Breaking Down LA Lakers Season-Defining Statistics

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistApril 15, 2013

Jan. 30, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash (10) and Kobe Bryant (24) in the huddle with teammates in the second half against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Lakers 92-86.  Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Since the All-Star break, the Los Angeles Lakers have posted a record of 18-8. Compared to their 25-29 start, that's a significant improvement. To stretch things further, the Lakers have gone 23-11 since the start of February—the primary reason why they're in the driver's seat for the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.

It's no coincidence that the Lakers' team-shooting percentages have seen an incremental increase over the last 26 games, when they've posted a winning percentage of .692.

Since the All-Star break, the Lakers are shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from three, marks slightly better than the ones they posted prior to the February recess.

With those baseline numbers covered, it's time to explore some statistics, both good and bad, that have contributed to the Lakers' successes and failures this season.

106.9: Defensive Rating

According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Lakers have recorded a defensive rating of 106.9 this season, which is equal to the number of points they allow per 100 possessions.

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That mark ranks 20th in the NBA and is a major reason why the Lakers have been a fringe playoff contender all season long.

With an offense that ranks sixth in points per game (102.4) and ninth in points per 100 possessions (108.0), the Lakers have actually posted a positive net-point differential.

While they've been able to hide their porous defense behind one of the league's best offenses all season long, that strategy won't fly come playoff time.

15.1: Turnovers per game

Speaking of sloppiness, the Lakers defense has suffered as a result of their propensity to turn the ball over.

According to TeamRankings, the Lakers have turned the ball over 15.1 times per game, which ranks 25th in the NBA.

The Lakers' turnover problems have become a legitimate cause for concern, and not just because they've amounted to squandered possessions.

An observable fact all season long, turnovers have haunted the Lakers as they've struggled mightily to work up an effort to get back on defense in a hurry.

To give you an idea just how weak the Lakers' transition defense has been as a result of turnovers, they rank 29th, or second to last, in opponent's fast-break points.

Opponents have had a field day on the Lakers' old legs, dropping 15.9 points per game in transition, according to TeamRankings.

With Kobe Bryant now sidelined for the season with a ruptured Achilles (via Ken Berger of CBS Sports), Steve Nash, once healthy, will assume the role of primary ball-handler.

Prior to his season-ending injury, Bryant was turning the ball over an average of 3.7 times per game.

On the season, Nash is averaging just 2.5 turnovers per game, his lowest mark since the 2003-04 season.

While they'll have to make up for Bryant's production in other areas, the turnover department could be one in which the Lakers see moderate improvement in over the next few weeks.

27.3: Kobe Bryant's scoring average

The big story moving forward will be Bryant's absence from the Laker lineup. Not only was Bryant the team's emotional leader through trying times, but he carried the scoring burden for the Lakers all season.

Now, with Bryant down and out, Mike D'Antoni will need to find a new offensive formula—and fast.

Bryant's 27.3 point-per-game average ranks third in the NBA and first on the Lakers. Dwight Howard has been the team's second-leading scorer, but his scoring average is more than 10 points below Bryant's (16.9 points per game, as of Sunday).

In order for the Lakers to weather this unthinkable storm, they will need to turn the keys to the offense over to Nash and Howard.

Perhaps, the most obvious way to reinvent the offense is to give Nash the reins and let him and Howard run plenty of spread pick-and-roll action.

Similar to what the Orlando Magic did back when Howard was the team's offensive centerpiece, the Lakers could implement a modified four-out, one-in set, with shooters spotting up on the wings while Nash and Howard run variations of the pick-and-roll.

It's awfully late in the season to be toying with an offense that's been successful for most of the season, but Bryant's injury will force the Lakers to get creative.

The good news: They have the personnel to do so.

8.2: Kobe Bryant's fourth quarter scoring average

According to NBA.com's stats database, Bryant had scored 589 points over 72 games in the fourth quarter, giving him an average of 8.2 points in the game's final quarter.

What's troubling is that, according to TeamRankings, the Lakers average 25.2 points per fourth quarter.

Now the Lakers are faced with the harsh reality that they need to find a collection of players to replace nearly one-third of their fourth-quarter scoring.

The burden isn't going to fall on one player. A group effort is going to sustain the Lakers' recent efforts, or they will sink quickly come playoff time.

38.5: Pau Gasol's shooting percentage outside of the restricted area

If you average out Pau Gasol's shooting percentages from every area of the floor excluding the restricted area, you're presented with quite an ugly picture.

D'Antoni's usage of Gasol's has been questioned all season long, as he's been forced into a role as the team's third offensive option.

Yes, Gasol's only played in 47 games so far this season, but he's averaging a career-worst 13.8 points per game.

According to Basketball-Reference.com, Gasol's also shooting a career-low 47.7 percent from the field in 2012-13, which comes as no surprise when you consider that he's been forced to take a heavier dosage of mid-range jumpers.

As expected, Gasol's shooting 66.3 percent from the restricted area, according to NBA.com, but is hitting on just 40.8 percent of his shots from the paint and 38.4 percent from mid-range.

Overall, Gasol has converted on a meager 38.5 percent of his attempts outside of the restricted area.

When Gasol's minutes are staggered with Howard's, that's when we see him look the most comfortable, as he can operate freely down on the blocks.

With the Lakers hurting in depth department, perhaps, D'Antoni will choose to stagger Gasol's minutes a bit more, relying on him to carry the team's second unit.

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