in terms of passing by dishing out a career-high 7.7 assists per game in the early going. Pau Gasol continues to show that he’s one of the best passing big men in the game, averaging 3.1 assists per contest.

    Unfortunately, Steve Nash (4.8 assists per game) and Jordan Farmar (4.4 assists per game) are sidelined with injuries for the foreseeable future. Farmar has done a tremendous job running the Lakers’ impressive second unit. Now someone new will have to step up in his absence.

    The biggest question, however, is whether or not the Lakers’ unselfish play will continue once Kobe Bryant returns to the court.

    The Black Mamba tied a career high by averaging six assists per game last season, but he’s always been more of a scorer than a passer.

    With that said, Bryant may lean on teammates more now that he’ll be returning from a serious injury. If the future Hall of Famer has to alter his game at all, distributing more is a likely scenario.

    In any case, D’Antoni’s system will continue to lend itself to great ball movement. That’s especially true if the Lakers’ hot shooting from downtown continues.

     

    Verdict: Buy

4. Three-Point Shooting

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    The Lakers’ surprisingly efficient offense has relied heavily on the three-ball early in 2013-14.

    Not only are the Lakers launching the second-most threes of any NBA team (25.9 attempts per game), but they’re also draining 40.9 percent of those attempts, good for fifth in the league.

    Xavier Henry is shooting 45.2 percent from long range. Jodie Meeks is shooting 44.8 percent. Wesley Johnson is shooting 44.1 percent. Steve Blake is shooting 42.9 percent.

    That lengthy list fails to mention Jordan Farmar (39.3 percent) and Nick Young (36.4 percent), who have also held their own from distance.

    Just about every perimeter player on the Lakers roster has made an impact in the three-point shooting category.

    Again, credit D’Antoni’s offensive system, but the scorching-hot shooting from distance likely will not last.

    Henry’s career average from beyond the arc is 35.5 percent. He’s shooting nearly 10 percentage points better than that right now.

    Meeks’ career average is 37.3. He’s been way better than that so far, but as noted in an earlier slide, he’s already starting to come back down to earth.

    Johnson, meanwhile, shot just 32.3 percent from three last season with the Phoenix Suns. He shot a paltry 31.4 percent from distance the season before with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Don’t be surprised if his hot hand starts to cool off, especially when opposing teams take notice of the Lakers’ great outside shooting and alter defenses accordingly.

    The Lakers are shooting only 43.9 percent from inside the three-point arc this season. The 40.9 percent clip from distance ranks them fifth in the NBA.

    It won’t be long before opposing teams discover that it’s best to force L.A. off the three-point line.

     

    Verdict: Sell

3. Rebounding

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    Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    At first glance, the Lakers' 44.2 rebounds per game—which ranks them ninth in the league—looks like a net positive.

    When you dig a little deeper, however, it’s clear that this surprising statistic is simply due to happenstance.

    Although the Lakers rank within the top 10 in total rebounds per game, they’re the only team in the top 15 with a negative rebound differential (minus-3.1). This means that they’re getting out-rebounded consistently despite rebounding the ball well themselves.

    So how does that happen? The reason is pace.

    This is no surprise given Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo offense. The Lakers' pace factor of 100.3—the number of possessions they use as a team per game—ranks them third. Only the Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves have a higher pace factor.

    Because the Lakers are playing a fast-paced, up-and-down game, it doesn’t matter that their defense fails to get consistent stops. Instead, they’re gathering rebounds due to the sheer volume of shots.

    It’s good to see Pau Gasol hovering near double-digit rebounds again—he’s averaging 9.9 boards per game.

    Jordan Hill has started to rack them up as well with more minutes. He’s up to 8.5 rebounds per game.

    Even though the Lakers rank in the top 10 in rebounds per game, though, this stat will continue to be irrelevant unless they keep opponents off the boards.

     

    Verdict: Sell

2. Bench Play

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Aside from the Philadelphia 76ers collecting more wins than the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks through the first month of the season, the Lakers’ bench play is arguably the most surprising statistic in the entire NBA.

    During the 2012-13 season, the Lakers’ second unit finished 28th in the league by scoring just 25.8 points per game. So far in 2013-14, the Lakers bench is scoring 47.7 points per game, which is best in the NBA according to HoopsStats.

    Many pundits felt that the Portland Trail Blazers' league-worst bench from a year ago would be vastly improved due to additions of Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and others. Instead, their second unit ranks 27th in the league, averaging 22.8 points per game.

    Ironically, the offseason additions of Jordan Farmar, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry have solidified an extremely strong bench in Lakerland.

    Losing Farmar to a hamstring injury, however, threatens to derail the second unit that has been so good through 18 games.

    Additionally, Kobe Bryant’s return will limit the minutes of at least one perimeter player (be it Meeks, Henry, Young or Johnson).

    Although the league’s best second unit is about to experience some turmoil, they’ve already proven enough through one month of the season. Nobody thought they’d make this big of an impact.

     

    Verdict: Buy

1. Win-Loss Record

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    Steve Nash has played just six games in 2013-14 due to nerve root irritation. In those six games he recorded a player efficiency rating of 6.8—which is worse than guys like Ish Smith, Greg Stiemsma and Gal Mekel.

    Pau Gasol has played all 18 games, but he’s struggled to find any sort of rhythm because he's playing through a foot strain, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

    Kobe Bryant hasn’t played at all as he continues to recover from an Achilles tear he suffered in April.

    So how have the Lakers accumulated a 9-9 record in the Western Conference with those key injuries and the league’s 28th-ranked defense?

    Well, beating Eastern Conference teams four times (Atlanta, Brooklyn and Detroit twice) will certainly help pad the win column. The tremendous bench play certainly can’t be understated as well, but no matter how you slice it, this Lakers team is overachieving.

    Now that Jordan Farmar—the leader of the NBA’s best bench unit—is projected to miss four weeks with a hamstring injury, there’s a sense of foreboding in Lakerland.

    The Lakers have been treading water without Bryant and Nash, and now they’ll be without Farmar. That leaves the Lakers with exactly one point guard: Steve Blake.

    The veteran guard out of Maryland has been great this season, but that’s too much pressure for a 33-year-old with a history of injury troubles.

    Getting Bryant back in the lineup would certainly stem the bleeding. But if he doesn’t return soon, the Lakers are poised to fall under .500.

     

    Verdict: Sell