NBA Analysis: Lakers Continue to Shine

| by David Berri

My latest for Huffington Post discusses what Jerry West recently said about the Lakers. For those who missed this story, the NBA’s Logo argued last week that the Lakers

  • have a problem on defense
  • and this is because the team is old

As I argued at Huffington Post, I think West is a little bit right and a little bit wrong. And I think this whole discussion can be linked back to what was being said earlier this month. Back on January 4th I argued that rumors of the Lakers decline was greatly exaggerated. This post appeared soon after the Lakers had lost four of six games. And at that time, people were arguing the Lakers were in trouble.

Starting on January 4th, though, the Lakers won seven consecutive games. But in the past week, the Lakers have lost two out of four. And now West is questioning this team. 

One suspects that each time the Lakers lose, people are going to argue the Lakers are in trouble. And each time this team wins a few in a row, these arguments go away.

When we look at the entire season, though, this team seems to be about where they should be.  Specifically, if we look at the Lakers’ Wins Produced this year, and what we would expect given the performance of the Lakers’ players last year, we don’t see much difference.

As the following table notes, given what the Lakers have done across the first 45 games we would expect this team to win between 59 and 60 games when the season ends. This is quite close to what we would expect given the player’s performance last year. Specifically, last year’s per-minute performance from these players suggests a team that would win about 62 games this year.

Now a team that is going to win 60 to 62 games is going to lose 20 or 22 times. That is simply how the math works. And when this team loses, it is going to look bad. It’s defense won’t look good and/or it’s offense will look bad. That’s what happens when you lose. But since those losses are expected, we shouldn’t be reading much into these losses. 

In other words, we should look resist the urge to look at data from one game or a small subset of games and then leap to a conclusion.  A better approach is to look at a much large set of data, say perhaps an entire season.  When we look at this much larger data set we see that the Lakers are actually pretty good this season.  Yes, this team is old.  And yes this team will some day be too old to compete for a title.  But I don’t that that some day is today. 

- DJ